scorecardresearch

DaneCameron-AwardHe can’t say where he’s headed, but new TUDOR Championship GT Daytona title winner Dane Cameron tells RACER he’ll be back in IMSA next year with a new team in a different class. Cameron captured the GTD championship in his first season with Turner Motorsport driving a BMW Z4, and with Monday’s announcement regarding Turner’s return to the Pirelli World Challenge series, the Californian ended any speculation about where he's headed in 2015.

“It’s great to have everything in place for me to return to the TUDOR Championship in a different category so soon after the season ended at Petit Le Mans,” Cameron said. “I really have to thank Will Turner, Paul Dalla Lana, the whole Turner Motorsport DaneCameron-Z4team and my teammates for everything we achieved this year, and I know Will’s going to have a lot of success returning to the series where he made his name. For me, I get to concentrate on a new challenge with a new team, and I’m coming back with the goal of earning another championship.”

Cameron’s fortunes have changed considerably over the past 12 months. He concluded 2013 Grand-Am season with a year left on a contract to lead Team Sahlen’s Daytona Prototype effort, but he found himself without a job late in the off-season when the team shut down its DP operation.

A scramble to find a new home coincided with Turner’s need for a pro driver to partner with Dalla Lana, and despite the late nature of the deal, the union was immediately effective and produced four wins which led to the GTD championship.

For a driver with experience in DPs, P2s, PCs, in GT Le Mans and GTD, change has been a constant for Cameron, yet with his services being secured right after the close of the 2014 season, he’s hopeful the next chapter will offer greater stability.

“I’m headed to an amazing team, and for me, sports car racing has been where I make my living; all I’ve ever wanted is a chance to deliver for a team and hopefully have an opportunity to build a long-term relationship with them,” he explained.

“Once I decided sports car racing was where I was going to dedicate my future, it’s been everything to me, and being able to continue in the TUDOR Championship is all I really wanted after last season. I’m excited that I can stay there and it’s great to know we can get a head start on next year. Things really could not have worked out better for me.”

Caterham close up Sochi

Caterham's new chiefs have warned they could be forced to turn their back on the Formula 1 team amid mounting frustrations over the actions of former boss Tony Fernandes.

Just days after it emerged that team supplier Caterham Sports Limited (CSL) had been put into administration, a statement from the F1 outfit said the administrator's actions had had a 'devastating' impact on its running of the operation. Comments attributed to the administrators in the media suggested that there was a chance the Caterham F1 cars may not be released for the United States Grand Prix, or that the team could be forced out of its Leafield, UK factory.

In a strongly worded statement issued by Caterham today, the team made clear its annoyance at the situation, as it accused former boss Tony Fernandes of not honoring agreements.

"Very regrettably the administrators' appointment has had devastating effects on the F1 team's activities," said the statement. "Since their appointment, the administrators have released various press statements, which have been severely detrimental to the management of the Caterham F1 team.

"After three months of operating the team in good faith, the buyer is now forced to explore all its options including the withdrawal of its management team. Lawyers have been instructed by the buyer to bring all necessary claims against all parties, including Mr. Fernandes who, as an owner, will run the F1 operation."

The statement further stated that Fernandes had not transferred ownership of the team as had been promised in his original sale of the outfit.

"On 29 June 2014, Caterham Enterprises Ltd, Caterham (UK) Ltd and Sheikh Mohamed Nasarudin (seller) and their shareholders Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Bin Meranun entered into a sale and purchase agreement (SPA) with Engavest SA (buyer) with regards to 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd/Caterham F1 Team," added the statement.

"Since the date of the agreement, the seller has refused to comply with its legal obligations to transfer their shares to the buyer. The buyer has been left in the invidious position of funding the team without having legal title to the team it had bought."

The team also said that the administrators for CSL were appointed on behalf of Export-Import Bank of Malaysia, which is a creditor of Fernandes and the Caterham Group.

It added: "The buyer has no connection with Exim. Caterham Sports Ltd was a supplier company to the Caterham F1 Team. "

Fernandes was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

Originally on Autosport.com

 

Danica-BuschStewart-Haas Racing is expected to announce that drivers Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch will swap teams and crew chiefs, with the change taking effect prior to the Nov. 2 Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Patrick, who is in her second season as a full-time driver for Stewart-Haas, failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and is 27th in the standings – the same place she finished as a series rookie in 2013. Patrick has worked with veteran crew chief Tony Gibson since making her Sprint Cup debut with a part-time schedule in 2012.

Busch joined Stewart-Haas ahead of the 2014 season after spending last season at Furniture Row Racing, where he led the single-car organization into the Chase for the first time. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion made this year's Chase by virtue of his win in the spring race at Martinsville Speedway, but was one of four drivers eliminated in the Challenger Round from which the championship field was whittled from 16 to 12 drivers. Busch has been paired with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost.

Gibson told FOXSports.com in an exclusive interview during the recent race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he believes Patrick is much improved over last season. Despite being in the same position in the points, other statistics give credence to Gibson's suggestion. For example, Patrick has three top-10 finishes this season – including a career-best sixth-place finish recorded at Atlanta on Labor Day weekend – compared to just one last season.

Gibson believes her improvements can be traced in large part to getting more comfortable in the car, and figuring out which changes improve the car and which ones don't.

"It's gotten better because she's started to build a little bit of a notebook of her own about what changes do, whether it's in the race or in practice, that seemed to help the car," Gibson told FOXSports.com. "I try to keep her up to speed on what we're changing so that when she does feel it -- whether it's a spring or a shock or a track bar -- that she can kind of correlate that to, 'OK, well, that helped me here or hurt me here,' and that way during the race and during practice other places she can say, 'Man, I remember when you dropped that track bar and it really helped me here.'

"So she's starting to build that little bit of a notebook for herself, which will help her long-term, so that is a key to her feedback getting better, too."

 

Originally on FOXSports.com

Honda Racing MailbagWelcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.

And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, remember that Marshall Pruett tackles them in his Tech Mailbags. Please send tech questions to PruettsTechMailbag@Racer.com.

 

Q: Birds are chirping, butterflies are dancing and angels are singing; it's racing season in Texas. COTA is chock full of events and car genres. Oh, that's right IndyCar ended a month ago. No matter the IndyCar fans of Texas are just barely recovering from the heat stroke of Dallas/ Fort Worth and Houston. But wait, IndyCar IS running in Texas. COTA has just hosted a single mega-team running a mystery car. Ahhhh all is well! Birds, butterflies and angels can rejoice as the Clown Posse Brigade leads us forward.
Stephen Archer

RM: Ah, I love the smell of sarcasm in the morning. Marshall Pruett wrote a cool story on RACER.com about the secret photos of the GM test with Penske from COTA and how it all went down. But your point is well taken: lots of good weather and tracks available for IndyCar in September and October.

Q: It's been a long-standing belief that tracks and/or promoters have some exclusivity agreement with Bernie Eccelstone that forbids an IndyCar race at the same venue as a Formula 1 race. We're all well aware that in its heyday, IndyCar rivaled F1 in popularity and fan base, with top-tier drivers defecting to drive in CART/ChampCar/IRL/ICS.

But that was then, and this is now. IndyCar is a mere shell of itself, and a cracked one at that. Is/was there any agreement (formal or otherwise) in place that you're aware of to keep IndyCar and F1 races at separate venues? If there is still such an agreement in place, wouldn't it seem that this is someone holding on to a decades-old grudge and acting like spoiled rich children?
John Olsakovsky

RM: I don’t know if Bernie ever made a specific rule about that; I think it was more about the promoters not wanting to lose their place in the F1 calendar. Then, after The Split, CART and Champ Car went to Montreal from 2002-’06 so obviously Bernard no longer felt threatened. I don’t believe there’s any rule in place preventing IndyCar from running a current F1 track but it’s all about economics and making cents.

