Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Taylor three-peat quest headlines Long Beach sprint

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After 36 hours of racing in Florida, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship doesn’t even race for two hours this weekend in California.

The seismic shift from the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, respectively, comes to a harsh and quick halt with the 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix from the streets of Long Beach proving a test of a far different kind for the series.

Whereas you can overcome poor qualifying in an endurance race, the 100-minute dash at Long Beach offers no margin for error and almost no time to recover. In one of the more intriguing quirks of the season, the two-hour Friday morning practice session from 7:40 to 9:40 a.m. PT and local time is longer by 20 minutes than the race itself, and offers the most amount of time to dial in setup for the race. Put simply, if you don’t roll off quick, it’s hard to make up the gaps.

The additional change to the race is from its usual post-IndyCar qualifying slot to the Saturday headliner, now from 1:05 to 2:45 p.m. PT and local time, and live on FOX network. This may change the race as it will occur in the hottest conditions of the day rather than as the temperatures fade and the glare hits harder in the late afternoon.

The 2016 Long Beach podium. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The story lines here focus primarily on the Taylor brothers, in their first race without a third and/or fourth driver – Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon at Daytona, Alex Lynn at Sebring – going for a three-peat of two kinds this weekend.

If the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R wins on Saturday, the Taylors will have won three races in a row to kick off the 2017 season, and also three races in a row at Long Beach.

“Long Beach we were second, and then we got two wins,” Jordan Taylor said after winning Sebring with brother Ricky and Lynn. “Then (we go to) COTA and Detroit, which we won last year.

“We go in with a lot more momentum in the past. Long Beach is a cutthroat event with one pit stop. This year it might be two because the fuel capacity is so small. It’s so much on the race team to get it done. I think Ricky was saying that we barely passed anyone on track. Most of our passes were done in the pits.”

Ah, but it was Ricky’s dynamic move on Christian Fittipaldi at Turn 1 last year – which put the black No. 10 Corvette DP ahead of Fittipaldi’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette for Action Express Racing – that ultimately was the winning move.

While the No. 5 Action Express Cadillac has come second both races so far, they’re keen to break through at Long Beach, a track where the team is yet to win. Similarly, defending series champions No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing’s pair of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have yet to crack the top step of the podium this year, which seems surprising. The pair recovered to third at Sebring after Curran and one of the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis collided early in the race, and lost a couple laps.

For the others in class, a 100-minute race could be a respite from the reliability and mechanical issues that hit all bar the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson car at Sebring. The pair of Mazda RT24-Ps and Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis need finishes, and if one or both can cut into the otherwise dominant pace of the Cadillacs so far it’d be a good day. But with torque a big key coming off slow corners here, the heavier but more powerful Cadillacs may once again hold the advantage. The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson team, like JDC-Miller, has stood on the podium this year but lacked the pace of the Cadillacs.

Ford, Porsche, Ferrari last year at Long Beach. Photo courtesy of IMSA

With PC absent this race, the GT classes will again get to share the spotlight.

An interesting battle lies ahead in GT Le Mans. Corvette (2014), BMW (2015) and Porsche (2016) have won here the last three years, Porsche’s last year easily the most controversial after Frederic Makowiecki used Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette as his braking device going into the hairpin. That opened the door for Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet to snatch the win in the sister No. 911 Porsche.

Ford has had the pace edge through two races thus far with its GT and won Daytona, and probably should have won Sebring but for the heroics of Antonio Garcia and the No. 3 Corvette team. Risi’s also a solid bet with its Ferrari, the well-rounded car having been on the podium the last three endurance races but, strangely, not having scored a sprint race podium since coming third here last year. A result of any kind would be welcomed for BMW Team RLL; Redondo Beach native Bill Auberlen seems to find another gear on this circuit, having scored pole here each of the last two years in both the Z4 and M6 GTE variants.

GT Daytona meanwhile is the wild card in its Long Beach debut. A form guide could come from PWC’s recent races here, except that the recent winning cars are no longer active or never were in GTD competition (McLaren, Cadillac, and the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3). Detroit could also be used as a form guide but the same problem occurs; the Dodge Viper GT3-R won that race last year and has since been retired.

Scuderia Corsa will no doubt be keen to win in the team’s backyard, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan having been close at Daytona before a rare engine issue and then second at Sebring. Riley Motorsports comes in off the win at Sebring with its Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.

Factor in the phalanx of Porsches, the other two Mercedes, trio of Lamborghini Huracán GT3s, single Stevenson Audi and pair of factory Acura and Lexus entries apiece, and it should be a barnburner of a weekend for the most subscribed class in the field.

Aston Martin to become Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor

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The link-up between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing has now gone to the next level, with Aston Martin confirming Monday it will be Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor from 2018.

Key within the release was also the suggestion that Aston Martin will “evaluate the opportunity to be involved in the team’s power unit from 2021 after being asked by the FIA to join discussions on future engines for F1.”

Red Bull Racing’s engine situation is unclear after 2018, with Renault – badged as TAG Heuer – in the last planned year of its deal next season. Honda has entered the Red Bull racing umbrella thanks to its new deal with Scuderia Toro Rosso from 2018, and rumors of Porsche’s return to Formula 1 from 2021 have also swirled in recent weeks.

