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.

‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.