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After divorce from RCR, Kevin Harvick looks forward to honeymoon with Stewart Haas Racing

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Divorces are never easy, even if the eventual parting is amicable. You can’t help but look back at the good times and wonder, “What happened? What went wrong? How did we get to this point?”

That’s kind of the emotional spiral Kevin Harvick went through last season, his final season with Richard Childress Racing. After 13 seasons with RCR, Harvick chose to take his freedom and his talent elsewhere.

Sure, he could likely have stayed at RCR for the rest of his Sprint Cup career, but Harvick couldn’t help but wonder if a new kind of magic might be more welcoming and productive at another address.

That’s why he decided after a great deal of soul searching and discussion with wife Delana and various friends and advisors that if he was ever going to try something and someplace new, 2014 was going to be that year.

The divorce with RCR was finalized after last season’s ending race at Homestead Miami Speedway. It was Harvick’s last day with RCR; the very next day he began his new marriage with Stewart Haas Racing.

One might think that SHR might be the worst place for Harvick to wind up at. After all, he’s got three teammates – Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – all with the same superiority complex. But rather than question whether such a mix would work, Harvick couldn’t sign on the dotted line fast enough.

“What everybody’s overlooking is the fact we have four alpha drivers here that have alpha personalities,” Stewart said. “The great thing is we all have the advantage of understanding each other and having similar personalities like this.

“I think everybody, what their first thought is, is probably the opposite of what the reality is. We’re a great support system for each other. Every one of us has had our battles at some time, either with each other or the media or whatever the group is that the battles have been with, so we all understand and can relate. Everyone of us can understand what somebody else is going through and can be a great support system. That’s what teams are about, is support.

“(The media) may lean on that angle that it’s got a great opportunity to be a disaster, but we look at it as a great opportunity to be a huge positive and a great match for four great personalities and four great drivers to work really hard together and can understand and relate to each other.”

It’s that kind of philosophy that was a key part of why Harvick welcomed the opportunity to join forces with Stewart, one of his best friends and a three-time Sprint Cup championship winner, as well as former champ Busch and Patrick.

Teaming with Busch, in particular, has been interesting. The duo has hated each other for years. Yet here they are now, together as teammates. It just goes to show that NASCAR is made up of some pretty strange bedfellows.

Remember Clint Bowyer a few years back when he was Harvick’s teammate? Bowyer got into an on-track scrap with Michael Waltrip and proceeded to call Darrell’s little brother “the worst driver in NASCAR period.”

Two years later and Bowyer signed to drive for Waltrip.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

It’s not like Harvick was fed up with RCR, but when he saw other drivers change teams and see their careers reinvigorated, it really got Harvick thinking.

Matt Kenseth, who left Roush Fenway Racing after nearly 15 seasons to race for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 and the resulting success Kenseth had (seven wins, finished second in the championship to Jimmie Johnson) was kind of the final push Harvick needed to move on to somewhere else.

“I talked to Matt a few times just about how he did things,” Harvick admitted during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “And the one thing I took from him that was probably the best piece of advice that I could get was after Homestead, just hit delete on everything you think and everything you know and just enjoy the learning curve of starting over, figuring everybody out and creating new relationships and different theories on how the car drives and how the engines react.

“Everything is new, that part has been a lot of fun for me, and that was probably the best piece of advice he gave me.”

Although he characterizes himself as someone who typically doesn’t like change, particularly for change’s sake itself, Harvick’s departure from RCR and resurfacing at SHR was yet another significant change for him over the last few years.

He sold his Camping World and Nationwide Series race teams a few years ago, became a father for the first time and started evaluating the rest of his Sprint Cup career, however long that may be.

And while he could have stayed at RCR, Harvick’s gut, business sense and competitive nature told him if he was indeed ever going to go somewhere else, this was the best time for him to do so.

As a result, it was hello SHR, goodbye RCR.

