Race Week-My Love/Hate Relationship

I both love and hate race week. There is unbridled excitement. By Wednesday people find me annoying. (That late? you’re asking).  There is stress, mainly worrying about the weather, but also getting preparations done in time.

I vow every year to not worry or even listen to anything weather related until Wednesday, and not take a forecast seriously until Thursday. How does that work out?  Well… Monday I might sneak a peek at the weather app and close it quickly.

Tuesday I do the same thing. If I see a sun, my anxiety goes down. A hint of cloud sets me off in a panic. Then Wednesday i became Mr. Meteorology. I start talking like I’m an anchor on the Weather Channel. I really want a full, dry,  uninterrupted race.

It’s not all stress. I have daily rituals leading up to Friday morning. Going to Carb Day helps make the week shorter. Here is a diary of my daily routine, beginning right after qualifications end:

Sunday night:  Come home, watch the qualifying show on dvr, get ready for Monday final practice.

Monday: Glance at weather app, close it quickly, start rain panic no matter what it says. My philosophy- it will get worse. Cut starting lineup from newspaper and start learning positions.

Tuesday: Glance at weather app, get in more panic mode, locate rain gear. make supply list for the track and our pre-race party.

Wednesday: Study weather forecast and start freaking out. Where did the sun icon go? Bring it back! Shop for supplies. Place race ticket in ticket holder and place in car. I’m negotiating to have this ceremony live-streamed.

Thursday: More party preparations. Start tracking the monsoon heading this way from China. The timing always looks bad. Await the arrival of friends coming in for Carb Day.

Friday: Carb Day! the weather looks good for the whole weekend! Maybe. Celebrate the day and go to the Burger Bash at night.

Saturday: Legends Day. Vintage cars on track, drivers’ meeting, hanging out anticipating the next day.  A sense of resignation sets in that whatever weather happens is what I deal with. Get ready for pre-race party.  Get three hours of sleep, then

RACE DAY!

Usually, it’s not as bad as i think it will be, but I’m sure I’ve subtracted 20 years from my life worrying about getting the race in. One year I will enjoy race week without any stress. That will be the year I am not going.

 

 

Sebring Wrap-Up: Please Help Me, I’m Falling. Taylor, Cadillacs Stay Strong; GTLM Surprise

I need help. I am slowly rekindling my love for sportscar racing. The IMSA Weather Tech Sportscar Championship is growing on me.  Will I go to more races?  Probably not. I have a full Indycar schedule.  However, I will pay more attention to them when they race with Indycar.

This year’s 65th running of the Sebring 12 hour race was a fascinating event. Going in, I was wondering if the Cadillacs would be as strong here as they were at Daytona. This track is very different than Daytona. The results were basically the same.  Wayne Taylor Racing (below) swept the 36 hours of Florida while Action Express finished second again.  The difference was Taylor dominated and won without any last minute controversy.0318171253i

In GTLM, the Ganassi Ford GT’s were expected torepeat their Daytona victory, but issues allowed the #3  Corvette (below)  to prevail. The Corvettes struggled at Daytona, and the #4 Vette retired around the midpoint of this  race.0316171534

Why am I starting to like this series? I used to follow sportscars as avidly as I do Indycar when I was younger. I began to focus on Indycar more and sportscars got pushed to the side.  I like the diversity of engines and chassis. I like the fact that a driver who has no chance at the overall win can still win his class. I like that there are lots of cars racing at once.  I’m finding the races getting easier to follow.

Sebring- the town, the track, the race- is my favorite sportscar event. The track is old and looks very similar to how lit looked in the 60’s.  Fan amenities were somewhat improved this year. They could use a couple more video boards.  Club 12  was a nice addition. It had a full bar and a very nice menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I explored some viewing spots for the first time this year. Last year I discovered the turn 7 grandstand just outside the hotel. This stand is on the hairpin with a view of the straight leading to the turn and a good view of the straight as they exit the turn. I crossed the bridge and walked down to Turn 9. From the mound inside the hairpin, you get a nice look at the approach to the turn, then watch the quick acceleration toward turn 8. Walking toward Turn9 and looking back to the hairpin is an action-packed place to watch the race.  I will spend more time there next year. My goal is to get all the way around the track both inside and out. I may need to live a long time.

