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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.

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

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Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”