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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 GoDaddy.com 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.”

Ed Carpenter Racing confirms Newgarden departure for 2017

during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Ed Carpenter Racing has provided the first official domino of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series silly season, confirming on Thursday that Josef Newgarden will not be back with the team for 2017. Carpenter had Newgarden under contract through Sept. 28 and since that passed, now frees him up to leave.

“While it’s disappointing that Josef will not be returning, it’s also not a total surprise after all of the speculation the past few weeks,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a release.

“I wish Josef the best in his future endeavors, but also remain focused on ECR’s continued success. We are positioned well moving into 2017 and I have total confidence that we will continue to deliver the high level of performance we expect as a team.”

This doesn’t outright confirm Newgarden will shift to Team Penske, but it makes it a near certain possibility to follow the rumors the last few weeks and reported on by NBCSN contributor Robin Miller for RACER.com.

Newgarden leaves Carpenter’s team after a net five years, the first five of his IndyCar career. He was initially with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for three years from 2012 to 2014, then did separate one-year extensions under the merged CFH Racing banner in 2015 and with the rebranded Ed Carpenter Racing for 2016, with Fisher and Wink Hartman no longer part of the ECR ownership structure.

Carpenter will continue to drive the team’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on ovals in 2017, with the team yet to determine the next round of plans for the No. 20 car on road and street courses (Spencer Pigot drove this year) and a full-time replacement for Newgarden in the No. 21 car.

Brazil GP organizers surprised with FIA doubts on 2017 race

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 15:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP race into the second corner followed by the rest of the field during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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SAO PAULO (AP) Organizers of the Brazilian Grand Prix say they are surprised that motor sport’s governing body has not confirmed the race at the Interlagos track for the 2017 Formula One calendar.

In a provisional calendar for 2017 published earlier Wednesday, the FIA put an asterisk indicating “subject to confirmation” for the Brazilian GP, scheduled for Nov. 12.

In a statement, the organizers of the Sao Paulo race said they were “surprised on Wednesday with the publication of the provisional calendar”, adding that “there is a valid contract until 2020” and that it would be rigorously complied with “as it always has in these 45 years.”

Brazil first hosted Formula One in 1972, although the race did not count for that year’s world championship. It will stage the penultimate race of this season on Nov. 13.

The races in Canada, in June, and in Germany, in July, are also marked as to be confirmed for next year.

Ericsson escapes serious injury after hitting ‘big chicken’ while cycling

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson escaped serious injury after hitting a “big chicken” at high speed while cycling in Thailand earlier this week.

Sauber Formula 1 driver Ericsson spent a week in Thailand on a training camp between the races in Singapore and Malaysia, the latter being held this weekend in Sepang.

The Swede posted pictures on Twitter earlier this week showing his injuries, appearing to be cuts and bruising to his left arm and right hand.

End of eras define buildup to the 2016 Petit Le Mans

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 04:  A pack of cars races down a hill at sunset at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 4, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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BRASELTON, Ga. – At a race that has long featured guest appearances from all-star drivers, cars and teams, it’s the current star cars of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship that sign off the 2016 season for the final time in competition at this year’s Petit Le Mans.

IMSA’s new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) era begins in 2017, which brings to an end the three-year merged fusion of the prior GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes and the Le Mans style LMP2 coupes.

The new DPis will take cues from both: the overall chassis component of LMP2 from the four ACO homologated chassis manufacturers, while embracing the DP brand of allowing OEMs to design their own bodywork styling for the exterior, and to put their own engines in the back.

There’s also a beginning of a drawdown in the Prototype Challenge class and the end for a couple cars in the GT classes, which are at the end of their competitive life spans.

Teams have been planning for the next phase of car evolution over the course of the year and so Petit Le Mans this year marks the race to say goodbye to the original Daytona Prototype formula, which premiered in 2003, as well as some other previous generation models.

The Prototype class will see the biggest change for 2017. All nine cars competing this weekend are expected to field different machinery next year.

Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing have only run DPs since their entry into GRAND-AM in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Meanwhile, Visit Florida Racing (the former Spirit of Daytona Racing) will shift away from Corvettes – whether it’s been an old AGT class Corvette as early as 2000 or now the Corvette DP which premiered in 2012.

These teams are expected to run Cadillac-branded DPis in 2017, but no formal announcement has been made yet by General Motors, nor a timeline revealed for when that will occur.

BRASELTON, GA – OCTOBER 04: Ricky Taylor,L, and Jordan Taylor celebrate in victory lane after winning Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 4, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

The Taylors, in particular, have professed their appreciation for the DP. Jordan Taylor – one of sports car’s youngest and most talented drivers who has made a name for himself as much for his social media presence as his on-track prowess – has often posted about his relationship with the Corvette DP as if it were his long-term girlfriend (send off note below).

Goodbyes are tough. Nobody likes to say goodbye. We've been together for four years now, but this weekend will be our last. People say you're old and ugly, and let's face it, you are old, and you are kind of ugly. But that never mattered to me. All that mattered to me was the way I felt around you and the way you made me feel when I was inside of you. I've put a few scratches on you over the years, but only one that would count towards a domestic violence accusation. I felt bad about it, and honestly, wanted to go back in time to take it back. But we moved on, we learned from it, and we grew stronger. We've had some great times together and made some great memories, but all great things must come to an end. I thank you for what you've done for me and my career. I can't wait to see you again, one last time this weekend in Atlanta, Corvette Daytona Prototype. We'll do our best to give you an honorable send-off. #Corvette

A photo posted by Jordan Taylor (@jordan10taylor) on

But on a serious note, Jordan says the car’s been a good workhorse and he’ll be sad to see it go.

