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.



The Sport of Kings

It was once called the Sport of Kings. In the past, races, meets, derbies, or what ever you choose to call them would attract royalty, nobles and the most affluent in society of that day. Today if you were to quiz any ten people most could maybe name one horse race (The Kentucky Derby), maybe two. Most would not know if there was even a horse race track anywhere near them.

Just when the first horse race took place is lost to prehistory, however the first known purse to be offered for a race took place during the reign of Richard the Lion-Heart. £40 was offered to the winner of a race over a 3 mile course with knights as riders. The first national racing rules were drafted during the reign of Charles II between 1661 – 1685.

I must admit that it had been years since I had gone to the track. My vision of what the experience would be like was probably the same as most others. A bunch of cigar chomping curmudgeons in rumpled sports jackets with rolled up racing forms in their back pockets, lamenting how much they had lost that day. What I found when I finally did go was the polar opposite of that. A friendly, fun, family and friend atmosphere is what you find at the track these days. Families, groups of co workers, and birthday parties are the norm. The one that surprises me the most is that Mothers Day and Fathers Day are two of busiest days of the year.

We have several race tracks in the Chicago area. The three main race tracks are:
Arlington Park – Thoroughbred
Hawthorn Park – Thoroughbred and Harness
Maywood Park – Harness (now closed)

We will not go into my thoughts of harness here, we will just focus on Thoroughbred racing. Thoroughbred racing has a rich history in the Chicago area. Presently two of racings major events are held here. The Illinois Derby which in past years has been a points qualifier for the Kentucky Derby. I am not quite sure why that distinction has been taken away. The Arlington Million is currently the one of the highest purses for a single thoroughbred race in the U.S. Million day at Arlington consist of several stakes races, and attracts competitors from around the world. If you even remotely like horse racing, it is a day well spent. Regular days at both Arlington, and Hawthorn parks normally consist of an eight race card of varying purses. Although they are not always big money stakes races, they are still very good quality competitive races. And still a day well spent.


The racing industry in Illinois, and the country as a whole has been in a slow decline for years as people seem to favor other forms of gambling such as casinos and sports betting over it. For me the thought of just sitting in a dark room feeding money into a machine with bells and flashing lights is not very appealing. Watching the action as a thoroughbred sprints around the track, and cheering it on to victory gives more of a sense of participation than just watching wheels on a machine spin. Even if your horse doesn’t win you still feel as if you were part of the action. All in all it makes for a much more enjoyable experience. We can only hope racings fortunes improve in the coming years, and that peoples interest return to the excitement and beauty that is thoroughbred racing, the sport of kings.

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.

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.

Wildcard: Mazdas P2 Program

Mazda Skyactive P2

For the up coming Weather Tech SportsCar Championship season, all the talk in the prototype class is about the last season of the Daytona prototypes, and the phasing in of the P2 cars from makers like Ligier. There has been very little said about the one car that could trump them all, Mazda.

Mazda Skyactive P2

Since 2013 Mazda has been pioneering it’s Skyactive diesel powered cars. First running a pair of Mazda 6s in a small GX class of the Rolex Grand AM series with only a few other competitors. In 2014 they premiered two P2 cars based on a Lola B08/80 chassis, and using the same 2.2 liter four cylinder turbodiesel engine. However two years of development produced only mediocre results. A consummate mid pack runner, their best results were two 7th place finishes at Monterey and Mosport. An ongoing problem of heat dissipation that lead to power falloff constantly plagued the cars.

The pioneer platform for the Skyactive Diesel programed the Mazda 6.

For the 2016 season Mazda has shelved the diesel engine in favor of a more traditional gas powered one. Based on a reengineered Lola chassis, the new car uses their MZ-2.0T inline 4 cylinder turbocharged power plant. Developed in conjunction with AER, the 2.0 liter engine produces 570 horsepower at a maximum 9000 RPM. Test sessions conducted last year yielded results so promising that Mazda would not release the exact numbers. All they would say is they were very impressed with the cars performance. If they perform anywhere near as well as the Mazda powered Dyson P1 cars of the past, it could make for some great racing in the prototype class in 2016.

Mazda Skyactive P2

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.


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.


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.


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.


Maserati Trofeo Cup


Until June of this year I had no idea there was such a thing as the Maserati Trofeo Cup racing series. I guess it’s only natural being that Maserati is one of the oldest names in racing, there would be a series consisting of the latest greatest cars on offer from them. This is the sixth season for the series. The format consist of 6 races run 3 continents, in 5 different countries.


The car used for the series is the Maserati GranTurismo MC, with a 488 horsepower, 286 cubic inch V8. Watching these cars racing for me brings back memories of when Maserati was a major player in sports car and formula 1 racing. The racing was close and exciting in both races of the weekend, and was a true pleasure to watch. You don’t here the Maserati name associated with racing in the U.S. very much anymore, so this was a treat for me to see them on track once again.


However with that said I must also deliver the bad news that the 2015 season was the last for this series as a stand alone event. Maserati GranTurismo MCs will continue to compete in the GT4 category of various series in both Europe and the U.S., but only as part of other series. Although I only got to see the series once, I for one will miss it.


Ford GT Racing Announcement


When I saw that Ford Performance was going to make a major announcement just days before the 24 hours of Le Mans, I knew it would be a big non surprise to sports car racing fans.

Back in February when I decided to attend the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, my primary mission was to photograph the new Ford GT, and ask a few question of the company reps. I had to smile when the representatives on hand quite literally said there were no plans to race the car at Le Mans, in TUDOR, or any other series. We were supposed to believe that Ford had a few million dollars laying around, so decided build a supercar with all sorts of new design technologies and innovations just for the heck of it. I don’t think they fooled anyone.





