Zak Brown

CJ Wilson’s epic month features Spa, Le Mans, McLaren gamer challenge

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The post-baseball life is not bad for CJ Wilson, who’s racing full-time now that he’s retired from Major League Baseball.

Wilson races domestically in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and he’s also racing with United Autosports, co-driving a Ligier JS P3 with Andrew Evans in the Brands Hatch, Spa and Snetterton rounds of the Henderson Insurance LMP3 Cup Championship.

Wilson had his Spa debut earlier this month in the LMP3 car. A further link-out recapping Wilson’s month of European adventures is here.

More recently Wilson, who owns several automotive dealerships including McLaren Scottsdale, has partnered with McLaren’s recently launched “World’s Fastest Gamer” competition to create the CJ Wilson Racing 570 Challenge, powered by McLaren Scottsdale.

The five-race series runs in July and August at Daytona, Sebring, Road America, Sonoma and Road Atlanta, with qualifying beginning July 3 on Forza Motorsport 6 for the XBox One.

“Racing is unlike any other sport, for example there is no way to accurately simulate baseball whereas the entirety of your driving inputs and controls can be tweaked and honed online and judged or graded,” Wilson said in a release.

“You can race in the simulator exactly as you would at Silverstone, COTA, or Monaco. While competing at the highest levels of Motorsport is a completely unique experience- with today’s simulator and even console technology- the merging between simulation and reality is closer than ever.”

Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group, Zak Brown added, “McLaren group is committed to bring Motorsport to new audiences, and having CJ on board is another step in this process.”

The full release is linked here via CJWR, and here via McLaren. A video that explains “World’s Fastest Gamer” is above; the ultimate achievement for gamers is to become McLaren’s sim driver.

Wilson was also at Le Mans this year for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. We’d advise you to view his Twitter feed, @Str8EdgeRacer, for all the festivities he took part in over the year.

McLaren wins raft race, loses point, sees Alonso in stands at Canada (VIDEO)

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It’s been a roller coaster 24-plus hours for McLaren Honda, as it seemingly has been for most of this 2017 Formula 1 season.

Fernando Alonso entered the weekend saying McLaren would need to be winning by September for him to continue into 2018, then said “why not?” about an IndyCar bow during Saturday night’s telecast from Texas. Further comments from McLaren Technology Group executive director Zak Brown described the McLaren and Honda relationship at a ‘fork in the road’ and almost at the point of no return.

On track, Alonso lost a bit of time in Friday’s first practice with a hydraulic issue, and he then qualified 12th on Saturday. Stoffel Vandoorne was 16th.

Joy on Saturday evening and more heartbreak on Sunday afternoon followed at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as part of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend.

BRIEF JOY ON SATURDAY IN F1’S MONTREAL ‘RAFT RACE’

For a brief moment on Saturday night though, there was joy in the McLaren Honda world. Formula 1’s new owners Liberty Media have sought to bring back some fun or revived items to the F1 paddock and one of them was the usual mechanics’ “raft race” that takes place in the river basin behind the paddock on the Ile Notre Dame in Montreal.

McLaren Honda for once in 2017 could say they won – and forget for a moment that neither Mercedes nor Ferrari took part. McLaren Honda still beat the rest of the competitors. Here’s a quick video of that and some still shots of the glory.

NEAR POINT COMES UNDONE, AGAIN

Alonso was poised to score his elusive first point of the season, running 10th in the waning stages of the rest. Both Toro Rossos had retired as had Max Verstappen’s Red Bull; meanwhile Alonso was ahead, on track of potential points scorers Haas with both its cars and Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, which are usually in-and-around the minor placings.

Alas, Alonso stopped with just four laps to go and radioed in, once again, “engine.”

It cost Alonso a point and was his third stoppage on track inside the final 10 laps this season, joining Australia and Bahrain. He of course skipped Monaco to race in the Indianapolis 500 – where he also stopped with a Honda engine failure – but in six Grand Prix appearances this year, he has a 12th at the Spanish Grand Prix, four DNFs and one DNS (Russia).

Today, after Alonso retired, rather than wallow in agony (publicly anyway) he headed instead to the grandstands in Montreal to be with the fans. He wanted to throw his gloves from the track, but decided to mingle with the people instead.

“Well, I thought to give the gloves to the guys there! The grandstand was too far. So I won’t get there if I throw them. So I go a bit closer!” Alonso told NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“Once I was there, I couldn’t go back to the bike! It was fun. We have so much support from the fans in Canada. I felt we needed to give something back.”

Asked whether his going into the stands was aided by his IndyCar odyssey, Alonso responded, “probably.”

He also added of the day itself, “Yeah I guess, for the guys (it hurts). Tenth place won’t change my life. After 16 years it’s 1 point. But they’re working day and night preparing every single day. You want to do the best result for them. So frustrating. Jenson had the power unit change in Monaco so he was starting last. So now we start last in Baku. It’s quite difficult.”