The fans at Sebring are a mix of serious race fans and serious party fans. They remind me of the 60’s at IMS.  I also saw some incredible camping setups. One site had a mini kitchen set up complete with a sink with running water.  Many sites are made to resemble living rooms. Campers cover virtually every inch of the grounds. The gates open Wednesday, the day before the event begins. Many fans camping arrive several days before and wait for the track to open.

In just three short years, Sebring has earned a place on my annual calendar. I ran into more Indycar fans that I know this year as well. I have also made some friends among the sportscar crowd. It doesn’t hurt the appeal of the race that some Indycar drivers participate. St. Pete and Rolex 24 winner Sebastien Bourdais came up just a bit short in his bid for the Florida sweep.

I recommend a trip to the Sebring 12 hour. It is a fun weekend. Endurance racing has always had an intrigue for me. I am glad I can watch it unfold in person.

Greatest 33 Non-winners update- I have narrowed the field to 48 drivers. I am compiling stats for them and will have the list out next week so both my readers can create their grids.

 

It’s Not Where You Start…..

 

A wild weekend ended with a surprise winner.  Street course winners don’t come from last to win.  Sebastian Bourdais showed strength in practice, but a qualifying crash put him last on the starting grid. I thought he had a strong enough car to salvage a top 10. He won by more than nine seconds, passing Simon Pagenaud for the lead on lap 37 and not looking back. He was out of the lead only for pit stops the rest of the way.

The first part of the race was one of the best street races I’ve seen. Multiple passes, including two for the lead, close racing throughout the field, and two caution periods in the first 30 laps helped make it quite a show.  The caution free last part caused the field to get quite strung out with an occasional battle here and there. Overall, it was an above average St. Pete race.

I don’t think Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball  will be having dinner together anytime soon. They collided at Watkins Glen last year and had a first lap incident yesterday. I’m still not sure who was at fault yesterday.  It just seems Kimball is becoming a part of more than his share of these crashes in tight corners.

Power outage.  Will Power won the pole Saturday and was a strong favorite to win the race. He took the lead at the start, but was passed by James Hinchcliffe soon after the restart on lap 5. He made an early pit stop due to a  flat-spotted tire, hit an air hose on the way out, resulting in a drive through penalty. He worked his ay back to third before the engine began to sour.

He is still in a better position than he was after last year’s race, where he didn’t start yet almost won the championship.  Last year he left St. Pete with the single point for winning the pole. Do not count him out yet.

Other great drives yesterday- Rookie Ed Jones finished tenth, running a very steady, clean race. It was a very nice debut for his first Indycar race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his rear brakes in the morning warmup and crashed hard into the tires in turn 10. The accident reinforced everyone’s concerns about the brakes during the race, but except for Spencer  Pigot, there didn’t appear to be much of an issue. Hunter-Reay finished fourth, passing teammate Takuma Sato late.

Speaking of Pigot, before the brake issue, which happened as he entered the pits, he was having a great day. He moved to the top 10 quickly and was in position for a solid finish. He seems much more comfortable in his second year with the team.

Honda is definitely back in the game. They led all the practice sessions, just missed the pole, then dominated the race standings. There goes my theory that 2017 would be a 2016 rerun.

The Event

The crowd seemed to be stable, about the same as last year. It was wonderful to see and spend time with so many friends. It was just a great feeling to be back at an Indycar event.

The biggest issue was entering the track. I understand the need for security checks. This year the system was very inefficient, causing waiting lines of more than an hour according to some reports. I arrived later than I normally do on Saturday, a tale for another day, and was shocked at how long it took to move through the entrance. Some team staff were furious at having to wait to get in since they carried nothing with them. One said they were late for a meeting. They simply need more bag checkers and an express line for those with no bags. This was the worst it has been here.

The volunteer staff did their usual fine job. They are friendly and helpful. St. Petersburg is getting more and more community buy-in for the race. The mayor is fully behind the event.

Thursday I head to Sebring for my favorite sportscar race of the year, the 12 hours of Sebring.  I will be tweeting all weekend and have a report next week. I am anxious to see the midway upgrades they have done. They have also added a showing of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans. I think they should show half of it.

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip […]

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.

 

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.

 

Indycar News-All Seats Accounted For; Rolex24 Photo Gallery

Mikhail Aleshin returns to Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in the #7 car. There was some doubt about his filling this seat. Seems he had been talking to Trevor Carlin about driving for him, but Carlin is going to wait at least another year before joining the series. Funding apparently was not the issue.

