IMSA: Monterey Weekend Observations

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s fourth round of the 2014 season took place at historic and picturesque Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey. A few thoughts and observations gleaned from the weekend:

  • P2 gets on the board. Perhaps it wasn’t said publicly by too many people, but from some conversations throughout the paddock before the weekend, the sentiment going in was “win or bust” for P2-spec cars in the combined Prototype class of DPs and P2s. Through three races, DPs had a clear edge at two, but at Sebring the BoP was nailed to where P2s had a shot to win – just not the right timing. Heading into the weekend, Chevrolet (1.0mm) and Ford (0.9mm) received minor power reductions and smaller air restrictors. The balance changed during the race to where the DPs – which with their torque and horsepower advantage at Long Beach could run away down the straights there – were barely able to hold off the P2s, whose aero and cornering advantages played to their strengths this weekend. It was still difficult to overtake – witness Gustavo Yacaman’s heroics that went every which way to try to pass Michael Valiante in the opening 15 minutes – but when it was achieved by Johannes van Overbeek on Jordan Taylor in the final 15, it was satisfying to know it could be done. Put that in the positive category.
  • But JVO was, on May the 4th, the final T.I.E. Fighter left in the galaxy. Star Wars nerds (clearly not one of my good friends, who shall remain nameless, and hasn’t seen any) can correct me if I botched the joke, but if you take the view of DPs as “the death star” and P2s as “the T.I.E. Fighters,” than van Overbeek, like Obi Won Kenobi, was P2’s last hope on unofficial “Star Wars Day.” One-by-one the P2s dropped like flies. The No. 07 Mazda SKYACTIV-D, No. 42 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan and No. 1 ESM HPD ARX-03b fell out of the running, and with the No. 70 Mazda not threatening for the overall win and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing withdrawn entirely, van Overbeek was the lone wolf with six other DPs breathing down his neck. And like Audi versus a trio of Peugeots in the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, the lone ranger prevailed.
  • Split races? A good call for equitable coverage. In the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, two of the four classes got major ink – the overall winners, and the class where controversy entered the equation. But on Sunday, with PC/GTD and P/GTLM races, we got a pair of two-hour shows that were low on cautions, high on drama and really, to be honest, were easier to cover than all four at one time. I think the fans got a good show, too, and judging by the grounds compared to the last four years, it seemed as though there was an uptick. The weekend schedule needs some massaging – an early week load-in followed by no on-track TUDOR activity until Saturday frustrated many – but it was a promising first start with this format. Light for race photography wasn’t brilliant, though, especially compared to the race’s past six, four, or two-hour and 45-minute formats.
  • About the schedule… Perhaps the biggest question still on the table, format-wise, leaving the weekend was asking why the two one-hour practice sessions on Saturday featured all 50-plus cars, yet qualifying would be run as normal in four segments and the races split in half? Suffice to say there were not a lot of happy campers in the paddock about this, but to give credit to the field, there weren’t the entirely high volume of incidents predicted. Although as one driver told me, “there’s not enough time to have a ton of incidents.”
  • A voice I wish we didn’t need to hear. For the third time in four races, IMSA VP of Competition and Technical Regulations Scot Elkins was a visitor to the media center post-race, after an hour-long review process of the podium in GTLM to determine whether the No. 55 BMW, the No. 911 Porsche, or both, would be penalized for late race On-Track Incidents. Elkins has one of the most thankless tasks in motorsports and, for the most part, has done a very good job of it over the years. But when a series official is called in to explain something post-race this frequently, it’s not beneficial for the series, the media, or the assembled PR reps who all hang on every word.
  • Stars of the weekend. Johannes van Overbeek, Renger van der Zande, Sean Rayhall, Bruno Junqueira, Gustavo Yacaman, Joel Miller, and Ed Brown in the combined P and PC ranks for stellar, clean or exciting drives beyond their usual efforts. Then Dane Cameron, Spencer Pumpelly, Christopher Haase, Pierre Kaffer and Dion von Moltke in the GTLM and GTD ranks. Tip of the hat as well to Ryan Eversley, who didn’t get to race but set impressive practice lap times in PC debut, finished seventh and ahead of fellow Honda runner Michael Valiante in CTSC ST, then snarked during the PC/GTD race from Magnus Racing’s Twitter account.
  • Heartbreak hotel. Pumpelly (again) and Ryan Dalziel had drives worthy of wins but after running out of fuel and having the transmission seize up, their days went begging.
  • Upon further review… When Alex Brundle tried to stick the OAK Racing Morgan Nissan down the inside at the Corkscrew, he speared into Joao Barbosa’s Action Express Corvette and Miller’s Mazda, neither of which could see him coming. It looked ambitious at the time, to put it politely, but made more sense in context after several laps earlier, Westbrook ran Brundle wide off Turn 5. At the Corkscrew, Brundle’s move was versus Westbrook, and took out two other hapless victims. A weird moment for sure, and a shame for Brundle’s co-driver Yacaman, who’d put OAK in position to win early on.
  • To go or not to go? Sean Rayhall’s passing attempt at Turn 10 of slower GTD traffic could also be chalked up to unbridled enthusiasm getting the better of him. But, as he said post-race, he had a gap and went for it. Better to find a guy who’s not afraid to go for the gap and has the pace on hand than to try to teach someone how to go for it. It was an otherwise flawless drive the for 8Star Motorsports rookie.

