Rolex 24 - Testing

AJ Allmendinger ready to make the most of second chance with new team

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Having been picked to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Dodge after Busch’s ouster from Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, AJ Allmendinger came into 2012 sitting on top of the world.

He was with one of the better teams in the sport, driving for a motorsports legend in Roger Penske, and had Allmendinger stuck around for the whole season, would have shared in then-teammate Brad Keselowski’s run to the Sprint Cup championship later that same year.

Unfortunately, the man they call “The Dinger” saw that world collapse just about six months into his term with Team Penske, being suspended by NASCAR after testing positive for a banned stimulant following a random drug test.

In a matter of days that followed, Allmendingers Sprint Cup career, if not his future racing career – not to mention his tenure with Team Penske – had come to an abrupt end almost as quickly as it began.

To his credit, Allmendinger owned up to what he did and became a virtual poster boy for NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. Allmendinger did everything that was asked of him and was quickly reinstated less than 3 ½ months after being suspended.

“I learned that there’s a lot of things I needed to change,” Allmendinger reflected back about his layoff with MotorSportsTalk during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour. “That racing itself didn’t just make me happy. Being away from racing, that wasn’t making me happy. There were just a lot of things that I needed to work on personally and mentally, kind of like almost starting all over again.

“Honestly, if it didn’t happen, I probably would never have had those opportunities, just because you’re so busy and you try to carry on and say it’ll fix itself. We all know it’s not going to fix itself. We can’t hide from problems, they won’t just go away. It gave me a chance to step back, look at myself and say I need to start over, to figure out the areas I need to work on and find true happiness.

“Racing makes me happy, but it wasn’t the sole reason. I wasn’t happy at the time. Being at home and the things I was dealing with (including divorce proceedings) weren’t making me happy. It’s that whole package. I feel so much better where I’m at now as a person.”

Last season, Allmendinger hoped to return to a full-time ride, but the opportunities were not there, so he did what he needed to do to keep himself visible. After finishing third in the Rolex 24 last January, he came back to race for Penske (proving he didn’t burn any bridges) in the Indianapolis 500 (started fifth, finished seventh).

Allmendinger would race in a total of six IndyCar races in 2013, as well as 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing, and also won both Nationwide Series races he entered (both also for Penske).

Allmendinger now finds himself in a similar position as Kurt Busch was in last season. Busch took an opportunity from Furniture Row Racing and ultimately became the first driver in Sprint Cup history to qualify a one-car team in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

That’s what Allmendinger would like to replicate in 2014.

“It is almost like starting over to be with this race team,” he said. “They don’t make me feel just like a driver, they make me feel a part of their family, I’m a key component to the race team and building it, not just driving the car. For all those reasons, I’m really looking forward to the partnership.”

The feeling is mutual, says team co-owner and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty.

“We think it’s going to be a huge step for our program going forward,” Daugherty said of having Allmendinger. “We’re hoping to kind of simulate what the 78 (Busch and the Furniture Row team) did last year, to be very competitive every week.

“Expectations within our company are very high. We want to be inside that top-20 every week. … If you run well as a single-car team and get inside the top-20, you’re doing something.”

Putting Allmendinger behind the wheel is one of several changes for JTG-Daugherty, which is entering its 20th season in NASCAR racing this year. The perennial also-ran organization intends on shaking things up this year in a big way.

“We’re going to show up, be loud and proud, walk into some of those places like Dover and kick their butts, that’s what we’re planning on doing,” Daugherty said. “There’s no need to be shallow or meek about it. We got our butts kicked the last couple of years, so we’re going to hopefully return the favor this year.”

One of the biggest changes is JTG-D’s switch from Toyota to Chevrolet motors and chassis leased from Richard Childress Racing.

“We knew we had to have the alliance if we truly were going to be competitive,” Daugherty said. “Within our four walls, we don’t feel like we’re a 30th-place race team; we feel like we’re a 20th-place race team, but the reality of it is we were a 30th-place race team last year.

“We felt that Richard Childress gave us the best opportunity to maximize everything they were going to allow us to utilize. From Day One, they’ve given us entrée to everything they do in their building and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

Allmendinger plans on sticking around JTG-D, having recently signed a three-year contract.

“I thought this was the right place to be, the right choice for me and a place I can be hopefully for a long time,” Allmendinger said. “I’m very fortunate. … After 2012, I had to really sit down and look at that maybe, what you call big-time auto racing, I might be done with it. I love being here. I hope it continues for a long time.”

Allmendinger also realizes that everything he’s gone through has made him stronger.

“I truly believe now that things are meant to happen for a reason,” he said. “God had a plan and there’s so many things that happened last year that I’m so fortunate about. I’m in a great place, I feel so good mentally, physically – I’m just ready to go.”

