Podcast: Robby Gordon says he had ‘serious look’ at Indy 500 return

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CHARLOTTE — Four days after turning 50, Robby Gordon is returning to the Dakar Rally, the off-road classic that he occasionally has threated to win during 11 previous starts.

He might have unfinished business with another of auto racing’s crown jewels, too.

In a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast to discuss his Dakar outing, Gordon revealed that he also took a “very serious” look at returning to the Indianapolis 500 last year.

Might he return this May to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, which he nearly won in 1999 before running out of fuel while leading with a lap remaining?

“We’ve looked at the Indy 500,” said Gordon, who has seven starts at Indy, most recently in 2004. “I don’t know if it’s worth the roulette wheel. If you look at what happened with young Robert Wickens, who I think was one of the most awesome talents coming up through the sport, you look at how quick that changes. That’s a risk you have to be willing to take.”

Wickens was seriously injured in a crash last year at Pocono Raceway. Gordon has expressed misgivings about running ovals with IndyCar in the past, noting in 2006 that he had shifted to stock cars in part because he felt safer.

Gordon is heavily involved in running his Stadium Super Trucks series (in which he also races) and its spinoff consumer product potential. He also is invested in helping foster the burgeoning career of his 10-year-old son, Max, who already has been testing in SST.

“I don’t know with what we have going on in Max’s career and everything else if this is a risk I’m willing to take right now,” said Gordon, who joked that “maybe Max will be my Indy 500 kamikaze pilot.”

Gordon had two victories in the Champ Car series. He also was successful in NASCAR with four victories across the top two divisions, three on road courses.

Though his last Cup start was June 2012, he hasn’t ruled out a return there, too.

“A road course could interest me,” Gordon said on the podcast. “The Roval would be a lot of fun. Today, I’d still be top of the board when it came to road racing. I think that comes down to experience and being able to control a car, and that’s exactly what my SST will do for young drivers.”

Despite the near-misses at some signature wins, Gordon said he harbors few regrets about lacking a title in NASCAR or IndyCar. “If I would have stayed as a race car driver for one team, would I have a championship? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on if you’re sitting in the right seat at the right time. There’s a lot of variables that go into winning championships.

“It’s been cool. It’s been a fun career and it’s far from over.”

During the podcast, Gordon also discussed:

  • What makes Dakar a special event;
  • The innovative car he is bringing and why he thinks it’ll be an advantage;
  • His visions for motorsports’ future;
  • Balancing the logistics of owning a Dakar team with racing the event;
  • The way to look at the race through the lens of a NASCAR season;

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds