Shell And Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston

Houston weekend truly a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly

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This weekend’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston IndyCar doubleheader was truly a case of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” From attending 10 of the 15 race weekends (13 of 18 races) thus far this season, I’d have to rate this one lower than all the rest.

Most of you who read my work will know that I usually want to give IndyCar the benefit of the doubt, and I’m generally more positive than not. But there was almost no way to spin this weekend in Houston as a positive.

A few thoughts on winners, losers, and things that need fixin’:

THE GOOD

  • Scott Dixon. I touched on this earlier today but Dixon’s first and second-place finishes were his latest weekend success story in doubleheader races. As you might expect given the bad luck that hit him in Sonoma and Baltimore, Dixon and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team came out firing.
  • Single file restarts. A rather inspired decision, actually, by INDYCAR given the nature of the last left-hand sweeper leading onto the front straight to have the cars restart single-file rather than double-file. While there were cautions in both races, none came as a result of the restarts. The only thing to monitor from here is where the leader launched from; perhaps moving the acceleration zone closer to start/finish would ensure a closer restart.
  • Corporate sponsorship and attendance. Everywhere around the 1.7-mile MD Anderson Center Speedway at Reliant Park street circuit, there were a flood of banners. Verizon, blu eCigs and of course, title sponsors Shell and Pennzoil had a heavy presence. The Houston Chronicle said organizers projected a weekend crowd of 150,000 fans. It certainly wasn’t that many but the grandstands looked relatively full after a six-year absence for the race.  At the very least, there was enough interest to want to see the race continue on an alternate date next year assuming changes are made.

THE BAD

  • Reliant round-robin. Anyone working the event will have had their heads spin at some point over the course of this weekend because there were four buildings, all sponsored by Reliant, you had to keep straight. The track itself is called Reliant Park, with the media center in Reliant Arena, which is inside the track and pit lane. The place to pick up media credentials, though, was in Reliant Center – outside the track and a ways from most parking lots. Add in Reliant Stadium, the current football stadium for the Houston Texans, and Reliant Astrodome, the sponsor of the now-dilapidated “eighth wonder of the world,” and it was a challenge to make sure you were in the right place.
  • Logistical shuffling into pits. For all series racing at Houston – IndyCar, the three Mazda Road to Indy divisions, Pirelli World Challenge and the Mazda MX-5 Cup series – there were just two ingress/egress points to move all cars and equipment from the paddock into pit lane. All cars entered at pit in, left at pit out, and it was a circus watching all cars and equipment from the next series move into place as the others exited stage right.
  • Helio Castroneves’ weekend. Gearbox gremlins strike at the worst possible time. Twice. I can’t help but feel the Brazilian is snake bit.

THE UGLY

  • Turn 1… The timeline to build the track was condensed down to 5 days for race promoter Lanigan Promotions after the Texans’ game last Sunday went into overtime. And while a track build of 5 days is still plenty impressive considering most street courses take weeks, there was an obvious lack of foresight in seeing that Turn 1’s bump was going to be a problem. No cars had properly driven over that surface in anger in six years, and no tests of any kind were conducted before Friday’s first session. I had a radio in for Pirelli World Challenge practice and on the first lap, a call went out, “We have reports of cars launching all 4 wheels airborne at Turn 1.” And so the weekend of chaos began in earnest…
  • …Then the temporary chicane. A quick fix, no more, no less. After the delay for track repairs on Friday, all sessions ran with the chicane, but come Saturday, that was reduced to just USF2000 and Pro Mazda the rest of the weekend. So that meant the chicane was sometimes there, sometimes not, and caused delays to what was already a fragmented schedule.
  • …And the schedule. The Friday delays meant Indy Lights got one practice session canceled. Series had qualifying changed to practices. Mazda MX-5 actually ran its first practice in the dark with only some floodlights on Friday. And then the Sunday accident actually meant the rest of the day’s sessions would be canceled, so MX-5 didn’t even get to race. Throughout all of this, there never seemed to be a coherent, consistent message as to what the schedule was and how it was evolving. It was haphazard and felt almost as if it was made up as we went along. This is my eighth season covering motorsports and other than Friday of Baltimore Year 1, I cannot recall a worse weekend schedule.
  • …And the resulting communication breakdown. So as we’re trying to figure it all out as we go, the disinformation and misinformation shifts to Sunday morning, when rain threw another monkey wrench into the weekend and canceled IndyCar qualifying. Fair enough, so we’ll set the field by entrant points, and Scott Dixon will be on pole. A photo gets taken, Dixon comes into the press conference room. And then an hour or so later I get a text from my colleague Chris Estrada – who was also on site and provided excellent coverage this weekend – saying “I’ll update the story now that Helio is on pole.” What. The. Fill-in-the-Blank here. Apparently the rulebook states that if qualifying is canceled for a race during a doubleheader weekend, entrant points do set the grid – but it’s entrant points entering the weekend, not after Race 1. OK, then. Last but certainly not least…
  • …And of course, the last-lap wreck. Icing on the cake, really, for what I only half-jokingly referred to as a “goat rodeo” of a weekend. Racing is dangerous and accidents happen. You accept those risks going into it. The fact of the matter though is that on street courses, accidents such as Dario Franchitti’s are infrequent, and have a lower probability of happening because cars don’t run in huge packs or at their terminal velocity. Mainstream coverage from the “passerby national media” followed – same as it did after Las Vegas, 2011 – where agendas usurped fact-checking on their checklist and questions about IndyCar’s safety and “what happened to Ashley Judd’s ex-husband” were asked. It was salt in an open wound.

