From my vantage point where North American open-wheel and sports car endurance racing is king, I’m pleased to say we’ve been treated to an amazing summer of action and memories.
For nothing other than pure appreciation of what’s been taking place, the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA and its WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Series, and the Mazda Road To Indy have been delivering joy and thrills on a weekly basis.
It’s the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race. All of it. Every lap. Fascinating strategy at play, Alexander Rossi and his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda team staking their claim as a title contender for years to come, Sebastien Bourdais losing his mind and motoring from last to sixth… It was IndyCar at its finest.
One week later, it was the last 10 minutes of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America. Prototype had multiple winners in motion until fuel tanks ran dry and Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan pulled aside to watch as the privateer CORE autosport team cruised by to take its second consecutive victory.
In GT Le Mans, BMW was on pace to nab the first win for the M8 GTE, rolled the dice on fuel, and ground to a halt while leading as the big Bimmer ran out of juice while climbing the hill to pit lane. And even in GT Daytona, which wasn’t all that close, having Patrick Long and new teammate Christina Nielsen capture their first win was a perfect ending to the event.
It’s Ford Chip Ganassi Racing on a four-race win streak in GTLM after the tides turned in their favor in Wisconsin. (If you’re a Blue Oval fan, great. If not, I recognize this might be ruining your summer…)
It’s Canada’s Parker Thompson and Holland’s Rinus VeeKay trading blows for the Pro Mazda championship.
It’s IMSA, laying out a 2019 calendar that provides the kind of stability its teams and manufacturers need and, if we reach back a little bit, the announcement of IMSA joining IndyCar on the same NBC/NBCSN home starting next year.
It’s James Hinchcliffe, putting the pain of Indy 2018 behind him, shocking Team Penske and Josef Newgarden, and winning the Iowa Corn 300.
It’s the Paul Miller Racing team suffering a catastrophic engine failure in the opening Friday practice session at Lime Rock with its Lamborghini Huracan GT3, seeing the back of the car go up in flames, losing most of the day affecting repairs, then going on to win the IMSA GT Daytona class on Saturday.
It’s Scott Dixon, at 38, driving like he’s 28, as a de facto one-car team, taking on the best Andretti, Penske, and the other IndyCar titans can throw at him. When track surface grip has been elusive, we’ve been treated to masterful, oversteer-catching drives at Texas and Toronto that will go down among his best. Leading the championship with four rounds remaining, the Kiwi’s quest for a fifth IndyCar title is modern history in the making.
It’s new USF2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood who, after winning about a thousand races in a row, locked up the title well before the end of the season.
It’s Michael Johnson, climbing from his wheelchair into the JDC-Miller TCR Audi at Lime Rock for IMSA’s Conti race, and becoming the first known paralyzed winner in the organization’s history.
It’s IndyCar’s universal aero kit, after proving to be a harder puzzle to solve than was expected, hitting its stride this summer as teams figure out its sweet spot at most tracks.
It’s the new announcement of IMSA as the featured marque for the 2019 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion — on its 50th anniversary.
And it’s Porsche’s Rennsport Reunion due in September at Monterey, and the Indy Racing Registry’s supporting act at the Gateway IndyCar race with its historic open-wheel cars. Throw in SVRA at the Brickyard, HSR all over the country, plus gems like Patrick Long’s air-cooled Porsche-fest known as Luftgekühlt, and connecting with the cars we loved in the past – or have learned about in the present – has become a perfect complement to the pro racing calendar.
It’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, embracing his inner Playgirl model, laying in the water fountain at Detroit and posing for pictures after winning his first race in far too long.
It’s the Pro-Am pairing of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran leading IMSA’s Prototype championship, and CORE’s ultra Pro-Am lineup of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett rising to third overall.
It’s the final lap of the GT Le Mans race at Lime Rock, where Corvette Racing was a minute away from a well-deserved victory only to throw it away while passing a backmarker and turn the race upside down.
It’s IndyCar rookie Zach Veach watching his car catch fire on multiple occasions and making light of it, rather than letting it ruin his season.
It’s Andy Lally doing Andy Lally things for Magnus Racing in its Audi R8 LMS GT Daytona machine. If IMSA had the budget, it would position an extra camera at every corner and stream Lally’s Pass-Win-Or-Crash Show to the world.
It’s Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta, along with Santi Urrutia and Victor Franzoni on occasion, giving us an epic Indy Lights season. The field could have 50 cars and it would still be those four wearing each other out at the front of the pack.
It’s Monterey County finding value in IndyCar to commit serious funds to a three-year return of open-wheel racing to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
It’s Katherine Legge, on her own, vying for the IMSA GTD championship after starting the year with only four races scheduled with Meyer Shank Racing. Currently second in the standings, Kat’s giving the Paul Miller Racing team all they can handle.
It’s Robert Wickens. Holy cow is it Robert Wickens. And the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team for doing more than taking a risk on the Canadian; it was having the smarts to invest in someone other than a familiar face and name who’s already paid off handsomely in his rookie season.
It’s the privateer JDC-Miller Motorsports team being welcomed into the GM Racing family with the acquisition of two Cadillac DPi-V.Rs for 2019. This development, of course, follows its first overall IMSA win with a spec LMP2 ORECA 07-Gibson at Watkins Glen where another end-of-race round of drama was delivered. As an Acura and Cadillac fought over the lead, JDC’s Stephen Simpson – one of the most underrated stars of sports car racing – blasted past on the inside run to the Bus Stop and ended the DPi dominance of 2018. If you do nothing else for the rest of the IMSA season, tune in for the finishes because they’ve been insane.
And just prior to the start of summer, it’s a screaming, crying, ‘respect me mother*****r’ Will Power achieving his dream of winning the Indy 500.
In the wake of Mazda’s upcoming exit, it’s IndyCar’s five-year plan for Indy Lights – crafted with Road To Indy leader Dan Andersen – with a bigger advancement prize of $1.1 million that has been secured while costs have been driven down on spares and new-car sales.
It’s the always-inspiring racing Marine Liam Dwyer, sidelined for the year while undergoing multiple surgeries to insert a better coupling to carry his prosthetic leg, preparing to climb back into the cockpit and resume the sporting activity the loves most.
And I’m sure there’s plenty I’m forgetting to include.
It’s easy to get lost in the problems facing our beloved sport. Sometimes, the simple act of stepping back and expressing gratitude to those who’ve made the racing so much fun is worthwhile.
What an awesome summer to be a racing fan.