IMSA Mid Season

As the IMSA WeatherTech Sports car Challenge heads into the final stretch, things couldn’t be tighter. With the points standings close in all classes, now is not the time for errors.

DPI: The closes race is in the DPI class with only twenty points separating the top five contenders. While Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya in the number six Acura sit atop the driver standings, a recent surge by Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis in the Mazda has moved them into striking distance. With this small of a margin, one bad race could be disastrous.

 

LMP2: There is a dead heat between Matthew McMurry, Kyle Masson, and Cameron Cassels. With this being the case it truly is a case where no one can afford to make a mistake.

 

GTLM: There is  just over a twenty point swing here with Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor of Porsche leading followed closely by their teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet. However both Corvette and Ford team drivers are very close behind especially since the 67 Ford of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook just broke the Porsche two race win streak.

GTD: This is the only class with a clear gap between leaders and second place. Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher enjoy a thirty point advantage over Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley. Judging by by last weeks run this may not change any time soon.

All in all the next four races should be be quite exciting and eventful.

The Masters

1978 Lotus 79

I believe 2014 was the first year I attended The Hawk with Brian Redman (now The WeatherTech International Challenge). I was immediately amazed with what I saw, cars I had only read about as a kid going past me at speed. Former CART Lola’s, vintage British and American racers of the 60’s, and the amazing pre war cars of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I was so busy trying to capture as much as I could that I didn’t realized that just how many shots I had taken, and that I would soon need to change memory cards. Also it was then that I realized I had left my extra cards in my car. So with about thirty shots left I turned to go get the other cards. That’s when I caught site of a familiar car flash past me at the start of the next session. My first thought was that couldn’t have been a Lotus formula 1 car. Then I remember it did say John Player Special on the side. Needless to say I sprinted to the car to retrieve my others memory cards and get back trackside. Upon my return I then saw Tyrell, Ferrari, March, Hill, more Lotuses, Benetton, Shadow, and many others. I was impressed.

1976 Penske PC4

1979 Shadow DN9

This was the FIA Masters U.S. class, a class consisting of vintage Formula 1 cars. They were back the following year as well, however they have not been back since. While we are regularly treated to the sights and sounds of the Benetton and Jordan owned by the French family, it would really be nice to have all of the others back. I guess what brings this all to mind is I recently saw photos of the Masters class running at some other track. I didn’t pay too much attention to where, just the pictures. I then started reminiscing about the first time I got to see these wonderful machines doing what they were meant to, drive fast. This years FIA entry list shows twelve cars scheduled to attend the WeatherTech International Challenge, and while I would love to see twice as many I have to take into account that most of these car reside in Europe. I imagine it would take a special event or anniversary to justify the expense of bringing them here. Now all we have to do is come up with just such an event. Any ideas?

1983 Tyrell 011

1978 Arrows FA1

Joel

BlancPain GT World Challenge North America

I have always looked up to the Pirelli World Challenge as one of the most forward thinking series in racing. Many of the changes in other series that we take for granted have come out of world challenge. Among the most important were first the adoption of the GT3 standard, then the GT4. Both of which are used in Europe and Asia. With the adoption of GT3, car counts and team participation grew enormously. It provided a competitive and cost efficient platform for teams to build on. The next year IMSA adopted the standard for it’s GT Daytona class.

When World Challenge went to the GT4 standard for it’s GTS class, not only did it produced more participation, but in it”s first season it brought cars to the series that had previously only raced in Europe and Asia. Cars such as the Sin R1, KTM XBow, and the Ginetta G55. These cars raced against Mustang, Camaro, Porsche Caymen, and Maserati. It was at the very least an interesting mix of car makes. IMSA’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (now Michelin Pilot Challenge) was suffering from plummeting car counts and team participation. However since going to GT4 they have seen a resurgence, fielding as many as 37 cars per event, and the level of competition among cars is close from green to checkered flags.

Their latest move is probably my favorite. By joining the with the BlancPain GT series they are now part of a worldwide GT racing series. Something I have wanted to see in North America for some time. For years the only option I had to see GT only races were YouTube videos from Europe. Having such a series here in the U.S. is just what the doctor ordered, for me anyway. Now billed as the BlancPain GT World Challenge North America, they compete with Europe and Asia for Driver and Manufacture championships. Another welcome change is longer races with pit stops for driver and tire changes. In the old 50 minute sprint format, due to caution and red flags, I have seen races with as little as 20 minutes of green flag action. This was very disappointing to everyone involved. While GT3 is, and will always be my personal favorite, the level of competition in GT4 is truly outstanding. It is the kind of racing that always has you looking forward to the next event.

