Sebring 12-hour 2014 musings, race observations

1 Comment

Some observations and insights gleaned from the week at Sebring International Raceway, site of the latest Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and now run under the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship banner:

  • When it was green, it was entertaining racing. Toss out the first six hours that were caution-infested, and from hour seven on, it was some seriously impressive action between P2 and DP spec cars at the front, both GT classes and a hat tip in particular to James Gue and David Heinemeier Hansson, a pair of Silver-rated drivers who flew the flag for the beleaguered PC class in a two-stint lead battle after a series of unfortunate accidents in that category earlier in the race.
  • But Coldplay’s “Yellow” might have been the race’s perfect anthem. The 11 full-course cautions, including the last one thrown in the last hour for the stranded, off-pace and off-position Marsh Racing Corvette DP, did not allow the stars to shine for nearly as long as they should have. In total, more than five hours were spent behind the safety car.
  • And the yellows were too long. IMSA’s Scot Elkins told assembled media after the race they’ll work on improving the procedure to speed up yellow flag periods, which at the low end were anywhere from 20-25 minutes per. To be fair, Sebring’s 3.7-mile track length doesn’t help, with four-plus minute lap times under yellow.
  • Officiating/safety/etc. Without belaboring the point, the officiating mistakes admitted were unfortunate and unneeded for the series, particularly after the ending at Daytona. As for safety, the Ben Keating Viper fire was also tough to watch, but he mercifully escaped without injury.
  • David Bowie’s “Changes” was the entry list’s anthem. More than half the GT Daytona class lineups changed during the week (cars No. 13, 18, 19, 22, 27, 44, 45, 49, 71, 73, 94 and 555), seemingly by the hour depending on driver rankings. In a three-driver lineup, only one designated Platinum/Gold pro would be allowed, so that meant Silver-rated (technically amateur, with some exceptions) drivers were the hot ticket. Various inconsistencies exist within the four-tier system (these three plus Bronze) and it’s something that is probably going to be addressed going forward by the powers-that-be.
  • No P1? No problem. Early last week, I wrote that it could take some getting used to not having any P1 cars on track. With that the case, I can’t remember a Sebring in the last 15 years or so that wide-open where you had no idea how was going to win overall except for 2011, and the balance was strong between the P2 and DP-spec cars. On this front, it was entertaining and was building to an excellent crescendo before the last yellow.
  • The PC dilemma. A tough weekend for the second prototype class as a whole, as two major accidents and a high volume of spins by the amateur drivers stuck out more than the sublime qualifying lap turned in by former Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Bruno Junqueira on Friday. PC qualifying is can’t miss – Junqueira, Alex Tagliani, Colin Braun, Raphael Matos, Gunnar Jeannette, Martin Plowman, Renger van der Zande, Tom Kimber-Smith, Tonis Kasemets and Stephen Simpson are all high-quality pro drivers and put on a show on Friday. Some of the ams are better than others, but some of the spins – particularly by the No. 87 BAR1 Motorsports entry, which was involved in no less than 4 of the 11 yellows – were regrettable. Enforcing some sort of minimum standard for licensing should be something explored down the road. It might mean the cars end up with less damage, too.
  • Porsche’s ridiculously strong start. Regardless of how Porsche got its second straight GTLM win, with the officiating error that occurred, there’s still no denying that the new factory effort has come out of the gate very impressive. Porsche’s new 991-spec 911 RSR has had the measure of the field – only slightly but enough to make a difference – and been pacesetters at two widely different types of circuits. BMW had luck but not pace in Daytona; the reverse was true Saturday in Sebring. SRT Viper is close to its second win, and appears a fraction ahead of Corvette, as it sorts out its new C7.R. Ferrari is on the back foot after two devastating accidents for Matteo Malucelli.
  • Krohn’s standout drive. Krohn Racing delivered an outstanding performance to end fourth in GTLM; the privateer team is running an older Ferrari F458 Italia chassis and only doing the four NAEC rounds this year. Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson celebrated their 100th race together and third driver Andrea Bertolini proved an invaluable addition.
  • Magnus wins on track and on YouTube. Magnus Racing took the GTD class win, and also continued their usual shenanigans throughout the week in video. They began the week with the bizarre even by Magnus standards “Rediscovering SportsCar, Part 2,” and ended it with the classic Media Barons-style short sequence of videos called “the 12 Hours of Seefried,” named for new Sebring third driver Marco Seefried.
  • AIM on target in return. Second for the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, driven by the ex-Daytona Level 5 trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal and new recruit Maurizio Mediani, was better than expected considering the lateness of the program coming together. Good on the Andrew Bordin/Ian Willis-led crew for their efforts.
  • Rum Bum won the livery game. Can’t say as I’d seen a tie-dye car before until the new Rum Bum/Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America showed up. Not sure how it’s perceived in photos, but I loved the look on site.
  • There’s a month until Long Beach, and 1.5 until Monterey. Long Beach next month will have a significantly reduced grid from the 63 at Sebring as it will only include P and GTLM class cars. All four classes return at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, but in split P/GTLM and PC/GTD races.

