IMSA: CTMP thoughts and observations

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The latest TUDOR United SportsCar Championship round from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is in the books. A few thoughts and observations gleaned from the series’ lone trip north of the border to the former Mosport circuit:

  • Sometimes, a team just dominates. A great stat brought up during the race broadcast was that the combined margin of victory in the Prototype class through the first six races was just over 13 seconds. Sunday’s at CTMP was 7.886 seconds, and that didn’t nearly showcase the level of domination the No. 42 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan car showed all weekend. The P2s were always going to have the edge at a track where better aero and handling trumps outright top speed; as at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the type of car best suited to the circuit win.
  • Gustavo Yacaman is one of the stars of the year. Considering many in the sports car world consider Olivier Pla one of the best, most underrated drivers worldwide, the fact his OAK Racing co-driver Gustavo Yacaman has been able to match if not beat his co-driver on outright pace all year has been nothing short of impressive. Plus, in each of the last five races, Yacaman has been sensational to watch. His passing attempts spiced up Long Beach; his battle with Michael Valiante in Monterey was incredible; he was consistent en route to third at Detroit; he drove flawlessly at Watkins Glen and again this weekend at CTMP, where the Colombian was simply a man possessed. After OAK cruelly lost out at the Glen, Yacaman was determined to deliver this weekend and did so with his pole and two excellent stints to start the race. Not a bad recovery in 2014 after his series of accidents a year ago with Michael Shank Racing, and his four years in Indy Lights where he was often good, but not great.
  • Painful weekend for several P class cars. A fire knocked the improving DeltaWing coupe out of action before the race, and an accident did likewise for Marsh Racing. Add Memo Rojas’ recon lap shunt for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and a quarter of the 12-car P class field was already wrecked or sidelined before the race got going. Mercifully Andy Meyrick (DeltaWing) avoided serious injuries, while we wish Boris Said the best in his recovery following his cracked rib diagnosis. Good gesture of the weekend goes to Action Express Racing, which ran Whelen decals on its No. 5 Corvette DP after the Marsh shunt and withdrawal.
  • On the No. 01’s actual starting time. While true to the letter of the rulebook, CGR’s start after Rojas’ pre-race shunt was still an eyebrow raiser for me. Here’s the rule: Rule 45.4.3. (TUSC) A Car not starting the race on time and first driven to the pit exit more than one hour after the start of the race must request permission to join. The team requested and received permission to start, as the race had just passed the one-hour mark when the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley was ready to return to the track. I’m all for last-minute heroic repair efforts – the Falken Porsche blowing an engine in Sebring morning warmup and then making it to pit lane with a new one in 2012 still stands out – but so long as you make the grid within a reasonable amount of time, say maybe no more than a lap or two after the actual green flag. This one just seemed off. If you don’t start, you don’t start would make a bit more sense for future rules.
  • American pride in GT Le Mans. Four straight wins for Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia have seen the No. 3 Corvette C7.R establish itself at the front of the manufacturer-driven class, and the Dodge Vipers have been on a roll the last two races as well. The new (old) livery for the Vipers sees the red battling the yellow once again at the front of the field… it’s glorious.
  • Meanwhile, what happened to Porsche? A pair of wins in the 36 hours of Florida (Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring) seem a distant memory for the factory Porsche North America squad, who between the Nos. 911 and 912 RSRs haven’t scored a single podium finish between them in the last four races. The Porsche is on par performance-wise with the BMW, but the German manufacturers are lagging that tiny bit behind the Corvette and Viper at the moment.
  • Porsche on Porsche violence. Credit Jeroen Bleekemolen for taking a deserved victory in the No. 33 Riley Motorsport Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R in GT Daytona, but it’s hard not to feel for Kevin Estre in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America. Estre was merely minding his own business while trying to stay out of the way of the faster GTLM cars through the twists and turns of the circuit, but got bumped by Michael Christensen in the No. 912 Porsche to allow Bleekemolen a hole to stick the Viper through. It’d be one thing if it was a Prototype lapping through, but a fellow car from the same manufacturer affecting a similar car in GTD? Awkward.
  • No cautions… no PCs… it’s a funny coincidence. Post-race after I noted this was the third TUDOR Championship race this year to run caution-free, several people noted there were not any PC cars this race. Indeed, this is true, and indeed, this was also the case at the two other caution-free races at Long Beach and Monterey. Having said that, and although the PC class has come in the crosshairs this year for a number of accidents, it’s not that the fact there were no PC cars at CTMP meant there were no cautions. It merely meant drivers in all of P, GTLM and GTD kept their heads screwed on straight through traffic for two hours and 45 minutes of clean racing. Remember, PC was not the sole cause of cautions at Daytona, Sebring, or Watkins Glen.
  • Remo Ruscitti wins the weekend undercard. The talented young Canadian from Vancouver co-drove the ST class-winning Porsche Cayman in Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race, then swept the pair of IMSA Cooper Tire Prototype Lites races in his first two starts in that series. Remember the name going forward.
  • Commercials out the wazoo. Having been to the first five TUDOR Championship races on site this year through Detroit, I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch purely from my couch, TV in front of me and thus feel the experience of a fan or series stakeholder who might not be able to watch on site. I didn’t see too much of Watkins Glen as it and the IndyCar race from Houston ran concurrently. However for CTMP, to put it mildly, it was difficult to follow the action with all the frequent barrage of adverts that ran almost every two minutes. Unofficial analysis from Twitter user @BadBoyVettes revealed these numbers.  For the positive future direction of the championship, I hope this is something that improves down the road.

