Photo courtesy of IMSA

Petit Le Mans, Friday qualifying and notes

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BRASELTON, Ga. – The first round of champions have been crowned on Friday at Road Atlanta after another busy day of track activity, while IMSA also featured a number of activities and announcements itself.

Meanwhile the polesitters have been set for Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans, the 20th edition of the fall endurance classic.

Quick notes and results links are below. Thursday’s day-end roundup is linked here.

WEATHERTECH QUALIFYING AND PRACTICE

  • Polesitters for the final race of the season, Motul Petit Le Mans, are as follows: Helio Castroneves (No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson, 1:11.314), Toni Vilander (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, GT Le Mans), Matteo Cressoni (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, 1:20.661, GT Daytona) and James French (No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, 1:16.069, Prototype Challenge) (Results).
  • The pole for Castroneves comes in both his and Team Penske’s sports car racing return. Castroneves won his most recent Petit Le Mans start in 2008, in the LMP2 class. Both Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis were second and third, Pipo Derani in the No. 22 car ahead of Brendon Hartley in the No. 2 car. The No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca was fourth ahead of a pair of Ligier JS P217s, then the first Cadillac DPi-V.R, Ricky Taylor in seventh in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac at 0.807 of a second behind.
  • Castroneves on track conditions today: “It cooled down quite a bit. Our car was really good in both directions. What I like most was, when you pushed it – the car accepted it. I was a little concerned coming from a lighter more crispy car in IndyCar. This is different. But I’m able to manage now.”
  • GTLM qualifying was, unsurprisingly, quite close. All nine cars in class were covered by just 0.766 of a second but the top five itself, covering four manufacturers, were spread by less than one tenth of a second – just 0.071 covered Vilander (1:17.660) to Bill Auberlen (1:17.731).
  • Cressoni’s pole is the first for Scuderia Corsa this year and the second for Ferrari, the first since Alessandro Pier Guidi did for Spirit of Race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. This also ends a run of four straight GTD poles for the Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
  • French’s pole is his and the Performance Tech team’s seventh in eight races this year. The only pole they lost was to Gustavo Yacaman at Sebring, for BAR1 Motorsports. The gap between first and second in PC was greater than the gap from first to ninth in GTLM (1.175 vs. 0.766) and first to 13th in GTD (1.175 vs. 0.987).
  • In fourth practice, Team Penske again led the timesheets, this time at a 1:11.968 for the No. 6 Oreca 07 Gibson (Practice 4).

CONTINENTAL TIRE SEASON FINALE

  • The two-hour Fox Factory 120 ended under yellow following a pair of incidents inside the final seven minutes, 15 seconds of the race. An ST class BMW had an apparent brake issue at Turn 6 and was beached in the gravel, the No. 84 Bimmerworld car driven by Tyler Cooke. When the race was meant to restart, an accordion effect stack-up occurred in ST, and Tom Long got into the back of Freedom Autosport teammate Andrew Carbonell, who then bumped into another BMW before the race could restart.
  • Race winners in GS and ST were the No. 69 MIA McLaren 570S GT4 of Jesse Lazare and Chris Green (GS) and the No. 44 CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima of Owen Trinkler and Sarah Cattaneo (ST) (Results).
  • Champions in GS and ST both drive Porsches. Dillon Machavern and Dylan Murcott bring home the GS title for the RS1 team, having driven their No. 28 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR. The team won last year’s ST class title with Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante in a Porsche Cayman. Meanwhile another Porsche Cayman in the hands of Eric Foss, the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche, won the ST title. Foss, like in 2014, was meant to share the crown with regular co-driver Jeff Mosing, but a back injury has sidelined Mosing the last three races. Foss also won the 2014 ST title in a similar manner, with Mosing having missed a round due to injury. Justin Piscitell has filled in for Mosing in his absence.

ADDITIONAL RACES

  • Kenton Koch (LMP3) and Kyle Masson (MPC) doubled up in the second of two IMSA Prototype Challenge races this morning (Results).
  • Alas, it’s Colin Thompson that wins the LMP3 title for Kelly-Moss Road and Race in a Norma M30 by eight points over Koch. Koch missed the season-opening doubleheader in Sebring and had a 7-2 win edge. Good things may be on the horizon for both, though. Masson easily secured the MPC title with wins in all but two races in class this year.
  • Trenton Estep took the final Porsche GT3 Cup win of the weekend and the year, ahead of series champion Jake Eidson (Results). Corey Fergus finished second in the points ahead of Estep.

