Photo courtesy United Autosports

Rayhall: Maximizing the weekend at legendary Spa

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Editor’s note: Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his season in the European Le Mans Series, co-driving with John Falb at Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team in its Ligier JS P3.

His fifth blog looks at how he and the team made the most of the weekend at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps, en route to a surprise podium (previous blogs are linked here; SilverstoneLe MansRed Bull Ring, Paul Ricard).

So we arrived in Belgium on a Thursday. Well, John’s flight was delayed. So, I arrived and got plenty acquainted with the airport and found out that at Brussels, if you exit the airport, you can’t get back in without another flight ticket. On the bright side, they do have a nice patio outside for those people like me who walked out unknowingly. John made it eventually and we were all set to head to the legendary Circuit Spa-Francorchamps.

Friday went great, starting with John going P1 in the Bronze (driver rating) test and us being P3 the end of FP1, which we felt really good about especially for our pace on old tires in FP2! So we felt pretty confident that even if we don’t have the fastest car on outright pace, we will have a great race car for the four-hour race. That’s what has been paying off for us this year!

Qualifying went well, and we ended up P3 which was good considering people were doing different things for downforce for just qualifying and we just left our race setup on and sent it!

So the starts at Spa are always pretty crazy (see above). There are 38 cars, three different classes, and all different categories of drivers at the start depending on independent team strategies, and we’re all going flat out down a short straight into a first gear hairpin… so chaos should be expected.

The rule stated in the drivers meeting was that you’re not allowed to pop or pass until the bridge, which is the second line on the front straightaway.

When the green dropped, the LMP2 car (the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland and No. 49 High Class Racing Dallara P217s were on the final row of the LMP2 grid, with the No. 29 car directly ahead of the LMP3 class polesitter -Ed.) in front of our LMP3 class polesitter (Mikkel Jensen) got an awful start. By following the rules I had to stay behind Jensen, but that also meant I had dropped down to sixth place by the time we got to the bridge.

By the time Turn 1 was sorted, I’d remained on damage control and tried to protect the car… but I came out P10. No action was taken on the cars that we thought had jumped the start.

When you’re in a position to win the championship, there are some race situations where it can be difficult to balance your inner racer’s desire to push hard early versus waiting and letting the race come to you.

Basically you have two options: you can risk it for a win and risk a penalty, or you can take the humble pie, and wait it out. The humble pie was tasting terrible, by the way, until about four hours later when the checkered flag flew.

I began to work my way through the field getting to sixth, before I had a tough battle with (Giorgio) Mondini. He proceeded to try to wreck me on four different occasions. One of those included driving me off the track in brake zones and bending the suspension on our car while ripping dive plains off. He eventually wrecked Theo Bean in another car, which took him out of the race and put us back to P10.

So again, it was full reset right here. We just needed to get points, and I could see the cars we were battling for in the championship ahead, so I just put my head down and made the best of a bent race car. You can take your best shot at commentating my radio communication, but I’m pretty sure all of our United Autosports crew’s ears were hurt by my rant…

As the race played out there were many safety car periods which took out about an hour of the drive time I was allocated, but as he has all season, John Falb drove flawlessly for two hours. We were eighth after the first hour and fourth at the end of the second hour, but John pushed us forward in the final two hours as he brought us up to third place, in tandem with great work from the team.

It was truly impressive watching him take to a bent car and navigate his way through in a mega stint, which ended up giving us third place and a bigger points lead!

I can’t thank John Falb, United Autosports, and all our sponsors enough for all their hard work. As a team, we performed perfectly while everything that could go wrong went wrong, which is what champions are made of. This could be a day we look back on think how we achieved as best we could in spite of adversity.

Even on our worst day we stood on the podium in an ELMS race at Spa. That is special!

See you guys in a month post-Portimao! We will be playing for keeps there!

Photo courtesy United Autosports

Mazda Road to Indy 2018 schedules are released

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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A handful of minor tweaks have been made to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for the 2018 season, but they’re not too different than 2017 and largely mirror the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that was put out last week.

