Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Historian's Point of View

Those who fail to study history are bound to repeat it.

I suppose Corvette Racing doesn’t spend much time in retroflection then.

Since 2012, Corvette Racing drivers have won the ALMS GT or IMSA GTLM championship 3 times. In 2012 and 2016, their drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin took the honors for the 4 car, and in 2013 it was Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in the number 3 who got the job done.
Last year, I joked with Tommy Milner before the first race that they were bound to win the championship. You see, there was a pattern I noticed. In 2011, Milner won the GT Class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, then claimed the championship in 2012. In 2015, Milner, along side Gavin and Jordan Taylor, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. History was bound to repeat. And it did. Gavin and Milner had a dream season, with an incredible average finish of 3.27 during the 11-round championship. They bettered their average finish of 3.8 from 2012, when they won their first championship as a duo.

Not to be outdone by their teammates, in 2013 Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia stepped up to the plate. They beat the average finish set by the 4, establishing a 3.6 over 10 races.

2012 at Road Atlanta
So in 2012, the 4 won the championship. 2013 was the 3. 2016 was the 4 again. If history repeats, it should be the 3 in 2017, right? How about some numbers to really drive this home, and give you eerie back-of-the-neck-hair-raising stats?

In 2012, the 3 car finished 3rd in the championship with an average finish of 4.7, no wins but 5 podiums. In 2016, the 3 car finished 3rd in the championship with an average finish of 4.55, one win (VIR) and 5 podiums. They finished 2nd in the first race of the season (’12 Sebring ’16 Daytona), 2nd at Lime Rock and 6th at Road America both years.

In 2012, the 4 car won the championship by attaining 4 wins (Long Beach, Laguna Sega, Mid-Ohio, and VIR) and 7 podiums with no DNFs. In 2016, the 4 car again placed first in the championship with 4 wins (Daytona, Sebring, Lime Rock, and Road America) and 7 podiums, with one DNF (VIR). The drivers stood on the podium for all 3 of the first rounds of the championship both years as well.

2016 Champion, covered with the dirt from a 3rd place finish at Petit Le Mans.
Starting to see a pattern?

Now for the 3 car up-shift. In 2013, that car earned end of season honors with 3 wins (Laguna Seca, Baltimore, and CotA) , 6 podiums and one DNF (Sebring). That same year, the 4 finished 3rd in points, 2 wins (Sebring and Mosport), 4 podium visits and 1 DNF (CotA).

This year, the 3 has been mirroring 2013. They lead the points, 3 wins to date (Sebring, CotA, and VIR) with 4 podiums. Thus, if we are to match the numbers, the 3 will be on the podium for both of the final rounds of the 2017 season. The average finish for the 3 is, quite incredibly, 3.

Jordan Taylor in the pits at Le Mans 2017, driving the car that bears the number 3 in IMSA.

For the 4 crew, this hasn’t been the mirror of the 2013 season. Whereas they finished 3rd in points that year, it’d take a small miracle for that to happen in 2017. Their average finish is 6.56, with 1 win (Long Beach) and that was also their only trip to the podium this year. They’ve had 2 DNFs, as opposed to the 3’s flawless record.
Another bit of potential foreshadowing: in 2013, Dirk Mueller finished 2nd in GT points. He could very well, alongside Joey Hand, finish 2nd in points again this year.

So what does all this mean? Well, honestly nothing. Logic has no place in racing, and if you followed along with my IHG Podium Predictor 0 of 8 score, should rarely does.

Our 2014 champion in GT was Kuno Wittmer with SRT, a factory program introduced mid way through the 2012 championship. While we didn’t have a program start up half way through this season, I might just look a bit closer at Risi for next year, who only ran a half-season this year.  Then maybe another Porsche champion in 2019 to mirror the result of 2015 champion Patrick Pilet, and then money’s on the 4 to start this whole crazy cycle up again in 2020.

The numbers all add up for me. Maybe I’m just crazy.

But I do study history.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Grid Girls

