Seefried and Lally bounced from win for drive-time mistake. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Bittersweet end in GTD sees Viper win, Magnus lose at Petit Le Mans

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BRASELTON, Ga. – A beauty of sports car racing is that there is a lot of variety you can embrace – from different cars, drivers, teams, classes and sounds of pure glory.

A downside of sports car racing is that this mesh of variety also comes together to create what at times can be confusing or perplexing, and controversial, in the moment.

And while both IMSA and Magnus Racing were in agreement – eventually, anyway – about that their race win in GT Daytona in Saturday night’s Petit Le Mans was lost, it doesn’t make it any easier for Magnus to swallow the how.

The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Marc Miller emerged with the GTD race win after a review of the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS car’s drive time found the incorrect Silver-rated driver, John Potter, failed to complete his minimum drive time of three hours in the 10-hour race. This moved the No. 44 car to the back of class in results.

Potter, longtime co-driver Andy Lally and ace third driver Marco Seefried, won on the road following a titanic scrap between Lally and Bleekemolen in the final stages of the 10-hour race. And for the fans able to see the race, they’ll have known that both drivers left everything on the line in pursuit of victory.

But in the end, all that amazingness on the track was taken away owing to Magnus’ rule violation, which was its second in the last three GTD races (VIR saw the car excluded for a ride height violation).

The crux of what happened Saturday night actually started one year earlier in the 2015 Petit Le Mans, and the new rule implemented for 2016 was actually created to help avoid situations as happened last year.

At the 2015 race, the trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal co-drove the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Segal, who like Sweedler was a Silver-rated driver, became the driver to who completed the minimum drive time requirements in the rain for the Silver/Bronze-rated driver to ensure the car was good to the regulations. Sweedler, who was Bell’s full-season co-driver, completed only one lap in the race, which ensured he scored points along with Bell. No provision existed at the time to say that Sweedler had to be the driver to complete the minimum drive time.

As it turned out, that strategic move from Scuderia Corsa helped deliver Bell and Sweedler the GTD championship, over Christina Nielsen in a hard-luck second for TRG-AMR.

This is key background for understanding the rule in play applied here on Saturday night, as IMSA enforced Rule 12.3.3 of the SSR.

Here’s the rule in all its official rulebook glory:

12.3.3.

(SSR)

For PC and GTD, in any two (2) or three (3) Driver combination Car that finishes the Race, one (1) Silver/Bronze rated Driver must individually achieve the minimum drive-time for that Driver or their paired Driver to be eligible for finishing points. The other paired Driver must drive the Car in the Race to be eligible for finishing points. Any third (or unpaired) Driver must individually achieve the minimum drive-time in order for that Driver to be eligible for finishing points regardless of driver rating. If the paired Silver/Bronze rated Driver does not achieve the minimum drive-time, the Car is placed behind all other Cars in that class for the purpose of finishing positions and awarding any finishing points. All other Cars are elevated in the finishing positions and finishing points

In layman’s terms, that means that Potter and Lally – as full-season co-drivers – were considered the paired drivers for Magnus’ No. 44 car in GTD and that Seefried, while also Silver-rated, would not be eligible to register the car for finishing points.

This was instituted by IMSA as a fail-safe so a team couldn’t essentially utilize that loophole as Scuderia Corsa did last year, when Sweedler gave up needing to do the minimum drive time himself so long as he completed just one lap.

Potter started the race and drove the first 53 minutes of the race before handing off to Seefried. Seefried drove from that point until the 2 hour, 23-minute mark, when Lally took over. Seefried was back in at the 4:08 mark, under the yellow flag which actually lasted more than hour from when 4:02 was completed in the race until 5:04 when the green came out, and got out with 5:49 complete to hand back to Lally. Seefried was back in at the 6:55 mark, and in until 8:12, when he handed back to Lally for the duration. The strategic misfire, in hindsight, was not running Potter longer in the earlier stint and then during the hour-plus yellow.

All parties involved were aware of the situation but by the time Magnus Racing realized the gaffe, there was no turning back in terms of getting Potter his drive time. I’d had a weird feeling during the race when during a chance pit lane encounter with Seefried not long after his middle stint – which was great fun to watch – was getting called back into action for another stint relatively soon thereafter, and that raised a bit of a question mark to me at the time.

That’s the micro picture of what happened Saturday night. But the macro picture also needs to be identified here.

With driver ratings even enforced to begin with, that’s what has led to the need for the rule, which then created a bit of confusion in the media center at the time.

Because Seefried completed the minimum drive time of three hours himself as a Silver-rated driver; the problem was, per the latter portion of this rule, he was the incorrect Silver driver to have done so for Magnus.

So the first half of this rule confirms a Silver driver did the minimum drive time, and the second half of the rule confirms the wrong one did so for purposes of pairing.

Keating, Bleekemolen, Miller and Riley. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Keating, Bleekemolen, Miller and Riley. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Secondly, the Viper team led by Bill Riley doesn’t want to win this way. The Viper had the measure of the GTD field on pace all weekend, but still found itself locked in a battle for the win in the later stages.

Bleekemolen’s not going to come out and say “Yeah, we had a great battle, but thanks mainly to Rule 12.3.3 of the SSR for ensuring we won only because Potter didn’t do his drive time.”

No, the Dutchman’s quote in the post-race press conference was more appropriate, because it highlighted the win battle before the regulatory foul:

“I mean a couple of things, great to end the run of the Viper with a win. When I started sports cars in 2001, the first car I drove was a Viper, it gave me my first couple of wins in international sports car racing. I remember my test, I remember every single lap – it was a big powerful car, a great feeling.

“The race, and the fight with Andy (Lally) was unbelievable, I did the last 4 hours, I had no A/C and no drink for the last two. It was the toughest stint of my life. I rate Andy very high, he is always a great fighter, very aggressive but fair. And right on the end, even though it was the last lap of the race, he kept it fair.

“I feel bad about the situation, he crossed the line first, but we saw the numbers, John had to go in for a long time and maybe go back, but in the end, we won. We’ll go out on a high. We couldn’t get the championship, so we wanted the win, and we’ll take it.”

Thirdly, the unknown result for Magnus then has a trigger effect on the rest of the class. Nielsen, who ironically now won her GTD title on Saturday for Scuderia Corsa after completing the first three hours and eight minutes of the race to ensure she and Balzan paired points, and the rest of the team got promoted to a podium in the race only after the Magnus ending. So the ripple effect goes there.

Finally, the end result could alter Magnus Racing’s trajectory as a team going forward. Yes, it’s a case where you have to know the rules going in and which portion of the rule supersedes the others.

But Potter, who’s sunk so much of his own money into sports car racing for nearly a decade, may not feel fussed with doing so in this arena following this bitter blow. If VIR was enough of a setback for the team, quite how they move beyond this one remains a big question mark.

I saw the team on pit lane immediately after the race and the reaction was more of sheer shock than pure anger. Perhaps the anger came earlier.

In brief though, the fact it takes almost 1,500 words to explain a regulatory ending to a great battle for a win on track says all you need to say.

This was a bittersweet ending for the season in class, for the Viper as it won its last race albeit not in the manner they probably would have liked, and for Magnus – who despite the mistake provide crew with jobs, the paddock with humor, and the fans with one hell of a battle for the win.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”