Long Beach already a pressure point for much of Indy field

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The field is so incredibly close in IndyCar this year that mere tenths of seconds cost dozens of positions. The top 24 of 26 drivers at Barber Motorsports Park in practice were separated by barely more than eight tenths of a second.

With such a small margin for error, there are several drivers and teams needing to find that extra couple tenths for improved qualifying performances, or have that bit of luck that sees their results improve.

DARIO FRANCHITTI

Franchitti started from pole at Long Beach a year ago but niggling electrical issues dropped him to an unrepresentative 15th by the flag.

Two DNFs to start 2013 – a crash in St. Pete and an exhaust issue at Barber (pictured) – have Franchitti stone last, 26th in points, already 69 points behind leader Helio Castroneves.  Eventual champion Ryan Hunter-Reay trailed Will Power by as many as 59 last year.

Franchitti’s certainly not dead to rights from title standards after just two of 19 races but he needs a result – any result – for both himself and the team going forward.

GRAHAM RAHAL

Young Rahal’s homecoming at RLL Racing hasn’t quite gone to plan through two races. The car was better than its result of 13th at St. Pete and Graham ran out of fuel the last lap in Barber, ending 21st. Rahal is coming to grips with the team and engineer Gerry Hughes, he certainly wants to outqualify regular teammate James Jakes, and he’ll have the extra pressure of Mike Conway’s presence in a third car this weekend. It’s time to deliver.

PANTHER/DRR

Considering both JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia are regarded as road and street racing standouts, they’ve not been able to extract the maximum on their road and street course setups with the joint Panther Racing and Panther DRR operations this season.

Hildebrand’s started 24th in both races, with Servia 12th and 18th, and combined neither has a finish better than 15th. Servia, a veteran of 11 prior Long Beach races since 2000, has four top-10 finishes including a runner-up result in 2007. Hildebrand was fifth a year ago.

DRAGON RACING

Dragon Racing has yet to live up to expectations this year. Sebastien Bourdais has underachieved in qualifying, while Sebastian Saavedra has played his cards right to qualify ninth in both races. Problem is, Bourdais has had too much work to do on race day and Saavedra’s fallen back from his grid spots due to contact or poor pit stops. Bourdais is a three-time winner at Long Beach and no doubt seeks a performance leap this weekend.

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”