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.

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

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Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”

CJ Wilson Racing, Chicago Blackhawks charities partner at Road America

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Photo: CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson Racing and the Chicago Blackhawks charities have come together for a partnership going into the next round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season at Road America.

A release from CJWR explaining said partnership is below:

The CJ Wilson Automotive Group and CJ Wilson Racing today announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, who will become the primary sponsor of the race team’s #35 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Road America. The car will compete in the colors of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities.

Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design
Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design

The partnership will officially launch at the United Center on Wednesday, August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m in advance of Saturday’s race. Fans will have the opportunity to get up close to the car, meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard, and have their picture taken. Attendees can make a voluntary donation to Chicago Blackhawks Charities and one family from Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation will be invited to the race itself as the special guests of CJ Wilson Racing.

CJ-Wilson-BMW-KTM-blackhawks-2EditAutomotive Group and race team President, CJ Wilson, is excited about this unique partnership. “This is the first real opportunity for our team to partner with one of the ‘big four’ professional sports and create some crossover with professional racing.”

The two-time MLB All-Star went on to explain that “from a competitive standpoint we look forward to every race. We have taken a significant step up, moving from the ST level to GS and we are continuing to take further steps away from the track to expand our reach and our influence. Having the car available to Blackhawks fans at the United Center is really neat and is one of the elements of this partnership that has really excited us. Being able to show off these amazing machines in a non-traditional setting really shows people the commitment we have as an organization and hopefully gives them a better understanding of just how accessible our sport is.”

“It is great to be able to include the race team into our long-standing community-based charitable work and our ongoing efforts to give back to local Chicagoland initiatives,” added Eric Vates, Vice President of CJ Wilson Mazda. “It is exciting for the CJ Wilson Automotive Group to have the opportunity to incorporate our race team with one of our premier partners, the Chicago Blackhawks,” added Vates.

Fans can meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard and get up close to the CJ Wilson Racing Chicago Blackhawks Charities Porsche at the United Center on Wednesday August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Lot C (located on Warren Blvd. between Damen Ave. and Wood St.). The seventh round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will take place at Road America, Wisconsin on Saturday, August 6, at 11:35 a.m.

Pirelli confirms Brazilian and Abu Dhabi GP tire selections

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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The last two Grands Prix of the season will feature the widest range of dry weather compound tires, Pirelli has announced on Tuesday.

Its three hardest compounds – the soft, medium and hard tires – will be utilized for the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 13.

Two weeks later in Abu Dhabi for the season finale, however, Pirelli will go to the three softest – the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft tires.

These two races will follow on from the North American double in Austin and Mexico City, where Pirelli will go down the middle with the supersoft, soft and medium compounds.

The soft/medium/hard selections were used at Barcelona and Silverstone and will be used at Sepang and Suzuka.

Meanwhile the other ultrasoft/supersoft/soft races are Monaco, Montreal, Austria and the upcoming Singapore GP.

Pirelli’s season-long breakdown is linked here.