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Crew chief Tony Gibson reflects on Danica Patrick’s season thus far

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It’s been a rough road for Danica Patrick in her first full season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Other than winning the pole and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick has struggled for much of the 16 races since then.

In fact, Patrick has finished in the top 20 just twice since Daytona: 12th at Martinsville and 13th at Michigan three weeks ago.

In the 14 other races, she has finished between 20th and 29th 11 times and three times between 30th and 39th.

But it’s not only Patrick who has born the brunt of the struggles. So, too, has veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, who shifted over to lead Patrick’s team this season after spending the last three four seasons atop the pit box for Ryan Newman.

Gibson was on Tuesday’s weekly NASCAR media teleconference and talked about working with Patrick, returning to his native Daytona Beach for this Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 and where Patrick earned the pole in February, and what the rest of the season holds in store for the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Chevrolet:

Reflecting back on what Patrick did in February at Daytona: “It was obviously extremely gratifying to go down there and run well (in February). To go to your hometown where I grew up and all your friends and family, and to go there and to do something that is pretty amazing, to make history, to just be a part of that is incredible. It was something that obviously will never be done again, and I feel real fortunate to be a part of that. … It was pretty crazy, too, with all the media and all the hype going into it, and actually the pressure of actually testing well and going down there and repeating and making it happen, it was a huge relief, but it was also very gratifying and probably ranks up there as probably one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished in my career.”

On the gameplan for this weekend’s return to Daytona: “Goals for July are the same as they were in February when we went to Daytona. We want to go down there and we want to make a statement. We want to try to sit on the pole again, obviously, and this time come up (finish) a few spots further up. We felt like we had a shot to win it, ran in the top three or four all day and had a fast car, and it came down to the last lap and kind of got snookered a little bit there at the end. But we felt like we were definitely in contention to win it, so we’re going back there with the same mindset, to try to be the fastest car in qualifying and try to close the deal at the end of this thing.”

On whether the No. 10 team is put under the microscope more so because Danica is the driver: “Yeah, we do, and we knew that going into it. Most of us on the 10 car, most of my guys were with me when we were with Dale Jr. at DEI, and we’ve been through some of the microscope deal with a high-profile driver. So we were kind of used to it. At least we thought we were. But obviously it’s a little bit more than that with Danica. The fan base is a little more spread out. There’s kids and little girls and boys and women and men, and she has a huge fan base now. You’re dealing with a lot of different folks at the racetrack and talking to different people and things like that.”

On how the microscope is different with Patrick than with other drivers you’ve worked with, like Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.: “It’s a little different than what we’ve experienced in the past. So moving forward you want to please everybody. You want your performance to be good because you don’t want to let your fans down. You don’t want to let her fans down. When you’ve got to look a little girl in the eye and she asks you what happened last week or why didn’t Danica win, it’s pretty hard to come up with an answer that’s going to satisfy a little girl. But it’s crazy. It’s different. But we approach every week the same. We want to go in, and we set goals, and we want to do the best we can every week as a team, and we want to build a stronger team and a relationship with Danica because it’s only going to help us down the road. But the demands to perform and run better and to do things like that seem to be a little higher than they were because of the expectations she puts on herself and that the fans want to see her do good. So that’s a little bit different for us. That’s been a little bit of a struggle for us to get our hands wrapped around and absorbing that and trying to make things — try to justify each thing we do and keep ourselves in check, you know.”

On Danica having better performances and consistency in the last month-plus: “I think we’ve definitely made some gains as a company. We’re nowhere near where we want to be or where we need to be each and every week on every level, from the 39 (Ryan Newman), the 14 (Tony Stewart) or the 10 (Patrick). I mean, our goals are a little bit less than the other two guys, at least the goals we set for ourselves are a little lower but reachable. But we have struggled as a company and with the Gen-6 car, and we’ve worked really hard. We’ve done a lot of testing here lately, and I think the testing that we’ve done has definitely paid off in her performance. Has it taken us from a 15th-place organization to a winning organization? Well, not really. Dover was a good day and it was a good race for the 14 to win it, but they weren’t the dominant car all day. They put themselves in a good position. They were a top-10 car and put themselves in position to win it and did so. But the performances have been better, but our expectations and where we need to be is not there yet.”

