2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona - Preview

TUSC: Rolex 24 weekend recap, on-the-ground side


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.

Elsewhere over the weekend, beyond the on-track action

  • There were big crowds… Two really good signs that this felt like a bigger deal: a packed infield, and a packed line to get onto the grid for the grid walk. As I was trying to meander through in advance on Saturday, I hit a crowd wall. A good sign for the speedway, and the series.
  • But a quick trigger on a late yellow… There were a little more than 20 minutes to go, and a full-course caution flew when Alex Job Racing’s No. 22 Porsche 911 GT America went off course at the second hairpin, and resumed. But to me and a number of others, it seemed like that call came rather quickly. Here’s my tweet:
  • …And long delays post-race. Each of Thursday, Friday and Sunday saw a post-session issue come up and in each instance, the word took a while to get out from IMSA communications. Granted, I respect the process and appreciate the process… it just seemed as though the GTD pole flip-flop (Thursday), the GS race winner drop (Friday) and GTD race winner swap (Sunday) all took a long time to get officially sorted. Ideally, IMSA learns from this weekend and can expedite the process going forward.
  • …And a high volume of commercials. Ads are good. Ads help pay the bills. Too many ads, however, don’t help attract new viewers. The choppy nature of the ads – which were frequent – all too often interrupted the flow of the race, particularly as the four class battles reached their climax.
  • Some GRAND-AM media carryover. On the ground, it felt as though there was a unified front, with a clear message that this was IMSA and the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. But with regards to the TV and radio coverage, the GRAND-AM-esque style of coverage seemed overly prominent; the headlining P class, and the Daytona Prototypes in particular, got way too much air time. PC, GTLM and GTD are classes too, and many times, like they did Sunday, they’ll have great racing.
  • A challenging MRN radio broadcast. I’ll use the word “challenging” here rather than some of the more negative words I’ve seen and heard over the last 72 hours, because I know from experience that covering sports car racing presents a complex, distinct and serious challenge. That’s why so few organizations can do it well. The challenge for MRN in future races is to better adapt to the flow of sports car racing and tell the stories beyond the obvious, NASCAR-centric type of nuggets. It’s what we have for now, and there’s plenty of room for growth.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.