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.

Helio Castroneves will replace ailing Oliver Askew for IndyCar at IMS

Helio Castroneves replacing Askew
James Black/IndyCar
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Helio Castroneves will return to the NTT IndyCar Series next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, replacing Arrow McLaren SP driver Oliver Askew in the No. 7 Dallara- Chevrolet.

The team announced in a Thursday release that Askew wasn’t cleared by the IndyCar medical team after reporting “a balance and coordination issue” after the Sept. 12-13 race weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer reported that Askew has been experiencing the concussion-like symptoms since his Aug. 23 wreck in the Indy 500.

Askew was placed in IndyCar’s Return to Racing Protocol. The rookie has endured an up-and-down season, suffering another hard crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the July 4 race on the road course. He also finished third and sixth on back-to-back races at Iowa Speedway in July.

“This was an incredibly tough call but I have to follow the advice of the INDYCAR Medical Team and my doctors,” Askew said in the release. “My priority right now is focusing on my health. Despite not being in the car, I will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Harvest GP, giving whatever insight and support to Arrow McLaren SP that I can.”

Castroneves will be driving this weekend at Mid-Ohio for Team Penske in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has said he actively is seeking a ride for the 2021 season in IndyCar or IMSA with the demise of Penske’s DPi program as Acura switches to new teams next year.

Here’s the release from Arrow McLaren SP:

Arrow McLaren SP driver Oliver Askew will withdraw from the INDYCAR Harvest Grand Prix, after being declared not fit to drive by the INDYCAR Medical Team.

Following the INDYCAR race at Mid-Ohio, Oliver reported a balance and coordination issue, which triggered an examination from the INDYCAR Medical Team. As a result, Oliver is not medically cleared to race and is subject to INDYCAR’s Return to Racing Protocol.

“This was an incredibly tough call but I have to follow the advice of the INDYCAR Medical Team and my doctors. My priority right now is focusing on my health,” Askew said. “Despite not being in the car, I will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Harvest GP, giving whatever insight and support to Arrow McLaren SP that I can.”

Askew will be replaced in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet by Helio Castroneves for the upcoming doubleheader Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“The welfare of Oliver, our team members and fellow competitors is paramount,” said Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt.

“We therefore support Oliver and the decision of INDYCAR. Withdrawing to focus on his health and recovery is the right thing to do.”

Helio will join Pato O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, to complete the team’s driver lineup in Indianapolis.

“First and foremost, we wish Oliver the best and that he is able to take time to recover,” said Helio. “I look forward to getting back on track and helping to build on the great progress that Arrow McLaren SP has made this year.”