MonthofMayCapper

Revitalized Month of May at IMS delivers on almost all counts

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What was a test case for the “reinvigorated” month of May, and the new business strategy employed by the new powers-that-be at 16th and Georgetown, has worked.

The 2014 edition was a vibrant, more buzzing Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more days than normal, or at least more than in recent previous years.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS WEEKEND

As I wrote at the time, you needed to take a moment to acclimatize yourself to the weirdness. IndyCars… turning right? In high-downforce road course configuration? At Indy? “Sacrilege!” you say, right?

Well, yes, it was weird the first time I stepped out onto pit road to watch. But once you got through the first couple laps watching, and it began to sink in, you started to get the sense this felt like a proper race weekend.

And on race day itself, that message was brought home. Estimates have ranged from as low as 25,000 to up to 50,000 – the truth lies somewhere in the middle, probably closer to 45,000 – but the bottom line was that the mounds and grounds were filled with race fans anxious at the prospect of something new. When you start to add up the dollars of that first round of spectators, with a number easily 10 times more than the same weekend last year, it all starts to make sense.

INDY 500 QUALIFYING WEEKEND

Opted to watch this one on TV from home. The latest evolution of something that’s changed more times than I can remember since 1996 was created as a made-for-TV type of format, and by that standard, it worked.

Each of the two days generated a ratings number higher than the season-opening St. Petersburg race, and the Sunday strategy to bring Dario Franchitti into the booth to call the Fast Nine shootout was a stroke of genius.

The crowds? Certainly less than GP weekend. And the format of which lines cars were going in, and how many points each day generated were, admittedly, a bit confusing.

I’m not one to say that you ditch the two-day format just yet. If another type of entertainment purpose is brought into the track for this weekend, as it was for the following weekend, it could provide added value beyond just the on-track running for qualifying. At the very least, reducing the confusion for media and fans on the format should be the goal for 2015.

THURSDAY/CARB DAY/SATURDAY

There was a healthy crowd in attendance outside the Pagoda for the new Indy Lights car launch on Thursday night, with fans watching as well beyond Mazda Road to Indy drivers, teams, participants and stakeholders.

Come Friday, Carb Day, the perpetual ritual of drunk Hoosiers waltzing all over the grounds continued true to form. There was the usual mix of great on-track action (practice, Freedom 100, Pit Stop Competition and Stadium Super Trucks) and off-track entertainment for the majority of IMS-goers (Sublime and Sammy Hagar concerts). I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t as high a volume as normal of crushed beer cans on my annual Carb Day walk from the media center to the media parking lot, but that meant IMS was on its game in terms of cleanup.

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Photo: INDYCAR

To Saturday, and while the usual public drivers’ meeting and driver autograph sessions were their usual hits, the biggest change came in the afternoon with the Jason Aldean concert bringing in the greatest number of new, paying fans. Leaving on Saturday around 4:45 or so, the grounds were packed.

Figure if you had at least 60,000 for Carb Day and maybe another 40 to 50,000 there on Saturday, and those are two huge additional numbers in terms of extra ticket sales and revenue from concessions.

We haven’t even got to the new “glamping” – or glamorous camping – that premiered this year. Judging by this piece from USA Today’s Chris Jenkins, that was a hit too.

RACE DAY

Indianapolis 500 race morning is the perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The morning buildup, with the Monaco Grand Prix on TV in the media center, then all the pageantry from the bands, to the Gordon Pipers, to the old cars, to everything else just takes your breath away.

There’s the chills from being down on the grid mere hours before 33 men and women prepare to saddle up, racing inches apart at 230 mph. You’re walking on 100-plus years of history, from all the millions who’ve come before you on these fabled grounds.

You head up to cover the race, and you feel it’s your obligation to do it proper justice. The race is older than you, it’s bigger than you, and it will go on long after you depart.

With the rest of the month in 2014 serving as an ample buildup, the race itself remained stellar as always.

IN SUMMATION…

The Speedway doesn’t release attendance figures, but you have to think the individuals involved, from IMS President Doug Boles all the way down, are smiling after this one.

And they deserve it, too, after a packed and revitalized few weeks.

NHRA: Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) star in 4-day test in Phoenix

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If this past weekend’s Nitro Fuel test in suburban Phoenix is any indication, we’re likely to see a number of speed and elapsed time records set in Top Fuel and Funny Car in the 2016 season.

The four-day preseason test at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park saw a number of drivers show invigorated performance in both elapsed time and speed.

The most notable performances in Top Fuel came from 8-time champ Tony Schumacher, Dave Connolly and Doug Kalitta.

But it was Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, who may have stolen the show in its entirety.

Brittany Force had the first (3.721 seconds at 319.07 mph), fourth (3.747/322.81) and sixth (3.758/317.64) quickest runs in Saturday’s final day of testing. In addition, Force had the fifth and sixth quickest runs (both at 3.721 seconds) of the entire four days.

