MRLSWrap

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fell out of the running, and with the No. 70 Mazda not threatening for the overall win and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing withdrawn entirely, van Overbeek was the lone wolf with six other DPs breathing down his neck.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.

Rosberg eases to Russian GP pole as Hamilton hits trouble

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg will start Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix from pole position after easing to P1 in the final stage of qualifying at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg arrived in Russia 36 points clear of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, and is chasing a seventh consecutive grand prix victory on Sunday.

The two Mercedes drivers exchanged fast times in both Q1 and Q2, with Rosberg finishing half a second clear heading into the final fight for pole in Q3.

However, there was no battle as had been anticipated after a power unit issue arose on Hamilton’s car, meaning that he could take no part in Q3.

Using the same unit that had caused trouble in China two weeks ago, Hamilton reported a loss of power at the end of Q2, forcing him to sit out of the final session.

As a result, Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season by posting a fastest lap of 1:35.417 in the final stage of qualifying.

The German went eight-tenths of a second faster than nearest rival Sebastian Vettel with his first lap in Q3, but an error on a later lap meant he could not improve on his time.

Nevertheless, it was more than enough for pole, with Vettel finishing seven-tenths of a second back for Ferrari in P2. However, he will drop to seventh for the start of Sunday’s race due to a grid penalty.

Valtteri Bottas enjoyed his best qualifying of the season to date to finish third ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, while Williams teammate Felipe Massa qualified fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge in P6 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, with home favorite Daniil Kvyat finishing eighth. Max Verstappen finished ninth ahead of the luckless Hamilton in P10.

McLaren’s hopes of scoring a first Q3 berth since the end of 2014 were dashed late on in Q2 as Jenson Button missed by just one-tenth of a second. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished just ahead of the Briton in P11, while Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg followed in 13th ahead of Fernando Alonso in the second McLaren in P14.

Haas’ recent difficulties continued in qualifying in Sochi as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez could only finish the session 15th and 16th. Grosjean struggled with the balance on his VF-16 car, sliding off the track late in the session, but managed to outqualify his teammate once again by six-hundredths of a second.

Renault once again struggled for pace in qualifying as Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer failed to make it out of Q1 once again, finishing 17th and 18th. Felipe Nasr’s new Sauber chassis did not give him the boost required to make it into Q2 as he ended up 19th. Manor drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto impressed by outqualifying Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber, who propped up the timesheets.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday, with lights out at 8am.

Sauber financial difficulties ‘not a secret’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder says that the financial difficulties currently facing the Swiss outfit are “not a secret”, but that it is now in a more comfortable position.

Sauber has faced a great deal of uncertainty in the past three years, but the ship appeared to have been steadied in 2015 after the arrival of drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, both of whom brought sizeable backing.

However, the team was late in paying its staff earlier this year, and is currently running short on spare parts according to Autosport.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Zehnder said that Sauber was already in a more comfortable situation than earlier in the year, but that regular income did not got far enough.

“We’ve been in a more comfortable situation already,” Zehnder said.

“We have financial difficulties, it’s not a secret, but I think the good thing is we are still around. We’re working hard to solve all the problems but it’s not easy.

“An annual budget this year is just a massive one and to just cover it by sponsors and the income from Bernie [Ecclestone] is just not sufficient at the moment.”

Zender also said that the loss in value of the Swiss franc in recent years has hit Sauber hard.

“In 2007, one dollar was 1.5 Swiss francs. Now we have parity. So what we had income in dollars is now worth 50 per cent less,” Zender said.

“Switzerland doesn’t make it really easy. The other thing is that obviously F1 personnel, technical, mechanics, you kind of have a pool in the UK, we don’t have it in Switzerland.

“So for motorsport, it’s maybe not the best place to be although we have wonderful living!”

Lewis Hamilton closes out Russian GP practice fastest

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for top spot in the final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix thanks to a late lap in the 60-minute session.

In a session that saw a number of drivers struggle with the low temperatures and low grip afforded by the Sochi Autodrom circuit, Mercedes once again dominated proceedings as its drivers swept to a one-two finish.

