IMSA/PWC: 10 Questions with Compass360 team principal Karl Thomson

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We sat down with Compass360 Racing team principal Karl Thomson at Barber Motorsports Park, to get the lowdown on the team’s ambitious 2014 platform of running Subaru WRX-STi and Honda Civic Si programs in both the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge. Thomson, of Toronto, also discusses the C360R team’s dedication to the Children’s Tumor Foundation and Racing4Research.org, as they raise awareness and donations to help end neurofibromatosis (NF), which encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that causes tumors to grow along various types of nerves. May is NF Awareness Month.

MotorSportsTalk: How did the process of getting together with the CTF begin and continue into the 2014 program, with the art car?

Karl Thomson: The CTF has been at Daytona specifically around the Daytona 24 Hours, and 2009 was the first full livery year. We started with Ryan Eversley, and we always had some CTF (signage) on Ryan’s car. It sort of spread to the other cars. Jill (Beck) used some events as activation opportunities for kids – our NF Heroes – and to bring local heroes and donors to the track, and get them excited about the end NF program through racing.

This year, the foundation came up with the art car concept, designed by an NF Hero, Jeff Hanson. He’s actually legally blind due to the tumors in his optic nerves. He’s definitely been affected. But he’s amazing and his art is phenomenal – it’s in a few places.

Jill commissioned a piece to wrap the Porsche at the 24. That car ran again at Sebring, so we had two longer races with art on it. If we can do it with IMSA, we can do it over here to extend the program. This gives Jill an opportunity to bring families – I think 37-40 come out on Saturday – as we race. Auctioning the print off also raises awareness for the foundation.

MST: Good timing that the artwork colors match the Compass360 colors!

KT: A lucky happenstance. But the piece of art is quite amazing. I’m the caretaker from the car standpoint.

MST: So when the “NF Heroes” see the car, what does that moment mean to you?

KT: The reality is, sadly, they’re kids dealing with an affliction, it affects their lives negatively and ends it early. To have an event like this, where they can just be kids, sit in the car, be at the event and feel a part of the team, it’s great for them.

MST: Have you had the chance to meet Jeff? 

KT:  Yes. I met him at Daytona. When they had the big unveil with the Park Place car, Dempsey there, the press went bananas. I met him and his parents. We’ll likely do something for him in Kansas as that would be his home race.

MST: The team’s program itself this year is multi-faceted between the Subaru and Civic programs. Why add the Subaru to a tried-and-true car?

KT: Honda doesn’t have a car for GTS/GS really, it doesn’t really fit. So we wanted some experience running in a faster class.

There are some changes coming in (Pirelli World Challenge) TC with TCA, so I want to have a GTS footprint. It’s a good place to be, and the Subaru is a logical car to run. We know Hondas; we have ran Hondas since 2006. The Subaru is a bit more complicated, but it’s interesting because it’s a different kind of car. It’s not a big V8; it’s a 2.5L turbo with four-wheel drive. It gives the class some diversity.

MST: Your Ryans are shifting – Winchester from a Civic to a Subaru and this weekend, Eversley doing the same. How do you think they’ll get on with it?

KT: They’re both pros; Ryan (Eversley) has driven GT3s, Caymans, Winchester, Mustangs for a bit. They’re both pretty adaptable. You can see we’re just around the top 10. The car is a work in progress. It’s a good platform. With a bit more development and having both Ryans available to drive, we’ll get there soon. We ran all Daytona and ran all Sebring; those are 2.5 hour races. We have the reliability, but we don’t have the cooling dealt with. Additionally, we’re not running the max boost yet.

MST: Considering he usually has a co-driver, how do you think Ryan (Eversley) would fare just as a single driver for Barber?

KT: Ryan’s having a good time this weekend. He lives two hours away. One of the reasons we’ve done it here, this is a main CTF center where a lot of research happens (at the University of Alabama-Birmingham).  It’s almost local for him.

MST: Of course he’s not your only driver, since you opted to get behind the wheel this weekend…

KT: The last time I drove was the Daytona 24 in 2013, so it’s fun to be back in a car. That was a GX class Cayman. It’s funny, but it’s fun too since all the Civics are closely matched. There’s the potential for a great battle between us and (Jason) Saini close in the (Mazda) MX-5. There’s four or five us to have a good battle in TC.

MST: How will your TC class rookie, Michael DiMeo, fare this year?

KT: I’m really disappointed in him today; I had such high hopes (laughter, since I realized DiMeo was sitting right next to him after I asked -TDZ).  No he and I ran within a couple hundredths. He’s never been to the track before. He impressed us, with the second race podium in Houston. He can go for a championship, and rookie-of-the-year. But the reality is I’m having such a great time, I may not get out of the car!

MST: Lastly, on the new TCA class, how do you think they will fit into the PWC class structure?

KT: They’re less of an issue than the TCB. They’re very similar in corners but we’re quicker on straights. You hit TCB guys, if you come up in the wrong spot, you’re toast. But I think the TCA class will be a good addition.

As this interview took place before the Pirelli World Challenge races in Barber, DiMeo won the TC race Saturday with Thomson’s car retiring due to a mechanical. Eversley finished 12th and eighth in the two GTS races. The C360R team resumes with multiple Civic Sis in ST, and the Winchester/Ray Mason Subaru WRX-STI in GS, at this weekend’s Continental Tire race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

Follow@KyleMLavigne