Marco Andretti

From the ground: Barber calm for IndyCar, even during the storm

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Late last night, my MotorSportsTalk colleague Jerry Bonkowski linked to a local angle on this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series trip to Barber Motorsports Park. More or less, the point of that piece from the Huntsville (Ala.) Times columnist was that the seemingly preposterous notion of an IndyCar race in Alabama has turned out to be a rousing success after a five-year run.

There aren’t many “firsts” for me anymore in terms of attending a certain event race weekend for the first time, but I’d tend to agree almost entirely with that assessment after my first weekend trip to the facility for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

I’d been to Barber two years ago to cover a Porsche young driver shootout event; the iconic manufacturer has its driving school at the track. But this marked my first IndyCar weekend there, and it pretty much lived up to expectations.

From a competitor or official perspective, working the weekend is made much easier by the proximity of everything in the paddock. The transporters, timing & scoring building, pit lane, victory circle, support paddocks and hospitality venues are all in the same area behind the pits – it’s an excellent model compared to street circuits where things are spread all over the place and you can walk miles over the course of the weekend to get to where you need to go.

From a fan perspective, despite the lack of permanent grandstands there are no shortage of outstanding places to watch. The tree-covered grassy knoll on the outside of the track looking past Turns 10 and 11 probably offered the best view after doing a track walk on Thursday. You can see the front straight and start/finish line, the run into Turn 5 (the best passing opportunity on the circuit) and the snaking of the cars through the back section of the course. Additionally, walking the track, you see how ridiculous the elevation changes are and how skilled these drivers are since most corner apexes are blind.

The fans that stuck it out Sunday through the two-plus hour rain delay deserve some sort of medal – as does the entire NBCSN crew for broadcasting through the delay – and all were treated to a good show once the race eventually did get going. The sheer spectacle of seeing these cars kick up rooster tails the size of, well, giant inflatable roosters you’d see at a local car dealership, is simply sublime to witness in person.

It was a shame there was a caution when there was that brought most of the field in to change off the wets to dries, save for Oriol Servia of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who’d opted to gamble and switch a few laps earlier. That took a decent strategic element out of play that had been shaping up.

Still, the race settled into a flow in the second half, with Ryan Hunter-Reay delivering a masterful response on Sunday after his controversial passing attempt on Josef Newgarden at Long Beach. Even runner-up Marco Andretti was stunned at how far back he was compared to his own Andretti Autosport teammate.

The thing about this weekend that was nice was that it just… happened. What I mean by that is, there’s often some outside element that threatens the flow of the weekend and disrupts the proceedings, but this weekend that really wasn’t the case.

It could be the fact the race is the first or last of the season, and everyone is amped up beyond belief. It could be the fact the race is considered one of the marquee events (Long Beach or Indianapolis), and the extra pressure exists with the magnitude of winning that race. It could be that some controversy – be it frequent contact and cautions, track delays, a bad accident or whatever else – that just mars the weekend. Houston last year for instance had track delays and a bad accident; the Sonoma and Baltimore races last year had contact elements that completely overshadowed the race itself.

This, by contrast, was a mostly calm, stress-free weekend for IndyCar even with the race day storms; probably the series’ first rather run-of-the-mill weekend since Mid-Ohio last year.

And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need a weekend where the race just goes off, the race gets in and gets in the books. After Long Beach, Barber perhaps could be viewed as a bit of a downer – much like China was following Bahrain for Formula One.

But the series is through it and onto the month of May. The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis beckons on May 10, followed immediately by practice and qualifying before the Indianapolis 500 May 25.

The paddock can reset with the first three races in the books and begin the next round of focus from here.

A calm weekend at Barber makes the reset that much easier since the anxiety levels aren’t at a fever pitch.

Flashback: When Max Chilton gave fiancee ‘terrifying’ ride in race car

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Somehow, we missed this one the first time it came around — but even a few months later, it still bears sharing. And thanks to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for re-posting on its Facebook page not long after the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale in Sonoma, which is where it caught our eye.

Back in late March, Verizon IndyCar Series driver Max Chilton wanted to give new fiancee Chloe Roberts an up close and personal insight into how a race car driver does his thing behind the wheel.

Chilton confirmed today during a Facebook Live video that they’ll get married during the August 2017 break in IndyCar’s schedule, likely between the Mid-Ohio and Pocono race weekends.

Alas, Chilton was at the 74th members meeting of the Goodwood Festival of Speed when he was given the opportunity to hop into an old car of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jamie McMurray’s.

“It’s very different from what I’m used to,” Chilton said in a video posted on the Festival’s official Facebook page. “It’s very big, heavy, it’s got similar paths to what I’m used to but it’s like a tank of a race car.

“But it’s perfect for what I’m doing today and hopefully it puts on a good show for everyone.”

