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IMSA: Corvette balances redemption, heartbreak in Long Beach win

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Covering races off site often leads one to rely heavily on the results sheet – likely too much – without factoring in the circumstances behind how the car, driver or team got there.

So if one was to look at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix and see that Corvette Racing qualified on the pole with its No. 3 Corvette C7.R and won the race with the No. 4 car, you’d think – oh, that was straightforward.

It was easily one of the least straightforward days in the team’s history after a bizarre ending to a goofy race, which packed so much drama in the LBC in just 100 minutes of action.

Jan Magnussen, who’s ratcheted up his performance lately, scored a decisive pole position on Friday in a great effort to put the No. 3 car he shared with the “King of Spain” – Antonio Garcia – on the top spot.

But the race almost went away from them right at the start. Toni Vilander tried an enthusiastic passing maneuver in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, as the GTLM leader, to try to pass Ed Brown’s No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi on the opening lap of the race exiting Turn 5.

Yet it backfired, badly. Vilander spun Brown, then took himself, Magnussen and Joey Hand in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into the outside wall of the corner in an accordion effect accident.

Vilander’s Ferrari was done on the spot while Magnussen’s Corvette had left front quarter panel damage, and Hand lost the hood of his Ford.

Magnussen didn’t lose a lap though and pressed on with the damage. A second caution 22 minutes into the race provided an opportunity to go off-sequence, which about half the GTLM field did. The No. 3 crew pitted Magnussen to switch him out and put Garcia in. The Spaniard then drove the final 78 minutes on the same set of Michelin tires and tank of fuel, aided by five full-course caution periods.

As the race neared its finish, the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM was leading in class and for that matter overall on the same strategy, but an apparent ECU issue took that car from the lead as it slowed exiting Turn 8. It provided a window for the two Corvettes and the second Ford to barge through into the new podium scenario.

Corvette Racing looked destined for a 1-2 finish, which would have been the team’s first since Lime Rock last year, when disaster struck entirely out of their hands.

A battle between two GTD cars, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 and the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, was always going to make the hairpin tricky but when the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 attempted to make it three-wide, a rather late lunge from GT class rookie Robert Alon, it turned the Long Beach hairpin into a parking lot on the 405 freeway.

This blocked the track and Garcia was stuck, trapped in behind the three cars on the outside of the corner apex. When one of the GT cars was able to get out, it opened up a lane for the No. 4 Corvette, driven by Tommy Milner and started by Oliver Gavin, to go through to the win over the No. 67 Ford. Garcia dropped to fifth.

IMSA reviewed the incident, and a series spokesperson confirmed the traffic jam was deemed an “incident in progress.” In layman’s terms, that meant if you were stuck in the incident, you were trapped, while if you were able to get out of the incident, you could get out. The field was not frozen as it was not a full-course caution but only a local caution in that corner, and the overall leader had already taken the checkered flag as the GT cars were on their final lap.

“I’ve seen a lot of races before, but none like that,” Danny Binks, the legendary crew chief on the No. 3 Corvette, lamented to NBC Sports. The only logical conclusion to occur at this point was that Garcia had exhausted all his luck with the racing gods after his heroic drive at Sebring, and the racing gods felt compelled to take one away that they giveth in Florida.

Meanwhile for the No. 4 car, it provided the quirkiest bit of redemption because a Porsche took Milner out at the hairpin last year.

While the win was appreciated for the No. 4 car, it was still hard to swallow because the No. 3 had the win to rights by strategy.

Gavin and Milner attempted to explain a race that was lacking in rhythm all the way through.

“The start for me was pretty interesting. I was coming into turn 1 and it looked like Jan had been jumped by the Ferrari and the Ford,” Gavin said. “And on first laps here you’re looking at who’s tires are up to temp and who is taking chances. It looked like everyone was taking chances. And by Turn 5 it looked like the Patron car was already into the curbing there. The three of us managed to avoid any contact after the stopped car. We were 1-2-3 then and it was just some insane racing, not by just us three, but by all the cars.

“There were some choice moves by a lot of cars out there, everyone wanted to win it, but making moves with 85 minutes to go. So I was just trying to keep the car clean and hand it over to Tommy for the finish. And the way the team managed the pit stop, we managed to get the car out in front of everyone we were racing. But the race kept turning on its head, and it’s one of those you can’t take your eyes off.”