THE VERDICT

Much of what happened this weekend was preventable in advance. It’s a hit to street courses, most of which are a big draw for IndyCar’s business model because of the “bring the race to the people” mindset that can work if done properly. It’s a hit to the city of Houston, which was hoping to showcase itself in a grander light on a national scale and instead is now as damaged as the interior of the Astrodome. Most of all, it’s a hit to IndyCar, whose often excellent on-track product was simply unable to overcome the challenges faced this weekend.

Before Ricciardo stormed to second in Spa, he lived it up in L.A. (VIDEO)

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Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing came back storming out of the summer break with second place in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, and then promptly celebrated with a “shoey” with Australian countryman Mark Webber on the podium.

Before he did that, though, Ricciardo spent most of his summer break in Los Angeles.

The above two-plus minute video, produced by Donut Media, recaps how Ricciardo got on in California. Meanwhile, a quick tour through Ricciardo’s Instagram page, below, offers up his L.A. tour in picture and small video form:

My mates goofin round waiting for me at the airport 😄 @tombull @alexlibby123

A video posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

🇺🇸 #GBA

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

All my friends have a lowrider

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

We had a blast at the Dodgers game last night. Thanks @pirellitirenorthamerica for the tickets ⚾️

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

The vanquish v12 goes well 👌🏼 Thanks @astonmartinbeverlyhills for the wheels. Loving California! 📸 @larry_chen_foto

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

Oh we huuuuungry ⬇️N➡️🍔 #justthisonce #roadtrippin

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

In my musical element @diplo 🎶

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

Just a couple Aussie roosters abroad @generik_dj #shreddinglife

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

What an amazing trip with seabass and the fella's. America you've been good to us. #greatestcityintheworld 😜🇺🇸

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

#tbt burning up rodeo last week 📸 @larry_chen_foto

A photo posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

Felipe Massa’s dad becomes F1’s latest meme during Belgian GP

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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If you cast your mind back to last November’s Brazilian Grand Prix, you may recall the ‘Places Alonso Would Rather Be’ meme that took the internet by storm following the Spaniard’s deck-chair antics in qualifying.

Well 2016 has now produced the latest F1 meme: Felipe Massa’s unimpressed dad.

Luis Antonio Massa has been integral to Felipe’s career, appearing at the majority of his son’s F1 races with Sauber, Ferrari and Williams over the past 14 years.

During Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, Massa found himself embroiled in a fierce battle for position with Sergio Perez, leading to a brave move from the Force India driver at Les Combes. The move paid off, demoting Massa into seventh place.

The world feed camera quickly cut to Massa’s dad, whose unimpressed face spoke volumes.

And then the internet took over.

Move aside McKayla Maroney. We’ve got a new ‘not impressed’ face in town.

IMSA: Corvette, Paul Miller complete flawless weekends to win at VIR

imsa_28931523
Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Corvette Racing and Paul Miller Racing dominated the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway all-GT weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and promptly culminated their weekends on top by controlling the two-hour, 40-minute race en route to class wins in GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.

Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen took the No. 3 Corvette C7.R to the GLTM class win, that pair’s first win of the year, while Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow brought it home for the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in GT Daytona for the team’s first WeatherTech Championship win and the first for the Lamborghini in the U.S.

