Photo courtesy of IMSA

Continental Tire rolls into Sebring with several key additions

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This is a big week for Continental Tire as the next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship beckons at Sebring International Raceway.

The manufacturer’s new Prototype class tire debuts for the WeatherTech Championship in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Meanwhile, the new-look IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series premieres the LMP3 class of competition, which along with the existing Mazda Prototype Lites (the former L1 cars) will also run on Continental Tires.

Add in the fact the company has recently launched the ExtremeContactTM Sport (formally confirmed at Daytona), which was tested and developed by five active IMSA drivers (Joao Barbosa, Ryan Dalziel, Ozz Negri, Lawson Aschenbach, Andy Lally) and what’s already a big week for Continental Tire only gets bigger at Sebring this week.

Tackling these elements one-by-one, let’s look ahead to what figures to be an important week:

THE NEW PROTOTYPE TIRE

The chance to start from square one after three years of the combined Daytona Prototype/old LMP2 platform to a new base 2017 LMP2 chassis with Daytona Prototype international (DPi) car for the Prototype class was a benefit for Continental.

In layman’s terms, this balancing act from a tire standpoint was a tough one before this year. The DPs, heavier and more powerful, could get heat in their tires faster but they’d also go off quicker over the course of a stint. The P2s, lighter and less powerful, would take longer to come up to temperature but could theoretically go longer in a stint.

DP/P2 balance was harder to nail a combined tire. Photo courtesy of IMSA
DP/P2 balance was harder to nail a combined tire. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Now, with a singular Prototype tire, which debuts at Sebring since Daytona requires Continental’s lone run of the Gold branded tire for the year, the task is made easier for Continental to have a platform that brings the tire more into alignment with a single base chassis.

“It’s nice to have one car rather than two diametrically different cars in the past, because the LMP2 and DPi car have a lot of characteristics we like to see,” John DeSalle, president, Hoosier Racing Tire Corporation, told NBC Sports. “With the downforce reasonably light, and with the reasonable amount of horsepower, we specifically do it for that car.

“Because you had the Daytona Prototype and LMP2 cars, they were so different, we had a compromise of a tire. It was designed to withstand the abuse of a DP, but also get sufficient enough performance for P2. Now with one prototype car, the tire has been refined to provide a much higher level of performance longitudinally, to turn and brake at the same time. We’re very happy with tread wear. Daytona is different from the other tracks. One’s Gold (branded), and one’s Black. The Daytona tire is designed to withstand the load of banking. The new tire, you’ll see starting at Sebring.”

The testing process for the new tire began last year, although the task was made a bit more difficult by the fact the new DPis didn’t premiere until the fall before their formal unveils began in November. The stillborn HPD ARX-04b, a 2015-spec LMP2 car which raced only once at the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona before the Tequila Patron ESM team parked it for an older HPD and later a Ligier JS P2 chassis, then became available as an unexpected test mule.

“Comprehensively, we didn’t have any DPi cars to test… it wasn’t until Putnam Park (in Indianapolis) on Labor Day Monday when we did our first test with a DPi,” explained Bruce Foss, Business Unit Manager, Circuit Racing Tires, Hoosier Racing Tire Corp.

“But we did the development on the HPD car with Ozz Negri at NOLA, Atlanta. That tire has a 650mm front tire. They converted, so it would accept the new 680 size. We did as much as we could with those cars. But we didn’t want to get off on a tangent, although it wasn’t much different as it worked out.”

By the time the DPis were up and running – the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R was first out with the new tire in the fall – the new tire clicked almost immediately. Foss explained the rest of the test process, which also included earlier testing at Sebring in late 2016.

“We got aggressive with Wayne Taylor… they did most of the initial testing,” Foss said. “Action Express got their Dallaras. We did some testing with Mazda, Riley Multimatic, but it’s all lined up fine. Oreca did their running at Sebring with Rebellion. There’s just as much learning for the cars, if not more, than there is with the tires. It all goes hand in hand. Those guys know enough about that tire from previous years where they can focus on the car setup. I think when we get to the road course, we’ll see these cars really go fast.”

