Road America’s state of the union: Good NASCAR, IMSA crowds; IndyCar still waits


I had a brief opportunity to catch up with Road America track president George Bruggenthies this weekend regarding the year to date for its two major events (plenty more, including motorcycle and vintage weekends, also take place during the year).

The NASCAR/Pirelli World Challenge weekend in June went off well in terms of ticket sales and TV appearance, despite the intermittent rain that delayed the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Meanwhile this weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race, a single race weekend compared to the double, one-off GRAND-AM Rolex Series/American Le Mans Series weekend that occurred in 2013, saw ticket sales close to what was achieved last year.

“We’re close on sales,” Bruggenthies told MotorSportsTalk ahead of Sunday’s TUDOR Championship race. “Last year as a one-off event with both, it was always going to draw more. But we’ve had perfect weather this weekend.”

Additional sponsors came to the NASCAR weekend in June, with two new sponsors including new race title sponsor Gardner Denver. Bruggenthies confirmed the Pirelli World Challenge will return to the track next season, as well.

But the elephant in the room continues to be whether the Verizon IndyCar Series will ever return, for what would be the first time since the former Champ Car series’ last race there in 2007.

IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth competed at the track this weekend for the first time; he praised it and wondered why IndyCar wasn’t at the track. Additionally James Hinchcliffe was in action as well, racing at Road America for the first time since Formula Atlantic in 2008. Sadly he wasn’t able to drive as local driver and teammate Scott Mayer wrecked out of the race on Lap 3; Hawksworth’s entry finished fourth in the PC class.

Bruggenthies, who’s told me previously that the sanctioning fee IndyCar requires has been too high, now said it’s more the schedule that’s an issue.

“With Mark Miles ending the year on Labor Day, it compacts everything,” Bruggenthies explained. “The schedule is more the issue than the business side. Of course we’d need sponsors to make it happen.

“I could do Labor Day. But there’s another event already there. Derrick Walker was here this weekend; we’ve talked.”

Perhaps the greater sticking point from an IndyCar at Road America standpoint now compared to a year or two ago is the fact the TUDOR Championship would rather position itself as a lead series, not play as a second feature on an IndyCar weekend.

IMSA President/COO Scott Atherton expanded on that in an interview with MotorSportsTalk Sunday morning from Road America, where the 2015 IMSA schedules were announced.

“We race with IndyCar in Long Beach and Detroit. We play together nicely and there is positive synergy between the two organizations,” Atherton said.

“But we’re careful to position the TUDOR Championship as a featured lead act, so to speak. When we race with IndyCar, there’s two of them in those historical venues.  Long Beach has been an open-wheel venue for 40 years, so it’s tough to be considered an equal there, but that market is so important to us and our stakeholders. If you’re a road racing product, you have to be in Southern California, and that’s the only option.”

Atherton said he would not be opposed to any additional content with IndyCar, but in terms of a joint IndyCar/TUDOR Championship weekend at Road America, Atherton said he has not had any dialogue with Bruggenthies on the topic.

Interestingly there was an IndyCar vendor presence this weekend in Elkhart Lake anyway, but not at Road America.

Andretti Sports Marketing, which promotes this upcoming weekend’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers at the Milwaukee Mile, had a presence at the iconic Siebkens Resort both Friday and Saturday night.

Bobby Rahal, Katherine Legge and Derrick Walker were in attendance Friday night – all had a vested interest in the TUDOR Championship weekend. Rahal runs the two-car BMW Team RLL entry in GT Le Mans, Legge races the radical DeltaWing coupe and Walker’s Walker Racing team operates the Team Falken Tire Porsche in GTLM. Saturday night, GT Daytona polesitter James Davison of TRG-AMR and Dodge/SRT marketing director Beth Paretta were on site.

The promotion was spearheaded by Laura Cooper, Andretti Sports Marketing Director of Marketing Services, who has local ties to the region.

“She’s been involved with a variety of events here in Elkhart Lake, Skip Barber, charity events and the like,” Bruggenthies said. “With Walker, Bobby being here it was a natural. It’s no problem for us; it’s not detrimental.”

Williams hopes to improve on 2014 performance in Russian GP

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At this weekend’s Russian GP, Williams Martini Racing is looking for more of the same from Valtteri Bottas and a little improvement from Felipe Massa.

Last year, Bottas started and finished third while Lewis Hamilton ran away with the win, finishing 13 seconds over Nico Rosberg and 17 over Bottas in the inaugural race at the Sochi Autodrom.

Meanwhile, Massa started 18th after a fuel flow issue knocked him out of the first round of qualifying and managed an 11th-place finish.

Bottas and Massa enter the Sochi race fifth and sixth in the driver standings.