On the plusses of Patrick getting in as much testing as possible: “Yeah, it’s huge. Any time that we can get to go do a test at the right racetrack on the right tire, even if you’re not on the right tire, but to be at that racetrack that you’re going to compete on is huge. Any lap behind the wheel of this Gen-6 car for her is a plus. You know, it’s definitely been a plus for the seat time side of it. The tests that we have done have been huge, and the biggest thing that’s really helped her is having the data from the other two drivers, the EFI data from the other two drivers as far as breaking traces and throttle traces and steering traces and those things that we really — that we can sit down and look at, and she can talk to Stewart or Newman and they can help her if she’s struggling and they can kind of go to some of these racetracks where she hasn’t been. Some of these tracks she’s never been to in any kind of car. Having those two guys at a test when we go has been huge for us. And it shows. I know it doesn’t make us run top 10, but it makes us run 15th to 20th. That has been huge for her. That’s been the biggest thing I’d say for us is going to those tests and being able to do that, and if we could do it more, we would, and we go to VIR, we go to Road Atlanta, we go to Nashville, we go to Greenville Pickens, we go anywhere we can go to make laps and learn.  And a lot of these tracks we have — even when we go to Nashville, all of our drivers have been there and the Hendrick guys have been there obviously, so we have a lot of data we can look at that helps her on the driving side as well as on the setup side, too.”

On how excited the team is to return to Daytona, particularly after what Danica and the team did in February down there: “Yeah, you can feel the excitement in the shop. The guys are just rubbing and detailing and they’re pumped up and they’re excited. We have our trophy from Daytona for the pole down here, and so that stuff we bring out — we brought it out this week just to remind everybody of what we can do when we get down there. It’s a little bit of a morale booster. The vibe is different. When we get ready to go here, everybody gets jacked up, and we know we can go here and we can do really well.”

On the team’s chances returning to Daytona: “I think it’s obviously a track that we feel like we can win at. I feel like that’s right in Danica’s wheelhouse there. She likes the drafting. She likes the high speeds, and I think most of that comes from the IndyCar side of it. So yeah, it’s exciting for us. We went to Daytona — and before when she was running the Nationwide car, she was really good at the restrictor plate stuff with the drafting and the air and that kind of deal. So we were pretty excited for going into this year, and then when we went to Daytona and tested, we knew that we were going to be fairly strong down there. So it’s exciting for us, and we’re working really hard. We work hard every week, but when it comes to the restrictor plate racing, especially going to Daytona, we go all out. We put every little thing we can into those cars, because we know that that’s a track that we can win at and we can really do some damage, on the good side.”

FP2: View from the ground in Austin, 2016 edition

during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas – One of the joys of coming to the United States Grand Prix on an annual basis is the opportunity to have a session to sample the view from trackside, and attempt to gauge quite what the feel on the ground is.

I must say though, with this being my third crack at a “View from the ground: FP2” trackside occasion, this one was a bit like most movie three-quels (2013, 2014 editions linked here).

It had its moments of greatness but was not quite the measure of the original, nor the first sequel.

This was a truncated walk, I’ll admit. I got to see the outside of Turn 1, the two bridges covering the Esses and before the Turn 18 Carousel, and the respective crowds from there. I didn’t get to the hairpin at Turn 11 to see that crowd figure. I didn’t get to soak up as much time as I would have liked, having come from another event just previous following FP1 this morning.

The hillside out of Turn 1 really stands out in terms of not being as packed as it has been in the past. It used to be standing room only or close; now, I’m afraid, there was plenty of room to walk and move around. Similarly, the Esses were only about two or three rows deep of folks from the top, rather than four to five; the best grandstand packing seemed to be the one exiting Turn 17 in the stadium section just near the Austin 360 Ampitheater and COTA Tower.

The crowd here is good, but not great, and this is with nearly perfect weather for the onlookers, with highs in the low 70 degree Fahrenheit ambient range.

If the circuit releases a crowd number today, be wary of it if it’s listed in the 60,000 or 70,000 range – there are simply not that many fans here today. A more conservative estimate would be 10-20,000 less than that, at least.

So the hope now is that Saturday’s Taylor Swift concert to go along with qualifying will produce a crowd bigger than today’s, and the race itself plus the Usher/The Roots concert on Sunday does the same, to achieve COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein’s goal of this being the second highest attended USGP weekend of the five here on site.

