Pirelli World Challenge

Photo: IndyCar

Long Beach a showcase for HPD’s motorsports programs

Leave a comment

The weekend of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach represents something of a showcase for Honda Performance Development. Unsurprisingly, its Verizon IndyCar Series program received top billing, capped with a win from James Hinchcliffe in his Honda-powered entry from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

But, not to be forgotten were HPD’s NSX GT3 programs, run under Michael Shank Racing (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship) and RealTime Racing (Pirelli World Challenge).

This marks the only time all year all three of these programs are in one race location at the same time.

The MSR Acura NSX GT3… Photo courtesy of IMSA

HPD President Art. St. Cyr was keen to emphasize the company’s GT3 programs to make sure they weren’t lost in the shuffle. He even went so far as to highlight the morale boost the program is having on the company.

“We have two GT3 programs running here. With Mike Shank running in IMSA and RealTime Racing running in the Pirelli World Challenge, it’s really exciting. It’s really energized our group not only here (in Torrance California), but our people in Ohio,” he explained during a media Q&A at Long Beach.

He added that the NSX programs have done a lot to showcase the brands of America Honda Motor Co. and Acura, even if they’re still in their early days.

… and the RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3. Photo: Honda

“It’s truly a North American effort working on those cars. Like I said, it’s really energized us, especially at corporate, because we’ve been working for quite a while now with (the head of Acura in Torrance) to really make the GT3 program the proof point of the performance side of Acura Precision Crafted Performance. So it’s really something that speaks to what the brand is supposed to be, something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Of course, he did spend some time discussing the IndyCar program, which has seen a massive uptick to start the 2017 season, with Honda entries winning each of the first two races. As St. Cyr detailed, the recent success is a result of both engine and aero development, and he made a point of describing how continuity with the aero kit has helped.

“We worked on the engine. We worked on understanding our aero kit a little better. Just have everyone remember that with (Rule 9.3), we resigned our aero kit last year before St. Pete, so it was brand‑new for all of our teams since last year. Now that our teams have had a year to understand what that aero kit is, things are really coming into place.”

The influence of the Indianapolis 500 cannot be ignored either, and St. Cyr affirmed that HPD is thirsty for more success as the “500.”

“Having an opportunity to run the Indy 500 is really one of the reasons why HPD even came into existence, is the chance to run that race. Obviously last year the Honda cars were very strong. We haven’t stopped focusing on that. We’re not resting on our laurels.”

Honda has 17 confirmed cars for this year’s Indianapolis 500, with the high potential of an 18th to be announced later. There will be the 13 full-season entries plus extra announced entries for Oriol Servia (RLL), Pippa Mann (Coyne), Jack Harvey (Andretti) and Jay Howard (SPM).

While the IndyCar and GT3 programs tend to get the most publicity, there is a lot more to HPD’s racing resume. Honda has maintained a heavy influence in grassroots racing for years, touching multiple types of disciplines and machines, which have brought a lot of positive results Honda’s way.

“I’m not sure if people understand just the breadth of grassroots racing that we’re involved in,” St. Cyr’s of HPD’s grassroots initiatives. “Anything from quarter midgets to tin tops to SECA activities. Our grassroots racers won over 125 races last year, over 325 podiums. It was a good year for our grassroots racers as well.”

Further, the grassroots programs allow them to showcase their road-going technology, even so far as showing that it can hit the race track without much, if any, changes. “Every one of those motors for those programs is based off of a mass production engine,” St. Cyr explained. “So whether it’s the four‑cylinder engine from the FIT, the six cylinder engine that’s in the Odyssey, the GX engines in our power equipment, that’s where we work alongside R&D to make sure what we build we can race.”

And Honda’s motorsports programs are further reaching still. Like a handful of other auto makers, Honda has embraced motorsports as way to bring its brand to the masses. To that end, as St. Cyr indicated, American Honda reserves the right throw projects HPD’s way. “We’re a subsidiary of American Honda. There’s sometimes that American Honda asks us to do things to help support what they’re trying to do,” he said of their working relationship.

