IMSA: Monterey Selected Pre-Race Notes & Quotes

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Following are a few pre-race notes and quotes from around the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship paddock heading into the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix:

  • WeatherTech Alex Job Racing is moving on after Sebring, where a penalty was incorrectly assessed by IMSA to the team’s No. 22 Porsche 911 GT America instead of one of the factory 911 RSRs. “After the controversy that happened at Sebring, all I can hope for is that Laguna goes smoothly. We will keep pushing our hardest, just as we always do however, I really hope the officiating has improved because we have too much invested and my crew works too hard for another disaster to happen,” said Cooper MacNeil, who co-drives with Leh Keen.
  • Spirit of Daytona’s No. 90 Corvette DP won the GRAND-AM race at Monterey in 2012 and the pole with Richard Westbrook last year. Despite a great driver lineup of “Westy” and Michael Valiante, luck hasn’t been on the team’s side this year. “This is one of the all-time great tracks and everyone is a little extra motivated when you come out to a place like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This will be a different animal for us compared to 2012 as we’ve got an entirely new technical package so this is a new notebook for everyone. But hopefully we can unload with a quick car,” said team owner Troy Flis.
  • Wayne Taylor Racing, now with Konica Minolta sponsorship, seeks it second straight Monterey win and first this season. Jordan and Ricky Taylor have a pair of runner-up finishes (Daytona, Long Beach) in the No. 10 Corvette DP this season.
  • It will be a busy weekend for Oakland’s Johannes van Overbeek in his home race in the No. 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b. “JVO” participated in an annual bike ride on Tuesday of 80 miles from San Jose to Monterey. “It will be a challenging weekend to get a setup because we’re practicing with 50-plus cars in two hours, so we expect a few yellows.  Then we are racing with nearly half that number on Sunday afternoon,” he said of the weekend; he’ll share the Tequila Patron-sponsored car with Ed Brown.
  • Few drivers have as many laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as Jonathan Bomarito of SRT Motorsports. The Monterey native, who now lives in San Diego, seeks to provide the No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R its elusive first win (the sister No. 91 got the team’s first at Road America last year). “I was born and raised in Monterey County and I used to ride my bike from my backyard up to the track as a kid. I’ve always been around it. I taught at the racing school up there for a number of years and it’s definitely my hometown,” he said, and will again co-drive with Kuno Wittmer.
  • MOMO NGT Motorsport won the GTC class at Monterey last year and seek an encore in a 20-plus car field, now with Kuba Giermaziak alongside Henrique Cisneros in the No. 30 Porsche 911 GT America. “There are a lot more variables to deal with this time around. The field is three times larger and we are battling different manufacturers, so you could say the difficulty has increased,” Cisneros said.
  • CORE autosport seeks a PC class three-peat this weekend, having won the opening two rounds of the season. The team has also stood on the podium in each of its three starts in Monterey. PC and GTD will race together on Sunday; Colin Braun explained the challenges that presents: “I’d say the PC class is more affected by it, because we usually have a mix of passing GTD and GTLM cars, but getting passed by Prototypes. It will be interesting to not have to worry about being passed and just focused on getting through forward traffic.”
  • BMW Team RLL has scored three straight Monterey podiums, although is yet to win at the track. “We may not have the best pace for qualifying but we have several things in our favor for this round. The Z4 GTLM is a more developed car than it was last year. Unlike our main competitors, we have lots of setup and race data from last year and should be fast out of the transporter,” said team principal Bobby Rahal.
  • P2 in GT in 2013, Team Falken Tire seeks its first podium finish with its new car this weekend. Said Bryan Sellers, who’ll co-drive the No. 17 Porsche 911 RSR with Wolf Henzler, “We had a great result and a very strong car and tire combination last year here at Laguna Seca. The new Porsche 911 RSR is a definite improvement so we are hoping for the best moving forward. We were able to learn a lot about our performance in Long Beach and have an idea where we need to make progress.”

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”