Rosberg and Hamilton exchanged blows throughout the session, having already split top spot in the two sessions on Friday, as Mercedes completed a significant amount of running on the super-soft tire.

Rosberg enjoyed the advantage heading into the final few minutes, running four-tenths of a second clear of Hamilton as the Briton struggled with traffic.

However, Hamilton was able to eke out another late lap with just seconds remaining on the clock, posting a time of 1:36.408 to finish just six-hundredths of a second clear of Rosberg in P1.

Rosberg was left to settle for P2, but Mercedes’ advantage was clear once again as nearest rival Sebastian Vettel finished six-tenths of a second down on Hamilton in P3.

Kimi Raikkonen followed just behind his Ferrari teammate, finishing fourth, while the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas ended the session fifth and sixth.

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. ran well for Toro Rosso to finish seventh and ninth respectively, with McLaren’s Jenson Button splitting the duo as he bids for the team’s first Q3 berth in over a year later in qualifying. Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 for Force India.

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 8am ET.

Boston race seemed to have a lot of corporate partners lined up

<> on January 5, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The thing that makes me think INDYCAR wanted to make Boston work is that the race – and the people who worked for it – appeared to have a lot of corporate partners lined up.

And to be honest, it takes a lot of corporate partners to get an event off the ground – particularly a first-year street race.

Start first with the Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn presenting sponsor – LogMeIn – which was announced last October.

Here’s what was said at the time, via a release:

LogMeIn has always been committed to investing in our Boston community and having a positive economic impact on the city and the Fort Point neighborhood.” said W. Sean Ford, LogMeIn’s CMO. “The Grand Prix represents an opportunity to continue to solidify Boston as the hub of innovation for the Internet of Things, and showcase Xively, our award-winning Internet of Things platform and application solution. We are extremely honored to be the presenting sponsor of the first ever INDYCAR race in Boston.”

“This is a great win for the City of Boston – we’re expecting an influx of tourism and support for local businesses, and residents will be able to see one of America’s greatest sports featured right here our City,” added Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “The Grand Prix of Boston represents the latest success on the South Boston waterfront, and we’re excited to work with IndyCar and companies like LogMeIn to give the best sports fans in the world one more thing to cheer about.”

And here’s what LogMeIn had to say late Friday, after news the plug was getting pulled on the event, via Bruce Martin for National Speed Sport News:

“We’re really disappointed,” LogMeIn CEO Bill Wagner told the Boston Globe, via National Speed Sport News.“The level of excitement among our employees [about the race] had exceeded my expectations. It had a much broader appeal than a lot of people expected.”

Coors Light came on board. One of the key brands in the MillerCoors portfolio was announced in February as Official Beer for the race. MillerCoors made a bigger investment in INDYCAR earlier this month.

As recently as last week, seven new partners were announced, which according to the event, brought the partner portfolio to more than 100.

Grand Prix of Boston CEO John Casey said in that release, which came out April 21, “An event of this magnitude isn’t possible without corporate partners and we continue to be amazed by the desire of so many Boston and regionally based companies who have joined us for the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn. Having more than one hundred sponsors for this year’s event is an amazing number for a long-standing event, let alone a first time event like the Grand Prix of Boston. We hope to continue to build on this momentum as we get closer to September.”

That release came out only a week after the Grand Prix of Boston announced a Signing of License Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding with City of Boston, State Agencies.

So with the news the race is off now, here’s all the corporate partners who are now wondering, “now what?” when it comes to their investment, listed in order from the event website (before it gets taken down):

  • LogMeIn
  • AllTown Market
  • ExxonMobil
  • Coors Light
  • Firestone
  • Safety 1st
  • Absolut
  • Ivora Ella
  • Verizon
  • Konica Minolta
  • WEEI 93.7 FM / WAAF 97.7/107.3
  • NewBalance
  • Polar
  • Herb Chambers
  • The Westin Boston Waterfront
  • MMB
  • Leader Bank
  • Delta
  • Compass Furnished Apartments
  • Roxbury Technology
  • Massachusetts Fallen Heroes
  • Veteran Homestead
  • The Play Brigade

Beyond that list, there’s more than 30 additional partners listed below those on the website in smaller scale.