Mitchell DeJong. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool

Case and point to that relationship is a Global Rallycross program, which competes under the Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE banner with drivers Oliver Eriksson, Mitchell DeJong and Sebastian Eriksson and utilizes the newly launched Civic SI. St. Cyr especially noted the GRC demographic is a match to the one they’re shooting for with the Civic. “We’ll use the Global Rallycross to really talk about Civic. It goes after that young male demographic that is so important for us to sell the Civic to.”

In being the president of HPD, St. Cyr is a man with plenty of things on his plate. And while it seems overwhelming, the job is not without its perks, as it detailed while discussing the Baja Ridgeline, yet another project the company is working on.

“One of the requirements is I get to drive this car,” he quipped about the project. “I actually had a chance to drive it a couple weeks ago, and I’m still smiling about it because it’s just ridiculous driving that thing. You go over these whoops that are three feet high. The co‑driver with me was one of our drivers, kept telling me to go faster and faster where the urge is to slow down.”

St. Cyr later added that the motorsports programs, while also building brand identification, further highlight Honda’s overall desire to make driving fun. “We want driving to be fun. Clean, safe fun is our mantra in Honda. Precision crafted performance, with a capital P, it’s important for us to have that in every aspect of what we do for Acura and Honda.”

Currently, Honda sits atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, while Oswaldo Negri and Jeff Segal sit sixth in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GTD class standings (Katherine Legge and Andy Lally sit 13th). Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox, drivers with the RealTime effort in Pirelli World Challenge, rank 13th and 15th currently, while Red Bull Global Rallycross’ season is slated to begin on April 30 in Memphis, TN, on NBC.

The Monday after the weekend also brought drivers from all three series that raced at Long Beach together at HPD for a day with the staff there. A number of drivers posted throughout the day on social media.

Student-racers give new meaning to ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ in PWC

(Photos courtesy PWC)
1 Comment

Four teenagers who have already begun to make a name for themselves on the racetrack will have some outstanding “how I spent my summer vacation” essays when they return to school this fall.

Austin Cindric (age 17), Nate Stacy (16), Harry Gottsacker (16) and Parker Chase (15) are taking part in a special program that is part of the Pirelli World Challenge, piloting sports cars at 150-plus mph.

In so doing, the teen racers are competing at some of the more famous tracks in North America, including Circuit of the Americas, Long Beach street course, Lime Rock and this weekend at Road America in Wisconsin.

Austin Cindric at Lime Rock on May 25.
Austin Cindric at Lime Rock on May 25.

“When we raced at (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Canada), I was racing during the day and studying for my finals at the hotel at night,” said Cindric, son of Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. “My mom (Megan) would help me study for my French, English and History finals in the evenings.

“Everything went smoothly on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and I was back at Lime Rock on Thursday for the next race.”

But now, while school is out for the summer, the student-racers are still studying, only this time it’s computer data and racetrack surfaces.

Cindric is perhaps the busiest of the student-racers. He’s moved from USF2000 and Red Bull Global Rallycross Lites to driving a McLaren 650S in the PWC, as well as competing in ARCA and the NASCAR K&N Series.

“I believe I need as much as seat time in a race car as possible,” said Cindric, who will be entering his senior year of high school this fall in Concord, North Carolina. “I have driven a lot of different cars and the McLaren is so unique and fun to drive.

“But the GT division of the Pirelli World Challenge is tough. Look at the field like Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Michael Cooper and my K-PAX McLaren teammate Alvaro Parente These guys are seasoned pros. I can learn a lot from them on and off the track.”

Nate Stacy at St. Petersburg, Florida.
Nate Stacy at St. Petersburg, Florida.

Thus far, Cindric, a rookie in the PWC GT class, has racked up one top-five and three top-10s.

Stacy, a junior at Owasso (Oklahoma) High School, has been racing for several years, including capturing a win at 14 years old in the Touring Car B class, making him the youngest winner in PWC history.

Stacy is now competing in the PWC GTS class for Roush Motorsports. Last season, at the age of 15, he drove his Ford Boss 302 Mustang to one top-five and four top-10 finishes.

