Some general weekend observations from the scene at Daytona International Speedway, site of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The buzz, of course, was a little different this year with this being the opening round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, new for 2014.
- Thank goodness Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli are beginning the recovery process after their severe accident in Hour 3. A disastrous accident to witness, but the safety elements and structural integrity of their cars did their jobs.
- Bravo, CORE autosport. PC class win and GT Le Mans class win with the Porsche 911 RSR in only its second U.S. race. Jon Bennett and Morgan Brady have developed one of the finest organizations currently competing in motorsports.
- It’s rare to hear the words “Chip Ganassi” and “Double DNF” in the same sentence. But a floor issue took the No. 02 Ford EcoBoost Riley out late, with an accident and other issues striking the defending race champion No. 01 at times.
- The phrase BoP isn’t going away anytime soon. The most common refrains? The P2 cars were grossly overmatched at Daytona given their aero and limited power meant reduced top speeds. Additionally, the GT Daytona class Ferraris and Audis were rockets, and gaining anywhere from 8 to 15+ mph on the Porsches, Viper, BMW, and Aston Martins.
- The speed gaps meant some of the talented drivers in the slower cars in GTD didn’t really get a chance to showcase themselves. Dane Cameron did a solid job to finish seventh in the GT3-spec BMW Z4 for Turner Motorsport, ahead of Alex Job’s No. 22 and NGT’s No. 30 Porsches. The latter car had IndyCar Race Director Beaux Barfield moonlighting as a race strategist…
- On the other hand, several drivers made cracks about slower drivers in good cars. Overall co-winner Sebastien Bourdais went the furthest, calling some of the amateur drivers “terrorists.”
- Muscle Milk Pickett Racing had arguably one of its best ever races as an organization this weekend. Perhaps under the radar since it wasn’t considered an outright win contender, the ALMS P1 champs stayed consistent and collected over its first 24-hour race since 2008, with a just result of fifth overall best of the P2 bunch in its ORECA 03 Nissan.
- OAK Racing ran rather well, too, with its Morgan Nissan in terms of pace. But an alternator issue cost it a better result than eighth overall, and sixth in the P class. At one point, the black-and-pink No. 42 ran as high as third overall.
- BMW had a weekend to remember, even though it had moments to forget after Friday’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge BMW Performance 200. In the Conti race, the overall winner and third-placed GS cars were bounced after the race… which meant only a 1-4 sweep in GS and 1-2 in ST. Meanwhile in the Rolex, the BMW Team RLL Z4s used strategy and reliability to finish second and fourth in GTLM – huge points results considering the car’s lack of top end speed meant it was not a match for Daytona.
- Tough day in GTLM for the two American bruisers, Corvette and Viper. Corvette suffered mechanical issues for both of the debuting C7.Rs at one point or another; same for Viper, but at least one of the grease-covered SRTs made it to the podium after gathering its battle scars.
- The DeltaWing and SpeedSource Mazda prototypes overachieved compared to expectations. Despite various issues, the DeltaWing pressed on for more than 1,000 miles of racing before retiring, and the Mazda SKYACTIV-D coupes were courteous when being lapped and kept running with both cars for more than 18 hours. Baby steps, perhaps, but the spirit of development and the underdog are alive with these two squads.
- Overachievers of the race? For my money, the Starworks Motorsport DP with a run from a mid-60s overall starting position into second overall with Brendon Hartley in the first hour, and a consistent presence in the top seven until retiring with a mechanical issue. A genuinely impressive effort from Peter Baron’s squad.
MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish
The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.
The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.
A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.
Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.
After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet
- 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.
Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.
Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.
The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.
As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.