In a sense, Brittany Force’s performance wasn’t a complete surprise. She has 11-time Top Fuel champion owner or crew chief Alan Johnson – and most importantly, Johnson’s celebrated equipment and motors – now behind her.

And how that improvement showed during the test.

Johnson and driver Shawn Langdon won last year’s season-opening race. And if her overall performance at Phoenix is any indication, Brittany Force could potentially follow in Langdon’s shoes and earn her first career Top Fuel win in the 2016 season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 11-14 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“I am definitely glad we are here in Phoenix testing,” Force said in a media release. “We were here for four days and I needed every single run that we made to make me feel more comfortable.

“Teaming up with Alan Johnson and Brian Husen as my crew chief has been great. They have made a lot of changes to this Monster Energy dragster. They run a whole different system that what we used to run. It takes some time to adjust to that and I am learning the car. It is starting to feel like home. … I am ready to get to Pomona.”

Schumacher had the quickest run of the four-day test (3.683 seconds/325.37 mph), followed by Connolly (3.714/330.15 mph) and Kalitta (3.716/327.35 mph). Schumacher also had the fourth-best run of the test (3.718/320.58 mph).

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. saved the best for last, recording the quickest speed of the overall test on Saturday (3.874 seconds at 318.47 mph).

Had the test been a national event, Johnson would have set a record for quickest run ever in Funny Car. Matt Hagan holds the official record of 3.879 seconds, set at Brainerd, Minnesota last season.

“We had our entire team stay intact after last year and we have sort of picked up where we left off last year,” Johnson said. “The crew worked really hard during the offseason and I am just happy for the guys to make a run like that to close out testing. It’s a good reward for them for all their hard work.”

Other Funny Car drivers that shined on Saturday included Robert Hight (a career-best 3.885 seconds at an overall test-best speed of 329.34 mph and another run of 3.931/323.43 mph), Courtney Force (3.890/323.89 mph and 3.915/323.74 mph), John Force (3.914/327.35 mph, 3.927/323.66 mph and 3.930/328.14 mph) and Ron Capps (3.919/320.66 mph).

“I believe with how we finished the end of the year at Pomona what we learned here is going to make us so much better when we get back to Pomona,” Hight said.” I am so excited to get to the Winternationals. “We made career best runs here and we are in the ballgame.”

Added team owner John Force, “We have had a lot of change over the past couple of years but now I am focused on winning and getting the most out of all these race teams.”

* * *

Below are the quickest performances in both Top Fuel and Funny Car from Saturday at NHRA Nitro Spring Training:

TOP FUEL
3.721, 319.07 – Brittany Force
3.739, 288.87 – Clay Millican
3.745, 325.53 – Doug Kalitta
3.747, 322.81 – Brittany Force
3.748, 319.22 – Richie Crampton
3.758, 317.64 – Brittany Force
3.768, 297.88 – Antron Brown
3.770, 316.08 – Shawn Langdon
3.791, 320.13 – Antron Brown
3.802, 325.69 – J.R. Todd
3.839, 272.72 – Leah Pritchett
3.882, 251.67 – J.R. Todd
3.916, 256.75 – Terry McMillen
3.929, 255.00 – Troy Buff
3.935, 306.05 – Terry McMillen
4.123, 242.19 – Troy Buff

FUNNY CAR
3.874, 318.47 – Tommy Johnson Jr.
3.885, 329.34 – Robert Hight
3.890, 323.89 – Courtney Force
3.914, 327.35 – John Force
3.915, 323.74 – Courtney Force
3.919, 320.66 – Ron Capps
3.927, 323.66 – John Force
3.930, 328.14 – John Force
3.931, 323.43 – Robert Hight
3.962, 326.79 – Matt Hagan
3.972, 320.51 – Alexis DeJoria
3.982, 289.57 – Jack Beckman
3.983, 320.81 – Del Worsham
3.987, 319.29 – Ron Capps
3.993, 322.58 – Alexis DeJoria
3.999, 320.97 – Del Worsham
4.008, 273.94 – Cruz Pedregon
4.015, 316.01 – Brian Hough
4.070, 273.39 – Del Worsham
4.153, 252.24 – Jim Campbell
4.211, 225.60 – Matt Hagan

* * *

Below are the top 10 quickest runs overall in each category from the four-day test session:

TOP FUEL
3.721, 319.07 – Brittany Force
3.739, 288.87 – Clay Millican
3.745, 325.53 – Doug Kalitta
3.747, 322.81 – Brittany Force
3.748, 319.22 – Richie Crampton
3.758, 317.64 – Brittany Force
3.768, 297.88 – Antron Brown
3.770, 316.08 – Shawn Langdon
3.791, 320.13 – Antron Brown
3.802, 325.69 – J.R. Todd
3.839, 272.72 – Leah Pritchett
3.882, 251.67 – J.R. Todd
3.916, 256.75 – Terry McMillen
3.929, 255.00 – Troy Buff
3.935, 306.05 – Terry McMillen
4.123, 242.19 – Troy Buff

