SEBRING, Fla. – The new-look GS class in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge that premiered last year took a step forward into the future at Sebring International Raceway.
The new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport premiered with several different teams and rather than CJ Wilson Racing or Muehlner Motorsports America, it was Bodymotion Racing that scored the car’s first win in the series with Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels driving the No. 12 Porsche.
A year later, Bodymotion enters having won the season opener in January at Daytona, continuing the team’s form after winning three-in-a-row last year, a run that began following Hindman’s standout drive here 12 months ago when he beat the highly rated Jeroen Bleekemolen in the same car.
As impressive as Hindman’s adaptation to his second sports car team, the 2014 GS class champion having shifted from the Fall-Line Motorsports BMW team to Bodymotion at the start of last season, seeing his Canadian co-driver Cassels come to form has been just as cool to witness.
Cassels, out of Coldsteam, British Columbia, didn’t enter the series with much racing experience at all, only a bit of stock car racing in his home country. Watching Cassels’ growth has been rewarding to Hindman, who wouldn’t have been in winning position had his co-driver not turned over the car to him in contention and in one piece.
“We laughed at the track walk, can you believe it’s been 12 months to the day since we started racing in the Conti series?” Cassels told NBC Sports. “For me, it was almost the start of my racing, period, other than some stock car stuff! Trent’s great at setting the car up so it’s easier for me to drive.”
Hindman said of his co-driver, “I think it’s something where I’ve been lucky to work with someone like Cameron, who is so driven. But he’s doing this himself though. I can teach him different techniques. I can’t teach the motivation to want to improve, drive, and get more consistent as a driver. That’s something that makes my life a lot more enjoyable.”
The win at Sebring spring-boarded Bodymotion into the three-race win streak, having also edged the Wilson team at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May and Watkins Glen. So for a period of four months, Bodymotion was top of class in GS despite missing the first race at Daytona.
“It was absolutely incredible,” Cassels explained. “Coming in we had very low expectations, and Sebring was a very busy weekend; I had all my family – wife and four children all here. Balancing that and race car stuff, we knew as we got closer to race day we had something for them.
“A lot of the paddock underestimated us. That made it all the more interesting. As the race developed, we had more of a shot at it. My job was easy, just keep the car on the lead lap and have the weapon to fight with at the end. It was a speed ship for him to drive.”
For Bodymotion as well as the rest of the Continental Tire Challenge field, the challenge this week is adapting to the series’ first two-hour race. The series ran two-hour, 30-minute races last year and a four-hour mini-endurance race at Daytona, but drops to two hours this weekend. That changes the game from a strategic standpoint.
“I prefer the longer format to be honest. But for me as a driver, I like the fact we split the time,” Cassels said.
Hindman added, “It changes our strategy a lot. It goes from a solid, two-stop race to potentially one stop. It might be two for us with our fuel consumption/capacity. At end of the day, there’s less time to make up for errors.”
The field is different now, a largely single-car class now up to 17 cars with a mix from Porsche, Ford, McLaren and Aston Martin all going for the victory.
How well the likable pairing gets on today will determine whether their Daytona win was a one-off, or if they have the sustained potential to contend for this year’s GS championship. And, a win today would give them their first repeat as a pairing.
Jenson Button would like to enter a NASCAR event in the future after enjoying a visit to March’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana, but has no interest in following former McLaren Formula 1 teammate Fernando Alonso into the Indianapolis 500.
MONACO (AP) The chummy rivalry between Formula One champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel could be tested at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, an unforgiving circuit where drivers are often pushed to the limit.
After five races, four-time F1 champion Vettel is six points clear of three-time champion Hamilton. They have two wins each and are relishing what is, surprisingly, their first championship tussle.
When Vettel was dominating for Red Bull, winning his titles from 2010-13, Hamilton lagged behind with McLaren. As Hamilton started dominating for Mercedes the following year, Vettel struggled with Red Bull. After switching to Ferrari in 2015, the German driver failed to significantly challenge Hamilton or his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg.
Although they share a total of 99 F1 wins, this is the first year Hamilton and Vettel have really gone head-to-head on track.
“You have to respect if other people do a good job,” Vettel said. “We’re very different. But I think we have a very strong connection.”
Hamilton has been equally praiseworthy.
“To have that close battle with him, with a four-time champ, is awesome,” the British driver said. “This is what the sport needs to be every single race.”
Fans are thrilled, and it is equally a relief for Hamilton to be challenging a driver he respects so much and, additionally, one from another team.
For the past three years, Hamilton was embroiled in a tense fight with Rosberg and their thorny relationship caused frictions within Mercedes.
An air of relief has swept through Mercedes since Rosberg retired after winning last year’s title. Not because he was unpopular, but because the team no longer has to deal with an ongoing saga that the media feasted on.
“This season I have re-discovered why I love the sport,” said Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes motorsport. “We are in a massive fight with Ferrari.”
In other words, the fight has been taken outside of Mercedes itself and the rivalry with Vettel is more healthy.
However, an incident in Spain two weeks ago, where Hamilton won ahead of Vettel, suggested cracks could start appearing in the smooth facade of their relationship.
