SEMA, GRC Las Vegas week notes, musings, observations

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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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.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III