Detroit2014Wkd

Detroit Grand Prix delivers another dynamic event weekend

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Say what you will about Long Beach being North America’s marquee street race – for my money, it’s still a personal favorite and the gold standard for street race operations – but Detroit’s getting pretty close to usurping that “gold standard” title after just three years since coming back on the schedule in 2012.

For the second consecutive year (I wasn’t on site in 2012, so I can’t properly comment on that year), everything about the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend on Belle Isle Park, run to near perfection by Roger Penske’s organization and with Bud Denker leading the on-site staff’s efforts, ran like clockwork.

The track flows in such a way that once you’re inside, everything runs in close proximity. The paddock is just behind pit lane and covers all four series that were in action – the Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge and SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks. Victory Lane and the media center are just next to the paddocks, which reduces a lot of unnecessary time spent going back-and-forth to get where you need to go.

The fan zone here is laid out in grand, open style, with a mix of vendors, booths, food options, family friendly activities and a giant concert stage – put onto great effect with Lifehouse and Shaggy performing on the two weekend days. Rising singing star Anna de Ferran, daughter of former Indianapolis 500 and CART champion Gil, also performed during the weekend.

Where this race really nails it is on the corporate side. Penske’s organization focuses heavily on the corporate suite side of things and works effortlessly to ensure the suites get sold out. The Shinola-backed suites were on the outside of the front straight this year, and combined with other corporate chalets, these offered a great vantage point for those clients on site.

The track is transparent with its grandstand numbers. On Friday, Trackside Online reported the numbers, from the track posting, as a total of 15,229 grandstand seats among the five grandstands. It’s not a huge number, but it’s also not the event’s primary focus.

The volunteers go out of their way to be friendly and helpful, almost to a fault. Occasionally you’ll be at an event where volunteers do whatever they can to make your life miserable; not so in Detroit.

As for the weekend on-track? Yes, the course is bumpy but that’s one of its defining characteristics. Denker confirmed at Thursday’s media lunch that a full-scale repave will occur before 2014 to eliminate some of the rough concrete bits.

It will smooth things out, although Cadillac Pirelli World Challenge driver Johnny O’Connell, who won both races this weekend joked during Sunday’s press conference, “With Detroit being a little bit on the bumpy side, I think that works to our advantage. It was funny, I was talking to Roger Penske and I said, please don’t make this track too nice. A couple of bumps are good for me!”

Chevrolet, too, has committed to the event for another two years, through 2016. Denker confirmed to RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett that next year’s weekend again features a Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader and the Pirelli World Challenge, while also hoping to confirm the return of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

This was the last of two weekends this year – Long Beach as well – where all three series competed alongside each other on the same card.

For IndyCar, this weekend was once again a showcase of varying strategies, which adds an extra layer of spice and intrigue because you never know which strategist or team will nail it.

You also had the emergence of rivalries in greater doses. The “#IndyRivals” campaign premiered on Sunday and it was rather appropriate that it did, considering Will Power appears to be on a quest to be the new Darth Vader of the paddock.

Perhaps, as I suggested on Twitter right before the end of Sunday’s race, Team Penske should revert his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet back to the all-black colors it premiered in when Power was a then-unheralded part-time third driver for the team in 2009.

The Power-Simon Pagenaud battle has enough momentum to where it can be promoted as “the new rivalry.” Power’s had brief encounters with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon before, after having one with Dario Franchitti for a few years. But now him and Pagenaud are the best at-odds thing to promote.

It’s a good thing for the sport, and Pagenaud’s the likeable underdog as the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports lacks the resources of a Penske, or a Ganassi, or an Andretti Autosport, but still brings the fight and the bark on every weekend.

Penske and GM ruled the weekend, but those on site will once again attest this was another first-class event through and through. Kudos to all who made it happen.

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 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 many had 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, 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.

It was nevertheless more than enough for pole, with Vettel finishing second for Ferrari, seven-tenths of a second behind Rosberg. 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.

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.