The IMS road course is legit – a view from the passenger’s seat

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In the run-up to today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, drivers have pretty much offered near universal praise for the revised Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

That’s to be expected, because lest you be viewed as “the critic” who isn’t trumpeting the series’, or track’s, efforts to make this a circuit worthy of the “hallowed ground” distinction that IMS has held for more than 100 years.

You don’t want the law coming after you saying, “Hey, why aren’t you pimping this new race and new track?”

And while the IMS road course doesn’t pose a threat to the purpose-built, North American natural parks disguised as permanent road courses like Road America and Barber Motorsports Park, I can confirm the drivers aren’t BS-ing when it comes to the quality of this track.

The IMS road course is freaking legit, and that’s with a view from the passenger’s seat in a Chevrolet Camaro.

The Indy Racing Experience always makes both pace car rides and two-seater rides available, and while the latter would have been incredible, the former was no slouch.

I saddled up with my man Anders Krohn, who’s carved quite a career outside the driver’s seat between his NBCSN Indy Lights TV analyst role, his co-founding of the CoForce International driver development program and his continued role with IRE driving both the pace cars and the two-seaters.

Here’s the funny part. As part of NBCSN’s Indy Lights coverage, Krohn has already done stand-ups and called Race 1 of the double-header weekend, but only having completed a single track walk lap before our rides this morning.

“Now I get to understand the lines that I’ve been telling them to run,” “The Viking” joked.

Believe it or not the first thing that came on the radio as a pump-up to the lap was DJ Hardwell, who will be playing the Turn 3 Snake Pit on Indianapolis 500 race day. “I’m down with that,” I cracked, much to Krohn’s amusement.

But we got our game faces up and burned out of the pits – Krohn driving a manual transmission for the first time in a while – behind the quartet of two-seaters.

Turn 1 is tight, like full-on 90-degree right-hander tight. This has clearly been tightened from the almost flowing right off the banking used by Formula One in its run here, and based on yesterday’s three Mazda Road to Indy events there’s going to be a wealth of passing as has been projected.

Turns 2 through 4 will test how hard these guys can push with the quick left, right and right again. We’ve already seen a number of incidents in Turns 3 and 4 and the apex and line through 4, as projected, will be crucial to the run down the backstraight.

Krohn hit both apexes nicely on the Turns 5/6 chicane and powered down Hulman Blvd., a.k.a. the backstraight on the run down to Turn 7. Like Turn 1, this is another full-90, tighter than it was in the F1 era. Even at 8:35 this morning, there’s fans already camped out on the hillside mounds.

Grip’s high at all points on this track, as there’s no sliding.

The back section of the course from Turns 7 through to 12, a left, right, left, and three rights complex, is where teams that have opted for a higher downforce setting should be in good shape, and perhaps have the opportunity to pass into Turn 12.

The entry to 12 is a bit hard to nail, as you’re briefly back on the oval and not completely flat, but have to apex tighter into the right-hander, then be in proper position for the left-handed Turn 13 that will prove pivotal as cars launch through Turn 14 and back onto the front straight.

Not bad for Krohn’s first lap, and certainly not bad from the passenger’s seat.

And by not bad, I mean freaking awesome.

Thanks to Indy Racing Experience and Chevrolet for the opportunity.

Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”

British GP expands to four-day schedule, F2/GP3 practice set for Thursday

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The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.

On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.

Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.

F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.

Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.

The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.

The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.

Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.

Andretti Autosport endures tough Road America outing

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All four of the Andretti Autosport drivers encountered significant problems during the Kohler Grand Prix, and none of them were able to salvage finishes inside the top ten as a result.

Most notably, Takuma Sato endured the most difficult weekend of the four-car armada after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck on Saturday, which forced him to miss the morning warmup.