Recent testing signs were positive of that point. At the late February official IMSA Sebring test, the fastest Cadillac was nearly two seconds quicker on the new tire (1:49.600 by Jordan Taylor) than last year’s pole time, a 1:51.152 by Olivier Pla 2016-spec Ligier JS P2 Honda on the old tire.

Expect times to be quicker than the old pole times as the year goes on, thanks to the concerted efforts of the new prototypes and the new tire.

LMP3’s STATESIDE DEBUT

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

There’s more expected interest in the new IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series this year, as the LMP3 chassis (six homologated constructors are Ginetta, Ligier, ADESS AG, Dome, Norma and Riley Technologies) makes its debut alongside the previous generation Mazda-powered Élan DP02 cars. Both classes of cars will run on tires specifically designed by Continental.

Testing took place there again in the fall, also at Sebring. Foss explained how that went according to plan. The base tire for LMP3 in Europe was constructed by Michelin, while the MPC cars used to run on Cooper Tires.

“We accomplished all our goals,” Foss said. :Our target was that we wanted to duplicate the Michelin LMP3 and Cooper on Lites car, and to make the transition pretty seamless for those guys. We ran 200 miles on a set of LMP3 tires, and they didn’t really fall off. It was all good. The Lites tires were very comparable to the Cooper, if not a little better.”

ExtremeContactTM Sport’s LAUNCH AND ACTIVATION

Photo: Continental Tire
Photo: Continental Tire

Taking five different driving styles and preferences to then create a street tire for passengers isn’t something that’s done often. In fact, Continental took a big step forward by entrusting the quintet of IMSA drivers to do just, as one of the first tire manufacturers with which to do so.

But with the five drivers picked, with the combination of fun they had doing it and the input they provided for Continental engineers, Continental couldn’t have been happier with the launch of the ExtremeContactTM Sport.

“We took our knowledge from the track to the street in a whole new way with the ExtremeContactTM Sport,” Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire, said at Daytona for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. “We chose five of the best sports car drivers in the world to help deliver the performance driving enthusiasts demand in a tire. These drivers pushed our tires to the limits to help develop a tire that includes superb dry handling while not sacrificing any of Continental’s award-winning performance in the wet. This summer tire is ideal for sports cars and sport and luxury vehicles.”

The drivers, naturally, weighed in as well.

“Usually we look for performance but there’s other aspects that come with developing a street tire,” said Joao Barbosa, who shares the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R with Christian Fittipaldi in Prototype.

“There were tires we would have picked that would have been the qualifying tire… they would have had a lot of lawsuits,” joked Ryan Dalziel, who shares the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi with Scott Sharp, also in Prototype.

“I’m grateful to be a part of this… it’s big thanks to Continental for having the trust in us to do this,” added Lawson Aschenbach, who drives the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS with Andrew Davis in GT Daytona. “We like to go fast and like to destroy tires. I’m so happy with how the tire came out.”

Barbosa and Ozz Negri were quick to thank Andy Lally for his input as well. Negri and Lally are split between the Nos. 86 and 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s in GTD; Negri co-drives with Jeff Segal and Lally with Katherine Legge.

You can see a video Continental Tire put together of the drivers helping to design the tires, below.

It all adds up to a big week ahead for Continental. And this is before we also note there’s the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge second round of the season at Sebring, as well.

MRTI Preview: Mid-Ohio

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires faces possibly its busiest weekend of the year this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Yet another double header awaits the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires tackles it’s lone triple header of the year.

What’s more, the season is rapidly winding down for all three series. Indy Lights and Pro Mazda only have three race weekends remaining (Mid-Ohio, Gateway Motorsports Park, and Watkins Glen International), while USF2000 has only two (Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen), meaning time is running out for anyone who wants to challenge the championship leaders.

