Photo: Wayne Taylor Racing/Cadillac

Jeff Gordon embracing Rolex 24 return with Taylors, Cadillac

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ten years ago, one of Wayne Taylor Racing’s many near-misses at the Rolex 24 at Daytona since the team’s 2005 overall race win featured Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and a rather well-known Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then called NASCAR Nextel Cup Series) driver named Jeff Gordon.

That quartet finished third and as the senior Taylor recalled Friday, Gordon told him that once his full-time career in the Cup Series came to an end, he’d want to come back for another shot at the Rolex 24.

That time comes now, in the team’s No. 10 Konica Minolta-backed Cadillac DPi-V.R with Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky, and the venerable veteran in “Max the Ax.”

“At the end of the 2007 race he said, ‘I’d have another championship in me, and I want to do this race again after I’m done with NASCAR.’ So I called him and it didn’t take long to say yes,” Wayne Taylor said Friday.

“He’s having the time of his life. It’s fun for my sons to drive with him and look forward to what he’s achieved over the years. And Max is very much part of the whole program. He’s been integrated in the build of the car between GM, Cadillac and Dallara.”

For Gordon, who’s the lone NASCAR driver entered in this year’s Rolex 24 with the departures of usual participants Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger owing to team changes, the opportunity to not just participate but hopefully flourish at the Rolex 24 comes with a wealth of preparation.

This has been in the works for several months prior to being announced in December, with Gordon making his first official laps at the December Daytona test.

“Like Wayne said, I’m having a blast. It’s been a dream of mine to not just drive a car like this and compete,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot of fun for me. I’m treating this as I’m a rookie… I’m tapping into this team and teammates.

“Getting behind the wheel of a car that brakes like that is eye-opening. It’s so much fun. Nothing would make me more proud and honored than to give Wayne that win. They put their heart and soul into it.”

Gordon isn’t thinking about overall records when it comes to this race. Yes, a win would ensure he’d have won a Rolex 24 to go along with his four Cup Series championships, three Daytona 500 wins and five Brickyard 400 wins.

Instead, he’s focused on balancing fun with competitiveness.

“I’ll be honest… that would be special, but that would be icing on the cake. I haven’t thought about it,” Gordon said.

“These kids force me to have fun. This kid (Jordan, seated to Gordon’s right), I have to watch for. I was happy to get one over on him yesterday for a change. I’m a serious competitor. They are too but they like to have fun. But I’ll only have fun if we’re on the podium in the number one position.”

The friendly poking between the younger Taylor brother and Gordon started at the December test, when Jordan Taylor posted a video filmed by older brother Ricky Taylor of Jordan being overlooked, which went viral. Gordon then acquired Jordan’s phone at a later point.

On Thursday, Jordan scored another banter point when he dressed up as social media alter ego “Rodney Standstorm” as a Gordon “superfan” complete with Gordon’s early 1990s mustache, DuPont race jacket and jorts.

Gordon wasn’t fooled.

“When he got swarmed by the media, it just happened,” Jordan Taylor said.

“Yesterday’s one with the leather jacket, as soon I found out, I wanted to come up as a superfan. He’d seen that exact format. I figure he’d seen it a million times. But he saw it coming, and kinda ruined my day.”

Gordon, at the moment, is only focusing on this 24-hour race. Despite his 20-plus year association with General Motors, he said he’s just determined to make the most of the Rolex 24 before even thinking about running at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Yes I talk about passion and dreams, but the difference is I’m really realistic,” Gordon explained.

“Wayne and I have talked about that. I’ve talked with GM about it.

“Le Mans is a much different animal. Yeah there’s driver simulators and the like.

“I want to see how this goes, and be very realistic about anything I get behind the wheel. If I could be well prepared, maybe. But I’m just focused on this race right now.”

Gordon actually thanked his handful of Cup Series starts as an injury fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to help prepare for the Rolex 24.

“Yeah, because what I learned getting back in the car was being around the intensity of pushing yourself, restarts, being around other cars and intense competition,” Gordon said.

“The first race I did at Indianapolis, I said I’m so glad I’m doing this because this will help me for the 24-hour race. If I did this without racing for a year, it’d be too much newness. That helped me learn. From the first test to Charlotte, the test here in December, now this test, not just feel the car out but learn the buttons on the steering wheel, and learn the track.

