July 2017 remains a question mark for North American Formula E dates

Photo: Tony DiZinno

NEW YORK – Next July 2017 figures to be an interesting time in the motorsport calendar given that two new FIA Formula E Championship cities are joining the calendar, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action following the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and given that this year, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship had four Grands Prix.

Given the high crossover of FIA WEC drivers into Formula E – roughly half the FE grid is comprised of FIA WEC drivers – it behooves the two series not to clash. FE, as it stands, has three races in July – July 1 in Brussels before the double dip of North American rounds. In season one, Miami and Long Beach ran both in the U.S., but several weeks apart. The same was true this year with Mexico City and Long Beach.

At the moment, though, there is a clash with the Nürburgring FIA WEC race on July 16, same date as the second of two races for the new Montreal ePrix, July 15-16.

According to FIA President Jean Todt, who was in attendance at today’s formal New York City ePrix launch at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, clashes are inevitable.

“I would not call that a conflict,” Todt told NBC Sports this afternoon. “Clearly, there are 52 weeks in the year… and a number of categories of motor racing for the FIA. There is Formula 1, Formula E, (World) endurance, touring car championship, rally, rallycross, Moto Grand Prix, which indirectly linked to FIA… it’s just touching the same kind of crowd. We do have to find the best compromise.”

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport ace Lucas di Grassi, who was on hand for the event as well, expressed the concern over the date clash as it stands because it would affect any and all drivers who compete in both championships.

“Right now, it’s a bad clash for us,” the Brazilian told NBC Sports. “There’s about half of the grid, 10 drivers, so it’s bad with WEC and FE.

“They’ll do the best to avoid it; but if it happens, sooner or later it will happen. Formula E is growing so much. I think for WEC, there’s only 9 weekends per year. For sure there are ways to avoid this clash.”

It was interesting to note today that when the New York City ePrix was formally and officially launched that a specific date was missing, rather than confirmed as July 29-30 as it was originally listed on the calendar back when the season three schedule came out at the season two finale in Battersea Park.

That lack of confirmation on the date is by design, per Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, because there are a lot of moving parts to make a New York City ePrix work.

“We’ll be working with the city very soon on the exact date,” Agag told NBC Sports. “We are working on two or three different weekends in July, from mid-July onwards, so there’s different circumstances we have to sort out. There’s cruise liners, the other races… NASCAR races in the vicinity, which are an important element for the local federation (of note, a Loudon, New Hampshire NASCAR weekend occurs July 14-16). We’ll come up with a date that’s good for the city.”

Agag expanded on it in a separate interview after the end of the formal program.

“The FIA is pretty flexible and pretty helpful. We have to figure out how to put together the restrictions in terms of use of this space because of (cruise) ships, with the other races of NASCAR… ACCUS is very protective of NASCAR dates,” he explained.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle with moving parts. We have one or two options that are pretty good and finalize with the city, then it will be done.”

Montreal, as noted, tentatively slated for July 15-16, and New York are unlikely to feature on back-to-back weeks since both are new events.

“I think they could be back-to-back in season four… but I wouldn’t risk it in season three, because they are both new races,” Agag he said.

“I think both are new and we may find an unexpected obstacle to sort out, and then we’ll make it.”

Dates for all of the above three races mentioned should become clearer following the next meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on Sept. 28, next week, where provisional FIA calendars should come out.

For what it’s worth, the Verizon IndyCar Series has races scheduled on both the Montreal and New York weekends, which would give Andretti Autosport a foothold on both sites at the same time. Montreal is tentatively on the same weekend as IndyCar’s lone Canadian trip of the year in Toronto, while the tentative New York date is on the same weekend as IndyCar’s voyage to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”