NASCAR Sprint Cup silly season update for 2014

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On Monday, Jeff Burton found a home for 2014 in a part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing. We haven’t done one of these yet in full for NASCAR Sprint Cup, so here’s a quick recap of who’s going where, who’s set, and what’s still to be determined in the remaining weeks before Daytona testing commences in January. As you can see, the pickings are slim among available remaining rides.

CHEVROLET (17)

  • Hendrick (4): 48-Jimmie Johnson, 24-Jeff Gordon, 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., 5-Kasey Kahne
  • Stewart-Haas (4): 14-Tony Stewart, 4-Kevin Harvick, 41-Kurt Busch, 10-Danica Patrick, Mark Martin (test driver until Stewart returns)
  • Childress (3): 31-Ryan Newman, 27-Paul Menard, TBA-Austin Dillon (Not officially announced and number to be determined)
  • Earnhardt Ganassi (2): 1-Jamie McMurray, 42-Kyle Larson
  • Furniture Row (1): 78-Martin Truex Jr.
  • JTG Daugherty (1): 47-AJ Allmendinger, with EGR technical alliance
  • Germain (1): 13-Casey Mears, with ECR engines
  • Baldwin (1): 7-Michael Annett, with ECR engines

FORD (10)

  • Penske (2): 2-Brad Keselowski, 22-Joey Logano
  • Roush Fenway (3): 16-Greg Biffle, 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 99-Carl Edwards
  • Petty (2): 9-Marcos Ambrose, 43-Aric Almirola
  • Front Row (2): 34-David Ragan, 38-David Gilliland
  • Leavine Family (1): 95-Michael McDowell

TOYOTA (6)

  • Gibbs (3): 20-Matt Kenseth, 18-Kyle Busch, 11-Denny Hamlin
  • MWR (2+1 PT): 15-Clint Bowyer, 55-Brian Vickers, 66-Jeff Burton (part-time third car; test driver until Vickers returns), 66-Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500 only)

YET TO BE CONFIRMED

  • The Wood Brothers and Trevor Bayne, with No. 21 Ford, have not announced 2014 plans. Have ran a part-time schedule for several years.
  • Both of BK Racing’s No. 83 and 93 Toyotas are TBD. 2013 drivers were David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil.
  • Turner Scott Motorsports takes over the No. 51 Chevrolet formerly of Phoenix Racing, likely driver to be Justin Allgaier.
  • Joe Nemechek’s own team, No. 87 Toyota, TBD on plans after start-and-parking most in 2013.
  • Swan Racing’s No. 30 could be either Chevrolet or Toyota and seeks a young driver. Cole Whitt, Kevin Swindell and Parker Kligerman all possibilities after driving for the team in 2013.
  • Frank Stoddard’s Fas Lane Racing’s No. 32 Ford unsure of its driver. Ken Schrader retired from Sprint Cup after Homestead, Terry Labonte, Timmy Hill and Boris Said also drove in 2014.
  • Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet TBD; ran most of 2013 with Landon Cassill. No. 33 was also used by RCR for a fourth car in selected races.
  • Tommy Baldwin’s second car, No. 36 Chevrolet, TBD.

OTHER POTENTIAL POSSIBILITIES

  • Possible third car part-time for Ryan Blaney at Penske Racing
  • Possible third car at Front Row Motorsports, the one vacated by Josh Wise
  • Possible that Phil Parsons Racing continues with its No. 98 Ford, although 2013 driver McDowell left for Leavine Family Racing.

Steve Nielsen appointed new F1 sporting director

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Liberty Media has continued to bolster Formula 1’s management team by announcing that Steve Nielsen will take up the role of sporting director on August 1, reporting directly to Ross Brawn.

Nielsen has worked in F1 across four decades, most recently as Williams’ sporting manager, but was known to be leaving the team at the end of July, handing his duties over to inbound Dave Redding.

F1 confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that Nielsen would be joining the management team established by Liberty Media following its takeover of the sport in January, working with sporting managing director Brawn.

“I have known Steve for many years and have seen at first hand his skills and ability,” Brawn said.

“His appointment will strengthen the working group we are setting up to work with the FIA and the teams in defining a framework for the technical and sporting regulations for Formula 1’s next phase.

“Steve’s main responsibility will be related to sporting and organizational matters, for example by attending the meetings of the Sporting Working Group.”

F1 Strategy Group introduces Halo for 2018

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The Halo is coming to Formula 1 in 2018, having been confirmed at Wednesday’s F1 Strategy Group meeting.

This brings the first level of additional frontal cockpit protection to being after several years of discussions and a couple years of testing itself. As of August last year, the idea to introduce the Halo was delayed until 2018 at the earliest for a full introduction.

Here was the statement from the FIA:

“Following the unanimous agreement of the Strategy Group, in July 2016, to introduce additional frontal protection for Formula One and the repeated support from the drivers, the FIA confirms the introduction of the Halo for 2018. With the support of the teams, certain features of its design will be further enhanced.

“Having developed and evaluated a large number of devices over the past five years, it had become clear that the Halo presents the best overall safety performance.”

Both the Halo and the Shield concepts have been tried, with an updated Shield tried most recently by Sebastian Vettel in Friday first practice at the British Grand Prix.

But Vettel spoke of a dizziness in comments after the test, and one could figure those comments were taken into consideration when it came to the decision to go with the halo.

The Halo drops over the cockpit and has three prongs with how it’s positioned. A center post has been right in front of the cockpit during the tests.

