IMSA: Road America thoughts and observations

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Much to recap from the IMSA weekend at Road America… so here we go:

  • Kudos to IMSA for prompt, early schedule release: IMSA President/COO Scott Atherton noted during his comments to stakeholders Sunday morning that the future direction and confidence of the series is crafted, in part, by how early the next year’s schedule is released. Fair to say that a mid-August release at Road America – with no plans for change unlike a year ago when the much-derided PC/Prototype Lites race in Kansas was added after the initial schedule reveal – more than lives up to that Atherton statement. Big props to IMSA and the tracks for getting this done and out so soon.
  • About the schedule: The TUDOR Championship schedule is close to perfect. Sure, you’ll have people clamoring for Mid-Ohio or other such courses, but if it doesn’t make business sense for the series, it ain’t gonna happen. The Indianapolis and Kansas draw downs make sense for the reasons Atherton identified. The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge schedule, by contrast, does leave some room for concern. In three months from Sebring March 20 to Watkins Glen June 27, the series races only once, May 2 at Monterey. That does teams no favors… neither does the run of five race weekends in nine weeks from the Glen June 27 through VIR August 22. Taking care of Continental Tire, a strong series partner, and the teams should have provided them more running time, or at least better-spaced running time.
  • The BoP conundrum: The fact of the matter is, almost no one in the paddock is happy about the current BoP situation – and yet looking from pure data (some great stuff here from Ben Wedge, an engineer, over at NASportscar), it’s really hard to see how IMSA can get it any better given outright lap times are close, but again achieved in different ways. Road America, like most tracks on both this year’s and next year’s schedule – is a high horsepower track, heavy on straights, and that almost universally favors the higher powered, and higher torqued, Daytona Prototypes. The P2 cars may have a shot at pole but have none in the race – it was almost sinister to see how quickly their restart leads were erased. In Prototype anyway, DP teams have the clear pace advantage, and several times this year the Extreme Speed and OAK P2 teams have ran perfect races only to be denied victories (yet an HPD restrictor change of +0.3 mm has left the Nissan-powered Morgan from OAK without much of a chance). You could say the same for DP teams at Mosport or even Monterey. By trying to please everyone, almost no one in the P class is winning as a result of this situation.
  • Shank, Marsh shake bad luck: On-track anyway, it was refreshing to see the Michael Shank Racing and Marsh Racing squads achieve season-best results of second and fourth. You’ll look in the above bullet point and say, “Hey, TDZ, they’re both DPs – of course they should finish that high!” Ah, but it was brilliant strategy on Shank’s part for Ozz Negri and John Pew, and a clean drive from Eric Curran and Burt Frisselle at Marsh, plus avoiding the pitfalls that plagued others in the P class that led to their results. Ideally more to come, words-wise, on these two this week.
  • The DeltaWing’s 100% Road America finishing record: There was some internal joking in the media center depending what shirt you were wearing of, “Hey, let’s run every race at Road America!” One team that might be in favor of that is the DeltaWing Racing Cars squad – which unfortunately has this bizarre stat: it’s finished both its starts at Road America, and hasn’t finished any other race besides it in either 2013 or 2014. It’s a developmental project and the problem with that is, every time the car goes on track, it’s testing new components. In this week’s case, as a year ago, the car’s lightweight, low-drag concept paid dividends – it was the outright fastest car in a straight line (176 mph speed trap average, per NASportscar) and would have jumped ahead of even the DP cars had the six cautions not flown. Eighth overall and sixth in P was the result on paper, and like in 2013, it could have been even better for the Tim Keene-led squad, with drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge. The car’s unique shape (see above) also contributed to one of the weekend’s funnier moments on social media….
  • It’s about time to end The Scott Mayer Experience: A disclaimer first, sports car racing has and always will involve gentlemen drivers… so long as they are of a reasonable ability level. Sadly, Scott Mayer rarely is able to achieve even that. A driver who runs eight to nine seconds off his co-driver per lap – in this case, James Hinchcliffe, who was guest-starring in a DP for the first time in eight years, in a car that hadn’t turned a racing wheel on track since Sebring – is hazardous, a liability, and, as we saw on Lap 3, unfortunately able to impact the race. Mayer ran wide exiting Canada Corner and rather than leave enough room to the inside to allow Duncan Ende’s PC car through, Mayer appeared to come back across the road, slam Ende into the wall and take both cars out of the race. Look, racing accidents happen all the time, but part of the problem for this particular incident was that Mayer had dropped 15+ seconds behind the other P class cars in two laps – which is staggering to think about – and fell directly into the clutches of the PC leaders. Ende and Bruno Junqueira got jobbed. To his credit, Mayer actually won the GRAND-AM Rolex Series race at Road America last year by keeping his car clean and not so woefully off the pace in his stint, but it was the drive of co-driver Brendon Hartley that delivered that win for that pairing. Hartley is now a Porsche factory driver, and in my opinion that drive had a lot to do with it. Mayer’s likely the only driver in history to have ever failed Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation twice, and it’s time for IMSA to send a message and sit him down before he causes serious injury to either himself or someone else. Sorry, but it has to be said.
  • Along the driving standards note… How in the hell did the driver(s) of the No. 4 Honda Civic ST class car in Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race manage to take out six cars (and could well had been more if not some evasive driving) on Lap 1 and nearly another two later in the race, and avoid a single penalty? Here’s the Lap 1 shunt in screen cap form and here’s an on-board from Jon Miller’s No. 87 Porsche Cayman that shows him taking evasive action after the Civic’s escapade, again.
  • I think they just threw another yellow: Six of them in a two-hour, 45-minute race is hard to enjoy. It made for quite a choppy day at the office.
  • And another thing to consider before 2016: The class structure announcement, where PC continues through 2016 and FIA GT3 specs come to GT Daytona that year, sounds good on paper… but then you begin to wonder about how this will be achieved from a technical point of view, especially given the angst that’s currently occurring in the P class. Right now, the PC class struggles in top-end speed against both GT classes, but can gain their time in the corners. GT3 cars, in FIA GT3-spec, can be faster than GTE spec cars; in part, this is why they were not adopted for GTD to begin with, and instead the class features spec elements like a spec rear wing, among others. We’ll see how this comes together from a technical standpoint over the next couple years; assume we’ll hear more about restrictors on this front.
  • A final thought: A cousin of mine who has worked in racing for more than a decade on the production side attended Road America as a fan this weekend and had these conclusions: “Why were there so many cautions? Why do they take so long? Why are there so many classes?” Considering he gets racing, that’s a problem. A family discussion of 12 of us should not require 30 minutes and two experts to explain how it works, and end with the other 10 offering blank stares. But that is where we sit right now. This is why, as I’ve said before, sports car racing is confusing, even if you work in it.