In Indy Lights, the title picture centers around one driver, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 are up for grabs between two pairs of young hard chargers. All told, the final weekends of the year have the makings for intense battles to claim not only the championships in each respective series, but also the Mazda scholarships that enable the drivers to move up.

Below are quick previews for all three series.

INDY LIGHTS

  • Top 5 in points: 1. Kyle Kaiser, 279, 2. Matheus Leist, 228, 3. Colton Herta, 214, 4. Zachary Claman De Melo, 207, 5. Aaron Telitz, 203

    Kyle Kaiser dominated the most recent Indy Lights outing in Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Kyle Kaiser swept the weekend at Toronto, dominating Race 1 on Saturday and surviving a crash-filled Race 2 on Sunday. His weekend sweep gives him three victories for the year, and combined with struggles from the likes of Matheus Leist and Colton Herta to give him a sizeable championship lead of 51 points.
  • Zachary Claman de Melo and Aaron Telitz are quietly riding waves of momentum. Claman de Melo’s last four finishes are 1-6-2-3, while Telitz has gone 5-9-5-2 in the same stretch.
  • Though Kaiser has a sizeable championship lead, 39 points separate second from seventh (Leist, Herta, Claman de Melo, Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Nico Jamin).
  • Santi Urrutia swept both Indy Lights races at Mid-Ohio last year.
  • Ryan Norman’s No. 48 entry for Andretti Autosport gets a different look this weekend, with rock band Journey featured on the car.

 

PRO MAZDA

The Pro Mazda championship has been a see-saw battle between Franzoni and Martin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Top 5 in points: 1. Victor Franzoni, 174, 2. Anthony Martin, 167, 3. TJ Fischer, 115, 4. Nikita Lastochkin, 110, 5. Carlos Cunha, 103
  • Through six races, only Franzoni and Martin have won races (three apiece); with Fischer 59 points out of the lead in third, it appears Franzoni and Martin will decide the 2017 Pro Mazda championship.
  • Mid-Ohio represents the lone triple-header of the year for Pro Mazda, with races on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • Last year, in a triple-header for USF2000, Anthony Martin swept the weekend, winning all three races.
  • Nico Jamin swept the Pro Mazda weekend at Mid-Ohio last year, winning both races in what was then a double-header.

USF2000

  • Top 5 in points: 1. Oliver Askew, 283, 2. Rinus Veekay, 265, 3. Parker Thompson, 206, 4. Kaylen Frederick, 185, 5. Calvin Ming, 151

    Oliver Askew has struggled lately, allowing Rinus Veekay to close the championship gap. Parker Thompson now sits third. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Askew’s points lead has been trimmed to 18, with finishes of 17th (Road America Race 1, due to suspension problems) and 12th (Toronto Race 2, due to a crash) blighting an otherwise impressive season.
  • To contrast some of Askew’s recent struggles, Veekay has finishes of 1-1-2-3-2 in his last five races, allowing him to dramatically close the gap to Askew.
  • Parker Thompson’s weekend sweep at Toronto vaulted him to third in the championship. At 77 points back of the lead, it will be difficult to mount a title push, but his presence can be a spoiler for Askew and Veekay.
  • Of note: each of USF2000’s Mid-Ohio visits the last two years have seen weekend sweeps. As previously mentioned, Anthony Martin accomplished the feat in 2016, with Nico Jamin doing so in 2015. Conversely, the 2014 outing saw different winners in each race. RC Enerson, Jake Eidson, and Florian Latorre all won in a triple-header weekend that year.

Racing begins on Friday with USF2000 and Pro Mazda running their first races of the weekend. Indy Lights holds its first race of the weekend on Saturday.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

 

Foyt, Coyne optimistic about Mid-Ohio after testing

Photo: IndyCar
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Along with Felix Rosenqvist and Chip Ganassi Racing, two other teams visited the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday July 30, 3:00 p.m., CNBC). A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Dale Coyne Racing sent their drivers and teams to Mid-Ohio in hopes of getting a leg up on things and building optimism ahead of this weekend.

