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!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's That Time Again

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not that one. Our respite from racing is about to come to a blissful end. In fewer than 72 hours, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona goes green and the Tudor United SportsCar Championship will kick off with a bang! Sixty seven cars are set to go for this first round of the 2014 season and what a grouping it is. In the P category, we finally see the DPs running against the P2s, and the gloves have been taken off.  What will surely flare is the unspoken rivalry of Grand-Am versus ALMS. Who will take pole? Will it be an ALMS car or a Grand-Am car to qualify first, win, or sweep both? PC also comes with an impressive line-up of cars, albeit one of the smaller classes. GTLM is where all of the manufacturer's eyes will be. Viper, Porsche, Ferrari, oh my! Throw in BMW, Corvette, and Aston Martin and we have a battle for the ages! All the fans will be watching GTD closely, and with 27 cars, how could you not?!
Quite frankly, it's too close to call with all of these categories. The 2013 defending champs have split their odds for the most part. Pruett and Rojas will share a car, as well as von Moltke and Alburquerque, but Jarvis, Norman, Lewis, and Canache jr. will all be driving separate cars. There are very few sure things for this weekend's race: A Chevy powered Oreca will win PC, great food will be served at Marion's, and fans at the track will enjoy some great racing. If you can't be at the track for this inaugural race of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, follow my twitter @GearboxGirl closely for pictures and race week/day updates!  Ladies and gentlemen, let's start our engines!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Confession time: I'm a hoarder. Except I didn't know I was a hoarder. And I don't hoard objects.  I hoard experiences.  Let me explain.  My 2 and a half year-old nephew came over last week and, as usual, asked to watch videos of race cars. So we began to scroll through my various racing pictures and videos. After explaining the difference between Audi and Porsche, we found the mother lode of videos from ALMS races in 2011, 2012, and 2013. "Share?" Lennon asked.  He was asking me to share these videos with him. And that's when it hit me. I needed to share these videos with racing fans everywhere. I have more than 50 videos from tracks around the world. Yet, up until now, the only one enjoying them was a bored toddler. Thus, Lennon, a boy who can almost go to the bathroom by himself, has sparked the latest addition to the Gearbox Girl.

Tune in to my Youtube channel,, each week for new glimpses into what I've seen over the last 3 years. You'll visit Le Mans, Indianapolis, Mosport, Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Road Atlanta, Toronto, Daytona, Sebring, Mid-Ohio, VIR, and more. Not all of the pictures are high quality but the sound is always mesmerizing. You'll find a minimum of one new video per week. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll be going to every TUSC event. But don't despair, I'll always find my way to a race track so there will always be new videos to hoard... I mean share!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