“We had a good result last year in Russia so we’re expecting another strong weekend and a good collection of points,” said Bottas in a release. “We all know the track now and it has a really good flow, with the long straights a good fit for our car.”

Bottas has finished in the top five in each of the last three races, two of which were won by Hamilton.

“Pace-wise we were close to Mercedes in Japan and I think we can be close again in Sochi, just like we were in 2014,” Bottas said, who also noted after Japan the team is set to turn its focus to its 2016 car.

Massa, who has two podium finishes this year, will try to bounce back from a DNF at Marina Bay and a 17th-place finish in Japan.

“I hope to make amends for qualifying last year and I’m confident we can have a competitive race,” Massa said in a team release.

“Russia is a very nice track with a few long straights which makes it interesting for overtaking,” Massa said of the 18-turn track. “The circuit has almost everything, starting with a straight and then moving into high-speed corners and then very slow corners in the middle sector. This makes setting up the car really important and the importance of downforce evident.”

The Russian Grand Prix can been seen on NBCSN on Sunday at 7 am ET.

Rossi: Looking ahead to Russia and returning to GP2

Rossi (right) looks for more. Photo: GP2 Series Media Service.
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It’s been just over a week since I returned to Europe from Japan, and preparations now are all focused on Russia.

I landed back in the U.K. on Monday evening, with my body clock screaming at me about how I should be on Japanese time, but I had 36 hours to relax at home in the U.K. before I was back on a plane to Spain to prepare for the next race, this time returning to my GP2 car in Russia this weekend as we fight for more wins.

SEE ALSO: Rossi: Reflecting on my first two F1 races

I spent most of the week working out and preparing with my GP2 team, Racing Engineering, who are based down on Spain’s South West coast, about an hour’s drive from Seville. It’s a beautiful part of the world, especially in early Fall as the Summers are really hot! While there, I’m either in the team’s factory or sweating through a training session. That’s my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The transition back to GP2 in Russia is something I’m really looking forward to. That might sound a bit strange to some, knowing I’m an F1 race driver, but I have unfinished business in GP2 and this is very important to me and my team, Racing Engineering.

I was asked how I will manage the switch from F1 to GP2, and back again when we go to Austin where I’ll be back in an F1 car, but for me it’s simple. GP2 is a very different mindset from F1. In F1 the main target is to finish ahead of my teammate, but in GP2 we have a very realistic chance of winning every race we take part in.

We’ve proved that all season, particularly in the last couple of rounds, in Spa and Italy where we won twice, keeping the Championship alive for this weekend in Russia and, hopefully, the last races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

The battles with Stoffel have been awesome all year, and even though he has enough of a points gap to make the overall 2015 Championship a tough ask, we still want to delay whatever celebrations he has planned, and I think we have a good opportunity to do so in Sochi, and again in Bahrain and then Abu Dhabi at the end of the year.

I haven’t raced in Sochi, only simulations. I did go to Russia last year with Marussia, so I know what to expect off track, and since I’ve been in the sim I know the circuit layout well. We’ve been working on setup options and I’m with a team that has shown consistently they know how to approach every aspect of a race weekend. I’m feeling good, really good about what’s ahead.

Sochi, it’s long, particularly for a street circuit and quite a bit of it is on public roads so there’s a bit of Singapore in there, and maybe a bit of Melbourne too. It’s pretty quick, but there’s a few big braking zones and that gives us a chance to overtake, and obviously you need to be super accurate everywhere. The walls will bite, there’s very little margin for error, just like in Singapore, but I prefer street courses and normally I’m quite confident with my surroundings.

After Russia, I’m back to the UK for a week, and then it’s Austin, Texas and the U.S. Formula 1 Grand Prix. I have a very busy week already planned, but I have made sure I have time every day to train, to maintain focus and to prepare mentally and physically for what will take place in my home country.

The media interest is growing but over the years that I’ve been in and around F1, I’ve learned my priority is what happens in the car. Media work is not something you can be taught, it’s something you pick up and adapt to, being able to switch on and switch off from the demands of the media, the fans and the sponsors. I know exactly how important the media is to my career and it’s an important balance with my sporting duties driving a race car.

I’ve always been impressed by race drivers and athletes in all sports who can do that. Those who can clearly switch into race mode when they walk into the garage and get into the car, into analytical mode with the engineers, support and collaboration with the mechanics, and, I guess you’d say, promotional mode with the journalists, fans and team sponsors.

It might seem like a relatively simple task, but for a 21st century racing driver, it’s an important skill because there are many people vying for your attention. You never stop learning and improving at your craft and profession, and this aspect I keep right at the forefront of my mind, no matter what stage I’m at.

For now though, the focus is Sochi, Russia and keeping up the momentum we’ve had all year in GP2. We’ve prepared well and I can’t wait to get back into my car, push hard all weekend and fight for more race wins.

It’s all about focus.