Mercedes, BMW, Porsche. Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTD

Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the second of two GT classes, the GT Daytona class. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

While Prototype has 12 new cars and the GT Le Mans class has 11 factory or factory-supported entries, it’s GT Daytona that’s overflowing in both quality and quantity of entrants. A total of 27 cars from nine different manufacturers includes six returning marques (Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Lamborghini, BMW and Aston Martin) and three new manufacturers (Acura, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG), and it’s possible more than half the 27 cars could contend during the week.

The GTD breakdown is by manufacturer, expected full-season entrants versus expected partial-season entrants.

EXPECTED FULL-SEASON ENTRIES

All. (Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com)
All 3 Mercedes-AMG GT3s. Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com

No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Mario Farnbacher, Adam Christodoulou
Roar Time: 1:46.902 (2)

Outlook: For a team that’s new to the Mercedes in IMSA, their components for Daytona aren’t new to Mercedes overall. Bleekemolen, who drives seemingly anything on four wheels at hyper speed, and Christodoulou are Merc veterans. The younger of two Farnbacher brothers joins as the team’s sneaky, speedy Silver, and with Keating continuing his dynamic duo relationship with Bleekemolen, this entry has a great chance to win in a stacked class.

No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette, Shane van Gisbergen, Thomas Jaeger
Roar Time: 1:47.452 (11)

Outlook: One of the many intriguing GTD entries sees the MacNeils and WeatherTech now link up with Bill Riley’s team and a Mercedes-AMG GT3, swapping Alex Job and the Porsche 911 GT3 R from 2016. This marks the WeatherTech/MacNeil component’s IMSA return after their BoP-alleged withdrawal prior to the end of 2016. Funnily it will likely be the team’s extra drivers, the “notorious SVG” – or “the Giz” – and Mercedes factory ace Jaeger who will lead the team’s pace charge.

No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier, Maro Engel
Roar Time: 1:47.322 (7)

Outlook: Both the team and the car are new to Daytona, with Habul’s SunEnergy1 group having raced in a Stevenson Motorsports Audi last year. Engel and Vautier will set the pace here.

All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

No. 16 Change Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis, Brett Sandberg, Kaz Grala
Roar Time: 1:47.591 (14)

Outlook: Mistakes interrupted real promise for Robby Benton’s Change team in its first season in the WeatherTech Championship, including right out of the gate at Daytona when Justin Marks collided with Bryce Miller’s fellow Lamborghini. The lineup here features four accurately rated Silvers, who are either low on American (Mul) or car (Sandberg and Grala) experience. That makes this car intriguing to watch as the quartet of youngsters look to grow and gel, quickly.

No. 27 Dream Racing Competition
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, Lawrence DeGeorge, Paolo Ruberti, Luca Persiani, Raffaele Giammaria
Roar Time: 1:47.986 (22)

Outlook: The Enrico Bertaggia-led team makes its Daytona debut after skipping this race last year prior to the rest of its first full season. The five-driver lineup includes a number of talents, but the field is likely too deep and the team too inexperienced to make a major move up the grid.

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Bryce Miller, Andrea Caldarelli, Dion von Motlke
Roar Time: 1:47.928 (19)

Outlook: Miller’s going for the tried-and-true strategy in 2017 with all the same components, bar Rolex 24 debutante Caldarelli, returning from this time 12 months ago. Von Moltke also comes back as an extra ace in the hole. Given the progress Sellers and Snow, along with Lamborghini made over that time period, this is as good a bet as any for the class win. That’s provided they avoid the bizarre such as last year, when Bryce Miller collided with another Lamborghini.

No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 54 CORE autosport
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Nic Jonsson, Patrick Long
Roar Time: 1:47.746 (17)

Outlook: CORE’s been undone by poor reliability in the usually reliable PC class the last two Rolex 24s, with a late fire and an early engine woe putting pause to their efforts. The veteran pairing of Braun and Bennett are the two full-season drivers for the Morgan Brady-led team’s new Porsche effort. Jonsson joins up alongside them, and trades in his usual endurance race sidekick Tracy Krohn for the slightly faster American factory Porsche ace Patrick Long. Even with the newness here, CORE has prepped for this since announcing their PC withdrawal, and will be a force to be reckoned with.

