IndyCar Classic set for debut race at COTA

Circuit of the Americas
Getty Images
0 Comments

AUSTIN,Texas — From the time the first piles of dirt and rock were moved to start paving a new Formula One track in Texas, the owners of the Circuit of the Americas eyed a future with IndyCar.

It may have taken longer than fans had hoped, but they finally have one. And with the first IndyCar Classic this weekend, the mission now is to develop what organizers hope will be the second-biggest race of the IndyCar calendar.

“I think it can happen,” track President Bobby Epstein said. “It just has to get bigger every year.”

Epstein has insisted the IndyCar Classic will make a splash in its debut as the second race of the 2019 season, including a unique $100,000 bonus if the driver who wins the pole position also wins the race. The drivers first learned of the bonus on Thursday.

“Sweet!” James Hinchcliffe said while wringing his hands at the prospect. “That will be a nice bottle of wine.”

Watch the race on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN or at NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app

Built for Formula One, the 3.41-mile Circuit of the Americas opened in 2012 and has catered primarily to the European-based racing series F1 and MotoGP, hosting the U.S. Grand Prix and the Grand Prix of the Americas, respectively, every year. While Epstein also wanted to host IndyCar, the Austin track had been frozen out by a geographic exclusivity clause the American series had in its contract with Texas Motor Speedway just three hours north in Fort Worth.

The restriction frustrated some fans, but it also gave the Circuit of the Americas time to mature as a track and gain exposure as a global and national destination for drivers and fans, Epstein said.

Relations between the two Texas tracks had been touchy for years, but now that both host IndyCar races about 10 weeks apart, Epstein sees no reason why both can’t thrive.

“Their heath is as important to the health of racing as ours is,” Epstein said. “They didn’t really roll out the welcome mat because they didn’t know what we would become. Everybody has the right to be protective of their investment. (But) I don’t think their success comes at our loss and I would hope they feel the same way.”

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said he wants the IndyCar Classic to be a hit.

“I would expect their crowd to top 100,000 people. It’s a new thing, a novelty, and for their first visit there they should draw a huge crowd,” Gossage said. “When we first ran IndyCar, we drew well over 100,000 people for the race for many years. That kind of success Sunday will be good for all racing in Texas.”

IndyCar has pushed to boost its new track’s profile in the offseason, hosting its preseason media days and two days of testing here in February. Several drivers were already familiar with the circuit, having turned laps in F1 or in private visits in years past. Andretti Autosports’ Alexander Rossi, Arrow Schmidt Peterson’s Marcus Ericsson and Carlin’s Max Chilton all raced in Austin in F1. Ericsson finished 10th at the U.S. Grand Prix last year.

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
0 Comments

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.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“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.”