Vandoorne finished 14th. The other high for the weekend for Alonso and McLaren was a garage meeting with Michael Douglas, who was along for a photo of Alonso being presented with a picture of being first at Indianapolis when he first took the lead there on Lap 37, as he’d requested.

Honda will do ‘everything’ in bid to fix McLaren F1 partnership

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Honda is doing “everything” in a bid to fix its struggling Formula 1 partnership with McLaren amid ongoing power unit problems, according to sporting chief Yusuke Hasegawa.

The McLaren-Honda partnership is now into its third year, but has shown few signs of progress in that time as the British team currently ails at the back of the grid.

McLaren executive director Zak Brown offered the team’s most scathing assessment of Honda’s problems yet earlier this week, saying the Japanese manufacturer looked “lost” and that the partnership was nearing a “fork in the road”.

When asked for a response to Brown’s comments on Friday, Hasegawa said: “I don’t respond.

“Of course we are talking together, even this morning. It is obvious we are frustrated with the current situation and we are disappointing with our team result, so there is no wonder there are some complaining comments.

“But the things we can do is try our very best for the team, and we are still aiming to go the same direction.”

Hasegawa said that Honda needs to up its game and prove to McLaren that it has the potential to lift the team up the grid and become competitive.

“It is very difficult but it is very unfortunate that we can’t convince them that we can do that,” Hasegawa said.

“From the results point of view of course we need much improvement, from the performance and the reliability point of view. So, yeah, we will do everything. We need to do everything.”

Brown said in the interview earlier this week that Honda was behind schedule on planned updates for its power unit, with the package set to be introduced in Canada never appearing. However, Hasegawa claimed that it was never promised.

“We don’t promise normally, although of course every time I try to update the engine as soon as possible, so every time we are ready, we will introduce it,” Hasegawa said.

“Unfortunately, it has not happened here. So, still we are trying hard in Japan, and so as soon as it is ready, we will introduce it.”

Brown: McLaren, Honda nearing ‘fork in the road’

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown says the British Formula 1 team is nearing “a fork in the road” with engine partner Honda amid continual struggles and delayed upgrades.

McLaren and Honda rekindled its famed partnership from the late 1980s and early ’90s in 2015, but has failed to enjoy the same kind of form that yielded multiple world championships in the past.

McLaren ailed to ninth place in the constructors’ championship in 2015 as Honda tried to get up to speed with its rival engine manufacturers, and made improvements that lifted the team to sixth the following year.

However, an attempt to redesign the power unit layout for 2017 appears to have backfired, leaving McLaren at the foot of the constructors’ championship with zero points after six races.

Relations between McLaren and Honda have appeared strained for some time, but both parties have been firm in their commitment to one another in the past.

Speaking to Reuters, Brown admitted that the struggles were now taking the partnership close to breaking point, revealing that the update promised for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix has been delayed.

“Honda’s working very hard but they seem a bit lost. We were only told recently that we wouldn’t have the upgrade coming, and we don’t have a definitive timeline, which is concerning because the pain is great and we can’t sit around forever,” Brown said.

“We were eagerly awaiting this upgrade as were our drivers and it’s a big disappointment that it’s not coming. It’s not lack of effort, but they are struggling to get it to come together.”

Brown said that McLaren’s upper-management has made clear that it cannot afford a repeat of this season in 2018, prompting the team to consider its options.

“The executive committee have now given us our marching orders. We’re not going to go into another year like this,” Brown said.

“I don’t want to get into what our options are. Our preference is to win the world championship with Honda. But at some point you need to make a decision as to whether that’s achievable. And we have serious concerns.

“Missing upgrades, and upgrades not delivering to the level we were told they were going to, you can only take that so long. And we’re near our limit.

“There’s lots of things that go into the decision and we’re entering that window now of ‘which way do you go when you come to the fork in the road’.”

The experience, not the result, defines Alonso’s Indy 500 odyssey

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INDIANAPOLIS – It almost had to end the way it did on Sunday.

There was Fernando Alonso, doing what he’d set out to do in this six-week odyssey since stunning the motorsports world on April 12 with the announcement he’d be in a McLaren Honda of an IndyCar kind at the Indianapolis 500, with Andretti Autosport, reminding everyone he’s still one of the best drivers in the world after a month where he never looked a rookie in his first oval race, his first IndyCar race.

And yet there was the plume of smoke, just short of the finish, billowing out the rear of the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry that ended his day before he got the result.

The combination of mid-2010s Alonso, McLaren and Honda joined with the legacy of the words “Andretti is slowing” at Indianapolis to produce Alonso, in a McLaren, Honda, Andretti entry slowing and stopping just shy of that ever elusive checkered flag.

It mattered not. Alonso still lived up to all the hype placed on him this month, if not exceeded it.