“I’ve been IRacing on my computer to learn the various tracks regularly along with going over ‘in-car’ video from other sources,” Stacy said. “I feel pretty comfortable with the layouts and can’t wait to actually put rubber to asphalt to those tracks.

“When I get to the tracks now, I feel like I know them better each time. The new technology is such a big help now.”

Gottsacker and Chase are splitting their summer racing in both the PWC as well as the Red Bull Global Rallycross.

Harry Gottsacker
Harry Gottsacker

“I’ve had a great time so far in the races I’ve run with Performance Motorsports Group in Pirelli World Challenge,” said Gottsacker, a junior at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio. “The series is professional and organized.

“I enjoy the high level of competition the GTS class has to offer. I think I know the car better now. I will be able to really push it towards the front. It’s a bit of a change from the rally car but I like the challenge.”

Gottsacker is splitting a ride in the PWC GTS division with Chase. They are both driving the new Ginetta GT4 sports car for Performance Motorsports Group. Gottsacker already has two top-10s thus far in a limited schedule.

And then there’s the 15-year-old Chase, who will begin his sophomore year at Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Texas this fall.

Despite his age, Chase has had the best success of all four student-racers, recording two runner-up and two other third-place finishes, also in the Ginetta GT4.

Parker Chase at Long Beach
Parker Chase at Long Beach

“Right now we have a great package that is capable of winning,” said Chase. “I am thrilled to have come in second, but that is not what we are here for.

“I want to earn my first win and I want to earn Performance Motorsports Group’s first professional win very badly. The Performance Motorsports Group guys have given me a great car all year and I know I can trust my Ginetta to stay consistent in the race. It’s right at the tips of our fingers, now we just have to grab it.”

Other young drivers to keep track of this weekend at Road America include 15-year-old Henry Morse, of Redondo Beach, California, who already has a win in the TCB class, as well as Max Fedler of Denver, Colorado, and Sam Adams of Hubertus, Wisconsin.

Nearly 100 cars will take part in PWC competition this weekend. Qualifying begins Thursday, with race action across seven different divisions on Friday through Sunday.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Double duty sports car weekend on tap at two iconic road courses

Leave a comment

It may not be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but both the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge will be in action this weekend at two of North America’s most iconic and historic road courses.

For the TUDOR Championship, it’s a trip to Watkins Glen International for the third round of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup. A six-hour enduro is often one of the tougher tests of the season and will see all four of the series’ classes – Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona – all back together for only the fourth time this season (Daytona, Sebring, Monterey).

Meanwhile World Challenge heads to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. for an all-class weekend to showcase more than 100 cars from 21 different manufacturers. It’s the third all-class weekend of the year (COTA, Mosport) and marks the return of PWC to Road America as a featured event; last year, it ran with the NASCAR Xfinity (then Nationwide) Series.

The conflict has meant there are a handful of drivers or staff who will be at one instead of the other, since some work in both series.

Alas, it will be a treat for fans, who will have 10+ hours of racing to digest between all class races this weekend.

St. Petersburg notes: Alberico, Eidson, Beretta, Jenner score Sunday wins

Leave a comment

ST. PETERSBURG – The weekend of racing on the streets of St. Petersburg continued earlier Sunday, with five preliminary races before Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.

Ed Jones doubled up in Indy Lights, while quick recaps of Pro Mazda, USF2000, Pirelli World Challenge and Stadium Super Trucks are below (Saturday recaps linked here):

MAZDA ROAD TO INDY (PRO MAZDA, USF2000)

After banking his first career win on Saturday, Neil Alberico repeated the feat on Sunday for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Alberico turned in a second successive dominant drive, which put the cherry on top of a weekend that was lat in even materializing.

“We didn’t get much testing in the offseason, since the deal came together at the last minute,” said the Rising Star Racing-backed driver. “We were a little behind the eight-ball, since the other drivers had more time behind the wheel and more momentum. For me, just to be on the grid to start the season was going to be great. So to have this kind of result for everyone who has supported me was incredible.”

