Photo: Shea Racing

PWC: Shea Racing, Honda forge ahead for bigger 2017

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Seven years in racing terms is an eternity. In 2010, seven years ago, a then-unheralded young female driver named Shea Holbrook and her family-run Shea Racing team showed up for the first time in the Pirelli World Challenge paddock.

A year later, Holbrook scored a surprise but well-earned victory in the Touring Car class at Long Beach, arguably one of PWC’s biggest races on the calendar. This was in a time when the series’ GT, GTS and TC classes all raced in one race, at one time, before all classes and the series itself have expanded.

The Shea Racing team is no different, but throughout its run has maintained a strong and sincere relationship with Honda. First one of Honda’s top customer teams, Shea Racing and Honda Racing/HPD confirmed a formal partnership at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis in December.

This sees Holbrook’s still family-run team, although now having grown in size, stature and formal appearance thanks to its partners, now officially aligned with a manufacturer for the first time. Holbrook, who’s not just a driver of her No. 67 Honda Accord but teammate to Jason Fichter in another Accord and Tom O’Gorman in a TCA-class Honda Civic Si, attempted to recap the whirlwind of her and her team’s rise that’s brought them to this point.

Photo: Shea Racing
New Civic Si at Thunderhill. Photo: Shea Racing

“The announcement with Honda Racing/HPD and Shea Racing and the addition of Tom coming on board is the second-worst kept secret in motorsports. The first one was RealTime and the NSX!” Holbrook told NBC Sports at PRI.

“I’m incredibly excited. I think back to when Shea Racing started as a true mom and pop effort. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had zero background and experience. We started (when I was) 15 years old. This is amazing how far we’ve come. With seven consecutive years in PWC, in TCB in Honda Fit to TCA in Honda Civic Si, to TC in Honda Accord, it’s been the power of dreams, pun completely intended.

“It took us a while. But after everything we’ve been through, with hard work, being patient, playing your cards right, and delivering on your word, those things really mean something to people and I’m glad it does to Honda. I’m glad we’ve accomplished this.”

Holbrook’s TC class win in 2011 was her first until winning multiple races in 2014 and only narrowly missing the TCA class title in another Civic Si. A one-year detour followed with her briefly sampling IHRA jet racing before regaining a foothold in the PWC paddock full-time in 2016.

The other, perhaps insane, racing highlight of 2016 was Holbrook’s quest to assist Denise Mueller, a 43-year-old, who was attempting to set the land speed record on a bicycle. The Wall Street Journal chronicled the run, one of several media pieces that followed that journey.

Lest those be the only things Holbrook accomplished last year, she also got engaged to longtime boyfriend Nick Chorley, who is team manager.

Fichter and Holbrook at CTMP. Photo: Shea Racing
Fichter and Holbrook at CTMP. Photo: Shea Racing

Holbrook’s business savvy – partners such as BUBBA burger, Lucas Oil, KONI Shock Absorbers, Eibach Springs and StopTech Brakes are among those she can reel off off the top of her head at an instant – has helped her and her team get into this position. She’s found the business side of motorsports as intriguing and fascinating as the racing itself. She’s also become a tireless advocate for Duchenne, working to raise awareness and funds to combat the genetic disorder.

“In the jet racing scene, I met a lot of new people, and I was into a different form of motorsports I’d never been in. But I was missing wheeling a car,” she said. “I missed the PWC paddock as a driver, but that year was huge and a growing year for us as a business.

“Being trackside as a team owner, I’ll wear a lot of hats at the track. When you focus on just one piece at a time, you start to see things differently. At SEMA two years ago, I’d received a message from KONI Shock Absorbers and they said we’d like to have a meeting. They blossomed into a partner, and along with our other partners that helped put the pieces of the program together. I’d love to say 2016 was our best year yet, but 2017 should be even better.”

Holbrook, having seen PWC’s class and race structure evolution, hailed the TC competition. TC has fallen off of IndyCar weekends and instead run largely at PWC headline weekends; that being said, the caliber, depth and car count across the board in the three TC classes (TC, TCA, TCB) has gone up.

“I hadn’t raced door-to-door with Johnny O’Connell, per se, but it was the same race,” she explained. “Theres pluses and minuses, and the pluses massively outweigh the negatives. It’s our home. I like the competition there. The BoP is always something everyone works hard at and I think PWC does a great job with it. The racing is clean, and the people are professional.”

