Photo courtesy of IMSA

Simpson, JDC-Miller rue lost win chance at Road America

Leave a comment

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi won the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship unofficial “Which Prototype topples Cadillac sweepstakes” in Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.

But it was the car that’s been the most consistent challenger to the Cadillacs – the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson – which was perhaps in with the best chance to win today but fell victim to a strategic misstep, that didn’t look bad at the time.

Misha Goikhberg started eighth and last in the Prototype field but even so, that wasn’t the worst case scenario because both he and Stephen Simpson had nowhere to go but up afterwards, and they knew they had better race pace.

Goikhberg enjoyed a couple intense battles in his stint, and then Simpson was up to fourth with just under an hour remaining in the race and the question was how they could move even further forward from there.

The caution flew once John Edwards stopped at pit in in his No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, and that presented a tough place for the Prototype field at that time.

With most cars unable to run much longer than 40 minutes on a single tank of fuel, but with 55 minutes and change left in the race, the JDC-Miller team gambled that staying out then could pay dividends – but it would only work if the race would stay green from there after the restart.

Simpson restarted in the lead on Lap 55, with just under 40 minutes left to go, and seeing this strategy play out against the other six Prototypes that pitted under the caution would have been fascinating.

It never got the chance to materialize though as contact between the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Dirk Werner saw Werner get beached in Turn 1 after getting sent off course. And it also doomed Simpson’s hopes because he’d need to pit on this caution and lose all the track position.

Following a stop for emergency service and a second, later stop for full service, Simpson and Goikhberg dropped back to eighth overall and in class, for their worst finish of the season. Until Road America, the team finished between second and sixth each race – which placed the pairing third in points.

Simpson was left to rue the tough call in the immediate aftermath of the race, but still praised the team for making it because under green conditions, it could have played out in their favor.

“The rationale behind it made sense. But obviously we need to revisit it and learn from it,” Simpson told NBC Sports. “It’s not that it was a silly decision. It just didn’t fall our way.”

Before he did pit, Simpson enjoyed a great battle with eventual winner Pipo Derani in the Nissan, even though it wasn’t a real battle for position knowing the pit stop was imminent. Simpson praised Derani’s race craft, and Derani did the same afterwards.

“Before the weekend even started, I had a bug in my stomach, extra determination to succeed,” Simpson said. “Even after qualifying I didn’t worry. I believe I can out race all these guys. I planned on doing it today and the next two races as well.

“I’m not sure who I was racing in the Nissan, but I have tons of respect for him. It was fun to race up there. It was very good. It’s a pleasure competing with them. I’m disappointed we are not rewarded.”

Derani echoed those thoughts, while also not sure when Simpson would need to pit.

“I knew he had to make a pit stop. My engineer advised me to play smart with him,” Derani said. “You never know. I tried to overtake him. Luckily he had to pit and we had the green laps in the end. It’s a tricky situation. We could see how aggressive he was driving. Didn’t want to put myself in a risky position. Luckily he pitted and we had clean air after that.”

Simpson regretted the day’s ending but said eventually if the performance keeps up, their day will come.

“That’s what makes this one disappointing. The JDC-Miller guys work extra hard. We need to convert these good opportunities into wins.”

Chevrolet hoping it finally has edge on Honda in Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chevrolet engines have powered some of IndyCar’s biggest wins over the last six years.

Their drivers have won three of the first five races this season, four straight series titles and claimed the top four starting spots in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

So why is there so much chatter about Chevy vs. Honda in Sunday’s race? It’s the one mountain Chevy continues to try and conquer.

“We have more horsepower at the top end but race running’s going to be different because you’re not going to be flat out,” 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud said. “You’re going to have to manage your tires, you’re going to have to lift a lot and reaccelerate, and the Honda is really strong at that. So I think it’s going to equalize the race and I think there’s a good chance it will show, which is fantastic.”

Pagenaud knows both engines well.

He spent his first four seasons in the series working with Honda teams before switching to Roger Penske’s powerhouse Chevy team in 2015.

Yet as dominant as Chevy has been over the years outside Indy and as good as Penske’s team has been on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, Honda continues to have the upper hand in the 500. Their cars have driven to victory lane 12 times over the past 14 years, including a run of nine straight (six coming when Honda was the series’ sole-engine manufacturer).

Chevy has two 500 wins since returning to the series in 2012. But the engine battle is becoming far more competitive even at Indy where the disparity from the top qualifier to the last qualifier was cut from 11.083 mph in 2017 to 5.198 mph this year.

Drivers have already noticed a difference on the track and casual fans who only watch the 500 might pick up on the changes, too.

“It’s certainly exciting for the fans, for us, for the teams,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Chevy-powered driver for Penske. “It’s all about the end. Right now, we happen to be competitive so let’s see what happens in the race.”

Last year, Honda grabbed four of the top five spots and powered two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the race’s rookie of the year award. The problem: Three Honda engines blew during the second half of the race and those still on the track worried they would face the same fate.

This year, some of those same questions could return after Marco Andretti blew an engine just hours before the start of the IndyCar Grand Prix. Still, Andretti has been fast and qualified 12th for the race.

The new aero kits have drivers complaining about handling and passing on Sunday. Practice and qualifying speeds haven’t provided many hints about what to expect, either.

The practice session Monday was the first time everybody worked heavily on race setups and attempted to run in traffic.

The result: Chevy and Honda each had five cars among the top 10, in practice led by 23-year-old Sage Karam at 226.461 mph in a Chevy. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy winner with Andretti Autosport, was third-fastest at 224.820 – and No. 1 among the Honda teams.

Chevy, however, posted the top three non-tow speeds with rookie Kyle Kaiser leading the way at 221.107. Marco Andretti wound up fourth at 220.407 and was the top Honda car the list.

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has learned not to read too much into all these numbers. The Chip Ganassi Racing star qualified ninth and is one of only two Honda drivers starting in the first three rows Sunday.

Last year, Honda took six of the top nine starting spots and had four of the top five cars at the finish line.

“I think there’s a lot of good Honda cars. Hopefully this one is one of them,” the 2008 Indy 500 winner said. “It showed pretty good, I think, in practice. But again it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You’ve got to give it your best, put in the effort and work hard.”

And hope for the best.

“I believe, even last year, even though the Hondas were really strong, we were able to fight in the end,” Castroneves said. “It’s all about being a good, balanced car.”