“I don’t think it was that I could never win a championship (at RCR), it’s just that we hadn’t won a championship there,” Harvick said of one of the key reasons that led him to leave the Childress camp. “It was 12 years or whatever it was and we hadn’t won a championship, so it was kind of like what do we need to try to figure that out and hadn’t never not been able to accomplish that in any division I’ve raced in in my whole racing career.

“Just a lot of things happened, we sold the race teams, we had our son and just one thing after another kept getting evaluated, and I just didn’t feel like I was making any progress in getting closer. And I felt like with Tony and Gene (Haas) and the commitment they had made to have already won a championship with their team, and their alliance with the Hendrick bunch and Hendrick engines was something I felt was intriguing to go try and win a championship.

“It wasn’t that I couldn’t (win a championship at RCR), it was more that I hadn’t.”

Admittedly, because he announced his intentions to leave RCR early last season, it resulted in an awkward situation of essentially being a lame duck driver. Still, Harvick went out on good terms, winning four races, having 21 top-10 finishes and ultimately finished third in the final standings for the third time in his career and the third time in the last four seasons.

While he could have coasted through his final season at RCR, Harvick did the exact opposite: he drove perhaps harder than he ever has in his career, intent on leaving RCR with that elusive championship. While he fell short, he has no regrets with the way things played out.

“Last year was just a grind, just very tense, just an awkward situation to be in from a driver’s standpoint,” Harvick admitted. “Everybody knew everybody was going in a different direction the year after, but you had to try to keep the focus on the racing and not on the business side and the hurt feelings and all the things and emotions that came with the position we were in.

“Luckily, I had a group of guys that just wanted to race and really didn’t care about or get involved in the politics, and we were able to make it through there and have a good year. Everything ended fine and here we are today.”

Harvick hopes to emulate what Kenseth did last season when he moved to JGR.

“Part of the reason why I came to this team was to try to figure out how to win a championship,” Harvick said. “Tony has done that, Kurt has done that, as an organization Stewart Haas Racing has done that.

“I expect to win and race for a championship. That’s why I came here.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar: Foyt, Coyne, RLL teams begin Sebring test

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Carlos Munoz in his first test with Foyt. Photo: IndyCar
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Three teams and five cars in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series have headed to the happy hunting grounds of Sebring International Raceway’s short course for their first tests ahead of the 2017 season.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, past teammates themselves, were both on track for the first time since a test at Gateway Motorsports Park last October.

Rahal’s No. 15 Honda was adorned in United Rentals primary colors, with other RLL Racing partners such as Steak ‘n Shake, Mi-Jack, Hyatt and D-A Lubricants also on board. It marked a quick change from the all-red livery that was on for the Gateway test. This also presented RLL the first track opportunity to work with new engineering consultant Tom German, formerly of Andretti-Herta Autosport, and a multiple-time Indianapolis 500-race winning engineer.

For Bourdais, his No. 19 Coyne Honda was back in the black-and-green colors of Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality this test, albeit without that signage present. Bourdais, who’s bullish but cautiously optimistic on his return to Coyne for the first time since 2011, had his first day of on-track running with all three of Coyne’s key engineers (Craig Hampson, Olivier Boisson, Mike Cannon). Boisson, like Bourdais formerly of KVSH Racing, was still under contract to KVSH when the team tested at Gateway.

This also marked the first IndyCar test with his new team for Ed Jones, the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion. Jones tested multiple times with RLL Racing in 2015 and 2016 and like Bourdais, was sidetracked from his would-be first test in December. The team rescheduled that test for these two days.

A.J. Foyt Racing, meanwhile, took to the track for the first time with Chevrolet engines and aero kits. The deal was long in the works for the team to switch from Honda, but was only formalized last week. This also marked the first chance for the team to run with new technical director Will Phillips, formerly of INDYCAR.

This gave new drivers Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz time to get on track for the first time since the end of the 2016 season at Sonoma, and first run overall both with the new team and the Chevy kit. Both drivers were Honda drivers in 2015 and 2016.

