Sebring

Sebring 12-hour 2014 musings, race observations

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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.

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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© DS Virgin Racing
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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.