Right now, there’s a division sweeping through the world.  People standing on both sides of the line think that they are right and that the other side is either crazy or stupid. Befalling the leaders is great stress; how to we please both sides? It simply isn’t possible! But a decision has been made, action has been taken, and naturally half of the feedback is negative. What am I talking about? The controversy surrounding Grid Girls, of course.
Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, girls were placed on the grid of a race. Cast your minds back to a time when most of us weren’t born.  A man had a dilemma. With so many beautiful cars on the grid, how do you make your car stand out? Then, he saw a pretty young girl and decided that was his solution, that racing as a whole would benefit by having her stand next to a beautiful car before the race started. This, he decided, would greatly benefit his team, because surely people would come over to appreciate the girl. Okay, okay, so I’ve completely fabricated this happening but that’s the way I imagine it having occurred in my fiction writing brain. Hopefully, that gave you, reader, a laugh at the very least. If not, sorry for wasting that last paragraph of your time.
In all seriousness though, I can speak about grid girls because I was one. Yes, you read that correctly. Before I decided to take racing seriously, I was simply a young woman who was enjoying a weekend at the track with her dad. Corvette Racing took pity on my dad, who was going crazy with me wandering around and bothering more people than helping. The year is 2011, the track was Mid-Ohio, and I had chosen to be at a race-track instead of walking across a stage to get my diploma from FSU (They mailed it anyway so who really cared?). Corvette Racing had me doing various jobs for them, including standing with the drivers during the autograph session to roll up posters, taking VIPs around and showing them how the hot pits work, and other various tasks. My big moment came when someone unraveled the American flag and asked if I wanted to hold it in front of the #3 car. I jumped at the opportunity, as all 18-year-old racing fans would.
One of the 2 Falken girls on the grid that day.
The ESM girl, standing to my left.
When I got to grid, I realized my mistake. Tommy Milner had not done me a favor by qualifying 8th that week. In the 7th position was the #01 of Extreme Speed Motorsports with their grid beauty. This woman was dressed in a skin-tight black outfit, adorned with a green checkered pattern down the side and, ahem, busty features that weren’t well hidden. In 9th, on the other side of me, was the #17 of Team Falken Tire. Anyone who has been to either an ALMS or TUSC race knows Team Falken Tire and their girls. These two ladies had white boots that came up to just below their knees, very short shorts, and tops that were like bands, covering the essentials. I remember so very clearly what the other ladies were wearing because what I had on did not even vaguely resemble what they did. Thanks to my need to be in the pits, I was in a firesuit. In keeping with tradition, it was not my personal firesuit and instead was about 5 sizes too large. I did have my Corvette Racing t-shirt on, but it covered everything. And let me just add here that the girls on either side of me were very fit and in excellent shape while I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in about 2 years. Not a good combination.
I was extremely self-conscious during the 20-minute period of being on the grid. On either side, photographers and fans alike were stopping to admire both the Ferrari and Porsche and, most notably, the women in front of those cars. Now, I was in front of a Corvette…in Ohio…and, by the way, the very Corvette that had just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a month and a bit previously. Yet, most of the people walking by elected to either not take a picture of the car or else ask me to move a tiny bit as to cover only the front left headlight. One man could clearly see how embarrassed I was to be there and asked if I could take a picture with his son, holding the giant American flag in front of the Corvette.  I felt so proud to do this. We smiled and the little boy said thank you, before I saw them run over to the Falken girls and make the same request. Pride gone.
Proud American girl in front of an
American car, holding an American
My self-respect did come back, though, as the session wound down. A man came over to me with his two young daughters. He extended his right hand and said, “I just wanted to thank you for choosing to not be half naked on the grid. It sends a good message to my girls.” I nodded, not knowing what to say, and shook his hand. I think I told them to enjoy the race but honestly, I was so taken aback that I can’t remember my exact words. That one moment made the whole grid experience worthwhile. It no longer mattered that people didn’t want to take my picture because I was fully dressed and not as pretty as the girls on either side. I was content with the idea that maybe, unintentionally, I had made a little difference.
But all of that went away quickly as the race started. I pushed the entire experience to the back of my mind and enjoyed what was one of the best and by far the wettest ALMS races I had seen at the time.
It wasn’t until I decided to forge a career in the motorsports world that I realized how the use of grid girls could effect how people view women in the paddock. A pretty young girl, I’m sorry to say, was viewed as a potential grid girl, a driver’s girlfriend, or a temporary feature.
During my early ALMS days, working in the tv compound, I would take my lunch break to walk through the paddock. Some of the drivers remembered me from having met the year before with Dad.  As I spent more and more time with Marion of Marion’s Hospitality, enjoying our wonderful lunch chats, some people discovered my ambitions and started treating me like someone who was going to be around for a while. It is a hard thing, to be taken seriously in the paddock. It is even more difficult as a young woman to try and show that you belong when every other girl your age in the paddock isn’t trying to make a long-term career. Stereotypes were set and I had to prove that I wasn’t one.
After my first Le Mans, the attitude changed. A lot of people realized then that I wasn’t just a pretty face wandering aimlessly through the paddock, looking for either a driver to shack up with or a job with a team. I had to prove myself on an international stage before people would stop thinking of me as another girl to come and go from the series.
 All people have to earn respect in their work environment, no matter what field of work they are in. But as someone who had to prove she wasn’t just there to be an oogled at object, I can say that mine was an uphill battle.  And that battle persists. There are still people who argue that I have my job because of my looks. Well, people, I can guarantee that isn’t true. Aside from my bosses having said it over and over again, you don’t see us on the radio!

The saddest part is that my story is not unique. Every woman in the paddock has to prove that she belongs and isn’t just there. Whether she is working in PR, running a team, driving, engineering, or doing any number of jobs around, a woman in the paddock has to earn the respect of her peers and prove that she belongs. I hope that without the Grid Girls around, half naked and persisting the stereotypical role of women as lookers not workers, all of our struggles to be taken seriously just got a little easier.