Q: Always look forward to reading the Mailbag and I have two questions I haven't seen addressed. In the weeks leading up to the Mid-Ohio race (I live in a suburb of Columbus) I didn't see or hear any promotion for the race. No ads, no driver interviews, no ticket giveaways, nada. For the two weeks AFTER the race I hear at least two ads on the radio every morning thanking fans for their support and asking them to watch the next race. It's great to thank the fans but how about generating excitement before the event? Second. Has anyone in IndyCar investigated taking over the New Jersey street circuit F1 was going to do? I'm sure it would be a much better show for much less dough (with the added bonus of denying Bernie his coveted NYC race).
Joel Staskiewicz

RM: I sent the promoters (Green-Savoree) a copy of your email but haven’t received any response. The Mid-Ohio crowd was down last August on Friday and Saturday but I attributed that more to the absence of the sports cars than lack of promotion. As for New Jersey, you can bet if there’s money to be squeezed out of a place ol’ Bernie will pounce but it seems pretty shaky to me. If a track is ever built and F1 passes, then IndyCar should certainly make some inquiries but I haven’t heard anything so far.     

Q: I just read the most recent mailbag. As a fan I would love a double header with TUDOR Championship at Road America. However, if the place was packed for the TUDOR race then does it really make sense to add IndyCar? If you add IndyCar and a large sanction fee but only have a minimal attendance boost then it doesn’t really make sense for the promoter to do it. Maybe if the sports car race was struggling it would make more sense to have two B-level events join together to create one A-level event. If there are two A-level events though, they would benefit the promoter more by being separate wouldn’t they?
Andy Brumbaugh

RM: I understand the TUDOR crowd was good but the last time Elkhart Lake was truly packed had to be 1993-’94 with Nigel Mansell and CART. However, you raise a good point. Is it worth it for the promoter to pay two sanction fees? Judging by the turnouts at Long Beach, Detroit and Mid-Ohio through the years I think it must be because it helps the crowds on Friday and Mailbag-RA2000-overheadSaturday. But Mid-Ohio chose not to this year and the place was empty on Friday and Saturday but decent on Sunday (thanks to Honda). Road America draws well for TUDOR and NASCAR Nationwide separately and likely would for IndyCar if it ever goes back. But is it more profitable to have a gangbuster three-day weekend with sports cars and Indy cars or separate shows? George Bruggenthies says he’d like IndyCar at Elkhart Lake but as a standalone event.    

Q: I just read an article saying IndyCar doesn’t want to  have a race at Road America because it is relatively close to Milwaukee Mile. First thing that crosses my mind is “So what?”

Not everyone is satisfied seeing oval racing. I went to the last few Champ Car/ALMS race weekends. I still go to sports car races every year at Elkhart Lake. Every year I see cars with Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota plates along with Wisconsin plates. There are people in the area who want to see a race at Road America.
I tried getting some friends to go to the Milwaukee Mile and no one ever wants to go. I mention Road America two days before the race and I get people buying tickets at the front gate for full price even though they’re more expensive than Milwaukee’s. Maybe its time we kill the flat track oval since most racing fans expect a single file snooze-fest. I don’t see it being profitable.

NASCAR and IMSA seem to see Road America as a very important venue and always pull in a larger crowd. The owner is showing how much he cares: in the last three years he has revamped the runoffs for the big heavy stock cars, replaced the Turn 6 bridge (now double wide) added extensive parking, improved multiple vantage points throughout the track, doubled the RV parking, added zip lining. Plus there are go-kart tracks onsite running all day long with camping everywhere. I just don't see Milwaukee bring a crowd or entertainment.

Dustin, West Bend, Wisc.

RM: I understand the concerns of stacking Milwaukee and Road America too close together but the other train of thought would be to schedule them back-to-back and make a special 2-for-1 ticket. It’s tough to generate crowds at every oval nowadays and street and road courses do a much better job of providing day-long entertainment so people are choosing. There was always room for Milwaukee and Road America on the CART schedule and should still be but it’s all about economics – on both sides.


Mailbag-St.PeteQ: More insight for your readers on last week's question about how street courses survive or thrive. I'm a news reporter in the Tampa Bay area, and this story I did on the impact of losing Honda as the sponsor of what's now the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete hits on some of the economics involved. The best news I discovered for St. Pete? [ABOVE] The city owns all of the barricades, walls, and bridges needed to set up the course. Apparently, when the promoter of the 2003 race, Dover Motorsports, went belly-up, they gave the city all of the gear to settle their debts. They figure not renting it all saves maybe $1 million a year.
Grayson from Tampa

RM: Thanks for the info, Grayson. No doubt, the best street course I ever saw was at Las Vegas in 2007 and the promoters spent a fortune on the track, fencing and walls. Their plan was to move all that stuff to Phoenix for another downtown Champ Car race but they lost so much money on Vegas, they canceled Phoenix. Obviously, Long Beach owns everything, plus has Toyota as a loyal title sponsor and gets great civic support. Not sure there would still be a race in St. Pete if Firestone hadn’t stepped in to replace Honda.   

Q: I've read that the Fiorito family has sold the Pacific Raceway in Kent, Washington. Of the 340 acres, supposedly some will be turned in to commercial business and they indicate that the raceway will remain with the necessary upgrades. It has been there for 54 years and would be a huge loss to the area if it disappears. I have photos of my dad there the first summer it was opened with his 57 Pontiac Tri-Power at the starting line with a flag man! Mario, Parnelli, Dick Simon, Paul Newman, and even Dale Earnhardt , etc, etc, raced there! More info can be found on Pacific Raceways website.
Don H.

RM: USAC staged a double-header at Kent in 1969 (Mario and Al Unser won) but never returned so I don’t know how much interest there is or how much FIA work would be needed to make it compliable. I do know that IndyCar would like to race in the Northwest, be it Portland, Vancouver, Calgary or Kent. Thanks for the update.

Q: Saw in the latest Mailbag a discussion that Minnesota State Fair Park might be worth considering for a race. Unfortunately, the track is no longer. Last year only the backstretch and turns 3 & 4 remained. They have since been plowed under. The grandstands are still there and are used for concerts and entertainment during the State Fair. Too bad; nice wide track.
Wally, Eden Prairie, MN

RM: Thanks. Yep, there were some great USAC races at that joint in the 1960s and ’70s.

Q: I wanted to provide my comments about the allure of street courses, in response to Al from Marietta, Ga.’s question from the October 15th Mailbag. I attended my first Toronto Molson Indy in 1990 and have since been attending what is now the Honda Indy on an annual basis since 1995.  For me it comes down to the overall entertainment factor and the fact there's something special about watching a race live. We sit in Turn 3 where much of the action is and there is a big screen in front of us so we can see what is happening on other parts of the track.  I have a scanner so I listen to the TV commentators, Race Control and the team communications and have a good idea as to what is going on at all times. This year there were 13 races over Saturday and Sunday, of which we saw 9 or 10, so it was great bang for our buck. The support races such as this year's Acura Sports Car Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge often provide some of the best racing of the weekend, and we got to see Robby Gordon and Paul Tracy duke it out in the Stadium Super Trucks which was a crowd pleaser.

The bottom line is that if you're a fan of auto racing, it's a great place to be. That being said, 1990 wasn't much fun as it poured rain the whole time, there was no TV screen to watch, I didn't have a scanner and we couldn't hear the public address system so once the cars started lapping each other, we didn't have a clue what the running order was.  Things have changed for the better since then though.
Scott Brumwell, Barrie, Ontario

RM: Thanks Scott. I know the Canadian fans are some of the most loyal and smartest in North America and not even all-day rains seems to dissuade you folks. I wish IndyCar still raced in Vancouver and Montreal, but your letter illustrates why street courses draw more people than ovals nowadays – more bang for the buck and non-stop action.   