“There’s so much to take in. The amount of laps really helps me.”

Pirelli review says Raikkonen tire not faulty at Silverstone

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Formula One tiremaker Pirelli has concluded that Kimi Raikkonen’s tire damage late in the British Grand Prix was likely caused by external contact.

Raikkonen was set for second place in the July 16 race but his tire problem allowed Valtteri Bottas to complete a Mercedes one-two with Lewis Hamilton. The Finnish driver even looked set to lose his podium spot to his own teammate Sebastian Vettel, but in a bizarre twist he ended up third after Vettel’s own tire shredded.

The sight of two Ferraris capitulating within moments of each other led Pirelli to conduct extensive post-race tests on both cars. Raikkonen’s problem, Pirelli said in a statement Wednesday, did not come from the tire itself.

“The possible initial cause of this damage is consistent with contact against an external body, leading to a partial separation of the belt from the carcass in the two affected areas,” Pirelli said. “On no occasion was there any sign of fatigue, detachment or laceration -or even the beginning of such problems – that affected the structure of the tire. In conclusion, Pirelli can confirm that no issues have emerged connected with the tire itself.”

Last week, Pirelli said that Vettel’s shredded tire at Silverstone was caused by a slow puncture.

Vettel appeared to be heading for third place at Silverstone until his front left tire suddenly blew apart two laps from the finish. The four-time F1 champion managed to steer his Ferrari back to the pits for a tire change, and secured seventh place to cling onto his championship lead. Raikkonen’s pit stop to change his tire came just before Vettel’s.

Hamilton won to cut Vettel’s championship lead to one point. Raikkonen, who has three podium finishes this season, is fifth overall.

The championship continues at the Hungarian GP this weekend before a month-long summer break.

Report: GP Association of Long Beach ‘most qualified’ firm to run race

Getty Images
2 Comments

Not for the first time, the future of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was in the news earlier this year, and the question of whether Formula 1 could re-enter running the race it did from 1976 to 1983, or whether North American open-wheel racing, in INDYCAR, would keep it up.

The city of Long Beach decided to conduct a study using accounting firm KPMG, and paid the firm $150,000 to evaluate whether existing race operators the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, led by Jim Michaelian, or Chris Pook’s World Automobile Championship, would be best to run the race. Pook founded the event in the 1970s but has in recent years, harbored the return of F1 and suggested it would be a more viable economic prospect.

Per the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the study has now concluded following proposals and interviews from both camps. In a memo obtained by the Press-Telegram, the report indicated the existing GPALB “as the most qualified firm to promote and operate the Long Beach Grand Prix race.”

Michaelian told the Press-Telegram this was an “first but important step” in the process for the race to build a new contract with a city; the existing contract runs through 2018.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, in a statement released to the Sports Business Journal, appreciated the recommendation: that statement is below.

This appears to be a key step towards INDYCAR, the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and the city of Long Beach all working towards an agreement that will keep INDYCAR racing at its most successful, longest running, and marquee street course event on the calendar.

The 2017 Team USA Scholarship candidates revealed

Leave a comment

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is usually the time of year when we first hear of the candidates for the next year’s Team USA Scholarship, as Jeremy Shaw’s program identifies the next round of talented American drivers who could go on to greater success in racing.

Shaw, known as perhaps the most ardent and best scout of North American driving talent since the program’s inception in 1990, and the program have revealed the 10 candidates who will participate in interviews and further evaluation this weekend before the finalists are named at a later date.

The full release is linked here, while the 10 drivers selected are below.

This year’s Team USA Scholarship candidates are (with age, DOB, hometown and current racing affiliation):

• Sabré Cook, 23, Grand Junction, Colo., GPfour Championship Road Racing
• Konrad Czaczyk, 20, Jupiter, Fla., F1600 Formula Tour Championship (Canada)
• Elliot Finlayson, 21, Yorkville, Ill., GPfour Championship Road Racing
• Aaron Jeansonne, 18, Sulphur, La., Lucas Oil School of Racing
• Kyle Kirkwood, 18, Jupiter, Fla., F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda
• Jonathan Kotyk, 23, Atlantic Beach, Fla., F1600 Championship Series
• Jacob Loomis, 17, Corinth, Texas, F4 US Championship/Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda
• David Osborne, 21, Cincinnati, Ohio, F1600 Championship Series
• Simon Sikes, 16, Martinez, Ga., Skip Barber Racing Series
• Carter Williams, 18, Clovis, Calif., Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear

Rahal, RLL on a roll heading home to Mid-Ohio

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Graham Rahal’s potential last best chance to close a boatload of points in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship chase comes this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and it couldn’t come at a better time on the calendar.

