Schumacher’s accident the latest shock in a cruel 2013 for racing

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One of the words I saw perusing my Twitter feed yesterday regarding Michael Schumacher was “invincible,” and it struck me for a few reasons. Schumacher – the most decorated and statistically successful driver in Formula One history – wasn’t supposed to get injured in a skiing accident. One thing I could barely reconcile growing up was when he broke his leg in the 1999 British Grand Prix, and was forced out of action for most of the second half of the season.

But, unfortunately he has been injured, and we can only hope and pray for his full recovery from this accident.

What isn’t disputable is that this is the latest shock to the system in what has been a brutal, cruel 2013 for the racing community. The month of October 2011 was the only time in recent years that could compare, when two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, MotoGP rising star Marco Simoncelli, off-road racer Rick Huseman and “Iron Man” Michael Wanser, six-year-old son of Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Barry Wanser, all perished within several weeks.

The end of the year usually brings about an “in memoriam” piece, and unfortunately this year’s is longer than most.

Andy Granatelli

Innovator, promoter, and a huge fan of the sport of IndyCar racing, Granatelli passed away at age 90. Our brief recap is here but a much deeper reflection, from Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti can be found here from Robin Miller at RACER.

Paul Walker and Roger Rodas

Actor, star of the “Fast & the Furious” franchise, philanthropist and a part-time racer in his own right, Walker, 40, was killed with his friend Roger Rodas in a road accident earlier this month.

Kurt Caselli

Caselli, 30, was an off-road champion killed in the Baja 1000.

Sean Edwards

Edwards, 26, was a rising sports car star killed in a private coaching accident in Australia. I got to watch his battle for the GTC class win in the American Le Mans Series race at Austin from the grandstands, which meant more after the accident.

Maria de Villota

The former Marussia Formula One test driver, de Villota died at age 33 after she was found dead in a hotel. She proved an inspiration after her testing accident in 2012.

Allan Simonsen

Simonsen, 34, died at Le Mans this year when his car spun out at Tertre Rouge, and his Aston Martin team carried on in tribute. The hope after his accident is that safety changes come to that part of the circuit.

Jason Leffler

Seeing pictures of Leffler with son Charlie only moments before his accident at a dirt track was gut-wrenching. Leffler, 37, touched the NASCAR, IndyCar and general racing communities and it was the year’s first real shock to the system.

Jose Froilan Gonzalez

The Argentine driver wasn’t as widely acclaimed as countryman Juan Manuel Fangio, but Gonzalez was Ferrari’s first winner in Formula One. He died at 90 in June.

Dick Trickle

Legendary short-track racer who eventually won NASCAR’s Rookie-of-the-Year honors at age 48, Trickle died in May of apparent suicide at age 71. A nice piece from NBC’s Joe Posnanski called Trickle “Superman.”

We should also not neglect the loss of the marshal at the Canadian Grand Prix, nor the losses of a handful of other various sprint car and GT racers around the world.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”