Caterham the latest team to fall foul of the Leafield ‘curse’

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The last few days have been particularly difficult for Caterham F1 Team. As both sides in the ownership dispute claim to have been done wrong by, the staff and workers at Leafield have been caught in the middle of the mess.

Locked out of the factory, and just weeks away from the holiday season, many are facing the prospect of being out of a job as the team staggers on its last legs. It may not even make the next race of the year in Austin, Texas.

What’s even sadder is that it isn’t the first time this has happened at Leafield. Nor is it even the second time. Should Caterham fold before the end of the year, it would in fact mark the third occasion that a team based at the site in Oxfordshire has collapsed mid-way through the season.

Leafield Technical Centre first played host to a Formula 1 operation in the late 1990s when Tom Walkinshaw bought Arrows Grand Prix. The British businessman leased the site to run Arrows from, with the plucky backmarkers managing to survive through thick and thin.

However, its on-track success was never noteworthy. Walkinshaw pulled off a coup to sign defending world champion Damon Hill for 1997, and although he came close to winning the Hungarian Grand Prix of that year, he soon departed at the end of the season when a seat with Jordan became available.

Come 2002, the money had dried up and Arrows was on its last legs. Drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bernoldi were even told to deliberately not qualify for the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours as the team simply could not afford to race. By the time of the Hungarian Grand Prix in August 2002, the grid was one team lighter – Arrows was no more, five races shy of the end of the season.

However, some embers did still burn when the site at Leafield was taken over by Super Aguri (pictured) for the 2006 season. The new team was intended to work as a B-team to Honda, and was run by former F1 driver Aguri Suzuki.

The original car was based on the Arrows A23 from the 2002 season, but the outfit soon found its own feet, scoring four points in 2007 courtesy of Takuma Sato. The team’s best ever result came at that year’s Canadian Grand Prix where Sato finished sixth after famously passing McLaren’s Fernando Alonso for position. Teammate Anthony Davidson was also due points, but dropped to 11th after hitting a groundhog.

Come 2008 though, the alarm bells were ringing at Leafield once again. As the team began to limp, it could take part in just four races before folding after the Spanish Grand Prix.

And so we come to Caterham. After debuting in 2010 at Lotus Racing, the team moved to Leafield in 2012 upon becoming Caterham F1 Team, and was the ‘lead backmarker’ then ahead of Marussia and HRT. It stayed in that position until 2013, when Marussia moved ahead thanks to Jules Bianchi’s efforts and talent, and in 2014, Caterham has slipped to the very back of the grid.

It’s a very sorry state of affairs, as summed up in administrator Finnbarr O’Connell’s chat with the Press Association here. Both Fernandes and Engavest are embroiled in a petty war of words when, in the real world, hundreds of jobs are at stake. This isn’t just business: it’s affecting real lives.

HRT was the last team to withdraw from Formula 1. The Spanish team had always been the one at the very back of the F1 field, so its demise and exit at the end of 2012 hardly came as a surprise. However, it was clean – everyone knew it was going to happen, including the team itself.

Although there is the same sense of inevitability with Caterham, those at the top keep saying “keep calm and carry on” before pointing the finger at the other side. It is very undignified.

Let us hope that when future teams arrive in F1, lessons are learned from this blueprint of how not to do it. The word “farcical” springs to mind.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.