And things didn’t get any better during the race, as a lap 28 spin exiting the Kink saw him lose a lap and forced him to play catchup even more than he already was. Although Sato managed to finish the race, hardly insignificant given his neck injury, he did so in 19th after starting 20th in what proved to be his worst race since winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“It was a tough weekend and tough race,” lamented Sato. “I injured my neck during practice Saturday morning. We started in the back row, tried to make a push up, but I caught an accident. The engine was stalled and I wasn’t sure if we could continue, but the safety crew came and fired up the engine, so I came back to the pit, buckled again and I was able to keep going. In the end we made the finish, but we need a better weekend.”

His teammates did not fair much better. Alexander Rossi, who qualified a disappointing 15th, ran a four-stop pit strategy, and while he cycled into the top five at one point, an issue with the front wing saw him fall to 13th at the finish.

Alexander Rossi was fast Road America, but an issue with the front wing dropped him back in the field at the end. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we started with a good strategy, going for a four-stop race after starting 15th, but it all caught up to us on that first yellow,” Rossi explained. “Luckily, we had already gained track position and speed running on open track. We had an issue with our front wing, which ironically or not, is the same issue we finished the race with here last year, so we definitely need to figure out exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, too, had strong pace, even leading the Sunday morning warmup and running inside the top ten late in the race. But, contact with Charlie Kimball while battling for sixth broke the front wing on the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Hunter-Reay languished in 14th at the checkered flag.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was was 14th at the checkered flag after battling inside the top ten late in the race. Photo: IndyCar

“Charlie (Kimball) made a late block and took off my front wing. I had a good race going until Charlie moved out late like that, it’s just really unfortunate,” Hunter-Reay said of the incident.

Meanwhile, Marco Andretti battled a litany of problems, ranging from throttle issues to a broken pit speed limiter, which resulted in a drive-penalty for speeding during a round of pit stops. Andretti was a lowly 18th at the finish.

Marco Andretti battled a host of problems during the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“We started eighth, but ran into throttle problems. We went off track on the first stint because the throttle stuck wide open. We came into the pits to try to fix it and got hit with a pit lane speed violation because my pit lane limiter wasn’t working. We still weren’t getting full throttle – I was barely hitting sixth gear,” he lamented afterward.

Sato remains in the top five in the championship, now sitting fourth, 56 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Rossi sits ninth, with Andretti and Hunter-Reay 13th and 15th respectively.

 

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Kimball, Chilton quiet but solid at Road America

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While Scott Dixon scored victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of the team’s other drivers enjoyed quietly solid days at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Charlie Kimball, in need of a strong finish after being stricken with bad luck so far in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, scored his best finish of the year with a fine run to sixth place. While he was never a part of the battle for victory, he was “best of the rest” for most of the day and enjoyed a solid, mistake-free run.

“Overall a really solid day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Kimball said afterward. Though he admitted tire management in the race’s third stint hampered his efforts, he was more than pleased with the end result.

“That third stint, I don’t think I managed the Firestone alternates as well as some of the guys around me,” Kimball revealed. “You saw that with (Will Power) with a better in and out lap. That was disappointing, because I think we could have maybe had a shot at a top five. Overall though, to fight off some competitors for that last stint after the final yellow felt good and it felt good to bring it home in sixth for the guys. Kind of a semi-trouble free weekend and pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Max Chilton, too, scored a solid ten finish, the Briton finishing ninth. However, unlike Kimball, Chilton lamented not being able to finish higher on a circuit where he feels very comfortable.

Max Chilton during qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not how we wanted it, especially after how quick we were (in the morning warmup),” said Chilton, who started seventh and was second fastest in the morning warmup. Like Kimball, he struggled with tire management, and an untimely caution when he was on the primary black tires put paid to his chances of a better finish.

“Something just wasn’t working for us. On a set of reds, we were struggling massively and then we went to the blacks, which would’ve been alright, but then the safety car came out and everyone else had longer life on the reds and I was struggling again.”

With the Kohler Grand Prix in the books, Chilton currently sits 11th in the championship, three points behind tenth-place Ed Jones, while Kimball remains 18th, 72 points outside the top ten.