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

Mazda MX-5 VIR photo finish caps busy sports/touring car weekend

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Photo: Mazda Motorsports
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We already touched on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge races from VIRginia International Raceway but this weekend featured quite a bit more sports car and touring car racing action from around the globe.

Here’s some very quick recaps and race winners in events of note:

Also at VIR, the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup ran a pair of races. The second one, Sunday morning, was the highlight of the weekend.

In a crazy five-car deep finish featuring the new Global MX-5 Cup car, series veteran Nathanael Sparks finally secured his first career victory to extend his championship points lead.  The margin of victory from Sparks to Chris Stone was 0.017 seconds, while the margin from first to fifth was just 0.15 seconds. You can watch the finish below, with commentary via the Radio Show Limited team of Shea Adam and past MX-5 Cup series champion Kenton Koch.

Sparks finished runner-up in the first race of the weekend on Saturday to Dean Copeland, with Nikko Reger in third. Sparks, Stone and John Dean II were the podium on Sunday. Sparks leads Ara Malkhassian, 501-432, in the championship with Copeland third on 423.

The $200,000 Mazda Road to 24 scholarship is on the line entering the finale at Road Atlanta next month, although a trip out to Mazda’s spiritual home track, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, beckons next Sept. 9-11 for the non-points Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

The Porsche GT3 Cup USA Challenge by Yokohama ran a pair of races at VIR as well. Well, “races” in the academic sense – Montreal’s Jesse Lazare continued his domination at the front of the field in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. Lazare swept to his eighth and ninth wins of the year in 12 races.

On Saturday, Lazare beat Andrew Longe by 1.296 seconds while on Sunday, he beat Lucas Catania to the finish by 13.761 seconds, a season-high. Lazare padded his points lead over Longe to 213-178. Catania is third with 173.

Saturday’s race included a red flag period of 21 minutes due to a single-car accident involving Platinum Masters competitor Bill Peluchiwski in the No. 74 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. Peluchiwski is awake and alert and has been admitted to an area hospital for evaluation. Further updates will follow at a later date.

This series heads next to Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) and finishes at Road Atlanta (Sept. 28-Oct. 1).

Michimi. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
Michimi. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

The Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series joined others in the doubleheader at VIR. And like in Porsche, there was only one overall winner. Shinya Michimi of Prestige Performance (representing Lamborghini Paramus) won his fifth and sixth races in eight overall this year.

Of note, Indianapolis 500 rookie Stefan Wilson scored his first series podium in race two, coming third in the Pro-Am category with co-driver David Seabrooke for Prestige.  Additionally, full-time Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competitor Yufeng Luo made his series debut and in race one, finishing third overall and first in Pro-Am with teammate Richard Antinucci for Shane Senaviratne’s US RaceTronics team.

Lamborghini’s last U.S. round of the year takes place at Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) before the World Final in Valencia, Spain in December.

Whincup (left) and Lowndes (right). (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Australia’s Virgin Australia Supercars Championship ran two races at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend, with Shane van Gisbergen (No. 97 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF) and Jamie Whincup (No. 88 Red Bull Holden) winning the two races. But it milestones for Whincup and Craig Lowndes took over in the spotlight.

Whincup’s win was particularly important; it was his 100th of his career. A fuller breakdown is linked here via the Supercars official website, as is a tribute from series chief James Warburton.

Longtime teammate Lowndes, a legend in his own right and the only other driver to have 100 races, celebrated a milestone of his own by hitting the 600-start mark. Fuller stories on that is linked here and here as well, while it appears a new deal for him to stay with Triple Eight boss Roland Dane is looming on the horizon. This year, Lowndes drives the TeamVortex Holden Commodore VF.

Supercars is next up at Sandown Sept. 16-18 and then runs its premier race of the year, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, Oct. 7-9.