The full details are below.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires today unveiled its 2018 calendar of events. The most effective driver development program in the world with over $3.5M in scholarships and awards on offer will continue its momentum at premier road course, street circuit and oval venues in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The highly acclaimed platform – comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will enter the new season with a trio of state-of-the-art chassis on display including the much anticipated debut of the new Pro Mazda PM-18 which completes the revitalization of the entire ladder system.

On deck for 2018 is a return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) in Portland, Ore. The 1.967-mile, 12-turn permanent road course will host the season finale for all three series. Indy Lights last raced at PIR in 2001, and Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2006. The last IndyCar race took place in 2007.

The month of May will bring several new additions. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will return to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500” after a year’s hiatus. Mere hours after the conclusion of Carb Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 – including the Freedom 100, the crown jewel on the Indy Lights schedule – the two series will make their appearance on the .686-mile oval.

Additionally, the three Indianapolis oval races will see an increase in points for all series for the first time, and an increase in prize money.

In Pro Mazda, the National Class will be replaced by the Pro Mazda Classic (PMC) Series – a six-weekend, 12-race championship within the Pro Mazda Championship utilizing the older Pro Mazda rotary-powered cars from 2002 to 2017. The series will see a separate points chart, prize money and year-end awards.

While there is no limitation on PMC Series testing, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 will see amended testing rules. Indy Lights in-season testing is restricted to two days per team with two additional days available for use with current Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers. Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams are permitted four days of in-season testing per driver but not at tracks yet to hold an event. Each series will continue with open tests at select venues.

The annual Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23- 26. Indy Lights will test on the 1.5-mile oval on February 23 and the 2.21-mile road course on February 26. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will run on the weekend – February 24 and 25 – to assist young drivers juggling their schedules alongside school commitments.

The Mazda Road to Indy Summit program – providing valuable education on a variety of topics including marketing/business, media training, career growth and development, fitness, social media and a comprehensive oval clinic – will continue to be in place next season.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into our schedule and I am pleased with the balance we have in place to properly train drivers to move up the ladder,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We are excited to have Portland on the schedule, which will be a great circuit for our season finales in the three series, and to return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Carb Day for a great night of racing. The Freedom 100 is obviously the biggest race on our calendar and to be able to bring Pro Mazda and USF2000 back into the excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 was key. Increasing both the points awarded and the prize money gives these events the weight they deserve.

“The Mazda Road to Indy will take on new life next year with the competition debut of the PM-18. This completes the process we began several years ago to provide the best for our competitors with state-of-the-art race cars. We have a great program in place and it’s working. As always, I am looking forward to seeing many of our drivers take their next steps up the ladder including our recently crowned champions.”

Indy Lights will feature a 17-race schedule at 10 venues comprised of three oval, five road course and two street circuit events. In addition to hour-long race broadcasts on NBCSN, Indy Lights will also be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on indylights.com and indycar.com.

Coverage of all Indy Lights sessions is available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 7-8 Iowa Speedway .894-mile oval
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events

Open tests are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23 (oval) and 26 (road course), Barber Motorsports Park on March 5, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10 (road course) and 21 (oval), Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of nine test days.

Pro Mazda will expand to a nine-event, 16-race schedule which includes two ovals, five road course and two street course venues. Pro Mazda will be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on promazda.com and indycar.com.

Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course* + PMC
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course* + PMC
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course* + PMC
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course* + PMC
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course* + PMC
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course* + PMC

*Doubleheader events
+ Pro Mazda Classic Series

A total of 10 open test days are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, Barber Motorsports Park on March 3/4, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18.

The USF2000 series will continue with a 14-race format held at seven venues featuring one oval, four road course and two street circuit events. Coverage will be available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on usf2000.com and indycar.com.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events
**Tripleheader event

Open tests are schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of eight test days.

Two events still remain on the 2017 calendar – the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 21/22 and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout on December 9/10 at the Bondurant Racing School near Phoenix, Ariz.