NASCAR-Chase Changes Auto Racing

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.

Stoffel Vandoorne confirms Super Formula move for 2016

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9576
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2015 GP2 Series champion and McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne has confirmed that he will race in the Japanese Super Formula series this year.

Vandoorne won the GP2 title at the second attempt in 2015, setting new records for points scored and races won with ART Grand Prix.

The Belgian had been tipped to move up to Formula 1 with McLaren should either Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso not race for the team in 2016, only for both to continue.

As champions of GP2 are prohibited from returning to the series, Vandoorne was known to be considering a move into Super Formula after testing a car at the end of last year.

In a post on his Twitter account on Friday, Vandoorne confirmed that he would be joining the Honda-backed Docomo Team Dandelion Racing for the 2016 season.

Vandoorne will go head to head with the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Narain Karthikeyan, Andre Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima in 2016, all of whom have tasted success in racing in the past.

The 2016 Super Formula season is set to begin on April 24 at Suzuka.

DiZinno: Why Honda’s Rolex 24 overall win meant so much

Photo: Honda
Photo: Honda
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The nature of timing, reflection and being backlogged meant I never properly recapped this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona after it happened, which was by any account a spectacular kickoff to the North American road racing season.

But in looking back, while the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class finishes stole the immediate headlines in the aftermath of the race, arguably the bigger story from a “what this means to a particular manufacturer” standpoint was the fact Honda Performance Development did in fact, pull off the overall win.

It’s been a long time coming for Honda, and comes on the heels of a very trying 2015 season as part of a tougher season for Japanese manufacturers on the whole, save for Kyle Busch’s surprise but welcome run to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in his Toyota.

Some 12 months ago Honda, purely from a sports car standpoint, was in transition as a manufacturer.

The several iterations of HPD or Acura chassis from 2007 through 2014, with the one exception of the 2009 Acura ARX-02a, were all consistent evolutions that were based off what was initially a Courage chassis.

The ARX-02a was the first chassis outside the box, and while it was certainly ahead of its time, various factors contributed it to being only a one-and-done project for the 2009 American Le Mans Series season.

The first all new car for HPD since that point – the ARX-04b coupe – was meant to herald a return to Honda’s competitiveness as its own constructor with a brand new chassis coming into fruition from the start of the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and with Tequila Patron ESM fielding two cars.

The ARX-02a lasted one season. The ARX-04b lasted one race.

A weight imbalance front-to-rear and several other niggling issues left the new car from being anywhere as near competitive.

ESM, which had opted to go to the FIA World Endurance Championship full-time for 2015, suddenly needed a backup plan. They brought the open-top ARX-03b out for two final starts at Sebring and Silverstone, then had a mad scramble to acquire two new Ligier JS P2 chassis by Spa in May.

The nightmare season for ESM would eventually bring about further change for 2016. While long rumored, it wasn’t formally confirmed until the release of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and WEC full season entry lists last week that the two Ligiers will have Nissan powerplants this year in the WEC.

It leaves Honda now out of the championship for the year, represented at Le Mans only by Michael Shank Racing in its race debut.

Where this all ties together – with that perhaps long but necessary background out of the way – is that ESM had a new shot at Daytona still with the Ligier JS P2 Honda, now with the tried-and-true Honda HR35TT twin-turbocharged V6 engine installed in the back. An engine which, even more strangely, was initially developed for a Daytona Prototype and not the LMP2 spec cars that have become the future of top level prototype racing in North America.

ESM’s chassis was one run by OAK Racing at Le Mans last year. It will be the chassis Shank runs at Le Mans this year.

Fittingly, the pair of Ligier Hondas, ESM and Shank, were the class of the field at this year’s Rolex 24. BoP helped, certainly, but was not the overriding factor in the reason for the car’s domination.

Pipo Derani, arguably the revelation of this year’s race, did the bulk of the work but teammates Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek more than pulled their weight as well (Ed Brown ran only limited laps). Derani though got into the 1:39 bracket early and after 24 hours had passed, the car had nearly a one-second best lap over any of the DP-spec cars in the field.

And Shank’s quartet would have been there all 24 as well judging by its early pace, before the drama of engine woes struck and sabotaged their hopes just around midnight. It was a tough blow for Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Olivier Pla.

To appreciate why the win for Honda and ESM meant so much is to know that last year, nearly everything that could go wrong for either party in sports cars, did. And a little less than two weeks ago, nearly everything that could go right for the two, did.

Steve Eriksen, Vice President and COO of Honda Performance Development, told me going into the race that if the reliability was there, the package was too for HPD to topple the DPs with either of its two entries.

