Speed’s Red Bull GRC title comeback run started midseason

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MotorSportsTalk caught up with Scott Speed, the newly crowned Red Bull Global Rallycross champion for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, for his thoughts on the season that was.

In a two-part interview, we look back at where his 2015 season changed, and how important this title was for him, his career, and the team and manufacturer.

At the fourth of July weekend, at the MCAS New River military base in Charlotte, the hopes and dreams of Scott Speed and the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team claiming a Red Bull Global Rallycross title were slim.

Speed ended the fourth of 12 rounds this season exactly 100 points in arrears of then-championship leader Ken Block, in ninth place out of 14 drivers who had competed in a GRC Supercar event.

“It seems that a dark cloud is surrounding our team right now, and it just can’t seem to go away,” Speed said then, via the team’s post-race release, after a mechanical failure forced an early race retirement.

Slightly more than four months later, Speed emerged from his No. 41 Orafol/Merchant First/Shark Week VW Beetle on the Village Lot at the Strip in Las Vegas as season champion, following a torrid second half comeback that was nothing short of incredible.

The first four races saw Speed finish second once, then ninth and fail to qualify for two final rounds.

In the last eight races, Speed finished first or second in six of them, with third in Las Vegas serving as his second worst result in that stretch.

“The first four, it felt we were where didn’t even start the final,” Speed told MotorSportsTalk in a post-Las Vegas interview.

“We had some reliability issues. My engineer and I were talking about things… do we start talking about next year? The points we were out were so much, so we had to come back.

“To develop these cars into what they were, and became the car to beat every weekend, it means more. It was such a team effort between Tanner (Foust), myself, the engineers, VW and Andretti.”

It was easy to forget the Beetle, as a new car that had upgraded to a 2.0L engine over the winter, was still in the midst of its first full race season this year. It spent the majority of 2014 testing before a debut at Las Vegas; the team had campaigned the VW Polo previously.

“It’s really our first year at it,” Speed said. “We went kind of with rental cars as a learning experience, until our Beetles were ready.

“We knew right away they’d be fast. We knew we could work on them. As you know, GRC’s a bit of a contact sport. So the car’s gotta be really tough. We accomplished that very quickly in a matter of races. We had to work on the performance of the car.”

The weekend at Detroit, a doubleheader round after MCAS New River, proved a pivotal one for both Speed and the team.

With the championships on the brink – Speed was ninth and Foust, in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle sixth in points, 59 back of Block – Detroit served as the midway point of the year and a chance to re-enter the fray.

Block and Patrik Sandell split the race wins but Block’s penalty assessed for avoidable contact in the second race, and a subsequent seventh place finish in the final, marked the beginning of an eventual second-half tailspin from there.

Speed banked a pair of runner-up finishes in the finals, and it was important to have ironed out the reliability issues. Foust’s nightmare weekend was not due to reliability, but contact in both races.

“I think (the turning point) probably was having a clean weekend in Detroit,” Speed said. “There were no mechanicals.

“From that point, we kind of figured out what was going to break on the car. We’d address all these issues. First full year of the car, and that weekend really showed we had the reliability, then we could work on making the car faster.”

The VWs were finally able to run at competition weight from Los Angeles, thanks to a new throttle system installed on the cars.

With Speed’s weekend sweep there of that doubleheader round, he had suddenly moved into second in points – just 13 back of Block with three races remaining.

The table was set for Speed and Foust to snatch the title from Block’s grasp, heading to the final two months of the season with rounds at Barbados and Las Vegas.

In part two, we’ll look at those final rounds, plus the magnitude of what the title means for all parties (Speed, VW, Andretti).

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds