Red Bull’s Mark Webber is looking good so far in Spain. The Australian won here in 2010. His team uses intricate instruments in order to test tire pressure during each drive, which may aid in Webber’s success. NBC Sports Network’s Steve Matchett explains how the air flow is mapped around the tires.
Audi Sport will withdraw from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of the 2016 season, perhaps sooner than expected but still confirming rumors as suggested and reported on by Sport Auto‘s Marcus Schurig a couple weeks ago.
This is a significant blow to the championship as Audi, arguably the flagship manufacturer in LMP1 since its arrival with the first iteration of the R8R and R8C in 1999 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, before the subsequent run of the R8 starting in 2000, the diesel R10 TDI in 2006, and further cars of the R15 and R18 since 2009, has been the benchmark.
But with Volkswagen Group (VAG) forced to reassess its business strategy and motorsports programs in the wake of the recent diesel emissions scandal, budget cuts were always going to be expected. Reducing entries from three LMP1 cars for Porsche and Audi at Le Mans this year was the first cut.
In a release from Audi on Wednesday, Audi confirmed it will still press on in FIA Formula E – where it can demonstrate electric technology – and also in DTM. No final decision has yet been made concerning a future involvement in the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX), although in that series, Mattias Ekstrom won this year’s title.
“We’re going to contest the race for the future on electric power,” said Chairman of the Board of Management Rupert Stadler.
“As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”
Over an 18-year run, Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times between 2000 and 2014, before sister brand Porsche has won it the last two years.
“After 18 years in prototype racing that were exceptionally successful for Audi, it’s obviously extremely hard to leave,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “Audi Sport Team Joest shaped the WEC during this period like no other team. I would like to express my thanks to our squad, to Reinhold Joest and his team, to the drivers, partners and sponsors for this extremely successful cooperation. It’s been a great time!”
Toyota has also expressed sadness over Audi’s departure:
This is gutting news, but this is when you have to say thanks for the memories and understand the business climate of the decision.
With arguably one of the craziest final laps in Pirelli World Challenge history, the pendulum of who would win this year’s GT championships swung for the final time in the 2016 season.
Alvaro Parente seized his chance at Turn 5 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, when contact between Johnny O’Connell and Patrick Long forced Long off the road, and cost Long a near certain title in the process.
Instead, Parente became the first driver not named Long (2011) or O’Connell (2012 through 2015) to win a PWC GT title since Randy Pobst did so in 2010.
The team was the same between Parente and Pobst – both drove for Jim Haughey’s K-PAX Racing outfit – but the circumstances of the titles could not have been more different.
Parente, the 32-year-old Portuguese ace, is a factory McLaren GT driver, and was new to all the U.S. circuits and the World Challenge series this year. Pobst, by contrast, is one of the most experienced sports car drivers in North America and claimed his fourth World Challenge title in 2010.
In the interim years, the cars in GT have evolved from home-built cars to full-on FIA GT3-spec beasts, and the grid size went up along the way as the influx of manufacturers meant there were a lot more cars. Pobst’s title was in an all-wheel drive Volvo S60; Parente’s in the sinister McLaren 650S GT3.
And the K-PAX team had evolved too. After running the program on its own through 2014, the team added the technical expertise and crew from Flying Lizard Motorsports prior to 2015. Kevin Estre, then a McLaren factory driver, took over as the lead driver with Robert Thorne retained for a second year in the second car. Pobst and Alex Figge, past K-PAX stalwarts, were out of the picture.
This year, there were further changes on the team and driver front. The team expanded to three cars, Parente took over as McLaren’s designated factory ace with Estre having been confirmed as a Porsche factory driver over the winter, while Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson signed on as the two young chargers.
Overseeing all of this from the team standpoint was Flying Lizard program manager Darren Law, whose driving history is long and successful but his managerial history only building over time.
Law, who raced alongside and against Long and then versus O’Connell over his years, reflected on the road the team and series have gone en route to the respective titles. Parente obviously secured his first driver’s title with McLaren having locked up the Manufacturer’s Championship as well.
“As far as the program itself, we took on an extra challenge with adding the third car,” Law told NBC Sports. “Of course I’m impressed with how everything went. I wasn’t too concerned about the engineering and running of the program from that side of it. The team has worked together for many years.
“To be honest, the biggest question mark was Alvaro – and obviously even though he’s a factory McLaren driver, he had never seen a single track in the United States prior to COTA. Factory guys – I’ve been there, driven with them – they’re quick learners. But figuring out new tracks, new systems, and new drivers is lot to get acquainted to.”