Yet no matter how positive his attitude is, Allmendinger realizes and has accepted that he will likely carry for the rest of his career, if not his life, the stigma of having been suspended for drug use.

“I know that because of that stuff and where I’m at now and how much better I am,” Allmendinger said. “It sounds dumb, not that I’d ever want to have to go through that, but I’m happy I did and I wouldn’t actually go back and change it. That’s really the true thing. No, (talking about) it doesn’t bother me anymore.

“I’m happy to know I’ve learned from the past. But I don’t go back to the past, I just look toward the future. It’s a part of me and probably always will be.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Corvette, Paul Miller complete flawless weekends to win at VIR

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Corvette Racing and Paul Miller Racing dominated the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway all-GT weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and promptly culminated their weekends on top by controlling the two-hour, 40-minute race en route to class wins in GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.

Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen took the No. 3 Corvette C7.R to the GLTM class win, that pair’s first win of the year, while Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow brought it home for the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in GT Daytona for the team’s first WeatherTech Championship win and the first for the Lamborghini in the U.S.

Both cars controlled the race but Garcia and Sellers – past GT class sparring partners before Sellers moved into the GTD class this year – needed to restart strongly in a one-lap dash to the checkered flag following the race’s lone full-course caution.

It appeared as though the sister Corvette, the GTLM-points leading car of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, slipped on oil going into the roller coaster. Gavin limped the wounded No. 4 Corvette C7.R back to the pits following an impact that looked worse than it was, and while he emerged out of the car OK, it was a bitter blow for the car that had won the last two GTLM races.

Nonetheless, even though the accident occurred with just over six minutes remaining, IMSA and VIR did well to get the track cleaned and back to race conditions.

There was still drama after the green with contact occurring between the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber.  Fisichella’s No. 62 Ferrari was parked in Turn 1 and dropped to seventh at the finish.

Per IMSA Radio, a reported altercation took place after the race, with Fisichella reportedly slamming the side of the No. 912 Porsche once all cars were coming into the pit lane.

The No. 912 Porsche was actually third in the race, behind the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

The No. 4 Corvette fell to ninth in class, while championship sparring partners the No. 67 Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe gained extra points by finishing fourth.

That tentatively sees Gavin and Milner clear of Westbrook and Briscoe by seven points (287-280) with two races remaining.

GTD was a bit of a more straightforward affair with Sellers and Snow dominating the race. Lamborghini was the only GTD manufacturer that hadn’t won, but that stat now ends following today’s result. Sellers hailed Snow’s performance, noting the talented youngster out of Utah did the bulk of the work in the race. Sellers had a minor scare with an off course excursion but otherwise there were no issues. The car led every session this weekend.

The three Audi R8 LMS cars were second through fourth on the road, with the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell on the podium for the first time this year in second, and the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi of John Potter and Andy Lally in third.

But following post-race technical inspection, Magnus’ podium was erased, as officials discovered a minimum ride height infraction. That promoted the second Stevenson Audi (No. 6 car of Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis) from fourth to third.

Porsche’s lone entry in the race ended last car on the class lead lap in fourth, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas.

Change Racing’s No. 16 Lamborghini of Spencer Pumpelly and Corey Lewis had podium potential but lost out again after Pumpelly was hung out a lap too long on fuel and needing to crawl back to the pits, ending fifth. The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen ended sixth after an off-course excursion.

The points leaders in this class had a fraught day too; a puncture and an overboost penalty capped off a tough weekend for the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen in seventh place.

Balzan and Nielsen unofficially lead the surging Lally and Potter by just eight points (267-259). Positions third through sixth in class sit anywhere from 20 to 36 points back.

IMSA resumes at Circuit of The Americas on Sept. 17 with all four classes.

Follow @TonyDiZinno

ERS issue costs Grosjean, Haas possible points finish in Belgium

Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium.
Saturday 27 August 2016.

World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Photographic
ref: Digital Image _ONZ2206
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Romain Grosjean was left frustrated after an issue with his energy recovery system (ERS) during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix cost him a possible points finish.

Haas Formula 1 driver Grosjean started 11th at Spa, but made a superb start to run as high as fifth in the early stages.

However, the decision to pit just three laps before the race was red flagged combined with the ERS issue that cost him straight line speed dropped Grosjean outside of the points.

The Frenchman enjoyed a strong final stint, but was unable to finish any higher than 13th for the American team.

“Well, it was a very good start and a very good first lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any top speed in the beginning of the race,” Grosjean explained.

“Something was not going quite right. It took a lot of time to solve that. My last stint wasn’t bad. I made up a lot of time on everyone, but the damage had already been done.”

Grosjean believes he could have scored his first points since the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of July, with Haas struggling to replicate its early-season form.

“We had a shot at a good finish today,” Grosjean said.