NOTES

  • IMSA held an hour-long briefing at Road Atlanta this morning to roll through a number of announcements in a row, which are as follows:
  • The No. 84 D3+Transformers Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson is, in fact, a thing for 2018. Dawson Racing principals Ian Dawson and Simon Dawson, along with the director of marketing for Hasbro, Mike Fletcher, unveiled the team’s show car (a Ligier JS P3) and confirmed its chassis selection. Robbie Kerr was also present, announced as the team’s first driver.
  • Following that announcement, IMSA announced a strategic alliance with the award-winning, world-renowned Forza franchise developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Studios. IMSA President Scott Atherton was joined by Michael McClary, partner development, Microsoft, for this press conference. Forza and IMSA, with its predecessor the American Le Mans Series, enjoy a long-term relationship dating to the first Forza in 2005.
  • Next up on the docket was the announcement of Motul as the new “Official Motor Oil” of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Motul will also have entitlement rights for the Motul Pole Award of the Prototype and GT Daytona classes. Motul’s Guillaume Palleret (Motul USA president) and Romain Grabowski (Motul external communications manager) joined Atherton here, with the pair noting Motul’s desire to expand into the U.S. market following a long legacy in sports car racing dating to the company’s first Le Mans bow in 1954.
  • Michelin was next up with its first long-form press conference since confirmation it would be the official tire partner of IMSA starting in 2019. Chris Baker, Michelin director of motorsport and Andrew Meurer, vice president, marketing for Michelin North America, joined Atherton to extol both an extensive testing program and activation plans to go along with its increased role in the championship.
  • There was more to come with another announcement, this time the inaugural Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring International Raceway from Nov. 9-11, 2018. This will be a four-hour race including LMP3, GT3, GT4 and TCR global specification race cars and Pro-Am driver lineups (no Platinum-rated drivers) though and will be the first full race under the Michelin-only umbrella as a preview into 2019. Sebring president/GM Wayne Estes joined Baker, Meurer and Atherton here.
  • Atherton then made his own remarks about the series’ direction and growth trends. The next major item of note for IMSA to determine is its TV package beyond 2018, with current partner FOX Sports confirmed through the end of next season.
  • At 1:30 p.m. ET, Team Penske president Tim Cindric joined new Acura sports car driver Helio Castroneves and Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr for Castroneves’ first formal at-track press conference since his switch. Cindric extrapolated on the testing plans, the humor that’s followed Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud all doing driver changes, and the timeline for figuring out the remainder of the driver lineup – the hope is to have all six drivers (three each for the two Acura ARX-05s) sorted in the next two to three weeks. Castroneves said he’ll enter into the right mindset as a sports car driver in terms of compromise and understanding endurance racing, as he transitions out of IndyCar. The team will feature a number of IndyCar crossovers including engineers Jonathan Diuguid and Raul Prados, and will be known officially as Acura Team Penske.
  • Given these interviews, nuggets and announcements, there’s quite a bit more to follow over the coming days from all these availabilities.
  • Among the notables on the ground this weekend: a number of individuals who spent a majority of the year in the Pirelli World Challenge paddock, a good number of drivers without rides this weekend but searching for one in 2018 (among others, Matthew Brabham, Cameron Lawrence, Jade Buford and Mike Skeen), and some high-profile members that contributed to Audi’s LMP1 success throughout its tenure (engineers Leena Gade and Justin Taylor and PR aces Martyn Pass and Eva-Maria Veith). Joest Racing, which ran Audi’s program, now operates the Mazda Team Joest program in 2018, where Taylor will be an engineer. Gade joined IMSA Radio coverage on Radio Show Limited’s RS2 channel throughout the day, adding her unparalleled insight and expertise from the timing stand to the broadcast booth.

‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits still chasing drag racing records, more innovation at 86

All photos courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
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At 86 years old, legendary drag racer “Big Daddy” Don Garlits has found the fountain of youth:

Batteries.

No, we’re not talking about batteries for a heart pacemaker or the kind you put in your TV remote control.

Rather, the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history is still attacking the quarter-mile just like he did when he got into the sport more than six decades ago.