From the moment Alonso made his first visit to Birmingham, Ala. of all places – as far away by mileage and culture from the Bahrain Grand Prix he had failed to finish a week earlier – Alonso was the focus of attention, even as his primary goal was to integrate into the team and begin the learning process.

The simulator work followed in Indianapolis shortly thereafter, following his seat fit and meeting the crew who’d be on his No. 29 car, in the right shade of papaya orange, not the F1 version that slightly missed the mark.

He met the Borg-Warner Trophy, a trophy he was keen to see his face placed on.

And then, he hit the Speedway for the first time on May 3, in a made-for-digital event that was the test heard ’round the Internet. Going 222-plus mph for an average on his first day in the car, as he joked at the time his right foot and brain weren’t in sync, still showcased his innate talent.

Alonso never looked uncomfortable, out of place or – importantly – annoyed with the process that came with coming to Indianapolis.

At every opportunity, he embraced the challenge, the fans and the odyssey that came with it.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, races during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

If there were autographs to be signed – and judging by the throngs of fans surrounding his garage area or his daily walk to Gasoline Alley – he’d do as best he could to get them all before being whisked away to whatever came next. Or, alternatively, he got on his skateboard and rolled off.

If there were media obligations to be had – and as some drivers casually threw some snark, as Conor Daly and Graham Rahal joked “Alonso was about the only driver in the race” – Alonso fulfilled them. A bevy of reporters were consistently around his No. 29 pit stall all month. More still sat and waited in the media center for his press conferences, and where Alonso starred there was that he never appeared he was mailing it in. The banter between he and Alexander Rossi – when Rossi noted Alonso needed to be awake at 6 a.m. – was perhaps the funniest moment of the month.

He sat for an hour on media day with hundreds gathered around his space as poor Sebastian Saavedra sitting next to him had but one reporter – me – asking him questions ahead of another debut, Saavedra’s Juncos Racing team.

And most importantly, if there was a desire to be the best on track he could be, he fulfilled it.

Alonso learned the elements of single-car runs in practice, race running in practice, drafting with his Andretti Autosport teammates in the “mini packs,” the pressure that comes with four-lap qualifying runs and averaging more than 230 mph, the drama that comes with engine changes in IndyCar, and then the ability to push as hard as possible against other drivers on track.

He made some daring and some would probably say questionable chops and passing maneuvers throughout the month, but wasn’t that part of the plan to begin with? Seeing Alonso back in a car that could win and knowing he had the ability to pull it off made the whole experience worth it.

He made it to the lead by Lap 37 of Sunday’s race, for the first of 27 laps led, third most among the 15 drivers who did. After starting fifth and taking it easy on the start to drop to ninth, Alonso was a top-five regular the rest of the race (more than 100 laps to be more precise), before he was running in seventh on Lap 179 and there, the smoke erupted. He was classified 24th.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, races during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

He exited the car to cheers from the Indianapolis faithful, who are not easy to please at your first attempt. But the cheers that echoed around these hallowed grounds welcomed a driver who’d starred himself, for McLaren, and for the Indianapolis 500 – even if the result was a similar one he’s been used to this year.

“Anyway, (it) was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar,” Alonso reflected Sunday.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I want that picture at home.

“Thanks to IndyCar, amazing experience. Thanks to Indianapolis. Thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here.”

Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group and the man who was integral in bringing Alonso and McLaren to Indianapolis, could only echo those thoughts.

“If we put aside the last 20 laps, which is a massive disappointment, if we reflect back on the past month, it was outstanding. Fernando didn’t put a wheel wrong. He showed what a world class world champion he is today.

“When Fernando and I first spoke about the Indianapolis 500, I wasn’t sure what Fernando’s response would be because I think not many race car drivers in this world are brave enough to do what Fernando just did. Not just from a physical standpoint, but the whole world was watching Fernando race today. He put himself out there and exposed himself, delivered the goods, which isn’t a surprise to anyone that has watched Fernando race.”

Alonso has left the door open to a return, although that will likely depend on how his F1 future sorts itself out – he’s a free agent at year’s end. But he figures he’ll be better in a second go-’round.

“Obviously if I come back here, at least I know how it is (with) everything,” he said. “It will not be the first time I do restarts, pit stops, all these kind of things. So will be an easier, let’s say, adaptation. Let’s see what happen in the following years.

“Yeah, I need to keep pursuing this challenge because winning the Indy 500 is not completed. It holds a new challenge if I can find a car that slow me down somehow.”

Lastly, Alonso did have some milk – albeit in a slightly different type of container than the one teammate Takuma Sato had as he won the race.

“Thank you for all media. I didn’t won, but I will drink a little bit of milk,” he laughed, as he drank out of a tiny milk carton usually served in schools or lunch boxes.

“You followed me for two weeks every single minute, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the welcoming. See you in Austin.”

And with that, the odyssey of Alonso at Indianapolis has completed its first chapter.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, walks away from his car after his engine expired during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)