Q: With Josef Newgarden signed to a one year deal do you think he'd make a strong candidate for a Gene Haas F1 drive in 2016 if that program ever gets going? Also, any news on Parker Kligerman and a possible Indy Lights drive? He seemed to do pretty well at that test a while back but haven't heard anything since.
Josh Fromer, Tannersville, NY

RM: I thought Haas said he’d like one of his drivers to be an American and Josef has experience in Europe just like Conor Daly and Alex Rossi but will he want pay drivers? Kligerman sounds like he wants to return to open wheel but, again, it’s going to be about finding funding.


Mailbag-Dixon-PowerQ: If I were the scheduling czar at IndyCar and wanted to keep our teams and sport visible during our traditional off-season this would be my "Southern Hemisphere" series schedule. First, I would form a strategic alliance with V8 Supercar in Australia. Starting in October I would run IndyCar on the Saturday before the Bathurst 1000, at the Mt. Panorama Circuit (yes, as a supporting event). Seeing Dixon, Power, and Briscoe going through "The Dipper" (oh, sorry, 'the Dippah'), Australia would never be the same! The Bathurst 1000 pulls in a lot of the Sydney fans. In November I would follow the V8 Supercars to Phillip Island, for the 400. Run on the Saturday, there, too. The seaside setting is in stark contrast to Mt. Panorama. Phillip Island pulls in the Melbourne crowd. I'd finish out the year running in support of the Sydney 500, in December; another great population base. |

On New Year's Day I would run the Kyalami Circuit, outside of Johannesburg. Since Porsche South Africa has taken over ownership of Kyalami, the circuit is now world class (and Bernie doesn't go there). We know that IndyCar is going to Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet on March 7-8 (I personally feel the track layout is a little on the "Mickey Mouse" side, not unlike Hungary; turns 12 & 1 offer the only real passing zones) so that leaves February. Forget Dubai: it's a "Bernie" track, and we know how Bernie is! In place of Dubai I would run Lago Potrero de los Funes Circuit, outside of San Luis, Argentina. Who? What? Huh?

"San Luis" is like no other circuit; it's a real driver's circuit, it's a real spectator's circuit. It circumnavigates a lake, the vistas and elevation changes are spectacular. It's a driver's circuit in the same way Spa or the old Nurburgring were viewed. It's 3.9 miles in length. The TV coverage alone would make it worthwhile. There's not a bad seat in Mailbag-Kyalamithe house. San Luis pulls from both Buenos Aires and San Paolo. I would run the event the Sunday before "Carnival" (February 15th) when all of South America is partying.

A schedule like this would increase visibility, keep teams solvent with a positive cash flow, keep people employed full time, improve credibility, expand our fan base, and make IndyCar a "world class" franchise.

Jim Scott, Wisconsin Rapids, WI

RM: If you mean run Indy cars with V8 Supercars at all those places, it sounds good because they get great crowds and IndyCar has three big draws for them in Dixon, Power [TOP] and Briscoe but you couldn’t run Indy cars at those tracks from what I’ve seen. And I’m not sure V8 wants to share billing anyway but racing Indy cars in Australia and New Zealand with this trio seems like a no-brainer. Just not sure it’s being explored.

Kyalami was a great circuit for F1 until 1985. The remodeled track [ABOVE] they ran in ’92 and ’93 was looked on as a letdown at the time because of the memories of what went before…but in the context of most of the current F1 tracks, it might be revered like Spa. (smile)

USAC ran an oval double-header in Argentina in 1971 but who knows if either place wants or can afford an IndyCar race. I’ll send your suggestions to Mark Miles and Derrick Walker.

Q: Concerning "canopies" and all that has been said since Dan Wheldon died: it drives me nuts but I usually keep quiet. One thing for sure, you do not need to worry about IndyCar adopting canopies. I'm not a car designer, but I do know materials. Installing a canopy would require a massive redesign of what Indy cars are. Any canopy on the current type of IndyCar configuration simply would not prevent a Dan-type impact from being fatal. Any designer mandated to come up with a canopy design would quickly see the structural issues.

In addition, the fence design of mesh/cables inside or outside the pole does not matter, either. Canopies and different fence designs would not have mattered unless poles were removed completely. These are the structural/materials issues that most people do not understand. Thanks: I enjoy your reporting and, strangely, my wife thinks you are funny! (TV only).

Gray Fowler, senior Principal Chemical Engineer, Raytheon

RM: Thanks for your interest and information and thank your wife for watching NBCSN. I’m going to send your contact info to Will Phillips and Derrick Walker because they’re looking at future car configurations.

Q: Just got my weekly Mailbag fix – thanks again for offering the BEST source for news (and conjecture), and discussion for IndyCar fans. (IndyCar.com, are you paying attention?). I must praise Scott from Erie, PA for his suggestion that the series develop a traveling transporter for school presentations. Having worked in and around schools for many years, such efforts by the military and law enforcement were always exciting and welcome diversions for students and staff. If IndyCar were to do this right and tie it into STEM education, it could take the country by storm and garner the support of universities, large employers, and probably even draw grant money to help. Furthermore, such an effort would not only draw some kids into the exciting world of open-wheel racing, but would likely draw substantial media attention and is the kind of initiative Washington loves to champion. Great idea!
Brian from Florida

RM: I sent your inquiry to C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of IMS/IndyCar, and here’s his response: “At present, we are supporting a project with J.R. Hildebrand that focuses on STEM pilot in a few local California schools. The interest has been impressive. Our past experience with STEM initiatives did demonstrate a need for a connection to the race event. It’s a bigger payoff if the students actually see our cars running in practice. This writer’s recommendation would mean any post-season program would not benefit from this added experience. Obviously, there’s nothing more impactful than the spectacle of IndyCar racing to inspire young students. Bottom line, this is not an impossible request given appropriate resource and funding. We will consider our study of STEM initiatives with this fan’s advice close at hand.”


Mailbag-UnserJr

Q: Of your recent schedule updates you have posted the most exciting rumor for me is the return of Fontana. I've been a die-hard IndyCar fan since I was born and have attended either Laguna Seca or Sonoma pretty much each year since around 1985, when I was about 3 years old. This year at the last minute my dad and I took the 400-mile drive to see my first paved oval and his first since the late 70's at Ontario. We will be back this year and I've already informed a couple of friends that missing it won't be an option for them either.

There is no way to describe the speed as the cars drop into Turn 1 at over 225mph. Although I love road racing, for pure fan experience and sense of speed, there is no beating this experience. For those who write in here regularly and complain about ovals or long for a return of a certain track, buy some tickets, make the trip, and enjoy what we have. I think you'll be surprised. 

Now for the part of my question where I sound like everyone else. I believe a key to getting more exposure is getting the drivers into more cross promotions. When Helio was Dancing, every housewife in America knew him. Why not get another driver on? Someone with a personality, not just a name. I'd love to see Hinch or TK showing America what great personalities our sport has. Maybe get one on American Ninja warrior, and show the people that these guys are athletes too.

I know people bring up the fact that not much came of Michael Andretti on The Apprentice, but he's never had an outgoing personality. A

lso I feel another major part where our sport falls short is recruiting major brands as sponsorship. People will tune in and cheer for a driver purely based upon his sponsorship. The fan base wants to be able to cheer for the Bud car, or Valvoline car
[ABOVE - Al Unser Jr. at Indy in 1991]. We will never build loyalty when sponsors are companies we don't connect with. I really think the powers-that-be should look at moving some of their money into subsidizing major corporations' sponsorship packages. If a large company such as Pepsi wants to get on board with a team, IndyCar should foot part of the bill just to get them into the sport. Part of this money can be made up through merchandising later but should also be pulled from the end of the year payouts. As a team you may not get as large of a check at the end of the year, but you will have a sponsor which allows you to continue to race plus a growing fan base for your team.  
Greg, San Jose

RM: Glad you made it but Fontana isn’t a rumor. It will run June 27, 2015 so that’s a Saturday afternoon race. As for your suggestion about TK or Hinch on Dancing with the Stars, it’s a good one but I’m not sure how contestants are picked. But both those guys are damn sure better drivers than Michael Waltrip; he just gets more face time thanks to FOX.

