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.

 

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F2, Brute?

 

I intended this post  as a news summary, but with all that happened late last week, I decided to share my thoughts about a couple things.

First, Ed Carpenter named Jordan King the driver of the 20 car for the road and street events. Later, Juncos Racing announced Rene Binder will run four races for the team- St. Pete, Barber, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio. Both drivers come from European racing, with time in what was F2, now GP2, The Indy Lights equivalent of Formula 1.

King spent three season in GP2. He also was a test driver for Manor F1 and won the 2013 British Formula 3 title.

Binder won four races last year in the Formula V8 3.5 series and spent three years in GP2.

My issue is not necessarily with the drivers. Mike Conway has a background similar to King’s.  The question is why teams look to Europe and ignore the Mazda Road to Indy drivers. There are several who are ready to move to Indycar. The ladder series is largely ignored by the Indycar paddock when a new driver is needed. If I’m a driver in Pro Mazda, I’ve got to wonder if my money might be better spent just pursuing an Indycar ride, or maybe I’ll have a better shot driving in Europe. King and Binder might have decent seasons. The new aero configuration may be a bit of an equalizer. However, Indycar owners and the league itself should get more behind the development and promotion of drivers in their own developmental series.

Kyle Novak is the new race director for Indycar. Last year he directed races for IMSA’s Continental Tire Series races, a support series for the IMSA Weather Tech Series. He worked under Beaux Barfield. He replaces Brian Barnhart, who left to become president of Harding Racing. It will be interesting to see if he uses this year just to learn or will implement some changes right away. At any rate, it is a fresh perspective in race control, which could be a good thing.

Pato O’Ward secured a full time ride in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, joining Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, and Ryan Norman on the Lights squad. O’Ward won seven races in Pro Mazda in 2016 and drove in four Lights races last year before finishing the year in IMSA. His presence adds to an already strong Lights field for 2018. Should he move to Indycar in 2019, O’Ward could be the Mexican driver to help the league secure the race in Mexico they have been pursuing.

Indycar’s television time schedule came out last week. ABC, in what is hopefully their final year of covering Indycar, will covermost of the early part of the season and NBCSN has the  rest of theyear.. The best thing about the race times is that Iowa will start  at 2 pm Eastern time. This race should be a Saturday night race, and track president Jimmy Small is working toward the goal. A date change may be needed to accomplish it, but that would be fine. I have not enjoyed the Sunday afternoon races as much as I have the Saturday night ones. This earlier time may allow some fans to attend who couldn’t with the later start.  Another good note is that Gateway will begin an hour earlier. Starting a race at twilight instead of when the sun is completely gone provides a different, interesting dynamic as the track changes.

Wednesday I will be going to Sebring for the Indycar test. Ganassi, Andretti, and Coyne are scheduled to participate.  Hope to post pictures and report later this week.

 

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

 

Indycar News and Thoughts – Change is in the Air

 

Sad news to begin with. Former Indy 500 Bill Puterbaugh (photo above), 81, died October 9. He ran in three 500s, finishing 7th and winning Rookie of the Year in 1975. His next best finish was 12th in his last 500 in 1977.  He ran mostly sprint cars and raced in 30 Indycar races with mixed results. Puterbaugh first came to the Speedway in 1968 and attempted to qualify seven straight years before getting in the race. His most famous qualifying run was the first one on Bump Day 1968, when he ran in near total darkness to complete a run which was too slow to make the field.

Schedule News- The schedule will be announced this morning. I  learned yesterday that Watkins Glen will not be on the schedule next year. The track wanted to move the race from Labor Day, but Indycar and track president Michael Printup couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time. Sounds like the Fontana situation all over again. I conced that labor Day weekend is not the ideal time for a race, but I really enjoyed going to the Glen the last two years. the area is beautiful, and the track is very fast and racy.  Odds are Portland will make its return to the schedule next Labor Day.

I put this solely on Indycar for not being flexible. There is a large enough gap in the schedule to fit Watkins Glen in. I can’t see saving a spot for Mexico. With no Mexican driver in the series currently, that race will not draw as well as some might think.

They didn’t ask me, but…If Portland is on the schedule, why not have it the weekend after Labor Day then everyone can drive down to Sonoma for the finale?

The one positive for the schedule as it looks like it will end up is that teams won’t go to Pocono, then St. Louis, then back to Watkins Glen.

IMSA Shocker- Wednesday Team Penske announced the completion of their DPi team competing in IMSA next year. Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron were previously set in one car and Helio Castroneves was confirmed for the other one. Castroneves’ teammate is Ricky Taylor, this year’s co-champion with his brother Jordan. There had been rumblings about this move, but I’m still surprised Ricky would leave the family team after the great season they just had. If it results in Taylor getting as Indy 500 ride next year, then it’s worth it.

The huge shock, however, was one of the extra drivers for the endurance races.  Simon Pagenaud was not a surprise, but the addition of Graham Rahal was. Rahal has done the best driving of his career the last two years in Indycar and I guess Penske finally took notice. Rahal drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex24 this year.

Kanaan to Foyt- This is old news by now, but I think this is an interesting pairing. TK is the best driver Foyt has had for a while, and bringing engineer Eric Cowden with him might help the team. As lost as Foyt Racing was with the Chevy aerokit, I hope they can get a handle on the new universal kit quickly. No word on the driver of the 4 car yet, but both Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are in the running for the seat.

