Sebring Preview- Penske, Ganassi Look to Recover from Difficult Rolex 24

The second part of the 36 Hours of Florida takes the green flag at 10:40 am Saturday morning. The 66th 12 Hours of Sebring is the second race in the IMSA Weather Tech Series. Like the Rolex 24, several current  Indycar drivers and a handful of former Indycar drivers will participate. Indyccar  team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Michael Shank also have full time teams. This is Penske’s first full year in this series.

The Penske and Ganassi cars had a rough start to the season with various mechanical issues and a crash pushing them out of contention. Helio Castroneves nearly won the pole at Daytona and his number 7 Acura prototype was in the hunt for the first half of the race. Ganassi’s Ford GTLM machines had a variety of issues that kept them from challenging for the podium.

I’m looking for both teams to be among the top challengers this year. In the prototype class, Penske will have a tough battle with the Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and the  Action Express cars which dominated at Daytona.

In GTLM Ganassi’s Fords will have to fend off the Corvettes in a fight between American manufacturers. The Porsches and Ferrari also could be in the mix. GTLM is the most competitive class due to its smaller field.

The GTD race is wide open as always. Ferrari usually does well at Sebring. I’m looking for one of the Shank cars to be on the podium here.

A list of Indycar drivers, both current and former, and what car they’re driving this weekend. Current full time Indycar drivers in bold:

Prototype-

#6- Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud

#7- Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal

#10- Ryan Hunter-Reay

#31- Mike Conway

#38- Pato O’Ward (IndyLights)

#52- Sebastian Saavedra

#90- Tristan Vautier

GTLM-

#25- Connor De Phillippi

#66- Sebastien Bourdais

#67- Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe

GTD-

#64- Townsend Bell

#86- Katherine Legge

The race will be televised on FS1 and FS2. The finish is on FS2 from 6-11 pm.

Back with a wrap-up next week.

 

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24 Hours, 24 Photos

So many hours, so many cars, so many photos. I chose 24 of what I think are the best ones. Enjoy.. I had fun taking them. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

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Dusk into Night

 

Vintage

 

Rolex24 Recap- Few Yellows, Lots of Laps; Fernandomania, Part Dos

The race began with lots of questions- how would the new Penske Acuras do? Would Ganassi”s Ford GTs continue its domination of the event? Could Fernando Alonso finish on the podium?Will Wayne Taylor Racing be as strong as last year without Ricky?

The answers started coming in qualifying. Renger van der Zande put the Wayne Taylor Racing car on the pole on the last lap, nipping Helio Castroneves in the Penske Acura. The starting lineup set the tone for the Acura vs. Cadillac battle the next day. It was clear that the United Autosport car that Alonso drove was going to have a tough time moving to the podium.  The Fords started 1-2 on the grid in GTLM and it was just a question of which one would win assuming both cars held together until the end.

This was the first Weather Tech Championship race without the PC class. Their absence may have been the reason there were fewer yellows this year. Last year, PC cars seemed to account for at least six of the full course cautions. This year, there were just three full course yellows. The caution periods were well spread out. While it was nice to have just a few yellows, it made the race a runaway in all three classes.

Early on the Prototype class was setting up to be a battle to the end between Team Penske and the Action Express Cadillacs. The teams swapped leads on pit stops for several hours. On track the Action Express cars looked a bit stronger. I could sense both teams were preparing their pit strategies for the last two hours well in advance. Just past the halfway point, the Number 6 Penske Acura, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, and Simon Pagenaud, went to the garage for a gearbox change. After that, the Number 7 drove to the paddock to repair damage from contact. Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal, who been the better of the team cars, effectively had their race ended at that point. Both cars came back to earn top 10 finishes.

The Penske troubles allowed the Action Express team to lap the field in virtually coasting to a 1-2 finish from there. It was Cadillac’s second straight win at Daytona.

The GTLM race was all Ford all the time. The question was would Ganassi allow them to fight each other for the win. A real battle never happened. The 67 car of Scot Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook came home first, followed by the 66 of Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dirk Muller. The victory was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Ironically, Briscoe also won the 300th race for the Penske team.

