IMSA: Corvettes have first chance to double up at Long Beach

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The Corvette brand has its first chance to sweep the two categories of racing in the third round of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, as the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes take to the streets of Long Beach for the 100-minute Patron Showcase this weekend.

A Corvette Daytona Prototype took the season opener, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Action Express Racing’s trio of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel of the team’s No. 5 entry.

The trio currently lead the P class points standings with 67 points, 9 clear of the next full-season lineup of Jordan and Ricky Taylor, as well as Max Angelelli.

Those two Corvette DP teams drop their third drivers for the first time this season; for Ricky and Jordan in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, it’s the first time just the two brothers have shared a car since 2009 in Homestead. The team will have a new sponsorship announcement later this week.

Spirit of Daytona and Marsh Racing round out the four Corvette DPs in the projected 11-car P class field, as DPs return to the track for the first time since 2006. The American Le Mans Series ran at Long Beach from 2007 through 2013.

“There are many unique challenges to racing around Long Beach,” Jim Lutz, Chevrolet’s Program Manager for Corvette DPs, said in a pre-race release. “As DPs have not raced there in some time, there are many unknowns – things like suspension and aero setup, and gearing ratios will be best estimates based on our simulations at Chevrolet. The length of the race and minimum drive times bring a new element of strategy into play as well. More than ever, the teams that are best prepared ahead of Friday’s first practice will have distinct advantages. We’re confident our Corvette DP teams will be chief among those.”

The factory Corvette GT program, meanwhile, is no stranger to Long Beach success. Between the C6.R GT1 and GT2 programs in ALMS, the team has four prior class wins on the legendary street circuit, most recently with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in 2012.

As the new C7.R takes to the track this weekend, the pair of GTLM entries seek to end a string of bad luck that plagued them in the two endurance races. The No. 4 Corvette led a majority of Sebring before a fuel pressure issue took the car out of contention; the sister No. 3 suffered an opening lap collision and a punctured tire.

“A street circuit can make a little difference to a driver but at the same time you have to say to that you can only drive around in the car you’re given,” Gavin explained in a manufacturer pre-race release. “Sometimes little tweaks and little things in just the right spots can make the difference in having a car on the front row and winning or losing the race. Pace is very, very important there because it’s a short race. You need to qualify well and on top of everything.”

The No. 4 sees these two again at the wheel, with the No. 3 bolstering the solid duo of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, 2013 ALMS driver’s champions in GT.

A two-hour practice kicks things off Friday with qualifying later that afternoon, and the 100-minute race Sunday just after 3 p.m. PDT/local time.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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