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Versatile racing legend Dan Gurney dies at 86

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Legendary racer Dan Gurney, a winner in NASCAR, Formula One, IndyCar and sports cars, died Sunday morning because of complications from pneumonia, a statement from his family confirmed. He was 86.

Gurney’s greatest career triumph was teaming with fellow American icon A.J. Foyt to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The next week, he scored the last of his four victories in Formula One, winning in his famous Eagle chassis in the Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps. It was indicative of Gurney’s reputation as an innovator known for groundbreaking advancements in aerodynamics and safety as a team owner and driver. He even is credited with being the first to spray champagne on the winner’s podium.

But he also was known as one of the most prodigious and versatile drivers of the 20th century, perhaps best exemplified by his success in NASCAR’s premier series at Riverside International Raceway. Driving a Ford, he won in his first four starts (1963-66) on the road course in Southern California (where he lived most of his life). He won again from the pole position in 1968 – one of four wins he scored with Wood Brothers Racing.

In 16 Cup starts from 1962-80, Gurney notched 10 top 10s. He finished fifth in the 1963 Daytona 500.

He also made eight starts in the Indianapolis 500, finishing second in 1968 and ’69. He scored seven wins in Champ Car races from 1967-70.

Gurney raced the full F1 schedule in 1961, ’63-’64 and ’67 and finished fourth in the standings twice.

A winner in Trans-Am, Can-Am, NASCAR, Formula 1 and IndyCar, Gurney was the first to win in sports cars, Formula 1, NASCAR and Indy cars. Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only drivers who matched the feat.

After retiring from full-time driving, he became a team owner and was instrumental in the formation of the CART Series. His All-American Racers team won dozens of racers in open wheel, stock cars and sports cars (including a streak of 17 straight from 1992-93 in IMSA GTP).

“The word ‘legend’ can sometimes be overused, but in describing Daniel Sexton Gurney, it’s the only word that fits,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said in a statement. “Dan Gurney was an American racing legend who accomplished nearly all there was to accomplish as a driver in our sport, from sports cars to NASCAR, Indy cars to Formula 1. Dan was an innovative car builder and a lifelong steward of motorsports beyond his on-track performance.

Gurney is survived by his wife, Evi, and four sons (Justin, Alex, Jimmy and Dan Jr.). Here is part of the statement from the family:

With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14, 2018. In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say ‘Godspeed.’

Gurney’s family said his funeral will be private and asked that donations in his name be made to Hoag Hospital Foundation in Newport Beach, California. Fans who wish to express their sentiments about Gurney can send notes to eagleracingcarsusa@aarinc.com.

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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