COTA weekend thoughts and observations: FIA WEC


Earlier today we looked at the weekend for the IMSA series in action in Austin, now here’s thoughts and observations on the FIA World Endurance Championship race at Circuit of the Americas:

  • A marathon six-hour race. Perhaps it was the day-into-night format, perhaps it was the mid-race deluge that caused a near one-hour red flag, or perhaps it was the fact it was the second full-length race of the day, but attempting to stay focused for the Six Hours of the Circuit of The Americas FIA WEC race proved a monumental challenge. In a standard endurance race, your 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 at Daytona, or Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring among others, you only have a single focus in terms of following the race. They’re marathon events but you can begin to follow the class battles as the race develops. On Saturday, yes, you had to do this like normal … but you had to do so hours after you’ve already done so once at your peak level of focus. It was a bit like the Toronto two-in-one doubleheader for IndyCar earlier this year, except with seven more classes and six more hours of racing. The red flag and running order changes once everything got sorted out made for a highly disjointed and challenging race to follow, that felt much longer in length than its advertised distance.
  • About the rain, and the red… To put it mildly, I was a tad surprised neither the safety car nor red flag was deployed sooner once it became apparent Circuit of the Americas had gone from the Mojave Desert to the Amazon rainforest in a matter of about 90 seconds. It seemed surreal and preventable to see so many cars all sliding off course at the same corner on a ridiculously slick track. Fortunately there were no retirements or major accidents as a result, and it’s fair to say a bullet was dodged.
  • Night visibility woes. Multiple P1 drivers I spoke to over the weekend – Andre Lotterer, Tom Kristensen, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley primarily – mentioned their concerns about the lighting at COTA for this first ever night race. Webber made an intriguing point when he said he prefers night at Le Mans, because “it’s set up that way,” and the pit lane here is much more difficult to see. Some areas saw too much reflection due to the floodlights; other areas were nearly pitch black save for the headlights, and Kristensen said you almost had to “feel the car” through certain corners of the track. Assuming the FIA WEC day-night six-hour race continues into 2015, enhanced lighting should be something the track should investigate.
  • The P1 battle is still pretty tight. With all of Audi, Toyota and Porsche back on normal setups away from the low downforce Le Mans packages, the battle between the trio remained very close throughout Saturday evening’s race. Where Toyota still has the pace gap, and Porsche the best fuel mileage, Audi splits the difference the best and thus confirmed a 1-2 for the second straight race. Porsche could well win its first race soon once it gets its new high downforce package dialed in.
  • Mixed day for the American guest stars. Extreme Speed was unlucky to finish third in its FIA WEC debut, after falling to fifth early in the race but then rebounding courtesy of a simply stunning stint from Ryan Dalziel mid-race. But the podium was a fair result for Dalziel, team principal Scott Sharp and Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown. Meanwhile for Corvette Racing, it all went south when the weather did, as through no fault of their own they lost two laps by coming into the pits and changing tires. The regulations were debated on social media in the immediate crosshairs; seventh in the GTE-Pro race for “Team America” of Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Tommy Milner capped a monumentally frustrating weekend for the team.
  • Aston’s GTE edge. A double win for Aston Martin Racing, while Porsche was unable in the FIA WEC to match its level of pace on the TUDOR Championship side, may have the competitors shaking in their boots for the rest of the season. AMR was due to get on the board in GTE-Pro while it continued its season-long GTE-Am success, with its third win in four races.
  • Fan conundrum. On Saturday morning, the autograph sessions for both the FIA WEC and TUDOR Championship were held concurrently, from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. This essentially meant you had to choose one or the other if you wanted driver autographs, and with this being the FIA WEC’s lone North American stop of 2014, it only made sense that these had bigger crowds. The TUDOR Championship session, save for a couple of teams, had shorter lines on this occasion.

After Will Power extension, Marcus Ericsson among IndyCar drivers awaiting new deals

IndyCar free agents
Chris Owens, Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Defending series champion Will Power’s name is off the board of potential IndyCar free agents, but there’s still much to be settled in the field – starting with the reigning Indy 500 winner.

Marcus Ericsson is waiting on a contract offer to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing beyond the 2023 season (his fourth with the team). The Swede said he’s made it clear to car owner Chip Ganassi that he wants to stay in the No. 8 Dallara-Honda, which has four victories since June 2021.

“Yeah, it’s up to him, basically,” Ericsson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “He needs to give me an offer for ’24 onward. The ball is in his corner. I really enjoy it at Ganassi, and we’ve done a lot of great things together and would love to continue, but the ball is in his corner. He knows very well what I want.”

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Two days before Ericsson won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener March 5, Ganassi sang the praises of the emerging star driver to a small group of reporters.

“I want him here beyond this year,” Ganassi said of Ericsson. “He seems to have gotten more out of winning the Indy 500 than anyone else has of recent time, which is a good thing. He did a good job. He’s been everywhere. It’s been a really positive thing for Marcus, the team, the series. He’s grown with that as well.”

Ericsson didn’t sew up his current deal until late in his breakthrough 2021 season (after a memorable victory in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix). So he isn’t necessarily anxious about it but conceded he “was thinking a bit about it over the winner in the offseason and talking about it

“But now that the season has started, I told my managers and everyone I want to focus on the driving. They focus on those things. Now the season is on, and I want to try to win races, win another 500 and championship. That’s where my focus is. (A new contract) is one of those things that happens when it happens. But I’m happy where I am, and I want to do well.”

IndyCar’s two best teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, tend to be very tight-lipped about their drivers’ contract status.

Power confirmed Friday to journalist Bruce Martin that his new deal was for multiple seasons. That means all three of Penske’s drivers are in multiple-year contracts (unlike Power’s deal, Scott McLaughlin’s extension was announced by the team last year).

But there is more uncertainty at Ganassi’s four cars aside from Ericsson. While Scott Dixon has a ride for as long as he wants (and the six-time champion has given no indication of retiring), Ganassi’s other two other seats have yet to be solidified beyond 2023.

The No. 11 is being split this year by rookie Marcus Armstrong and veteran Takuma Sato this season. In  the No. 10, Alex Palou is believed to be in his final year at Ganassi before heading to Arrow McLaren.

That expected move would cast doubt on the future of Felix Rosenqvist, who returned to Arrow McLaren when the team was unable to bring in Palou (who was embroiled in a contract dispute with Ganassi).

Aside from Penske, virtually every other IndyCar team (including Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, which has Helio Castroneves in a contract year) has seats that potentially could open for next season, and even drivers who appear to be under contract for next year still could be on the move (via buyouts and option years).

Though Juncos Hollinger Racing announced a “long-term, multiyear contract partnership” last July with Callum Ilott, but the second-year driver was cagey Friday when asked about how long the extension ran.

“It’s for whatever I want it to be,” said Ilott, who finished a career-best fifth at St. Petersburg. “I’ll say that.”

Before returning to JHR, Ilott turned enough heads as a rookie to draw interest from several teams, and he indicated Friday that he still would be listening.

“I’d love to talk to some other big teams,” Ilott said. “Nothing stops me from talking. Look, you’ve got to be fair. I agreed to (the deal), but it’s pretty obvious that I’m quite interested as people are interested in me as a driver, but I need to focus on the job I’ve got here.

“I’m confident whether it’s in one year, two years, three years, four years, that if I’m wanted now, I’ll always be wanted. I’m a good enough driver that I don’t need to lack confidence in that side. … I’m not worried.”