Ten with Townsend: St. Petersburg debrief

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Following a gripping start to the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, we asked NBC Sports Network analyst Townsend Bell for his thoughts and overview of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a new element we hope to feature regularly on MotorSports Talk. Without further adieu, here’s the first “Ten with Townsend.”

-Biggest surprise of the weekend?

Hinchcliffe driving a perfect race to notch his first win.  We knew he was talented but that was perfectly executed like a guy that has been winning all the time!  Great to see.  With Craig Hampson on his program, expect many more front running performances going forward.  Honorable mention goes to Marco for working hard over the off season to refine his craft.

-Biggest disappointment? 

JR.   Nobody is more frustrated than he is with the result.  He needs to get things on track and he knows it.  I’ve been in his shoes before and its not fun.  But you can’t jump your way out of a hole.  Its one foot in front of the other.  A steady climb.

-Your most improved team and driver?

KV Racing.  They are looking very strong with a lean and mean org chart.

-What did you make of the gap between Firestone’s black and red tires?

It was a little bit of a mystery here.  Not much of a gap in qualifying but more noticeable on some cars in the race.  The biggest story was Penske’s ability to make the red tires last over long distance where most other struggled with wear- i.e Simona.

-Hinch: One-hit wonder or do you think this will be the first of many victories?

More to come.

-What do you make of Andretti’s engineering additions, Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon?

They made a big time response to losing two talented engineers in Allen McDonald and Tino Belli.   They stepped up and secured two of the best available.  That’s the sign of a team that is serious about winning.

-Simona: How did you rate her weekend? What areas of improvement beyond the obvious (new engine, team) can you see in her?

Super impressive but frankly not many were surprised who have followed her career.  When she has equal equipment, she runs with the best of them.  Sector times (where horsepower was not a factor) last season showed that the driver and engineer (Gerald Tyler) were strong.

-Why do you think Target Chip Ganassi Racing struggled as much as they did? Honda on the back foot? Dario’s driving style/braking still not meshing with the DW12?

I think Sato proved that Honda’s performance was capable of top-5 qualifying.  In fact Sato’s qualifying lap was one of the more impressive one lap performances of the weekend.  Several teams struggled to adapt their 2012 setups to this front tire.  I’m putting Ganassi in that grouping.  They’ll get it right and it won’t take long.

-Thoughts on JR’s mistake, if any?

Simple distracted driving.  When everyone is doing burnouts and slamming brakes before a restart there is a massive accordion effect.  It’s an easy mistake to make if you glance down at the knobs or data on the wheel at the exact wrong time.   But he won’t ever make that mistake again I’m sure.

-And lastly, any off-the-wall observations you witnessed around the paddock.

A hot lap as Wally’s passenger, on a race track he’s never driven, can lead to PTSD.

 

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.