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.

Timing, consistency, patience fuel Kyle Kaiser’s Indy Lights title

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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In three years since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires introduced its new Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the field size – and the level of top competition – has increased each season.

Kyle Kaiser is one of only two drivers who’ve been there in each of the 50 races in three years, Shelby Blackstock the other one, and is proof of what’s needed to grow into a Verizon IndyCar Series driver.

His maturation process from a crash-prone rookie to a calm, consistent and determined team leader at 21 years old, having moved from his hometown of Santa Clara, Calif. to Indianapolis, has been fascinating to watch at the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

That development paid dividends en route to securing this year’s title, which owed quite a bit both to timing and determination on his part along with a consistency each of his other title contenders lacked.

Kaiser’s authoritative weekends this year were few and far between – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Toronto street course weekends were the only two where on clear pace, Kaiser looked unbeatable.

But it was the other weekends where he maximized his results – really all except Mid-Ohio – that helped deliver him the title.

Having been there since the start of the new car period in 2015, Kaiser explained how much the competition has improved.

The 2015 Indy Lights field at Long Beach. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“That’s the crazy thing. It’s gotten higher year-on-year,” Kaiser told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen. “We have all these really strong guys coming from Europe. And we have some very strong drivers that returned, with Santi coming back after he almost won the championship last year. I think this year was a really good performance, because I wasn’t making the mistakes that cost me the title last year.”

He would know. Kaiser’s early race accidents in 2015 revealed a driver who was still a bit raw in his step up from Pro Mazda, with a notable shunt with Jack Harvey in Long Beach standing out for all the wrong reasons.

There were two podiums and sixth place in points, but Kaiser was in a clear “second tier” among drivers beyond the three primary title contenders – Harvey, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones – and more on par with fellow rookies RC Enerson and Max Chilton. All five have since made it to IndyCar for at least a handful of starts.

Kaiser had grown enough to uphold the mantle of team leader at Juncos Racing by year two in Indy Lights. Fostered by the people around him – Ricardo Juncos as team principal and engineers Peter Dempsey and Ernie Gonella, primarily – Kaiser built the confidence to where he could become a race winner in the series.

Kaiser head of the queue in Phoenix in 2016. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

And as Indy Lights grew in 2016 where there were seven different winners, Kaiser joined that list. Domination at Phoenix followed by an emotional win on home soil at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a track he knows intimately from his junior years, were his first two triumphs. There were still mistakes but far fewer of them, and third in points was no less than he and the team deserved.

No one in 2016 had a truly standout season. Eventual champion Jones rallied through a rough summer stretch. Santiago Urrutia, up from winning the Pro Mazda title, looked a world beater on permanent road courses but struggled mightily on ovals, and also watched as his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team disintegrated around him. Enerson, expected to be a title contender, tired of myriad team and mechanical issues and left midseason before jumping into IndyCar. Zach Veach alternated boom-and-bust results in his return to the series. The same was true for Dean Stoneman and Felix Serralles, who won races but were highly inconsistent. Felix Rosenqvist won three races on a partial schedule and probably had the most natural talent in the field, but wasn’t there to properly contend.

It was there the signs of consistency could come good for Kaiser in the grand scheme of things, and along with Urrutia, they were likely equal co-favorites for this year’s championship. And with Urrutia only racing this year on a late deal with Belardi Auto Racing with SPM, Kaiser had the team consistency in his pocket too. Having known how Juncos operates both its Pro Mazda and Indy Lights programs, Kaiser knew the team wouldn’t lose focus.

“That guy knows how to handle pressure!” Kaiser said. “He can be everywhere and take care of so much stuff to be a great team owner. Any stress he may have had in the Pro Mazda program, I haven’t had to worry about any of that in the Indy Lights program all year.”

Such was the case. Whereas Kaiser had all the elements needed to succeed in his back pocket, his six-pack of rivals all hit rough patches at various points, and so 2017 followed a similar arc as 2016.

Urrutia took time to gel with Belardi and was almost out of the title by May. Despite an eventual rally from 11th to second, he couldn’t quite overcome the deficit.

Kaiser leads field at IMS. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rookies Colton Herta, Nico Jamin, Matheus Leist and Aaron Telitz all won races, but all made their fair share of rookie mistakes, bore the brunt of reliability issues or suffered from both. Zachary Claman DeMelo added a variable as an improved sophomore – a la Kaiser last year, although after bailing from Juncos and switching to Carlin – and featured enough speed and consistency worth taking notice of. Quite by contrast, Claman DeMelo’s fellow sophomore teammate at Carlin, Neil Alberico, watched his title hopes fade away by the end of May after a strong start.

Kaiser drove smart all season with the exception of Mid-Ohio, then rallied at Gateway with an ultimate statement drive to put his grasp on the title. He avoided potential pitfalls as Claman DeMelo and Jamin both spun right near him, put a deep pass on Urrutia’s outside into Turns 1 and 2 that left the Uruguayan surprised, then finished fourth to score enough points where he didn’t need any result at Watkins Glen to lock down the title.