Rather funnily this means in 2018 that Red Bull Racing will have a car manufacturer be title sponsor for the energy drink company, with a watch manufacturer serving as the badged name of its power unit.

“Title partnership is the next logical step for our Innovation Partnership with Red Bull Racing. We are enjoying the global brand awareness that a revitalized Formula One provides,” said Aston Martin President and CEO, Andy Palmer.

“The power unit discussions are of interest to us but only if the circumstances are right. We are not about to enter an engine war with no restrictions in cost or dynamometer hours but we believe that if the FIA can create the right environment we would be interested in getting involved.”

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing team principal, added: “Our Innovation Partnership with Aston Martin has been a pioneering project from day one. Having conceived and created the remarkably successful Valkyrie together in 2016, we extended our relationship this year and are now delighted to further strengthen the Partnership and see the team competing as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in 2018. In addition, more than 100 Aston Martin staff will service the new Advanced Performance Centre on our campus here in Milton Keynes and it will allow us to collaborate further with Aston Martin on special, equally innovative, new projects.”

The Aston Martin Valkyrie, the hypercar produced by the two parties, has been their major product sign of investment together thus far. Per Aston Martin the car has sold out on launch, and will make its road debut in 2018 before being delivered to customers in 2019.

Personnel wise, the two parties have worked together to create the Advanced Performance Centre, which will create more than 100 new jobs and continue to build the relationship between F1 and road car technology.

NHRA: Brittany Force breaks through among Reading winners

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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John Force saw one of his daughters break through in the Reading round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown while another lost by a hair in the finals.

Brittany Force captured the Top Fuel win, her second of the season, for her first since in Epping, N.H. in June. The defeat of Steve Torrence came with a 3.756-second pass at 326.24 mph. She’d been to the finals twice at Maple Grove Raceway before winning Sunday.

“Looking at it, we did not have an easy ladder,” Force said. “It was tough all day long and the Monster team killed it all day long. We turned a corner at the right time and we’re right in the Countdown picture.

“This is a huge win for us. This team had to fight all day long and I’m so proud of them. They are the best team to work with, and I’m so pumped going into the Countdown to work with them. This Monster team, we’re going after the championship.”

Courtney Force came up short in Funny Car, losing out to Ron Capps, who secured his seventh win of the season. Capps’  pass came at 3.968 seconds to Force’s 3.993, and Capps took over the points lead in the process.

“We got lucky a little bit in the first round, but we feel like our hard work makes our own luck for us and we were fortunate to win it with consistency,” Capps said, via NHRA.com. “We know this Funny Car class is as tough as it’s ever been, so we know this won’t be easy through the last four races of the year.”

Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took the other two class wins on the day.

IMSA: Dramatic finishes, popular winners at Mazda Raceway

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The penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featured three first-time winners this year in the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes – all of whom boast fascinating stories.

In Prototype and overall, Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens delivered the first overall win of the year for an LMP2-spec car versus a Daytona Prototype international (DPi), and after a dramatic week for the Troy Flis-led VISIT FLORIDA Racing team.

Van der Zande and Goossens were only in their second race start with the team’s new No. 90 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which replaced the troublesome Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 chassis run through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Running second into the final few minutes of the two-hour, 40-minute race, van der Zande unleashed his inner Alex Zanardi at Mazda Raceway’s iconic corner, the Corkscrew, going down the inside of Penske Acura-bound Dane Cameron in his second-to-last race with Action Express Racing aboard its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron left the door open just enough for van der Zande to slide through, with his momentum carrying through the inside of the left-handed downhill apex and then back onto the right-handed second portion of the corner in line.

He pulled away from there en route to the team’s first victory of the year at a track where it had won before, as recently as two years ago with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

The win comes after a week when the Florida-based team, with the likelihood of change to its partner portfolio if VISIT FLORIDA support doesn’t continue into 2018, incurred damage at its shop from Hurricane Irma. Van der Zande joked on the FOX Sports broadcast after the race he might get a tattoo of the Corkscrew after the win.

With third place in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Jordan and Ricky Taylor built their points lead to an unofficial gap of 29 points over Cameron and Eric Curran, the defending champions, with one race remaining. The Taylors will be set to clinch the Prototype title at Motul Petit Le Mans by starting the race, on October 7.

The GT classes featured two other cool stories and maiden 2017 winners.

In GT Le Mans, John Edwards broke a long winless drought sharing his No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM with Martin Tomczyk, in the revised black livery for the BMW Team RLL car. Edwards held off Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at the flag, on a fuel save run.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen set to carry a 19-point lead over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in their No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT heading to Motul Petit Le Mans.

GT Daytona points leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen, in their anticipated second-to-last race together in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 this year (Nielsen told RACER over the weekend she’ll leave the team at year’s end, following the end of her two-year contract), finally got on the board this year after a wealth of podiums but no wins.

Balzan moved into the lead following Colin Braun’s late splash for fuel, which denied the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R lineup of Braun and Jon Bennett a potential first win in class.

Balzan and Nielsen have a 25-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen in GTD – Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished eighth today in their No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 – and are poised to wrap their second straight class title at Motul Petit Le Mans.

RESULTS

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.