End of the Roar

Well, the Roar has come to a close. It’s fair to say a lot was learned. Thankfully, in the incidents and red flags (of which there were many), no one was hurt and no cars damaged beyond repair. With the new regulations being released only hours ago, teams have plenty of data and rules to go over before returning to Daytona in about 2 weeks time.
On a personal note, I hope you’ve all enjoyed the pictures and notes! I’ll be posting a video sometime tomorrow, with lots of ambience and perspective from this great weekend. The Future may be here, but the Past hasn’t been forgotten. And as a sports car fanatic, it’s a fabulous thing to reminisce.
In the mean time, here are some notes and tidbits from the track learned on Sunday:
-Neither of Risi Competitizione’s regular season drivers, nor their endurance addition, was on hand for the Roar. Sources say one of the duos from last year’s ALMS season (Beretta and Malucelli) will not be with the team for the coming Tudor United SportsCar Championship year. A familiar face to WEC Ferrari fans will fill the second driving position. The endurance specialist will also be a WEC favorite.
-Mika Salo will again contest the 12 Hours of Bathurst. The Finn said he will race in honor of his teammate from last year, the late Allan Simonsen.
-Some of the biggest drama from last night came with a Ferrari driver who, after bringing out the caution, could not find his way back into the pit lane. His car, which did at least one lap around the track after regaining momentum, drove normally through the first section.  But the driver then elected to enter pit lane at the wrong end, traveling against the flow of traffic. Some members of IMSA jested that they “thought for a second [Kimi] Raikkonen was in the car.” As some might remember, Raikkonen had a famous incident of getting lost on track during a Formula 1 event in Brazil. Which leads to the point that…
Some drivers should be evaluated as to whether or not they can run during the race. There were a few separate occasions (and I’m not going to name names) where drivers took actions that can lead to bigger and more dangerous incidents. As a general rule, drivers should always check their mirrors, and gentlemen drivers should do so more often.
-Congratulations to Greg Pickett and the entire Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team, who announced yesterday what we’ve been waiting years to hear. Pickett, Lucas Luhr, and Klaus Graf will contest in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. The 2012 and 2013 ALMS P1 Champs will be racing in their Oreca Nissan in the P2 category.
-Ryan Dalziel deserves an award for heart. He WILLED the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b around the track, pushing everywhere to be competitive with the DP cars. That isn’t to say the Honda powered machine isn’t quick on its own; it is. But Ryan had the car on the edge for a few sessions, ultimately ending up P7 overall combined.
-Nick Tandy remains on pole for Daytona. Last year’s GT polesitter set the fastest overall time for the GTLM category. While the Porsche didn’t have a flawless weekend, spending a bit of time in the garage due to issues on Saturday, Porsche’s British factory driver managed to make the best of the weekend. Tandy will be contesting the full TUSC season, racing at many American venues for the first time.
-Many people have been asking what the relative speeds are like for the DP cars versus the P2 cars around the track. Honestly, it depends on the competitiveness of the cars themselves. For example, the 1 was able to easily pass the 50 on the banking, but the 50 was not running as it will be during the race. Conversely, at times, the 42 looked like was dragging a parachute as the 99 roared by. It also depended on the runs. Fuel loads were not always the same and there was not a clear example of one being faster than the other in equal conditions. So for now, I’ll say they’re both quick in their own ways and it won’t be until the race until we truly see who has strength.
-Audi continued to show its strong performance by being the quickest of all GTD cars. Flying Lizard Motorsports, which made the jump from Porsche to Audi, set the fastest time with the 45 machine. However, the sister car, the 35, should not be overlooked. Two of the 4 drivers who won the GT category last year, Dion von Moltke and Filipe Alburquerque, are piloting this car. Also, for the superstitious, the 35 car is in the same garage bay as the winning Alex Job Racing Audi had last year. Just saying…

P- 5 Action Express Racing                                    1:38.630
PC – 8 Starworks Motorsport                               1:42.010
GTLM – 911 Porsche North America                   1:45.564
GTD – 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports                    1:47.981

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Blur of Color

Well, Day 2 of the Roar Before the 24 has ended in a most mesmerizing fashion. There’s just something about racecars whizzing around a track under darkness, lights aglow, that captures the imagination and puts total peace in a mind where worry can overwhelm. Today was one that teams used to prepare for what should be closer to race temperatures than yesterday.
I was able to take a lot of video today of track atmosphere which I’ll be able to edit and post online Monday. Until then, here are some notes accumulated from today's action:

9 cars total sat out the final session, including the “zebraflauge” C7.Rs. Corvette Racing was pleased with their results from the afternoon and did not run in the hour long night session.

The 01 and 02 of Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates team chose to end their testing early, electing not to participate in tomorrow’s test after engine issues caused them to spend time in the garage.

The 2 Mazda P2 entries also spent a significant amount of time in the garage today, but should be back out in the morning.

Both of Porsche North America’s entries, 911 and 912, were in the garage for longer than the team would have liked this morning. The 911 suffered a malfunction near the gearbox, said Porsche driver Nick Tandy, during practice early in the day. Damage to the front left of the car required a new nose to be put on.

Michael Shank Racing will not be a part of the test tomorrow. The 2011 winning squad had registered for 2 days of the Roar.

The End of Year banquet, which has traditionally been held the day after the final race in both ALMS and Grand-Am, will take place in New York City well after Petit Le Mans. Rumor is that drivers who cannot be in attendance to receive prizes will be fined.

Tune in for much more tomorrow!