“I think we feel really good about the package,” he said pre-race. “The new 3.5 liter is new to here, but not new to us. I have no concerns about the reliability. It built in some headroom, with any BoP type changes, to where we can deal with it.”

The road-to-track relevance is there in this engine: both entries used the aforementioned production-based 3.5-liter engine, developed for competition by HPD from the Honda “J35” series of passenger vehicle V6 engines, with improvements including twin turbochargers.

Key production-based components include the block and cylinder heads, direct-injection fuel system, valve train components, drive-by-wire throttle, alternator, sensors and fasteners. The engine even utilizes a stock Honda oil filter.

Post-race, HPD president Art St. Cyr expanded on what the win meant.

“Winning a 24-hour race is still one of the ultimate challenges in motorsports,” he said. “We’re proud to add this milestone achievement, the Rolex 24, as our first overall victory at Daytona, and our first win for the new 3.5-liter Honda engine package developed for sports car competition.

“Congratulations to Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, and the entire Patron Tequila ESM team for a truly world-class effort en route to victory. But it’s also a somewhat bittersweet day, as Michael Shank Racing consistently ran at the front of the field, and undoubtably would have also contended for the victory but mid-race mechanical failure.”

While ESM’s U.S. presence the rest of the year is limited to its next race at Sebring before it embarks on its second full season in the WEC, it has helped deliver Honda the best possible start to its year on U.S. soil.

It’s a most needed shot in the arm for both entities ahead of the rest of their respective seasons.

Inexperience no concern for Frederic Vasseur at Renault

Drivers Esteban Ocon of France, left, Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain, second left, Kevin Magnussen of Denmark, right, and Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan Carlos Ghosn pose in from of the Renault R.S.16 during its presentation at the at the Renault's technocentre in Guyancourt, west of Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. French carmaker Renault returned to Formula One as a racing team after agreeing to take over Lotus, which had struggled with financial costs last season.  (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Renault Sport racing director Frederic Vasseur has no concerns about the inexperience of drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer heading into the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Renault will make its full return to F1 as a constructor this year after taking over Lotus at the end of 2015, and officially unveiled its new operation in France last week.

Vasseur has taken over the reins after previously heading up ART Grand Prix’s GP2 team, while ex-McLaren driver Magnussen and rookie Palmer will race for the French manufacturer in 2016.

Renault is set to field one of the least experienced line-ups in F1 this year with Magnussen having just 19 race starts to his name and Palmer yet to enter a grand prix.

Neither driver has raced since the end of 2014, but Vasseur has no concerns about his drivers’ ability or experience heading into the new season.

“Kevin has a good mix of experience and youth. He had a strong race season at McLaren two years ago and showed his ability in the junior categories such as Formula Renault 3.5,” Vasseur said.

“He can target winning races and championships as he has the talent. The fact he had a lack of mileage last year will motivate him and he’ll be chomping at the bit to get back into it all.

“It’s important for us because we all know 2016 won’t be an easy season. We know where we are starting from and we need motivated characters like Kevin to keep pushing hard.

“Jolyon goes from being the third driver for a private team to becoming the race driver for a manufacturer team and the driver with the most experience with the team.

“He has a very mature head on his shoulders and we know from his 2014 GP2 Series title that he can deliver against the very best on track. It’s a rookie year for Jolyon, but we’ve seen that rookies can deliver so we are happy with the line-up we have behind the wheel.”

10-year F1 title drought would be a ‘tragedy’ for Ferrari

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, gives an interview while on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after Ferrari's IPO on October 21, 2015 in New York City. Ferrari will trade under the symbol RACE.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne believes that it would be a “tragedy” for Ferrari to go 10 years without a championship in Formula 1.

Ferrari last won a constructors’ championship back in 2008, while its last drivers’ title came courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

2015 saw the Italian marque enjoy a resurgence as Sebastian Vettel won three races and managed to take the fight to Mercedes at the front of the field on a regular basis.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Marchionne said that this upturn in fortunes helped to bring credibility back to the Ferrari brand, but that this must be built upon with a championship in the next three years.

“If we were to string together victories in F1 then it would improve our brand,” Marchionne said.

“I was speaking with one of our car dealerships and we agreed that the results of 2015 helped bring back credibility to the brand.

“If we were to somehow fail to win a title over a 10-year span, it would be a tragedy.”

When discussing Ferrari’s success in 2015, Marchionne was full of praise for new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene who took over from Marco Mattiacci at the end of 2014.

“We won because we brought focus back to the team and began to do the things that are really important. Maurizio Arrivabene’s arrival helped a lot,” Marchionne said.

“He is great at creating a team atmosphere. He knows how to make everyone work together.”