Parente’s first podium was a runner-up in St. Petersburg race one, while unfortunately for him his first win came following a post-race technical infraction assessed against O’Connell in Long Beach. A dominant weekend at Barber though, where the McLaren’s aero strengths were always going to suit the flowy road course, resulted in his first win on track and a runner-up on Sunday, and thus asserted his place as a title contender.
“Long Beach was kinda bittersweet because you want to win races outright, going away,” Law said. “Barber clarified we knew were on the right path. We had some tough back-to-backs. Alvaro had shown well though early, and Barber was proof that we were there, he’s good, and the car was good.”
As Long swept Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Parente finished off the podium, the mood changed once the series hit Lime Rock Park on Memorial Day weekend. Parente won the Friday race but the Saturday race was marred before it ever got going, owing to a serious accident in warmup that injured rising sports car star Andrew Palmer, who continues to recover in hospital.
The series still had a job to do and a race to run, and with Parente having inherited first on the grid with Palmer’s not starting – but not the seven pole points as was only officially confirmed in Monterey – the team still had to focus on the race.
“We hadn’t had full word on the situation with Andrew and what was going on,” Law said. “Although we knew there was an injury, it was better we didn’t know the full condition. It was an instance where you hoped for the best, and let’s have a good race.”
Parente won it to complete the weekend sweep, and at the time his four wins from the first 11 races easily led the season tally.
But things weren’t so rosy the next few weekends. A pair of sixth-place finishes at Road America were followed by another win, then 14th in Mid-Ohio after Parente was forced off road by a slower GTA class car (Preston Calvert).
The shocker came at Utah Motorsports Campus in August. Contact between Michael Cooper and Parente in race one knocked Parente from the race, and with no lap time to use on backup, Parente would start the second race from the rear of the grid. With an 11th place following the 14th and 18th, suddenly Parente’s 100-plus point lead going into the weekend had evaporated and Long was leading coming out of Utah.
“Those were tough because we had such strong runs going!” Law reflected. “The biggest thing on both of those is that we analyzed it and neither of them were our fault. If we had screwed up, gone off the road, caused it on ourselves, then we’d be upset with ourselves.
“From Mid-Ohio, and I’m not trying to knock Preston, but we had to be more careful. Then the whole thing at Utah with Cooper, that was probably the toughest one. It was a 100-point lead, and we left in second.”
Sonoma saw Parente drive smart to finish fourth and second, and Long ended eighth and fourth. Parente converted a 20-plus point deficit into what at the time appeared a nine-point lead heading into Monterey.
The key word being “appeared” there, because following a night-before-the-finale points audit by series officials, it was caught that Parente had been incorrectly awarded Palmer’s pole points from Lime Rock.
Law, Flying Lizard strategist Thomas Blam and two McLaren GT representatives visited the officials after the ruling to express their displeasure, but then fought on for the rest of the day.
That this revelation only came out at the season finale was an unfortunate black mark for the series, and as Law explained, it drastically changed the approach for how Parente – who was starting sixth – would have to race.
“The tough part is that they brought it up at the last race, the morning of it,” Law recalled. “It was very devastating – it changed the whole complexion of the race. We didn’t have to finish far ahead of him. Now, it’s in front or nothing. It changed the whole strategy. And this may have changed strategy at other events.”
As it was, Parente got a rocket start and launched into third place from sixth, knowing full well how important the start was to make any ground at the track where passing is so difficult.
But following Drew Regitz’s crash, the question was whether the race would restart under green or finish under yellow. Had it stayed yellow, Long, Wright Motorsports and Porsche would have been the champs.
Of course it wasn’t, with Long and O’Connell colliding, O’Connell later being penalized for contact and Parente winning the title on the road, then the race several hours later after the penalty.
Law expressed how crazy of a time it was, particularly as he was set to drive in the following SprintX race which ran afterwards with Flying Lizard customer driver Andy Wilzoch.
“That’s what we needed, was the phenomenal start,” Law said. “Had he not got that start, we wouldn’t have been in that position to get it in the end. He has honestly done such a great great job.
“Seriously watching the start of the final lap, then them going through first set of corners, then you watch it happen. It was a dream come true. I love Patrick, he’s a great guy, and we were teammates at Flying Lizard for many years. But I’m obviously rooting for our team.