The upside, of course, is that there’s been an inevitable and expected bounce back in attendees today following last year’s dreary, rainy Friday – when only FP1 ran and FP2 was scrubbed owing to the miserable conditions. But it’s not a massive surge in numbers.

Some other notes from the ground:

Still missing that ear-piercing sound

I want to like the 1.6L V6 turbo power units. I really do.

But, I also want to come to an F1 race and have my ears damn near ready to fall off from shrill, piercing shrieks that I can’t get anywhere else.

Coming from traditionally IndyCar weekends, where the series run 2.2L V6 twin-turbos, to now F1 weekends, you expect a little bit of a change in pitch.

The pitch is similar – and it is still sonorous, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s quite nice actually.

But there’s something about coming to a Grand Prix where you’re not wanting to be able to have a solid conversation while cars are on track. It’s good that you can get that now in some respects. But man, I want some screams.

Good merchandise displays on offer

Whether behind the main grandstands or throughout the main fan corridors, the fans have a good lot of options when it comes to finding team gear. It did not seem as though one or more teams was slighted; admittedly, though, there was not as much Haas F1 Team regalia on display as I might have figured.

Respectable fan offerings in Guest Services and food options

Between the track food at concessions and a number of food trucks – an Austin staple – there seemed a good lot of options for fans to eat today. How reasonable they were priced, however, depended on how much you got and where you looked.

Guest Services having free sunscreen on offer was good to see, if perhaps you were not properly prepared and hadn’t put any on. One of the things about attending a race at Circuit of The Americas is that you will get sun-drenched if you sit anywhere besides the primary frontstraight grandstand, or are lucky enough to have suite access somewhere covered and perhaps, air conditioned.

Red storm of colors

Because I was walking more rapidly than normal on this track walk occasion, I didn’t get a great look at the percentage of attire team-to-team. I will say, though, that plenty of Ferrari kits caught my eye, and it was no surprise to see. I didn’t see as much in the way of fans wearing Mercedes gear or others to match. It is fun to see older kit – Renault’s old blue and yellow from the Mild Seven tobacco days was present.

Welcome back, Danny

The 1985 Indianapolis 500 champion and one time Benetton-sponsored Tyrrell F1 driver, Danny Sullivan, has made his first visit back to Circuit of The Americas since the inaugural running here in 2012. Sullivan emceed a Quint Events-hosted fan event in the Legends Club outside of Turn 1 earlier in the day, taking fan questions about the state of play in F1 and other forms of racing today. He shared a memorable Paul Newman story, where their competitive juices flowed even when it got to rental cars. Sullivan has been an F1 driver steward on a number of occasions over the last five to six seasons, including most recently at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Tower time, if you want

The iconic COTA Tower remained packed today, particularly for FP2. Fans can access the tower for $30 for a standard tour, or for an additional $15 ($45 total), they can go to the tower in an expedited VIP line – and get champagne in the process.

More thoughts from today at Circuit of The Americas will follow in MotorSportsTalk’s Friday Paddock Notebook.

Rosberg quickest as Ricciardo, Red Bull rally in second USGP practice

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Formula 1 championship leader Nico Rosberg stamped his authority on proceedings in Austin, Texas ahead of the United States Grand Prix by topping the second free practice session on Friday afternoon.

Following his ninth victory of the 2016 season in Japan two weeks ago, Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ standings by 33 points from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The German driver has started on pole for the past two years at the Circuit of The Americas, only to finish second to Hamilton on both occasions.

After seeing Hamilton lead FP1, Rosberg hit back in second practice to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:37.358, enjoying an advantage over the field of almost two-tenths of a second.

However, it was not Hamilton who played second-fiddle this time around. Instead, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shot up to P2, suggesting that the sizeable advantage Mercedes enjoyed in FP1 was exaggerated. Hamilton was left to settle for third in the final standings.

Second practice featured one short red flag period after debris was left on-track at the esses, appearing to come off the back of one of the Haas cars as the American team continued to struggle at the start of its home grand prix weekend.

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari in the mix at the front of the field in second practice, finishing within a second of Rosberg at the front in fourth place, while Max Verstappen ended the session fifth in the second Red Bull.

Force India continued its impressive start to the weekend as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh, with the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso following in P8 and P9. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 10 in the second Ferrari as he struggled with front-end grip.

