NASCAR: New Hampshire a special place for Brian Vickers

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Last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Brian Vickers effectively sealed his full-time return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Running as a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers held on to win in Green-White-Checkered for his first Sprint Cup triumph since 2009. About a month later, Vickers was announced as the new full-time driver of MWR’s No. 55 Toyota starting this season.

The win remains special to Vickers for many reasons, but perhaps none bigger than that it represented a successful career comeback after blood clots sidelined him in 2010 (blood clots also ended his 2013 campaign early but he returned in time for this season).

“The biggest thing was, you know, kind of in Victory Lane reflecting back to a couple years earlier when I was sitting in a hospital not sure if I’d ever race again, being told there was a good chance that would never happen again,” Vickers remembered in today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“Through the support of so many friends and family and people like Michael to give me a chance, Toyota helping me and supporting me through the process, a good team behind me, [they] got me back in into a car and got me not only back into the Sprint Cup Series but got me back into Victory Lane.

“That’s probably the biggest lingering memory from the win and why it means so much.”

Another win at New Hampshire in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 would also mean a lot to Vickers, who is battling to get into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

He currently sits beyond the Top 16 cutoff point but remains in the picture at 10 points behind Austin Dillon, the current holder of the 16th and final position on the Chase Grid (Greg Biffle is the closest to Dillon at four points back).

As we all know, a regular season victory effectively puts you into the post-season and Vickers almost punched his ticket last Sunday in a rainy Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. But in the end, NASCAR decided to call the race with Aric Almirola taking the win and Vickers having to do with second.

That didn’t sit well with Vickers, who said on Sunday he was “shocked” that NASCAR ended the race early at Daytona. Today, while admitting that there are certain factors to consider with each track, Vickers said that more formal guidelines should be put in place regarding rain-affected races.

“Obviously, some tracks have lights like Daytona so you can race well into the night and some tracks don’t have lights,” he said. “Some tracks have noise curfews, when you can start, when you have to stop a race, or there’s penalties.

“But I think having some guidelines in place to say, ‘Listen, at this track on a Sunday we will race until this time, on a Monday we’ll race until this time.’ Just kind of knowing that going in because you may make different decisions.”

Vickers was also asked about the recent formation of the Race Team Alliance, the nine-team group that not only has MWR in its stable but its co-owner, Rob Kauffman, as the chairman.

However, Vickers replied that he had only “heard little things here and there” about the RTA and said that it’d be better for him to defer questions to Kauffman, who’s emerged as the group’s de facto spokesman.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.