Kenseth: “It’s too early to really pick favorites” for Chase

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Matt Kenseth didn’t do anything to lower the championship expectations upon him last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, where he opened the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with his sixth victory of the season.

But in a NASCAR teleconference earlier this afternoon, Kenseth, the top seed in the Chase, declared that now is no time for choosing a clear-cut winner.

“I think it’s too early to really pick favorites,” said Kenseth. “I think there’s a ton of competition. When you look at the finishing positions last Sunday, 10 of the top 12 were all drivers in the Chase.

“You’re going to have to run really good every week to be able to beat that, because they’re in the Chase for a reason – because they’ve been the best-running cars all year. You’re going to try to figure out how to beat all of them and they’re all going to be really tough.”

Kenseth is looking to claim his second Sprint Cup after attaining his first title with Roush Fenway Racing (then known as, simply, Roush Racing) in 2003, which was the final year before the Chase format began.

This year, the Chase turns 10 years old, and during that span, some have credited – or blamed – Kenseth for its creation after he took the ’03 championship with lots of consistency (11 Top-5s, 25 Top-10s) but not a lot of winning (a single victory at Las Vegas).

When asked about wanting to put the grumbling to rest by winning in the “new” format, Kenseth said that earning a title is the top priority regardless of the system.

“If you come up short of that, I think it’s always somewhat disappointing, a little disappointing,” he said. “That’s always your goal no matter what the format is.

“The format, we all know what it is before the year starts. It’s the same for everybody. The rules don’t change as you go along. Sure, we’d love to win it in the new format.”

And if you’re expecting him to issue a mea culpa about his role in changing how NASCAR crowns its Sprint Cup champ, forget it.

“There’s certainly no apologies for the way we won that championship,” he said. “We had an unbelievable season [in 2003]…If we could have won more races that year, been quicker, had circumstances go our way, we would have loved that to happen.

“It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to win more races. We had an incredible year that year, like I said. Didn’t have the wins, but had a lot of good finishes.”

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.