Gavin then highlighted a variance in the technical regulations about the different elements the GT Daytona class cars have which the others in the series don’t.

“This really highlights an issue in that I really don’t think you can run cars with ABS in the same series with cars that don’t have ABS,” he said. “I think you have to have everyone on it, or no one. Especially in our class, trying to get past those guys, someone can make it really hard. They can park the thing in the middle of the corner and drag strip it off. We have to develop the speed with Michelin, and in the chassis and our team. And ABS on this circuit is something you can rely on and be a hero. Driving around here without ABS, you’re holding your breath trying to find out if you’re on the limit at every corner. With ABS you can just hump on the pedal and turn the wheel and the car looks after itself. This race really highlights that. I think it’s part of some of the reasons the race happened that way today.”

Photo: Corvette Racing

Milner then offered take on the race: “It was just a weird race today for sure. We started off a bit behind and it looked like the strategy wasn’t going to pay off for us, and the cautions made for the people who made the stop early were going to play it out on fuel. Then we kind of hoped for yellows to bunch us back up there. I was racing hard with Briscoe and Antonio and the BMW, but I had newer tires by 14 laps. The BMW had a problem coming off of turn 8 and I kind of went for it. I expected him to keep going, but he didn’t. we got a little sideways with the Ford and it freed up where Antonio was and we both pulled away. Certainly my newer tires were better, but getting by Antonio was going to be pretty tough.

“Then we came to the last corner there, I knew the race was over because Antonio had a bit of a gap on me. It came on the radio and I saw the caution flags there. It was free, and then it wasn’t. I tried going to the outside in the same situation last time and lost spots. This time I went on the inside. I wasn’t even full speed, I was cruising thinking we were under caution. Then I saw the green flags and the guys on the radio said we were P1. Racing is a lot about luck in a lot of cases, I don’t think I’ve seen it play out this way for me or for anyone else. It’s good to just get some points for me and for Chevrolet and Corvette and so we’ll start to go on to the next one.

“At no point do I feel like I was in a rhythm until the last 4 or 5 laps and then I could see what the car could do and find its limits, then start taking off tenths. For those short spurts you could see it was going to be hard to pass cars. I can’t say I took an opportunity at the hair pin, I just lucked out. It goes along with having classes similar in speed in a lot of places. Certainly the GTD cars are quicker in a few places. The way we mixed together is not ideal and this track really highlights those mismatches. Those guys are racing hard and we all have to co-exist, and it’s hard to get 100 drivers to co-exist for an entire race. It’s not ideal, but you make the most of it and deal with it.”

At least one Garcia won this weekend, as Sergio captured The Masters, and Garcia and Gavin had some fun with it on social media…

With this the 104th win in program history, albeit one of the strangest ones, it’s worth looking at how Corvette Racing has endured and sustained the success over nearly 20 years. A quick answer to that can be found below:

Alonso gets seat fit, visits Borg-Warner Trophy in Indy

Photo: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Photo USA
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Fernando Alonso’s quick first visit to the U.S. before this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix continued Monday with a trip to Indianapolis with his Andretti Autosport team, following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in Birmingham, Ala.

After a jam-packed Sunday packed with media commitments and observing from the pits, Alonso went to Andretti’s shop on Zionsville Rd. where he made his seat fit for his upcoming first test on May 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This was the only time this could be worked into his schedule before he heads to Sochi to resume his Formula 1 commitments in his day job, lead driver of the team’s McLaren Honda.

Alonso also met the trophy he hopes to win as part of his quest to capture the Triple Crown, the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Andretti Autosport is the defending champion team at Indianapolis with Alexander Rossi. Rossi follows Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Dan Wheldon (2005) as winners for the team in the ‘500.

“It’s a beautiful trophy that I would be proud to take home if I won the Indianapolis 500. There are so many familiar faces on the trophy from the past and present that represent the greatest race in the world,” Alonso said, via BorgWarner. “Can I please get a full-sized trophy to take home if I win the race? The small ones (Baby Borgs) are nice but a big one would be wonderful!”