The difference for the Ocala, Florida, resident is rather than using nitromethane, which powers the Top Fuel dragsters he used to drive to countless wins and championships, Garlits is now piloting dragsters that are battery powered.

Or as many refer to them as “electric dragsters.”

Garlits has been working on electric dragsters for about four years now, and he’s just as competitive now as he was back in his hey-day.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is still going fast at the age of 86. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

He holds the world record for electric dragsters at 185.6 mph at 7.25 seconds. He actually has gone quicker – 7.05 seconds – but it was not recognized as a record.

Garlits has done all that with a former Top Fuel dragster that was converted to battery power. He calls it Swamp Rat 37, which continues the long line of innovations and technological advancements that Garlits has been know for his whole career.

“It’s all batteries now,” Garlits said when interviewed by MotorSportsTalk recently at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

MORE: ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, 82, sets yet another national drag racing speed/elapsed time record

The electric dragsters have definitely helped “Big Daddy” in many ways, but most notable is his look and demeanor. He could easily pass for early-to-mid 60s, and his drive and desire to be the best pioneer of the battery-powered cars is just like it was when he was racing in Top Fuel.

“I feel good, real good,” Garlits said. “Well, of course, developing the electric dragster has been a big part of that.

“A man doesn’t really go to seed, so to speak, until he has nothing to do. You’ve gotta have goals, no matter how old you are.

“It’s as important to exercise your mind as it is to exercise your body, because your mind can get stiff and out of whack, too.”

At an age where most individuals would be enjoying retirement to the fullest, Garlits refuses to retire. Instead, he keeps busy with a schedule that someone half his age would have a hard time keeping up with.

In addition to constant tinkering on his electric dragster – with the goal of becoming the first person to break the 200 mph barrier – he also spends every day (except when he’s traveling on business) at the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, which he founded in 1976.

And then there’s his latest project.

“Now I’m building Swamp Rat 38 that is designed around all that I’ve learned about electronic dragsters over the last four years,” Garlits said. “My goal is to reach 200 mph on batteries and to have a car that’s consistent and simple to operate so that a group of people can have dragsters and not cost a fortune to do it. It’s not very expensive.

“It’s going to take about 1,300 to 1,400 horsepower in about a 1,500 pound car. And I have the electric motor to do that.”

Garlits’ milestones in drag racing history are truly legendary. He was the first Top Fuel racer to break speed barriers of 170 mph, 180 mph, 200 mph, 240 mph, 250 mph and 270 mph – all in the quarter-mile – as well as was the first driver to exceed 200 mph in the one-eighth-mile.

Each of those milestones came because Garlits has spent his entire life tinkering, tweaking and strategizing. He got his mechanical curiosity from his father, an engineer for Westinghouse, who was on a team that invented a number of significant appliances, including the electric fan and the electric iron.

“That’s one reason I’ve gotten so excited about this electric dragster is because those genes are coming out,” Garlits said with a laugh.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits back in the early stages of his drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

But seriously, innovation and the desire to never give up and always strive to be the best has been Garlits’ mantra since he first started drag racing in the late 1950s.

“The biggest difference in drag racing today vs. my era in Top Fuel is definitely the cost,” Garlits said. “I’ll never forget when I showed up at Bakersfield (California) with my car, Swamp Rat 1, in 1959 for the U.S. Fuel and Gas championships, the first real big drag race in the world.

“The total price of my car and the trailer it was on cost less than $1,000 to make. Nitro was $1.50 per gallon and it used less than a gallon per run. That’s all the cost there was. I ran a whole year on the same engine, same clutch, same tires, same everything. It was very inexpensive.

“That’s why drag racing appealed back then to so many youngsters because it was something they could dream about and actually do. Now, they’ve made this maybe as expensive as NASCAR and other types of racing.

The Swamp Rat that started it all for “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Swamp Rat 1. Photo: Museum of Drag Racing.

“The biggest cost was the engine. It came out of a wrecking yard and out of a ’57 Chrysler. It cost $450 bucks. The chassis was out of a ’31 Chevrolet and I just used the side rails, that was $35. And then the rear end out of an old Ford was $10, and the transmission and front wheels, everything was out of wrecking yards – and you made it yourself.”

Electric dragsters today are among the least expensive vehicles in motorsports, Garlits said.

“It’s probably $150,000 to get to the track with the car and truck, but that’s the last of the big costs,” Garlits said. “It costs about 7 or 8 cents a run after that.