In GTD, The Lamborghini Huracan  driven by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, and Franck Perera won the Rolex watches. The number 86 Acura NSX, owned by Michael Shank and driven by Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, and A J Allmendinger,  finished second.

Current Indycar drivers had mixed results. Scott Dixon won his class and Sebastien Bourdais finished second. Wayne Taylor Racing, where Ryan Hunter-Reay drove, had to retire the car after seven blown right rear tires destroyed the car’s floor. Spencer Pigot drove the Team Joest entry which dropped with mechanical issues. As mentioned earlier, the Penske drivers soldiered home near the back of the top ten.

Notes

I had a great time Friday night as IMS President Doug Boles came to our campsite to chat . He even persuaded Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, to join us for a bit. Boles mentioned several things I’m not sure are ready for publication, but he seemed optimistic that there might be bumping at Indy this year. Of course, nothing is true until it is in Indycar.

Fernandomania was every bit as strong at Daytona as it was at Indy last May. Crowds followed him everywhere. People reported sightings. I was in the paddock Sunday morning when his car pulled into the garage. Throngs appeared out of nowhere and followed the wounded racer into its stall. They were running after the car. From all accounts, Fernando was gracious and accommodating.  McLaren announced today that Alonso would be participating in several rounds of the World Endurance Championship when there is no Formula 1 conflict. Now if he could just fit another Indianapolis 500 in there somehow.

With just three classes in IMSA, I think the color designation for GTLM should change. Currently both Prototypes and GTLM have red number squares. This could be confusing for new fans. The red was fine when there were two prototype classes, but a change might be appropriate now. Each class should have its own color.

A video board in the horseshoe would nice.

This was the largest crowd of the three years I have been attending this race. With the larger crowd and. it seemed, more vendors, parking seemed to be at a premium. I heard from some long time fans who were unhappy about limited access to places they used to be able to get to.

The Dan Gurney tribute at the beginning of the race was amazing. Gurney’s winning car from the inaugural 1962 Daytona Continental appeared at the front of the field just before the start and led the parade lap. It was a most fitting tribute to one of the greatest drivers of all time. I’m hoping for a similar salute before the 500.

 

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A photo gallery will be posted in a few minutes. There are two many to put in this post. Enjoy them.  Thanks to Vincent Anderson for the camera tips.

 

 

Sebring Test Day; Catching Up with Indycar News

I really cannot wait for St. Pete after today. Yesterday was like a first practice at a race weekend. Eleven cars completed a very busy day at Sebring Wednesday. Drivers from Foyt, Carlin, Andretti Autosport, Coyne, Foyt, and Rahal turned a significant number of laps, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay drive the most laps. Rookies Zach Veach, Robert Wickens,  and Mattheus Leist all logged important track time. Zachary Calaman DeMelo drove the Coyne number 19 in a test drive. There has been no official announcement yet on who will be in that car this year.

Rossi and Hunter-Reay also looked the smoothest and most consistent on their runs. Many drivers experimented with braking points and acceleration areas. I saw a lot of sliding through the corner leading to the backstretch.  The cars seem to approach the hairpin faster than I recall them doing at testing last year.

Max Chilton was the lone participant for Carlin Racing today. Charlie Kimball had a sponsor event commitment. Both Carlin drivers tested Monday and Tuesday on the oval at Homestead. This was their first road course test. It was great to see a new team, especially this one, on track.

I will be leaving Sebring Thursday morning for Daytona and the Rolex24. Sportscars are my second love after Indycars. The number of Indycar drivers in the race makes it that much better. It will be interesting with the large prototype field and the addition on Team Penske. Three Indycar owners have teams in the IMSA series now. If Andretti would join, there could be an even more massive crossover. I’m all for a return to the days when drivers drove anything, anywhere, anytime. See my post about Dan Gurney.

Catching Up on Indycar news

Lots of news to catch up with.

The biggest news is Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports hiring Leena Gade as their lead engineer. Gade is a three time winning engineer at Le Mans for Audi. She is the female lead engineer in Indycar. This move is a huge coup for SPM and the series.

