Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Pro-Am lineup of Braun, Bennett thriving with CORE

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The summer stretch of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been particularly kind to Prototype teams who use LMP2-spec machinery.

JDC-Miller Motorsports won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, and Stephen Simpson in the No. 99 Oreca 07 Gibson, while CORE autosport has back-to-back victories in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix (at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and last weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase (from Road America).

CORE’s triumph is particularly noteworthy in that it features a genuine Pro-Am driver lineup. Jon Bennett, a businessman who founded the team in 2010, is the “Am” part – Bennett holds a bronze driver rating from the FIA – while the gold-rated Colin Braun is the team’s “Pro.”

Given the mighty lineups in other Prototype entries, particularly ones competing with DPi machinery, one might assume that they’re at a disadvantage. And with LMP2-spec cars winning only once prior to July since the current Prototype regulations came to be last year, they would even appear to be disadvantaged somewhat due to their machinery.

However, with IMSA’s BoP (Balance of Performance) dictating that the DPi cars be BoP’ed based on the top performing LMP2 car, any machinery disadvantage is minimized.

And while they are indeed a Pro-Am team behind the wheel, they’re no pushovers. Bennett has started the races at Watkins Glen, CTMP, and Road America, and while expectations for a bronze driver like him might be low, Bennett has demonstrated some genuine prowess behind the wheel.

The 53-year-old has driven solid, mistake-free stints in each event, keeping the No. 54 Oreca not only on the lead lap in the Prototype class, but within range of the leaders at all times.

And co-driver Colin Braun has been an ace of the highest regard in this summer stretch. He scored a pair of brilliant poles at Watkins Glen and CTMP, and helped convert them into a third-place effort at The Glen followed by the team’s first Prototype win at CTMP.

And Sunday’s outing at Road America again demonstrated their prowess, and the cunning of team strategist Jeff Braun, Colin’s father.

Colin Braun qualified a stout third, but the team elected to start Bennett, as it did at The Glen and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. And as in those events, Bennett drove a solid stint to keep the car in contention before yielding to Braun.

And when it became apparent that they may not have the pace to challenge for the win on merit, strategist Jeff Braun and Co. took advantage of cautions to go off strategy and gamble on fuel, keeping son Colin out in the final hour while the other contenders pitted for splashes of fuel.

And it all worked perfectly, with the young Braun conserving just enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag on top before the car ran out of fuel on the cool down lap.

Fuel strategy helped Colin Braun and Jon Bennett take CORE autosport’s second consecutive Prototype win. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Colin Braun was quick to emphasize how Sunday’s triumph was very much a “team win” in every sense.

“It’s a great result for all the CORE autosport guys. I’m super proud, it was quite a team effort,” he asserted. “Jon did a great job at the start of the stint. We have some amazing calls on the pit box as far as what our strategy was going to be. We had a great call that got me to second. I kind of faded toward the end with a bit of tire wear so we started to change our strategy to look at a fuel savings/fuel mileage race so we started down that path right away.”

Colin added, “Great call by the guys on the box to stick to that plan the whole rest of the way. They were giving me fuel numbers that I was trying to hit and sort of keep the pace. It was a fantastic day, I think at (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) we showed we had a lot of speed to win. And we showed here we had to save fuel and be smart and win in a different way.”

Bennett echoed Colin’s sentiments, further emphasizing how the team put them in position to take the win.

“It’s clearly a team sport,” he explained. “(Colin) did a great job and was magic in the car. He was fast as well as having to save fuel. We had an awesome run on our Continental tires. They performed well all weekend.”

Bennett finished, “At some times, you have to separate yourselves from the pack so we made a strategy call to come in the back door. It was interesting to watch it develop as the engineers were picking apart how much fuel left, how many laps left. It was incredible to watch. I didn’t even give myself a chance to think about it, but back to back wins with these incredible drivers in this series is amazing.”

CORE’s run of success this summer becomes all the more significant when you factor in IMSA’s recent announcement about the future of the Prototype class – DPi and LMP2 will be split into separate classes next year, with LMP2 designated as a Pro-Am class. And the BoP rules will be different as well, as the DPi cars will no longer be BoP’ed based on the best performing LMP2 car.

