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

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”