Photo credit to Timea Flak

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

7 Hours of Sebring

12 7 Hours of Sebring

ALMS memorabilia: now a collectable. 

ESM's security system

"We're like an old married couple!" -Pat Long

Traffic jam

To discuss every detail about the 62nd running of the 12 Hours of Sebring would take more time than fans saw of actual green flag racing.  Needless to say, it was not a great race. Sure, there were some great moments when the cars were circulating at pace - when they ran at pace. Which could almost be transformed into a question: when did the cars run at pace? The first six hours after the green flag fell on Saturday morning felt like a bad trip to the dentist’s office. The last 20 minutes provided excellent driving, in more than one class. The trouble was with what happened in that period in between 10:15am and roughly 9:50pm.
A rare sight during the weekend: a green flag!
There were a couple of big points that stood out during the course of the race. The first was the broadcast.  Everyone has butchered a name or two in their broadcasting careers. It’s learning from that experience that shows how dedicated you are. Mispronouncing a very complex and foreign name might be forgivable once or twice, but on two separate occasions spaced out over 6 weeks is just poor. With the radio broadcast being played out over the speakers in the media center, everyone couldn’t help but notice that during the first two hours of the race, even the name of the track was said incorrectly. “Seb-bring” is how it was pronounced by the lead commentator, until the color guest corrected on track and a few driver names.
In fairness, I have mispronounced names as well. At Daytona last year, I was unsure of how to say Alex Popow’s name.  Was it said Pop-POW or Pop-OFF?  Instead of saying it the wrong way and then asking forgiveness after, I went and asked the man himself (for the record, it’s pronounced Pop-off). Easy solution to avoid a problem. Before going on the air with new names, I will typically sit down with someone who’s been in the business for a while and go over the pronunciation. And I always ask before an interview if I’m saying their name the correct way. Every now and then, we all slip up and I’m sure my mistakes are many. But at least I make an effort to correct them. Most of the drivers whose names I heard butchered were people who competed at Daytona. That’s more than a month to learn. But that effort wasn’t put forth.
One of the PC crashes
Okay, stepping off the soap-box. The next unavoidable area to discuss is flags. 11 cautions periods, 1 red flag. During a 12 hour race. That’s too many. I’m not saying race control flew too many flags either. The driving standard was pretty iffy in some areas. The PC category needs a solid looking over. That’s not to say all PC cars caused issues. Quite to the contrary, the RSR and CORE Autosport entries gave us some great entertainment as Bruno Junqueira, David Heinemeier-Hansson, Colin Braun, James Gue, Jon Bennett, and Duncan Ende battled it out for the win. It’s the other cars in the class who caused some headaches. Even the 3rd place PC entry finished 7 laps down on the lead battle. 10 PC cars started, and by my count, four had race ending crashes, two more had incidents that took them out of the running, and two others weren’t without their share of misfortune. Spins reigned common as even some of the more experienced drivers found themselves facing the wrong way on course. The PC cars are anything but easy to drive, given their current set ups and it really needs to be reexamined if this class should be driven by “gentlemen” or if for now, more underrated experienced drivers should take the helms.
The other cautions, not caused by PC cars, also stemmed from some questionable driving. The main one that comes to mind was in the middle of a series of cautions, when it appeared something broke on the Risi Competizione Ferrari.  The #62 went careening off T1, snapping right in the middle of a left hand turn. It was what happened after Malucelli managed to limp the car out of the tire barrier that caught everyone’s attention. Instead of waiting for a gap or the marshals to give him the all clear, the Ferrari pulled into a gaggle of cars, subsequently making contact with the #30 GTD Porsche and ending the race for the Momo NGT team as well. This caused another yellow and brought more stress to the Risi team that has already suffered enough bad luck for a lifetime. This is the same crew who had to pick up the pieces after that horrific crash at Daytona and now it appears they’ll have to do the same again. Florida hasn’t been kind to them.
The Viper fire, as seen from the media center
Another team who comes away from Sebring with less than fond memories is the Viper Exchange team, led by Ben Keating. While Keating was driving behind the safety car, his own GTD Viper started to get a little warmer than usual. Well, fast-forward about 30 minutes and his car was smelling like a barbeque. I saw the charred remains of the #33 as it was brought via flat bed and then carried by fork lift into it’s garage. It was a crispy shell of the car it once was, with the windshield disturbingly fried and crumpled. The car, as everyone is most likely aware, burned for far longer than it should have. Now, the marshals close by reacted as they should have. But a lack of IMSA safety crew left a stench through the paddock stronger than the charred Viper. It took too long to put that fire out. It’s easy to say retrospectively what should have been done. But as the car was burning, several murmurs through the media center about how this could have been avoided had the IMSA safety crew been on the job.
Who ordered theirs well done?
Everyone at the track is friendly, and we are one big family. Sometimes, we get mad at a cousin or brother who might do something we disagree with. Someone who took a lot of negative energy at Daytona (and unfortunately again at Sebring) was the race director Paul Walter. Paul is one of the most approachable guys at the track, someone who will make time for a race discussion. I saw him less than an hour before the race started, when he was in the pit lane. When I went over to wish him good luck for the race, he pulled me aside to talk about Daytona. Paul wanted my opinion on what happened. After a few minutes, he explained how they had issued a new bulletin (of which there are more than 70 and we are only in March, which is pretty funny) that, for one thing, details avoidable contact. He said that leaving racing room is one thing but you must respect your fellow competitors, a point he pushed in the drivers’ meeting at Sebring. I won’t go through detail by detail what we discussed but know this: when I walked away after talking to him, I felt much more confident in his decision-making. Even after the Sebring debacle, I feel that a big reminder is necessary. It isn’t just ONE guy up in race control making all of these calls; it’s a group. And if ONE person disagrees with the rest of the group, majority still rules. The calls are unanimous, but when was the last time everyone fully agreed on something? 
Beyond the behind the scenes politics, the attitude of the fans was outstanding! It seems as if the troubles we talk about online and those we constantly complain of were temporarily suspended while the cars were running around the track. People were appeased by the sights of their favorites, the sounds of the engines, and the smell of the tires and brakes. There’s something magical about racing that can bring us all together and it never fails to amaze me how once the cars are out, a peace settles over the viewers. Same can’t necessarily be said for those on the pit wall, but for the fans, all is good with the world when the cars are on track. After a race like that, it isn't only the track that goes cold once the race is done…the fans grow cold too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Was that really 12 hours???

