Matt-Antoine

Q&A: Skeleton Bronze Medalist Matt Antoine on Rahal, racing, Milwaukee IndyFest

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Olympic Bronze Medalist in Men’s Skeleton, Matt Antoine, is also a big open-wheel racing fan in his spare time. He’s scheduled to attend this weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest as a guest of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Antoine, originally from Prairie du Chien, Wis. and now training in Colorado, caught up with MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno heading into the weekend.

MotorSportsTalk: How did the opportunity to come to Milwaukee IndyFest and meet Bobby Rahal come together? 

Matt Antoine: Bobby is part of our board; the purpose is to promote the longevity of our sport for years to come. It’s a newly formed board. They were in Colorado Springs for one of their meetings. It’s where I train during the summertime.

So that was my first opportunity to meet him – and told him I was from Wisconsin. I’d went up to Elkhart Lake, Wis., and he basically asked if I wanted to come. We exchanged some emails, and made the plans. I don’t necessarily know all the details, but I will definitely be there on race day. I’ll get an opportunity to meet the team, and we’re setting up a 2-seater ride.

MST: Have you chatted with Steve Holcomb (fellow Olympic medalist; bobsled) on his two-seater ride (at Houston)?

MA: Nope, I haven’t.

MST: Tell me a bit about how you got hooked on racing.

MA: We went up Elkhart 2-3 times a summer. My brother, dad and myself. He grew up in England, watching auto sports. We grew up watching F1, and he’d take us up to Elkhart Lake. We went up for the CART races. It was just a fantastic weekend. I’m biased – it’s the first race track I went to, but it’s one of the great road courses in the world.

I’ve never been to Milwaukee, so this will be my first experience there. I think the last Indy race we went to was in … maybe 2000 or 2001. But I make time to watch on TV.

MST: What do you think of Bobby himself? 

MA: I was a huge fan of his – we joked about it dinner. As a kid, we went up for one of the CART races, and it was my goal to get every driver’s autograph. One of the last ones I got was Bobby’s – he was difficult to catch. We had to wait outside for an hour and a half, and got his autograph. It’s kind of coming full circle to meet him now on a personal level.

MST: Any other circuits you’ve been to?

MA: Montreal, for one Formula One race, in terms of the mainstream.

MST: What appeals to you about the speed and the sport? 

MA: I’ve always had a love for speed – growing up following auto racing, I thought it was what I was going to do. So there was always that draw and excitement of racing. I also love the technical aspect – and that’s what I do know with skeleton. You’re always figuring out how to make it better, make it faster. That’s one thing I appreciates it about auto sports. I admire many aspects about it.

At the same time, you see the strategy, of teams going to win. There’s the transitioning from practice to qualifying to racing.

Every track is different. You build a progression into a racing.

MST: How do you prepare for each of your runs during a meet? 

MA: We only get about 6-8 runs prior to race day at a given week. You’re drawing on past years and races. You have the general aspects of the track, this corner, that corner, looking through notes. You walk (the course) and see if there’s changes. See what affects the ice and speed. Then you’re watching other sleds and how they react. It’s drawing on past experiences, your time on track is very limited.

You have a general plan, and tweak from there. There might be 6-8 different setups. You’re writing down those notes – asking what’s better or worse – and you put all those small pieces together. On race day, hopefully you’ve figured it out. Then the last 10 percent you find on race day. It’s having to put together all that knowledge, and piece it all together.

MST: How does each track vary and how do you prep for it?

MA: There’s a lot that could change – it depends on how much ice is put on the track. The corners change. You’re following what the weather is like, the moisture, that causes frost buildup. If the ice is smooth, warmer ice versus colder ice determines the amount of grip. Everything is shaved and cut by hand, so it’s subtle changes with people prepare the track. Tend to be more round or square. It’s recognizing that and making subtle changes. Even though it’s technically the same track, there’s all those small changes. Winning a race versus coming in 10th-15th-20th is fractions of a second. Makes a huge effect.

MST: Are Skeleton and sliding sports similar to racing in that it doesn’t translate as well on TV as it does in person?

MA: Absolutely – it’s just like racing in that sense. On TV it looks fast, but you don’t comprehend it until you see the cars. It’s the same with the sliding sports. People come out for the first time to watch and are just blown away. You’re understanding the control and speed. TV never really does justice. And every course varies… we’re anywhere from 70-90 mph and corner design changes. Given the pressure of the corners, you’re probably up to 4-5 Gs.

MST: Are there any runs you’re more amped for or do you stay the same for each one?