DRR is scheduled to announce a two car team for the Indianapolis 500 today. Let the Danica speculation begin. I think Ed Carpenter Racing would be a better place for competitively. There are some family connections at DRR, though. Stay tuned.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has partnered with New Era as their clothing supplier. SPM could be the sharpest dressed  team in the paddock.

From Indycar’s newly released rule book:

The best thing is the severe points reduction for 500 qualifying. Only the fast nine receive points. Nine points go to the pole winner and the points drop by one for each position following. I always thought too many points were given for qualifying. My preference would be one point for pole, but this is a fair compromise.

The worst thing- the qualifying procedure for ovals other than Indianapolis. Cars will qualify in inverse order of entrant points. While this fair to part time drivers, virtually the same order at every track is not relevant to the weekend. Inverse order of final practice times is a better method. It reflects how a team is performing on a particular weekend.

I’m disappointed to see double points remaining for Indy and Sonoma.

Rolex 24 Preview- Racing Returns

It’s not Indycar, but many current and former Indycar drivers will be driving in the Rolex24 at Daytona this weekend. IMSA has shown steady improvement since Grand Am and the American LeMans Series merged in 2012 and the new series began racing in 2014. The series begins 2018 with new teams, a very large prototype class, and some new full time drivers. Here is a look at the teams with Indycar connections.

Roger Penske starts a full time entry into the series with two Acura prototypes. Former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya each drive one of the cars. Castroneves is in the number 7, and Montoya is in car 6. For the Rolex, Graham Rahal will co- drive with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud will team with Montoya. Ricky Taylor is Castroneves’ full season teammate. Dane Cameron is Montoya’s co-pilot for the full season.

Chip Ganassi continues to field Ford GT cars in the GTLM class. Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe drive number 67 this weekend. Sebastien Bourdais will be in the 66.

New Indycar team owner Michael Shank-gosh it feels great to write that phrase- has former Indycar drivers Katherine Legge and A.J. Allmendinger in his 86 machine. Bruno Junqueira drives number 93 for Shank.

Bobby Rahal’s BMW team, cars 24 and 25, race in the GTLM class. Connor DePhillippi is one of his drivers.

Spencer Pigot is back in the 55 Mazda with Team Joest in the Prototype class.

Fernando Alonso makes his endurance debut in car 23 for United Autosport. The car is a Ligier Prototype, one of ten LMP2 cars.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is driving car 10 for Wayne Taylor Racing, the defending race champion team.

Two drivers from Indy Lights of note- Pato O’Ward, who returns for a full Indy Lights season this year, will drive the Performance Tech number 38; Felix Rosenqvist, who had a brief run in Lights and is the current pints leader in Formula E, co-drives the Jackie Chan entry number 37.

Fifty cars will start the race Saturday. There are 20 prototypes, 9 GT Le Mans cars, and 21 GT Daytona machines. Gone is the Prototype Challenge class.

I plan to watch the Indycar test at Sebring on Wednesday before going to Daytona. 15 cars are scheduled to test, including newcomers Carlin and Shank. It should be a busy day.

The Cadillacs of Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express will be strong again. I’m interested to see how strong the Penske Acuras are in their first race. They should be contenders later in the year. Ganassi Ford GTs will likely dominate the GTLM class. The GT Daytona class is usually wide open, but I’ll go with the Porsche 911 team for the win.

I hope to post about it Wednesday night and provide update from Daytona this weekend.

 

 

Dan Gurney, the All American Racer

Name a racing series, any series past or present. Run your finger down the list of race winners from that series. You are likely to find the name Dan Gurney somewhere in the list.  Gurney died yesterday in California, closing the book on one of the most brilliant drivers and minds to ever set foot on a race track.. He drove anything, anywhere. He won in anything, anywhere. He built his own cars, developed engines, and wrote a white paper outlining what the future of Indycar should be. CART used his ideas to form their series. If Gurney had chosen to run CART, Indycar racing would be on very solid ground today.

