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.

Bourdais hangs on to points lead after Barber

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Sebastien Bourdais’ drive to eighth is not quite the headline-maker to match his win at St. Petersburg or his second at Long Beach, but it was still a championship-caliber drive on a weekend where he and Dale Coyne Racing didn’t quite have the pace they had in the opening two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Bourdais advanced out of his Round 1 qualifying group, but went no further after turning the 12th fastest time in Round 2, leaving him 12th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, he managed to weather the storm and keep his nose clean, taking home an unspectacular but respectable eighth.

“Yeah not quite sure what did what. Maybe the conditions got us more in the operation of the tires,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee when asked about his struggles during the weekend.

Bourdais also added that might have been able to pass Tony Kanaan for seventh in the final laps, but he couldn’t quite do enough to make a run at him.

“I really thought I had (Kanaan) there. He used the pushed to pass. I didn’t forget! I really thought I had him. He used the push to pass on the way back. Shame on me. It was a good fight. Not the greatest day but top 10 is good for the guys and the Sonny’s BBQ car.”

Bourdais leads Scott Dixon by six points and Josef Newgarden by seven. Simon Pagenaud sits 10 markers behind while James Hinchcliffe is 15 back after three races.

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A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

Brown and Alonso. Photo: IndyCar
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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso had a quick sit-in in Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda:

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.

NHRA: Pro Stock teams get into confrontation during Houston race

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The temperature was only around 70 degrees but tempers got into triple digits Sunday at the NHRA Springnationals in suburban Houston, Texas.

The crews of Pro Stock drivers Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin did a lot of pushing and shoving during a confrontation between both sides in the pits at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

Gray had defeated Laughlin in their first round of eliminations matchup Sunday.

The relationship between the two teams had apparently become strained when Laughlin switched from Gray Motorsports engines to Elite Motorsports engines in his race car for this weekend’s event.

Laughlin told FoxSports.com, “I got down there, turned the car off and got out. We were both walking over to the ticket stand to get our time slips and I had absolutely nothing to say to him. He grabbed his ticket before I got mine and then he slapped me on the back and said ‘how the [expletive] did that work out for you?’”

Tanner Gray — Photo courtesy NHRA

After the first incident at the timing/scoring booth at the end of the track, the two teams confronted each other once both cars returned to the pits.

“We got back to the pit and I was telling Richard (Elite Motorsports boss Richard) the story and Tanner is standing over there smiling at us from his pit,” Laughlin told FoxSports.com. “Richard said, ‘What are you looking at?’ and Tanner throws his hands up like ‘bring it on,’ and that’s when the crews came together.”

Tanner Gray, who turned 19 years old on April 15, is in his rookie year of racing in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks.

“The whole thing is just stupid and could have been avoided if he just grew up a little,” the 28-year-old Laughlin told FoxSports.com. “He’s going to have a very hard career if he acts like a spoiled kid every race.”

There was no immediate comment from the Tanner Gray camp.

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