What. A. Race.
After Saturday’s drama filled qualifying session where Mika Salo broke the previous qualifying record, only to have Maro Engel edge him out by 0.0835 seconds, it was a safe bet that the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour would not disappoint. And it didn’t. After 12 hours of racing, and 296 laps laid down, five cars were on the lead lap. Of those five, there was a Ferrari, two Mercedes, a McLaren, and an Audi. After 720 minutes of racing the gap from first to second was only 0.4 seconds. Insane doesn’t quite cut it.
Even before the race began, the main story was attrition. Four cars didn’t even make it to race day after severe accidents on Friday and Saturday. And on Sunday, it didn’t take long before cars started dropping out of the race.  All in all, twelve cars retired as Mount Panorama fought back. It threw everything, including kangaroos, at the drivers and the ones who finished found their own kind of victory.
While the main race deserves the bulk of the attention, a quick word needs to be said about the little team who found victory in more than one sense. Fiat Chrysler Australia sent three Abarths to run around the track. All three cars finished and, more importantly, all three cars gave racing room to avoid other competitors. A perfect example of their polite manners came with the last safety car period. Two of the Fiats were in between a huge battle and the team kindly pulled their cars into pit lane rather than have them be moving chicanes for the faster classes. Another thing Fiat did was to send “comfort packs” to the marshals, saying they worried the little cars would give the marshals extra work and the team wanted to apologize in advance. While it was a pleasant surprise that the little cars made it to the end, it was also a celebration that they raced cleanly and I applaud the team for a job well done.
Another team who surprised the field was Rotek Racing. The class B group, running an Audi R8, led the field overall twice! Richard Meins and David Gleason, along with superstars Oliver Gavin and Rob Huff shared driving duties. It was Gavin, the Corvette factory driver on loan, who electrified from the start. But it wasn’t a fairy tale ending for this car. A rare engine issue plagued the Audi and forced an early retirement of one of the early favorites. These guys aren’t down and out though. The Rotek team, based in Germany, should be back at the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring in June and I think they’ll be real contenders there.
Last year’s race was amazing. The caliber of drivers who turned out to challenge the mountain was impressive. But that was nothing compared to this year. Champions from Porsche Super Cup, the American Le Mans Series, World Touring Cars, Pirelli World Challenge, DTM and V8 Supercars (just to name a few) decided to compete in the Bathurst 12 Hour. What a show they put on! It wasn’t just the big names who surprised and delighted with superb performances, however. The young kids, aged 25 and under, caught a lot of attention too. Shane van Gisbergen, 24, probably got the most attention for his spectacular battles with the Erebus cars. He wheeled around the orange McLaren with finesse and a lack of regard for the laws of physics. At one point, Shane made a pass on the #1 car in a place where no one passes. Instead of being thrown violently into the wall due to lack of grip, Shane took the lead. The crowd roared and SVG became even more of a legend. Jack LeBrocq, 21, is another who hit his stride, as well as a dead kangaroo lying in the track due to a collision with the #23 car. Even though his aero was seriously deranged from that incident, Jack still manhandled the #63 Erebus Mercedes around the circuit, and set some lap times others couldn’t match. Around six hours into the race, his car found even more aero “updates” when it lost most of the front right paneling. I asked Jack if the car was a beast to handle and he replied, “No, it’s just more fun!” Clearly, a crazy na├»ve fellow. The last young gun I’ll mention is Earl Bamber. Earl, 23, already has attention on a global stage after his triumph in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia last year. Earl drove the Class B winning car at Bathurst, but had his highlight of the weekend hours before the finish. The Kiwi passed Patrick Long, a factory Porsche driver, after a good battle. He got out of the car beaming. I’ll be keeping an eye on him to do well in Super Cup, where he’ll be racing this year.
It’d be a mistake not to mention the final laps and the drama associated with them. The battle for the win came down to HTP and Maranello Motorsports. HTP were certain underdogs, who had to rebuild their car from a crash in Friday’s practice. Then in the early stages of the race, they also fix the front right wheel area, which put them six laps down. They overcame all of these obstacles to finish second, an admirable achievement. It looked for a while like the Mercedes would easily be able to overtake the leading Ferrari but then a brilliant move by the Ferrari would surprise us all. Time and time again, this pattern went on. Behind them, a battle for third raged on between the McLaren and the injured #63 Erebus Mercedes for third, ultimately resulting in the podium finish for the latter. But it was the Maranello Motorsports Ferrari who came out on top and got the win for their late friend, Allan Simonsen. Could you say they were meant to win? I think so. When I interviewed Craig Lowdnes a few hours before the end of the race, he said the heat really wasn’t helping their tyre wear. The track and ambient temperature started to drop shortly there after. Craig held off the charging Mercedes of HTP and took the win by a small margin, a mere 0.4 seconds after 12 hours of racing. I’d like to think the Ferrari had help from a fifth driver in that victory, one who wasn’t there on the entry list but who’s presence was felt everywhere around the track.

