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.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

Honoring A Legend- The A. J. Foyt Exhibition at the IMS Museum

First, a bit of news: Spencer Pigot has been confirmed as a driver for Juncos Racing in the Indianapolis 500. he will drive car no. 11, with sponsorship from Oceanfront Recovery, an organization involved in helping people overcome issues with opioids. This will be Pigot’s second 500. he drove last year for Rahal letterman Lanigan. Sebastian Saavedra has been announced as the driver of the second Juncos car.  These two cars and the entry from Lazier Racing brings the car count to 33.  I don’t believe this to be fully firm at this point.

 

The Speedway legends I grew up with are all in or nearing their 80’s.  They race during what I consider the Golden Age of Indycar racing.  Foyt,  Andretti, Jones, the Unser brothers, and Gurney would race almost anything on almost any kind of track- pavement, dirt, oval, road course. When the checkered flag waved, it was highly likely that A. J. Foyt was the first to see it.

Full disclosure- I was a crazy Foyt fan back then. Yes, I appreciated the skills and talents of the other drivers, but Foyt was my man. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I had a chance to see his entire career on display.

Virtually every car he drove, including the four he drove to his 500 wins, is on display.  One car I didn’t see was the car he and Dan Gurney drove to victory in LeMans in 1967.  I  was really looking forward to seeing that one. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the exhibit, however. Several of the cars I had completely forgotten about, like the Scarab MK IV from 1964. A. J. won 3 races in 1964 driving for Lance Reventlow.

One poignant entry was the 1981 Coyote, the last coyote chassis Foyt produced.

The cars and their histories are displayed clearly. It would take a while to read every word. I have all summer. The display is at the Museum until October. Even more intriguing than the the cars was all the memorabilia and photos. People apparently donated things from their private collections for the show. Make sure to walk to the display room in the back.  The most fascinating item to me was a set of micro-miniatures cars, replicas of many Foyt’s Indy 500 cars, labeled by year. The photo collection the walls, including a couple of murals take you back in history.

I plan to return to see the exhibit in more depth later this year.  I will close with some photos, including a mural of A. J. on dirt.foytexhibit 025

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This is the car Foyt drove to the first of his 67 wins in Indycar. The Scarab is the blue car in the background.
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The car A. J. Foyt drove at Indianapolis his rookie year, 1958
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Midget racer from the early 1960’s.

Indycar Silly Season- It Was Done, Now It Isn’t; My Season Begins

Just when we thought all the rides were filled, one may be open again.  Spencer Pigot returns to Ed Carpenter Racing to drive the 20 car on road and street courses. He joined the team after the 500 last year and drove the remaining street/road courses. This is a great move by ECR. They have a driver they are familiar with and who worked with them last year. Continuity is always an advantage for a young driver.

Almost at the same time, doubt was cast on Mikhail Aleshin’s ride in the 7 car for Sam Schmidt. This is most likely a funding issue.  Aleshin had some great races last year, winning the pole at Pocono and nearly winning the race at Mid-Ohio. Things have been very quiet about what will happen there.

It appears we have seen the last of KV. Nothing new has surfaced since reports of talks with former F1 driver Pastor Maldonado a couple of weeks ago.

In a great move for A J Foyt racing, Will Phillips joins the team. Phillips is the latest addition to a team that is building toward having a much improved season.

Next week: My thoughts on the new season.

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My at track season begins this weekend with the Rolex24 at Daytona. I hope to have reports all weekend as I track the Indycar drivers taking part.  There are a lot of them. I will get a list out later this week. As a free service for the race, I will telephone you personally at 3 am Sunday morning with a live in-race update. Just DM or message  your number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spine Chilling Roar

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Cadillac

0106171430    It was the same weather that fans endured for the 1992 Indianapolis 500  and last year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix.  Fans arrived to a cold, windy, rainy track. But it is January, What else can you expect in India- oh, wait. This is Florida. The Roar before the 24 it’s called. I’m not sure if the name refers to the cars or the wind.