That’s when Max got the bright idea to take Chloe for a spin.

“Chloe has never been in a racing car, and so she’s never seen what I get out to,” he said. “This isn’t really what I get out to, but it’ll give her the sensation of noise and smoke and the acceleration and adrenaline of having fun in these cars.”

Roberts approached the chance for a ride along with hesitation and trepidation – even requesting to don a helmet when Max informed her he’d be doing some doughnuts with the car.

Still, Roberts was a good sport and went through with it, even though there was a slight blip in plans early on.

“It’s always reassuring when you don’t know how to start a car,” she chided her boyfriend, who struggled to get the Chevrolet SS going.

The best part of the video was when Chilton decided to do a few burnouts. Let’s just say Roberts’ mouth went agape and her facial expressions were priceless.

When the ride ended, Chloe summed things up in just one word: “Terrifying.”

It’s a good thing Max asked Chloe to marry him a week earlier. If he would have waited until after the ride along, who knows what may have happened, right?

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IMSA’s December test entry list features DPi, new Porsche public debuts

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Top photo: Cadillac Racing. Bottom photo: Mazda.
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After private testing has taken place for the two manufacturers who have revealed their Daytona Prototype international (DPi) models, Cadillac and Mazda, both cars’ public debuts will occur at next week’s December 13-14 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the Daytona International Speedway.

Additionally, the new Porsche 911 RSR is set for its first official public running.

Official names for the DPi cars are the Cadillac DPi-V.R and Mazda RT24-P, respectively, although on this first version of the entry list they’re just labeled as Cadillac DPi and Mazda DPi. The VISIT FLORIDA Racing entry is listed as a Multimatic Riley LMP2.

Those five cars headline the entries for the test, which also features 23 combined GT cars from GT Le Mans and GT Daytona (eight and 15 cars, respectively).

Photo: Porsche
Photo: Porsche

In GTLM, both Corvette C7.Rs, both Ford GTs, both Porsche 911 RSRs (the new model’s anticipated public on-track debut, following Los Angeles Auto Show launch, see above) and a BMW M6 GTLM and Ferrari 488 GTE apiece will test.

GTD sees entries from Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Ferrari and Acura.

The full list is linked here.

Chilton back for sophomore season with Ganassi

SONOMA, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Max Chilton of England driver of the #8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 17, 2016 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Max Chilton will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams for 2017, into a second season.

The 25-year-old Englishman finished 19th in this year’s standings with a best finish of seventh at Phoenix in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The team switches to Honda next season.

“I think we were able to build a solid foundation in my rookie year in the Verizon IndyCar Series with the support of Gallagher and the team,” Chilton said in a release.

“The learning curve is very steep here, and the field is separated by just a few seconds from top to bottom with really talented teams and drivers, which makes the competition incredibly close.

“Having a year of experience now to adapt to the car and learn all of the courses on the schedule is huge for us. Chip and Gallagher give us everything we need to be competitive and go out to contend for wins, so I’m optimistic for the direction of the No. 8 Gallagher team heading into next season.”

There were moments where it looked like Chilton had the potential for greater results but a mix of bad luck and occasional tough qualifying efforts left him playing catchup over the course of the weekend.

Chilton spent the entire 2013 and most of 2014 in Formula 1 before heading Stateside in 2015, when he competed in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and finished fifth in points racing for Carlin. His win on the Iowa Speedway oval opened doors for his graduation into IndyCar last year.

NHRA: Chevrolet takes wraps off new Pro Stock Camaro SS

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Photo: Chevrolet
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A new look for the Chevrolet Camaro SS in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Pro Stock class has been revealed. See the release below for the details:

The Gen Six Chevrolet Pro Stock Camaro SS makes its public debut at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis on Thursday, Dec. 8

The new model builds on the success of the championship-winning fifth-generation-based race car. It’s more athletic-looking and aerodynamically optimized bodywork draws its styling from the Gen Six Chevrolet Camaro SS.

“Our goal was to minimize aerodynamic drag within the NHRA guidelines and incorporate as many design cues from the production car,” said John Mack, Chevrolet Camaro exterior design manager. “The result is a sleeker and more aerodynamic Camaro SS.”

The new race car makes its competition debut this February in Pomona, Calif., at the kickoff event for the 2017 NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series.

Chevrolet Pro Stock Camaro drivers won 23 of 24 events in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Jason Line won eight events, capturing his third world title — and the third straight championship for Chevrolet. Runner-up Greg Anderson won eight events in a Camaro SS race car.

Track testing with the 2017 Pro Stock Camaro SS begins later this month.

In addition to the new Pro Stock Camaro SS, Chevrolet’s 2017 COPO program offers specialty race cars designed for NHRA’s Stock Eliminator classes, and earlier this fall Chevrolet announced a drag racing development program for production-based Camaro models.