Red Bull GRC: Switched-up field seeks to topple Speed, VW, Andretti

Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
Leave a comment

Red Bull Global Rallycross kicks off its season this week from Memphis, a new event on the calendar and the series’ fourth different kickoff site in as many years. It also starts a month earlier than the past, with Barbados (mid-May, 2014) Ft. Lauderdale (late May 2015) and Phoenix (third week of May 2016) having been the curtain-raisers in the past few years.

Race coverage is on NBC network on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

With the trip down South the first step in the 12-race championship, it again provides a first look at whether anyone can topple Scott Speed and Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, as the two-time champion looks for a three-peat in his latest iteration of a Beetle GRC beast.

Most of the field is switched; at least one driver or team per entry is different for all teams this year, with the exception of Andretti.

Here’s the tentative field breakdown (field may be subject to change and extra additions):

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, Volkswagen Beetle GRC

34-Tanner Foust
41-Scott Speed

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will be the mantra here, as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Scott Speed seek their third straight title. Teammate Tanner Foust arguably had the better 2016 season – he won four races to Speed’s three – but lost the championship in a tough dynamic in the Los Angeles doubleheader, his weekend delayed a bit with the need to run an LCQ and thus losing track position if he’d make the final.

Speed’s enjoyed his time in GRC to this point, as he recounted in his first NBCSports.com blog of 2017, and has become one of the series’ marquee faces. While a three-peat would be good for him, it remains to be seen whether that is in the best interest of the series. Nonetheless, anything less than another round of victories and title contention from Red Bull GRC’s dynamic duo would be a surprise, and a disappointment.

Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, Honda Civic Coupe

16-Oliver Eriksson (R)
24-Mitchell DeJong (R)
93-Sebastian Eriksson

Red Bull GRC’s version of “Name that Eriksson” sees the unrelated pair of Swedes, Oliver and Sebastian Eriksson, racing for the Andreas Eriksson-led team whose success is world renowned in rallycross – except last year. In a rare off year for OMSE, the team spent more time dialing in the setup of it early before contending on outright pace. They got there by the end of the year but despite preliminary wins, never won a main event.

That should well change this year with Sebastian Eriksson the undisputed team leader in now his third season. Having two hungry young chargers alongside in past GRC Lites champions Oliver Eriksson and DeJong, the latter of whom has one Supercars weekend under his belt at Los Angeles last year, will only serve to push this team forward.

Subaru Rally Team USA, Subaru WRX-STi

18-Patrik Sandell
55-Chris Atkinson

Two lackluster years and only a handful of decent results have forced a major course reset at Subaru, and one which should see them back on proper race win-contending form throughout the 2017 season. If the enhancements from the team weren’t coming, particularly with a new car, it’s likely they wouldn’t have convinced Patrik Sandell to have left Bryan Herta Rallysport, where he overachieved and won races each of the last two seasons.

Sandell’s an ace and past Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson brought a degree of pace to this program that was lacking previously when he came in for the final events of 2016. The Australian figures to be a frontrunner as well.

Loenbro Motorsports, Ford Fiesta

00-Steve Arpin

A change in ownership and branding sees the former Chip Ganassi Rallycross program, which popped up before 2015 and did a two-year entry, now under the Loenbro Motorsports umbrella albeit with nearly all the same staff and crew intact. It is a big step for the company and for driver Steve Arpin, the likable Canadian who now lives in Minnesota, to strike out on their own. Arpin won his first Supercars final last year but may find the sledding tougher against the factory efforts and other privateer teams.

Bryan Herta Rallysport, Ford Fiesta

2-Cabot Bigham (R)

For a second straight year, Bryan Herta will have the fun situation where his name and team are separate in Red Bull GRC from Michael Andretti’s even though the two work together in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In Bigham, Herta’s found a potential diamond in the rough. The Northern California native took a surprise, but well-judged, win in last year’s GRC Lites season and has found the necessary budget to come up to the next level. “The Big Ham” will need to get his feet wet the first couple events but should start playing with the big dogs as the season progresses.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ford Fiesta

14-Austin Dyne

After striking out on his own last year with AD Racing, a year after running under the Herta tent, series CEO Colin Dyne’s son Austin will now work with another IndyCar outfit in RLL Racing, which makes its Red Bull GRC debut this year. The deep field has made it harder for Dyne to stand out – he has just three final round top-five finishes in the last two years – but with the RLL preparation behind him, it should see the series veteran improve this year.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
Leave a comment

The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
Leave a comment

Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

Follow Kyle Lavigne

JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.