So what next? Maybe a couple more races on the calendar, but definitely one or two more in the in the interior of the country. Whatever the future holds we can only hope that it further adds to the excitement of GT racing in the U.S.

joel

Patron and Extreme Speed Motorsports

If you attended an American Le Mans series race in 2010, the one thing you couldn’t avoid seeing was the name Tequila Patron. As series sponsor there name was everywhere. They were also team and car sponsors throughout all of the different classes. While they relinquished the series sponsorship to TUDOR in 2014, they remained a big part of the series as a team sponsor. First sponsoring the Highcroft Honda HPD ARX-01e, it would later be Extreme Speed Motorsports who would become the primary benefactor of their sponsorship dollars. In hindsight I guess you could say it was inevitable. After being acquired by the Bacardi corporation who has never shown any serious interest in U.S. motorsports it has been decided to no longer sponsor the EMS prototype team after this season.

One of the unavoidable facts of racing is that sponsors come and go as the need suits them. After all it is their money. Teams are in a constant struggle to find the dollars needed to keep going and remain competitive. We can only wish Scott Speed and his EMS team the best of luck in finding new sponsorship, as a consistently competitive and winning team, it should be possible. We hope they will return to the series in 2019.

IndyCar: A tale of Two Teams

Anyone who follows IndyCar is familiar with the principal race teams as many have competed for a number of years. Names like Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Schmidt Peterson, and Dale Coyne just to name a few, are well known to fans. For those who aren’t serious followers there are some team names that may not be as familiar. Belardi, Team Pelfrey, and Pabst are among the names you may not know unless you also follow the IndyCar ladder series.

IndyCar has one of the most clear cut and organized development series in racing, but that’s a subject we will tackle in a future article. The success of such a series much like the top tier series depends upon a consistent number of teams to develop new talent. Just as in all racing series there will always be a certain amount of attrition, and consolidation. But a solid core of existing and new teams insures that the program remains viable. What we will cover here are two teams that have been development teams and have now made the move themselves to the top tier IndyCar series.

Carlin

Carlin IndyCar on rain tires at Detroit Belle Isle.

Carlin may seem like a new team to many in the United States having come to Indy Lights in 2015, but they have existed as a winning team in Europe for over 20 years. Team principal Trevor Carlin has a solid record of success in European junior and development series. Some of the top drivers in F1 and IndyCar have passed through the doors of Carlin. Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Sebastian Vettel, and Daniel Ricardo are just a few of the top drivers who have driven for Carlin. In a conversation I had with team members at the Chris Griffis Mazda Road to Indy test session in 2015, I was told they had a two year plan to compete in Indy Lights and then move up to IndyCar. However they were unable to put together a full season plan by 2017, but were able to do so in 2018. They are fielding two cars this year driven by series veterans Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

Carlin 2017 Indy Lights car at Chris Griffis Mazda Road to Indy test session.

Juncos Racing:

Juncos 2018 IndyCar at road America.

 

Juncos Pro Mazda car at Road America.

 

Before moving to the United States in 2002, Ricardo Juncos from age 14 was involved in carting and Formula Renault throughout South America and in his native Argentina. Due to economic concerns he moved to the U.S. working as a mechanic for karting team in Florida. He later started his own successful karting business, earning many local and regional titles. In 2009 he entered the Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda) series. With series titles in 2014 and 2015, Juncos was later able to expanded into the Indy Lights series. They proved to be a winner there as well. With a mission to find and develop new talent, the driving roster for Juncos also looks like a who’s who of open wheel racing. Now in their first full season in IndyCar, we can see no reason why they would not be successful here also.

Juncos 2017 Indy Lights car at Chris Griffis Mazda Road to Indy test session.

For IndyCar in general these moves can only be positive. Maintaining a certain number of cars and teams, and a high level of competition is a constant struggle for all racing series. Having this level of talent in your development series, with the ability to move up to the top tier is a major plus.