Toyota Gazoo Racing FIA WEC driver and past IndyCar race winner Mike Conway made a cameo in the Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 Nissan and helped that team’s No. 46 entry with co-drivers Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche to its third win in a row at the European Le Mans Series‘ race in Paul Ricard (LMP2 class). Conway filled in for Ryo Hirakawa, who was on Super GT duty.

Others of note… ex-IndyCar and GP2 veteran Stefano Coletti was second in the SMP car he shares with Julian Leal and Andreas Wirth, Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed entry was third, Graff won LMP3 with its No. 9 car but the No. 10 car that features Americans Sean Rayhall and John Falb failed to finish, and Mike Hedlund’s Proton Competition Porsche he shared with Wolf Henzler and Marco Seefried was sixth in GTE, a class won by JMW Motorsport.

ELMS is next up at Spa on Sept. 25, with the season finale at Estoril on Oct. 23.

The Japanese Autobacs Super GT Series was in Suzuka this weekend for a 1000 km race. Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura won overall in the GT500 class in the No. 38 Zent Cerumo Lexus RC F. Hirakawa and James Rossiter failed to finish. Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi won in GT300 in the No. 61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport Subaru BRZ GT300.

Next up for them is Thailand Oct. 8-9.

 

Alex Keyes breaks through for GRC Lites win at Atlantic City

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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Alex Keyes, who’s running a limited season in the GRC Lites division of Red Bull Global Rallycross this season, secured his first 2016 win on Sunday in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Teammate Cabot Bigham finished fifth and retains the GRC Lites points lead, with two more weekends of the year to go in Seattle and Los Angeles. Bigham won the series’ most recent final round in Washington, D.C.

The series’ race recap is below:

IN BRIEF: Alex Keyes did something he’d never done before: he won every single session of GRC Lites action in Atlantic City. From turning the fastest laps in practice and qualifying, to winning both of his heats and the main event, he posted the first perfect weekend of his career; first-time podium finisher Travis PeCoy and Colin Braun placed second and third.

HEAT RECAPS: Keyes blasted out to the lead in both of his heats to back up his pole position and earn lane choice in the main event. Conner Martell, who qualified second overall, won the other first-round heat, but fell back to third in the second round; instead, it was AF Racing Team’s Christian Brooks who would take his first career heat victory in that session. Braun would earn the win in the last chance qualifier over defending series champion Oliver Eriksson.

MAIN EVENT RECAP: For a majority of the race, the podium wasn’t in question; Keyes jumped out to an early lead, PeCoy settled into second place by the second lap, and Braun staked a claim to third place before the race reached halfway. But behind them, the field shuffled throughout the race, with championship contenders having to deal with the implications.

Miki Weckstrom briefly held a top-three spot, but slid back in the pack as the race went on. Martell also had to claw his way forward in the main event to get back into the top six. It was championship leader Cabot Bigham who did the most work to get up front, though; after falling back to ninth on the start, he still made his way back up to fifth. Likewise, Eriksson still managed to salvage fourth place after his LCQ appearance.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: The results from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

  1. Alex Keyes, #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  2. Travis PeCoy, #3 AF Racing Team
  3. Colin Braun, #56 CORE autosport
  4. Oliver Eriksson, #16 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  5. Cabot Bigham, #2 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  6. Conner Martell, #21 DirtFish Motorsports
  7. Miki Weckstrom, #45 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  8. Sandra Hultgren, #51 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  9. Christian Brooks, #44 AF Racing Team
  10. Alejandro Fernandez, #126 AF Racing Team
  11. Cole Keatts, #53 Olsbergs MSE X Forces
  12. Jon Bennett, #54 CORE autosport

QUOTES: A selection of quotes from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

Alex Keyes, #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: “This is a great way to end my half of the year! It’s actually been a pretty rough year so far, I haven’t had the results that I’ve wanted, and I’ve made some mistakes along the way. It feels great to finish good, because there are a lot of great people behind it. We have some new partners, but I’m still at DRR—I love the team and everyone on there. We have a mechanic with a birthday today, so this is a nice gift for him. Everyone on the team has been great, and it’s been a great year.”