“That’s compared to some of the Top Fuel dragster runs today, where it can cost up to $25,000 per run. Nobody can afford that.”

Garlits was forced to retire from racing in 1992 – at the age of 60 – due to a detached retina in his eye. He made two brief comebacks in 1998 and again in 2003, attaining a personal best of 323 mph in 4.7 seconds (on a quarter-mile, before NHRA scaled back Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to 1,000-foot lanes).

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

While Top Fuel dragsters are routinely hitting 330 mph and faster these days, Garlits demurs when asked if he’d like to pilot one of the current nitro dragsters.

“I wouldn’t jump into one of the 300-plus mph cars today, it’s too hard on your body,” he said. “You get hit with 8 Gs when you step on it and that’s instant, and that hurts you when you get up to my age.”

But, he adds with a caveat and another smile on his face, “Our bones and joints are not as good as they used to be – but I’d love it if I could.”

There are only a handful of electric dragsters in competition today, but Garlits is optimistic that current numbers will continue to grow. While electric drag racing is overseen by the National Electric Drag Racing Association, Garlits has had talks with the National Hot Rod Association about potential exhibition runs in the future.

But that’s just part of it.

Even though he’ll turn 87 in January, Garlits wants to get back to racing competitively in a structured series or league. It’s just a matter of having more cars out there.

“Oh yeah, I’d get right back in it,” he said emphatically. “That’s why I’m pioneering this, because I’m trying to get it going.

“Right now, there’s about four teams all fighting to reach 200 mph first, and there’s a couple of teams in Europe. We’re all taking different approaches and one of us is going to come up with the best idea, which is the most feasible, the least expensive and the one that gets the job done – and that’s the way the dragster will probably go.”

The biggest obstacle to electric dragsters continues to be consistency, particularly of the batteries that power them. Remember, these four-wheeled beasts do not run on conventional fuel, just the power produced by the batteries.

But Garlits is optimistic that further technical advances will soon come faster and more frequent, adding that “I’m in a totally different battery than what I started with. The technology in four years has leapfrogged.”

Another exmple of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits back during the most successful part of his lengthy drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

In addition to trying to get the NHRA onboard when it comes to promoting and exhibiting electric dragsters, Garlits has also had discussions with noted innovator/entrepreneur Elon Musk and Tesla.

“The most important technology that I’m paying attention to and I’m trying to get them involved with my team is Tesla, because they have some nice induction motors that make 450 horsepower, and they’re small,” Garlits said. “I could put four of them in my car and I might be better off than one motor in my car. That would not only give me 1,800 horses, but also maybe 230 mph. I’m really trying to convince (Tesla to get involved with him).”

When asked what has been the greatest accomplishment of his career, Garlits is quick to answer.

“Building the revolutionary championship-winning rear-engine dragster,” he said. “There had been rear-engine dragsters, but they didn’t do well. This put the driver out-front of the motor where they were safer.”

Ironically, it was an incident on March 8, 1970 at fabled Lions Dragway in Long Beach, California, one of the worst of Garlits’ career, when the transmission on Swamp Rat 13 exploded, ultimately costing Garlits part of his right foot, as well as saw a spectator also injured.

 

But a lot of good came out of the incident, as well. While recuperating in a nearby hospital, Garlits came up with the rear-engine dragster, which revolutionized the sport.

“They had killed, I think it was six people in about a two-to-three year people prior to my big accident in Long Beach,” he said. “And they haven’t killed six since in the last 47 years.

“I’m also very proud of the Drag Racing Museum, where I’ve captured the history of the sport all the way back to the 40s’ and have all these artifacts before they became collectibles.

“Everybody laughed at me when I started the Museum in 1976 because you could go to a guy’s garage and he’d give you all that stuff, they were just trying to get rid of it, and today it’s worth a fortune. We don’t sell anything and we’ve got it there for future generations as a non-profit, so my family isn’t going to be selling anything. It’s there for America.”

And right there smack dab in the middle of all of it is the man and the legend, Big Daddy.

When asked what his life is like these days, given everything that keeps him busy, he looks straight at the questioner, broadly smiles and says matter-of-factly, “I’m having more fun right now than I ever had in my entire life, if you can believe that.”

Yes, Don, we can believe it. And with you leading the charge, that 200 mph barrier will soon be broken.

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