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Full transcript of Mike Helton press conference at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke with the media an hour after Tony Stewart read his self-prepared statement Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Helton was asked about the procedures and stipulations Stewart had to go through to be able to race again, as well as Stewart’s eligibility to still make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here is the full transcript of Helton’s comments and answers to questions from the media:

 

THE MODERATOR:  Welcome to NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  As you know, Tony Stewart will be returning to NASCAR competition today, will be participating in fact in practice starting within the half hour at 2:30 and then will participate in qualifying later this evening.

For this reason we’ve asked our president, Mike Helton, to address the media today.

MIKE HELTON:  Thank you.

I refer back to Steve O’Donnell’s release yesterday or statement on behalf of NASCAR that, as you know very clearly by now, we have cleared Tony to return as part of the normal process when a driver has been absent from participating.

It also mentioned in that release that we’ve been in close contact for the past several weeks with Stewart-Haas Racing monitoring and participating in conversations.  As you can imagine, once Tony was cleared to return and he decided to come back, the question goes to his possible eligibility in the Chase.

Before I get into that, I do want to join everybody else in the garage area in welcoming Tony back.  He’s been a great asset to NASCAR.  He’s been a great champion, a great participant in our sport, so it’s nice to have him back.

Back to the Chase part for just a second.  I’ll remind everybody back earlier this year when we announced the format for the ’14 Chase, that announcement included some responsibility about the routine participation in the season in order to be eligible in the Chase.

Along with that importance of routine participation also came the asterisk, so to speak, about accepting rare incidents.  This has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to our sport.  As the league, it’s our responsibility to try to make decisions that are correct and right.  Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given us and then make those decisions as correctly as we can.

After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we’ve come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it.

So with that we can open up the floor for a few questions.

 

Mike, yesterday in the release Steve O’Donnell said specifically there were multiple clearances that Tony had to receive.  What was the nature of those?

MIKE HELTON:  As typical, our process calls for us to rely on third party experts to assure us that a NASCAR driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return.  All those forms of processes were met and we cleared him based on those third party inputs from experts.

 

Mike, as you know, when this incident first took place, there was a lot of confusion in the mainstream media over the incident, whether it involved NASCAR, you as the sanctioning body.  There’s a misconception that NASCAR sanctions a lot of things that it actually doesn’t.  A lot of people spent a lot of time trying to clear up that misconception.  By granting a waiver to Tony Stewart for something that originated by competing in another series, are you worried at all that that line may blur again between competition of what you’re in control of and what someone elects to do on their own time?

MIKE HELTON:  I don’t think so.  I think our scope of responsibility is to our membership, our events.  Sometimes incidents occur outside of the sanctioned event, a NASCAR sanctioned event, that we have to consider in the participation of members.  So I don’t think so.

 

Tony Stewart was just in here and read a statement.  Is obviously still stricken with grief.  How has NASCAR determined he’s ready to get back in the car?  Has anybody from the organization talked with him to make sure he is mentally ready or capable to be behind the wheel?

MIKE HELTON:  Throughout this period of time, as Steve mentioned in his statement yesterday, NASCAR has been in constant contact with Stewart-Haas Racing.  But when it comes to the assurances that a driver or a NASCAR member is ready to return, we’re going to rely on outside experts.

 

Mike, when you talk about outside experts, to clarify, in your process of evaluation, did you get psychological or psychiatric reports as part of your evaluation of Tony’s eligibility to return?

MIKE HELTON:  We received the ones that we felt were relevant under the circumstances.

 

These were from psychological professionals?  How can we categorize those?

MIKE HELTON:  The ones that were relevant to these circumstances.

 

The fact that the investigation into the tragedy is still ongoing, did you weigh that at all in your decision?  If for some reason Tony does actually face charges in this, would he be subject to any discipline?

MIKE HELTON:  We made our decisions based on the circumstances we’ve got currently.  And I think most everyone in this room understands at NASCAR, our effort, our scope of responsibility and authority is limited to the NASCAR community.

We take the current circumstances that we are dealt with and make what we hope to be the best absolute conclusion.  That’s what we’re talking about today, is the current set of circumstances and our reaction to them.

 

Mike, can you describe as much as possible how the actual process worked to get to this point where you’re able to make this announcement today.

MIKE HELTON:  Well, I think we have experience.  You’re well aware of our policies and procedures on reinstatement when someone is absent, for whatever reason it may be.  So these would apply to similar situations, except for the fact that this was very unique.

The reinstatement process doesn’t begin until the competitor is ready to come back.  That’s what we’ve been through this week.

 

Given these unique circumstances, has there been thought to adding a 17th position to the Chase?  Have you had any car owners suggest that?

MIKE HELTON:  We haven’t had anyone suggest it, and that’s not on the table right now.  It’s simply if Tony were able to earn a spot in the Chase, and our decision is currently yes.