P – 5 Action Express
PC – 8 Starworks Motorsport
GTLM – 91 SRT Motorsports

GTD – 71 Park Place Motorsports

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Chilly Day in Daytona Town

First things first, I’m so happy to be back in a heated room. Today was COLD! Fully grown men with thick skin were huddled around propane heaters, begging for hand warmers, and grumbling about how it was colder when they left their northern homes. With a high temperature of 48 degrees today, Daytona International Speedway was populated with scarves instead of shorts. Drivers who would normally change into street clothes for lunch wore their firesuits, completely zipped up, in hopes of salvaging some warmth.  Days like these do not usually allow for much useful data to be acquired. Since the likelihood of this weather repeating in a few weeks time isn’t great, teams didn’t take away as much from this first day of testing as they would’ve liked. A few told me they are more optimistic about race setups for tomorrow’s sessions, namely the night session. Night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is about half as long as the night during the 24 Hours of Daytona. Tomorrow’s temperatures are predicted to hover around 70 (thank the Heavens).
Still, not all was lost for today. Here are some notes and tidbits learned today around the track:

The Mazda P2 car had some growing pains today, spending several hours in the garage. One car, being driven by ALMS and Grand-Am standout Tristan Nunez, recorded only 8 laps in the second session.
Corvette still hides their new C7.R livery from public cameras. The car’s look, which is to be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, is rumored to have a paint scheme almost neon in color. No matter the livery, today both Corvettes showed great speed, topping the charts in the first session in a proper 1-2 fashion.
Corvette driver Jan Magnussen will not be able to attend his son’s first and much anticipated Formula 1 start for McLaren; the Australian Grand Prix falls on the same weekend as the 12 Hours of Sebring, where the proud dad will be trying for a 4th class win.
The Snow Racing entry had to be rebuilt after suffering issues entering Turn 1 fairly early into the first session. The Porsche 911 GT America logged only 4 laps before what looked to me like a tire failure under severe braking. The car, which lurched and jumped on the brakes in front of me, swerved and hit two cones, which caused the front end to explode in debris, showering the exit of the pit lane. The car skidded and avoided 2 other cars before coming to a rest in the grass where cars rejoin the oval. Snow Racing rebuilt the car for the second session, where it was 12th quick in class.
SRT added Rob Bell and brought Ryan Hunter-Reay back to the driving line-up. Bell, a factory McLaren GT driver, is no stranger to endurance races. He finished 2nd in class at the 2011 Rolex 24 Hours and is a 2-time ELMS champ. Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, returns to the SRT line up after racing in the 2011 Petit Le Mans, where he finished 8th.

Most drivers added to new teams (with the exception of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers) were wearing either white or team firesuits. One noticeable standout was Alexander Rossi, who wore his Caterham overalls instead. Rossi is a reserve driver with the Caterham F1 team and raced last year in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series for Arden Caterham.

The closing speed of the DPs on the P2 cars out of the tri-oval and into Turn 1 is astonishing to see. While the P2s are inherently faster through the infield and the DPs are designed to be faster on the oval, to see these principals put into action is something special. Before today, I thought the DPs had a big mountain to climb to be competitive. In fact, the balance falls more the other way. The top 3 times of the day went to Daytona Prototypes.

Which leads me to class leaders:
P -  90  Spirit of Daytona
PC – 87 BAR1 Motorsports
GTLM – 911 Porsche North America
GTD – 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

It's 2014 at last! For us racing fans, the new year means a lot more than a new calendar. With this changeover comes a new racing series, the end of the off season, and new cars. Naturally, I'm talking about the start of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship.
The Roar before the 24 kicks off in less than 18 hours (but who's counting, right?!) and sadly there is no broadcast coverage of this event. If you want to know what's going on, you have to be there. Watching timing screens at home just wasn't a good option for me. So, this morning, I got in the Car of the Week (a very nice Toyota Prius) and ventured up to Daytona. For the first time in my life, I bought tickets to a racing event. While $15 per day isn't unreasonable, I hope to be permitted into the garage area so interviews can be conducted as well. If not, well, I might have to find a way in. It is an injustice that this new era is starting, yet there's no way to enjoy it unless you're here. My goal for this weekend is to change that.
I will be tweeting early and often, pictures, quotes, and tidbits, to try and share with you what I experience here. Someone should share the magic of this beginning, right? Everyday, after the track activities have finished, look back here for a complete recap of the day.
If there are any questions you'd like me to ask particular people, send them to me @GearboxGirl. I'll do my best to act as your proxy and give you a glimpse into what happens at the track and hopefully you'll feel like you're in the garage too!
Keep on shifting!
-Gearbox Girl