IMSA’s schedule shifts a bit over the next month. CTSC races next at Lime Rock May 24, with the TUDOR Championship P and GTD classes racing at Detroit May 31. PC races again in Kansas June 7, and the GTLM class does not race again until June 29 at Watkins Glen.

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan keeps his word, much to fans’ delight

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
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Tony Kanaan has long been one of the classiest drivers in the IndyCar world.

He proved that once again – as well as being a man of his word – recently.

Kanaan was slated to speak last Thursday, Oct. 13, to the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County, Indiana. Among topics he was slated to talk about in the fundraising event were life lessons and the importance of keeping your word/promise.

But Kanaan also had to take part in a Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone tire test at the same time at Gateway Motorsports Park, nearly 300 miles away from the B&GC event in Richmond, Indiana.

Even though he agreed to speak at the club meeting several months ago, Kanaan could easily have simply cancelled. But he went the extra distance by reaching out to former IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to substitute for him.

Luyendyk had to travel all the way from his home in Phoenix, but was glad to fill in for Kanaan.

B&GC executive director Bruce Daggy was happy that Luyendyk stepped up, but also “I was sad we weren’t going to have Tony here,” Daggy told “We had invested in it.”

Indeed, Kanaan’s appearance had been heavily promoted, including posted on nearly 20 billboards in and around the Richmond area.

Even with Luyendyk as his fill-in, Kanaan still felt bad about cancelling.

“I hate to make commitments I can’t fulfill,” Kanaan told “I put myself in their shoes. If I was coming to an event to see a person and they didn’t show, I would understand, but I would feel bad. So, I didn’t want to let anybody down, especially in Indiana.”

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That’s when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion hatched a plan. Close friend and fellow driver Scott Dixon got on board by chartering a private plane to fly Kanaan from St. Louis to Richmond as soon as the tire test concluded at 6 pm ET.

When the plane landed about an hour later, Kanaan was given a police escort to Richmond High School, where the event had been moved to accommodate the large crowd when it was announced Kanaan would be the featured speaker.

“I just felt that there is always a way and we would make it happen,” Kanaan said, even though he arrived close to the event’s scheduled conclusion. Instead, his arrival extended the event, to the glee of those in the audience.

“The guy chartered a plane,” Daggy said. “That tells me he is a real man of character.”

Added Kanaan, “Getting me here was everybody’s effort. I had a blast. It was worth it.”

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Marquez takes Australia MotoGP pole, Rossi struggles to 15th

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 22:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team rides during qualifying for the 2016 MotoGP of Australia at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on October 22, 2016 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Fresh from clinching his third MotoGP title last Sunday in Japan, Marc Marquez continued his impressive late-season form by scoring pole position for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday at Phillip Island.

After seeing much of Friday be washed out by rain, Saturday’s qualifying session took place on a damp track that left riders debating whether to head out on slick or intermediate tires.

Q1 claimed some big-name casualties, including nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi who could only finish 15th, marking his worst qualifying result since 2011. Future Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales was also knocked out early, and will start 13th on Sunday.

With rain forecast to hit the track midway through Q2, riders had to judge their tire calls perfectly, with Marquez nailing his strategy. The Honda rider braved the track on slicks to turn in a lap of 1:30.189, giving him pole by almost eight-tenths of a second.

Marquez will be joined on the front row of the grid by LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Yamaha Tech3 rider Pol Espargaro, both finishing within a second of the pole-sitter.

Aleix Espargaro and Jack Miller qualified fourth and fifth, the latter lamenting a missed opportunity to hit the front row for his home race, while Danilo Petrucci will start sixth.

American rider Nicky Hayden qualified seventh for his stand-in appearance in place of the injured Dani Pedrosa, while outgoing champion Jorge Lorenzo was the slowest rider in Q2, finishing 12th.

McLaren marks 40 years since Hunt title win with “Tooned” special

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McLaren’s hugely popular animated series Tooned has returned with a special edition episode to mark 40 years since James Hunt’s Formula 1 championship victory.

