Michael Waltrip Racing to lose NAPA sponsorship at year’s end

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In the wake of Michael Waltrip Racing’s attempted manipulation of the race finish at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7, NAPA Auto Parts has announced that it will leave the team after this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Last week, NAPA and fellow MWR sponsor 5-Hour Energy expressed their disappointment at MWR’s role in the Richmond scandal, with NAPA saying it would hold a review of its sponsorship with the team.

NAPA posted the following statement on its Facebook page this morning regarding their decision to leave:

NAPA-backed driver Martin Truex Jr. was knocked out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after NASCAR heavily penalized the team with points deductions for all three drivers, probation for their crew chiefs, a $300,000 fine, and an indefinite suspension for general manager Ty Norris.

Clint Bowyer (who is backed by 5-Hour Energy) spun out with seven laps to go at Richmond to bring out the caution, while fellow MWR driver Brian Vickers was ordered to pit in the closing laps to give up his track position. Both of those moves, according to NASCAR, were made to help Truex get into the post-season.

But while NASCAR delivered a swift judgment with their penalties of MWR, the fact still remains that MWR has suffered its biggest post-Richmond blow today, as major sponsors such as NAPA are the life blood of the sport.

In a statement, team co-owner Michael Waltrip said that as the owner, he takes full responsibility for the actions of the team.

“I sincerely apologize for the role our team played and for the lines NASCAR has ruled were crossed by our actions at Richmond,” he said. “NASCAR met with the competitors in Chicago and we all know how we are expected to race forward.”

A statement for the entire team was also released, in which MWR writes that it “respects” NAPA’s decision to part ways with the team.

“There is no doubt, the story of Michael Waltrip Racing begins with NAPA Auto Parts, but there are many more chapters yet to be written,” the team said. “MWR has the infrastructure and support of Toyota for three teams plus three Chase-caliber, race-winning drivers.

“With the support of our corporate partners, we are preparing to field three teams in 2014. MWR is a resilient organization capable of winning races and competing for the championship and that remains our sole focus.”

NAPA has had a working relationship with Waltrip since 2001, and served as his primary sponsor for his two Daytona 500 victories in ’01 and 2003. They also joined him for his creation of Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007, and stayed on to sponsor Truex when he replaced Waltrip as a full-time driver in 2010.

But while the team still plans on staying a three-car franchise, NAPA’s departure would seem to make that plan, currently, a very iffy one.

If they can’t replace the lost money, the consequences could be disastrous. In that situation, the AP’s Jenna Fryer writes that a group of nearly 100 employees could be facing layoffs. Additionally, Truex could find himself out of a ride as well.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.