Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick suffer motor failures in Daytona practice

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Snap, crackle, pop.

That was not the sound Tony Stewart heard when he sat down for breakfast Saturday morning.

Instead, Stewart was coming out of Turn 1 at Daytona International Speedway when the Hendrick Motorsports motor in his No. 14 Stewart Haas Chevrolet broke, sending Stewart limping to the pits and in search of a new motor for Sunday’s qualifying for the Daytona 500.

“It wasn’t anything we knew was a warning, it just happened all at once,” Stewart said. “The motor they put in tomorrow will be just as good as this one.”

But Stewart’s engine issue was not an isolated incident. Also suffering almost identical engine failure were Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick, and Bobby Labonte – again, all driving Chevrolets with Hendrick Motorsports motors under the hood.

HMS leases motors to a number of teams, including Stewart Haas Racing, as well as HScott Motorsports, for whom Labonte drives for. In addition, Labonte’s teammate, Justin Allgaier, also had issues – although not as serious as Labonte – when the motor in his car started leaking oil.

While Stewart and Patrick will compete in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited in cars with different motors, they will have yet other engines under the hood during Sunday’s qualifying for the 500, which begins at 1 pm ET.

And even if they wind up on the front row Sunday – qualifying that day will only determine the front row for the 56th annual running of the Great American Race – any of the drivers that have had to go to backup engines for qualifying will have to start at the rear of the field for Thursday’s Budweiser Twin 150 Duels, which will flesh out the remainder of the 43-car Daytona 500 starting grid.

Ironically, none of the four regular Hendrick Motorsports drivers – six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kasey Kahne – suffered motor problems during Saturday morning’s practice.

However, it was apparent that HMS motors, even if they didn’t break or blow up, were significantly down on power. Gordon was the fastest HMS driver during the session, but had only the 21st-fastest showing on the speed chart.

Patrick had been running as fast as 19th before her motor let go, about 10 minutes after Stewart’s motor failed heading onto the backstretch.

“It was a concern when Tony blew up, and then we did,” Patrick said. “It’s something we’re doing in our family, I guess, and we need to figure it out. I’m sure the Hendrick teams are wondering what is going on.”

Indeed they are wondering and immediately went to work on the issue.

“At this point, from the driver comments and the data we’ve been able to look at, it is something in the bottom end of the engine,” HMS director of track support Scott Maxim said.

When asked if the motor failures were identical or similar, Maxim added, “Until we get the engines further apart to be able to more closely analyze, I really couldn’t say anything more than that.”

Although the failures impacted the teams and how they’ll start in the Twin 150s, Maxim was cautiously optimistic that the problem will be diagnosed and rectified.

“We’ll be all right,” Maxim said. “We’ll make the changes needed and I think that we’ll be able to make corrective action. We’ll be able to look the engines over closely and make sure we’re not going into tomorrow with an issue and then after that, we’ll be all good.”

HMS’s loss was most definitely Richard Childress Racing’s gain, as its three drivers shined in both practice sessions. Paul Menard was fastest in the first session and new teammate Ryan Newman, who spent the previous four years racing HMS motors while at Stewart Haas Racing, was fastest in the second session.

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IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.