Schmidt, Andretti announce semi-autonomous race at INDYCAR GP

Photo: @IMS Twitter
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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Sam Schmidt and Mario Andretti never raced each other in their driving careers. Andretti retired from IndyCar after 1994 while Schmidt’s driving career was cut short due to a devastating accident in 2000 (he’s paralyzed from the neck down) before carving out a successful career as a team owner.

But, they’ll have their first chance to race each other in a warm-up act for this year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix from Indianapolis on May 13.

Ahead of the race on the 2.439-mile road course, Schmidt and Andretti will race head-to-head in a pair of Arrow semi-autonomous Corvettes around the track. Details, lap counts and charity information will follow at a later date – proceeds will go toward Conquer Paralysis Now.

Schmidt has raced the Corvette at the track before on the oval, and topped out at more than 150mph during a demonstration on qualifying day last year for the Indianapolis 500.

Schmidt and Andretti had some solid banter during the announcement today. Here’s the back-and-forth between these two, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles offering his input:

Schmidt: “The company (Arrow Electronics) is so special on so many levels. There are so many positive benefits. We never had the opportunity to race against Mario in my own driving career.

Andretti: “So you’ll do it under unfair circumstances? (laughter)

Schmidt: “Just like you at Daytona back in the day. (laughter)

“But it’s a huge honor. Everyone looks up to Mario in the paddock, on and off the track.

“It’s nice to not be a team owner in this situation. It’s been a great ride. I’m honored to be a part of the program. We’ll do a couple more things this year.”

Andretti: “If I beat you, do I get a ride in your team for the 500?

Schmidt: “Yeah he would race a cardboard box if you gave him the opportunity to race. You didn’t learn your lesson when you flipped?

Boles: “I’m fully supportive of that.

Schmidt: “If you beat me, in 2018, you’ve got a ride in the Indy 500… we’ll go kick your son’s (Michael) ass.”

Further details will come later today, but it adds an extra degree of interest to the first of two IndyCar races at the Speedway in May.

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