2017 Year in Review

Once again it’s time to take one last look back, then look forward to the next year. As most years lately have been, 2017 was full of highs and lows. I guess you can say that about life in general, but we will look at it strictly from a photographic point of view.

First the lows, 2017 was not kind to me financially. Causing me to cut back on, and forego some events on my calendar. The one that hurt the most was missing the Hawk vintage racing event. I also had to beg off of the Ferrari challenge, an event I had been trying to get to for some time now. Illness caused me to miss the Wings Over Waukesha fly in, and some others were cut from two days to one. Probably the oddest thing about the year was the number of airshows, or lack there of that I attended. You have to go back to 2004 for the last time I was at three or less airshows. However most of this was out of my control.

Now the highs, adding two new events to the portfolio. I finally remembered to register in time for Professional Bull Riders Chicago Invitational. It was well worth the effort, and I hope to do it again. I have tried for some time to find pro horse jumping or steeple chase events in the area to no avail. Thanks to HITS Inc. Balmoral Park in Crete Illinois has been converted into a world class show jumping facility. This event I truly enjoyed, and I am already looking at their 2018 calendar to plan which competitions I will attend.

As it stands now 2018 should be much more stable, and barring any medical issues I should be able to take on a very aggressive schedule. Being semi retired should also help with this. So here’s wishing for the best in 2018.

joel

Dodge Viper Discontinued

It seems that every time I have to write about the Dodge Viper it’s not good news. Last time it was regarding their decision to unceremoniously pull out of the IMSA series after having won the GT championship. The reasons given were ambiguous at best. Since then Vipers have been run by privateers in IMSA’s GTD class, as well as other series around the world.

Now comes the news that Dodge will discontinue the Viper after the 2017 model year. With sales of less than 600 units as of November of this year, the decision is no big surprise. The current model which was reintroduced in 2013 has never garnered large sales figures. This is nothing new for specialty sports models, but given the apparent popularity of the car, you would expect slightly higher numbers.

I wouldn’t expect to see racing Vipers disappear anytime soon. With a 2017 model coming, and given the fact that most cars still race two or more years after manufacturing stops, I’m sure many of the private teams running them will continue to do so for a little while yet.

2015 Chicago Auto Show Notes

With the 2016 Chicago Auto show less than a month away, I thought I would take a look back at some of the more interesting items from last years show.

Star of the show:
Most people myself included thought the reintroduction of the Acura NSX would be the highlight of the show. Then along came Ford with the stunning Ford GT. The new design techniques, and technologies incorporated into this amazing car are mind boggling. When I asked representatives about future racing plans, I was told there were no plans to race the car. Nobody believed them. Mid year Ford revealed (what had to be the worst kept secret in automotive history) that the new Ford GT would compete in the IMSA Weather Tech series, and the 24 hours of Le Mans. Who would have thunk it.

cas-01

Stolen Thunder:
Yes, the Acura NSX. Despite being seriously overshadowed by Fords announcement, the NSX is quite an attractive and capable car. Having a GT3 spec version in time for the show would have lessened the blow, but not by very much.

cas-02

Surprise and strangeness:
I saw no mention that it would be there, so imagine my surprise when I turned a corner and came face to face with Nissan’s GT-R LM NISMO LM P1 car. While I personally find it to be quite unattractive (actually butt ugly) as prototype cars go, I am a big fan of innovation. This car was the definition of innovation. It’s hybrid power was nothing new as Porsche and Audi are already using these. What made it radically different was it’s front engine, front wheel design. This combination had never been used in prototype racing.

Unfortunately it was a major failure with poor performances in all of it’s outings. They were unable to get the hybrid system to work properly, and other handling and reliability issues forced Nissan to withdraw the car part way through the World Endurance Championship season. The program was officially cancelled in December.

cas-03

Really?:
Until this year BMW had only ever made one (that’s “1”) car that I truly liked, the “M1”. The i8 made it two. Besides being the most attractive car to come out of Bavaria in some time, this thing is loaded with neat features. I’m guessing it has a 400+ page owners manual.

cas-04

Vintage Auto Racing

It’s hard to truly describe vintage racing to someone who has not seen it. When you see vintage race cars on display at an auto show, or in a museum, you can’t help but be impressed by these machines. Compared to today’s computer designed and controlled marvels, it is hard to imagine technology from 1926 as state of the art.

svf-12-02

This 1927 Bugatti 38A is one of the older classic racers on the vintage circuit.