MA: There’s definitely some variation depending on the level of competition, say a national race versus the Olympics. One thing you do to be successful, is that I treat every race and situation the same. Some vary more than others. But it is the same process. You go through the ritual in the morning. You do those final preparations. You get warmed up, do the visualization, when you take your run. You know what you have to execute. You can’t react, otherwise it’s too late. Going through that in your head – when you do go out, it’s second nature.

My best races are the ones where I remember the least about, because you’re almost on autopilot and instincts take over.

MST: Getting that medal, what did it mean for you and your sport?

MA: It’s so huge for the sport… it’s our nature to only be popular every 4 years. But results like that do help bring attention and popularity. After every Olympics there’s a lot more inquiries, and that’s how I came into it in 2002. I’m the first medal in Skeleton since 2002. From our results in Sochi – it’s been a very large influx compared to the last couple Olympics. It’s great to see the growth and to be a part of that.

MST: Have you had the chance to meet (NBCSN lead motorsports announcer) Leigh Diffey yet? What did his enthusiasm bring to the Olympics?

MA: We haven’t yet met in person – we’ve exchanged emails and tweets.

I absolutely agree, he was huge. We’ve had normal races throughout the past few years, and you may have good announcers, but they don’t bring that racing knowledge, and it does suffer. So with Leigh there, it was fantastic having him involved. I went back and watched later – and I was really excited to see how well it went over. People said at home the coverage was fantastic.

MST: Your racing hero/heroes is/are?

MA: My biggest racing hero growing up was Michael Schumacher. When I began to take an interest in racing was when he came in. I followed and admired him the most. He’s the person. We’re all still pulling for him in his recovery.

Among Antoine’s other recent activities, he’s been among a number of athletes to have taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – one he posted to YouTube as the “Ice Bucket Challenge for the Renaissance Man.”

WATCH LIVE: Indy Carb Day on NBCSN at 11 a.m. ET

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INDIANAPOLIS – Five and a half hours of live coverage await today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBCSN, with Carb Day coverage. It’s also live streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra for participating providers at this link.

It starts live at 11 a.m. ET and goes through to 3:30 p.m. ET, prior to the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special. The latter show also has the same stream link via Live Extra.

The coverage includes the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Carb Day practice in advance of the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, leading straight into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 after noon (12:30 p.m. green flag), and the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m.

Kevin Lee will lead NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, filling in for Leigh Diffey who will be in Monaco, with Paul Bell and Robin Miller in the pits. Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Katie Hargitt will handle the pits.

Townsend Bell will also be on and available intermittently following his practice in the morning, driving his No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda for Andretti Autosport. He starts fourth for Sunday’s race.

Following the five and a half hours of Carb Day coverage, NBCSN will also have the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special, featuring live updates on site from Monaco (F1), Indianapolis (IndyCar) and Charlotte (NASCAR).

From Indianapolis, Marty Snider, Townsend Bell, and Ray Evernham co-host coverage.

New Tatuus USF-17 chassis revealed

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Photo: Andersen Promotions
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INDIANAPOLIS – More to follow but the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the Mazda Road to Indy, was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The full release is below:

The latest generation of chassis that will form the basis for the first two steps on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel racing development ladder – which offers Mazda scholarships to allow racers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series – was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway during the lead up to the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.

The new Tatuus USF-17 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years, and features a state-of-the-art carbon fiber monocoque chassis to meet the latest FIA safety standards as well as the proven 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine and Cooper racing tires. It will replace the stalwart Van Diemen/Elan tube-frame car which has provided the backbone of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda since 1999.

The USF-17 is based upon the same FIA-approved Formula 4 T-014 design which is utilized in the Italian and North European Zone F4 series, as well as the new-for-2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship. Significant enhancements include the provision of a PFC four piston brake package, Cosworth Omega L2 Plus data system with Cosworth CFW 277 steering wheel (complete with integrated dash and gear change paddles) and a Magneti Marelli electronic gearshift system, forged aluminum American Racing Technomesh wheels and stainless steel exhaust headers.

Unique USF2000 sidepods, engine cover, front and rear wing end plates, nose cone and front cover combine to form an aero package that includes carbon composite wings with adjustable twin-element rear wing and a carbon composite diffuser. The rolling chassis is priced at $51,800, which is significantly less than the current USF2000 car.

“Today marks yet another great moment for the Mazda Road to Indy as we take another step forward into a bright future with the new Tatuus USF-17,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have watched Tatuus work with my staff and our partners on this project over the last six months, and I am convinced we made the right choice on this new car. They listened to what I wanted in a race car and delivered a beautiful, technologically advanced and, I believe, fast racecar. I have to thank Project Manager Scot Elkins, who has shepherded this project from its inception.”