“It was fine, but you know what, I’d either have entered (SprintX) depressed because we didn’t win, or relaxed because we did. I missed some of the celebration right after the event, though!”
Law recapped the year on the whole, where Parente seven races and the title, Cindric finished a solid eighth in points with two poles and three podiums, and Thompson had two top-fives in his first full season at this level, with occasional high points.
“Everyone did their jobs so well, from the drivers, every team member,” Law said. “And as far as the drivers went, we had young guys in the seat. They had some pressure. They had a factory McLaren guy to compare against!
“Austin really improved from the start of the year. Some things he needed to work on better, starts, race craft, but he’s driven a lot of stuff. I think the second half of the season he showed what he could do. He has a bright future ahead.
“Colin did not have the best season, but he was phenomenal at starts, and he would time it right.
“Both of those guys had tough luck, and some incidents on track. But they showed good speed. Again that shows the equality among our cars and the teams, everything’s open and shared. To be running on Alvaro’s pace says something.”
And Law, who was quick to praise everyone for their contributions to the title except himself, reflected on what a non-Cadillac/O’Connell title means from a big picture perspective.
“I think it’s great for the series. And this is to take nothing away from Johnny and Cadillac. But it’s nice to have another manufacturer in there, such as a boutique as McLaren, who produces a high-end car,” Law said.
“To come in as we did, we’re proud to be the ones to dethrone the Cadillacs after four in a row. This year there were multiple winners, Porsche, McLaren, Cadillac, Acura and more. Everyone had a go. You don’t have to be a big manufacturer to come in and win this. You can be an independent team. Jim’s put so much in with K-PAX and we’re happy to deliver it.
“It’s not singlehandedly. For me, coming in from the position of being a driver, to management, I had no idea what it takes behind the scenes to make this happen. In this role, you achieve such an appreciation for the team members. It’s a team effort. There’s no one person that made this thing go.
“Personally it’s very satisfying, to be in our second year now in World Challenge, bring home a championship for K-PAX.
“That was Jim’s goal when we talked about this – he wants to win championships. So I’m very proud we delivered.”
Antron Brown has a new nickname.
Instead of being known as “AB” for his two initials, you can call him “Countdown Brown.”
It’s a moniker that is most appropriate. In the last 10 races in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship – six last season and four thus far in 2016 – Brown has won six of those events.
“That’s called teamwork, that’s called when the pressure gets up,” Brown said. “I think that’s what brings out the best in our team.
“Our team thrives on pressure. Where some teams might crack or fold, some teams get better. When the higher the pressure gets, it seems like it dials our knob up even more and we put that extra focus in. We all feel it.
“We can look at each other without even talking about it and know where we need to be. Every time we go down that racetrack, it’s like alright now, we have the next round. This is the coolest part that I think makes our team so good, we never look at the whole race. We take it one step at a time.
“Every step that we take we try to be efficient with it and make the best out of it. I think that’s what pays big dividends when we look back. We look at all the baby steps we made and all the right ones that got us where we needed to be.”
There’s another significant type of countdown for Brown in this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The New Jersey native holds an almost insurmountable 150-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta, 172 points over third-ranked Shawn Langdon and 191 points over fourth-ranked Brittany Force.
Brown merely has to leave Las Vegas with between a 96 to 110-point lead to clinch his second consecutive Top Fuel championship and third in the last five seasons.
But don’t let that massive points lead coming into Sin City fool you. Like a savvy gambler, Brown is not letting the odds sway him. He’s most definitely keeping his cards close to the vest.
“We are going into Vegas, we have a little bit of a points lead but it’s anybody’s game,” Brown said. “Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our heads down and continue the hard work that’s got us here.
“That is a crucial moment for us right now. We’re still not done working. We can’t wait for Vegas and the Toyota Nationals.”
Brown is looking to extend his outstanding run thus far in this year’s Countdown at Las Vegas by claiming his fourth win in the first five races of the playoffs. That would make him 7-for-11 in his last 11 Countdown races, including last year’s three Countdown wins.
Given his large lead on Kalitta and the others chasing him, you’d think Brown would come into Vegas with a defensive mindset, to protect what he has so far.
If you indeed thought that, you thought right. As the artist formerly known as AB, it’s all about the offense and the win, baby.
“Our heads are really focused on the end and the end is not until they say this is the 2016 world championship winner,” Brown said. “We’re in a great situation right now, but we don’t feel comfortable yet and our work is not done yet.
