IMSA: Indianapolis thoughts and observations

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Just four weekends remain in the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season following this weekend’s Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis. A few weekend thoughts and observations:

  • Party like it’s 1995: Nearly 20 years after the 1995 Indianapolis 500, that race was discussed when referring to the top two finishers in the race on Friday. Christian Fittipaldi, who co-drove the winning No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, finished second in that race – what was the Brazilian’s only ‘500 start. Meanwhile the car that finished second, the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley, featured a driver who crashed out of the lead in that 1995 Indianapolis 500, Scott Pruett, and a co-driver who was all of three months old at the time of the race: Sage Karam. It’s funny how relevant that race has been in 2014, with Jacques Villeneuve having returned to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time this year since winning that day in May, some 19 years ago…
  • Perfect pole parity: In the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes, there has not been a single repeat pole winner this year. The P class is eight-for-eight in different polesitters, with four Daytona Prototype car poles and four P2 car poles. GTLM is seven-for-seven, split among five different manufacturers (Dodge Viper SRT, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Ferrari). IMSA really couldn’t have done much better than that in terms of outright lap time balance.
  • IMS circuit still favored DPs over a race distance: Like the series’ street races, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is more of a point-and-shoot track where torque and horsepower play dividends. So over a race distance, the DPs had the edge over the P2s, which had good single lap speed thanks to their pace in the infield section. Longer fuel stints also aided the DPs. The scorecard reads 6 DP wins to only 2 P2s… however this makes it seem more lopsided than it is. The lap time achievement balance is close, given the aforementioned balance in qualifying results. But given the nature of most circuits over a race distance, it takes a near perfect effort for a P2 to get and stay ahead given the car’s disadvantages.
  • The kids are alright: IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth and Indianapolis 500 near rookie-of-the-year Karam put in star turns Friday at IMS. Karam started the No. 01 car, survived a first corner fracas where prototypes were making contact around him, led during a portion of his stint and handed over the car to Scott Pruett all good to go. Hawksworth closed the race in the No. 08 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 in Prototype Challenge, and hunted down and passed teammate Bruno Junqueira. Not bad at all for the young Englishman in his sports car, multi-class debut, going against one of racing’s most underrated drivers.
  • The paddock/schedule was not alright: There were some frustrating reports I received from those on the ground at IMS, given the paddock layout for the TUDOR Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The TUDOR paddock was split behind the NASCAR/F1 garages and on the East side of the IMS museum – near Turn 2 – while the CTSC paddock was housed behind the suites at pit in. Some 0.8 of a mile each way was the walking distance as measured, and made it something of a headache for anyone needing to spent considerable time in both paddocks. While racing on the track’s “Super Weekend” holds some appeal in terms of a cohesive, unified, NASCAR-owned front, it’s hard not to feel that it could be better for the TUDOR Championship to race as the lead series at IMS in the future – a.k.a. not at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night.
  • Risi’s big improvement: Behind the race-winning Dodge Viper SRT squad, Risi Ferrari turned the corner with pole from Giancarlo Fisichella and a runner-up finish for he and co-driver Pierre Kaffer in the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia. Aided in part by Adjustment of Performance updates, the Ferrari excelled on the twisty IMS circuit and had a rare trouble-free weekend, despite a couple offs in the race.
  • Hard luck for Porsche: The factory Porsche North America squad turned in by far its best effort since the opening two races in Florida on Friday with the Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche 911 RSRs, but engine-related issues forced the leading No. 911 into retirement following a great drive from Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy. The No. 912, driven by Patrick Long and Michael Christensen, made it onto the podium in third. With AoP updates coming for Porsches at Road America including a bigger air restrictor, larger splitter and rear wing, they could well be the favorites there.
  • Audi on the doorstep: With Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Dodge Viper SRT having scored wins in the GT Daytona class, only Audi and Aston Martin are yet to break through. But Audi is very close. The Paul Miller Racing team has three podiums – including second at Indy with Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller in the team’s No. 48 Audi R8 LMS ultra. Meanwhile the Flying Lizard squad has had a host of near misses and poor luck has struck the Fall-Line Motorsports effort more often than not. PMR posted its best 2013 race at Road America a year ago, finishing fourth in the American Le Mans Series GT class with what had been an older spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and should be better positioned for success this time around.

In two weeks’ time, the series heads to my home track – Elkhart Lake’s Road America – for the next round of the season.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)