Young drivers star in mixed, primarily wet conditions at Watkins Glen

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One of the highlights of this past weekend’s IMSA event at Watkins Glen International, which featured the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen as the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship headliner but also additional races from four other championships, was seeing so many young drivers drive so well in arguably the toughest conditions a driver can face.

Both Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Sunday’s TUDOR Championship races presented an opportunity for drivers to hang onto their cars on a dry track, drying track coming off rain, a wetter track where rain intensified, or a crazy heavy rain.

Here were the standout performers:

  • Cameron Lawrence, No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, TUDOR. Lawrence, in only his third TUDOR start, ran smoothly while on slick tires as rain began to intensify from the fourth to fifth hours in the six-hour race. His final stint, taken after teammates Al Carter and Marc Goossens raced earlier in the event, helped place the car into position for Goossens to bring the car home to win. The under-the-radar 22-year-old should be on the radar for bigger teams, and in contention for a full-time ride in 2015.
  • Conor Daly, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. I’ve written at length about “CD” this year and it baffles me as to why the 23-year-old from Noblesville, Ind. doesn’t have a full-time ride (yeah, OK, it comes down to financial reasons, but that doesn’t make it right given his efforts this year). In the opening hour of the race, Daly put more than a minute on the rest of the PC class field, nearly lapping it before the first yellow of the race. Daly has proven multiple times this year, both in IndyCar and sports cars, he can star in wet conditions – and it’s because they’re one of his favorites. “The car was amazing on the stint. I love these conditions. Sadly we got the yellow when we did which ruined the strategy. I was happy with what I could do,” Daly told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after his stint, after yet another great drive following a last-minute call-up.
  • Daniel Burkett, No. 16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. If Daly’s call-up was last-minute, Burkett’s was last-second. The 20-year-old from Winnipeg has previously been known for his red hair and humorous, self-deprecating “trying to find sponsorship” videos, but had his first test in a PC car with BAR1 only last week. It was only as of Thursday Burkett even knew he had a ride with the team for the race; once in the car, it didn’t take long for the Pro Mazda rookie to get within half a second or less of the team’s more experienced lead pro, Martin Plowman, a past 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner. Burkett led during his sports car debut and certainly opened some eyes, as together with Plowman and 17-year-old Matt McMurry they finished third in the PC class.
  • Ashley Freiberg, No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, CTSC. Freiberg and the Fall-Line team, together with co-driver and defending GS class champion Trent Hindman, have had a challenging year with the venerable BMW M3 down on power compared to other cars in class. With rain the great equalizer, Freiberg stormed up to second in her stint at a track she’s won at before in another category. Hindman didn’t get a chance to match or exceed it with heavy rain forcing the race to end under yellow, but Freiberg, 23, had done enough to put the car a season-best second.
  • Austin Cindric, No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C, CTSC. Cindric, youngest of this group at just 16, drove far beyond his years in the mixed conditions to take the debuting car to the lead at one point in his stint. It’s shaping up as a banner year for the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, who’s raced Bathurst, won the opening two GRC Lites races in Red Bull Global Rallycross, and has this full-season effort with Multimatic and Ford.
  • Kenton Koch, No. 60 JDC Motorsports, IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites. In both dry and wet conditions, the lanky, personable and down-to-earth 20-year-old won his fourth and fifth races in six races this season. Koch turns 21 next month, but has already been a rising star in sports car racing for the last three years; he’s well on his way to adding a Prototype Lites title to the Mazda MX-5 Cup crown he achieved last year.

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.