No. 73 Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurry, Norbert Siedler
Roar Time: 1:47.395 (9)

Outlook: Little is changed for the defending Rolex 24 polesitting entry, with Siedler having delivered the top spot in miserable conditions last year. Like many others in class, this is a good lineup, with few flaws to pinpoint other than pretty horrid luck at the Rolex 24. Since the IMSA merger in 2014, the No. 73 car has finished 13th, 16th and 17th in class, and that’s killed its season-long title hopes.

No. 991 The Racer’s Group
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Wolf Henzler, Jan Heylen, Mike Hedlund, Santiago Creel, Tim Pappas
Roar Time: 1:47.389 (8)

Outlook: There’s something right about Buckler, TRG and Porsche back together at Daytona once again, even if the number is 991 rather than the traditional 66 as it was when the team scored its famous overall win in 2003. As it is, Buckler’s propensity for assembling good lineups is on display once again, with factory ace Henzler – a past TRG veteran – leading a five-driver entry.

No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 14 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Scott Pruett, Sage Karam, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes
Roar Time: 1:48.196 (24)

Outlook: Many things to note here. One is the all-pro lineup featuring so-called “Super Silvers” in Pruett and James, even though they’re the experienced veterans compared to youngsters Karam and Menezes, the latter of whom is fresh off an FIA WEC LMP2 title and an LMP1 test. The team name and car are completely new, and the last time Paul Gentilozzi ran a GT program, it was the less-than-storybook run with the Jaguar XKR effort in the ALMS GT days. Taken on paper the individual pieces of this entry are all very good, but the collective gelling of all pieces will take time to properly blossom. A finish must be the first goal, with anything beyond that a good bonus.

No. 15 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher
Roar Time: 1:47.975 (21)

Outlook: Whereas the No. 14 Lexus is high on sports car experience, this one is higher on youth and potential. Farnbacher’s only 32 but is the most experienced member of this quartet; the others, Hawksworth, Alon and Cindric, are 25, 26 and 18, respectively, and the trio have really only dabbled in sports car racing prior to now. Add in the new car and new team bits and you have the recipe for a car that will succeed by surprising, with a lower bar to eclipse than others in this field.

No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 86 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Roar Time: 1:48.131 (23)

Outlook: The newness of all the components here collectively outweighs their individual achievements heading into the Rolex 24. Segal has managed to quietly capture Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans wins in the last three years to add to his resume. Negri is a past Daytona polesitter and overall winner with Shank. Dyer is the underrated “Super Silver” and RHR’s IndyCar accomplishments are many, although he’s been a bit unlucky in his past Rolex outings. But while Shank runs a great team and all the drivers have racked up the personal stats, the new NSX will sink or swim based mainly on reliability in its highly anticipated race debut.

No. 93 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins, Graham Rahal
Roar Time: 1:47.929 (20)

Outlook: Like the No. 86 Acura, the sister Acura has a lot of good among its collective parts. Interestingly, Legge is the only one of these four drivers without a Rolex, with Lally (numerous GT wins), Wilkins (PC in 2014) and Rahal (overall/DP in 2011) all having visited Daytona’s victory lane. Reliability will tell the tale for this car, as it will the other car.

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell
Roar Time: 1:46.916 (3)

Outlook: The number is new – or old, as it’s a Stevenson classic reincarnated – but the hopes are the same for Stevenson with its only entry at this year’s Rolex 24. The team is in a better position to contend this year after making its return to IMSA’s top level last year, having made solid progression during 2016.