Travis PeCoy, #3 AF Racing Team: “It’s been building this whole season. The last race, I was fourth and chasing the podium, so I had to get it done this weekend. Keyes was unstoppable this weekend, so kudos to him—he was on rails all day. The Joker really came in handy, and then Weckstrom made a mistake, so I was able to capitalize on that. It was really good racing, thanks to everyone who ran a proper and clean race, and thanks to my whole team. They work so hard, especially coming off of a terrible qualifying run, so it was a surprise to find myself in second. I’m stoked for my mechanics and all my sponsors.”

Colin Braun, #56 CORE autosport: “It’s a blast! This is so fun, very different from what I came from in the style of racing. We proved today that if you find yourself in the LCQ, and you have a fast car, you’re not out of it—but it makes it a lot harder. Hats off to these guys. The CORE autosport guys did a great job of getting the car fixed back up in between rounds, my spotter made a good call on the Joker, and we had good pace. It’s a whole new world, and it’s a blast.”

FAST FACTS: A collection of facts from Sunday’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Atlantic City, the ninth round of the 2016 GRC Lites season:

  • Alex Keyes earned the fourth victory of his GRC Lites career, and his first of the 2016 season, on Sunday at Bader Field. It was Keyes’ second podium of the season after a third place in Phoenix, in his final scheduled appearance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing this year.
  • Travis PeCoy earned his first career Lites podium by placing second in Atlantic City. He also gave the AF Racing Team its first podium result of 2016, while besting a season-high result of fourth earned at Washington DC last month.
  • Colin Braun gave CORE autosport its second podium finish of the season with a third place result on Sunday. Braun’s first podium of the year came in his Lites debut in Daytona in June.
  • None of the top five drivers in the championship standings earned podium finishes on Sunday. Oliver Eriksson (second in points) led the group with a fourth place run, while championship leader Cabot Bigham followed him in fifth.
  • Christian Brooks won the first heat of his GRC Lites career in the second round of heats on Sunday. Brooks finished ninth in the main event.

UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS:

  1. Cabot Bigham, 344
  2. Oliver Eriksson, 324
  3. Miki Weckstrom, 306
  4. Conner Martell, 267
  5. Christian Brooks, 210
  6. Alex Keyes, 178
  7. Travis PeCoy, 175
  8. Tanner Whitten, 165
  9. Alejandro Fernandez, 153
  10. Colin Braun, 106
  11. Collete Davis, 94
  12. Parker Chase, 85
  13. Harry Gottsacker, 85
  14. Trenton Estep, 57
  15. Blake “Bilko” Williams, 55
  16. Sandra Hultgren, 36
  17. Preston Murray, 33
  18. Jon Bennett, 29
  19. Cole Keatts, 15
  20. Nur Ali, 3

Newgarden ends as IndyCar’s top oval driver in 2016

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 29:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Even though he only was able to complete four of the five oval races in 2016, Josef Newgarden ended as the Verizon IndyCar Series’ top-scoring driver in them this year.

The driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing won in dominant fashion at Iowa Speedway, came third at the double points Indianapolis 500, fourth in Pocono, and sixth in Phoenix.

His accident at Texas Motor Speedway in June, of course, left him with a fractured right clavicle and a slight fracture to his right hand. That threatened to rule him out of action but the determined young American driver made it back in time for the next race at Road America, persevering through to finish eighth. He was not, however, allowed to restart the resumption of the Firestone 600 on Saturday night.

Will Power was second in oval points. The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet won at Pocono and added a second at Iowa, third in Phoenix, eighth in Texas and 10th in the Indianapolis 500.

Power, Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais were the only three drivers who finished in the top-10 in each of the five oval races.

Kanaan tied with Scott Dixon for fourth in oval points after another strong season. Bourdais, not usually a top-10 finisher on ovals, broke that trend this year.

