DeltaWing, Mazda teams overachieve versus expectations

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Two of the relative underdog teams in the Prototype field at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona – the DeltaWing Racing Cars and SpeedSource Mazda teams – overachieved compared to expectations.

In the 18-car field, these two along with the all-gentlemen Highway to Help squads were probably the longest shots to win entering the week. But while the Highway team used a standard Riley DP with Dinan power, both the DeltaWing and Mazda used this year’s Rolex 24 as a testing opportunity for new technologies.

The lightweight, radical DeltaWing was back in its first 24-hour race since the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race the open-top version of the car made its official debut. But the difference this time around was drastic: an entirely new operating team, crew, car (a coupe version) and tire partner (Continental) made for several new elements as the team took to Daytona for the first time.

The team’s two 2013 full-season drivers, Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge, were joined by Caterham F1 reserve Alexander Rossi and 2013 Indy Lights runner-up Gabby Chaves in the distinctive, chrome coupe. Rossi commented on the driveability of the car compared to his usual F1 chassis.

“To get the performance out of it, you have to drive it different than a normal car,” Rossi told MotorSportsTalk at Daytona. “The visual references and the like aren’t difficult, but to pull a lap time out, yeah, you have to be a bit creative.”

Rossi, a former Formula BMW champion, was making his first U.S. race start in five or six years. Legge qualified the car eighth overall – ahead of all the P2 chassis – and top of the ALMS 2013 cars making the switch into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

Myriad issues plagued the team throughout the race, notably gearbox, a fuel pump and a small off by Chaves, but in more than 16 hours the car ran 288 laps and more than 1,000 miles. It was the longest outing yet for the Élan-powered prototype, in the team led by managing partner Don Panoz and president/COO Al Speyer.

“First of all, the crew did a terrific job to keep the car going,” Legge said. “This is the longest we’ve ever gone and when I was out on the track, the car was great. Very balanced, very good in traffic. It’s hard not to finish but we know that we are heading in the right direction and it’s just a matter of continuing what we’re doing.”

Mazda could also take positives away from its debut with the Multimatic-built pair of SKYACTIV-D diesel P2 coupes, in a purely learning exercise and something where pace was not going to be achieved from the off.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

The two coupes – driven by Mazda veterans Sylvain Tremblay, Tom Long, James Hinchcliffe, Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez and Tristan Vautier – plugged away for more than 2,800 miles between them and came up just short of finishing. It represented a major step forward compared to the GX-run Mazda6 diesels that raced Daytona last year, when all three cars retired within the first six hours.

The No. 07 (Miller/Nunez/Vautier) car came within an hour of the finish before an oil-pump belt failure caused a loss of oil pressure.  The No. 70 car (the other three) covered over 1,300 miles before it was retired due to overheating caused by a clogged radiator.

Where the car succeeded was in efficiency, with a 35-percent advantage in range from the SKYACTIV-D engine.  The car also has a high “clean factor,” using a renewable synthetic diesel fuel supplied by Dynamic Fuels.  Mazda Motorsports engineers will now address the radiator and belt issues that sidelined their cars this weekend, and turn their attention to dialing in even more speed as the season progresses.

“Given the limited time we’ve had to develop the new Mazda SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel prototype, we are very satisfied with the progress our team has achieved,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “That said, this is a multi-year development program and we won’t be happy until we start winning.”

Of note here, the Élan engine in the DeltaWing is Mazda MZR-R based, but is not a Mazda block. Either way, both teams press ahead, and seeing development between them will be interesting to monitor as the rest of the TUDOR Championship rolls on.

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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