As Alonso is a two-time World Champion, he wouldn’t be the first driver to pull off an Indianapolis 500 victory. Others that have done so are listed below:

  • Jim Clark – Formula One World Champion in 1963 and 1965, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1965
  • Graham Hill – Formula One World Champion in 1962 and 1968, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1966
  • Mario Andretti – Formula One World Champion 1978, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1969
  • Emerson Fittipaldi – Formula One World Champion 1972 and 1974, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1989 and 1993
  • Jacques Villeneuve – Formula One World Champion 1997, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1995

NBCSN videos from Alonso’s Sunday at Barber are linked below.

Press Conference

Grid Interview with Townsend Bell

NBCSN Booth

Haas goes for first three-in-a-row scoring streak in Russia

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After back-to-back eighth place finishes from Kevin Magnussen at China and Romain Grosjean last time out in Bahrain, Haas F1 Team has its second chance to score points three races in a row for the first time in its F1 career – and arguably a more realistic chance at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Sunday, 8 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

Grosjean’s shock sixth and fifth place finishes to open his 2016 account in Australia and Bahrain were unexpected but the team hit a bump in the road in China. Russia, however, saw the Frenchman return to the points with an eighth place, and bring his season tally to 28 points to conclude the remarkable start of results in flyaway races.

Now, with a car that could theoretically be considered the fourth best in the field behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, hopes are high for either Grosjean or Magnussen to extend the team’s scoring streak to what would be the longest yet in its short history.

The team did well to note the Olympic tie in at the Sochi circuit, linking “Super G” and how fast the new 2017 Formula 1 cars are.

From the release: “The first time we saw Super-G in Sochi was in 2014 when the Russian city hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud beat American Andrew Weibrecht by .3 of a second on the 2.096-kilometer (1.302-mile) course with a 622-meter (2,041-foot) vertical drop to nab gold in the alpine slalom event.

“Three years later, a Super-G of a different sort returns to Sochi, but instead of taking place on the white slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it will happen on the black asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom as the fastest cars in Formula One history rocket around the 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile), 18-turn circuit for the April 30 Russian Grand Prix.”

Grosjean described the physical uptick in training he’s needed to do. The 31-year-old is in his sixth full season and seventh overall in F1, since his midseason debut in 2009.

“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun, but it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars,” Grosjean said. “You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it.

“We’re going through more g-forces, so the neck is stronger and the core is stronger,” Grosjean added. “Your whole body had to adjust to these high speeds.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner explained the importance of needing to bank points early in the crowded midfield. Haas sits seventh in the championship now, just nine points behind Sahara Force India in fourth, who have scored with both drivers in each of the three races so far in 2017.

“It’s always good to come back from two races with points, and it shows that the car is capable to score points at each race. Then again, it’s always difficult because it’s a tight midfield and we all went testing after Bahrain and everyone has learned something,” Steiner said.

“It’s as tight as it’s ever been. With four to five teams so close together, I cannot remember when that happened, and every weekend it’s mixed up in a different way. Any of these teams can go into Q3 and get into the points. It’s a very tense battle, but I think a nice battle and it keeps the constructors championship pretty open for the midfield.”

Grosjean added, “It was good to score points in Bahrain. Clearly, we deserved them – since race one, actually. I think the most encouraging fact for now is that the car is performing well everywhere we’ve been. So now we go to Russia, which was a bit of a tough one for us last year. We’ll see if we’ve made progress and if the car is working well at every type of circuit. If so, then pretty much everywhere we could score points.”

For Magnussen, the chance of a score comes after he delivered his best 2016 result here last year – seventh for Renault. He was also fifth in 2014 with McLaren, and has a chance to score for a third different team here this weekend.

“I think it’s a good track and I’ve had some good races there. Hopefully, I can have another good one there this year,” he said.

“I know last year I had a good first lap. Quite a few people messed up and lost things like front wings and so on. I made up lots of positions with that. I then had a really good race after that to finish seventh.”

 

 

PWC: 36 SprintX cars, lineups pack variety, diversity at VIR

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No less than 36 cars are set to compete in the first of five Pirelli World Challenge SprintX weekends, this weekend at VIRginia International Raceway.