Sage Karam will be back for the Indianapolis 500 in the DRR entry. Karam was having a great race last year, moving up to 6th place before his contact with another car put him in the wall.

7-Eleven returns to the series as an associate sponsor for Tony Kanaan, highlighted in four races- St. Pete,Long Beach, Indy, and Texas. 7-Eleven was a long time sponsor of Kanaan’s in his years at Andretti.

Tim Cindric will be the strategist for Josef Newgarden in his first year at Penske. This move appears to be an attempt to help Newgarden have a comfortable first year with Penske. Simon Pagenaud struggled in his first year with the team, and it may be that Team Penske learned from his struggles.

Starting February 1, Firstone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ads began running in the Tampa Bay Times. The ads have run daily. I noticed them last year as well. This is a city that really gets behind the race. Each year I have been here local support seems to have increased.

Rolex24 Postscript and Gallery

First, after watching a replay of the late race incident between Ricky Taylor and Fillipe Albuquerque, I stand corrected in what I stated in my last post. Taylor was in no way at fault, and I agree with the no call by the stewards.  Enjoy the photos.

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Cold, Wet, Wild- Rolex24 Recap

After the 1992 Indianapolis 500, I was positive I would never be any colder at a race. After last year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix, I was positive I would never be any colder at a race. After last weekend’s Rolex24 at Daytona… you get the picture.  This race completed the podium of cold weather races on the top step.  Plus there was rain. Despite the weather, it was a great race. The skies cleared and the temperature warmed enough at the end for an exciting finish.

 

Endurance racing is a different type of racing. Race three hours. Try to survive during the  night. Race the last three hours. Some drivers must drive a designated amount of time. A driver can only drive so many hours in a certain time frame. Pit stops must work around these factors.

The opening segment had lots of good racing throughout all the classes. As evening came, most teams settled in to their long range strategies. The rain began around 8 pm and continued for thirteen hours off and on. Mostly it was a steady light rain punctuated by two heavy downpours.

Your intrepid reporter put up a good fight, but surrendered at 1 am.  I went back to my lodging and tried to sleep. I returned to the track around 7. I found out the previous hour was almost entirely under caution for rain. The class battles  tightened up after the race returned to green. The rain finally stopped for good a little after 9. The skies eventually lightened and actually got a bit sunny by the end of the race.

As for the end of the race, I happened to be sitting directly across from turn 1. I thought Taylor could have waited to pass Albuquerque. His car was the fastest the entire race. It had cut through the field to regain lead in short order after every pit stop. He would have passed on that lap anyway.  But contact occurred and the stewards ruled no foul.

The GTLM class had a four car battle going until the end. The #66 Ford GT of Chip Ganassi.Racing won with a late pass. Indycar driver Sebastien Bourdais was a driver on the winning team. Other Indycar drivers didn’t fare as well. All had car problems at some point. Some Indycar drivers will return at Sebring the week after the Verizon Indy Car Series opens at St. Pete.

Good places to watch

There are several great places to watch this race from. The most popular is the bleacher section at the exit of the International Horseshoe, turn 3. From here you have a view of turn 1, where the cars exit the oval; pit out, the horseshoe, and the straight leading to turns 4 and 5. I also like standing behind the fence at the apex to turn 3 and at the entrance to turn 3.  From the last two spots you get a great sense of how to drive this corner. There is quite a difference in the approach of prototype and GT car.

In the main front stretch grandstand, the entrance of turn 1 provides a great view of 95% of the track. You can see the entire road course section, watch some pit stops, and watch the reentry to the oval. This year I walked along the grandstand to the end, to turn 4 of the oval.  It’s a beautiful view of the cars sweeping through the high banked turn. As the cars come in to the pits, they all come to nearly a complete stop as they try to get down to pit speed before the cones.  The rain made for great rooster tails here. As I went to my car parked outside turn 4, a cloud of spray rose from the track as cars ran through the turns.

Notes

Cadillacs are fast and proved to be durable in their debut.

The GTLM class will be the one to watch for close battles this year.

I hope there are more video boards next year. There is one in the fan plaza and one in turn 6 very far away from most spectators.

I really enjoy the vintage cars display and the fact they take laps before the race. Below is a 1962 Ferrari and two Lolas.

I will publish more photos in a couple days as well as catch up on Indycar news.