Holbrook is also quick to extoll the positives of the people around her, from parents Erin and Jeff, to her teammates and crew.

“Jason and Tom are amazing teammates. Tom, it’s funny, has become a ‘racing bestie’ of mine! He’s developed into such a great driver very quickly and become a fantastic brand ambassador for Shea Racing, Honda Racing/HPD and Pirelli World Challenge,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my two supportive parents. It’s no secret it takes money to do this. My family didn’t have a lot of it. I’m an only child. We came from very humble beginnings; blue-collar type workers. They did everything what they could to get me best position and seat time. But eventually the more you rub pennies together, the more they disappear.

“Still, I had to go to work; I had to figure out how to make a career at this. (Fellow Honda driver) Ryan Eversley is a really cool story, from sweeping shop floors, to working on cars, to becoming a GT driver. I wasn’t working on cars. But when I became more business savvy and started to understanding how hard you have to sell and market your program, that helped. We sell Shea Racing beyond just the performance and results; it’s also a chance for drivers to work on brand development and partnership growth.

“I think that’s the sick, twisted mind I have! If I didn’t enjoy this part of the business as much as I do, I would have been gone six years ago.”

Ricciardo downbeat after disaster Australian GP ends in retirement

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Daniel Ricciardo was left downbeat after a disastrous end to a difficult Australian Grand Prix weekend that saw the home Formula 1 favorite almost miss the race entirely.

Ricciardo was due to start the race 10th after crashing out of qualifying on Saturday, and was then handed a five-place grid penalty following a gearbox change overnight.

Ricciardo then suffered another setback when an electrical issue emerged during his reconnaissance lap to the grid, causing his car to get stuck in sixth gear.

After coming back to the pit lane in a truck, the RB13 car was revived by the Red Bull crew to allow Ricciardo to enter the race, albeit two laps down, making the event a glorified test session.

Ricciardo showed good pace, but was eventually forced to retire when an engine issue emerged on his car just after half distance, marking a sour end to his home race weekend.

“I’m just over it at the moment. It’s one of those days, tomorrow I’ll be fine,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the session.

“It snowballed from yesterday. The out lap had problems, then I thought the race was done. We got out a few laps down. Good to get out and learn more. Then I had another issue, fuel pressure or something. Let’s go to China and have a better one there.”

Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen ended up fifth, with Ricciardo taking some heart from the result despite his own setbacks.

“I learned quite a bit with the car,” Ricciardo said. “I was behind a few slower cars. There’s other strengths and weaknesses. Max’s pace looked good at the moment.

“I’ll be alright when I wake up tomorrow. It’s been a long week.

“I feel like crap, it’s not how we’d like the opener to go at home.”

Alonso: Poor Australia display ‘a problem for McLaren, not me’

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Fernando Alonso believes his performance in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia was one of the best of his career, despite only being in contention for 10th place when he was forced to retire.

Alonso and McLaren arrived in Melbourne off the back of a torrid pre-season that had seen the Honda power unit present a number of problems, limiting the team’s running.

McLaren’s expectations for the Australian Grand Prix were low, making Alonso’s charge to 13th in qualifying an impressive one.

The Spaniard made a good start to move into the top 10 early on, and was in the running for points until a suspension issued forced him to retire with six laps remaining.

“The race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race.

“The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. Good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to stay in the points. Suspension stopped us from getting this point.”

Alonso then delivered another scathing comment to McLaren, saying that his uncompetitive display was not his problem as he was driving at the peak of his powers.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating,” Alonso said.

“But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team, not me.”

Ferrari outplays Mercedes as Vettel takes Australian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel kick-started Ferrari’s 2017 Formula 1 season in style as a strategic stunner allowed him to jump Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and storm to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel and Ferrari arrived in Melbourne as favorites for victory following a hugely impressive pre-season, only for Hamilton to dominate practice and take pole, suggesting Mercedes’ recent pace advantage still remained.

Hamilton led the early part of the race, but was unable to shake off Vettel, with the German staying close enough to give Ferrari the chance to get ahead through a brilliant strategy call.

The decision to chase the ‘overcut’, combined with Hamilton hitting traffic, saw Vettel snatch the lead through the tire changes and then dominate proceedings accordingly.