Whenever I talk to someone, and show them pictures of vintage racing, the response is almost always the same. “That looks cool”, or “that’s nice”. This was pretty much my response before I attended my first vintage racing event. All of that changed however when I attended the Spring Vintage Weekend at Road America.

svw-13-05

A very rare one indeed is this 1965 Causey P6 Special.

I think to truly understand, and appreciate vintage racing you would have to have been a car enthusiast pretty much from childhood. Just seeing these mechanical marvels is one thing, seeing them do what they were built for is quite another. Before this I had only seen these cars in pictures, and read about them in books which recounted the tales of their glory days.

svw-jordan-01

This Jordan 197 Formula 1 car was powered by a Peugeot V12 engine.

 

svw-13-01

One of my all time favorite european sports cars, the Austin Healey. Here we have a 1960 3000.

Hearing engines that were innovative, and state of the art when they were designed is yet another thrill. These cars were designed to do one thing, go faster than the other cars they raced against. Seeing them do this decades after they were originally built is a real treat.

From year to year, and event to event you never know what gems you will see till you get track side. From european sports and open wheel, to american muscle. One thing you can be certain of is that you will always see something truly amazing, and most likely something you have never seen before.

svw-13-04

From the days of the CART series we have this Lola T97/20.

 

svw-13-lolat70-01

Lola is one of the oldest names in racing. This is their 1967 T70 Spyder.

The photos included in this is a very small sampling of what you will see at any vintage event.

svw-13-brabhamb29-01

A 1969 Brabham BT29.

 

svw-13-devan-01

Another rare one, a 1959 Devin DeMar MK II.

svw-13-03

A 1997 Lola T97/20 former CART racer.

 

svw-13-02

1964 Ginetta G4, another rare bird.

 

 

Concept Cars

When I go to shoot the Chicago auto show, my main motivation for going are the concept cars. Before we go further, we have to understand just what a true concept car is. The original idea was to give designers a way to flex their creative muscles so to speak. Designers could let their imaginations run wild, and build whatever they could dream up. These were often visions of what they thought cars, and the driving experience would be like, years into the future. Clear bubble tops, seats that seem to float inside the car, and doors that opened in every conceivable way, were just a few such ideas. The thinking behind the program was by providing this outlet to designers, some of the ideas from here would make it into their day to day work designing production cars.

From 2008, this first incarnation of the Lexus LF-A is in my 0pinion the best looking.

From 2008, this first incarnation of the Lexus LF-A is in my 0pinion the best looking.

However in recent years the title concept car has come to mean something completely different. Today’s concept cars are often little more than mock ups of future production vehicles, meant to illicit feed back on how well they might be received. Many of these cars are on the street within two years.

Before there was a Ford Flex, there was this Ford Reflex concept.

Before there was a Ford Flex, there was this Ford Reflex concept.

 

Built on the Chevy Cruze platform, is the oddly named Chevy Tru 140S coupe.

Built on the Chevy Cruze platform, is the oddly named Chevy Tru 140S coupe.

Still in these modern market research driven times, they do still make the occasional true concept car, with no intent of future sales.

One thing I’ve noticed from going through past photos, is Ford and Lexus seem to be two companies who still offer the most true concepts on a regular basis.

This 2004 Chevy Nomad concept is one I wish they had put into production.

This 2004 Chevy Nomad concept is one I wish they had put into production.

 

Here we have a 2004 Shelby Cobra concept.

Here we have a 2004 Shelby Cobra concept.

We can only hope a few car companies will continue to tantalize us with more true concept offerings in the years to come. However from what I’ve seen, 2014 is not that year.

One of the most unique concepts of 2005, the Ford Shelby GR1 concept.

One of the most unique concepts of 2005, the Ford Shelby GR1 concept.

 

The 2008 Dodge ZEO.

The 2008 Dodge ZEO.

 

Concept car interiors range from minimalist to high tech, as in this Lexus LF-LC interior.

Concept car interiors range from minimalist to high tech, as in this Lexus LF-LC interior.

 

The Saab Aero X concept is an extremely sleek clean design. Note the lack of seams in the wrap around glass.

The Saab Aero X concept is an extremely sleek clean design. Note the lack of seams in the wrap around glass.