When a manufacture suddenly pulls out of a major series like NHRA where they are dominant, I begin to suspect they have a need for that cash elsewhere. Upon asking the Ford reps about this, I was told the two were not at all related.

So we fast forward to June and surprise of surprises, Ford intended to compete in both TUDOR and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016. Needless to say I did not fall out of my chair.


Now with all the posturing and politicking aside we can get on with the racing. From what I have seen of it, it should do well. Lets hope it can bring another Le Mans trophy home.

Fangio and the Alfetta

When I was young I first became acquainted with sports car racing through books, and I was immediately fascinated. I had purchased a book titled “Great Moments in Auto Racing” in which each chapter covered a pivotal moment in racing history that forever changed the sport. The first chapter in particular is a story that has stayed with me through the years. It was titled, Fangio at Nurburgring. It is a detailed account of the 1957 German Grand Prix in which Juan Manual Fangio overcame near impossible odds to win.

This 1951 Alfa Romeo 159 bares the markings of the one in which Juan Manual Fangio won the Spanish Grand Prix. I do not know if this is the actual car.

The short synopsis is, Fangio driving a Maserati had to overcome a deficit to get the lead from the two Ferraris. After doing so he had to pit due to his older, and heavier Maserati’s poor tire wear. Upon returning to the track, the Ferrari’s had amassed a 45 second lead with only 8 laps to go in the 22 lap race. Fangio had to catch and pass both Ferraris. He did just that, and broke a track record on every lap. He passed the leading Ferrari on the last lap to win. He would go on to win his fifth and final Formula 1 championship.

Juan Manual Fangio in his day did pretty much what the top Formula 1 drivers do today. They drive for the manufacture who is willing to pay the most for their talent. The year before his spectacular win over Ferrari at the Nurburgring, he drove for Ferrari. He also drove for Mercedes and Alfa Romeo.

So what brings me to write this story? Actually a chance encounter. I had covered pretty much everything I had set out to while shooting the Chicago Auto Show. My normal last stop is the supercar display to see what exotic cars were on display. Afterward I started to make my way toward the exit, and upon rounding a corner, I came across a display by Alfa Romeo I did not know was there. I took time to shoot their new 4C Spyder, then I noticed two vintage race cars on a platform with some other vintage racing gear in a case behind them. It took some convincing, but the guy in charge of the display let me onto the platform to shoot some interior shots of the cars. After talking vintage racing with him for about a half hour, I made my way out of the show. It wasn’t until two days later while reviewing what I had shot that I realized just what I had, and the history behind it.

Note the absence of seat belts. Many drivers of the time believed it was better to be thrown from a crash than to remain in the car.

The car on display is an authentic 1951 Alfa Romeo 159 Formula 1 racer, also known as the Alfetta. In this paint, and with this number it looks like the car in which Fangio won the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix. I do not know if this is the actual car he drove, or just a survivor of the time period. If I had known the historical significance of this car at the time, I would certainly had gotten more information

Every Formula 1 fan out there has their opinion on who was the greatest driver of all time. With names like Stewert, Lauda, Prost, Senna, and Schumacher the argument could go on forever. However for me when I factor in the time period in which they competed, the equipment that they had to drive, and the tracks on which they raced, I can only come to one conclusion. Juan Manual Fangio.

TUDOR United Sports Car Championship


Well, I have held out long enough, but I feel now is the time to give my take on the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship. It is now mid January. The start of the 2015 sports car racing season is upon us. The TUDOR Rolex 24 hours of Daytona has already taken place, and yet still nobody knows exactly what will happen this year. If last year was any indication it could be yet another tumultuous year.

First of all last year was full of ups and downs, hits and misses, elation then disappointment for a lot of teams. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any one series where at some point just about every participant was mad to the boiling point. Everybody from drivers to car owners, team members, mechanics, and even series officials. All at one point in time were very upset with the series in general. The constant changes in rules, balance of performance, and competition rules just seemed to be a bit daunting for a lot of them. Especially considering that a lot of them were introduced very close to race dates, not giving teams enough time to really prepare or adjust the cars for the pending changes.

Going forward in 2015 it’s hard to ignore the many changes that occurred in the off-season. Entire teams that have left to go on to other things or a series. No one is sure how many sponsors will still back the programs they currently do, or will discontinue the programs altogether. All of these issues have resulted in reduced car fields starting off this year, and a fair amount of uncertainty for some. While a lot of teams have been very politically correct about what exactly are their reasons for not competing in this year’s series, it’s hard to ignore what has already taken place.

Dodge wins the GTLM championship and then pulls the plug on the program. Stalwarts of the IMSA and American Le Mans series Flying Lizard after 10 years have decided to move to another series altogether, and participate in only a couple of races. Extreme Speed Motorsports who carried the series sponsorship for several years have decided only to compete in the World Endurance Championship races. With the now disbanded Pickett Racing, and Dyson racing having left last year, I can’t help but believe that balance of performance issues have made a lot of the teams (particularly the P2 teams) feel as if they’ve been a bit hamstrung in comparison to the Daytona prototype cars.

Weather they want to admit it or not, the powers that be at TUDOR are eventually going to have to address these, and whatever problems are causing teams and drivers who would just assume be in the series move on to others. We as sports car racing fans can only hope that decisions made going forward, will serve to solve current problems, bring back some who have left, create an environment that encourages new teams to feel they can compete, and help grow and the sport.



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