Looking back on motorsports’ 2014 “Festivus” moments

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Today is December 23, which means only one thing: It’s Festivus.

The fictional holiday created by Jerry Stiller’s Frank Costanza in Seinfeld lives on more than 15 years after its debut. If by some chance you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link.

What does this have to do with motorsports, you ask? It represents a perfect time for MotorSportsTalk to outline its 2014 “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”

FEATS OF STRENGTH

These were occasions where people pinned others down, or emerged victorious from battle:

  • Mercedes winning 16 of 19 Formula 1 races and their two drivers essentially saving the season by racing between each other for the win, and championship.
  • Lewis Hamilton emerging ahead of Nico Rosberg after their titanic tussle in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
  • Daniel Ricciardo winning at Montreal, Budapest and Spa. The Budapest drive in particular, where Ricciardo passed a couple World Champions in the process, was incredible to watch.
  • Pirelli making tires all year that were durable, yet went off when they were supposed to, and not being a story after being a story for all the wrong reasons in 2013.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s emotions after winning the Daytona 500 and Martinsville. Few victory lane celebrations have looked so pure and raw.
  • A.J. Allmendinger beating Marcos Ambrose to the Watkins Glen win, in one of the best finishes to a race this season.
  • Ryan Newman punting Kyle Larson out of the way at Phoenix to make the Championship 4 finale at Homestead.
  • Kevin Harvick’s final stint at Homestead that saw him rise from 12th to win and score both the win and the championship.
  • Harvick’s win delivering on his “Closer” nickname, and saving NASCAR from a potential winless champion in Newman.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay making both that move in Turn 3 and then, a couple laps later, another move in Turn 1 to edge Helio Castroneves for the Indianapolis 500 victory.
  • Will Power finally winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
  • Mikhail Aleshin – and the structural safety cell of his Dallara DW12 chassis – surviving a vicious impact against the catch fencing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
  • The Taylor brothers emerging victorious after a great, beat-and-bang last lap battle against the Action Express Corvette at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race in Detroit.

AIRING OF GRIEVANCES

These were cases I had a lot of problems with this year, where people got mad and it led to controversy, contact, drama, tragedy or all of the above:

  • Everything about the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in August. There were no winners and it led to so much angst, as the biggest racing story of the year.
  • Matt Kenseth vs. Brad Keselowski at Charlotte.
  • Jeff Gordon vs. Keselowski at Texas (captured so brilliantly here by NASCAR satirist @Nascarcasm).
  • Mercedes’ reaction to the Rosberg-Hamilton contact at Spa.
  • Everything about Ferrari this year. Three team principals, countless staff changes, and Fernando Alonso’s long, drawn out departure. How does Maranello find its way back?
  • McLaren’s delay in announcing its 2015 driver lineup.
  • Caterham and Marussia’s demise. I hated to see them fade away, even though they did so in different ways. Caterham’s situation could best be described as an ongoing cluster given their management and financial turmoil – I termed it “Clusterham” – while Marussia’s demise was quick, hasty and sad after the Suzuka accident.
  • The Long Beach crash where Hunter-Reay went for it and came up empty… oy vey.
  • The post-standing start crash for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis… again, oy vey.
  • Power vs. rival Simon Pagenaud the first half of the season. It was good to have a rivalry but it seemed almost a bit overplayed by the time we got to Detroit. Although watch this space next year when the two are teammates.
  • Power vs. race control at Pocono, and then Power deciding to take his gripes out on NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.
  • The opening two races of the new TUDOR Championship season, where officiating errors led to controversial results in the GT Daytona classes at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
  • Ongoing BoP and driver rating discussions in sports car racing. Sad that these are often bigger talking points than the racing itself, and that doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.

Any others to add in either instance? That’s what the comments section is for…

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images