The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour had it all, as far as endurance racing is concerned. Several well-known drivers from around the world tuned in and got envious of the fact that they weren’t there. Expect even more cars, big name drivers, and stunning battles from the 2015 race! Best part of all, it’s only 354 days away!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Full Race

In case you happened to be busy Saturday and/or Sunday and missed the race, I'll not only forgive you, I'll give you a place to watch the whole thing! Just click below to see the entire 12 hours of coverage from Mount Panorama! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Daytona Review

David Hobbs summed up the weekend well. “We have some of the world’s best drivers racing here this weekend… mixed in with some of the world’s, er, not best drivers.” Thankfully, the differences in driving talent didn’t manifest in the way it has at other events, resulting in horrific accidents.  Driver’s, for the most part, respected when a faster car was coming by and acted accordingly. Although some drivers might beg to differ including Sebastien Bourdais who called a few on the track “terrorists.” In any case, the first race of the Tudor United SportsCar Challenge (TUSC) is in the record books and the 2014 season has begun! Here are some thoughts from the Rolex 24.

The Crowd: While this wasn’t by any means the largest crowd I’ve seen at this track, and the stands looked virtually empty, the infield was nearly full. Once when I left the warmth of the media center in the middle of the night to do some recon, I noticed upwards of a hundred people loitering by the garages. Die hard fans, I suppose, to still be awake and at the track near 2:00 am.  While the crowd did ebb and flow, there were a lot of RVs in the infield and a LOT of bonfires going Saturday night. It felt as if there was a good presence of fans at the track, although maybe not as many as last year. I do know that last year fighting the crowds, I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream. This year, I could maneuver with a bit more ease. All in all, it was a very good turn out for Daytona and I’m expecting a better one at Sebring.
Famous faces: For decades, this race has brought out the famous. I’m not talking about movie stars, but rather racing legends. Dario Franchitti, Allan McNish, Martin Brundle, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ron Fellows. All drivers with cases filled with trophies of their own, were here now to support teams or relatives. Having legends like these walking around the paddock only adds value and credibility to the series. If they deem the race important enough to attend, so should we.

Weather: It was cold. Simply stated, this Florida girl needed a snow jacket to stop shivering. In the middle of the night, when the media center is abandoned, the jacket was even needed inside. While the cars enjoy the cold, thick air, most of the people did not. Hopefully, Sebring in March will be warmer. If not, I’ll lodge a protest with nature.
Credentials: I have to say a BIG thank you to two people in particular. You know who you are. These two people helped me get credentials that allowed access to critical places to do my job. Without creds, I wouldn’t have been able to work in the hot pits and, therefore, wouldn’t have been able to add to social media for one company or gather information for a news outlet. I hope to be able to use the pass I received to continue to spread information to the fans as best I can! But again, thank you.

Now for race related topics: First and foremost are the somewhat controversial decisions made by race control. I am referring to what many are calling the late red flag and the quick yellow. When the explosion (because that’s what the contact looked like) of the #99 and #62 occurred, everyone in the media center gasped. The rest of the cars drove through the debris field once and we all fully expected them to come to a stop for a red flag. But the hat, at the top of our t.v. screens, stayed yellow. It took a full five minutes before the race was red flagged. Some of the drivers went by the scene of the wreck twice before stopping either on the front straight or meters behind where the accident occurred. My first thought was for the drivers’ emotional well-being. Last year, we lost far too many drivers in crashes. Imagine, being stuck in the infield, watching the crews work to extract someone you’ve seen in the paddock for years, someone you might’ve shared a beer with, someone you might consider a friend. Where does your mind go? How do you stay focused? What do you start thinking when the ambulance goes racing off and you get a view of mangled metal pieces that, only hours before, made up the fastest racecar of the bunch? Many, including me, had issues with how this event was handled: the length of time it took to wave the red flag, and where some of the cars were stopped on track.