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Matteo Cressoni, Sam Bird
Roar Time: 1:47.705 (16)

Outlook: After last year’s tried-and-true run in the 458 GT3’s swansong, this year the twice-defending GTD season-long class champions have a tried-and-true 488 GT3 making its Daytona race debut. It’d be hard to bet against a driver lineup, car and team that have quickly established a track record of success.

No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 96 Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Jens Klingmann, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn, Justin Marks
Roar Time: 1:48.467 (25)

Outlook: Despite a late lineup confirmation and being the only BMW M6 in a stacked GTD class, the trio of BMW veterans and past Rolex 24 class winner Marks make for one of the best quartets in class. Will Turner’s team usually finds a way to contend even if the odds are long, and a solid top-five result can’t be ruled out here.

EXPECTED PART-TIME OR DAYTONA-ONLY ENTRANTS

No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Outlook: More than in recent years, there’s an onslaught of European extra entries into the GT Daytona class and among these 11 cars that will either run a partial season or may grow into a full-time effort, there’s plenty of possible under-the-radar spoilers.

The two American teams listed – Alegra Motorsports and Alex Job Racing (pictured above) – will doubtless contend. Job’s late deal comprises past Rolex 24 and defending Le Mans winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, talented Silver-rated Frankie Montecalvo and Audi factory ace Pierre Kaffer with a team that knows how to get it done. Alegra, meanwhile, combines the talents of IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup champions Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada with help from Porsche factory ace Michael Christensen. Expect at least one of these two teams to be in sneaky podium contention as the race nears its end.

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Grasser, Konrad and Manthey will run at Daytona after also competing in this month’s 24 Hours of Dubai. ADAC GT Masters champions Land Motorsport (pictured above, leading Spirit of Race) make their Rolex 24 debut with American star Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies joined by fellow talented youngsters Jules Gounon and Jeffrey Schmidt. And in Spirit of Race (AF Corse) and Aston Martin Racing, you have two dedicated endurance veteran teams with excellent lineups.

Ignore these entries at your own peril, because there’s a very solid chance at least three to five of them could make some serious noise this week.

No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Ezequiel Companc
Roar Time: 1:47.411 (10)

No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Milos Pavlovic, Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz
Roar Time: 1:48.619 (26)

No. 18 DAC Motorsports
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Emmanuel Anassis, Zachary Claman De Melo, Anthony Massari
Roar Time: 1:48.975 (27)

No. 21 Konrad Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Lance Willsey, Luca Stolz, Franz Konrad
Roar Time: 1:47.566 (13)

No. 46 Ebimotors
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Fabio Babini, Emanuele Busnelli, Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo
Roar Time: 1:47.466 (12)

No. 23 Alex Job Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer
Roar Time: 1:46.973 (5)

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christopher Mies, Connor De Phillippi, Jules Gounon, Jeffrey Schmidt
Roar Time: 1:46.957 (4)

No. 28 Alegra Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada, Carlos de Quesada, Michael Christensen
Roar Time: 1:47.142 (6)

No. 59 Manthey Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Reinhold Renger, Harald Proczyk, Steve Smith, Sven Mueller, Matteo Cairoli
Roar Time: 1:46.810 (1)

No. 51 Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Peter Mann, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Rino Mastronardi
Roar Time: 1:47.698 (15)

No. 98 Aston Martin Racing
Car: Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Marco Sorensen
Roar Time: 1:47.850 (18)

No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Even as NASCAR hits Brickyard, Indy 500 chatter still buzzes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A marathon Brickyard 400 is finally in the books on Sunday, but the allure of the Indianapolis 500 was a talking point among several drivers throughout the weekend within the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.

As evidenced by two recent guest stars who’ve made their maiden Indianapolis 500 bows – Kurt Busch in 2014 and Fernando Alonso in 2017, both with Andretti Autosport (Alonso in a McLaren Honda Andretti) – when a star from another discipline of motorsport shows up for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, people take notice, and a heck of a lot of words get typed.