“On the positive side, I’m much happier with the car than I was recently, so that’s at least great.

“It’s just a shame we lost an opportunity for a good result.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez recovered from a grid penalty to finish the race 12th, with the Mexican taking a number of positives from the weekend.

“It wasn’t the result we expected. We were fighting very hard to get into the top-10 and even though we didn’t manage to get there, I think we did well,” Gutierrez said.

“The balance of the car felt good and we had reasonable pace. This is one of the things we need to keep up for the coming events because it’s what’s going to keep us consistent and help us get the most out of the car.

“I feel very grateful for the team. They did a great job and had some great pit stops. We lost some time on the safety car before the red flag, but sometimes it goes that way.

“We finished P12, so I’m not completely satisfied, but we will keep pushing.”

Red Bull GRC: Speed makes it a three-peat, survives Atlantic City

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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In a crazy, chaotic, Round 8 of Red Bull Global Rallycross season 2016, Scott Speed secured his third straight win in the Supercar final at Bader Field in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and has taken over the points lead for the first time this season. He also won Rounds 6 and 7 at MCAS New River and Washington, D.C., respectively.

There were a lot of “situations” that presented themselves both in the final and in the run up to the final, before Speed broke through to grab the win in the No. 41 Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle GRC.

Speed’s teammate Tanner Foust in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle had the lead after the first lap from Speed, Steve Arpin, Nelson Piquet Jr. in a repaired car and Patrik Sandell. Twelve cars were in the Supercar final with only Kevin Eriksson in the third Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic Coupe unable to advance.

The order was stable for the first four laps of the eight-lap final up front, while Joni Wiman (Honda), Red Bull GRC debutante Chris Atkinson in a third Subaru Rally Team USA entry and Atkinson’s teammate Bucky Lasek all pulled off.

Foust, who hadn’t won since Daytona round two in June, was poised to secure the win but sustained a right rear tire puncture in the final couple laps as the 1.102-mile circuit was littered with debris around the course.

He slipped back into Speed’s clutches and with just two to go, Speed made it by on the inside for the lead of the hairpin, the second-to-last corner on the track.

Foust hung on for dear life from there but lost two more spots, falling to fourth.

But the podium complexion changed when Arpin, in the No. 00 ENEOS USA Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross, ran wide on the second-to-last straight and off course.

Sandell took his No. 18 Cuttwood Ford for Bryan Herta Rallysport past both Foust and Arpin, which promoted him to second, and Deegan took his No. 38 NOS Energy Drink Ford for Ganassi up to third. Foust and Arpin, Speed’s two primary protagonists in the title battle, limped home in fourth and fifth with Sebastian Eriksson best of the Hondas in sixth.

“This track was one of the most technical we’ve been on,” Speed told NBC’s Kristen Kenney in victory lane. “I got caught out the third lap with my rear. So I was conservative trying to make it.

“It was just one of those tracks where you have to navigate grooves and potholes. I was happy to come away with the win. Glad Tanner could come home fourth… but I hoped he would have been joining me on the podium.”

Unofficially Speed, who also won his Semifinal, now leads the championship by nine points over Foust (409-400). Arpin is third, 52 back, with Sandell fourth on 57 back and Deegan fifth on 64 back.

Next up for Red Bull GRC is a trip to Seattle on Sept. 17 for the penultimate race weekend of the season.

Massa fades to P10 late on in Belgium, but ends points drought

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Felipe Massa saw his run of four Formula 1 races without a point come to an end in Belgium on Sunday as he crossed the line in 10th place for Williams.

Massa’s last top-10 finish came at the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, enduring a run of form that had seen him score as many points as Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein in the five races prior to the Belgian Grand Prix.

Massa capitalized on the dramatic start at Spa to rise into the top 10, and was running sixth after making his final pit stop.

However, the Brazilian struggled to manage his tires in the closing stages, causing him to fade to 10th place at the checkered flag.

“It was a very difficult race. Trying to look after the tires until the end and checking the tire pressures while we were racing was tough,” Massa said.

“It was difficult to stay out long enough on track. When the tires were there we were fighting for a great position.

“But when the tures went off we just couldn’t fight anymore.”

Massa’s teammate Valtteri Bottas only fared marginally better, crossing the line eighth for four points as Williams dropped to fifth place in the constructors’ championship.

“It was a disappointing day and a shame that we wasted the opportunity that we had at the beginning of the race,” Bottas said.

“We were in a great position after the start and when the safety car came in we should have pitted immediately. We then lost many positions.

“We tried to get the most out the race that we could after that, and I’m happy that we could at least get some points in the end, but overall it was disappointing.

“Looking ahead, we’ve got another race next week and obviously we need to learn from today. Hopefully we’ll be better in Monza.”