“I wanted to get on the podium but knowing where I was, being fourth with three laps to go, I just had to bring it home,” Kaiser reflected. “That restart, I almost put it in the wall but I didn’t – I saved it! That was a season saving catch, for sure.”

It wasn’t the flashiest of seasons, but it didn’t need to be. Considering how far Kaiser has come over a four-year period, the fact it was quiet but solid all throughout the year spoke volumes of the maturation needed to become a respectable IndyCar driver. He’ll do so for at least three races courtesy of the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship.

At Sonoma, he was busy making the rounds a couple weeks after winning the title. He impressed the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network, did a number of media appearances at the IndyCar season finale, and held his own against yours truly in an impromptu typing contest.

Consider he has a high level of experience he already has going into IndyCar is the four years in the ladder, a similar number to a Pigot or James Hinchcliffe, for instance. He’s won once each on an oval, street course and road course. He’s become solidified in Indianapolis, where he now calls home.

And he only said he got nervous once it came to delivering his championship acceptance speech at the banquet in Watkins Glen, so that’s a sign of his steely resolve in the cockpit.

Kaiser and Juncos celebrate title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But Kaiser’s appreciation for the team that’s built him into a champion really said more than his results.

“I’ve been with the team four years now,” he said in his championship speech. “You guys saw my potential… you’re always honest with me, and your driver development program has made me the driver I am today.

“Your love for the sport and unrelenting desire to win has brought you so much success.”

With both Kaiser and Juncos Racing poised to graduate into IndyCar on a more substantive basis in 2018 – together or not – the result of this year’s Indy Lights championship is deserved fruit for both their labor.

Andre Lotterer heads to Techeetah Formula E for season four

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A year after making a transition from Audi’s LMP1 program to Porsche’s in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Andre Lotterer will be on the move again to the FIA Formula E Championship for season four from 2017 to 2018 with the Techeetah team.

The three-time winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans winner is also a champion in the FIA WEC (2012), Super Formula (2011) and Super GT (2006, 2009); the 35-year-old German is one of the more successful open-wheel and sports car drivers of the generation and now takes up his latest challenge as the Formula E series continues to grow in driver talent. He’s made both one IndyCar (2002, Mexico City with Dale Coyne Racing) and Formula 1 (2014, Belgium with Caterham) start apiece.

Techeetah will welcome Lotterer in as it seeks a year of stability in its driver lineup following a roller coaster season three. Lotterer joins Jean-Eric Vergne next year. Vergne had either Ma Qing Hua, Esteban Gutierrez or Stephane Sarrazin in the second car this past year.

“I am honored and proud to join Techeetah to make my Formula E debut,” Lotterer said. “Formula E has been the most exciting motor racing series in recent years. Techeetah made a very big impression last season beating a number of manufacturer teams, and I am looking forward to working with JEV and everyone in Techeetah to start this new chapter in my racing career.”

“Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer will form one of the strongest driver line ups in Formula E. I’m sure our two drivers will push each other to new levels of performance. Andre’s track record and experience with some of motorsport’s most significant factory teams, brings immense value as we push our own development in both the medium and long-term,” added Ivan Yim, Techeetah managing director.

“With only three test days available to us as a private team, we’ll be looking to Andre to adapt quickly to the format and car. The intent is clear; we’re putting a quick driver together with the team’s proven Renault Sport powertrain. With the all-new season 5 car on the horizon, we are confident that season 4 will assist Andre in being well prepared along with Jean-Eric to mount a solid challenge for the Championship.”

Lotterer is the second Porsche LMP1 driver to find a home in Formula E next season, Neel Jani having also been confirmed recently with Dragon Racing, as Porsche axes that program at season’s end. Brendon Hartley had tested for Venturi but the Kiwi appears destined for an IndyCar program instead.

Porsche did tweet it is happy to keep Lotterer in the family.

Gasly confirmed for Toro Rosso race debut, in for Kvyat

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Pierre Gasly’s full-time future in Formula 1 will get determined after he first gets a chance to prove himself in a handful of races this year with Scuderia Toro Rosso.

The team has announced Tuesday morning he’ll stand in for Danii Kvyat for the “next Grands Prix,” and will make his race debut at this week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Gasly won last year’s GP2 championship (series now known as Formula 2) and has stayed race fresh this year racing in Japan’s Super Formula, following a similar pattern as Stoffel Vandoorne did last year before moving into a McLaren Honda race seat this season. As that series finale is the same weekend as the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Gasly will be unavailable for Toro Rosso there.

“Scuderia Toro Rosso was established by Red Bull to bring youngsters from its Junior Programme into Formula 1 and that’s what we are doing by giving Pierre this chance,” said Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost.

