Wild wreck on opening lap at Texas has Alexander Rossi questioning qualifying call

NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A massive crash on the first lap of Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway left Alexander Rossi questioning a decision to cancel qualifying for the XPEL 375.

The six-car wreck started as the green flag flew for Lap 1 when Pietro Fittipaldi rear-ended Sebastien Bourdais and also collected Rossi, Dalton Kellett, Ed Jones and Conor Daly, whose No. 59 Dallara-Chevrolet went sliding a few hundred feet on the frontstretch pavement.

“First of all watching that, I’m glad Conor’s OK, I’m glad everyone’s OK,” Rossi told pit reporter Marty Snider on NBCSN. “You never want to see that. Obviously, there was a concertina effect, Pietro got into Sebastien, kind of spun into me.

“The biggest problem I have with all this is we had an entire day, and we’re still setting the grid based on points. And there are plenty of tires, plenty of opportunity and daylight and weather to qualify. And I don’t think this 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda should ever have been starting 15th. So I understand why we did it yesterday. We wanted to get the show in the race in. I’m all for that.

“It makes no sense why you don’t just qualify this morning. You have plenty of time. That’s frustrating. It’s obviously the same for everyone, but we definitely have a car that’s above a 15th-place car and shouldn’t be with guys that maybe don’t have that same amount of pace. Ultimately it is what it is. It’s disappointing. Again, glad everyone is OK. We’ll reset and go for it in Indy in a couple of weeks.”

The field was set for Sunday’s race by the entrant standings after Saturday night’s race, which also was set by points after qualifying was canceled because inclement weather delayed practice. The Saturday afternoon qualifying session was scheduled for two laps, the first determining the grid for Saturday and the second setting Sunday’s lineup.

Instead, the field was set on consecutive days by the points standings, which left some presumably faster cars in the middle of the pack.

It’s a procedure mandated by the IndyCar rulebook, which lays out the parameters for doubleheader race weekends. In the event that qualifying is canceled, the Race 1 lineup is set by existing entrant points, and the starting order for Race 2 is set by the updated points standings from Race 1.

According to series officials, there were no discussions of adding a qualifying session Sunday at Texas because the schedule already had been set by the rules.

IndyCar Texas crash Rossi
Conor Daly flips on the first lap at Texas Motor Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Bourdais, who also crashed Saturday night after being run into by Josef Newgarden, said Fittipaldi apologized for hitting his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet, which turned right into Rossi’s No. 27 and started the chain reaction.

“I’m guessing he just drilled us, and there you have it,” Bourdais told Snider. “That sets the whole thing in motion. Clearly, it was checking up at the front, which at this stage, where we are, we should be going. I don’t know what was going on at the front. It’s still not an excuse. It’s the same thing as yesterday, when someone checks up in front of you, you should be in control of your car and slowing down.

“It’s a real shame that two days in a row, we get drilled and taken out of the race. Nothing we can do about it. These have been a couple of expensive days for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Fittipaldi sprained a finger on his right hand in the crash.

“I was behind Seb, running well, and he backed up ahead, and I had no room to go anywhere,” Fittipaldi, who is running the ovals on the IndyCar schedule, told pit reporter Dave Burns on NBCSN. “I tried and hit Seb and turned him around. I don’t know if the leaders backed up, but there was no time to go anywhere. I tried. Nowhere to go.”

Toward the front of the field, Josef Newgarden (who started sixth) and Graham Rahal (in ninth) noticed there was a deceleration in the first two rows.

“I’m not surprised,” Newgarden said after finishing second to Pato O’Ward. “It doesn’t take much. The smallest checkup can turn into a really big effect down the line. I think that’s what happened today. I noticed just a little bobble. Everyone kind of adjusts, but I think people probably overreacted in the back.

“It’s unfortunate. You got to have the thing silky smooth when you’re at the front starting these races. If it’s not 100% smooth the way everyone is brought to the line, it can get really tricky at the back.”

Rahal, who started directly behind Newgarden, said the start “seemed a little jerky. But it’s so hard, man. It just exaggerates every row you go back. The accordion gets worse and worse and worse. It seemed like a very slow start. The pace was really, really slow, which also adds to it. Guys are kind of eager to go, go, go. It’s just not going.”

Daly joined Rossi in voicing his displeasure with IndyCar declining to reschedule qualifying for Sunday.

Daly’s car went airborne after getting sandwiched between Jones and Kellett.

After sliding to a stop in the infield grass, it popped right side up, and Daly emerged unscathed – another testament to the aeroscreen cockpit safety device.

“I think in general in IndyCar, we have too many start crashes, so we should probably look at that,” Daly told Burns.

“There’s such an accordion effect. But honestly it looked fine. Everyone was accelerating. I had the best view because I was last. You see it, but all it takes is one person because everyone is nose to tail. You can’t throw blame at anyone.

“All I know is being upside down isn’t fun. Never had that happen in an IndyCar before. On our bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us so far this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next. But I really hope we can just start turning things around because it’s been a rough start for sure.

“But I’m good! I’m all right. … It’s like two giant cars came together, and I was in the middle. Turns out you can be upside down quite easily. That sucked. We’ll be on to better things hopefully in Indianapolis in our hometown here.”

Daly also endured a fiery wreck a Camping World Truck Series race March 5 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Rahal said it would be difficult for IndyCar to address the problem because each driver has their own style for starting the race.

“When Helio (Castroneves) is in front, you’re in fourth gear coming to the green,” Rahal said. “When (Scott Dixon) is in the front, it’s first gear. Everybody is so different, it’s very hard. I don’t know. It’s just very hard to set a rule. A constant pace can be 60 miles an hour, it can be 160. It’s a difficult thing to monitor.”

NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375
Conor Daly flips over Sunday on the opening lap at Texas Motor Speedway (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

After a winless 2020 in which his highlight was winning most popular driver, Rossi has started this season with four finishes of eighth or worse and will head to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race in two weeks outside the top 15 in points.

The 2016 Indy 500 winner still tried to strike an optimistic tone.

“A lot of people drawing comparisons to last year, and while last year, we did get taken out before a green flag (at Gateway), the difference was we never felt we had a car to win,” Rossi said. “I feel that’s a lot different this year. I think Andretti Autosport has done a really good job of giving us the tools we need. Just hasn’t been meant to be yet.

“There’s been a lot of different factors. Ultimately we’ll just keep our heads down doing what we’re doing.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).