Next up for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the PC/Lites and GTLM/GTD split races at Virginia International Raceway on August 22-24; for the P class, it’s off until Circuit of the Americas on Sept. 20.

Formula 1: Recapping the past week’s news

Photo: Getty Images
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The aftermath of the Chinese Grand Prix has centered around Red Bull Racing and its two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

While Ricciardo has garnered praise at every turn for a masterful drive from sixth to first in the second half of the race, Verstappen has again come under criticism for overzealous driving in the wake of contact with Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

A recap of the past news week for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, and the attention both Ricciardo and Verstappen have garnered, is below.

Ricciardo Surfaces as Outside Title Contender After Chinese Grand Prix Win

Race winner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates after the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Prior to the Chinese Grand Prix, few would have labelled Ricciardo as a possible title contender, especially in the wake of a mechanical failure in the opening laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

However, Sunday’s victory in China not only provided a number of thrills for onlookers, it also gave Ricciardo a major boost of confidence, and he asserted afterwards that he thinks a championship push is possible.

“I really feel like, I’ve said a few times, just give me the chance to be in a title hunt and I really believe I will take it,” Ricciardo said in a piece posted on Crash.net. “I feel like I can capitalize on opportunities and I guess [China] was a good example even with a fat lip I am still pretty fast and pretty good on a Sunday.”

The victory also comes at an interesting time in Ricciardo’s career, as the 2018 season is the final one in his current contract with the Red Bull team. On the market for a new contract, Ricciardo mentioned that he’s seeking a two-year deal with whichever team he signs with.

“I don’t want to sign anything too long because I don’t know where the sport’s going,” Ricciardo said in an interview with The Times newspaper.

He added, “Ideally, I’d sign a two-year contract. I think two years I can definitely be comfortable with and then see it from there. That third year will be the rule change so I will probably wait and see what happens then.”

Ricciardo also added that whether or not he returns to Red Bull is entirely down to the team’s performance this year.

“I kind of feel like if they want me to race for them they should contact me, but they haven’t,” he said. “If we win this year then I’m staying with Red Bull. It’s pretty simple. It’s really just about performance at the moment.”

Jos Verstappen Offers Constructive Criticism to Max

Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing looks on in the garage during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 14, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen has again come under fire for overzealous driving, and not just from rivals this time.

Perhaps most notably, Max’s father Jos Verstappen, a former Formula 1 driver in his own right, offered his thoughts this past weekend, asserting that Max needs to show more patience and a little better judgment in his overtaking moves.

“The overtake on Vettel really wasn’t on. It wasn’t possible. It was an error of judgement. In some circumstances Max just has to think more,” Jos told Ziggo Sport’s Peptalk, referenced in a Crash.net story.

However, Jos also praised his son’s driving style, noting that he hopes that part doesn’t change.

“I don’t want him to change his driving style. He passed two people at the start. He did that perfectly,” he added. “That’s what we all want to see. But we don’t want to see these kinds of actions. He needs to have it under control. He needs to think.”

In addition to receiving a 10-second penalty for the incident, Verstappen also received two penalty points, bringing his total to five. A driver who gets 12 penalty points within a span of 12 months is automatically given a one-race ban.

Rubens Barrichello Recovering from Brain Tumor

Former F1 driver Rubens Barrichello. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Rubens Barrichello has revealed that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year after collapsing in the shower.

After going quiet on social media for several months, the 45-year-old posted a message reassuring fans of his health, and then revealed more in an interview with Brazilian TV network Globo.

“Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my head. It seemed to be exploding, I had to fall on the ground and only after a few minutes I managed to reach my wife Silvana to ask for help. I immediately realized that it was a serious problem,” Barrichello said of the ordeal in an emotional interview.

Barrichello, whose health has appeared to improve in recent weeks, revealed that the recovery process has been nothing short of miraculous.

“I feel like a miracle,” he said. “(The doctors) told me that only 14 percent of the people who suffered this type of problem then managed to recover completely.

“I am still going through exams and so on, but I am honestly great and the difficulties in life are the ones who show us how to grow and how to be better.”

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