Q: I'm getting really sick of this... being told racing isn't a sport is worse than taking a slap to the face. I'm not really sure where it came from, but its getting harder and harder to make fans because of this sudden cold shoulder I constantly get. Where did this phenomenon come from? So many people my age have this set-in-stone idea that racing is not a sport and racing drivers aren't athletes. I honestly don't know how to change their mindset right now, and especially with IndyCar's pointless short season and long off-season, I stand no chance.

It won't faze me, though, as I live my college days waking up kissing my IMS brick and studying with an old Indy 500 playing in the background. Seriously though, need to find out why so many now think racing isn't considered a sport. I'm sure haters have always been around, but why so many these days?
Hunter Smith, Plainfield, IN

RM: Not really sure where it originated but I know Donovan McNabb said on FOX a few months ago that Jimmie Johnson wasn’t an athlete. Of course we all hang on everything Donovan says. But there’s always been a universal feeling among stick and ball types that driving a racecar isn’t an athletic endeavor. Maybe certain ovals are less than taxing physically, but all you’ve got to do is watch somebody spend two hours wrestling an Indy car at Mid-Ohio to understand what’s demanded.

Although…here’s a thought: If we perpetuate the myth that IndyCar racing isn’t a sport, we could have a sensible schedule again because it would no longer be looked on as being in competition with the NFL.

Q: IndyCar is NOT in competition with the NFL. It wishes it was! Any racing series wishes it was! It’s in competition with NASCAR and F1. Because the IndyCar season is over and F1 was at 6:30 a.m. I was forced to watch NASCAR and let me say IndyCar lost a good chance to get more fans. First off, ABC didn't cut over to the race until lap 26 (it was showing college football not even the NFL.  I guess NASCAR got nervous and pulled a “competition” yellow until the TV coverage was on, and then the "racing" continued!) Now if there was an IndyCar race on, everyone could have switched to that on a rival NBC channel. Just sayin!
Tony , NY  

RM: The problem with your scenario is that NBC isn’t allowed to show IndyCar races – only ABC – and it has no desire to show any prime time IndyCar races in football season even if available. But you are correct: NASCAR and F1 are IndyCar’s competition.


Mailbag-Larson

Q: Can you tell me why IndyCar is turning me into a NASCAR fan? I haven't missed a Piston Cup race since the Fontana end of season! I can even cheer for Danica, she was running 4th at the last yellow flag, had to start on the outside row where no one did well all day and still finished in 6th place! She seems to be improving greatly. Why does the Boston Consulting Group only worry about the NFL? There is always MLB, NHL, NBA, ETC. In Canada we have missed the start of IndyCar races because golf and curling have overrun! Shouldn't they also worry about poker and darts? They seem to be getting big!
Randy Shanklin

RM: She’s run very well the past month but I watch NASCAR for Kyle Larson [ABOVE]. I have no explanation for the BCG but, then, I’ve never actually got to read the full report. Don’t forget poker on ESPN.

Q: I’ll always be an open-wheel guy, but I’m also a race fan. I was wondering what you think of this year’s “Chase.” I’m actually watching some of the races again, although I was sleeping through much of Talladega until they got to the end. I’ve been saying for years that the large reward for winning the championship and the dumb point system has sucked the life out of the actual races, where 10th place was a “good day.” Now winning races (or at least being up at the sharp end most of the time) means a heck of a lot more and I think it’s showing in how they’re driving. People are taking real chances to win – kind of like IndyCars and sprint cars! 

On the other hand, with the way the champion is decided, it has almost devalued the Sprint Cup championship because the best guy over the course of the entire year probably won’t win. I also noticed the stands were full at ‘Dega and that wasn’t the case last year. What do you think and are you watching?
Mike L. in NH

RM: In terms of TV ratings, it’s doing pretty well (a 3.1 on ABC prime time and a 2.7 for ’Dega last weekend) and NASCAR got a real reprieve when Keselowski won. Now the two guys with the most wins still have a shot at the title but imagine if Brad is out and winless Ryan Newman captures the championship. How do you spin that?

I watch Kyle Larson in between commercials of NFL games because Talladega is impossible to watch until the final 10 laps.

Q: After 12 years with Sprint, I just switched to Verizon this weekend primarily because of the IndyCar sponsorship. My little way of saying “Thanks” to them. Hope more people do the same. Having difficulty communicating that directly to Verizon. Hopefully you use this and one of the muckity-mucks at Verizon reads the Mailbag.
John T. Feeser, Wilmington, NC

RM: I imagine that’s what they’re hoping, more people switching over, but basically you dumped NASCAR for IndyCar so I applaud you. Let me know about the IndyCar apps.

Q: First thanks for your perseverance with open-wheel racing. I consider myself a RRW – road race watcher – whether it is two or four wheels. So I watch Indy cars, sports cars, F1, MotoGP, and SBK if I can find it, and some taxis when they run on road courses. Here are some thoughts on open-wheel  cars. 1. Make them use smaller tires. Maybe even treaded tires like we have to drive on, but not the silly tires F1 used a few years ago. 2. Smaller wings front and back w/ ONE surface e.g. the front wings on F1 cars are super ugly and flop around like a limp rag. 3. Take away paddle shifters, make the driver really shift a “stick.” 4. Take away computer-controlled launches, it should be controlled by the driver. I like technology but I like real racing better. Thanks for considering my little short rant.
Dwight Plucker

RM: Not sure IndyCar needs smaller tires – the racing is damn good with Firestone’s two compounds on street and road courses and its oval tire. I like taking away paddle shifters but that’s not likely. IndyCar drivers kinda control their launch now but it’s obviously not an exact science just yet.


Mailbag-Minardi-stoddart

Q: This segment is a chapter of "Where Are They Now?"? It’s been seven years since we heard from the Minardi team USA [ABOVE, Robert Doornbos in 2007] when they ran the final Champ Car season (technically, it ended in 2008 at Long Beach). Sure they were successful and were sub-par. I wonder if Paul Stoddart is actually still interested in running a team once again or decided to walk away. I know Giancarlo Minardi ran for mayor but never took post.? The last thing I know is that Paul is still in the airline industry. Is there a chance he would return to the motorsports world?
JLS, Chicago, IL

RM: I asked his old pal Kevin Kalkhoven and here’s his reply: “We (Stoddart) actually have an aviation business together in both Indianapolis and Bournemouth, England. He still has his two-seaters, which he brings out for certain Formula 1 events. I have repeatedly discussed a return to IndyCar with him but he seems very disinclined to do it. He continues to come to some of the races, including the Indy 500 but prefers to fool around with airplanes.”

Q: Apparently you're shooting your new fireside chat videos from your own personal library. How about at the end of each video chat, you take a "Library Minute" and grab something – an old photo, program, ticket, press pass, newspaper clipping, an old yellowed NSSN, helmet, gloves, trophy, whatever – from your collection and give us a quick story about it. How cool would that be during the off-season? Or perhaps a 2 or 3-minute "Library Memories" vid at RACER.com could stand on its own on a regular basis.
Steve, Eden Prairie, MN

RM: I like that idea Steve, and I’ll start doing it next Monday. I’m just now scanning the 3,000 photos I’ve accumulated during the past 45 years so we’ll have plenty of stories. Thanks for watching and thanks for the suggestion.