Jose Gutierrez was second for Juncos Racing, while Alberico’s Cape teammate Daniel Burkett scored a long overdue first podium in the Mazda Road to Indy with third.

“Dude it’s been a while,” Burkett exhaled to MotorSportsTalk. “I had a few good runs at Mid-O in USF. I thought I could get it at Sonoma. To be on the podium with my teammate, is surreal. (This car) is right in the middle (of USF2000 and Atlantic, which he raced in 2014), which is just what we were going for.”

The second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race of the weekend was much the same as Saturday’s, with Jake Eidson (Pabst Racing) completing a pole-to-win, flag-to-flag sweep of the day. As they were on Saturday, two more Cape drivers – Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin – followed Eidson home.

“You talk about having weekends like this, but to actually have one is definitely easier said than done,” Eidson said. “Everyone at Pabst Racing has worked so hard, especially since Winterfest. We weren’t sure what kind of results we were going to have – obviously we were aiming for the win – but to actually execute it is a relief.”

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE

source:
Beretta wins PWC. Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

Like Saturday’s Round 3, Round 4 for the Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTA/GT Cup presented by MOMO classes was marred by extended yellow-flag periods. Sunday’s occurred as a spin by Dan Knox’s Viper forced Tim Pappas to lock the brakes of his Mercedes and avoid hitting the spun car at the exit of Turn 2. The problem occurred when three GT Cup cars barreled into the accident scene and caused further damage, blocking the track and putting the race under yellow for more than half an hour of the 50-minute race.

Olivier Beretta, who had made a dynamic start in his Ferrari, survived the remaining green flag running en route to his second win of the season, winning from Nick Catsburg (Lamborghini) and Kevin Estre (McLaren). Ryan Dalziel (Porsche) finished fourth, in his first non-podium result of the season.

STADIUM SUPER TRUCKS

Sometimes pictures do a better job of capturing a weekend than words do, so here’s some from SST on Sunday, where Burt Jenner won.

Long Beach: The rest of the racing series lineup

Leave a comment

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend is one of the busiest on the calendar. Although the Verizon IndyCar Series is the headliner there’s plenty of other action to look forward to over the course of the 40th running:

  • TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. What a shift it will be for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which goes from 36 hours of racing in Florida to kick off the year to 100 minutes of racing at the historic streets. With only 21 cars entered, traffic shouldn’t be an issue nearly as bad as the 60-plus cars combined of the series’ four classes. Just P and GT Le Mans race this weekend, and there should be a bevy of action for both in Saturday’s race.
  • Pirelli World Challenge. Also down in car count from its season opener, but like the TUDOR Championship, it’s due to limited available paddock space in Long Beach. As it is, there’s still going to be 40 cars – 20 apiece between GT and GTS – ringing their necks out in the 50-minute sprint race Sunday following the IndyCar race. Some great battles emerged at St. Pete; although overall winner Tomas Enge isn’t competing due to a prior conflict, still plenty of cars and stars to watch.
  • Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The only rung of the Mazda Road to Indy that makes the trip out to Long Beach, there’s been a wealth of success achieved by eventual series champions in this race. Nine drivers won Long Beach and later won the title that same year: Paul Tracy (1990), Eric Bachelart (’91), Steve Robertson (’94), Greg Moore (’95), David Empringham (’96), Cristiano da Matta (’98), Scott Dixon (2000), Townsend Bell (’01) and, most recently, J.R. Hildebrand in 2009. Of the 12 drivers entered, only St. Petersburg winner Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves and Juan Pablo Garcia have past track experience – the other nine are all making their track debuts.
  • Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Always a highlight of the weekend, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race Saturday afternoon is both a great charity fundraiser and a chance for potential carnage, although things have cleaned up in recent years. The entry list is linked here.
  • SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks. Robby Gordon’s series makes an encore to the streets of Long Beach on Sunday afternoon. The jumps surrounding the 1.968-mile street course are going to be pounded as the trucks hit them.
  • Super Drift. The night-cap on Friday and Saturday provides a bit of action to match the Southern California car culture. Drifting is always a treat to watch around the streets of Long Beach.