Tooned enjoyed a two-season run in 2012 and 2013, profiling the escapades of the McLaren drivers (voicing themselves) as they worked with the fictional ‘Professor M’ (Alexander Armstrong).

The second season focused on McLaren’s history as the team celebrated its 50th anniversary season, profiling a number of its most famous drivers, including Hunt.

The episode revealed that Hunt (voiced by James’ son, Tommy) was in fact a secret agent who was called on an mission midway through the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix.

To mark 40 years since Hunt’s championship win with McLaren, Tooned has returned with a remake of the Hunt episode that sees Fernando Alonso make his debut alongside Jenson Button.

The episode is packed with Tooned‘s regular dose of wit and charm. Keep an eye out for “my little chorizo” Alonso on his famous deckchair, as well as an appearance from 2017 McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne later on.

You can watch the episode above.

“The 40th anniversary of James Hunt’s Formula 1 world title made for an obvious decision to revisit the Tooned archives and create a fun and compelling new chapter in the series,” McLaren group brand director John Allert said.

“Combining pre-existing elements, but incorporating a fresh narrative involving McLaren-Honda’s drivers Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne, this new episode is destined to reach an all-new and highly engaged audience online.

“Tooned is a showcase for the power of storytelling: it’s concise, funny and rammed with delightful detail. This one-off episode offers an all-too-brief return to the Tooned universe and a tantalizing glimpse at just what’s possible with the brand in the future.”

Made it: Haas F1 at ‘home’ at US Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gene Haas heard the snickers, shook off the doubters and ignored the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Looking up at his name in bold letters above the Haas F1 team tent in the paddock this week at the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s easy to allow him a few moments of self-congratulation heading into his team’s “home” race this weekend.

“Everybody made it sound like we were clueless getting into Formula One, that we’d be bumbling idiots. The Europeans were going to teach us a lesson,” Haas said. “I think when we showed up and were prepared with a competitive car that scored points, it set a very high bar … People didn’t think we could do it.”

The Formula One season has been dominated by Mercedes and the duel between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But the American rookie outfit has been one of the surprise stories from the rest of the grid.

An industrialist with roots in NASCAR and North Carolina, Haas jumped into Formula One with a flourish. His team has 28 points in its maiden season, all of them scored by veteran French driver Romain Grosjean. While far from the top, it’s also well above the bottom with a chance to climb over the final four races of the season.

Sunday’s race will be a chance for Haas F1 to wave the flag in front of American fans, too, during F1’s only U.S. stop.

“There is some pride for having and American flag on this car,” Grosjean said.

Haas F1 is the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years and the road getting here wasn’t easy. It actually crosses two continents, as the team is split between a design base in North Carolina and racing operations in England.

Haas was first granted his F1 team license in April 2014. The initial goal was to be racing in 2015. That proved to be too ambitious, so Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner took aim at 2016. Powered by a Ferrari engine, Haas debuted with an impressive first testing session, then took a step back with engine problems that kept them off the track.

“A lot of people lost sleep over that. That was not easy having to sit off the track and watching the other teams go round and round,” said Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.

“We broke a lot of stuff,” Haas said.

The problems were fixed by the first race when Grosjean finished sixth in Australia and took two more top-10 finishes over the next three races. The success proved hard to maintain and Haas has only one other top 10 finish all season, none since the British Grand Prix in July.

Haas F1 got a boost two weeks ago when both cars qualified in the top 10 for the first time in Japan. But that came with a rookie mistake: teams that make stage three of qualifying have to start the race on their qualifying tires, forcing a change in pit strategy from one stop to two, and they finished out of the points.

Still, the qualifying performance raised hopes for more points over the final four races.

“We finished seven times in 11th,” Steiner said. “It’s about time we finish four times 10th.”

Grosjean left the former Lotus team to join the Americans, and Haas credits him with being a steady hand in the car all season.

“He didn’t know what we had and we could have been a complete and utter disaster,” Haas said. “He took a big risk.”

Haas won’t commit to a driver lineup for 2017. Gutierrez was a test driver for Ferrari when he signed with Haas, but he hasn’t scored a point this season, finishing 11th five times. Haas understands American fans want an American driver but suggested that’s not an option anytime soon.

Some fans had hoped Haas would sign Alexander Rossi, who finished 2015 driving for Manor. Rossi instead landed in IndyCar and stunned nearly everyone by winning the Indianapolis 500 in May as a rookie. Haas does have an American development driver, 18-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

“That sounds like simple equation: American team, American driver, American race track. It’s all American. The reality is there’s not that many American (Formula One) drivers,” Haas said. “Not exactly a good idea at this time. We really wanted experienced drivers.

“We don’t need to have everything perfect this year or the year after,” Haas said. “American drivers or American sponsors, those events will happen. It will be up to us to put it together.”

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