Hungarian GP tire picks reveals big supersoft preference

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Teams have selected their sets of tires for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the next round of the Formula 1 season.

Pirelli’s supersoft tire, the softest compound on offer, is the popular choice with all 20 drivers selecting between eight and 10 sets of supersofts for the weekend.

The only real variance comes within the soft sets, some opting for two sets and others as many as four.

No one has selected more than one set of the hardest compound on offer for the weekend, the medium.

The full selections are below.

RLL working towards BMW renewal, IndyCar second car

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One of Bobby Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s strengths for the better part of the last decade has been the ability to run two parallel programs – one in IndyCar and one in sports cars – that contend for wins and championships on an annual basis.

And the goal is to continue that into 2018 as one of its programs comes up for renewal.

BMW Motorsport has partnered with RLL, under the BMW Team RLL banner, for nearly a decade since 2009. In that time frame, BMW and RLL have combined to launch the M3, Z4 and M6 GTE spec models, winning races seven of the nine years.

There have been 13 combined wins – seven with the M3 from 2009 to 2012, four with the Z4 from 2013 to 2015 and now two with the new M6 this year – along with the 2011 ALMS GT title for Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller and a pair of back-to-back Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring wins in 2011 and 2012.

While the contract is up for bid and as rumors swirl of a possible change by BMW to another outfit, Rahal is optimistic the years of success achieved by the combined unit will be able to continue together for 2018 and beyond as the new M8 GTE makes its debut.

“BMW is our priority – we’ve been with them nearly 10 years,” Rahal told NBC Sports. “Of course it’s a contract year. I would presume given our success that should mean something to them, and that the relationship would continue.”

BMW finally has come to the fore in GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The pair of back-to-back wins this IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park could not have come at a better time.

Balance of Performance adjustments seem to have adversely affected BMW Team RLL and the M6 GTLM more than other cars within the stacked GT Le Mans class, and through a combination of bad luck, pace restrictions and the heavier car, the M6 was stuck in a near two-year rut from when it got introduced prior to 2016 through mid-year this year.

That was a challenge to team morale, but it was something Rahal was keen and focused to lead the team through.

“It’s been a long time coming as you say. Let’s face it; there were mechanical issues we started out with when the car first showed up, and then BoP came in and knocked the wind out of our sails for most of the rest of 2016,” he reflected.

“Even Sebring this year, we were so far off. I thought it was a hell of a job to finish on the same lap as the leaders almost at Daytona and Sebring, as we didn’t have anywhere near the pace (timing data backs that up; best race lap at Daytona was a 1:44.247, one of only three cars in 11 in the 1:44s while rest in 1:43s and at Sebring, best race lap 1:58.376 more than a second off leaders). That was just good consistent running and pit stops.

“As I told people recently, I think Sebring was the longest 12 hours of my life – it was painful. We didn’t stand a chance. To sit there and pound around there knowing that, the crew pushing on anyway, depressing was a good word.

“We finally got the BoP back starting at Austin as we were on equal ground, and now we actually had a shot. At least you’re in the race with a chance. We saw that in Austin and then it kept going at Watkins Glen and Mosport.”

Both lineups have changed this year with Alexander Sims and Martin Tomczyk joining BMW American veterans Bill Auberlen and John Edwards, respectively, in the Nos. 25 and 24 BMW M6 GTLMs. These two are largely new to the American scene but have adapted rather well.

Rahal also harbors Le Mans ambitions for his team, and while that is highly unlikely to be with BMW given it will have the M-TEK team running the M8 GTE in Europe, he’d one day like to run an LMP2 entry there and have a heavy American presence in the driver lineup.

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 28: Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda drives during practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 28, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As for on the other domestic front, one of the annual questions that arises with RLL – which consistently overachieves as a one-car team in the Verizon IndyCar Series – is whether it will expand back to a two-car program full-time for the first time since 2013. A second car has run part-time each of the last four years, including this one.

The possibility is greater of that happening with again, rumors of teams switching manufacturers. If Honda has available units in the bank, that enhances the chances that a second RLL car will appear on the grid. Rahal remains adamant though that such a driver would need to enhance the overall competitiveness of the program.

“Having a good two-car team is better than a good one-car team, but the second car has to be a contributor, not just a second car,” Rahal said.

“But I feel pretty good about our opportunities in that respect. We’re talking to several people – and the thing is we’re looking for our own money so we don’t need a driver with money. We’re not there yet, but odds are good we’ll have a two-car team.”

Past RLL veterans Takuma Sato and Oriol Servia would make sense there; Sato if Andretti Autosport shifts from Honda to Chevrolet as is possible and Servia, who’s been off-and-on with RLL since 2009 on several occasions but never enjoyed a full-time season with the team. Servia is undertaking the Honda development on the 2018 universal Dallara aero kit and his setup presence would be invaluable.

“There’s some good teams that could look to improve their lineups, or teams that aren’t doing so well to improve their driver lineup. Then teams will add, like presumably us. It’s interesting to watch.

“As I’ve said all along, whoever is in the second car, it’s gotta be a competitive race car. A guy like Taku, we have a lot of warm feelings having worked with him a number of years ago. Hinchcliffe is on the market. If I look at the driver, you look at what combination works, and there’s other guys out there. Those two would get along. There’s even Oriol, who works very well with the team.

“There’s a number of options, so the goal is to get the most competitive guy you can get.”