As such, there’s a chance that the success CORE has had this summer may not be replicated next year.

Regardless, their run of success, against powerhouses like Action Express, Acura Team Penske, and Wayne Taylor Racing, has highlighted what a Pro-Am lineup is capable of in the right circumstances, and they could easily add more wins before the 2018 season is over.

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Three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda dies at 70

AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File
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BERLIN (AP) Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda, who won two of his titles after a horrific crash that left him with serious burns and went on to become a prominent figure in the aviation industry, has died. He was 70.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Lauda’s family said in a statement he “passed away peacefully” on Monday. Walter Klepetko, a doctor who performed a lung transplant on Lauda last year, said Tuesday: “Niki Lauda has died. I have to confirm that.”

Lauda won the F1 drivers’ championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren.

In 1976, he was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix but made an astonishingly fast return to racing just six weeks later.

Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula One circuit after retiring as a driver in 1985, and in recent years served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.

Born on Feb. 22, 1949 into a wealthy Vienna industrial family, Nikolaus Andreas Lauda was expected to follow his father’s footsteps into the paper-manufacturing industry, but instead concentrated his business talents and determination on his dreams of becoming a racing driver.

Lauda financed his early career with the help of a string of loans, working his way through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2. He made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix and picked up his first points in 1973 with a fifth-place finish for BRM in Belgium.

Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, winning a Grand Prix for the first time that year in Spain and his first drivers’ title with five victories the following season.

Facing tough competition from McLaren’s James Hunt, he appeared on course to defend his title in 1976 when he crashed at the Nuerburgring during the German Grand Prix. Several drivers stopped to help pull him from the burning car, but the accident would scar him for life. The baseball cap Lauda almost always wore in public became a personal trademark.

“The main damage, I think to myself, was lung damage from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the car for about 50 seconds,” he recalled nearly a decade later. “It was something like 800 degrees.”

Lauda fell into a coma for a time. He said that “for three or four days it was touch and go.”

“Then my lungs recovered and I got my skin grafts done, then basically there was nothing left,” he added. “I was really lucky in a way that I didn’t do any (other) damage to myself. So the real question was then will I be able to drive again, because certainly it was not easy to come back after a race like that.”

Lauda made his comeback just six weeks after the crash, finishing fourth at Monza after overcoming his initial fears.

He recalled “shaking with fear” as he changed into second gear on the first day of practice and thinking, “I can’t drive.”

The next day, Lauda said he “started very slowly trying to get all the feelings back, especially the confidence that I’m capable of driving these cars again.” The result, he said, boosted his confidence and after four or five races “I had basically overcome the problem of having an accident and everything went back to normal.”

He won his second championship in 1977 before switching to Brabham and then retiring in 1979 to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air, declaring that he “didn’t want to drive around in circles anymore.”

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3 million a year.

He finished fifth his first year back and 10th in 1983, but came back to win five races and edge out teammate Alain Prost for his third title in 1984. He retired for good the following year, saying he needed more time to devote to his airline business.

Initially a charter airline, Lauda Air expanded in the 1980s to offer flights to Asia and Australia. In May 1991, a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.

Lauda occasionally took the controls of the airline’s jets himself over the years. In 1997, longtime rival Austrian Airlines took a minority stake and in 2000, with the company making losses, he resigned as board chairman after an external audit criticized a lack of internal financial control over business conducted in foreign currency. Austrian Airlines later took full control.

Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003. Germany’s Air Berlin took a minority stake and later full control of that airline, which Lauda bought back in early 2018 after it fell victim to its parent’s financial woes.

He partnered with budget carrier Ryanair on Niki’s successor, LaudaMotion.

On the Formula One circuit, Lauda later formed a close bond with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013. He often backed Hamilton in public and provided advice and counsel to the British driver.

Lauda also intervened as a Mercedes mediator when Hamilton and his former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg feuded, argued and traded barbs as they fought for the title between 2014-16

Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and, when that stopped functioning well, a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

In August 2018, he underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a “serious lung illness.” It didn’t give details.

Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit, and their twin children Max and Mia. He had two adult sons, Lukas and Mathias, from his first marriage.