Q: The Pirelli World Challenge schedule suggests they’re partnered with IndyCar on August 28-30, 2015 at Sonoma. I guess that rules out Sonoma for a Labor Day finale.
Ryan Terpstra

RM: It doesn’t rule out the season ending on August 30 in Sonoma,

Q: Read in Marshall Pruett’s article on Honda’s IndyCar trials that HPD’s contract is up after 2015 and that Chevy’s is up after 2016. Meanwhile, we keep hearing about Cosworth trying to find a backer for their IndyCar effort. So what’s your feeling: Who’s in and who’s out when 2017 rolls around. How many manufacturers are there going to be? Is there going to be competition, or are we back on the road to being a truly spec series?
Ed Joras

RM: IndyCar is meeting with Honda to talk about an extension, and I would have to think of all the money being spent on aero kits by both General Motors and Honda that they would be around for a while longer. But it’s impossible to gauge how long or if anybody else is joining.

Q: I’d love to see Hinch back in the winner’s circle! I think that should happen at SPM. Now if Alonso goes on sabbatical and he can be wedged into a seat at TCGR, then IndyCar can give Bernie indigestion. Wishful thinking, I know!
Trevor Bohay

RM: That could make Bernie take an aspirin but it wouldn’t have the same panic affect of losing Nige in 1993.

Q: I got a crazy idea, if Alonso goes on sabbatical from F1 next year, IndyCar should make him an offer. I’m sure Penske, Ganassi, or Andretti can field an extra car! Imagine the hype? I remember Mansell Mania. This is exactly what IndyCar needs!
Frank, Toronto

RM: Might be worth a phone call and I think Chip would jump on it but not sure IndyCar could afford it. But Alonso [BELOW] could make a difference at the box office.

Mailbag-Alonso

p1dABOVE: See yourself here? (all images courtesy of McLaren Automotive)

P1a

McLaren Automotive has announced details of its dedicated track preparation program for owners of its new P1 GTR racecar, which the company promises will offer "an on- and off-track driving experience like no other, with unique access to the technologies and expertise within the McLaren Technology Centre."

As first revealed at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August, the McLaren P1 GTR will pushes the already remarkable capabilities of its road car sibling to the limit, featuring even more performance and grip thanks to more aggressive aerodynamics and styling, a widened track and slick tires. The mid-mounted engine will be more powerful, too, with an intended power output of 986hp. Customers for the car, to be priced at £1.98m [$3.18m] will all be entered into the driver preparation program.

Dynamic testing of the new car is now underway at a range of international race circuits, and the first uncamouflged images show the latest aerodynamic and cooling updates being tested. In addition, the driver-focused cockpit is shown to be even more purposeful than the road-going model, and has been designed with driver engagement and weight saving key priorities, but no compromise in terms of comfort and safety.

The individually-tailored McLaren P1 GTR driver program will offer each driver a unique insight into the world of McLaren. Details of the program, which has previously been experienced by race winners and world champions, are explained on this video, and then expanded upon below.

The view from the inside

McLaren P1 GTR test 01These first images of the interior released by the company show how the driving environment of the McLaren P1 GTR has been designed to be as focused for the driver as possible, and is stripped of all but the essential items in a bid to keep weight to a minimum. The lightweight carbon fiber MonoCage chassis is carried over from the road car, and weighs just 90kg including the upper and lower structures (including roof), roof snorkel, engine air intake cavity, battery and power electronics housing. This, in common with the road car, meets FIA load requirements for rollover in GT racing category. Since the "rollcage" is incorporated into the MonoCage, there is no reduction in headroom for the driver.

The centerpiece of the driver's environment is the newly developed steering wheel, which has been designed to make all controls as easily accessible and user-friendly as possible. As with various elements throughout the car, there is significant heritage linked to the steering wheel. Although unique to the McLaren P1 GTR, McLaren says the design is based on the steering wheel of its 2008 Formula 1 championship-winning MP4-23.

As on a Formula 1 car, key controls including the mode switches are located to the center of the steering wheel. This allows the driver to fully adjust the setup and characteristics of the car without having to take their hands from the wheel. The DRS and IPAS buttons are retained on the steering wheel. In the design and implementation of this new set up, all controls can be comfortably operated, and are easily accessible, when in a full race suit, helmet and gloves.

The cabin is equipped with lightweight DTM-style seats and full six-point motorsport harnesses. This will be specifically set up for the individual driver, and mounted directly to the chassis, reducing weight by having no additional mounting brackets. The HANS-approved carbon fiber seat shell offers comfort and support, and has been ergonomically designed along with the rest of the cabin controls. Despite the stripped out environment, the air-conditioning is retained to maintain comfort during the much more physical driving experience.

p1bTesting continues

McLaren's dedicated test team of engineers, technicians and development drivers working on the GTR program have recently completed a test in extreme desert heat at the Bahrain International Circuit (pictured). The program was designed to push the capabilities of the upgraded IPAS powertrain, ensure optimized balance and handling characteristics on the race-proven Pirelli slick tyres, and work through aerodynamic developments including the dramatic fixed-height rear wing which includes the Formula 1-style Drag Reduction System (DRS).

The rigorous testing schedule was carried out with the latest development prototype, and is seen dynamically for the first time, finished in a combination of Carbon Black paintwork and bare carbon fiber bodywork.

All tests were completed with results meeting or, in many cases exceeding, the stringent targets set. The McLaren P1 GTR development continues its rapid progress, with further mileage scheduled over the winter throughout Europe.

p1c

McLaren P1 GTR Driver Program

"With the McLaren P1 GTR driver program, we have aimed to do something different, very much like the way we operate the rest of the business. We don't follow the trends. Our road cars are different to our competitors, so too will be our driving program," said Chris Goodwin, Chief Test Driver for McLaren Automotive.

Drivers will become a member of the world's most exclusive McLaren ownership program, and gain a unique insight into the steps McLaren drivers take after signing for the team. With access to the McLaren Technology Centre, each driver will have an unparalleled, and completely unique, experience. Each driver will embark on a customized driver program designed to hone and optimize driving skills, and learn how to get the best of themselves and the car.

A dedicated track preparation program, tailored to suit each individual driver, will start at the McLaren Technology Centre and drivers will have access to go behind previously off-limits areas. Paul Mackenzie, McLaren P1 GTR program Director explains:

"The program is about enabling our drivers to get the most out of the McLaren P1 GTR. Before they get out on track, each driver will join us at the MTC and have unprecedented access to the cutting edge facilities, including the racing simulator. This will enable drivers to build up a greater understanding of the car's capabilities and true performance, as well as learning the braking and turn-in points before they arrive at the circuit. It also allows them to analyze and discuss their performance ahead of testing themselves in the real world situation, so they are fully prepared when they take to the track.

"It is a program that has been developed over the years for our Formula 1 and our young drivers. It's not just about fitness, but also about mental preparation, and looks at the full well-being of the driver, and prepares them mentally and physically for the activities they will experience on track."

The events themselves will take place at some of the most iconic racing Formula 1 circuits across the world, and drivers will take part in six events during the first year of the program. At each event, drivers will have a dedicated race team responsible for running the car. This will include a personal driver coach and head engineer, who will work through telemetry and video analysis to hone skills, and optimize lap times. This one-to-one tuition will be bespoke to each driver, and will be tailored to suit each driver's invididual skill set and driving ability.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images from the prototype P1 GTR's Bahrain test

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Briscoe-lead

Marshall Pruett says…

You’ll have to wind the clock back to 2005 to find the last season Ryan Briscoe went without a visit to the podium. 2005 also served as his rookie season in in IndyCar and, discounting his partial season with Panther Racing last year, 2014’s podium-free return to Chip’s house was as curious as it was unexpected.

It definitely caught me by surprise. Here's a reminder of how wrong I was in my pre-season predictions:

Briscoe’s on his third major team since joining the IndyCar Series (second stint with Ganassi), which speaks BRiscoe-pitstop-Sonomavolumes about how he’s regarded among owners and sponsors. Armed with his former Team Penske engineer Eric Cowdin, who won a little race named the Indy 500 last year with Tony Kanaan, the Aussie has everything he could ask for to rebound from a tough, part-time season in 2013. He has a tendency to fade at times—to be in the race but not part of the action—yet I expect Briscoe to rise to the challenge at Ganassi. Don’t be surprised if he’s splitting the Target cars on a regular basis.

I’m clearly guilty of optimism run amok, or being blind, or maybe a combination of the two, because Briscoe was rarely a concern for the Target cars. Of all those predictions, his tendency to fade was the rule rather than the exception on too many occasions.

And with no disrespect to Sebastien Bourdais, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz – the three drivers who finished ahead of Briscoe in the standings, Ryan definitely had greater experience or resources to put them behind him in the championship.

BRiscoe-Milwaukee-panBriscoe's results got stronger as the season went on, and he could be counted on for decent finishes at most tracks. Ten finishes inside the top-10 was what you’d expect from a veteran, but seven of those top-10s were finishes of seventh or worse. Compare that to fellow Ganassi man Tony Kanaan, who didn’t come into the team with his long-standing engineer, yet captured six podiums, including a win at the season finale. Both came into the season at more or less the same starting point, yet Kanaan stood out as the hardcore performer between the two.

Like Briscoe, Kanaan rallied as the season progressed, and once he found a place of comfort, the guy used all the human capital, engineering resources and his own determination to claim his position as a team leader. By the time the season ended at Fontana, I was still waiting for Ryan to make a similar claim. We’ve seen him do it before, but for a variety of reasons, it failed to materialize in 2014.

Paid drivers are graded on a steep curve at Ganassi – it’s a sheer cliff, to be honest – and with Scott Dixon and Kanaan as the only benchmarks to use, Dixie placing third and TK taking sixth probably says more than any other evaluation of Ryan’s run to 11th.

With his options open, I’d love to see Briscoe return with a smaller team and show the kind of fight that kept him on Roger Penske’s payroll for five seasons. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll have plenty of options in sports car racing.


Robin Miller says…

Ryan Briscoe's second chance with Chip Ganassi had flashes of that old fast form along with some disappointing performances but could best be described as a work in progress. Although he didn’t win or score a podium and only led five laps, Briscoe seemed to be more in synch with engineer Eric Cowdin (BELOW) the second half of the season – Briscoe-Eric-Cowdinespecially on the ovals.

A fourth at Pocono was his best result of 2014 (after starting 10th) and he qualified fourth at Iowa and Milwaukee before finishing seventh in the Fontana finale.

The 33-year-old Aussie looked like he might pick up a victory in the Belle Isle opener as led laps 55-59 of the 70-lap distance but couldn’t catch a caution at the right time and wound up 15th.

The seven-time race-winner in IndyCar spent most of the year in the Top 10 but, other than Detroit, never seriously challenged for a win except during stretches at Pocono and Iowa.

Considering the well-oiled and seasoned Target Ganassi operation of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan struggled early on, Ryan qualified and raced in the same neighborhood for the first 10 races. The 2012 Indy 500 pole-sitter’s low point probably came in May at the Speedway where he qualified 30th and finished 18th after running all 200 laps.
But, beginning at Pocono, something clicked on the ovals and Briscoe ran near the front where he belonged.


David Malsher says…

Ryan Briscoe finished all 18 IndyCar races this year – yet only 10 of them in the top 10, and only one in the top five. That sums up the stats, but does it sum up his form?

No, because those figures are horrible for a Ganassi driver, and Ryan’s form was never downright bad in 2014. Nor, unfortunately, was it exceptional and, as a result, he spent too much of his time in the midfield mélange. Yes, the team as a Briscoe-Detroit-actionwhole struggled for the first half of the season, and the No. 8 / No. 83 half of Chip Ganassi Racing may not have been fully integrated with the Target half, as they operated out of different shops in 2014, but with Eric Cowdin as race engineer, Ricky Davis as chief mechanic, access to the data and feedback of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, and the brain of Dario Franchitti to pick, we all expected more from one of IndyCar’s multiple race winners.

There was only one track where Briscoe appeared to be carrying the car to a better performance than it deserved, or had it honed better than all three of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, and that was in Detroit (LEFT) where he qualified fifth for both races and briefly led the first one. Yet it was Kanaan and Charlie Kimball who scored the podium finishes for CGR that weekend.

Not helping his confidence were days when he probably could have done well but had his chances ruined early on. For example, once Will Power was out of the way, I doubt anyone was going to play the fuel mileage game as well as Scott DixonBriscoe-portrait did at Sonoma, but Ryan might have joined him on the podium. Instead, he was 17th having spent his race recovering from being rammed off the track on the opening lap by Sebastien Bourdais. There was nothing wrong with Briscoe’s oval form, but with the exception of the Indy 500 where a top-10 finish was ruined by a clash with Power, he was never top dog of the CGR quartet.

I’m not trying to make excuses for Ryan, but I wonder how much he was affected by the knowledge he was fighting to retain his ride for 2015. Contract time, for a driver who’s had mediocre results in the first half of a season, can work two ways: it can spur him on to think “Nothing to lose now,” freeing him to run hard; or it can cripple him artistically, and his mindset becomes one of, “I can’t afford to have a bad result.” That second attitude simply doesn’t work in current era IndyCar because you’re going to get buried. Better to risk crashing out while going for it than fade away while settling for what you’ve got.

I suspect the increased downforce levels of the forthcoming DW12 aero kit era will suit a driver of Ryan's bravery – look how he shone in the old LMP2 Porsche Spyders – and I still think he has a lot to offer a single-car team who could use his pace and experience to overachieve. But on 2014 form, he can’t expect to retain a Ganassi seat when there are so many promising would-be and yet-to-be IndyCar stars striving for that same chance.

Briscoe-shawl

2014Sebring12hrMarshallPruettThu313 034If you're a fan of the powerhouse Flying Lizards Motorsport team, you'll soon know where to cheer on the hearty band of sports car veterans.

As RACER revealed earlier this month, FLM is evaluating whether to continue in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's GT Daytona class, or shift its focus to the Pirelli World Challenge series. Team manager Eric Ingraham has been tasked with plotting FLM's next chapter in the sport with its Audi R8s, and based on our conversation on Monday, it appears the team is still in the information gathering phase.

"For us, we're still in the same spot from when we last talked," Ingraham told RACER. "We're still working through the budget numbers and trying to understand the World Challenge option a little bit better so we can make a decision. Hopefully we're in a much more educated position to make a decision, and I'd think we'll have a pretty definitive direction by early November."

It's safe to say FLM's interest in taking its R8s to a different series has been aided by the Balance of Performance struggles they've encountered in GTD. FLM was one of three teams fielding the V10-powered R8 last season, and found the German coupes at the wrong end of the competitive spectrum on numerous occasions. The Paul Miller Racing team won the season finale at Road Atlanta with its R8 – the first of the year for the marque, but it's also worth noting the team used the circuit as its primary testing facility.

That fact does not diminish their accomplishment, but it does point to specific expertise being required at one track to coax the R8 into Victory Lane.

"I know that Audi and IMSA have been having meetings, and the series is working on more [Balance of Performance] stuff – taking a bigger bite of the apple to understand each car in GTD," Ingraham added.

Suggestions of FLM heading to PWC with a three-car Audi R8 effort continue to make the rounds.

"As far as the quantity, the equipment required is much different, and for two trucks, running three cars makes sense, and even four cars would be possible if you're really efficient on your truck packing," Ingraham said. "Three cars is the right number, but making it all work, finding the right folks, making the budget numbers work – all of that is sitting on my desk right now. Looking at the combined World Challenge and TUDOR Championship calendars, the costs, the conflicts, and all of that is where I'm focused at the moment."