 

Mike, you said you went through the whole process, the third party individuals with whom you spoke made it clear Tony could be reinstated.  How hard was the decision?  Was the evidence or information overwhelmingly easy or not?

MIKE HELTON:  I don’t know if we could categorize the ease of it.  This was a very challenging, a very unique situation.  I think the earlier press conference with Tony’s statement that he read was evidence of how overwhelming these set of circumstances have been.

I think particularly those of us that follow this sport every weekend know that driver’s healing processes are unique, but they are racecar drivers, and a lot of times getting back in a racecar is something they shoot to do as quickly as they can.

So once Tony decided to come back, we then had to go through the policies and the procedures and the steps that we’ve historically built over time to make the absolute most correct decision we could make under the circumstances we were handed.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody.  Appreciate your time.

Daniel de Jong favors GP2 stay over LMP2 move

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Daniel de Jong (NLD, Trident), Raffaele Marciello (ITA, Trident).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4831
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Daniel de Jong will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season with MP Motorsport after deciding against a move into the LMP2 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

De Jong made his GP2 debut back in 2012 with Rapax and has since raced for MP Motorsport, scoring six points over the past three years.

The Dutchman admitted that he did consider his future in the series after 2015, but ultimately decided against a move into LMP2 despite enjoying a successful test.

“Last year, we began looking at what the future holds for us. We looked into LMP2 pretty seriously, and I did a test that really pleased me,” de Jong said.

“But then I saw the WEC prototypes and GP2 race on the same weekend in Bahrain, and I thought: GP2 is such an amazing category, with cars battling throughout the entire field.

“That’s why I decided to stay in this hugely competitive championship for one more year before a possible switch to prototype racing.”

De Jong will race alongside 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 champion Oliver Rowland at MP this year, a prospect that the GP2 veteran is relishing.

“With Oliver as a teammate, we have a fantastic year ahead of us,” de Jong said. “He is so good and extremely motivated, and we’ve known each other for a long time.

“Everyone in the team is buzzing with enthusiasm and that feels really great.”

Jorda laughs off claim she was 12 secs per lap off pace in simulator

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Development driver Carmen Jorda of Spain and Lotus F1 looks on in the team garage during practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 8, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault development driver Carmen Jorda has laughed off an accusation from former GP2 driver Marco Sørensen that she was 12 seconds per lap slower than him in the Lotus simulator.

Jorda joined Lotus in a development role in 2015 after spending three seasons in GP3, where she finished in a highest position of 13th and failed to score a point in 46 attempts.

Jorda is yet to drive a Formula 1 car, but completed work for Lotus in its simulator during 2015.

Sørensen formerly enjoyed ties with Lotus before turning his attention away from single-seaters and moving into endurance racing with Aston Martin Racing.

In an interview with Danish publication Ekstra Bladet, Sørensen said that Jorda received favoritism within the team despite being as much as 12 seconds per lap slower than him in the simulator.

“She was 12 seconds slower than me in the simulator,” Sorensen claimed. “Still, she ran away with all the rewards.

“I have spent at least 60 days in the simulator in the past two years working on the development of the Formula 1 car, as Kevin Magnussen has done at McLaren.

“So I felt so violated that it finally became too much, so I just had to stop.”

Jorda responded by taking to Twitter and laughing off the claims, posting in both English and Spanish: “12 seconds faster? I’ve been laughing at that for 12 hours!” The English tweet has since been deleted.

Jorda also spoke about Sørensen’s comments in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS, saying: “I honestly don’t know who he is. I haven’t ever seen him in Enstone. Last year he was not part of the team.

“Last year in the simulator I used to be more or less within a second of [Romain] Grosjean.

“If you trust Sørensen’s numbers – if someone was 11 seconds up on Romain, I’m sure that all the F1 teams on the grid would sign them.”

MX-5 Cup Shootout winner Glenn McGee joins JJRD program

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Photo: Mazda Road to 24
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Glenn McGee’s a name you might hear down the road as he progresses through the Mazda Road to 24 program, having won the shootout to compete in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this season after advancing in from iRacing.

He’s now joined the Jonathan Jorge Racing Development (JJRD) driver development program for the year. A full release on that is below, along with a video of his shootout win.

JJ Racing Development (JJRD), an industry leader in coaching and driver development services among the junior and pro-levels of motorsports, has selected professional gamer turned professional race car driver, Glenn McGee to join their 2016 driver development program. In addition to JJRD’s full coaching services, designed to prepare drivers for the demands of a professional racing career, JJRD’s team of drivers will also benefit from the expert instructors, advanced modern formula race cars, and seat-time at North America’s premiere tracks, provided by the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

With the intent to identify and develop elite drivers, JJRD scouts for those whom demonstrate the raw ingredients to succeed in motorsports and works to successfully transition them into the pro-ranks; instilling the racing techniques, physical, social, and mental tools required to climb the motorsports ladder. Elite talents, scouted and retained within JJRD’s Driver Development program include current Indy Lights driver/winner, R.C. Enerson; Mazda Prototype driver, Tristan Nunez; and Indy Driver, Spencer Pigot.