Both cars controlled the race but Garcia and Sellers – past GT class sparring partners before Sellers moved into the GTD class this year – needed to restart strongly in a one-lap dash to the checkered flag following the race’s lone full-course caution.

It appeared as though the sister Corvette, the GTLM-points leading car of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, slipped on oil going into the roller coaster. Gavin limped the wounded No. 4 Corvette C7.R back to the pits following an impact that looked worse than it was, and while he emerged out of the car OK, it was a bitter blow for the car that had won the last two GTLM races.

Nonetheless, even though the accident occurred with just over six minutes remaining, IMSA and VIR did well to get the track cleaned and back to race conditions.

There was still drama after the green with contact occurring between the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber.  Fisichella’s No. 62 Ferrari was parked in Turn 1 and dropped to seventh at the finish.

Per IMSA Radio, a reported altercation took place after the race, with Fisichella reportedly slamming the side of the No. 912 Porsche once all cars were coming into the pit lane.

The No. 912 Porsche was actually third in the race, behind the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

The No. 4 Corvette fell to ninth in class, while championship sparring partners the No. 67 Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe gained extra points by finishing fourth.

That tentatively sees Gavin and Milner clear of Westbrook and Briscoe by seven points (287-280) with two races remaining.

GTD was a bit of a more straightforward affair with Sellers and Snow dominating the race. Lamborghini was the only GTD manufacturer that hadn’t won, but that stat now ends following today’s result. Sellers hailed Snow’s performance, noting the talented youngster out of Utah did the bulk of the work in the race. Sellers had a minor scare with an off course excursion but otherwise there were no issues. The car led every session this weekend.

The three Audi R8 LMS cars were second through fourth on the road, with the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell on the podium for the first time this year in second, and the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi of John Potter and Andy Lally in third.

But following post-race technical inspection, Magnus’ podium was erased, as officials discovered a minimum ride height infraction. That promoted the second Stevenson Audi (No. 6 car of Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis) from fourth to third.

Porsche’s lone entry in the race ended last car on the class lead lap in fourth, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas.

Change Racing’s No. 16 Lamborghini of Spencer Pumpelly and Corey Lewis had podium potential but lost out again after Pumpelly was hung out a lap too long on fuel and needing to crawl back to the pits, ending fifth. The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen ended sixth after an off-course excursion.

The points leaders in this class had a fraught day too; a puncture and an overboost penalty capped off a tough weekend for the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen in seventh place.

Balzan and Nielsen unofficially lead the surging Lally and Potter by just eight points (267-259). Positions third through sixth in class sit anywhere from 20 to 36 points back.

IMSA resumes at Circuit of The Americas on Sept. 17 with all four classes.

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ERS issue costs Grosjean, Haas possible points finish in Belgium

Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium.
Saturday 27 August 2016.

World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Photographic
ref: Digital Image _ONZ2206
© Haas F1 Team
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Romain Grosjean was left frustrated after an issue with his energy recovery system (ERS) during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix cost him a possible points finish.

Haas Formula 1 driver Grosjean started 11th at Spa, but made a superb start to run as high as fifth in the early stages.

However, the decision to pit just three laps before the race was red flagged combined with the ERS issue that cost him straight line speed dropped Grosjean outside of the points.

The Frenchman enjoyed a strong final stint, but was unable to finish any higher than 13th for the American team.

“Well, it was a very good start and a very good first lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any top speed in the beginning of the race,” Grosjean explained.

“Something was not going quite right. It took a lot of time to solve that. My last stint wasn’t bad. I made up a lot of time on everyone, but the damage had already been done.”

Grosjean believes he could have scored his first points since the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of July, with Haas struggling to replicate its early-season form.

“We had a shot at a good finish today,” Grosjean said.

“On the positive side, I’m much happier with the car than I was recently, so that’s at least great.

“It’s just a shame we lost an opportunity for a good result.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez recovered from a grid penalty to finish the race 12th, with the Mexican taking a number of positives from the weekend.

“It wasn’t the result we expected. We were fighting very hard to get into the top-10 and even though we didn’t manage to get there, I think we did well,” Gutierrez said.

“The balance of the car felt good and we had reasonable pace. This is one of the things we need to keep up for the coming events because it’s what’s going to keep us consistent and help us get the most out of the car.

“I feel very grateful for the team. They did a great job and had some great pit stops. We lost some time on the safety car before the red flag, but sometimes it goes that way.

“We finished P12, so I’m not completely satisfied, but we will keep pushing.”