            The second incident in question came with only 20 minutes to go in the race. Leh Keen experienced brake issues at turn two and nosed the Porsche 911 GT America into the tire barrier. He fired up the car again and was underway immediately. Yet, a full course yellow was waved right away, bunching up the cars and eliminating leads that had been built. The question left all of us thinking: was it a legitimate flag thrown for safety, was it a response to the criticism 20 hours earlier of the so called “late” red flag, or was it a flag thrown to bunch up the cars and build drama for an exciting end to the race? I personally look forward to hearing from Mr. Paul Walter as to exactly what happened behind the scenes for each incident. If there’s something to remember it’s that race director Walter has a reason for doing everything and most of the time he’s on the money.  He deserves respect for doing a job (much like Scot Elkins) that few would want to do.

And now, onto another questionable call: the time penalty for the 555 for avoiding contact. In talking to many people including marshals, drivers, and crew chiefs, all say that no one goes for a pass around turn 4 at speeds in excess of 120mph, and expects to stay on track, especially if you miss the apex by eight feet! The Audi R8LMS in question, driven by Markus Winkelhock, was already damaged. A few laps earlier, Winkelhock reported the car wasn’t handling well and it looked like he was having an issue with the rear suspension. Even so, he manhandled the car to the last lap. That’s when the #555 Ferrari of Level 5 and the #45 Audi of Flying Lizard Motorsports arrived at turn four, side by side. Pier Guidi driving the Ferrari actually did an amazing job of not hitting Winkelhock, and left the Audi room on the track. Winkelhock’s momentum and lack of grip, combined with too much speed, carried him into the grass, where he managed to recover. But by that time, the Ferrari had a clear advantage and drove to the finish. When the checkered flag fell, the car that avoided contact and crossed the line first was handed a penalty, pushing him back to fourth. The Audi was credited with the win. 

But, this wasn’t the final result. After hours of deliberation, Level 5 was awarded the win. The penalty for avoidable contact was rescinded and the stop + 75 seconds subtracted from the car’s record. But what won’t be corrected is the fact that Level5 did miss out on their podium celebration. Hours after, when the sun had set, the Ferrari was rolled into Victory Lane and the crew had some pictures taken. However, when the initial podium ceremony began, 4 GTD teams waited to receive their awards. Scott Tucker, Townsend Bell, and Bill Sweedler, 3 of the 5 drivers of the #555, arrived to take their trophies and pictures but were turned away, after being informed that they were not the winners. When the pictures were taken hours later, Tucker had already left the track and, therefore, wasn’t included. Level 5 were robbed of the initial enjoyment of winning but ultimately will go down in the history books as the car that crossed the line first in GTD. Watch out for them at Sebring where, you can be sure, they’ll come back with a vengeance.

GTLM Race: Well, if there was another class where drama ruled, it certainly was the GTLM category. At the green flag, 2 BMWS, 2 Ferraris, 2 Vipers, 2 Corvettes, 2 Porsches, and 1 Aston Martin fought tooth and nail for the win.  At the end of lap 1, it was Viper in the lead.  But only 25 minutes into the race, a Ferrari had taken top spot. Not long after, a Corvette put down the fastest lap time, only to be bested seconds later by a Porsche. And for the first few hours, it looked like any one of the manufacturers could drive to the front. That was, until attrition started to set in. 
Six hours into the race, the Aston Martin went behind the wall for the first of many stops. Only 30 minutes later, it was clear a Ferrari wasn’t going to win this class, when the #57 Krohn Racing entry started having electrical gremlins. Ferrari’s other GTLM car, the #62 Risi Competizione, had already retired. The #3 championship-winning Corvette had to retire early in the morning on Sunday due to water issues, leaving only the #4 to represent the bowtie brigade. But, with only hours to go, that car suffered gearbox issues that took them out of contention for the win. In a heartbreaking effort, both crews from the #3 and #4 worked tirelessly to get their remaining car back on track. The feeling of disappointment was palpable in that garage. The #4 had been fighting for the lead at the time it broke. It finished fifth.  The Vipers started the race in 1st and 3rd. After an overnight power steering failure, the pole car, #91,the little car that could,
dropped almost 10 laps down. The #93 had some issues in the night as well, that caused it too to fall out of contention for the win. But the #91 fought back, ending up on the podium. An impressive display for a program that began just over a year and a half ago. They will be contenders at the next round. BMW faced issues on Thursday, with the #55 damaged twice in two practices. That car proved to be
racing competitively and ultimately finishing second. BWM Team RLL should be very proud of their performance, especially seeing as they were fighting a dynasty. Which brings us to…