For Foyt’s team in particular, the optimism is needed. Combined, drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly have only three top tens (two for Munoz, one for Daly) across a total of 24 starts, making them desperate for strong results to come their way.

Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are hopeful that they can turn their seasons around at Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity for Foyt’s duo to right the ship. Munoz has finishes of fourth, ninth, and third in three starts at the Lexington, Ohio road course, while Daly led late in last year’s race and finished an impressive sixth.

And a productive test last week has both feeling hopeful. “We needed this test to try big steps and different options and I think we gained a lot from where we started to where we finished,” said Munoz, whose best 2017 finish of seventh came at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

Munoz added that, while they are still playing catch up a little, the team gained valuable information that should help them this weekend. “The car was much more competitive from where we started so we closed the gap but we need a little bit more to compete with the top guys. But the information that we gathered will help us to show up stronger than we did at the test so I’m looking forward to going back,” he asserted.

Daly echoed Munoz’s sentiments and added that his near-win last year makes him upbeat ahead of the weekend. “It was a really productive (test) for us. Every day with this car and aero package we are learning more. I feel like I came quite close to winning the race last year so I’m hoping to have another strong result this year,” Daly expressed.

Technical Director Will Phillips added that the knowledge they gained should help them at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway at the end of the season, particularly in terms of maximizing the grip from the tires.

“We certainly believe that the area we made an improvement in will help us at all the road courses to come – we have been slow to extract performance from the tires at times and it was in this area that some changes we made had a very positive response,” Phillips described. “We will keep our feet on the ground but are optimistic that we can carry the gains through for the remainder of the year, not just for Mid-Ohio.”

On the other side, Dale Coyne Racing has been a giant-killer in 2017, winning at St. Petersburg with Sebastien Bourdais and finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Jones. James Davison, Tristan Vautier, and Esteban Gutierrez have also impressed in fill-in roles for the injured Bourdais.

Dale Coyne Racing has shown a lot of speed in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

And while the team has also incurred more than it’s fair share of crash damage, they have consistently showcased speed at nearly every event, and the team’s drivers are confident Mid-Ohio will yield more of the same.

“We had a really good test last week at Mid-Ohio. It was very positive and we worked on a lot of things,” said Ed Jones, who has four starts at Mid-Ohio from his days in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with a best finish of sixth. “The car seemed pretty fast compared to others that were there. As we saw at Road America, it’s beneficial to be able to test somewhere before we race there. It can give you an advantage early on and hopefully we can produce another good result because of it.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez, making his sixth start for the team this weekend, is more modest of his expectations, but did reveal that a top ten finish could be realistic.

“In terms of objectives for the weekend, I want to keep on learning and it would be nice to reach the top ten. We know that it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for me in IndyCar but we’ve made some progress and hopefully we can make our way into the top ten pretty soon,” Gutierrez detailed.

Of the drivers mentioned here, Jones ranks the highest in the championship standings, currently sitting 12th. Munoz sits 15th, Daly 19th, and Gutierrez 25th in his fill-in role.

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Lando Norris also gets confirmed for Hungary test with McLaren

Photo: Lando Norris PR
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McLaren Honda young driver Lando Norris has joined the list of those confirmed for the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test as well.

He’ll run on the second day, Wednesday, of the two-day test with Stoffel Vandoorne running on day one, Tuesday.

The teenaged Brit races for Carlin in the FIA F3 European Championship this season and is one of the most talented prospects in the pipeline, following his karting career and early years in formula cars. This will mark his test debut in an F1 car.

He was announced as part of McLaren’s development program in February.

Norris was confirmed a little more than a week ago for next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a United Autosports Ligier JS P217 LMP2 car but this gives him his first go in a proper F1 rocketship.

 

Pirelli review says Raikkonen tire not faulty at Silverstone

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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.