So who could be next from the NASCAR world making a crack at Indy, or simply paying a visit on race day? It’s always fun to prognosticate and look ahead, even if the chances seem remote and all the stars – and contracts – have to align to make it happen.

KYLE BUSCH

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award decal after qualifying for pole position for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

No one doubts the younger Busch brother’s ability, and the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion knows a thing or two about winning at Indianapolis. He won back-to-back Brickyards in 2015 and 2016 and was well on his way to a three-peat in 2017 before he and Martin Truex Jr. collided, continuing his unlucky, unhappy and thus far winless season.

On Friday Busch revealed he had a ride in place for this year’s Indianapolis 500, but said it fell through because his boss wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t specify whether said “boss” was wife Samantha Busch or his Cup series team boss, Joe Gibbs.

“It would be a unique opportunity,” Busch said of the prospects, and such a chance to race it would open up a double possibility with the ‘500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day – same as Kurt did in 2014.

Gibbs seemed to pour water on that idea to ESPN.com reporter Bob Pockrass, saying Busch has “got a full plate” at the moment.

The issue with Busch running Indianapolis seems more a manufacturer-related one. Workarounds are possible but as Busch drives a Toyota in Cup, the likelihood of them being happy seeing him in a Honda – a fellow Japanese manufacturer – or a Chevrolet – a fellow NASCAR competitor – isn’t the best-case scenario. That’s not to say it can’t be done as Kurt Busch raced a Honda in 2014 while competing in a Chevrolet in NASCAR, but all parties would need to clear the way for this to happen.

This actually transitions nicely into a Kyle who could have an easier workaround from a manufacturer standpoint…

KYLE LARSON

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 SunnyD Ford, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, talk during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

It’s the question of when, it seems, not if Larson races the Indianapolis 500. He’s said multiple times he wants to do and his team boss, Chip Ganassi has said he’s open to the idea himself. But it has to make sense from a timing standpoint. Yes, I’ll admit I wrote an admittedly last-ditch-for-2017 column about the idea earlier this year once Larson won at Auto Club Speedway, thus securing his playoff spot. But Ganassi doused water on the idea for this year in a gathering of reporters at St. Petersburg – noting how everyone blows up his social media in March and April for May of the current year, and it goes quiet in June, when the next year planning actually needs to take place.

Larson said this year’s two heavy accidents featuring his Ganassi teammates – IndyCar’s Scott Dixon and IMSA’s Sebastien Bourdais – have temporarily halted his desire.

“I do, but when I see Scott Dixon’s and (Sebastien) Bourdais crash, it makes me think twice about it a little bit. I’ll get the courage up to do it someday,” Larson said this weekend, via NASCAR Talk.

Put aside the accidents for a minute and let’s get back to looking at Larson’s realistic prospects depending on how the manufacturer and car count scenario could shake out. There’s a good possibility Ganassi’s IndyCar program will downsize for the full season next year if one or more of its three non-Dixon drivers doesn’t return. But what that could do would be open the opportunities for a Honda engine lease and an extra chassis to run. Larson, a Ganassi driver, has driven other manufacturers for the team before; he’s won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in a Ford-powered prototype and he races a Chevrolet in NASCAR, so a Honda in IndyCar could work out for him.

KASEY KAHNE

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 23: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, kisses the yard of bricks with his crew after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Who says you can’t go home again? It’s easy to forget Kahne was a star on short tracks growing up, and had a handful of Formula Atlantic starts in 2001 before his NASCAR career began, and his Cup career started in 2004.

Kahne’s NASCAR Cup future seems uncertain at the moment but Sunday’s win at the Brickyard 400 was a massive boost for him. It ensures his playoff eligibility this year and helps further his case to see out the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports contract in 2018.

J. Douglas Boles, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track president, is renowned as a marketer and works incredibly hard from a promotional standpoint across the board. And the opportunity to have the active Brickyard 400 champion racing in the Indianapolis 500 the next year would be something to marvel at.