Porsche: At Le Mans last year, Porsche raced their brand new 911 RSR. The two cars they entered finished 1-2 in an extremely competitive class. So when Porsche announced that CORE Autosport would host their American program with the same cars, it was safe to assume they’d win some races this year. No surprise then when they won Daytona! In fact, Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in the history of the Rolex 24. They have 76 class wins, 22 overall, going back to 1968. They’ve won the GT class 27 times.  Think about that for a minute. 27 times in the 52-year history of the Daytona endurance, a Porsche has been victorious in the GT class alone. That would be like the Oakland Raiders winning the Super Bowl half of the times there’s been a Super Bowl! Now that’s dominance.  But Porsche’s win didn’t come in the 1-2 fashion they achieved last June. Rather, the #912, sister car of the winning #911, retired just shy of the 18 hour mark. The #912 had led a good deal of the race, and when it wasn’t leading, it was often second to the sister car. So with six hours to go, Porsche had only one bullet left in the gun. But one was enough to take the win. Porsche has proven time and time again how dominant they can be in endurance racing. I personally am looking forward to seeing how the other teams can challenge them in the remaining races.

Balance of Performance: While the cars were supposed to have been “equalized”, a few glaring mistakes stood out. The PC cars were slow, very slow, around the banking. At one point, a DP and a GTD car passed a PC car simultaneously coming into the tri-oval. In theory, that shouldn’t happen.  If this discrepancy is not addressed before Sebring, the PC cars will be passed by GTD cars along the 3 straights. What stood out even more was the lack of balance between the DP cars and P2 cars. Major props should be awarded to the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing crew who stuck with the DPs at Daytona for most of the race. The P2 cars need either similar DP attrition or a bit of help to get a podium at Sebring. The other discrepancy in terms of equal performance came with the Porsche 911 GT America. The GTD Porsches looked very slow. The highest finishing car was 3rd, and twelve of the twenty-nine entries were Porsches.

Media Coverage: Understandably, I can’t really comment on this without being biased. To keep things simple: Tommy Kendall and Brian Till provided excellent insight into the minds of the drivers and were fun to hear. In the media center, where I was exposed to the rest of the world’s coverage of the race, I heard either Fox Sports broadcast or MRN, depending on the time. Toeing the line, it’s fair to say that mispronouncing one driver name is forgivable. But saying multiple drivers’ names incorrectly time and time again is simply disrespectful. A lot of people expressed their views of the coverage on Facebook and Twitter. Ultimately, the cars looked great and the camera shots provided by the t.v. coverage allowed fans all over the world to enjoy the sights and sounds… when not in the seemingly endless commercial breaks.

At the end of 24 hours, Sebastien Bourdais, Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, James Gue, Mark Wilkins, Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz, Scott Tucker, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, and Jeff Segal won new watches and some big trophies, as well as the honor of having been victorious in the first race of TUSCC. They will now have their pictures taken during the Champions photo for as many years as they contest the Rolex 24. The next race is Sebring in about 6 weeks.  Until then, the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona has given more than enough to talk about!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fairly Calm Friday

You've heard the phrase, calm before the storm? Well, if that's true, today's calm must be leading to one heck of a storm tomorrow!

With only one hour of practice, the day went by fairly easily for most teams. The #48 of Paul Miller Racing regained its pole position in the GTD class after a successful protest by the team. As it turns out, the wing plates which were allegedly moved to an illegal position were not and proof came in the form of emails between the team and Audi engineers, dating back several weeks. Thus, an Audi will start on pole.

The most excitement of the day came long after most sensible people had left the track. The winner of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race was stripped of its win after failing tech. The Bill Auberlen/Paul Dalla Lana driven BMW of Turner Motorsports was disqualified due to a technical infraction. This means that the #48, driven by Ashley Freiberg and Shelby Blackstock get the win!

Other excitement today can be drawn from the familiar faces who were seen wandering the paddock. Nissan's very own Darren Cox was on hand to watch the CTSCC race today as well as to cheer for the prototype teams running Nissan engines in tomorrow's big show. John Gaw was spotted in the pits. The Managing Director for Aston Martin Racing, Mr. Gaw was undoubtedly cheering on the many Aston Martins in both today's race and tomorrow's big show. One of Corvette's living legend drivers was very covertly hanging around in the back of the pits today. Ron Fellows, as polite and kind as ever, is here to watch the C7.R race for the first time. Although he no longer drives for Corvette Racing, Mr. Fellows still goes to many of the races to support the family. Another person spotted at the track today who's supporting family (although in this case literally) was Cookie Monster's father, the famous Martin Brundle. While Martin shared a car with his son as recently as the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, he's simply an advisor and father this weekend. Cookie Monster Alex Brundle will be driving the #6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Oreca Nissan in the P2 category.

