IMSA: Persistence pays off for Patron ESM, Brown and JVO

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Over the last five years as a driver, Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown has learned, developed and honed his craft. He’s come from helping to start Extreme Speed Motorsports with Scott Sharp in 2009, ahead of the team’s first full season in the 2010 American Le Mans Series season, to shifting from the team’s Ferrari GT cars to HPD prototypes.

On Sunday, Brown started the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from pole after co-driver Johannes van Overbeek laid down the late flier in qualifying to deliver the top spot. Brown’s sole task in his opening stint was to keep the car in one piece, and an early pit stop 22 minutes into the race ensured he had done his job to perfection.

“I had a good stint. We tried to analyze what I was going to do on the start,” Brown said. “I basically hit the throttle and go as hard as I could coming out of Turn 11. Whatever happened down in Turn 2, my instincts would kick in at that point.

“My confidence grows every time I get in the car and I start to prove to myself that I can run with these guys. When I settled in and a few of them got by me, then I decide no other cars will pass me. I felt comfortable. We had a great car; the crew did a terrific job all weekend. We were in really good position.”

From there, “JVO” did the rest after two excellent stints the remainder of the race. For those who had forgotten the Oakland native’s prowess and results record in GT cars with Flying Lizard Motorsports a number of years ago, it was a welcome reminder that his ability level is still on par with some of the best drivers in the TUDOR Championship.

For van Overbeek, though, Sunday’s win owed as much to Brown’s clean start and the Extreme Speed team’s pit work as it did his own comeback and eventual pass of Jordan Taylor for the win on Lap 76.

“From the outside, it probably looked pretty easy, but inside is another story,” he said. “I was more nervous when Ed was in the car. He did a great job and put us in a great spot, and then I got in.

“I could not be happier. This is my home race. I thought I was cursed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because I’ve come so close to winning so many times. To win with Ed, Tequila Patrón and ESM, it is just fantastic.

“I’m proud of Ed for starting from pole and fending off the field. He’s the one that put us in a position for the win. Thanks to the crew as well; our pit stop and driver change was flawless. All of our practice is paying off.”

Sharp, who along with Ryan Dalziel suffered gearbox issues on the sister No. 1 car, was thrilled about the team’s development. ESM won a pair of GT races in 2012, and took its most recent win prior to Sunday at Long Beach in 2013 (the team’s first LMP2 class win).

“This is tremendous. They did a great job and checked all the boxes,” Sharp said. “The crew did a great job preparing the car; pit stops and everything went to plan. Ed did the best driving stint he’s ever done in his career. Then Johannes made some great moves and brought the win home. Congratulations to them.

“As far as our car, I don’t know what to say. This is our third gearbox problem this year. It is putting a damper on our points totals. It would have been nice to be 1-2.”

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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