Vettel came perilously close to nudging Hamilton off the track as they fought for space heading into a turn. Hamilton had seemed somewhat irked by Vettel’s aggression – although it was exactly the kind of in-your-face driving Hamilton revels in.
With the F1 title shaping into a two-way race, neither can afford a slip.
That will heighten the pressure on both in glitzy Monaco, where F1 lovers mingle with millionaires, and which Wolff describes as “the crown jewel” of F1.
The smallest braking mistake on a tight and sinewy 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) circuit through the winding streets of Monte Carlo, past its famed casino and around its glittering, yacht-laden harbor, can send a distracted driver into the barriers.
“There is no such thing as a low risk lap in Monaco, it doesn’t exist if you want to be fast,” said Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who crashed in last year’s race.
With overtaking notoriously difficult, pole position holds increased value. That makes qualifying crucial, where drivers juggle speed with not pushing the car too hard.
“It is a mentally exhausting weekend,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. “One mistake will cost you.”
But one advantage for drivers this year is that the Pirelli tires are far more durable, increasing time on track and limiting pit stops.
Still, that advantage is offset by another factor: the size of the cars.
F1 rule changes this year led to cars being made faster and wider. On a narrow track, this poses “a massive challenge” when pushing the car close to the limit, Hamilton said.
“It’ll be a real test of your awareness of where the car is,” the Englishman said. “You need to be sharp and clear.”
Ganassi team confident amid high expectations for Indy 500
Chip Ganassi Racing was uncharacteristically quiet during last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Tony Kanaan was the only member of the team to lead laps, heading the field for 19 circuits. Charlie Kimball took advantage of a strategy similar to winner Alexander Rossi’s to finish fifth, while Scott Dixon was never in contention much of the day and finished eighth. Max Chilton, in his first “500,” soldiered home in 15th.
For the 101st running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the team has a much different outcome in mind. Once again partnered with Honda, which had the superior speedway package last year, Chip Ganassi’s outfit appears to be in a much stronger position heading into this year’s race.
Most notably, Scott Dixon captured the pole, with Tony Kanaan joining him in the Fast Nine shootout before qualifying seventh. And while Chilton and Kimball start 15th and 16th, they could easily be dark horses heading into race day.
Team owner Chip Ganassi was bursting with enthusiasm when asked about returning Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a May 19 press conference.
“I mean, I’m excited. I mean I think — you know, when you come back here to Indianapolis, it’s the real thing. It’s what we’re all about. It’s why we got in this sport in the first place, is because of the Indianapolis 500. We want to win this race, and that’s what we’re here to do,” he asserted.
Mike Hull, managing director of the Verizon IndyCar Series side of Chip Ganassi’s operation, detailed the team’s success, and potential for more success, is down to people and communication, and that on the driving front, he thinks they have all their bases covered.
“In order for race drivers to win races, they have to support their teammates and their teammates have to give very unselfishly to each other when you race at a major event like this one,” Hull explained. “And it’s really, really neat to see these four drivers interact with each other knowing full well that one of the other ones could win. That’s very special, and that’s what we have at Chip Ganassi Racing.”
Dixon, the polesitter and holder of one of the fastest speeds Indianapolis Motor Speedway has seen since 1996, is not only Ganassi’s longest tenured driver but the team’s best bet for success on race day, in tandem with engineer Chris Simmons. Dixon alluded to missed opportunities (such as in 2015, when an overheating problem dropped him from the lead late in the race, and in 2011, when fuel strategy put paid to his chances) as added motivation to secure his second “500” triumph.
“I think we came up short in a couple where we could have maybe stolen a couple wins there which would have definitely helped that list. But yeah, you know, it’s all focused right now on this event and preparing as well as we can,” he said.
“I think the first couple of days were definitely trying in a lot of ways but I think we found some good headway, but it’s the goal. We finished second here a couple of times and it’s almost the worst place to finish when you come so close, especially under caution.”
One might assume that as a former winner, Dixon may hold a mental edge on most of the field. But, he later revealed that isn’t necessarily the case.
“Every year is very different. The target constantly moves. The situations change. How the race plays out changes,” he said. “I think because you’ve had the sense and the feeling of that victory, you want it that much more again. So I think it maybe even adds to it.”
Teammate Tony Kanaan, who won this race in 2013, echoed those sentiments. “To me every year it’s like the first year,” he added. “I mean, I don’t get to think that I won this thing until Monday. If everything goes wrong, I might, you know, just say ‘All right, at least I won one.’ That’s the way I really think. But up until then I still get as nervous as I was the first time. I still want to win as bad as if I hadn’t won.”
So far, Kanaan has endured a difficult 2017 campaign. With only two finishes inside the top ten, he languishes back in 11th in the championship. Still, he recognizes that this year presents as strong a chance as he’s ever had at Indianapolis, and the strength of Ganassi’s organization creates a heightened sense of pressure to perform.
“I got extremely lucky when after I won the “500” I got hired by Chip and Mike’s organization. I think I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. So they cut my work in half by doing that,” he added. “They give me great cars, great people, and it’s just an awesome place to be. So for me, you know, I think I have one of my best shots this year.”
