After safety concerns, NASCAR announces changes to qualifying

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After multiple drivers and teams expressed safety concerns in recent weeks, NASCAR has announced several changes effective immediately for all elements of its knockout qualifying format for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Teams will now be allowed to cool down their cars’ engines on pit road with the use of one cooling unit through either the left or right-side hood/cowl flap. The hood of the car must remain closed and the generator must not be plugged in.

Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall to support the car and driver. Finally, cool-down laps on the track will no longer be permitted.

“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said in a statement. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

“We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward, we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”

The new qualifying format has garnered positive reaction, but drivers immediately noted the safety issue of having to run slow cool-down laps on the track after the format’s debut at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this month.

NASCAR initially resisted the allowance of cooling units in the pits because it didn’t want teams to open the hoods of the cars – which, in their eyes, would allow crew members to make illegal adjustments if they were inclined to do so.

However, the issue took on a bigger presence last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After qualifying, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers said that having to run cool-down laps while other competitors were running at speed was “the most dangerous thing [he’s] ever done in racing.”

LVMS afforded Vickers and other drivers a proper apron to run the slow laps, but the room to do that at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway – site of this weekend’s Nationwide and Cup events – is basically next to none.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Fusion, said earlier today that the lack of real estate at Bristol could pose as a “potential issue” during qualifying.

But in a conference call this afternoon with various crew chiefs, the sanctioning body finally allowed the teams to use the cooling units. However, that apparently wasn’t their first plan.

An Associated Press report from Jenna Fryer relays word from multiple participants on the call that NASCAR initially said teams could use external fans in the pits. However, the idea was met with almost across-the-board objection.

Another potentially iffy aspect of knockout qualifying was not addressed today by NASCAR: The cars having to back out of their spot on pit road at the start of each round. Fryer reports that rule will remain intact at Bristol, because of procedures already in place at the track.

F1 narrowing down target cities for second US race

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that Liberty Media has begun to narrow down its target cities for a second grand prix in the United States.

Liberty Media completed its takeover of F1 in January, with Carey being appointed the sport’s new chief in place of Bernie Ecclestone.

Liberty has expressed a desire to expand F1’s footprint in key markets such as the United States, with a second grand prix to accompany the existing USGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas being a key objective.

Speaking to reporters at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week, Carey confirmed that Liberty was continuing to explore options for a second US race, narrowing down the possible locations.

“There’s probably some that we’ve ruled out, but it’s certainly more than a few. We still have multiple cities, and in a couple of cities, there are multiple options or multiple potential options,” Carey said.

“I don’t think we’re going to get too deep into what I think are private discussions. I think these discussions are better-had privately between parties. We’re not looking to go out and publicly play cities against each other and venues against each other.

“I think we want to make a decision that’s best on the merits for the sport and its fans. It’s a priority so we’re actively engaged on it. We’re moving forward, but we’re not going to put a deadline on it or go through the process publicly.”

Carey has previously expressed a strong desire to take F1 to big cities all over the world, and named New York, Miami and Las Vegas as possible targets for street events, although he recognized that getting grands prix in the very heart of them may prove difficult.

“I don’t think they’ll be [permanent] tracks, because I guess the cities we’ve cited like New York, Miami, Las Vegas, there aren’t tracks. So we’re not going to build a track in Miami or New York,” Carey said.

“But I don’t think we’re going to be racing down 5th Avenue in Manhattan either, so I think we like the connection to cities.

“By definition in those certain places we’ll use street races that will be upgraded to a place where they have the quality and requirements necessary to host a race.

“So clearly there will have to be things done to make that circuit ready.”

F1 is also set to put on more events in cities in host nations in the lead up to grand prix weekends, with several days of activities being the goal for Liberty moving forward in a bid to build interest.

“We’d like to be connected to the city. In many ways if you want a week-long event the events up to the race weekend are probably more city-centric and you evolve towards the track as you get to Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” Carey said.

