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IMSA/PWC: 10 Questions with Compass360 team principal Karl Thomson

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We sat down with Compass360 Racing team principal Karl Thomson at Barber Motorsports Park, to get the lowdown on the team’s ambitious 2014 platform of running Subaru WRX-STi and Honda Civic Si programs in both the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge. Thomson, of Toronto, also discusses the C360R team’s dedication to the Children’s Tumor Foundation and Racing4Research.org, as they raise awareness and donations to help end neurofibromatosis (NF), which encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that causes tumors to grow along various types of nerves. May is NF Awareness Month.

MotorSportsTalk: How did the process of getting together with the CTF begin and continue into the 2014 program, with the art car?

Karl Thomson: The CTF has been at Daytona specifically around the Daytona 24 Hours, and 2009 was the first full livery year. We started with Ryan Eversley, and we always had some CTF (signage) on Ryan’s car. It sort of spread to the other cars. Jill (Beck) used some events as activation opportunities for kids – our NF Heroes – and to bring local heroes and donors to the track, and get them excited about the end NF program through racing.

This year, the foundation came up with the art car concept, designed by an NF Hero, Jeff Hanson. He’s actually legally blind due to the tumors in his optic nerves. He’s definitely been affected. But he’s amazing and his art is phenomenal – it’s in a few places.

Jill commissioned a piece to wrap the Porsche at the 24. That car ran again at Sebring, so we had two longer races with art on it. If we can do it with IMSA, we can do it over here to extend the program. This gives Jill an opportunity to bring families – I think 37-40 come out on Saturday – as we race. Auctioning the print off also raises awareness for the foundation.

MST: Good timing that the artwork colors match the Compass360 colors!

KT: A lucky happenstance. But the piece of art is quite amazing. I’m the caretaker from the car standpoint.

MST: So when the “NF Heroes” see the car, what does that moment mean to you?

KT: The reality is, sadly, they’re kids dealing with an affliction, it affects their lives negatively and ends it early. To have an event like this, where they can just be kids, sit in the car, be at the event and feel a part of the team, it’s great for them.

MST: Have you had the chance to meet Jeff? 

KT:  Yes. I met him at Daytona. When they had the big unveil with the Park Place car, Dempsey there, the press went bananas. I met him and his parents. We’ll likely do something for him in Kansas as that would be his home race.

MST: The team’s program itself this year is multi-faceted between the Subaru and Civic programs. Why add the Subaru to a tried-and-true car?

KT: Honda doesn’t have a car for GTS/GS really, it doesn’t really fit. So we wanted some experience running in a faster class.

There are some changes coming in (Pirelli World Challenge) TC with TCA, so I want to have a GTS footprint. It’s a good place to be, and the Subaru is a logical car to run. We know Hondas; we have ran Hondas since 2006. The Subaru is a bit more complicated, but it’s interesting because it’s a different kind of car. It’s not a big V8; it’s a 2.5L turbo with four-wheel drive. It gives the class some diversity.

MST: Your Ryans are shifting – Winchester from a Civic to a Subaru and this weekend, Eversley doing the same. How do you think they’ll get on with it?

KT: They’re both pros; Ryan (Eversley) has driven GT3s, Caymans, Winchester, Mustangs for a bit. They’re both pretty adaptable. You can see we’re just around the top 10. The car is a work in progress. It’s a good platform. With a bit more development and having both Ryans available to drive, we’ll get there soon. We ran all Daytona and ran all Sebring; those are 2.5 hour races. We have the reliability, but we don’t have the cooling dealt with. Additionally, we’re not running the max boost yet.

MST: Considering he usually has a co-driver, how do you think Ryan (Eversley) would fare just as a single driver for Barber?

KT: Ryan’s having a good time this weekend. He lives two hours away. One of the reasons we’ve done it here, this is a main CTF center where a lot of research happens (at the University of Alabama-Birmingham).  It’s almost local for him.

MST: Of course he’s not your only driver, since you opted to get behind the wheel this weekend…

KT: The last time I drove was the Daytona 24 in 2013, so it’s fun to be back in a car. That was a GX class Cayman. It’s funny, but it’s fun too since all the Civics are closely matched. There’s the potential for a great battle between us and (Jason) Saini close in the (Mazda) MX-5. There’s four or five us to have a good battle in TC.

MST: How will your TC class rookie, Michael DiMeo, fare this year?

KT: I’m really disappointed in him today; I had such high hopes (laughter, since I realized DiMeo was sitting right next to him after I asked -TDZ).  No he and I ran within a couple hundredths. He’s never been to the track before. He impressed us, with the second race podium in Houston. He can go for a championship, and rookie-of-the-year. But the reality is I’m having such a great time, I may not get out of the car!

MST: Lastly, on the new TCA class, how do you think they will fit into the PWC class structure?