Anyway, that in the books, the next round for the championship is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks on Friday, July 25.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: COTA reflections, blocking thoughts

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and others on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry looks back at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas, where Johansson was in attendance, with a deeper dive look through the field.

He also touches on the final three races ahead as Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fight for the title, and continued thoughts on blocking, especially in the wake of new rules implemented during the Austin weekend about drivers moving in a brake zone.

It’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

Johansson notes the title battle is down to one thing for the next few races, with Rosberg needing to lose more than seven points in one of the next three races if he loses the title. He enters this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix up 26 points.

“More than anything else between these two, it really comes down to who gets the start right and at least in Lewis case also some reliability issues. That’s it. That’s all the difference there is between them,” Johansson writes.

On COTA, Johansson laments the track doesn’t lend itself to particularly good racing, and whoever emerges in first place after Turn 1 often is good to go for the rest of the race.

“It’s the nature of the track. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke-designed track basically so it’s built to the same template as most of the rest he’s done,” Johansson explains. “Unfortunately, they don’t produce very good racing in general because they all seem to have one corner followed by a kink or another corner and you can never get a proper run on a guy ahead of you as you’re going through them.

“The corners leading onto the long straights are all sort of aero-dependent which means that if you get somewhat close to the car in front you lose your front end which means you have to lift slightly and then the gap remains too big to have a go when you arrive to the braking zone – often even with DRS engaged. It’s the same problem you have on so many modern circuits.

“Whoever gets through the mess at the first corner in the lead – that’s pretty much where they end up. With the cars at the front so closely matched it’s pretty predictable from there on.”

With Max Verstappen’s driving tactics coming under the microscope once again, with the way he denied Lewis Hamilton in Suzuka and with some of his other moves this year having been scrutinized, F1 moved to rule that drivers could not move in the brake zone.

Johansson talked a bit about Verstappen here, as well as the rule itself and the mentality drivers have these days.

“This moving under braking – even if it’s just a little wiggle – makes it very difficult for the guy behind. Once you hit the brakes you’re more or less committed to one line, so if you’re the car following and you’ve decided to make an attempt to pass where there is a gap by leaving your braking to the very last moment and the driver in front of you suddenly moves across and the gap is no longer there it makes it almost impossible for the guy behind to avoid even hitting him. You either completely blow the corner or you hit the guy you’re trying to pass, which in fact we have seen numerous times lately, where parts of the front wing suddenly go flying because there was contact under braking.

“We’ve talked about this many times but this blocking nonsense in racing goes back quite a few years. There’s a great video of Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon). If you watch that, it was an intense battle where they traded second place several times and you see how they raced back then. There was no blocking and that’s how everyone raced. Sadly, these dirty tactics slowly crept into the system by a few drivers who then became heroes to the generations that followed and because the FIA didn’t clamp down on it early enough it’s now become the norm and every young driver thinks that’s how you should race.”

Johansson also notes that with a rotation in race stewards, there is often no consistency in terms of penalties applied.

“I think it would have been easy for (Felipe) Massa to stay to the inside of the corner. And when you leave the door wide open a driver like (Fernando) Alonso will always make a move. Knowing how difficult it is to pass around there the only option is really to go for the “surprise” move which is exactly what Alonso did. You have to make a move when the driver ahead least expects it because there’s hardly any other place to pass on that track.

“It’s the same thing Rosberg did to (Kimi) Raikkonen in Malaysia but Nico got a 10-second penalty. Alonso got nothing and it’s the same old story – rulings at random. These were almost identical incidents but the stewards’ rulings were not identical. One time you get a penalty, next time you don’t.  What do you do as a driver?

“I think [Mark] Blundell who was the steward in Austin did the right thing but it shows there’s no consistency whatsoever in the control tower.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Ocon focused on racing as Mercedes considers next move in F1

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Esteban Ocon of France and Manor Racing walks in the Paddock during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Esteban Ocon says he is focused purely on his racing commitments with Manor in Formula 1 amid speculation about a possible move for 2017.