Breaking down those 36 cars, they’re split this way:

  • 12 GT Pro/Pro
  • 16 GT Pro/Am
  • 1 GT Am/Am
  • 1 GT Cup Pro/Am
  • 1 GT Cup Am/Am
  • 2 GTS Pro/Am
  • 3 GTS Am/Am

And that’s before you get to the rest of the entry list: GTS: 9; GTSA: 10; TC: 32; TCA: 15; TCB: 8.

In sports car racing, the easiest way to get hooked is to embrace the variety and diversity of machinery first and ask questions about how complex it is later.

So with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the GT SprintX entries (which themselves are split between three classes, but we’ll set that aside for a minute) and their respective lineups.

Cadillac Racing, Cadillac ATS-V.R

3 – Johnny O’Connell/Jordan or Ricky Taylor
8 – Michael Cooper/Jordan or Ricky Taylor

The fully professional Cadillac lineups give the Taylor brothers a chance to dip their feet back into Pirelli World Challenge competition alongside the team’s full-season drivers. That being said, it’ll be weird to see Jordan and Ricky racing against each other again, and Cadillac still hasn’t confirmed which brother goes where.

Magnus Racing, Audi R8 LMS

4 – Pierre Kaffer/Spencer Pumpelly (Kaffer misses Lime Rock)
44 – John Potter/Marco Seefried (Seefried misses Lime Rock)

For Magnus Racing, a return to the mini-endurance racing with pit stops could see the team with a slight advantage over those PWC-only teams in recent years. Kaffer and Pumpelly is as good a lineup as you’ll find on the grid while Potter and Seefried know each other’s nuances well.

K-PAX Racing, McLaren 650S GT3

6 – Bryan Sellers/Jonny Kane
9 – Alvaro Parente/Ben Barnicoat
98 – Mike Hedlund/Michael Lewis

With Strakka Racing coming to McLaren, Jonny Kane is the ace of reckoning added here with Sellers. Meanwhile Parente has the talented but inexperienced McLaren GT junior driver Barnicoat alongside; Hedlund and Lewis provide a very solid all-American duo.

GMG Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 R

14 – James Sofronas/Laurens Vanthoor (VIR and CTMP)
14 – James Sofronas/Matt Halliday (Lime Rock, Utah and COTA)

Calvert Dynamics, Porsche 911 GT3 R

77 – Alec Udell/Preston Calvert (partnership with GMG)

In simple terms, Sofronas’ team is one that should benefit from the SprintX format. Porsche places factory driver Vanthoor in when available while Halliday is a team veteran. Udell and Calvert will share a Calvert Dynamics entry prepared by GMG, which combines the two top teams from the series’ GT Cup class.

Wright Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R

16 – Michael Schein/Jan Heylen
58 – Patrick Long/Joerg Bergmeister

Two solid lineups here for John Wright’s team. The iconic pairing of Long and Bergmeister is reunited in the team’s all-pro entry with Heylen and Schein one of the top pro/am entries.

RealTime Racing, Acura NSX GT3

43 – Ryan Eversley/Tom Dyer
93 – Peter Kox/Mark Wilkins

Wilkins and Dyer, the team’s SprintX additions, are underrated for a reason – they’re solid, quiet, capable drivers who aren’t flashy but usually get the job done. But they’re going to have to rise up against some of the other pros competing, especially when Acura’s four full-season drivers in IMSA aren’t added here.

Bentley Team Absolute, Bentley Continental GT3

78 – Yufeng Luo/Alexandre Imperatori (VIR and CTMP)
88 – Adderly Fong/Vincent Abril

Past Blancpain GT Series champion Abril is an excellent addition to this young lineup, and he and Fong will be the car to watch versus the pro/am No. 78 car.

CRP Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

2 – Ryan Dalziel/Daniel Morad

“Razzle Dazzle” and “State of Moradness” combine for one of the coolest nickname and driver pairings on the grid. The Canadian should learn the Mercedes quickly and combined with the rapid Scot who’s based in Florida, this team should excel.

TR3 Racing, Ferrari 488 GT3

31 – Daniel Mancinell/Andrea Montermini

Mancinelli has raised more than a few eyebrows in his first two weekends in the series, but has the pace to star. Ferrari GT veteran Montermini is a nice counterbalance.