KT: They’re less of an issue than the TCB. They’re very similar in corners but we’re quicker on straights. You hit TCB guys, if you come up in the wrong spot, you’re toast. But I think the TCA class will be a good addition.

As this interview took place before the Pirelli World Challenge races in Barber, DiMeo won the TC race Saturday with Thomson’s car retiring due to a mechanical. Eversley finished 12th and eighth in the two GTS races. The C360R team resumes with multiple Civic Sis in ST, and the Winchester/Ray Mason Subaru WRX-STI in GS, at this weekend’s Continental Tire race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Magnussen: P14 on grid in Malaysia ‘much better than usual’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Magnussen felt delighted to match his second-best qualifying result of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Malaysia on Saturday, finishing 14th for Renault in Q2.

Magnussen has scored all seven of Renault’s points since its return to F1 as a constructor in 2016, the most recent coming in Singapore two weeks ago when he finished 10th.

Magnussen is known to be fighting for his future as Renault continues to deliberate its line-up for 2017, and did his chances a world of good by charging to 14th in qualifying on Saturday.

Magnussen finished 13th in Q1 to secure a Q2 berth, where he ended up P14 ahead of both Toro Rosso drivers despite making an error on his final lap as he chased an elusive place in Q3.

“It’s a very good result for us in qualifying. P14 is much better than usual in terms of setting us up for scoring some points in the race,” Magnussen said.

“But it’s an ambivalent result as I felt so close to Q3 that I couldn’t resist giving it everything I’ve got on my final run; I locked up in Turn 1 and lost the lap. I didn’t improve after that so it’s unfortunate.

“From P14, not a lot has to happen in the top ten for us to get points, which is always the aim. Let’s see tomorrow, hopefully our race pace is as good as qualifying today.

“You never really know how it will go here, so fingers crossed!”

Teammate Jolyon Palmer was left ruing a mistake at the final corner of his final Q1 lap as he finished 19th, four-tenths of a second off Magnussen’s time.

“I’ll be frank: my lap was pretty far from what it should have been. I made the wrong call on set-up between my runs and the lap just didn’t come together,” Palmer conceded.

“This was particularly frustrating as the pace has looked promising all weekend and there’s definitely better possible from the car here.

“Tomorrow I’ll be pushing all the way to make amends especially as this is a track where moving up the order is possible.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Alonso still chasing points from last on grid for Malaysian GP

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso is refusing to give up on a points finish in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix despite being resigned to last place on the grid after a power unit penalty.

McLaren driver Alonso arrived in Malaysia armed with an updated Honda power unit, but was forced to take new components and trigger a penalty so it could be fitted to his car.

As a result, the Spaniard entered qualifying with a 45-place grid drop looming over his head, meaning he would start last regardless of where he finished in Saturday’s session.

Alonso opted to set a time good enough to qualify before returning to the pits to save his tire and car life, ultimately being classified P22.

“In practice yesterday, we were comfortably inside the top 10, so there’s an element of frustration to find ourselves with useful performance, but facing a grid penalty ahead of the race,” Alonso admitted.

“Hopefully, we’ve now stockpiled enough components for the remainder of the season that we no longer need to take grid penalties and start at the back.

“My running in FP3 this morning was particularly important – our aim was to conduct some long runs and gain some useful data for the race. In qualifying, we just ran for a few laps, with the aim to save as many sets of tires for the race as we could.”

Despite starting last, Alonso remains optimistic of a points finish in Malaysia after an impressive display in Singapore two weeks ago, where he finished seventh.

“It’ll be interesting tomorrow to see how well we’re able to read the conditions and play the strategy,” Alonso said.

“The new asphalt keeps improving quickly and, while it’ll be difficult to overtake 12 cars and get into the points, I think there’s still something more to come from us tomorrow.”

Teammate Jenson Button led McLaren’s charge in qualifying, reaching Q3 before finishing ninth in the sister MP4-31 car.

“I really enjoyed qualifying! It’s never nice to be just 0.029s behind the car in front, but that wasn’t too bad – we were either going to be eighth or ninth, and we ended up being ninth. I’m happy with that,” Button said.

“During Q1, I had issues with traffic. I had to out-brake Esteban Ocon into Turn 9 during my quick lap, and you shouldn’t have to be doing that during qualifying. I also had a little spin at Turn 14 when I lost all my downforce behind one of the Renaults. That first session was busy.

“Still, we’ve improved the car a lot since practice yesterday, but the team has done a great job to improve it. Qualifying was the first time this weekend that I really felt comfortable.

“Hopefully we can show well in the race – there’s no reason why we can’t fight the cars around us tomorrow.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Force India takes upper hand in Malaysia qualifying as fight with Williams continues

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The battle between Williams and Force India for fourth place in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship is poised to rage on in Malaysia on Sunday after just five places covered the teams’ four cars in qualifying.