Ocon won the GP3 title in 2015 as an affiliate member of Mercedes’ young driver program, before being loaned to Renault in a reserve role for the first half of this season.

When Rio Haryanto’s backing fell through, the Mercedes-powered Manor team drafted in Ocon as a replacement to partner fellow Mercedes youngster Pascal Wehrlein.

An impressive start to life in F1 has resulted in Ocon being linked with a drive at a number of F1 teams for 2017, including Force India and Renault.

However, with Mercedes managing his career, Ocon is choosing to focus on doing his talking on-track as the F1 season enters its final three races.

“I’m already really happy to make the progress we made with [Manor]. Together we have done a really strong job,” Ocon said.

“It hasn’t been an easy thing to arrive half way through the season but I’m happy with the progress.

“Mercedes is managing my career, so at the moment I’m trying to focus on the remaining races and, yeah, we will see from there on how it goes.

“I’m focusing as much as I can on the remaining races. If you do a strong job there will always be talks and opportunities.”

Ocon is rated highly by Renault, but would need to be released from his Mercedes contract if he were to race for the French manufacturer.

Force India does have an available seat after Nico Hulkenberg’s decision to move to Renault for 2017, and given Mercedes’ links to the team, there may be a place for Ocon there. However, Felipe Nasr is thought to be the front-runner for the seat thanks to his significant financial backing.

A look to the future: 2017 Michelin Challenge Design cars revealed

All photos: Michelin
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This was not the best week for sports car racing with Audi’s departure from the FIA World Endurance Championship confirmed at the end of this season.

However, as Audi raised the game in so many aspects, so too could the next generation of designers, and that’s where Michelin Challenge Design comes in.

Announced last Friday, the winners of 2017 Michelin Challenge Design’s “Le Mans 2030: Design for the Win” competition were revealed, created in partnership with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.

There were more than 1,600 entrants from more than 80 countries who came up with design ideas for the next generation of cars.

“The winners of our 2017 Michelin Challenge Design presented numerous highly innovative features for the Le Mans race in the year 2030 and the quality of work from this year’s entries was truly outstanding,” said Thom Roach, vice president of original-equipment marketing for Michelin North America.

“We congratulate the winners for their thought-provoking, visually captivating designs for the world’s greatest endurance race, Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The three winners of the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design, and their designs, are linked below. Further information is available here via MichelinAlley.com.

Winners of the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design:

  • First place: Tao Ni of Wuhu, China, for design entry “Infiniti Le Mans 2030”
  • Second place: Daniel Bacelar Pereira of Vila Real, Portugal, for “Bentley 9 Plus Michelin Battery Slick”
  • Third place: Kurt Scanlan of Toronto, Canada for “Cierzo C1”

First Place


Second Place


Third Place


Red Bull GRC adds electric series for 2018

Speed leads. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross will add an electric standalone series to its Supercars and GRC Lites divisions from the 2018 season. Further details about what type vehicles and the name of the series will be present will come in the coming year.

Here’s the release, below:

Red Bull Global Rallycross will continue to position itself at the forefront of motorsport technology with the creation of an all-electric vehicle series for the 2018 season. Electric vehicles will be added to Red Bull GRC race weekends as a distinct, standalone series, joining the Supercar and GRC Lites classes in the series’ race program. Red Bull GRC, in conjunction with USAC (United States Auto Club), will serve as the governing body for the new series.

“Red Bull Global Rallycross is pleased to add to our rallycross platform an electric series,” said Red Bull GRC CEO Colin Dyne. “The 2018 season will be a landmark year for us as we welcome electric vehicles to the grid for the first time. The electric car is one of the hottest topics in the automotive industry, and manufacturers across the globe have recognized its immense potential. We want to embrace this technology by welcoming it into our series as we continue to grow and expand.

“Our current platform is the most enticing in motorsports right now to a young, millennial audience. Our small displacement, high-horsepower, turbocharged engines allow our manufacturers to showcase the performance capabilities of their current millennial-focused offerings, and provide a glimpse into the exciting future of the automotive industry. This electric series will add a new dynamic that will never replace the current formula, but will be an important part of our expansion.”

Having just wrapped up its sixth season, Red Bull GRC has consistently been responsible for major announcements that have accelerated the growth of the sport of rallycross. The Supercar class now features four manufacturer partners: Ford, Subaru, Honda, and Volkswagen. In 2015, Red Bull GRC also became the first racing series to compete on an active United States military installation.

Further details on Red Bull GRC’s upcoming electric class will be released in the coming year.