Photo courtesy Kart 4 Kids

All-stars, philanthropy unite with $81,000 raised in charity kart race

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PALMETTO, Fla. – It’s not often you get a glut of talent from the open-wheel and sports car racing worlds in one spot, and also take them back to their roots in go-karts.

Even better is when you take the talent assembled and have them all there for a good cause.

But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night at Andersen RacePark for the sixth annual Kart 4 Kids Pro/Am Kart Race, which raised $81,000 for the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

At the event, a mix of items were auctioned off at both a live and silent auction, while the 14 pro drivers competed in a 75-lap kart race with each team featuring four amateur drivers alongside.

Pros in practice. Spencer Pigot leads Trent Hindman here. Photo: Tony DiZinno

This provided fans or observers who wanted to donate an opportunity to bid on such unique items as both Sebastien Bourdais ($4,300) and Patrick Long’s helmets ($5,200) which will be race worn this weekend, Scott Dixon’s Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT firesuit ($6,100) from a year ago, and also a two-day racing school at the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

One of the children at the hospital also hand designed a print for the event, signed by all pro drivers.

Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver, had helped take the event from its origins to where it is now during its first five years.

But the opportunity for Bourdais to take on a greater role with the event’s growth this year allowed Long to step back from a full leadership position into a joint leadership one, and allow the Children’s Hospital to move to the front of the fore.

Having been at the event, seeing the smiles and excitement on the faces of those amateur drivers – myself included – was all the evidence needed to call the event a success. And the fundraising aspect brought the total amount raised to $281,000 over the six years.

Pros prepare for their final 10-lap stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

The drivers were all game for the evening too. The mix of talent saw five full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drivers set to compete this weekend in Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones, along with Pirelli World Challenge drivers Long and Nate Stacy.

The remaining pros all ran in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year (Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Jan Heylen, RC Enerson, Daniel Morad, Trent Hindman and James French) or in other sports cars last year (Ethan Low, Glenn McGee). The Taylors, French, Bourdais and Morad all won their respective classes of Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona at this year’s Rolex 24.

Pigot’s team takes checkered flag. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Pigot’s team was particularly well stacked, with Bell Racing USA Director of Motorsports Chris Wheeler joined by three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda active drivers in Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood and three-year USF2000 driver Luke Gabin. That team won the race by more than a lap, and from watching Jupiter, Fla. natives and longtime friends Askew and Kirkwood run together in practice, it was no surprise to see their excellence continue in the fun race.

As a media member in car, my teammates were Enerson, Thomas Nakagawa and son Colin, and Robert Keller on the teal team, number eight. Our team finished a little further down the order as we learned the intricacies of our kart; most of the competitors acknowledged some karts were a little bit better than others. The five of us though had a great time and the Nakagawas, in particular, were thrilled with the opportunity to run together as a pairing in this environment.

Seeing the interaction between the drivers who otherwise don’t get to see each other too often given their competing forms of motorsport was a fun part of the night. Ricky Taylor, for instance, was fresh off his Rolex 24 victory and his own first IndyCar test with Team Penske, whereas for Dixon and Kanaan, it was a chance to return to their roots more than two decades ago.

Then you have the up-and-coming drivers like Low, McGee, French, Askew, Kirkwood and Gabin who were all loving the opportunity to race against and learn from some of their racing heroes in the same equipment. Low, in particular, stood out as he battled Dixon late in the race.

Bourdais, in helmet, waits for his final stint. Photo: Tony DiZinno

A late change announced by Bourdais saw the pros’ required lap count drop from a minimum of 20 laps and maximum of 25 to a total of 15 only, the first five followed by the last 10. This allowed the amateurs to run the bulk of the race and get the most track time, though.

Ultimately though, this event is about the hospital, and the cause of raising money for children’s medical needs. This is the sole purpose of Kart 4 Kids, Inc., which is an all-volunteer organization where all money raised net of direct event expenses goes to directly to the St. Petersburg-based hospital.

This hospital, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is the only critical care children’s hospital on the West Coast of Florida. Included in their areas of expertise are extreme premature births, infant open-heart surgery, pediatric cancer, and children’s critical care and trauma.

Partners who helped the event included Tequila Patron, Cardio Access, Construction Services, Rally Stores and Alegra Motorsports, to name a few.