Force India currently occupies P4 in the teams’ standings, pulling a single point clear of Williams last time out in Singapore after previously losing the position two weeks earlier in Italy.

Both teams look set to exchange blows to the end of the season, but it was Force India that enjoyed the advantage in qualifying in Malaysia on Saturday.

Sergio Perez led the team’s charge, qualifying seventh ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg. McLaren’s Jenson Button split the teams in P9, with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas following for Williams in 10th and 11th respectively.

“I’m very happy with our performance. It was very important to execute a perfect qualifying session and I think that is what we did,” Perez said.

“It was a mega effort by the whole team. The whole qualifying hour was very intense because you could see how close together the lap times were for all the cars and I had to maximize each lap.

“I made a little mistake in Q2 on my last run, which could have cost me a place in Q3, but fortunately I managed to make it through. The result today means we are in a great position to fight for strong points tomorrow.”

“I am quite satisfied with how today went and my starting position for the race,” Hulkenberg added.

“When the top three teams lock out the first three rows, seventh and eighth is the best we could have achieved.

“In the end, my lap was not good enough for P7: I felt a bit more comfortable and had a better rhythm at the start of the session and it fell away slightly in Q3 – perhaps the track cooled and that’s one of the possibilities we will try to understand tonight.

“Still, eighth is a very good position to start tomorrow’s race. It’s going to be really close behind the leaders: I hope we can keep up with the cars in front and take the opportunity if anything happens. Our priority is to stay inside the points and maximize what we can get out of this race.”

Both Massa and Bottas conceded they felt disappointed with qualifying, but remain hopeful of scoring points to re-take fourth in the constructors’.

“I think qualifying was going well, but for sure we expected to finish higher up. I had the pace in Q2 and it was a big fight for a couple of tenths,” Massa said.

“Unfortunately, we are three places back on where it was possible to be. Anyway, the race is tomorrow and I really hope the strategy, the pace, the weather and everything can be in our favor and can help our race. We will try everything we can.”

“That was quite a tricky qualifying session for us. I actually wasn’t very happy with the front end of the car, I felt like the balance was better in today’s practice, especially around turns six, seven and eight,” Bottas admitted.

“I struggled with understeer and because of that I didn’t quite get a perfect lap in. It was very close and I’m sure tomorrow will be just as close.

“We do have a free choice of tires to start tomorrow’s race, so our goal is still to have both of our cars ahead of Force India. I believe it’s possible. We can definitely score some good points from where we’re starting and I’m sure the understeer and balance of the car will be better for the race.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Verstappen hopes clutch setting changes will end run of poor starts in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen hopes that changes made to the settings on his clutch will end his run of poor starts in Malaysia on Sunday after qualifying third at the Sepang International Circuit.

Verstappen qualified second in Belgium before bogging down at the start and tangling with Kimi Raikkonen, before making poor getaways in the next two races in Italy and Singapore.

The Dutchman has not finish any higher than sixth since Formula 1’s summer break, but hopes that he can end this poor run of form after qualifying well in Malaysia.

“I thought it was going to be a tough race for us before we came here. Now it seems like the balance of the car is there, the long runs seem good and we have improved our short run pace a lot,” Verstappen said.

“We were pretty close to the Mercedes on the front row and I’m really enjoying the new surface here, the car is working very well on it. For both of us to be on the second row, in front of Ferrari, means we can be very pleased with today’s work.

“Out of the past three or four races this has been my best long run pace on a Friday, we haven’t changed much on the car so it should be similar tomorrow.”

Verstappen confirmed that setup changes had been made following Singapore as a result of the poor start that compromised his race, with particular attention being paid to his clutch.

“After Singapore I talked with the team and we changed some things on the car and it seems to have worked, hopefully we can keep improving in this way,” Verstappen said.

“We have made some changes to the clutch so we shall see if it has improved tomorrow, so far everything looks positive.

“The set up feels really good here and we will no doubt check everything tonight to make sure we are in the best position possible on race day.”

Teammate Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth in the sister Red Bull, and is braced for a battle to complete the podium behind the Mercedes drivers on Sunday.

“It was quite an exciting quali session and my lap was pretty clean. I pushed quite a bit in the first two sectors,” Ricciardo said.

“I think I got more out of the tires compared to the last sector where I struggled for traction and lost a little bit of time. From where we were yesterday, I am pretty happy. We made quite a few changes overnight and they definitely helped me out today, so I was feeling a lot more comfortable in the car.

“Our race pace is looking good too as we saw from Max’s sessions yesterday. We should have a nice battle for the podium tomorrow and we’ll try to stay ahead of the Ferraris. They are normally pretty good on their tyres here but we have an extra set of soft tires for the race which should work well for us.

“As a team we are pumped to lock out the second row at this circuit and we should have a good race on our hands for tomorrow.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.