“He is the next in line at Red Bull for this opportunity and he has shown that he deserves it, having taken the 2016 GP2 title and this year being very competitive in the Super Formula series in Japan. He really has a valid chance of winning the title, as he is only half a point behind the leader.

“The driver switch gives us an opportunity to make a more informed decision regarding our 2018 driver choices. For a variety of reasons, some of them due to technical problems, but others being mistakes of his own making, Daniil Kvyat has not really shown his true potential so far this year, which is why we are standing him down for the next races. This will give us the opportunity to evaluate Pierre on track during a proper race weekend.”

Gasly will seek to deliver in his opportunity, paired up alongside Carlos Sainz Jr. in Sainz’s final races with Toro Rosso this year before he’s off to Renault in 2018. Thus far, Sainz outscored Kvyat 36 to 4 this season.

“I would like to thank everyone who has helped me get this chance in my motor racing career and specifically, Red Bull, Dr. Helmut Marko and Scuderia Toro Rosso…this is a great opportunity for me,” Gasly said.

“I feel as ready as I can be, having had to be prepared for anything in my role as Red Bull Racing’s third driver this year. I will do my best to perform well with Scuderia Toro Rosso during these coming races.”

Ken Block tackles Pikes Peak in ‘Climbkhana’ (VIDEO)

Photo: Hoonigan Racing Division
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Ken Block’s latest adventure with his 1965 Ford Mustang ‘Hoonicorn’ RTR didn’t involve a traditional type of course. It did, however, include the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

The release and details about “Climbkhana” presented by Toyo Tires for the film co-directed by veteran creative man, photographer and Porsche enthusiast Jeff Zwart is below.

Climbkhana presented by Toyo Tires, is the next generation of Ken Block’s wildly successful and award winning Gymkhana series of viral videos. The all-new concept is a hybrid of the driving showcased in the previous films, blended with a rally-road style attack on unique roads around the world. To kick off this new series, Ken Block chose what is arguably one of the most famous roads out there: The Pikes Peak Highway outside Colorado Springs, CO.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the most well known hill climb in the world, Billed as America’s second oldest, continually running race (the Indianapolis 500 is first), it’s also one of the first places Block ever raced in his career.

“When I was young, I caught the The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on TV once or twice,” said Block. “Even as a kid I remember dreaming about racing there some day because it looked so epic. Eventually I did, back in 2005, but it was in a Group N rally car which didn’t have much power up in that high and thin air! It was an underwhelming experience because of the horsepower issue, but I loved the road and mountain – and I had always wanted to go back and do it right. So, to drive it like I get to drive in my Gymkhana videos – and do it in the Hoonicorn with 1,400 horsepower – well, that truly is a dream come true!”

For Block, filming Climbkhana at Pikes Peak was a unique opportunity. While the road closes once a year for the Hill Climb, no one has ever been given the access to turn the landmark location into a playground. For production duties, Block once again brought his long-time friend and business partner at Hoonigan, Brian Scotto, to direct, but they also added a new face to the Hoonigan Media Machine formula: Eight-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Champion and Radical Media Director Jeff Zwart.

“I have raced at Pikes Peak for 16 years and through the years I thought I had seen everything, but to witness Ken’s skills on basically my home mountain and get to direct him at the same time, it was truly something amazing,” explains Jeff Zwart, Climbkhana’s co-director. “Nothing but respect for him and his whole team, both on the racing side and production side!”

To tackle the extreme elevation gains experienced along the way up Pikes Peak, Block knew that he needed more horsepower for his 1965 Ford Mustang Hoonicorn RTR. So, Hoonicorn V2 was born. A 1,400 horsepower, twin-turbo, methanol-fueled machine that lights up its sticky Toyo Proxes R888R tires in every corner and properly updates the infamous build made famous in Gymkhana SEVEN, Wild in the Streets Los Angeles. Unfortunately, extreme engine builds and altitudes can prove challenging. Block and his crew experienced multiple production setbacks, having to go to the mountain on three separate occasions over 12 months due to both weather and development issues to be able to finish the film.

“This car is insane,” said Block. “I feel it genuinely wants to kill me! Before we added the twin turbos, it was the most fun car I’ve ever driven. Now it’s still quite fun to drive, but it melts tires ridiculously quick. To have this thing be such a beast and then take it to this very dangerous mountain, well, I thought I’d maybe finally taken on a project that might be too much for me to handle. This is the most powerful AWD-type car in the world to be driven this way, so I’m genuinely glad I didn’t die making this video!”

Toyo Proxes R888R tires deliver the enhanced grip and stability Block needs when maneuvering the 1,400-horsepower Hoonicorn V2 around the famous curves of Pikes Peak. Learn more about the Proxes R888R DOT competition tire and find a dealer at toyotires.com/tires/competition-tires.

The film was produced by Hoonigan Media Machine and premiered last night at The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. It is presented by Toyo Tires, Ford and Pennzoil. To watch it now, click the link below.