It was a display reminiscent of Vettel’s Red Bull heyday, and marked his first win in Australia since 2011. It was Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since Kimi Raikkonen’s success in 2007. In both instances, the winner in Australia went on to win the world championship.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole and retain the lead at the first corner, with Vettel staying in close company through the early part of the race, immediately creating a strategy headache for the defending champion team. Hamilton managed to eke out a lead over Vettel, raising the gap to two seconds in the opening stint, but it was still nowhere near enough to give Mercedes any kind of comfort.

Vettel ramped up the pressure as the first round of pit stops neared, cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than one second. Hamilton reacted by diving into the pits, preventing Vettel from getting close, with his switch to the soft tire ensuring he didn’t need to make another stop. Ferrari didn’t bring Vettel in immediately, instead keeping the German out. With Valtteri Bottas 11 seconds behind in P2, Ferrari had the chance to roll the dice and keep Vettel out.

The race moved in the Scuderia’s favor when Hamilton came onto the back of Max Verstappen, who was running fourth, and found himself struggling to pass. Mercedes told Hamilton over the radio that it was “race critical” and he had to pass, yet with his tires already struggling, the three-time champion was haemorrhaging time to Vettel.

Ferrari brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 23, releasing him into clean air after coming across a number of backmarkers. A swift turnaround from the Italian marque’s pit crew allowed Vettel to emerge from the pits ahead of both Verstappen and Hamilton, handing him the net lead. Hamilton vented his frustration over the radio as he kept struggling behind Verstappen, with Vettel immediately breaking free. By the time Verstappen finally stopped at the end of Lap 25, Vettel was already six seconds clear of Hamilton.

Mercedes told Hamilton that it was considering a switch to ‘plan B’ on strategy, with the Briton still struggling to match Vettel’s pace at the front. To make matters worse, Bottas was beginning to close up behind, moving to within three seconds of his esteemed teammate in the race for second.

As Vettel extended his lead at the front, former teammate Daniel Ricciardo saw his weekend come to an unceremonious end as he retired a little over half distance. Having barely made the start following an electrical issue pre-race, the Australian’s home event became a glorified test session, but an engine problem meant it came to a premature end.

Hamilton looked to steady the ship in his No. 44 Mercedes, cutting the gap to Vettel to less than nine seconds, but it proved fruitless. Vettel was able to remain cool and keep up an impressive pace to the very end, crossing the line with an 9.9 second buffer to record victory in Australia for the second time.

Hamilton managed to keep ahead of Bottas in second, leaving the Finn to take a solid podium finish on his Mercedes debut. Kimi Raikkonen ended up fourth in the second Ferrari, finishing over 20 seconds adrift of his teammate, while Max Verstappen’s decision to change strategy mid-race failed to give him anything more than fifth.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ferrari’s pit wall perfected Vettel’s strategy, something it has failed to do in recent years. Bottas had a very strong Mercedes debut, finishing third. Felipe Massa came home sixth on his comeback race. Sergio Perez did well to take seventh for Force India, with teammate Esteban Ocon taking his first F1 point in P10. Toro Rosso pair Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat both ended in the points, P8 and P9 respectively. Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on debut to finish 12th for Sauber.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Mercedes looked unable to answer Ferrari’s pace, with Hamilton seeming uncomfortable in the Mercedes W08. Raikkonen and Verstappen both had quiet races, ending up P4 and P5. Renault missed out on points with Nico Hulkenberg finishing 11th, while Jolyon Palmer retired early after a miserable weekend. McLaren’s pre-season struggles continued as engine issues forced Fernando Alonso to retire and left Stoffel Vandoorne P13, two laps down. Romain Grosjean retired on Lap 15 with an engine issue, with smoke pouring out of the back of his car; the Frenchman had been running P7, marking a big opportunity missed for Haas. Ricciardo had a horrible home race with his engine failure.

NOTABLE: Vettel’s win over Hamilton could act as a nice foreshadowing for the title battle to come. We’re yet to see Vettel and Hamilton go head to head in a straight title battle, but this could be the year. Vettel now has four wins for Ferrari, but this could be the most significant: the last time both he (2011) and Ferrari (2007) won in Australia, they went on to win the title.

QUOTABLE: ” I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.” – Fernando Alonso to NBCSN after his retirement.


WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.