R. Ferri Motorsport, Ferrari 488 GT3

61 – Alex Riberas/Kyle Marcelli

Remo Ferri’s entry is one of the best ones out there, with two very talented drivers sharing the team’s Ferrari 488 in the SprintX races. Marcelli’s vastly experienced for his still tender age of 27; Riberas is a rising GT star in sports car racing.

Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 458 GT3

7 – Martin Fuentes/Stefan Johansson

Giacomo Mattioli doesn’t usually enter something unless he thinks he can win, and this pro/am lineup of last year’s GTA champ (Fuentes) and Ferrari veteran and team sporting director Johansson, is one of the best in this category.

M1 GT Racing, Audi R8 LMS

23 – David Ostella/James Dayson

Pair of Mazda Road to Indy veterans-turned-sports car Canadians share a car that will be consistent if not the outright fastest among pro/am entries.

MOMO NGT Motorsport, Ferrari 458 GT3

30 – Henrique Cisneros/TBA

Cisneros usually assembles a good effort, and the identity of his co-driver will be interesting.

Black Swan Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

54 – Tim Pappas/Jeroen Bleekemolen

The band has come back together for the past GTC champions of American Le Mans Series. Bleekemolen remains rapid as ever; he and Pappas have gelled well before.

DXDT Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

63 – Aaron Povoledo/David Askew

Team’s strength comes from its 2016 SprintX experience, something many others don’t have.

Always Evolving Racing/AIM Autosport, Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3

75 – Ricardo Sanchez/Frankie Montecalvo

There’s a lot of newness for the AE/AIM/Nissan combo including a new driver lineup and new 2017 car. While it’s unfortunate past Nissan winners Bryan Heitkotter and James Davison aren’t here, young guns Sanchez and Montecalvo have potential in spades.

McCann Racing, Audi R8 LMS

82 – Mike Skeen/Michael McCann

This SprintX-only, pro/am entry could provide an avenue for “ginger stig” Skeen to live up to his lanky frame and produce some typical giant-killing performances.

MCC Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3

92 – Alexandre Negrao/Alexandre Negrao Sr.

Little known here about this entry, other than it’s another Mercedes that features a past GP2 veteran in Negrao.

TRG, Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3

007 – Kris Wilson/Drew Regitz

Wilson has been capable of winning races with TRG before but it’s hard to see this aging car and the lone am-am labeled driver lineup doing much of that here. That said, in the hands of James Davison, it does still have some speed left.

Dream Racing Competition, Lamborghini Huracán GT3

07 – Cedric Sbirrazzuoli/Lawrence DeGeorge

The pairing has driven together in Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and now PWC SprintX. Sbirrazzuoli’s got the speed here between this duo.

DIME Racing, Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (First Alternate)

111 – Jonathan Summerton/Michael Macs

Past Atlantic series race winner Summerton leads this lineup, although whether he’ll get a chance to race depends on one of the primary entries having a pre-race issue that promotes the first alternate into the field.

REST OF THE FIELD

There are also seven additional entries for the first SprintX race of the season, with two GT Cup and five GTS entries. Those cars may interfere with the GT competitors but will have their own interesting race within the race, as well.

Tom Dillmann confirmed for Formula E debut at Paris

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
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Mike Conway (Faraday Future Dragon Racing) will have company among guest drivers in the upcoming FIA Formula E Championship Paris ePrix on May 20.

Venturi, Conway’s old team, have confirmed French open-wheel veteran turned occasional sports car racer Tom Dillmann as a fill-in driver for Maro Engel at Paris, and will thus make his series debut. Engel is racing for Mercedes in DTM, while Loic Duval is racing for Audi at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz the same weekend.

Dillmann has driven the Venturi VM200-FE-02 before, standing in for Stephane Sarrazin for the shakedown in last month’s Mexico City ePrix as Sarrazin was en route to Mexico from the FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue test in Monza.

He’s an F3, GP2 and WEC race winner already. The 28-year-old Frenchman is understandably keen to impress on debut.

“Formula E is an exciting place to be for a driver – with thrilling motor racing and interesting technical developments. It goes without saying that it’s my goal to contest a full season in this series in the future,” he said in a release.