“We’re not going in defensive mode and we’re just going to try to keep doing the same things we’ve done to get to this point.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in Brown’s strategy. Back in 2012, before he ultimately won his first Top Fuel crown, he also almost lost it.
Brown came into Las Vegas with a 136-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher. But with uncharacteristic first-round losses in final eliminations at both Vegas and the season finale at Pomona, Brown barely held on to deny Schumacher his ninth career Top Fuel championship by a mere seven points, one of the closest finishes in NHRA history.
“It would be great to close this out in Vegas and that’s our hope,” Brown said. “We want to win it and we want to win it as quick as possible. But you can’t take any of this for granted and that’s why we all work so hard to get to this point.”
TOYOTA NHRA NATIONALS
WHAT: 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15. COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 27-30
THURSDAY, Oct. 27 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 28 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations; NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 5:30 p.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.; MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Friday, Oct. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will air one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 30, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).
2015 LAS VEGAS EVENT WINNERS: Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST CAREER VICTORIES AT LAS VEGAS: Andrew Hines, PSM, 5; Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.
LAS VEGAS TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.722 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’15 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15. Funny Car – 3.931 sec. by Tommy Johnson Jr., Oct. ’15 and 325.92 mph by Del Worsham, Oct. ’15. Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.852 sec. by Jerry Savoie, Oct. ’15; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11
NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn. Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kansas. Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J. Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 2,504; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,354; 3. Shawn Langdon, 2,332; 4. Brittany Force, 2,313; 5. Steve Torrence, 2,307; 6. Tony Schumacher, 2,295; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,260; 8. Leah Pritchett, 2,250; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,195; 10. Clay Millican, 2,168.
Funny Car — 1. Ron Capps, 2,465; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,401; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,377; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,334; 5. Del Worsham, 2,320; 6. Robert Hight, 2,278; 7. John Force, 2,267; 8. Courtney Force, 2,238; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,228; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 2,151.
Pro Stock — 1. Jason Line, 2,454; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,428; 3. Vincent Nobile, 2,340; 4. Shane Gray, 2,320; 5. Bo Butner, 2,314; 6. Drew Skillman, 2,269; 7. Chris McGaha, 2,222; 8. Allen Johnson, 2,213; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 2,146; 10. Erica Enders, 2,135.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,425; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,408; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,376; 4. Angelle Sampey, 2,365; 5. Chip Ellis, 2,328; 6. LE Tonglet, 2,288; 7. Cory Reed, 2,229; 8. Hector Arana, 2,211; 9. Matt Smith, 2,202; 10. Hector Arana Jr., 2,183.
The official pre-race quotes from Mercedes AMG Petronas offers more of the same from Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in terms of their mentality and psychological status heading to this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Hamilton scored a key victory on Sunday in the United States Grand Prix to keep his title hopes alive, but with Rosberg capitalizing on his team’s smart strategic play to get him a de facto “free stop” under a Virtual Safety Car period, he came second and so Hamilton only gained seven additional points.
Rosberg’s metronomic, one-race-at-a-time mentality has served him well all season and up 26 points heading to a race he won last year, he’s sticking to that focus this weekend.
“I came into Sunday with a good chance of winning but it didn’t work out,” Rosberg reflected in Mercedes’ pre-race advance. “That’s the way it is, so I accept that and now it’s on to the next one in Mexico.
“My goal is to try and win there just as it has been in every race. Of course, to be in a championship battle at the end of the year is awesome and I’m excited about that.
“But my approach is to keep it simple. There are so many things that can happen during a race weekend which are out of your control, so it’s best to just block all that out and focus on the job at hand. That’s what’s worked best for me and how I feel at my strongest.”
Hamilton, as you might also expect, is in a nothing-to-lose mode and looks to add Mexico to the list of countries and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez the list of circuits where he won. A win this weekend would be his 51st, and tie him with Alain Prost for second all-time.
“It was great to finally get that 50th win after a couple of tough weekends,” he said. “I’ve just continued to keep a positive frame of mind, avoid dwelling on the past, work and train hard and I knew eventually the result would come.
“The moment you give up is the moment you lose. I’ve never been one to give up and I don’t plan on starting now. There are still plenty of points available and anything is possible.
“Next up it’s Mexico, which was a great experience last time out. It’s crazy how slippery the circuit is with the altitude giving you so little downforce from the car. It’s a big challenge, so even though last year’s race was a bit frustrating for me, I actually had a lot of fun out there. I’m looking forward to giving it another go and hopefully going one better this time.”