A Farewell to Porsche

While the flat six of the Porsche made a very distinctive sound, I think the first thing I noticed about them was what sounded like a small explosion when it shifted gears. However it is a sound we will now only hear in the GT3 class.Porsches decision to pull out of IMSA’s GTLM class further reduces a field that was suffering from the loss of Ford at the end of 2019. I’m assuming that they will continue their GT3, and Porsche cup series participation.

We are left to imagine what could have been if…
– Ford had extended their contract for one more year
– Ferrari would decide to spend a dollar and field a team
– Porsche had remained
– All with the new Corvette coming on line

As far as I know this does not effect the GTE series, or other overseas racing. We have seen it before, and will see it again. Teams come and go as priorities shift. We can only hope this drought won’t last long.

In the past other teams besides the factory entries have carried the Porsche banner in IMSA’s top GT tier. So we honer them as well.

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

Juncos Racing Update

I wrote an article previously on two teams that compet in the Road to Indy series and had moved up to the top tier IndyCar series. One of these teams was not done yet, and decided at the end of 2018 to expand into the IMSA WeatherTech Championship with an entry in the competitive Prototype DPI class.

Since their entry into American racing Juncos Racings’ mission has been to find and develop the most promising and talented new drivers for the series in which they compete. Their current crop of drives for the IMSA series consist of successful young talent just ready to make that next step to the top of the motorsports ranks.

– Kyle Kaiser: A name known from the Juncos Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Program.
– Rene Binder: A third generation racer with Extensive European Racing Experience.
– Will Owen: From USF2000 to Pro Mazda to European Le Mans, and now WeatherTech.
– Agustin Canapino: From 2014 to 2018 he has been winning championships in his native Argentina.

With this being their first year, it is only natural to look at this years results a learning experience with expectations of much better things to come.

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.

Farewell Prototype Challenge

The pace of change in most sports moves at a glacial pace taking decades for things to evolve. In Motorsports however change tends to move at light speed with change sometimes coming mid season. Sports car racing in particular undergoes constant evolution.

When the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge season begins there will be noticeable changes to the starting grid. The most noticeable will be the number of prototype entries. With the introduction of the highly successful DPI platform, car counts have gone up dramatically and will continue to do so.

The second major change will be the absence of the Prototype Challenge (PC) class. After a very successful ten year run, and with no new design or updates to the FLM09 chassis offered by manufacture ORECA, it was decided it was time to phase out the class altogether. Many pro sports car drivers of today got their first experience and possibly wins in PC. The level of competition in this was class was always close and exciting, the roar of the big block Chevy engines irresistible. Part of the increased car count in the Prototype class next year will come from some PC stalwarts such as Core Autosports and Performance Tech moving up to prototype. Looking at my archives I see where the class went from seven plus cars in 2010 to just three cars last year after it was announced they would be phased out. Since I have already seen some of these cars on the vintage circuit, I’m sure more will appear there in the coming years. This will allow some of us to enjoy them for a while longer.

Still as always we have to look on the bright side. That is more Prototype and GTD cars on track. For a GT fanatic such as myself this is very good news. Prototype Challenge was a spec class with all car being of identical design and build. And while some will chide spec racing as not being real racing, it is this type of racing that showcases the skill of the driver as opposed to the pockets of the team owners. But that is a topic for a later day.

joel

SportsCars’ Off Season aka The Silly Season

Motorsports economics is a very harsh task master. From the mega dollar world of the Le Mans prototypes, thru IndyCar, NASCAR, on down to the weekend club racer. The decision to field, or withdraw a factory backed team is most often a corporate marketing decision and not solely based on cost. However with individually owned teams it all comes down to having the where with all to field and maintain equipment. Sponsorship plays a big part, and the lack of it has caused the demise of many race teams through the years, and continues to do so to this day. Teams have come and gone through the years, but when popular and successful teams cease operation fans feel it most. On the bright side, it is well to remember that as some teams leave the sport, new ones often emerge to replace them.

Our first case is that of Stevenson Motorsports. It’s always sad to hear of a major race team closing their doors, but it is a trend that is sure to play out for years to come. We often receive this type of news at this time of year, the off season. I have watched Stevenson Motorsports go from strength to strength over the years in Grand-AM, IMSA and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Yet to see them leave the sport says a lot about modern sports car racing. Sometimes being consistently competitive just isn’t enough. I can look through my archives and find lots of others, yet it wasn’t any easier to see them go either. We can only wish the team members the best of luck in whatever future endeavors they pursue.

Another team that is leaving is Cadillac Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge team. However this one comes with a bit of a twist. The five time manufacturers title winning team is merely leaving World Challenge to devote their full efforts to their IMSA DPI program. World challenge will not suffer much as they will still have no shortage of exciting highly competitive teams.

The most recent announcement as of this writing is that GAINSSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will cease operations. After having competed in Grand-AM, IMSA, and most recently Pirelli World Challenge.

It is still early in what has come to be known as the silly season, so I am quite sure there are more changes yet to come before racing starts again.

 

joel

Pirelli World Challenge GT4

One of the more interesting yet least talked about changes in the Pirelli World Challenge series was the adoption of the GT4 specifications for its GTS class last year. With the withdrawal of class champ Kia at the end of the 2015 season, it looked as if the entry list would be a bit thin for 2016. However the adoption of GT4 standards brought an increase in car counts, and some pleasant surprises. Cars which I had only seen running in Europe and Asia via the internet began to appear stateside.

Some of the more interesting being the KTM Xbow, Ginetta G55, and the Sin R1. Other familiar names are Ford Mustang Boss 302, Chevrolet Camaro GT4R, Porsche Caymen GT4 CS MR, Aston Martin Vantage GT4 & GTS and the Maserati Gran Turismo. Making a reappearance in U.S. racing is the Lotus Evora GT4 Grand AM. But far and away the most interesting news is the entry of the McLaren 570S CT4, and the Panoz Avezzano 2017.

So now what looked to be a very average year for the GTS class suddenly got quite intriguing. I am looking forward to to seeing this class more so than I have been for a couple of years.

Now if only we can get Maserati to get off of a nine year old platform and develop a new GT3 spec car all will be right with the world.