The reality of a situation would hinge on Kahne’s own desire to get back into open-wheel – he hasn’t been in an open-wheel car in more than a decade and he’s also a father now. But if he’s available, you wonder if it’s worth planting the seed.

DANICA PATRICK

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 23: Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Aspen Dental Ford, is introduced prior to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Yes, I can’t believe I just typed that… and yet I also wonder if it’s possible once again. Like the others mentioned here she has been out of open-wheel for several years. She was IndyCar’s biggest star for a good six or seven years even if her results didn’t back it up.

This much we knew though. She was always good at Indianapolis, a regular top-five finisher and occasional win contender who generally took care of her equipment. She also hasn’t had the spotlight on her ability in the NASCAR side of affairs much, if at all, in recent years. Her results have been floundering at best; the occasional top-10 or top-15 finish is a surprise sprinkled in amidst a flurry of top-20s.

Like Kahne, her NASCAR future will be dictated by sponsorship and with the Nature’s Bakery lawsuit that occurred earlier this year leaving her Stewart-Haas Racing team looking to fill the gaps, you wonder how much more she’s willing to take beyond the rest of this year and into 2018.

Again, if she’s available, and more importantly if she’s interested, a comeback – especially in a year with a new universal aero kit that everyone would be learning – would undoubtedly dominate headlines.

While in this subhead, I’d also note Patrick’s boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (pictured above with Larson) would be a popular Indy 500 first-timer – particularly in a car with “BC Forever” logos and Jonathan Byrd’s support, the Byrd family having invested heavily and supported the late Bryan Clauson. It’s no secret Stenhouse and Clauson were close, and if there was a way for Stenhouse to clear the Ford manufacturer hurdle, he’d probably impress if he had the shot at the ‘500.

BRAD KESELOWSKI 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Kes” actually has an IndyCar test under his belt, his surprise one-off run for Team Penske at Road America in 2016. And after his runner-up finish at the Brickyard on Sunday, he got super close to putting the fabled “blue deuce” into first place and delivering Roger Penske his first ‘400 win.

Last year, Team Penske president Tim Cindric gave it a “20 percent chance” Keselowski could one day race in both the ‘500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Better than nothing, right? It’s hard to see it for next year with Team Penske figuring to have both Helio Castroneves and/or Juan Pablo Montoya in Indianapolis 500 entries, the question being if one or both would be extra cars beyond their full season.

DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND JEFF GORDON

We can pretty much say straight up neither of these two will be racing in the ‘500. But Junior riffed this weekend, “I’ve never been to the Indy 500 obviously, so that would be a great experience. It’s an impressive place.”

Gordon’s driven the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 before, so it’d make sense and would be a natural to bestow the same honor to Earnhardt Jr. given his relationship with Chevrolet. It’s also worth noting new IndyCar team owner Mike Harding ran his Chevrolet for Gabby Chaves with Junior’s stylized No. 88 at this year’s race – and Earnhardt gave it his approval on social media.

It would not be a stretch to see Earnhardt a guest of either his longtime manufacturer or this team at next year’s race.

Just don’t expect to see him in a race car, because that might break the Internet.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Gabby Chaves, driver of the #88 Harding Group Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

F1’s 2017 can match 2013’s mark of no back-to-backs this week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the interesting nuggets about this 2017 Formula 1 season, as the year has ebbed and flowed between Mercedes and Ferrari on top with the occasional Red Bull surprise, is that a single driver has not recorded back-to-back victories through the first 10 races.

Sebastian Vettel kicked proceedings off at Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton then winning his first race of the year in Shanghai in the rain at the Chinese Grand Prix.

From there, it’s gone Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Bottas and Hamilton heading into this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

When looking back in the archives, you only need to look four years ago to 2013 to find the last time a season started with 10 races and no drivers having won back-to-backs Grands Prix – a streak which ran 11 races.