McGee’s induction into the program is unique and offers an equally unique challenge to JJRD in that he will be the first of their drivers transitioning from virtual-to-reality. McGee recently went from being the fastest virtual Mazda driver in world competition (through motorsport simulation software, iRacing.com) to earning an invite and eventually winning the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout against real-life Mazda club racing champions; taking home a $100,000 Mazda scholarship and pro-seat in the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, Presented by BFGoodrich Tires.

Part of JJRD’s program will be designed around helping the young driver successfully move from the virtual world to a real pro-racing career, while complimenting Mazda’s own driver development plans for McGee.

“We are committed to guiding talented drivers towards reaching their full-potential and are proud of what our drivers have achieved,” said JJRD’s Jonatan Jorge. “We’ve helped successfully guide drivers to the top of both the Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 ladder systems; evidenced by JJRD development drivers RC Enerson, Spencer Pigot and Tristian Nunez, and we think we can do the same with McGee,” Jorge continued “He has shown he has raw speed and a lot of the attributes that we look for when identifying these promising talents for the future and we are excited to invest in a driver from such a unique background. With our support, it will be interesting to see what a top simulation driver can do in the real world”

“I’m really honored to be a part of JJRD’s team which has already produced great drivers,” said McGee. “This is a big year for me as I navigate from being a pro sim-driver on iRacing.com to becoming a full fledged professional racing driver,” “There is an extraordinary amount to learn, but JJRD specializes in nurturing drivers from the start of their career and has proven that their methods work. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together!”

McGee begins his program in earnest with JJRD and the Lucas Oil School of Racing where he’ll gain valuable seat time and instruction; working closely with staff on learning in-depth knowledge of advanced racing techniques, speed, racecraft, strategies, chassis setup, and the myriad of mental tools required to grow into a world-class professional driver. Open to drivers who complete the 2-Day course, McGee will also be attending the schools winter racing series, the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, to further supplement his training with JJRD.

IndyCar Ministry prepares for another season of at-track service

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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There’s a lot of things that occur at a Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend behind-the-scenes but are intriguing and crucial elements of what makes the traveling road show tick.

IndyCar Ministry is one of those elements.

Although it’s not directly affiliated with INDYCAR (series sanctioning body), the ministry serves as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit non-denominational Christian organization that ministers to IndyCar plus the three series on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000.

The organization went through a leadership change this offseason with Chaplain David Storvick taking over as full Director of the ministry, following the resignation of past Chaplain Bob Hillis. Storvick was interim director prior to losing the interim tag, and had served as primary Chaplain for the Mazda Road to Indy series.

Storvick, a Purdue engineering graduate, had been a crew member going back to the early 2000s and began helping Hillis once the Mazda Road to Indy schedules grew and expanded. He later received his Masters’ in seminary at Cincinnati Christian, and has been traveling full-time since 2008.

The ministry’s mission is to be there for support for those who need it at the track, whether they’re drivers, crew members or other key stakeholders on a weekend.

“We work to make ourselves available,” Storvick told NBC Sports. “At track, obviously we’re there, in whatever situation for drivers, crew and their family,. We try to be a spiritual help to family in (tough) situations.

“After a tragedy or when something like that happens, there’s lots of what I would call ‘impromptu counseling.’ Getting people to understand what happened in those situations. For us to have the privilege, it is a privilege, and we take it very seriously. We try to do it as effectively as possible.”

The offseason for IndyCar Ministry sees the group do a bit of fundraising, through phone calls and emails to help secure funding for the following year, while continuing to raise awareness. Monthly newsletters also come out.

“It feels like a race team,” Storvick said. “We have to raise enough funding to do what we do to get to the track. It’s always a constant.

“But INDYCAR does allow us to use its logo and places for us. We’re not supported by them per se; financially, we’re solely on God’s provision, through individual and corporate donations.”

There are a lot of programs IndyCar Ministry completes on a weekend, which Storvick outlined.

ministry

“For a race weekend, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” Storvick said.

“There’s a chapel service and there’s a message prepared. We make a point to offer prayer to every driver before every race in every series.

“You’d see it on the false grid for Mazda Road to Indy races, but I’ll come through to every driver, in all four series, at driver introductions, if the driver wants to pray before introduced, we will. IndyCar will do not just drivers, but also teams. But there’s a lot of activity on a race day, from our standpoint, to chapel, to prayer.

“And then obviously there’s a lot of people we work with on a regular basis. Sometimes we have those sessions at the track. We do other services as well, such as weddings or funerals that obviously requires extra planning.

“It’s about building relationships with people, sharing the hope of Christ with them, and taking it to next level.”