“So having that connection to the city is something that we lack. I think we can make it work in places where they’re further afield as some of the historic tracks exist, but I think that connection to the city enhances the ability to engage the city.

“Silverstone is a way outside London and yet we’re going to have stuff in London that is celebrating the week in Silverstone.

“So just because you have the distance, I think if we have the opportunity to be more connected to the city, we think that presents interesting and fun opportunities.”

Todt confirms interest from new teams to join F1 grid

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GENEVA, Switzerland – FIA president Jean Todt has confirmed there is interest from new teams to join the Formula 1 grid in the near future following recent speculation about some fresh projects being worked on.

Ten teams currently race in F1, marking its lowest full-season roster since 2009 following the closure of Manor before the start of the new campaign.

Speculation has emerged in recent week about new projects being worked on to get a team on the grid in the near future, with staff at current teams reportedly being approached at recent races.

Talking to reporters at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva, Todt confirmed that there had been interest from new teams, but that an entry would be dependent on a tender being issued.

“There are always rumors, but we have had some interest from some teams,” Todt confirmed, adding the interest had come “recently”.

“When we feel it is time we will be able to make a tender,” Todt continued. “At the moment we have 10 teams and the idea is to have up to 12 teams.

“So we have an opportunity, if we have one or two strong newcomers it could be possible.

“First we need to check the request ourselves, it’s going through a kind of audit to see who are the potential buyers. If it’s a big manufacturer, it’s easy, if it’s a privateer, you need to be more careful.

“And then, once you are sure that there is a real interest, and once you’re sure that people are capable, like it was the case with Haas, for example, then we make tender.”

Todt’s comments also come in the wake of a company changing its name to ‘China F1 Racing Team Limited’ in the UK last month, appearing to add up with speculation about Chinese investment being behind the push for a new team.

Sauber confirms Kaltenborn’s departure from team

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Sauber F1 Team has released two statements late Wednesday night, with the second confirming Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure after reports surfaced earlier Wednesday she was due to leave with immediate effect.

Sauber’s second statement said, attributed to Pascal Picci, Chairman of the Board:

“Longbow Finance SA regrets to announce that, by mutual consent and due to diverging views of the future of the company, Monisha Kaltenborn will leave her positions with the Sauber Group effective immediately. We thank her for many years of strong leadership, great passion for the Sauber F1 Team and wish her the very best for the future. Her successor will be announced shortly; in the meantime we wish the team the best of luck in Azerbaijan.”

An earlier statement released in conjunction with this, also attributed to Picci, scolded media reports hinting at unfair treatment within the team.

“The owners and board of Sauber Motorsport AG take strong exception to speculative and widespread media reports today that our race drivers have not been, and are not being, treated equally. This is not only patently untrue, it would be contrary to the team’s absolute and longstanding commitment to fair competition. These reports, attributed to anonymous “sources”, are highly detrimental to both Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein as well as to the management and all staff of the Sauber F1 Team.”

More to follow…

Global MX-5 Cup heads to Road America after Indy double

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The next two races in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires series take place this weekend at Road America, part of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ KOHLER Grand Prix weekend.

Robert Stout (won by just 0.0632 of a second) and Patrick Gallagher split the race wins last weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but kept McCumbee McAleer Racing’s perfect streak alive in 2017.

Gallagher leads the championship by a healthy margin of 39 points over Nathanial Sparks of Sick Sideways Racing.

Mark Drennan, Stout and Todd Lamb complete the top five in the championship.

MX-5 has raced at Road America on several different weekends in the past, but is now part of the IndyCar weekend.

All four Andersen Promotions-operated series – MX-5 plus the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series – are at Road America this weekend.

This marks the first time that’s happened since MX-5 came under the Andersen umbrella. Pro Mazda was not at Barber, when MX-5 premiered its season.

MX-5 races at 12:40 p.m. Friday and 10:05 a.m. Saturday.