IMSA: Persistence pays off for Patron ESM, Brown and JVO

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Over the last five years as a driver, Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown has learned, developed and honed his craft. He’s come from helping to start Extreme Speed Motorsports with Scott Sharp in 2009, ahead of the team’s first full season in the 2010 American Le Mans Series season, to shifting from the team’s Ferrari GT cars to HPD prototypes.

On Sunday, Brown started the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from pole after co-driver Johannes van Overbeek laid down the late flier in qualifying to deliver the top spot. Brown’s sole task in his opening stint was to keep the car in one piece, and an early pit stop 22 minutes into the race ensured he had done his job to perfection.

“I had a good stint. We tried to analyze what I was going to do on the start,” Brown said. “I basically hit the throttle and go as hard as I could coming out of Turn 11. Whatever happened down in Turn 2, my instincts would kick in at that point.

“My confidence grows every time I get in the car and I start to prove to myself that I can run with these guys. When I settled in and a few of them got by me, then I decide no other cars will pass me. I felt comfortable. We had a great car; the crew did a terrific job all weekend. We were in really good position.”

From there, “JVO” did the rest after two excellent stints the remainder of the race. For those who had forgotten the Oakland native’s prowess and results record in GT cars with Flying Lizard Motorsports a number of years ago, it was a welcome reminder that his ability level is still on par with some of the best drivers in the TUDOR Championship.

For van Overbeek, though, Sunday’s win owed as much to Brown’s clean start and the Extreme Speed team’s pit work as it did his own comeback and eventual pass of Jordan Taylor for the win on Lap 76.

“From the outside, it probably looked pretty easy, but inside is another story,” he said. “I was more nervous when Ed was in the car. He did a great job and put us in a great spot, and then I got in.

“I could not be happier. This is my home race. I thought I was cursed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because I’ve come so close to winning so many times. To win with Ed, Tequila Patrón and ESM, it is just fantastic.

“I’m proud of Ed for starting from pole and fending off the field. He’s the one that put us in a position for the win. Thanks to the crew as well; our pit stop and driver change was flawless. All of our practice is paying off.”

Sharp, who along with Ryan Dalziel suffered gearbox issues on the sister No. 1 car, was thrilled about the team’s development. ESM won a pair of GT races in 2012, and took its most recent win prior to Sunday at Long Beach in 2013 (the team’s first LMP2 class win).

“This is tremendous. They did a great job and checked all the boxes,” Sharp said. “The crew did a great job preparing the car; pit stops and everything went to plan. Ed did the best driving stint he’s ever done in his career. Then Johannes made some great moves and brought the win home. Congratulations to them.

“As far as our car, I don’t know what to say. This is our third gearbox problem this year. It is putting a damper on our points totals. It would have been nice to be 1-2.”

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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