“I’m very sentimental about the DPs going away,” Jordan Taylor said. “These cars mean a lot to the whole Taylor family and we have had a great history with them. I’m looking forward to getting to drive it one last time and pushing hard to win the last race ever for the package.”

Elsewhere Mazda’s pair of prototypes takes their bow for the final time, which also brings to an end the competitive lifespan of Lola chassis. Although Lola has been out of business for several years, the legacy prototypes live on from their Lola B12/80 homologation that Mazda has utilized the last three years. This year, the engine changed from a SKYACTIV diesel engine back to an AER gasoline powerplant dubbed the MZ-2.0T, which has shown speed but not reliability for most of the year.

“It gives me goosebumps to finish the season with the last Lolas that will ever race professionally,” said Tristan Nunez, who shares the No. 55 Mazda Prototype with Jonathan Bomarito and Spencer Pigot. “Growing up, watching Lolas, they were always beautiful cars. The history behind Lola is iconic, and it has held a special place in my heart since I climbed into one in 2014. To be saying good-bye to the car is bittersweet. Everyone says that we have the most beautiful car out there. And we do, but I have the utmost confidence the next car is going to be just as beautiful. I’m honored to drive it in its last professional competition.”

The DeltaWing. Photo courtesy of IMSA
The DeltaWing. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The quirky DeltaWing, the prototype that conformed to nothing except shaking up the establishment, takes what was expected to be its final race outing at its home track, although managing partner Dr. Don Panoz made a surprise announcement on Wednesday that the car is set to run the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona in a one-race exemption – details of which should be finalized over the winter.

Panoz helped save sports car racing in the late 1990s and founded the American Le Mans Series, and his DeltaWing creation provided a shot-in-the-arm from when it went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012. Many of the initial partners involved – Michelin, Nissan, All American Racers and Highcroft Racing – all left thereafter but Panoz has pressed on solo the last four years, and it’s kept a lot of good people employed to field the radical lightweight car through its roadster-to-coupe evolution. An innovator, a dreamer and a racer, it would be a shame if Panoz is not a part of the new-look IMSA fabric in 2017 past Daytona.

Lastly the pair of LMP2-spec Ligier JS P2 Hondas could continue in another privateer hands, but with Michael Shank Racing having secured the factory Acura NSX GT3 program and with Tequila Patron ESM running Ligier JS P217 Nissan DPis next year, these existing cars run their final races in these two teams’ hands.

Outside the top-level Prototype ranks, the Prototype Challenge class is down to seven cars this weekend. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC/Miller Motorsports have announced steps up to the new-look Prototype class for 2017, and Starworks Motorsport has also announced a purchase of a new DPi. CORE autosport, the five-time class champions, have stepped out of PC having announced a switch to the Porsche 911 GT3 R for 2017.

It leaves Performance Tech Motorsports and BAR1 Motorsports, both of which also field cars in IMSA’s Mazda Prototype Lites (set to be renamed Prototype Challenge in 2017) series, as the only two PC teams yet to reveal their plans beyond 2017 for the last year of PC, the class. Both Brent O’Neill (Performance Tech) and Brian Alder (BAR1) figure to continue in Prototype Challenge, the series, with customers in either LMP3 or existing Prototype Lites machinery.

In GT Le Mans, Porsche’s current model 911 RSR makes its final scheduled North American start with the CORE autosport-run factory Porsche North America program. This car premiered on U.S. shores in 2014 with a win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and its most famous win occurred here last year at Petit Le Mans, when Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won overall in the waterlogged, rain-shortened race after a pitch-perfect performance. A new GTE car was revealed earlier this year and will debut in 2017.

GT Daytona also sees one sendoff to the class’ lone American car, the Dodge Viper GT3-R. This year saw an infusion of second-generation FIA GT3-homologated cars – the new Audi R8, Porsche 911 GT3 R, BMW M6 GT3, Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and Ferrari 488 GT3 all debuted this year in Daytona.

The Viper GT3-R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
The Viper GT3-R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

But the Viper, which was there in GTD from the start of 2014, signs off its program this weekend. Ben Keating, the nation’s largest Viper dealer (Viper Exchange) has announced a purchase of a Riley Mk. 30 LMP2 prototype next year but figures to maintain a two-car, manufacturer-level presence within GTD next season as his primary full-season effort. Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, along with ace third driver Marc Miller, look to send the Viper off with a win this weekend.

Beyond the cars, there’s also two driver sendoffs of note. After an incredible 20-year career that’s spanned various series, cars, classes and continents, Englishman Johnny Mowlem makes his last planned professional start this weekend in BAR1’s lone PC car along with Don Yount and Tomy Drissi. Mowlem achieved much of his success with Porsche but in recent years has still produced that occasional blinder of a moment, his pole for BAR1 at Daytona in 2015 a standout performance.

John Pew also makes his last scheduled professional start as part of the lineup in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda. Pew shares the car with longtime co-driver Ozz Negri and third driver Olivier Pla and has been part of the fabric with Shank’s prototype program – both DPs and P2s – for a decade. The team makes its 250th start this weekend and Pew, who made his Le Mans debut with the team earlier this year, will move outside the spotlight.

Sports car racing is sometimes – OK, often – confusing to follow, but one cool thing is that it’s always evolving from a machinery and technology standpoint.

This weekend, forget the future for a bit and embrace the good ‘ol cars and drivers set to compete for one last hurrah.