2014PLMMPruettSat1004 1703As he noted in our first conversation, a move to PWC wouldn't preclude participating in a few TUDOR Championship events, and vice versa, but as Ingraham explains, switching the cars between full GT3 specifications in PWC and IMSA's hybrid GTD/GT3 settings appears to be a process that holds limited interest for the Sonoma Raceway-based team.

"Switching cars back and forth is not really practical, but there are one or two events – Sebring and Petit Le Mans – that would be easier," he explained. "There are some others where it could be done, but it depends on the interest we receive."

With Turner Motorsport and NGT Motorsport committing to full-season PWC programs in 2015, could FLM bring the GTD-to-PWC tally to as many as eight cars? Stay tuned for news in the coming weeks.​

Douglas Werner Testing-1Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden from the movie “Fight Club” has nothing on IndyCar’s aero kit manufacturers, or their teams and drivers.

Just as I expected to find, the first rule of aero kit testing is: You do not talk about aero kit testing. And if you’re wondering, yes, the second rule of aero kit testing is: You DO NOT talk about aero kit testing.

And trust me, when it comes to extracting real information from Chevy, Honda, or any of those involved in bringing IndyCar’s new-for-2015 aerodynamics to fruition, you’d have an easier time making a Mafia boss crack while being interrogated.

Despite working in a profession where knowledge is king, I love that the “Top Secret” stamp is being used in IndyCar for the first time in ages, and I actually don’t mind getting the silent treatment on this topic.

Thanks to a field filled with mostly spec cars since 2005, intrigue had been at an all-time low in IndyCar. Engine, chassis and aero developments were once a steady fixture in the CART Indy car series, but with the migration to spec cars over the last decade or so, there’s been no need for manufacturers and teams to sneak away and test their latest designs.

So if you’ve come to follow IndyCar in recent years, the art of undercover testing, cloak and dagger developments and spying efforts among Indy car competitors had become all but forgotten – a thing of the past. Yet for those who remember, aero kits represent a return to those fun days as Chevy and Honda try to keep their testing efforts hidden from prying eyes.

Intrigue returned to a lesser degree when IndyCar introduced its new turbocharged engine formula for 2012, but with those motors hidden from sight most of the time beneath bodywork, sensitive shots of the 2.2-liter V6s during pre- and post-season testing have been kept to a minimum.

AK Screengrab 1With the external nature of what’s being tested today, the move to aero kits was always going to be a security challenge for Chevy and Honda, and as we saw last week at Circuit of The Americas, the best-laid plans to keep the world in the dark went awry when Chevy’s aero kit came to light on the internet. (LEFT, image from Twitter).

And if you think it was a well-coordinated, professional effort that caught Chevy with its pants down, you might get a chuckle out of what really happened:

Awoken by the sound of cars testing at COTA, the man who captured the images of Chevy’s aero kit isn’t a spy photographer, but rather someone who was annoyed at having his sleep interrupted, had access to the circuit’s fence line and used a Fuji FinePix pocket camera to open the lid on the Bowtie’s most private testing activities. Yep, for $63 bucks on Amazon.com, you too can own the same point-n-shoot gear. To add insult to injury, the photographer told me was unaware he'd taken the first images of an aero kit until IndyCar fans pointed it out on Twitter!

So much for James Bond – this was some straight up Inspector Clouseau stuff happening in Austin.

I spoke with GM Racing director Mark Kent shortly after his brand’s aero kit blanketed social media, and if you were wondering, yes, having the veil of secrecy lifted so soon – and on someone else’s terms – wasn’t received in a positive manner.

“The automotive manufacturer, whether it’s a future production model, or a future racecar, or in this case, a future aero kit, we have significant investment in either the look or the technology and we go to great lengths to protect that from our competitors by camouflaging the car, trying to test in locations that are not announced ahead of time,” he said.

“The last thing we want is to have things get into the hands of a competitor; either the features of the car or to glean the technical aspects they can go try themselves is what we’re trying to avoid. Having our competition being able to react on it or the media to get a look at the car and steal a story we feel belongs to us – we want the unveil to be our story. Every time the media is able to take away a little bit of that ability, it diminishes the value of the investment. That’s why we go to such lengths to go to the levels to protect things like we do.”

Put yourself in Kent’s shoes, and you’d probably struggle to offer such a calm response.


AK Screengrab 2

Chevy opted for the full dazzle camouflage livery at COTA (ABOVE, image from Twitter), and went one step further by having its test drivers – believed to be members of Team Penske – wear nondescript helmets. Venturing to COTA, a track unfamiliar to the IndyCar Series, was another smart move by Chevy, and even with months of planning behind the test, Kent says seeing those privacy steps unraveled by a civilian was a tough pill to swallow.

“We try to think of every scenario, but as you mentioned, the track this was conducted at was conducive to gain what we were looking to learn, but no track is 100 percent secure,” Kent conceded before admitting the poor quality of the shots was the only positive to take from the breach.

“We took as many precautions as we could, and fortunately the photos that were taken were far enough away and grainy enough to prevent any of the details of the design from getting out. It’s unfortunate the shots got out, and we’ll continue to move forward and test at other tracks before we introduce the kit.”

Chevy begrudgingly acknowledged its cars were caught testing at COTA, but don’t believe for a moment that the rest of the testing details were put on the table for discussion.

Which team and drivers, at least officially, were seen lapping the opulent road course? Was it one or all of Penske’s quartet? They were given a prepared statement if asked about COTA: "I can't comment about any of the 2015 testing programs due to the various sensitivities” is the refrain being used right now! Again, you’ve gotta love the return to secrecy.

Knowing the COTA shots weren’t taken by a professional, it’s also worth noting that most spy shots – at least those taken by the manufacturers – aren’t captured by pros hidden behind bushes with big zoom lenses. It’s usually an employee or someone lightly affiliated with the manufacturer hiding in plain sight with a simple camera that blends into the scenery.

lat levitt lbgp-0413 00972Funnily enough, while manufacturers will go to great lengths to keep accredited shooters like myself from taking shots of sensitive items (ABOVE, LAT photo), they’ll happily send their own folks to work in the shadows to shoot the other guy’s new exhaust system, turbo layout, suspension geometry, wicker package or some other technical detail. Or so I’m told.

I wouldn’t dare suggest IndyCar’s engine manufacturers spy on each other (has anyone come up with a 'sarcasm' emoticon I can insert here?), so I asked Mark Kent if he’s heard of such a thing happening.

“You’re not going to see me at a racetrack trying to capture shots of Honda’s aero kit…I might be recognized,” he said with a chuckle. “I think everybody’s doing whatever they can to see what the competition is doing, but I think there also needs to be a level of professionalism with what we’re doing. I wouldn’t expect to see someone from Honda at one of our tests blatantly taking pictures. We’re competitors, but we’re also professionals.”

I also asked Honda Performance Development vice president Steve Eriksen if he’d heard the same rumor about manufacturers going to great length to snap their own spy shots.

“We have heard of it…and I know of some activities that have happened with our competitors in that regard, but for us, it’s not that big of a focus as maybe it is for others,” said Eriksen, who saw the Chevy photos moments after they hit the web. “Our effort is first on making things the best they can be. Once we’ve put everything towards that we can, and there’s some left over, you can put some resources to things like that.

“And we’re in the same vein; you saw the Chevy aero kit pictures show lots of camouflage and I’m sure they did their best to keep that from happening, and our intention is to keep ours under wraps.”


SNE24641

Without naming the series or manufacturers (because it includes more than IndyCar), it’s also fun to recount some of the Top Secret silliness I’ve experienced or come across indirectly.