The prototype USF-17 car will undergo a rigorous test and development program over the course of the next six weeks at four different race tracks in North America, after which the final specifications will be fixed. Mazda sports car talent and USF2000 steward/driver coach Joel Miller will handle the bulk of the testing duties.

Delivery of the first batch of 15 cars – all of which have already been sold – is set for September, with an initial two-day series test slated for late October. A second batch of 15 cars is scheduled for delivery in December. A second series open test will take place in January of 2017.

The winner of next year’s USF2000 championship – the first to be run with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17– will receive a Mazda scholarship to assist in graduation to the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, which will see the debut of another brand-new car featuring the same chassis along with an updated Mazda engine, enhanced aerodynamics and wider Cooper Tires.

“We talk a lot about the Mazda Road to Indy as the finest and most comprehensive driver development ladder in the world,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “The unveiling of the USF-17 today is the next step for Andersen Promotions to continue to improve the safety, performance and value of each series. We can’t wait to see the USF-17 racing next season and then the new Pro Mazda chassis to follow in 2018. To go along with the sleek Indy Lights IL-15 chassis, we will have the finest lineup of race cars anywhere.”

Interest in the USF-17 has been high. The September shipment of 15 cars has been sold as well as half of the second shipment in December. They will be delivered to 12 different teams, nine of which are new to the series.

“For me and for all of the people working at Tatuus, this is a fantastic day,” said Gianfranco De Bellis, Tatuus Race Cars Director. “I have great memories from my first experience with Dan Andersen 20 years ago in America. Our commitment and wish was to build the best car possible. I hope this will be appreciated by all the teams and something that we will all be proud of. I want to thank Scot and everyone involved in this project. We will look forward to seeing the car on track to be sure that it is not only a beautiful dream, but a reality.”

Testing will begin in June at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky., followed by dates at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Media are invited to attend the Road America test on June 27, which takes place the day after the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy race weekend.

Dennis: Michael Schumacher agreed to leave Ferrari for McLaren

2 Jul 2000:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari struggles to hold off David Coulthard of Great Britain and McLaren-Mercedes during the French Formula One Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in France.  Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport
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McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis has revealed that Michael Schumacher provisionally agreed to leave Ferrari for the British team in the late 1990s.

McLaren is celebrating 50 years of racing in Monaco this weekend, with Dennis having headed up its Formula 1 interests since 1981.

In an interview with the official F1 website, Dennis reflected on the drivers he had worked with at McLaren and those who he had missed out on signing.

Schumacher joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1996 after winning his first two world championships, and would go on to win five in a row between 2000 and 2004 with the Italian marque.

However, history could have been very different had he joined McLaren as he provisionally agreed to with Dennis at one point, setting up a partnership with fierce rival Mika Hakkinen.

“When he was already driving for Ferrari, Michael and I agreed for him to drive for McLaren,” Dennis said.

“Our meeting took place not during the grand prix weekend; no, we met secretly at a Monaco hotel at another time.

“But in the end it did not work out because his management insisted on controlling his image rights – they basically wanted to retain them all, plus get paid a lot of money of course.

“That was disappointing. I think Mika and Michael would have been a truly fabulous driver line-up.”

Schumacher remained with Ferrari until the end of 2006 when he announced his retirement from F1, only to return with Mercedes in 2010, racing for another three seasons.

Schumacher remains in rehabilitation after sustaining head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.

Lauda expects Rosberg to sign new Mercedes contract in next three weeks

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda expects Nico Rosberg to sign a new contract with the German marque in the next three weeks.

Rosberg currently leads the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by 39 points after winning four of the first five races of the 2016 season.

Rosberg’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of the season, having last signed a deal back in 2014, and is yet to agree to an extension.

Reports in Italy claimed that Rosberg could be an option for Ferrari for 2017 in place of Kimi Raikkonen, but Lauda fully expects the German to continue his relationship with Mercedes.

“I’m sure we want to keep Nico, and Nico wants to stay,” Lauda told Sky Sports.

“I don’t see any issues at all. This will be fixed very soon.

“We have to decide it in the next three weeks. This is my point of view, to let him know that we all stick together for the next couple of years.”

Teammate Lewis Hamilton is locked in with Mercedes for the foreseeable future after announcing a new contract at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Team boss Toto Wolff hinted over the off-season that a change in line-up may be required if tension between Hamilton and Rosberg boiled over.

However, with Rosberg in the form of his life, it seems unlikely that a switch will come in the near future – relying he wants to extend his seven-season stint with Mercedes.