The test continues tomorrow; more info on today’s test can be found via IndyCar.com.

Chuck Weyant, oldest Indy 500 starter, dies at 93

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Chuck Weyant in the #41 Federal Engineering Special (KK3000/Offy) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: IMS Archives
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One of the rare drivers who’d raced in Indy car racing’s front-engine days, Chuck Weyant, has died at age 93, Springfield, Illinois’ State Journal-Register has confirmed.

Weyant competed in 18 open-wheel starts from 1952 through 1962, including four Indianapolis 500-mile races (1955, 1957, 1958, 1959).

His best career finish was was eighth on two occasions, and his best finish at Indy was 12th in his 1955 debut.

Weyant was born in St. Mary’s, Ohio and resided in Springfield. A video the State Journal-Register did in 2011, the year of the centennial Indianapolis 500, is linked below via the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Twitter account.

Here’s a handful more images, via the IMS Museum and its archives:

Matchett: The end of an era

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 10:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks on in the paddock during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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I’ve played various roles within my near 30-year involvement with Formula 1: Race mechanic, journalist, author, television broadcaster. During these years I’ve witnessed many memorable events, some triumphant, some tragic, and I’ve seen an untold number of changes unfold within the industry, too.

Drivers have arrived in the paddock as unknowns, have won their championships and then faded away; mighty engineering empires have fought tooth and nail to claw themselves to the top, claiming their trophy only to then come slithering down the other side of the mountain. Team principals, engineers, mechanics, hospitality crews, drivers, race venues, tire suppliers, car designs, engine specifications, aerodynamic configurations, on and on and on: all have come and gone, replaced by others.

matchettThroughout all these upheavals, and stretching back years before my time in the sport, there has always been one constant: Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

And his seemingly unstoppable 40-year reign over this mighty industry came to a quiet close yesterday afternoon, around tea time. No cataclysmic boardroom explosions, no ‘he-said-she-said’ slanging matches in the tabloid press; rather his removal from office was signaled via a simple press release, a memo announcing that Bernie is no longer chief executive of the Formula One Group.

The former ‘F1 supremo’ is now ‘chairman emeritus’, a sinecure, an honorary position to the newly appointed three-man group at the helm. And with this announcement the much vaunted Liberty Media takeover of the multi-billion dollar business appears complete.

And Formula 1 will never again be the same.

Nelson Piquet, in the No. 20 Benetton Formula Benetton B190 Ford V8, won the 1990 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

My first interaction with Bernie was back in 1990, my opening year working with Benetton. Strolling across the paddock, returning to the Benetton pits, I noticed him standing near one of our two brightly painted trucks, with Bernie’s expression suggesting he was distinctly unhappy about something. He was looking down the line of parked trucks, two-by-two, team by team, all standing in a uniform line outside the pit garages of their respective teams.

Bernie noticed me and stopped me in my tracks. “This truck is out of line,” he said, “it’s too far forward, get your truckies to move it back an inch.” And with that he moved away, without another word. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t joking. I told one of our truckies what had just happened and he immediately stopped what he was doing and reversed his truck, repositioning it one inch rearward. Bernie’s word was law in the F1 paddock. Everything was carried out to perfection.

Bernie has worked tirelessly to turn grand prix racing into the highly successful, highly respected, military-type operation we see today. The professionalism of the teams, their own standards, and their own orchestration has visibly improved every year over the past decades. For an extreme example of this, compare an image of an F1 pit garage from the mid-1980s (the start of Bernie’s rise to prominence) with an image of a pit garage from 2016. In terms of cleanliness, the latter shares more commonality with a hospital’s operating theatre than a temporary trackside place in which to rebuild a race car.

