MazdaRoadToIndy

Mazda Road to Indy 2013 Season Review

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We’ve done some fairly extensive reviews on the three major series, NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar, we cover here on MotorSportsTalk. Over the next couple weeks we’ll hit the rest in brief fashion to put a period on 2013 and look ahead to 2014.

Here’s a brief recap of the three Mazda Road to Indy series, which make up the ladder system leading into the IndyCar Series:

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS

An 18-year-old rookie, Sage Karam, extended Sam Schmidt’s streak of consecutive championships to four in a row after turning a last-minute signing into a title-winning season. Presumptive preseason title favorite and series sophomore Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) won two of the first three races to open the campaign, before he and Karam both got beat at the series’ marquee event in Indianapolis. There, Peter Dempsey passed those two and Gabby Chaves in a four-wide finish that was arguably the best finish of the year in the racing world in 2013 to capture the Firestone Freedom 100.

Karam meanwhile, grabbed his first two series wins on the ovals in Milwaukee and Iowa, before Munoz returned to the top spot at Pocono. When the series returned to road and street courses, Jack Hawksworth re-asserted his authority with wins in Toronto and Baltimore, sandwiching Chaves’ first and only win at Mid-Ohio. Karam took a decisive win on an odd weekend in Houston and coupled with Munoz and Hawksworth losing points, Karam fought Chaves for the title in Fontana. Although Munoz edged Chaves there in the season finale, Karam’s tenacious start to climb from ninth to fourth in the opening laps was enough to secure the crown.

At the moment, the high school student is working to compile the budget needed to advance into IndyCar in 2014. Munoz already has a confirmed IndyCar seat with Andretti, while Hawksworth has tested twice (RLL, Coyne). Off track, the series was purchased from IndyCar by Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, and the organization has already announced a new chassis for 2015 and gained Cooper Tire as both a new tire partner and presenting sponsor. Despite a rough car count in 2013, things are actually looking up for Lights heading into the future.

PRO MAZDA

There were basically two classes in the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013: Matthew “Matty” Brabham, and everyone else. The 2012 USF2000 champion advanced a step on the ladder and put in an authoritative, dominant season in winning a record 13 of 16 races for Andretti Autosport – easily enough to win the title. Brabham will move up to Indy Lights in 2014 with Andretti and already has tested twice.

Series sophomore Diego Ferreira and fellow USF2000 grads Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot, both rookies, grabbed the three other race wins and were more or less fighting for second on a regular basis. Few others stood out.

The Andersen group had taken over operations of Pro Mazda, renamed from Star Mazda, late in the winter with Cooper Tire replacing Goodyear as tire partner and presenting sponsor. Car counts ranged from 10-16 and rose toward the higher end of that number at year’s end, with an eye to going north of 20 in 2014.

USF2000

For another season, the USF2000 National Championship boiled down to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates. Brabham and Pigot had engaged in a fight for the 2012 crown and series sophomores Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico were the 2013 protagonists. Hargrove prevailed despite a 6-4 win deficit to Alberico; the Canadian’s luck was simply better as Alberico had several races where he didn’t survive past the first lap or two. Still, both have already been confirmed to jump to Pro Mazda in 2014 with the same team.

Danilo Estrela and Garett Grist added a win apiece, while French F4 star Alexandre Baron turned up seemingly out of nowhere the last two race weekends and winning two of the four races contested in Monterey and Houston. More than a dozen drivers scored podium finishes in the field that often topped 30 cars. Car counts should remain strong in 2014 for yet another Andersen-run series.

‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
© Renault Sport
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.