Kimi Raikkonen won at Melbourne to start the year, with Vettel then winning his first race of 2013 in controversial fashion in the infamous “Multi 21” Red Bull team orders fiasco with Mark Webber in Sepang at Melaysia.

Fernando Alonso then won for Ferrari, followed by Vettel, Alonso (that being his most recent Grand Prix win, Spain of 2013), Nico Rosberg, Vettel, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton’s win at Hungary in 2013 was his first win for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team after switching from McLaren.

But from here, Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 11 of that season, for what was his fifth victory of the season… and promptly ran the table from there. After there were no back-to-back winners in 10 races, Vettel won the last nine consecutively. His radio call after winning at Circuit of The Americas – “cherish these times” because you don’t know how long they’ll last – was particularly prescient as he never won again for Red Bull after 2013, then departed for Ferrari in 2015.

A year earlier, the 2012 season set an incredible mark with the first 14 races occurring before a driver recorded back-to-back victories, and again, it was Vettel who was first to win two in a row when he did at Singapore and Japan that season. Prior to that, the campaign opened with seven winners in as many races (Jenson Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Webber, Hamilton) with a handful of those then winning further races from there.

As it sits now, Vettel hasn’t won since Monaco and the Hungaroring in Budapest – a similar low horsepower, high downforce type of track – represents his best chance to win his fourth Grand Prix of the season.

Hamilton, meanwhile, is already a four-time winner this year and a five-time winner in Hungary in his career.

A Vettel win would keep the streak of no back-to-back winners alive, with 11 races without a driver going back-to-back. A Hamilton win would end it at 10 and make him the first driver to put together a streak this year.

Either way, it’s been a refreshing change of pace because here have been the runs drivers have gone on since that 11-for-11 start without back-to-backs in the last five years (three race in a row or more win streaks; there have been several more two in a row streaks):

  • 2013: Vettel wins last nine races in a row (Rounds 11-19)
  • 2014: Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 2-5), then wins five straight (Rounds 13-17)
  • 2015: Hamilton wins three straight (Rounds 14-16), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 17-19)
  • 2016: Rosberg wins four straight (Rounds 1-4), Hamilton wins four straight (Round 9-12), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 13-15), Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 18-21)

Hungarian Grand Prix on NBCSN concludes busy July for F1

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The third Grand Prix for the month of July and fourth in the last six weeks for Formula 1 after races in Baku, Spielberg and Silverstone takes place this week with the Hungarian Grand Prix from Budapest.

After a couple races on CNBC, the channel is simple this weekend: it’s NBCSN for all sessions on TV with free practice two (Friday) and qualifying (Saturday) both live at 8 a.m. ET, with a full one-hour countdown for the race from 7 a.m. ET on Sunday before lights out at 8.

As per usual the NBC Sports App will live stream free practices one and three, with all sessions streamed during the weekend.

The British Grand Prix two weeks ago brings this year’s F1 season to an interesting point. With Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s win, it brings him to within just one point of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the championship lead. Vettel is at 177 with Hamilton now at 176.

And Hungary’s been a place where both drivers have succeeded. Hamilton won here last year while Vettel won in 2015. Overall Hamilton has a record five Hungarian Grand Prix victories (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016) and will look to match his Canada total with a sixth this weekend. Vettel’s 2015 win is his only triumph at the circuit.

Other Hungarian Grand Prix winners in the field are Daniel Ricciardo (2014), Kimi Raikkonen (2005) and Fernando Alonso (2003).

Beyond the top two, Valtteri Bottas will look to upend proceedings and continue his own title battle for Mercedes. He sits third in points with 154, in a spot of his own well clear of fourth on back and just under a full race distance behind the leaders.

Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, July 28, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, July 28, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2 (Replay): Saturday, July 29, 6:30 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, July 29, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, July 29, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, July 30, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, July 30, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, July 30, 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, July 30, 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Formula 2: Sunday, July 30, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix, on August 27, after F1’s traditional summer break.

Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
Leave a comment

MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.