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fell out of the running, and with the No. 70 Mazda not threatening for the overall win and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing withdrawn entirely, van Overbeek was the lone wolf with six other DPs breathing down his neck.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

Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”