After all of this excitement, we've finally reached the point for which we've all been waiting. One last decent sleep (cause real race fans don't sleep during a 24 hour race; at least not much), it'll be time to go green. For the crews, drivers, and teams, enjoy the calm because it's almost time for the 24 hour, race!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wrap on Day 1

One tweet pretty much sums up the day: "AND THE DELTAWING IS FASTEST." Yeah, it was that kind of a day. Every norm was turned upside down. The quickest P2 car in qualifying was good enough only for 11th. That's right, a team which won the P1 championship two years in a row will start on the sixth row of the grid. Only one Corvette was healthy enough to qualify, and it wasn't the championship winning car of 2013. The Ferraris in the GTLM category were 9th and 10th. In GTD, the Audi which took the pole and the one that claimed third place were disqualified and will start from the back of the grid.
At least PC was predictable, with Colin Braun taking pole for the 5th time in under a calendar year for the class. Renger van der Zande, in the Starworks Motorsport 8, at least gave Braun a run for his money. But yes, this was a scene familiar to ALMS fans circa 2013.
On a brighter note, congratulations are due to the team who took the GTLM pole. SRT Motorsports, with only a year and a half of work, have brought the Viper's name back to its original glory. They've shown, with a win and now 4 poles, that the Snake is back to play. Quite frankly, the pole sitting 91 is a dark horse for this race. I've got my eye on that car for the win.
A few teams deserve some special accolades after their efforts today. First up is the #23 Team Seattle/AJR for rebuilding the car after a morning incident. They worked tirelessly today, including battling a sick car even into night practice. When I saw the car post accident, the front end was shattered and the car looked like it was done. By the time the ferris wheel was fully lit, the car was still being adjusted for balance. The crew guys, working with a sense of urgency, had the car fueled and back on four wheels. They turned laps during the night practice and will have a long way to go to survive the race. Honestly, if there's an award for still smiling while the world is kicking you while you're down, they deserve it.
The other team very deserving of a keep-on-trudging award is the BWM Team RLL #55. Their car caused 2 red flags. It needed to be towed back on a flat bed one on occasion and limped back to the pits during another. Yet the team, which was worried about having the car out in time for qualifying, is starting 8th. Not too shabby for a car which has already been through the ringer this weekend.
Qualifying is over. So what comes tomorrow, you might be asking? Well, it's a calm before the storm...but it isn't really calm. The CTSCC race goes green tomorrow afternoon, and look for that race to be wild and crazy! The real fun starts Saturday at 2:10pm but until then, there's plenty of action in the paddock to share with everyone!

First, let's start with...

Haase. Christopher Haase. The young German started his week in the United States off with a bang and a surprise, resulting in the first pole position of the GTD category going to Paul Miller Racing. A time of 1:46.973 rocketed the R8LMS to start first for Saturday's race. The cars which will be looking at the tailpipes of the 48 for at least the pace lap include the 63 Ferrari, 46 Audi, 65 Ferrari, and 007 Aston Martin.
Starting on pole for the GTLM category is the 91 SRT Motorsports Viper GTR-S. Marc Goossens put in a great lap of 1:44.506, only 0.076 of a second faster than last year's GT pole sitter, Nick Tandy, in a Porsche 911 RSR. Rolling off third will be the other Viper, of Jonathan Bomarito. The 4 starts fourth, with Corvette Racing qualifying only one of their cars, after the 3 suffered a problem in pit lane. 5th is the other Porsche, at the hands of Patrick Long.
Bouncing to the Prototype category, we have a familiar name starting first in the PC class. Colin Braun takes his 5th pole in a PC car in under a year. The young American driving the 54 CORE Autosport entry qualified 0.038 of a second ahead of Renger van der Zande, in the 8 Starworks entry. Following those two will be the 09, 38, and 08. Pole time for the PC category was 1:41.777.
Finally, we come to the man who will start first. Alex Gurney took the Red Dragon of GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing to the front with a time of 1:38.270. Starting second will be the fastest man of the weekend prior to this session, Richard Westbrook. The best qualifying P2 car was that of Muscle Milk/Pickett Racing, with a time nearly 1.6 seconds off the pole. The DeltaWing qualified eighth.

Night practice starts in about 30 minutes. While it won't be night right at the green flag, it should be full darkness by the time the chequered flies. For now, it's time for food!

Pictures Galore!

The first two practice sessions are in the bag. Times have fallen from the first session to the second, but Richard Westbrook in the Spirit of Daytona DP and Colin Braun in the CORE Autosport PC remained atop the charts for both.  In the morning session, the #3 Corvette Racing C7.R sat quickest with a lap time of 1:46.036. But in the afternoon, the mighty Viper GTS-R of Jonathan Bomarito took nearly a second off that time. GTD has been anything but constant, with 3 different cars holding the 3 top slots for each session. Olly Jarvis in the #46 Audi went quickest in the morning, but his time was beaten by Daniel Serra in the #65 Ferrari. Qualifying starts in under an hour. In the mean time, enjoy some pictures from this morning's sessions!