He sits tied with Will Power for fifth in the points, 64 behind championship leader Scott Dixon (423-359) with five races remaining. Closing that gap to within 40 or less this weekend will provide him a realistic shot at securing his first title.

A nightmare start to the year saw Rahal finish no better than 10th in the first four races, and left him 17th in points with 59 total, 100 back of then-leader Simon Pagenaud.

In the last eight however, he’s finished between first and ninth in all but one of them. His lone finish outside the top 10 came at the double points Indianapolis 500, with a late-race flat tire resigning him to 12th place there.

That score of 300 points over the last eight races is second in the series, only two behind Helio Castroneves with 302, and with both drivers ruing an ill-timed caution flag last race at Toronto that cost both likely chances at another victory this season.

On the whole though, the single-car No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been a regular consistent threat at the front of the field, same as it has in 2015 and 2016 even despite being up against a trio of four-car entries from Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

Rahal’s qualifying lap on used Firestone red alternate tires at Toronto netted second on the grid and he hailed it as one of the best laps he’s ever completed in his career.

Graham’s performance and the recent run of form has Bobby Rahal pleased as the team heads into its spiritual home race in Lexington, Ohio this weekend, where driver and team scored a popular victory in 2015.

“If you look at the start of the year at Long Beach we qualified sixth, but we were running in the train – fourth or fifth right to the end of the race and had the flat tire,” Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “We just couldn’t seem to get a good break.

“Clearly when we got to the Indy Grand Prix we had problems in qualifying, but the race pace was there. Then a flat tire hit in the 500. We led the race from where we gridded (14th) and we could have threatened at the end. It’s been a little bit snake bit prior to this.

“But clearly the pace was there. Texas finishing fourth there was a good finish. Fifth at Iowa was good. Unfortunately in Toronto, and we had the great qualifying performance I thought, I don’t think anyone was happy post-race! I think even Roger Penske told Graham we got screwed, and even though he won, his own car (Castroneves) lost!

“Still the fact we did it on used reds versus new reds, I thought was pretty impressive. In Toronto we were pretty good – maybe not as good as we were in Detroit – but still pretty good and kept getting better and better.

“I think he’s driving very well. I’m pleased about that. What’s so hard about that qualifying there, is you only have one lap to do on tires on Toronto for example. It’s easy to overdrive a car in that situation, but he hasn’t. I think he’s done a good job in that respect.”

Graham Rahal

For Graham Rahal, who loves coming home to Mid-Ohio, this is an important weekend but one that he always takes the opportunity to savor.

“It’s always great to go back to Mid-Ohio,” he said. “I have a lot of fond memories, and have had a lot of great days there. Obviously winning there in 2015 really highlighted my career thus far. I’m excited to get back and hopefully see a great crowd once again. I know we will have a lot of support and I’m very appreciative of that.  Hopefully we can have a great run in the Steak ‘n Shake Honda because we definitely need it at this point in the championship.”

Rahal’s road course performance hasn’t been stellar this year in qualifying with 21st and last at Barber, 20th on the grid at the INDYCAR Grand Prix in Indianapolis, but then a big jump to sixth at Road America, making the Firestone Fast Six. Finishes of 13th, sixth and eighth have represented good comeback drives in the race.

“My hopes and expectations are high,” said Rahal. “We have struggled with our road course setup this year but at the same time I think we are capable of overcoming that. Our guys have put a lot of effort, a lot of time and mental energy into figuring out what we need going forward.”

One of the areas that will help him is his pit position this week. Having qualified second at Toronto last race, Rahal has nearly the perfect pit spot this weekend, as pit lane and track position at Mid-Ohio are crucial.

“Our pit position in Mid-Ohio, based on qualifying second in Toronto, is going to be great. It’s flat so that is going to help us a lot.  Obviously you want to be pitted with the good guys.  You want to be right down there where the fast guys and championship contenders are and we’re right there with them,” he said.

Rahal is in championship contention despite that rocky start to the year and will be looking for some home cooking to fire up the final five races of the season.