Alexander Rossi, thanks in large part to his win at the Indianapolis 500, ended third in oval points. He also has his second-best finish of the year – sixth at Iowa – on an oval this year. He ran well at the first portion of Texas but lost a couple laps in the resumption; his pit road incident at Pocono, meanwhile, provided one of the year’s scarier moments – albeit one where all parties emerged uninjured.

Of note, Simon Pagenaud was eighth in oval points – and that’s slightly misleading because his only “off race” of the five ovals was Indianapolis, which featured double points. Second at Phoenix, fourth in Iowa and fourth in Texas were three good results; his only mistake came at Pocono, where he crashed at Turn 1.

Further down the order Juan Pablo Montoya had a miserable run of results on ovals; he only outscored Jack Hawksworth, Ed Carpenter and Conor Daly of drivers that competed in all five oval rounds.

And Carpenter’s year behind the wheel? That can be crystallized in one unfortunate stat. Yes, double points were involved, but his teammate JR Hildebrand outscored him competing in just one oval race, with sixth at Indy. Carpenter’s best finish in five races was just 18th.

Points are below. The races, are in order, are 2-Phoenix, 6-Indy 500, 9-Texas (was originally the ninth round of the season before rain-delayed postponement until Saturday), 11-Iowa and 14-Pocono. C is Chevrolet and H is Honda.

Points (Top 25 of 34 drivers):

# Driver 2 6 (9) 11 14 Total
21 Newgarden C 28 111 9 53 33 234
12 Power C 35 73 24 40 51 223
98 Rossi H 16 124 19 29 11 199
9 Dixon C 53 69 11 36 29 198
10 Kanaan C 32 81 36 26 23 198
26 Munoz H 8 115 28 18 26 195
5 Hinchcliffe H 12 95 43 22 20 192
22 Pagenaud C 40 50 32 34 13 169
83 Kimball C 18 78 28 20 15 159
11 Bourdais C 24 59 20 24 31 158
15 Rahal H 30 40 51 14 19 154
3 Castroneves C 21 65 31 17 11 145
7 Aleshin H 13 40 14 30 44 141
28 Hunter-Reay H 20 53 18 8 36 135
27 Andretti H 17 54 18 16 18 123
8 Chilton C 26 42 15 12 17 112
2 Montoya C 23 27 22 10 24 106
41 Hawksworth H 11 31 13 15 16 86
14 Sato H 15 32 10 19 8 84
6 Hildebrand C 76 76
20 Carpenter C 9 24 13 12 9 67
18 Daly H 14 20 9 9 14 66
19 Chaves H 33 16 13 62
77 Servia H 60 60
29 Bell H 55 55

Ricky Taylor to run next three FIA WEC races in Larbre Corvette

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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Ricky Taylor and Larbre Competition have worked together before, with Taylor having driven for the Jack Leconte-led team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in both an older spec Corvette C6.R (2013) and an LMP2 class Morgan Judd (2014).

He’ll be back for a bigger bow with the team for the next three upcoming races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in the team’s No. 50 Corvette C7.R at Mexico City next weekend (Sept. 3), Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 17) and Fuji Speedway in Japan (Oct. 16).

Taylor fills in for Paolo Ruberti alongside the team’s other two drivers, Pierre Ragues and Yutaka Yamagishi. Additionally, Corvette will provide support with a new engineer, Charlie Ping, joining the French squad.

The story was initially reported by Sportscar365 back in July, but was formally confirmed by the team late last week.

“I am very excited to join Larbre for these three rounds of the WEC championship,” Taylor said in a relase. “The team has proven its great pace this season by clinching good results. I am looking forward to supporting the squad to more success and to do my part to contribute to some points for the championship for Pierre, Yutaka and the team.

” I have enjoyed my other experiences with the outfit so it will be a nice experience to be back. Thanks to Jack and Larbre again for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to fly their colors again.”

This will mean Taylor will be one of likely several drivers pulling double duty at Circuit of The Americas between the FIA WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races; that’s the penultimate round of that series’ season. He co-drives with brother Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing.