The Year in Motors, Part 1: F1, IndyCar, Sports Cars

0 Comments

Over the last two months roughly, since the IndyCar season ended in Fontana, Calif., we’ve had a look back at the racing seasons here on MotorSportsTalk. But in case you missed any of it, here are some brief recaps of the open-wheel and sports car seasons:

Formula One

Sebastian Vettel won his fourth straight World Championship, and Red Bull its fourth straight Constructor’s Championship, after the pair’s most dominant season yet. Vettel won a record-tying 13 wins in the 19 races, including the last nine in a row.

Elsewhere Mark Webber departed for the FIA World Endurance Championship at year’s end, Fernando Alonso overachieved at Ferrari, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton raised Mercedes’ profile, Kimi Raikkonen bailed early from Lotus after allegedly not being paid, Nico Hulkenberg led the midfield contingent, Pirelli’s tires were in the headlines way too frequently and the manufacturer eventually changed its construction midseason, a raft of regulation changes were announced for 2014, and Max Chilton finished all 19 races for Marussia.

What was far from a classic season on track took a worse turn just yesterday with the news Michael Schumacher has been injured in a skiing accident, and is in critical condition. Frankly, his recovery is the most important story and item going forward for F1, if not for the racing world in its entirety.

IndyCar

Scott Dixon completed a comeback from more than 90 points back at the midseason point of the 2013 IndyCar season, with four second half race wins to clinch his third championship. All have come in periods of five years (2003, 2008, 2013), and this one left Helio Castroneves still waiting for his elusive first title. The Brazilian did well but a disastrous Houston weekend and a lack of “big” results proved his ultimate undoing.

It was a very competitive season as a whole with 10 different race winners, including four first-timers, and 20 different podium finishers in the 19 races. Tony Kanaan won his elusive first Indianapolis 500, easily the moment of the year, while James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato engaged in a thrilling battle for the Brazil win. Doubleheader weekends proved popular to fans if not great for the crews.

Off-track, “Turbo’s” release brought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series into the mainstream, public sphere for the first time in years, generated more than $250 million worldwide and spawned a Netflix cartoon, which can’t be a bad thing. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles made his first moves in the organizational structure, and the paddock mostly seems pleased with Derrick Walker now in the role of leading competition and operations.

Sports Cars

The GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series concluded their last years as independent entities before merging into the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for 2014. There’s still a number of rules and regulations that need to shake out from the combination, but the merged series does have a decent schedule on tap and a good car count, north of 60 cars projected for next year.

Elsewhere the Pirelli World Challenge and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge continued to put on great shows for their races; PWC operates in a sprint-race format while Continental runs two-plus hour events.

The FIA World Endurance Championship’s second year produced a similarly strong car count and a few standout performances.

Further recaps of each of the five series’ seasons are below:

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
0 Comments

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.”