Outside of Dixon and Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton are often the overlooked men of Chip Ganassi’s four-car armada. However, each has shown the potential for success.
Kimball, a former IndyCar race winner, has very quietly established himself at the Indy 500 with consecutive finishes inside the top five (third in 2015 and fifth in 2016) to go along with two other finishes inside the top ten (eighth in 2012, ninth in 2013). Like Kanaan, Kimball has endured a difficult 2017 season, one in which he didn’t even make it through the opening lap in any race until Round 3 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Kimball explained that his success is down to a simple love of the race track, and that the surrounding team may be the most vital component to ending the day in victory lane.
“I love racing around here. And on Race Day the fact that it’s a 500-mile event: it’s challenging mentally, physically, not just for us as drivers but especially for the teams, the guys on the stand, the engineers, the strategists, the guys, the crew that go over the wall. I mean, that focus that they need for those six, seven-plus stops is critical to the job we do on the racetrack,” he said.
And for Max Chilton, who has raced at such world-renowned events as the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, competing at the Indy 500 left an indelible impression on him.
“I’ve done some big races, Le Mans 24 Hours, Monaco Grand Prix a number of times, but this one stands out last year,” he said. “(It was) the 100th running of the biggest race we’ve ever had here. To me that was still very incredible.”
While a victory for him would be an upset of sorts, Chilton knows he has everything he needs to do so. “I’m going to work as hard as I can. I feel like we got the car in a good place (in practice) and I can’t wait to be here on the 28th of May and be zooming around,” said the Briton, who was fastest during Monday practice.
The team has moved a number of pieces around – Kanaan and Kimball swapped engineers with Eric Cowdin coming back to Kanaan and Todd Malloy going over to Kimball – and other crew members have also been rotated. But as Hull explained, that comes from the strength of depth within the organization based on Woodland Drive in Indianapolis.
“We’re lucky, we have quality people in all positions, so we can do that,” Hull said. “But what it does is it provides fresh thinking even though the thinking is in the same room. And it’s all about the interaction of people. That’s what teamwork is all about and teams of people are all about. They have to pinch each other every day to remember what the priority actually is, and our priority is to win. We try to match the people up that we think can do that.”
An Indy 500 victory in 2017 would be the fifth for Chip Ganassi Racing, the previous four coming at the hands of Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Scott Dixon (2008), and Dario Franchitti (2010, 2012).
Button made his first appearance in the F1 paddock since last November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Wednesday, facing questions in the FIA’s pre-race press conference which he answered with a mix of good humor and, at times, sarcasm.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding Button’s return has been his level of preparation, with the Briton turning down the offer to test the MCL32 car last month following the Bahrain Grand Prix – meaning his first taste of F1’s new-style 2017 cars will come on Thursday in Monaco practice.
Button isn’t worried, though, believing the additional running in Bahrain wouldn’t have benefitted him a great deal given the drastically different nature of the circuit.
“Preparation has been good, apart from I haven’t driven the car with these new regulations,” Button acknowledged.
“So it’s not perfect, but the option was to do half a day in Bahrain which I thought was absolutely useless for me to do, completely different type of circuit.
“I said to the team I think it’s best if I do a few days in the simulator. Obviously as drivers we love the simulator, so I was raring to go… I spent a lot of time in the simulator just getting a feel for it.
“It’s been interesting. Most of the stuff’s the same, but there are a few things that are obviously different. Different in regulations and it changes from year to year, technology and what have you.
“A few things to learn, but it’s still a racing car. Just got to get used to [the car] being a bit wider.”
Button’s return comes at a time when McLaren is at a low point – quite literally – as it sits at the bottom of the constructors’ championship with a score of zero following the first five races of the season.
Much of the team’s struggles have stemmed from its Honda power unit, which has lacked both reliability and performance so far this season, leaving Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne ailing in races.
Monaco is set to present McLaren its best chance yet of points, with the tight and twisting nature of the street course making any frailties on the engine side seem less severe.
Yet for Button, there is no pressure to get McLaren off the mark in 2017 and overhaul Sauber, who recently moved off the foot of the teams’ table following Pascal Wehrlein’s run to eighth in Spain.
“Definitely not,” Button said when asked if he felt under any pressure for his comeback. “I’m very relaxed. Very excited, actually. It’s interesting coming back for one grand prix. It being Monaco, it’s very special.
“I’ve won here before, I’ve lived here for 17 years. I’ve had some really good experiences here. It’s exciting. But I don’t feel any pressure, not at all. I will get in the car and do the best job I can, that’s what I’m here to do.
“And everything I do in life is the same. You want to be competitive, you want to be getting the best out of yourself and the best out of the equipment and the team you are working with. So that hasn’t changed.
“The car seemed to be working well in Barcelona in qualifying. Fernando did a good job, but I think it still proves the car itself is working well. I drove in the simulator and I drove the upgrade, which I was misquoted on, by the way. I drove that upgrade and it was a definite improvement.
“There are more improvements here as well. If it’s all straightforward this weekend then we should be reasonably competitive.”