Lingering injury forces U.S. driver Bryce Menzies to withdraw from Dakar Rally

Photo courtesy MenziesMotorsports.com
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The United States contingent in the 2017 Dakar Rally has suffered a major blow – even though the Rally doesn’t begin until Jan. 2.

Dakar Rally coverage begins on Tuesday, January 3, at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In a release, driver Bryce Menzies, who was slated to compete in his first-ever Rally, has been forced to withdraw from the world-renowned race through Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. The reason given is the 29-year-old Menzies continues to experience complications from an injury he sustained in a crash last August. The official Dakar website has also confirmed Menzies’ withdrawal.

“I am beyond disappointed to have to withdraw from starting this year’s Dakar,” Menzies said, according to the release. “It has been a lifelong goal of mine that will have to wait another year before I can attempt.”

Menzies broke the world record for a truck jump, flying 379.4 feet through the air, in August near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After setting the mark, Menzies had planned to repeat the jump – and try to break his new mark – during a live webcast a week later. But during practice for the second jump, his Red Bull truck crashed and Menzies suffered a broken shoulder.

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Since then, he’s experienced complications, including the need for an additional surgery, leaving him physically unable to perform in the Dakar Rally.

“I knew it would it be tough to get back to 100 percent after my injuries from the world record New Frontier jump,” Menzies said. “Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get to a point where I’d be both comfortable in the car for that long and technically able to compete at the level warranted to win.

“It also wasn’t worth re-injuring anything and then being out for the more races this season.”

But Menzies isn’t giving up totally on racing in the Rally: he’s just postponing it a year.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of my MINI later this year as we put in the homework needed to get ready for 2018 Dakar,” he said.

Menzies will be replaced in his MINI John Cooper Works Rally by Argentinean driver Orlando Terranova and German navigator Andreas Schulz.

Terranova finished fifth in the 2013 and 2014 Dakar Rally’s, while Schulz is a two-time winner of the legendary event (2001, 2003).

“(Menzies’ withdrawal is) really bad news, X-raid Team Manager Sven Quandt said in the release. “Bryce is a very gifted driver and certainly would have secured several good results in his first Dakar.

“But it also is of major importance that he fully focuses on his recovery to afterwards return to motor racing in top form. So, we and MINI opted for letting Orly and Andi switch to the MINI John Cooper Works Rally. They are a very competitive pairing.”

Menzies’ original co-driver was slated to be fellow U.S. racer Peter Mortensen. There has been no word yet on whether Menzies’ withdrawal from the Rally will also force Mortensen out or if he’ll join another team. Like Menzies, Mortensen was also slated to compete in his first-ever Dakar Rally.

Also, click here to read about Menzies’ record-breaking jump from back in August.

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Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”