Bourdais joked during the live auction he hoped he’d win this weekend and thus make his Bell helmet even more valuable than it already was.

But he, Long and the hospital have already won with their charitable efforts and the continued growth of this pro-am kart event, which served as a great kickoff to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend.

Porsche announces LMP1 withdrawal from FIA WEC

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Porsche has announced its withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class, the top class, a year earlier than its current contract called it to.

The move comes after a high-profile meeting in Germany to evaluate the effectiveness of Porsche’s top-tier LMP1 program to the overall Porsche brand.

Additionally, Porsche has confirmed its entry into the FIA Formula E Championship from season six, starting in 2019.

This aligns with the company’s new electric direction focus for its product line, Porsche Strategy 2025, which will see Porsche develop a combination of pure GT vehicles and fully electric sports cars, such as the first fully electric Porsche model, based upon the Mission E concept car.

Porsche released the following statement today about the end of its LMP1 tenure:

“Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge. Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward. I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President in charge of LMP1.

Porsche said it plans to keep the LMP1 team intact, including its factory drivers, elsewhere within the framework of the company. Additionally, the new mid-engined 911 RSR will continue in the GT ranks; the new car won its first race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Dirk Werner and Patrick Pilet at Lime Rock Park this past week.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid won the last three 24 Hours of Le Mans overall, taking its overall win total to a Le Mans record 19 wins. It’s also won the last two FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 championships, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley in 2015 and with Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb last year.

The move leaves the FIA WEC’s marquee LMP1 class in a difficult position from 2018 and beyond, as Porsche joins fellow VAG brand Audi as a second manufacturer to withdraw from the top class in as many years.

Toyota is left as the single manufacturer, its contract good through 2019. But while LMP1 privateer has witnessed several announcements of new programs, how many actually materialize beyond the press releases into cars on the grid remains to be seen.

Despite the excitement over manufacturers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula, the DPis paired with the 2017-spec LMP2 cars in IMSA’s Prototype class, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest would need to allow DPis to race at Le Mans if they are to make an appearance in Europe. Right now, the cars are ineligible.

The GTE-Pro ranks will be bolstered with BMW’s arrival with the new M8 GTE, joining the existing four manufacturers there, and that will likely emerge as the series’ marquee class.

Porsche announces entry to Formula E for season six

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Porsche has announced that it will be joining the FIA Formula E grid in 2019, taking the 12th and final slot currently available.

In the same announcement that confirmed the closure of its LMP1 program at the end of the season, Porsche revealed that it would be moving into the all-electric series for the 2019/20 campaign with a factory-backed operation.

“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission
E road car program,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and
Development at Porsche AG.

“The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us. Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts.

“For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”

Porsche has held an interest in Formula E for some time, with many of its key motorsport bosses venturing to the recent races in Monaco and Berlin in order to undertake research regarding a possible entry.

Following Monday’s news that Mercedes would be taking up its option on an entry to Formula E for season six, Porsche’s arrival acts as another huge boost for the burgeoning electric championship, which already enjoys involvement from manufacturers such as Renault, Audi, BMW and Jaguar.

“I’m delighted to welcome Porsche to the FIA Formula E Championship,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said. “If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it.

“To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage – and in terms of sport cars – is an inflexion point in our quest to change the public perception about electric cars.

“The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”

FIA president Jean Todt added: “Porsche is a brand which has a fantastic history in motorsport, and its intention to join the FIA Formula E Championship alongside so many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers is very positive.

“It’s clear that the hard work done to create a relevant laboratory for developing electric vehicle technologies has been successful, and I look forward to seeing Formula E continue to be a place of great sporting competition as well as innovation.

“I’m very happy that Porsche is coming to Formula E, but I regret their decision to leave the World Endurance Championship.”

The decision to end its LMP1 program and quit the FIA World Endurance Championship with one year still to run on its contract sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of sister Volkswagen Group brand Audi, which pulled a similar move less than 12 months ago.

Audi closed its long-running and hugely-successful LMP1 team at the end of last year in order to shift its focus to Formula E, enjoying works status with the ABT Schaeffler team from season four.

Porsche’s entry to Formula E marks its first foray into single-seater racing with a factory team since the end of its CART program in 1990.

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.