Photo: Tony DiZinno

SEMA, GRC Las Vegas week notes, musings, observations

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LAS VEGAS – While endurance races for sports car racing generally don’t take place in November, the week that is SEMA Show week in Las Vegas is still something of a marathon. And with most of this only being written on Thursday, there’s still a day to go (today).

Anyway, this is a bit of a different week in terms of motors coverage, because while there’s plenty of drivers from the worlds of NASCAR, IndyCar, drag racing and sports cars present, it’s primarily an industry-focused event.

Some thoughts and observations from the week, then:

  • Logano’s graciousness. In series you cover full-time, you may occasionally take interviews for granted. You know the key players, stakeholders and manufacturers – or at least you should, otherwise you’re in an abnormal position. So in my case, yesterday’s NASCAR Talk interview I did with Joey Logano at the Whelen display was only the second time I’d ever interviewed him (January for an MST preseason piece, prior to NASCAR Talk site launch). And all things considered, I was expecting a “no comment” or something similar considering my colleagues Nate Ryan and Dustin Long – both of whom were huge helps on the story – are the primary NASCAR writers and know Logano, and his team, far better. So when Logano not only gave the interview, but then proceeded to be as candid as he was, I was both relieved and a bit stupefied, to be honest. Ordinarily you don’t get that kind of quality content on a whim, but after waiting the better part of an hour considering Logano was there for a Whelen appearance and to sign autographs, it was all-too-kind of him to provide the three minutes and change. It’s the things like that you don’t necessarily see from the outside that go into a story, but helps create the content. Say what you will about what he said, but the fact he said anything, I’m hugely appreciative of.
  • Sheer size and volume. If you’ve never been to SEMA, you need to plan for several things: time management, a heck of a lot of walking and even more pre-planning. Mapping out schedules, appointments, locations and where in what part of the Las Vegas Convention Center (it’s four giant halls, with tens of thousands of booths) is a job in-and-of itself. Preparation for this event is the single most important part of making a productive SEMA week. In just three days, I think I’ve banked close to 60,000 steps and nearly 30 miles of walking in-and-around Las Vegas between the SEMA Show and the Red Bull Global Rallycross event.
  • Red Bull Global Rallycross is quirky but cool. I think I’ll put together a separate column on my thoughts on Red Bull Global Rallycross likely for next week, and will also have an interview with the series’ newly crowned champion Scott Speed out next week. Initial thoughts after finally attending my first race? It’s certainly different than what I’m used to, but the format seems to appeal to a younger generation, which is the goal. There seems enough positivity in the paddock of optimism for a better 2016 to build on this year. Flexibility is something required in spades, given how frequently the schedule can and does change. But the racing’s generally fun, and that’s important. The cars, as I found out thanks to a ride-along the other day, are fantastic.
  • Sports car odds and ends. A lot of would-be, potential and eventual 2016 programs seemed to come out of the woodwork this week – all at once – and I’d refer you to more sports car-focused sites for more details on what they were. I spent a lot of time talking with various drivers, all of whom were here in some capacity either chasing deals, asking about programs or some combination of both. Busy times, especially as the IMSA series has a test in two weeks and Pirelli World Challenge confirmed several news items during its “State of the Series” presentation on Tuesday.
  • Respectable IndyCar presence for both. I imagine the Verizon IndyCar Series will have a greater presence at next month’s PRI show in Indianapolis, but it was well-represented out in Las Vegas. There were two cars (Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden’s respective cars, the latter adorned in a special GoPro livery) on display at SEMA, and Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves, Stefan Wilson and Anders Krohn were among the IndyCar crowd at the GRC race. It was good to see that bit of cross pollination, especially as so many IndyCar teams have GRC programs.

Previous F1 competition doesn’t guarantee IndyCar success at COTA

Manor F1 Photo
Manor F1 Photo
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AUSTIN, Texas – Familiarity does not breed success, according to three NTT IndyCar Series drivers who have previous experience at Circuit of the Americas in the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017.

Although the course is the same – 20-turns and 3.41-miles – the cars are completely different. The highly-advanced, technologically-driven Formula One cars are advanced beyond the realm of anything allowed in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s more about the driver in IndyCar, which uses an impressive, but simpler formula to help showcase driver skill more than technology in its races.

Money buys speed in Formula One, but an IndyCar team doesn’t need a $400 million budget to go racing. It can get by on $5 millions to $10 million a year and contend for plenty of race victories and championships.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. The above photo is from his only F1 contest at COTA that season. He was the first driver ever to turn laps at COTA shortly after it was constructed in 2012.

Rossi had his best F1 finish in the 2015 United States Grand Prix when he started 17thand finished 12th.

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced the entire F1 season in 2013 and 2014 with Marussia. He started 21stand finished 21stin 2013. He started in the first 16 races during the 2014 F1 season but was out of a ride by the time F1 arrived at COTA that season.

Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences,” Chilton told NBC Sports.com “Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have an English band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most experience at COTA of any driver in the field for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. He competed in 97 F1 contests from 2014-2018 before becoming an IndyCar rookie with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Ericsson was 15thin 2015, 14thin 2016, 15thin 2017 and 10thin last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with INDYCAR. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in INDYCAR, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ericsson emphasized that the his F1 experience does not necessarily give him any type of advantage in an IndyCar.

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

But every little bit helps and if all of those little “bits” of information are added up, previous experience can provide a benefit in the race.

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into INDYCAR.”

James Hinchcliffe, who has never driven in Formula One, or at COTA, believes he has the best experience of any driver in Austin this weekend.

“I know where the restaurants are, so that’s cool,” Hinchcliffe said.