.  I have begun to rekindle my interest in sportscar racing.  Before the  Indycar season gets started it’s a nice way to see some racing early in the year. Since it is the off- season, several Indycar drivers drive in both the Rolex24 in Daytona and the Sebring 12 hour race.

The IMSA Weather Tech Sportscar Series holds this annual test the first weekend in January, three weeks before the Rolex 24. It is a chance to test new cars and see what improvements have been made to returning machines. The three day test consists of seven practice sessions.

Fans who have purchased tickets to the Rolex24 receive free admission which includes paddock access. The garages at Daytona are very open, providing easy viewing for spectators. Some garages have windows in the rear outside the paddock for viewing. This is more than a test; it’s an event. Driver and officials make scheduled appearances at the plaza for question and answer sessions and to talk about technical aspects of the series.

Yes, there are race cars. Lots of them.  All four classes participate in the test.  The prototype class has changed to a new formula this season. The cars are now known as DPi, Daytona prototype international. There are three engine manufacturers in DPi- Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan. Oreca, Dallara, and Cadillac supply the chassis. The cars have distinct body styles, mainly in the front. All of them in my opinion are quite beautiful. They have brought back some of the shape of  cars of the past.  The other classes are basically the same as before.

I was impressed by the size of the crowd. The infield parking lots were quite full. Some people were brave enough to camp.  The greatest part of the weekend, though, was the fact it was the first week of January and I was watching race cars on a track. That went a long way toward taking my mind off the weather.

Below are some prototypes. Notice the differences in design.

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Oreca
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Oreca

Going Home-A Small Step Back to Racing’s Roots

I was heading home after a long time away. The first race I ever saw was a dirt track race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The short tracks hooked me on racing. I had focused so much on attending Indycar races lately that there was little time for other racing.  Thursday night, I at last had the opportunity to finally go to a short track for the Rich Vogler Classic, a USAC Silver Crown race, at Lucas Oil Raceway.

The program had constant on-track action.  The Silver crown cars practiced,  the thunder roadsters had qualifying heats, then ARCA had a brief practice for their Friday race. Silver Crown qualifying followed, then the thunder roadster race. After that race, vintage sprint cars took laps. The prelude to the feature race concluded with the USAC Hall of Fame induction.  While Tony Stewart was the most prominent inductee, Pat O’Connor, Tommy Hinnerschitz, and Dick King also were a part of this year’s class.

Thunder roadsters are old 60s era Indy roadsters with modified bodywork.  They somewhat resemble sports cars. The back end of one had the appearance of a Corvette. Some were still open wheel, while most had full fenders. It is an interesting concept.

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Three of the thunder roadsters in line for qualifying. The number 18 won the race.

The Silver Crown race, 100 laps around the 5/8 mile oval, included NASCAR driver Ryan Newman in the 19 car field.I have heard of the other drivers in the field. I saw some of them race at Iowa Speedway when Indycar had a program with them in 2012. I wish they would come back there. It would be better than the current preliminary at Iowa.  These guys love to race. They race several times a week. for little reward. Many know this is as high as they’re going. in their careers. They do it because they love what they do.

Kody Swanson led all the way and edged his brother Tanner at the finish in a two lap shootout after a late caution. While Swanson led by large margins throughout the race, there was plenty of action deep in the field. I learned after the race that it was the first time Kody had beaten his brother in a  Silver Crown race.

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Kody Swanson (left) talks to the crowd after winning the Rich Vogler Classic Thursday night.

I really enjoyed the evening’s program. There was minimal down time. Hearing some of the great names from the past called out during the Hall of Fame induction brought back some great memories. I need to become more familiar with the drivers in this series so that I can have an easier time tacking who is in which car.

This evening whetted my appetite for more short tracks. I hope to get to one next month.  The last time I saw a race on dirt was probably the 1969 Hoosier 100. It’s been awhile, but I’m coming back to where I started.