When one manufacturer learned a reader captured spy shots last year, they reached out to the shooter, asked him to remove the images from the web, and when the reader inquired what it was worth to the manufacturer, he was offered an enticement package to pull his shots. Smart guy.

Clandestine testing photography allowed one manufacturer to capture, diagnose, and email imagery of a rival’s big explosion before the stricken team got the car back to the garage to start their own investigation. You know you’re living in the Digital Age when the root cause of a failure and pictures of that blowup are being shared secretly before the manufacturer who suffered the blowup has gotten a handle on what happened.

Protecting a car while circulating the track (ABOVE, LAT photo) is one thing, and keeping things hidden while it’s in the pits often brings an even greater level of security (BELOW, Marshall Pruett photo).

I had one mechanic – a tall gentleman – tell me he’d been instructed by his team’s manufacturer to stand in front of me whenever I had a camera in my hand. Granted, he told me about this after leaving the team. In hindsight, I always wondered why he was in the way, but it didn’t stop me from getting what I needed.

Sebring 2011 Pruett Thursday 071I had a team go so far as to try and jab me with the pointy end of their car’s sidepod to prevent a photo of the engine bay from being taken. It seemed out of character for the team, so I asked their manufacturer if the conceal-at-all-costs-if-someone-tries-to-take-a-shot directive came from them. It did.

One manufacturer rep had the balls to tell me looking at or photographing their uncovered motor was a breach of the brand’s “visual intellectual property.” I still giggle at that one.

Another manufacturer, with a brand-new engine to hide, not only kept their engine cover on for as long as possible while on pit lane, but also tried to cover their bases by having their technicians hold umbrellas to cover the engine and prevent overhead shots from being taken (by drone or satellite, maybe?). All that was missing were mechanics wearing tinfoil hats. Despite those measures, an independent photographer got a few shots of the engine from an angle the manufacturer left exposed.

I had one crew member, who was with a team that flew over to race in the U.S., reach out and grab my camera to block a shot. We didn't speak the same language, but I think he understood my message that getting physical goes both ways, and cameras heal faster than bones. He was quite friendly after that brief interaction.

At least a dozen more stories come to mind – I’ll save them for a book when I’m old and retired and no one gives a damn.

The art of grabbing a camera to steal shots of a competitor’s car has been going on since the earliest days of motorsport, and at times, the rush to snap a high value photo has been all-encompassing.

flipRutherford and the Chaparral 2K flip at Phoenix in 1980 (video still)“I remember we were at Phoenix many decades ago,” says former Indy car team owner/manager Derrick Walker, “and Johnny Rutherford got upside down in his Chaparral, the Yellow Submarine car. I guess we should have been thinking about his safety first, but the car was so fast – it was kicking our butts, to be frank – that all anyone could think of was to run and grab a camera to take some photos of the bottom of the car!

“Those tunnels worked like magic, and I feel bad thinking about it now, but when we saw the bottom was exposed, there was a whole gaggle of us that scrambled to get a camera and take pictures before they turned the thing over again. You don’t get many chances like that, so you’d better act on it while you can. Rutherford was OK, I believe…”

levitt-overgilDe Ferran and the 2001 "Renske." (LAT photo)Two-time CART champion and 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran told me of a time when the nature of his testing crash left photographers with little to see.

“It was in 2001 with Penske when we got the new Reynard, and you know Penske back then – maybe half of the car was still a Reynard and the other half was every trick, every idea the team could think of,” he said. “New aero, new suspension, new everything. They went all-out. The car was just amazing; every little piece they made was like Swiss watch pieces. So we go to Homestead with the first car, it’s gleaming; I spent 30 minutes just staring at it before I drove.

“They let me do five laps to shake it down – I wasn’t pushing, then I pit, everything is fine with the car, so they let me work up to speed with longer runs and soon the car is flying. It’s so fast. Then I had a problem with the right-rear tire and lost it right between Turn 3 and 4 and slammed the wall. There was nothing left of the car. It was an enormous crash.”

De Ferran would go onto set the closed-course lap record at 241mph in qualifying later in the year at Fontana, which might help explain why there wasn’t much to shoot at Homestead.

“Oh my God, we were going so fast…we went so far, I finally came to a rest literally in the middle of the front straight, the car smoking and steaming…” he said with a sense of disbelief. “And I was so angry after that; I was cursing in the car, and the team told me to calm down; they couldn’t understand why I was so mad, but it was because the car was so good, we had all of these amazing Penske parts on the car and they were spread all over a half-mile of the track.

“I hated to see such a great car destroyed when all I wanted to do was go faster. There wasn’t much left to photograph, and I know we wanted all of the bits returned to us that could be found, but there wasn’t a lot…”

And sometimes secret things happen during secret testing. Like losing your driver.


95 DTM DON01

“I flipped the prototype 1995 Mercedes DTM car [ABOVE, LAT photo] in testing at Hockenheim--the short course,” Dario Franchitti told me. “It was all hand-made bits, most of which hadn't been copied for production on the other DTM cars yet. And they let me drive it, which as a junior driver, was unusual.”

What happened next to the future three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion sounds like it was taken from a Benny Hill skit.

“I back-flipped it at an S-curve in sixth-gear, and it was massive,” he said. “There were no intake trumpets left in the motor, it bent the steering wheel and pedals, snapped seat, there were no doors left – I have part of a door in my office – nothing left behind the rear window…

“The team saw the battery voltage drop over telemetry so they sent a crew round to tow the car back, but when they arrived to find the car scattered across several hundred yards, I'd already gotten a lift back to the pits by one of the street cars that regularly tested with us.

“The boys spent half an hour looking for me as the thought I'd run off into the forest in shock! I had a hell of a sore head and neck but drove from Germany back to Scotland that afternoon…”

With the accident kept quiet, Franchitti had to make sure he wasn’t quietly axed from Mercedes’ DTM program.

“Rumor has it I was almost fired for my little indiscretion, so I had to call (Mercedes racing boss) Norbert Haug and (AMG boss) Hans Werner Aufrecht to apologize… a few weeks later I put my new racecar on pole for the first race, so all was forgiven!” he added.

Who knows if we’ll have hilarious and harrowing tales that emerge in the years ahead, but as long as IndyCar manufacturers sneak away to test, there’s always a chance. For now, we have aero kit testing to pique our interests during IndyCar’s long off-season, and if the series handles it properly, it could create some buzz outside of open-wheel’s diehard followers. (BELOW, Marshall Pruett photo).

IndyCar SebringST3812 Pruett  731We know Chevy and Honda won’t make it easy, but with fans spread from coast to coast, we can only hope a small army of IndyCar fans with cell phones and pocket cameras will keep us abreast of aero kit testing developments. Just for grins, I’ve let both manufacturers know I’d welcome high-resolution shots of their aero kits whenever they want to share.

Believe it or not, those e-mails from Chevy and Honda have yet to hit my inbox.

To finish things off back to where we started, HPD’s Eriksen shared another thought on spy shots that will remain true throughout the next few months of aero kit testing.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Chevy kit that we saw was that kit on that day at that track, and nothing more,” he said. “The development rate is going happen at such a rate that the kit you see today likely won’t be the same you see tomorrow, so there’s only so much to take away from one shot – or a series of shots – at any given time.

“My guess is by the time we have to homologate our aero kits in January, whatever you might have seen at COTA or wherever else will be significantly different from what goes into production next year. It’s always a thrill to see cars doing secret tests, but this isn’t a case where the car you see now will look the same when it goes into that first race.”

IndyCar’s Spy Games are back (BELOW, LAT photo), and with more technology on the way in the coming years, I hope they continue. Spec cars make my brain go numb – more numb than usual – and if it’s handled properly, promoting all of the new tech could draw in new IndyCar fans and maybe sell a few more Chevy Cruzes and Honda Civics.

That’s the reason behind all of this, isn’t it?

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