I cheered for A.J. Foyt win every race. I loved watching Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones drive. Bobby Unser’s aggressive driving was beautiful to watch, and his brother Al’s cool, let the race come to him strategy made for some late race intrigue. Then there was Dan Gurney. I loved the five regulars, but I admired and adored Dan Gurney. I liked that he didn’t race exclusively in one series, and that he had success no matter where he raced.

Gurney was the first driver to win races in Indycar, Nascar, and Formula 1. Only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have duplicated that feat.  What Andretti and Montoya didn’t duplicate was building their own car to race and drive to victory. The Eagle Mark I, shown below, is the only American built car to win a Formula 1 race. Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in it. It remains the only time an American won a Grand Prix in a car they built.    This win came just one week after he and A. J. Foyt won LeMans in a Ford GT40.

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Gurney made nine starts at Indianapolis. He started on the front row twice, second in 1967 and third in 1965.  In his last three 500’s- 1968, 1969, 1970- Gurney finished second, second, and third. His Eagle cars won the race in 1968, 1973, and 1975. He only led two laps, both in 1967. He took the lead when Parnelli Jones took the turbine for short detour through the north short chute grass.

I will not bore you with every statistic of his racing career. I followed him avidly. He was never in any series long enough to win a championship. He would have been a multiple titlist in several series.  After his driving career, Gurney continued to a force in racing with his cars, innovations, and ideas. The Gurney flap, a small tab on the trailing rear wing, is still in use today. His Eagle cars were the dominant chassis in the mid 70s.

I met Gurney after he won a road race at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway Park) in 1963. He autographed my event program, and was very gracious to an awkward 16 year old kid. I wish I knew what happened to that program.

All racing is poorer for his passing. I’m thankful I grew up in an era when the sport’s great legends raced and drivers weren’t limited to one series for their entire career. If you see A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, or any other driver from that time period at a track, please take a minute to say hello to them. We have no idea how much more time we will have them around.

Photo notes:  The Indy 500 car pictured at the top is on display at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at the Barber race track in Birmingham. The Formula 1 Eagle in the lower picture is in the REVS Institute in Naples, Florida.  Top photo captured from internet; bottom photo my own.

 

My Last Post- of 2017

I know the first part of the title got everyone really excited and the last part brought great disappointment.  However, I’m not going anywhere.  I  just wanted to get in one last column this month. Some news and thanks for a great year.

Carlin finally announced that they will be a full time 2 car team in 2018 with drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.  They will use Chevy engines. Honda already said they were full for the regular season.  This is essentially Ganassi’s B team from last year. I hope both drivers have better years on a team where they will get full attention. Carlin is the Roger Penske of European junior formula racing.  I look for them to be contenders in a couple of years. Both drivers will bring their sponsors from last year.

With Carlin on the grid there will be four new teams running Indycar next year, two full time and two part time.  This is a welcome influx of new owners. There might be a couple more joining in the next few years. Steinbrenner Racing, currently running Colton Herta in Indy Lights, will move up to Indycar at some point, possibly as soon as 2019. I think Herta’s Indy Lights results may determine when that happens.

There could potentially be 24 cars starting at St. Pete to begin the season.

Thank You

First, many thanks to those of you who read this column. It is a pleasure to write and I am glad to be able to share my thoughts with you.

I would like to give special thanks to  two of my fellow bloggers:

George Phillips of Oilpressure for his encouragement and support during the two years I have been writing. If you are not reading his blog, start this week.

Patti Nolen of ikissedthebricks  I appreciate her feedback, and we have had some really good racing discussions. Patti writes great stories of her personal track experiences. Check out her blog.

I want to give special thanks to those who read the column for the first time this year. You have helped the blog grow beyond anything I expected when I began in May, 2016.

Finally, but not least, my fellow class members of the Creative Writing class at the Life Enrichment Center in Tampa. This blog started because of the help and encouragement I received early in 2016.  Two of my columns last year began as pieces I wrote for class. It has been a life changing experience.

I will return in January with more goings on in Indycar and a look ahead to the Rolex24. Indycar fans should be interested in IMSA next year with Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya driving full time for Penske and many other Indycar drivers making part time appearances in the series.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.   Mike