IMSA: Indianapolis thoughts and observations

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Just four weekends remain in the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season following this weekend’s Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis. A few weekend thoughts and observations:

  • Party like it’s 1995: Nearly 20 years after the 1995 Indianapolis 500, that race was discussed when referring to the top two finishers in the race on Friday. Christian Fittipaldi, who co-drove the winning No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, finished second in that race – what was the Brazilian’s only ‘500 start. Meanwhile the car that finished second, the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley, featured a driver who crashed out of the lead in that 1995 Indianapolis 500, Scott Pruett, and a co-driver who was all of three months old at the time of the race: Sage Karam. It’s funny how relevant that race has been in 2014, with Jacques Villeneuve having returned to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time this year since winning that day in May, some 19 years ago…
  • Perfect pole parity: In the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes, there has not been a single repeat pole winner this year. The P class is eight-for-eight in different polesitters, with four Daytona Prototype car poles and four P2 car poles. GTLM is seven-for-seven, split among five different manufacturers (Dodge Viper SRT, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Ferrari). IMSA really couldn’t have done much better than that in terms of outright lap time balance.
  • IMS circuit still favored DPs over a race distance: Like the series’ street races, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is more of a point-and-shoot track where torque and horsepower play dividends. So over a race distance, the DPs had the edge over the P2s, which had good single lap speed thanks to their pace in the infield section. Longer fuel stints also aided the DPs. The scorecard reads 6 DP wins to only 2 P2s… however this makes it seem more lopsided than it is. The lap time achievement balance is close, given the aforementioned balance in qualifying results. But given the nature of most circuits over a race distance, it takes a near perfect effort for a P2 to get and stay ahead given the car’s disadvantages.
  • The kids are alright: IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth and Indianapolis 500 near rookie-of-the-year Karam put in star turns Friday at IMS. Karam started the No. 01 car, survived a first corner fracas where prototypes were making contact around him, led during a portion of his stint and handed over the car to Scott Pruett all good to go. Hawksworth closed the race in the No. 08 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 in Prototype Challenge, and hunted down and passed teammate Bruno Junqueira. Not bad at all for the young Englishman in his sports car, multi-class debut, going against one of racing’s most underrated drivers.
  • The paddock/schedule was not alright: There were some frustrating reports I received from those on the ground at IMS, given the paddock layout for the TUDOR Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The TUDOR paddock was split behind the NASCAR/F1 garages and on the East side of the IMS museum – near Turn 2 – while the CTSC paddock was housed behind the suites at pit in. Some 0.8 of a mile each way was the walking distance as measured, and made it something of a headache for anyone needing to spent considerable time in both paddocks. While racing on the track’s “Super Weekend” holds some appeal in terms of a cohesive, unified, NASCAR-owned front, it’s hard not to feel that it could be better for the TUDOR Championship to race as the lead series at IMS in the future – a.k.a. not at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night.
  • Risi’s big improvement: Behind the race-winning Dodge Viper SRT squad, Risi Ferrari turned the corner with pole from Giancarlo Fisichella and a runner-up finish for he and co-driver Pierre Kaffer in the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia. Aided in part by Adjustment of Performance updates, the Ferrari excelled on the twisty IMS circuit and had a rare trouble-free weekend, despite a couple offs in the race.
  • Hard luck for Porsche: The factory Porsche North America squad turned in by far its best effort since the opening two races in Florida on Friday with the Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche 911 RSRs, but engine-related issues forced the leading No. 911 into retirement following a great drive from Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy. The No. 912, driven by Patrick Long and Michael Christensen, made it onto the podium in third. With AoP updates coming for Porsches at Road America including a bigger air restrictor, larger splitter and rear wing, they could well be the favorites there.
  • Audi on the doorstep: With Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Dodge Viper SRT having scored wins in the GT Daytona class, only Audi and Aston Martin are yet to break through. But Audi is very close. The Paul Miller Racing team has three podiums – including second at Indy with Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller in the team’s No. 48 Audi R8 LMS ultra. Meanwhile the Flying Lizard squad has had a host of near misses and poor luck has struck the Fall-Line Motorsports effort more often than not. PMR posted its best 2013 race at Road America a year ago, finishing fourth in the American Le Mans Series GT class with what had been an older spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and should be better positioned for success this time around.

In two weeks’ time, the series heads to my home track – Elkhart Lake’s Road America – for the next round of the season.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook

New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.

Times are below, followed by notes.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session); Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.8246 (Session 4)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.9875 (Session 4)
4. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.2067 (Session 4)
5. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
6. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.2563 (Session 4)
7. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
8. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
9. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:17.1030 (Session 4)
10. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.5179 (Session 4)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8920 (Session 2)
2. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
3. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
4. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.2252 (Session 2)
5. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:20.2456 (Session 4)
6. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.7373 (Session 4)
8. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
9. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:21.1250 (Session 2)
10. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:21.4425 (Session 4)
11. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:23.0447 (Session 4)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Gutierrez. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photgraphy

1. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
2. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
3. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.6882 (Session 3)
4. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
5. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:26.0760 (Session 2)
6. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:26.1432 (Session 3)
7. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
8. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2751 (Session 2)
9. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:26.3193 (Session 4)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.4349 (Session 4)
11. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
12. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5739 (Session 4)
13. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
14. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.8219 (Session 3)
15. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.0620 (Session 4)
16. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.2107 (Session 4)
17. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
18. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.6730 (Session 2)
19. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, No Time
20. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Kohl and McElrea joined Gutierrez in Pabst’s pace. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
  • Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
  • Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
  • Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
  • His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
  • Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
  • In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
  • Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
  • Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
  • While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
  • Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
  • USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.