NASCAR: Daytona adding more SAFER Barriers on outside wall

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Days before the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series return to Daytona International Speedway, the “World Center of Racing” has added new SAFER Barriers.

According to the Daytona Beach News Journal, the new barriers have been installed from the exit of Turn 4 to the tri-oval and from the tri-oval to the entrance of Turn 1.

Altogether, the barriers are now along the outside wall from Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 2 at Daytona, plus the majority of inside retaining walls.

Multiple drivers, including Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, have put pressure on tracks throughout NASCAR to install more of the energy-absorbing barriers.

Last May, Gordon declared that the barriers should be installed “everywhere” after he crashed into an unprotected portion of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s tri-oval wall during the 2013 Coca-Cola 600.

Then this past March, Kevin Harvick made a similar plea days after he crashed in the Daytona 500. Like Gordon’s Charlotte wreck, he hit an unprotected portion of wall – in his case, Daytona’s inside one.

Harvick particularly needled Daytona for its lack of barriers considering that it’s in the middle of their $400 million Daytona Rising renovation project.

He said at the time: “The tracks, for the most part, don’t listen to really anything unless it’s profitable for their shareholders. So, when you see somebody spending $400 million dollars on their track and they don’t have soft walls around the inside, maybe they could spend $403 million to go ahead and finish the inside of the superspeedway there at Daytona.”

Today, DIS spokesman Lenny Santiago told the News-Journal that the decision to install additional barriers came after a usual post-event sit-down with NASCAR.

“What we decided to do after consulting with NASCAR was install this [additional] SAFER barrier,” said Santiago. “This is Daytona and we want to make advances where we can.”

Additionally, Daytona has converted its former cross-over gates to a ramp-style design in order to have quicker foot traffic to and from the main grandstands.

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”