2017 Rolex 24 thoughts, musings, observations

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A slow-burner of a Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 55th edition, again came alive in the final hours. Some thoughts and reflections from the race and the week just passed are below:

  • Opinions have, understandably, varied about the contact between Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque which decided the race. You have to realize both drivers acted in their own best interests at that particular moment, neither one willing to give an inch in pursuit of the victory. Albuquerque wanted the corner, and Taylor saw a gap he thought he could make work. The contact was unavoidable at that moment although because Taylor’s intent wasn’t malicious – he just wanted the spot, not to take Albuquerque out. In my view, a good no call from IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield and Race Control. More important, it was consistent with calls from Race Control throughout the race.
  • I’m not worrying too much about Prototype Balance of Performance after just one race where all 12 cars debuted. Daytona is always a race-specific BoP, it’s a power track, and the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs led the DPi field on testing mileage and preparation compared to their competitors – so they were always going to have an early advantage, even despite the gains made time-wise from the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test. Other cars in Prototype improved from the Roar, as well, although race times were a bit slower. Keep in mind the new-for-2017 Continental Tires haven’t debuted yet – those come online at Sebring. If the Cadillac remains as far ahead at Sebring, a wildly different track, then we can talk about there being a big BoP problem.
  • The paddock buzz was pretty good, if not great. Between the number of fans on the grounds and in the infield, there was excitement for the new cars. The rain then made a negative impact on the number of fans who came back on Sunday.
  • Props to the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson team for fighting through a lack of runs prior to the race and securing a podium on Sunday. More on their quiet P3 from the Daytona Beach News-Journal and Sportscar365 here.
  • Disappointing to see both Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed have a tough week with various issues, but props to the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson for being the best of the new Oreca 07s results-wise, P5 with an under-the-radar lineup.
  • All told, the level of reliability among the debuting 18 cars was impressive. Despite some garage trips, nine of the 12 Prototype cars finished, with the only cars suffering a double DNF the Mazda RT24-Ps. That said this was a better debut for Mazda than in recent years. The mid-engined Porsche 911 RSRs did well in GTLM with second and sixth place results; Acura’s NSX GT3s both led and Lexus got one of its new RC F GT3s home clean, which also led, with the second out by accident, not mechanical woes.
  • It was a great GT Le Mans race. All told though Ford and Ferrari’s edge wore on, with Porsche getting right on pace with the new car (albeit a bit behind) and Corvette and BMW struggling. Corvette was particularly unlucky, having gained seven spots on the last two pit stops to get to the lead, but with Antonio Garcia a sitting duck once the race resumed under green. A shame Corvette never really had a proper go at defending its Rolex 24 title for a third year running.
  • The GT Daytona class indeed saw the under-the-radar entries from Alegra Motorsports and Land Motorsport star, although I would have only bet one of them would have finished on the podium – not both in a 1-2 finish! It speaks volumes of both team’s efforts that in a series they’re not used to running in that they’d be consistent and stay largely on the lead lap both on-track and in the pits.
  • The hard luck award in GTD goes to Scuderia Corsa, which looked poised for a win before an engine issue grounded Sam Bird in the final few hours. The No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 saw Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni shared the car with Bird.
  • Spencer Pumpelly (GTD) and Kenton Koch (PC) both assisted the winning entries in class, Alegra and Performance Tech, despite not racing themselves. Pumpelly sat on the box to assist Alegra from a strategy standpoint while Koch was a spotter for Performance Tech.
  • Rather bright rain lights from the Prototypes were a topic of conversation, triggered here by a tweet from Land Audi driver Connor De Phillippi, with IMSA noting change may be on the way.
  • Tough race for Lamborghini. Eight cars, no laps led, and best finish of seventh in the GT Daytona class with the Lamborghini Huracán GT3s.
  • Good weekend for Trent Hindman, who won the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race on Friday, then finished on the podium on Sunday in the Prototype Challenge class with BAR1 Motorsports.
  • Felt in a lot of ways like an IndyCar weekend, with a heavy IndyCar driver and personnel present.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is off until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, on March 18, the Saturday after the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg on March 12.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“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.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.