FUNNY CAR
1.  3.874, 318.47 – Tommy Johnson Jr.
2. 3.880, 325.77 – Jack Beckman
3. 3.885, 329.34 – Robert Hight
4. 3.890, 323.89 – Courtney Force
5. 3.894, 327.03 – Jack Beckman
6. 3.895, 325.06 – Jack Beckman
7. 3.904, 318.54 – Courtney Force
8. 3.912, 324.20 – John Force
9. 3.913, 326.16 – Robert Hight
10. 3.914, 327.35 – John Force

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McLaren GT captures major endurance win at Bathurst 12 Hour

BATHURST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: Race winner Shane van Gisbergen driver of the #59 Tekno Autosport McLaren 650S crosses the finish line to win the Bathurst 12 Hour Race at Mount Panorama on February 7, 2016 in Bathurst, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
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There’s nothing to prove that Shane van Gisbergen isn’t actually a freak of nature with a big beard and a bigger right foot.

The man known as “The Giz” – the Australian V8 Supercars ace and McLaren GT factory driver – played an integral role in McLaren GT capturing a major endurance victory for the first time in more than 20 years, as he co-drove with Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb to secure the win in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race in the No. 59 Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S GT3.

Van Gisbergen stole the headlines and the track record with a best time of 2:01.286 around Mount Panorama on Friday to capture the Allan Simonsen Pole Trophy.

“SVG” then walked the field in the early hours of Saturday’s (Sunday in Australia) race before electrical gremlins ground Parente to a halt after he got in, and cost them about 45 seconds.

Nevertheless, a near faultless drive from there – plus an abnormal strategy the rest of the way that eventually led to needing less time in the pits for the final stop – helped deliver the victory. For good measure, van Gisbergen added a 2:01.567 lap in the race itself.

Nissan, which won the race last year, finished second with a lineup of Katsumasa Chiyo, Florian Strauss and Rick Kelly in their Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. The “Bentley Boys” made it on the podium with Guy Smith, Steven Kane and (British) Matt Bell in their Bentley Continental GT3.

The win is the first marquee endurance race victory for McLaren since its 1995 overall triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the McLaren F1 GTR.

Sauber’s C35 chassis passes crash test

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber has confirmed its new nose and chassis of the C35 has passed the mandatory FIA crash test, in both static and dynamic settings.

Prior to today, Sauber was one of two teams – McLaren the other one – that had yet to confirm it had passed the crash test. The McLaren, in theory, should come in due course.

A good summary by F1 technical analyst Craig Scarborough is linked in the below tweet:

While the new chassis is good to go for Sauber, it won’t be running yet at the first test at Barcelona from February 22 to 25.

The team confirmed, via its website, that the 2015 C34 chassis will run for the first four-day test before the C35 makes its maiden run from March 1 through 4 at the second Barcelona test.

The team’s 2016 livery, however, will be revealed at the first test.

Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are set to return for their second season as teammates; for Ericsson, it’s his third season in the sport while Nasr prepares for his sophomore campaign.

Busy week of testing ahead for IndyCar teams out West

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 15:  Ccars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The old saying “Go West, young man” is apropos for the Verizon IndyCar Series this week, ahead of a busy week of testing for teams and drivers at three key tracks on the left coast.

The action starts today with seven drivers from three teams out at Phoenix International Raceway.

Team Penske’s fearless foursome of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will join now Ed Carpenter Racing’s Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais for a Chevrolet manufacturer test.

Others such as Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have been out in Phoenix already this offseason. “TK” and Rahal tested for Firestone, with “Hinch,” “RHR” and Andretti out there in a Honda test in November.

Here’s some buildup to the test on social media:

On the team plane to Phoenix… First time in car for 16

A photo posted by Will Power (@12willpower) on

The latter post appears to be a teaser of Newgarden’s temporary Fuzzy’s Vodka colors on what will be his No. 21 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the other four-car powerhouse in the series – Chip Ganassi Racing – will have a four-car test of its own.

New signing Max Chilton is set to join the usual trio of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, with the Englishman set for his first test in an IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway.

Chilton, who’s been in the U.S. for media day and then stayed in the run up to Sonoma as he prepares for his debut, has been taking in the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

Honda won’t be devoid of testing this week as down the road in Fontana, Calif., at Auto Club Speedway, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz will be doing a Honda manufacturer test day on the 2.0-mile oval. While the track won’t see an IndyCar race this year, it remains a good testing location.

Chilton will also have his oval rookie test later this week at the same track, on Saturday. The Englishman failed to start at Indianapolis due to a fuel cell issue, but then promptly won his second oval start at Iowa within the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Sonoma was one of the few tracks Chilton didn’t learn from his training within the Mazda Road to Indy, but he should pick it up pretty easily.