IndyCar Driver Review: Remaining part-timers P28-39

0 Comments

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I looked at the 28 IndyCar drivers who raced in seven starts or more this year in detail. The remaining drivers in spots 28-39 all had their moments in their four starts or less (29th, Ana Beatriz, was covered in a separate post after running in seven races). My brief thoughts on each driver will follow:

28. Carlos Munoz

Stud, fearless, freak of nature; Munoz was the most exciting driver to enter into IndyCar since Tomas Scheckter in 2002, and Munoz’s countryman Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. In 2014, we’ll see both Colombians on the grid for full seasons.

30. Luca Filippi

He finally got his IndyCar chance after funding failed to develop for RLL in 2012. Naturally, Filippi capitalized for Bryan Herta, with a combo of pace, dedication and tenacity reminiscent of another Italian who took IndyCar by storm – Alex Zanardi.

31. Pippa Mann

The “social media people’s champion,” with a steely resolve and fierce determination to prove she belongs in a car. No one fought harder to make their dream come true in 2013, and Mann performed better than her final results will register in Dale Coyne’s “Cyclops Cyclone” in her four starts.

32. James Davison

Davison was a surprise choice for Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in Coyne’s second car but acquitted himself well given a long open-wheel layoff. Will Power rates his countryman highly and Davison’s two starts lived up nicely to that praise.

33. Stefan Wilson

Another in the round-robin of No. 18 Coyne drivers, Stefan Wilson made an overdue and popular debut at Baltimore with one of the year’s sharpest liveries, the white-and-green Nirvana Tea Honda, and with brother Justin as his teammate. Stefan essentially thrown in at the deep end but kept his head while most of the others found the wall, improving his lap times and gaining valuable experience.

34. Conor Daly

Few “get” Indy more than Daly and his ’500 debut, if rocky at times, was well-deserved. Seems keen to prove himself further in IndyCar and his dedication to the sport is unquestioned, as he was a frequent visitor at the IndyCar races that didn’t clash with GP3. Hell, he even got a podium in an Indy Lights cameo at Houston.

35. Townsend Bell

It’s been a pleasure for me to get to work with Townsend on our “Ten with Townsend” series of questions throughout the year. Our NBCSN analyst’s one start this year at Indy didn’t quite go to plan, but it was definitely memorable given his yellow-and-blue hat he rocked for the month of May.

36. Lucas Luhr

I’ll be honest; I was shocked when I heard Luhr – a sports car veteran of a dozen years – would be making his IndyCar debut for Sarah Fisher at Sonoma. Luhr didn’t make a huge first impression, but improved over the course of the weekend and would be welcomed back for future IndyCar starts.

37. Katherine Legge

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 qualifying effort leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, Katherine’s was the one. She hadn’t driven an IndyCar in eight months and had just come off racing the radical DeltaWing at Monterey when she arrived for a “Bump Day special” in Sam Schmidt’s third car. The qualifying run was perfect and her race would have ended in the top 15, possibly top 10, had she not made slight contact exiting Turn 2 early in the race.

38. Buddy Lazier

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 entry leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, seeing Buddy Lazier back in a car for the first time in four years was rather stunning. But hey, to his credit, the 45-year-old got on with the program without missing a step. It was good to have him back in the field even if it was mainly to help fill the field to 33.

39. Michel Jourdain Jr.

Including Michel as a cursory mention here because he was this year’s hard-luck qualifying driver at Indy. All month, RLL could not get the setup and pace right on this third car, and Jourdain failed to qualify for no fault of his own. There’s many in the paddock that wants the popular Mexican driver to get another chance.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
2 Comments

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).