FIA confirms track layout for Montreal Formula E race

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The FIA has confirmed the street course layout that will be used in Montreal for next July’s Formula E race.

Montreal will become the first Canadian city to host a Formula E race on the July 29-30 weekend, acting as the final round of the all-electric racing championship’s third season.

A street course has been formed close to Downtown Montreal, comprising 14 corners and running to a length of 1.71 miles.

“Formula E wants to bring fully-electric racing to the streets of the world’s leading cities and Montreal is another fantastic new addition to the calendar,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“Montreal is a great city with a great vibe – the perfect place to conclude the third season of Formula E. I’m sure the drivers will revel in the opportunity to fight for the title against the backdrop of Montreal.”

“I’m very pleased that Montreal is now among the host cities for Formula E,” Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre added.

“In Montreal, we wish to promote transportation electrification. This race, which speaks to this wish, will be conducted on an urban circuit and will be a festive family event where everyone will be able to admire the prowess of electric vehicles.

“It will give us, in 2017, at the climax of the celebrations for the 375th anniversary of Montreal, the opportunity to demonstrate that high performance can go hand-in-hand with sustainable development.”

Tickets for the Montreal ePrix will be on sale from December 3.

Renault teammates now stuck fighting each other to stay for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 03: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo leads Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 3, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Neither Kevin Magnussen nor Jolyon Palmer wants to leave Renault Sport F1 Team in 2017, but with Nico Hulkenberg’s confirmation in the team next year coming last week, one of the two incumbents will be forced aside.

It’s been a challenging year for the team in its first year back in works guise after Renault took over Lotus, but to their credit, both Magnussen in his second year and Palmer in his first have made strides as the year has gone on.

Results haven’t necessarily shown in though, as they’ve only amassed a combined eight points from three different scores. Magnussen has a seventh and a 10th, Palmer a single 10th.

Inadvertently, this now means the two of them are racing each other for one seat. Or, as Palmer described to reporters on Thursday, “I think there’s probably, in my opinion, probably three drivers down for one seat.”

Magnussen, who’d already sought to deny IndyCar rumors swirling around him for 2017, continued to mention his desire to stay with Renault during Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“I hope I can stay on as his teammate. That’s my target and that’s what I hope is going to happen,” Magnussen said.

“And hopefully it won’t be too long before we will be able to announce what’s going to happen – either/or – so we’ll just do this race and focus on driving and enjoying my time in the car and we’ll see what happens.”

If there’s any consolation or help, the bright side for Magnussen at least is that he’s been in this situation before. He waited to see whether he’d be retained for another year at McLaren in 2014, before ultimately losing out on the spot to Fernando Alonso once he rejoined the team.

Palmer said though this is a different situation, because either he or Magnussen hope to know their fate sooner rather than later, instead of having to hold out until December. He estimates a decision will come in the next two to three weeks.

“It may look similar at the moment but it’s a different team, different management. It’s still not that late in the moment,” the 2014 GP2 Series champion explained.

“We still have four races to go. I don’t want to be taken until the end of the year and then realize I’m going to be let go. It’s in my hands to assess my options. As I see it here, there are some other seats around, so I’ll have to do what’s best for me.”

Palmer said neither he nor Magnussen has been getting the credit they deserve for fighting back given the tough moments this year.

“I think neither of us is getting enough credit, to be honest. Kevin has done some great racing as well and proved in 2014 what he can do in a good car. He finished second in his first race when the car was there to finish second, he outqualified Jenson over the course of the year,” he said.

“And now, two years on, we’re both struggling because the car’s not really there. He’s done a good job this year and probably lost a bit of credit from where he was in 2014. I think neither of us have probably not gotten the credit we deserve. And that’s proved by the fact that at least one of us is going to be replaced. The car has been tricky and I think neither of us has done well. We’ve both made mistakes, but at certain points we’ve done a good job.”

The Englishman said he’d heard at Suzuka that the Hulkenberg signing was forthcoming, but was only thrown by the timing of when things would be announced.

There’s also been rumors that Valtteri Bottas is in the frame for the second seat at Renault, but the current Williams

“I understand that stick or twist is meaning if I stay with Williams or not,” Bottas said. “We’re going to still need to wait a little bit to get things confirmed about what’s going to happen next year.”