Oval Qualifying Changes?  Some drivers have called for modifying the qualifying procedure for ovals.  Currently, order is determined by blind draw. It seemed that Will Power always went last, giving him the advantage of a fully rubbered in track. Early runners are dealing with the tire compounds of support series and sometimes the heat of a sun drenched track. Some suggestions have been qualifying in inverse order of final practice times, which I favor. Others have suggested a knockout format like the road/street courses use. I think knockout qualifying on an oval could be risky to equipment. I’m not sure anything will change, but we shall see when the rules come out for 2018.

I will post my comments on the schedule after it is announced tomorrow. I hope to put out another column or two before migrating to winter headquarters around the first of November.

 

True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Book Review- Kiss the Bricks by Tammy Kaehler

Kate Reilly- full time race driver, part time sleuth, hopes for a drama free May as she prepares for her second Indianapolis 500. As usual, drama finds her. She sets fast time on the first day of practice, duplicating the accomplishment of another female driver thirty years ago.  That driver, P.J Rodriguez, died before Pole Day in a mysterious fall from the roof of her downtown hotel. Rodrigueaz’s family asks Kate to help them  find out if her death was  suicide or  murder?

Kiss the Bricks is the fifth book in Tammy Kaehler’s Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series. Usually Reilly drives sports cars, but moves to the Indycar series for this adventure.

The first third of the book alternates between the present day and May of 1987. We learn of the events that lead to P. J.’s death and how Kate gets involved in attempting to find out what happened.  P. J.’s family tells Kate their suspicions and asks for Kate’s help. Her reputation as an amateur sleuth precedes her.

With the help of her grandfather and her PR rep, Kate sets about identifying suspects and motives. They come to the chilling conclusion the culprit may be someone very close to her own race team. The answer becomes clear after the race as activity at the track slowly winds down.

Another complication for Kate is an envelope her grandfather gives her early in the month. He explains it makes clear some family issues that Kate needs to know. He requests she not open it until after the race, so she can focus on the most important event of the year. She resists the temptation to open a few times.

I found this book fun to read. It presents a great look at what a driver’s May is like off the track as well as on it. May seems incredibly busy with media appearances, sponsor meet and greets, and oh yeah, prepping for the 500. I was most impressed by the author’s portrayal of how isolated the drivers are while in the car. Each driver is focused on his/her  car and his/her performance, and only mentions others when they do something that might interfere with the team’s plan.  Drivers rely on their spotters and crew chiefs to know what is happening in the race.

This is only the second Kate Reilly book I’ve read, and I will be reading the others. Kaehler writes great racing stories with a murder mystery thrown in. Her books are available on Amazon.

Mid Ohio Musings- Title Scramble, New Looks, Silliest Season

There was a dramatic pass for the lead by Josef Newgarden to get by Will Power. There was a good battle for third between Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal in which Rahal prevailed. That was the race. The bad news, it was only lap 16. The field pretty much stayed single file with little change in order the last 74 laps. The only caution for Ed Jones came after the last pit stops, so we lost the opportunity for a position scramble.

Qualifying results landed the top seven in points in the first seven spots, which held promise for a great race. It didn’t materialize for several reasons. The lack of cautions was one. Newgarden had a clearly superior car. Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, first and second in points coming into the race, had cars that weren’t very strong. Dixon’s problems were compounded by an issue on his last pit stop.

The most dramatic thing about the race was how the championship standings shuffled. Newgarden now leads Castroneves by seven and Dixon by eight. Power and Rahal are closer to first than they were before the race. Simon Pagenaud is still lurking in fourth. he has had a quietly good season. They still have a shot.  Sato, 72 points behind now, may have dropped from contention.

Newgarden is the first driver to win 3 times this year and only the second to win two straight.  Rahal won both races at Belle Isle. We could see a series champion with fewer wins than another driver this year.

Notes

The crowd was the largest I have seen at Mid-Ohio. I understand there was a huge Sunday walk up crowd.

It was great to Sebastien Bourdais walking through the paddock on race morning. It’s amazing that he actually got back in a race car on Monday, just 72 days after his crash during 500 qualifying.

Saturday morning there was a lot of excitement among the fans who go to most events at the track when IMSA announced it was returning next year the first weekend in May.  That event will be well attended. I really enjoyed the sportscar race at Mid-Ohio and wish they were still paired with with Indycar here and at a couple other tracks.

The new road course aerokit received lots of positive attention throughout the weekend. It was great PR for the series to have the cars in garages where fans could watch them being put together for the test today. Here is the completed kit on the Honda powered car:

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I went to the speedway aerokit test at IMS last week, so I  have seen both kits on the cars.  I really like the sleek look.  On the other hand, when the cars hit the track for the first practice Friday, I was astounded by how big and bulky the current package looks.

Was Sunday Mikhail Aleshin’s last ride at Schmidt? He didn’t help his case over the weekend with a crash and starting last. Marotti Racing will be in charge of the car for three of the last four races.  Will they bring their own driver?

I understand Coyne’s intent on keeping Esteban Guttierez behind Newgarden and wanting to get their lap back. I didn’t understand why they kept at it when it was obvious he wasn’t able to get past him. He should have let Power and Rahal by to fight for the lead. His finishing position wasn’t going to change.

I heard many Silly Season rumors swirling this weekend, some very much out there, some that are realistic, and some that would be great to see. Here’s the home version of the Silly Season game. Put team names in a bowl and driver names in another bowl then draw a team name. Decide how many cars the team drawn will have next year. Draw that number of driver names from the driver bowl. Put the team and driver names in a stack. Feel free to add some drivers not in the series right now to the driver bowl. Maybe a couple teams to the team bowl too. You might turn out to be more accurate than you could imagine.