Beyond his obvious entrepreneurial skills, his well-reported ability to strike phenomenal business deals, Bernie’s greatest attributes are to be found in things kept out of sight; those operational skills often overlooked by those who do not live inside F1’s microcosm. For example, take the unending international air transport of the race cars and the tons of freight that need to be moved around the world from venue to venue. The cars and equipment must arrive in their next destination on time. Each time. Every time. No hassles with customs; no cars missing from Sunday’s grid because their engines or transmissions are not scheduled to be released from border inspections until the Monday following a race. Bernie makes it happen. Every race. It was his job to make it happen. Until now.

Permane on the pit wall at the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

On hearing yesterday’s news, Alan Permane, Sporting Director to Renault’s F1 team said this to me: “I’ve worked in Formula 1 for 28 years now, and I’ve seen the sport continually grow due to Bernie. I will be forever grateful to him for making the sport what it has become during my career. I’m sure he will be missed but we must now look forward and embrace a new era.”

As to this new era, I have no doubt whatsoever that F1’s new boss, Chase Carey, along with his two managing directors, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn, are all perfectly capable of leading F1 into the future. All three men have experienced remarkable success in their respective fields.

Personally, I’ve had no dealings with Carey or Bratches but I have worked alongside Ross Brawn, Benetton’s technical director for five years. Ross is one of the most respected engineers, one of the most successful strategists in the history of Formula 1; a winner of multiple world championships, and yet he remains a firmly grounded individual, an approachable leader.

Alan Permane has also worked alongside Ross Brawn: “I don’t yet have details of what Ross will be doing in his new role but if charged with looking after the Sporting and Technical side of the Championship then these aspects are in very safe hands, and I certainly look forward to working with him again.”

A brave new world, then, and one that is all but guaranteed to better exploit social media and the ever expanding digital world, aspects of the industry that Mr. Ecclestone never fully embraced, seemingly never wanted to.

Some may suggest that Chase Carey should have cut all ties with Bernie: out with the old and in with the new. All new. Personally, I believe he has done right in making the sport’s ex-supremo available as a consultant. The first time the sport’s new management receive notification that fifty-thousand tons of F1 equipment is sitting on a runway in Paris, Texas, not in its intended destination of Paris, France, that decision to keep Bernard Charles Ecclestone close at hand might well pay dividends.


Alex Lynn joins DS Virgin in Formula E as reserve driver

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Recent GP2 race winner and Williams Formula 1 test driver Alex Lynn has joined Formula E outfit DS Virgin Racing in a reserve role.

Lynn, 23, won the GP3 title back in 2014 before spending two years in GP2, balancing his racing commitments with a test/development position at Williams.

Lynn announced in the summer that he would be exiting GP2 after 2016, and angled for a drive with Jaguar’s factory Formula E operation ahead of its on-track debut in October.

Despite testing for Jaguar at Donington Park, Lynn missed out on the seats to Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans, prompting the Briton to look elsewhere for a drive.

On Monday, DS Virgin Racing announced that Lynn would be joining as its new reserve and test driver on a multi-year deal.

“Formula E is arguably the most competitive motor racing championship in the world, with the highest caliber of drivers,” Lynn said.

“As a driver I want to be competing in the top series, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get into Formula E, and DS Virgin was my first choice. So I’m delighted to have signed a multi-year deal with DS Virgin Racing.”

Lynn’s arrival comes at a time when DS Virgin Racing is braced to possibly lose both of its drivers for at least one event in 2017, owing to clashes with the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Sam Bird raced for Ferrari’s factory GT team in the GTE Pro class of the WEC last year, and could be forced to miss the New York Formula E race due to a clash with the 6 Hours of Nurburgring.

Jose Maria Lopez is yet to enter the WEC, but is widely expected to be signed to a factory Toyota seat in the LMP1 class for 2017, putting the Argentine in a similar quandary.

The Mexico ePrix also clashes with the pre-season WEC test at Monza on April 1, but it is thought that drivers with clashes would split their duties between the two series – and two continents – over two days.