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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mazda Skyactive P2

Maserati Trofeo Cup

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

joel

Flying Lizard Motorsports

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It seems that with every passing week we receive more sad and disappointing news from the TUDOR United Sports Car Challenge.

For ten years from 2004 to 2014 Flying Lizard Motorsports has been a constant presence in IMSA GT racing. First with Porsche and now Audi, the red and silver colors have provided many exciting moments for both the team and race fans through the years. Off the top of my head I can recall one epic battle between Flying Lizard and Team Corvette at Mid Ohio.

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It now seems to see the Lizard colors in the future you will have to attend Pirelli World Challenge events.

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Not having access to the inner workings of TUSC, I would think all this recent activity would have alarm bells ringing. Teams have always come and gone, mostly due to financial reasons. I am not sure if this is the case in more than a couple of instances this year. As of now no team has come out and admitted their reason for moving has anything to do with how the series is run, but that’s just common sense. No reason to burn bridges, things may turn around and make it worth returning to the series.

However it does signal that are more serious underlying issues involved, issues that may have made some just as soon not be there until they are resolved. We can only hope this tide does not continue.

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joel

SRT Viper Racing Program

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It’s hard to believe it has only been three years since its inception. The factory SRT Viper program came onto the scene in the 2012 American LeMans series. Fielding a two car team, they were competitive right from the start. Just two short years later under the Dodge banner they won the 2014 TUDOR United Sports Car GTLM championship.

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I’m not sure exactly what the reason was for pulling the plug on the program. Chrysler’s press release was somewhat vague, but that’s exactly what they did at the end of a championship winning season. There will be other independent teams who will run the SRT Viper in future GT class racing, but the level of factory support for them is not yet known.

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While Chrysler may feel they have accomplished what they set out to do, they may have (quite by accident) proved another point. With the right resources and motivation, a factory effort can be put together, and achieve success in a reasonable amount of time.

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joel

Photo Stories: Anatomy of an Incident.

It’s an inevitable part of what they do. Anyone who races for a living knows it can happen in a heartbeat. But you put it in the back of your mind and try to concentrate on the task at hand. While coming up through the ranks every racer has had their share of crashes, spills, and near misses. The very nature of being fast means you have to operate on that thin edge between control and disaster. You do what you can to avoid the latter, but it’s not always in your hands.

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All of this brings us to todays story. We are at Road America for the 2014 AMA Subway SuperBike doubleheader. It is race (1) of the Daytona SportBike class. Joe Roberts is on his number 3 M4 Motorcycle Road Racing Honda CBR600RR. As he enters turn five he goes wide onto the rumble strip. Not sure why, maybe to avoid crowding Elena Meyers on the number 21 Triumph on the inside. Whatever the reason things began to go wrong from that point on. At first he looks to have things under control, then the back end begins to slide to the right. As he attempts to correct it, the back end slides too far left causing him to high side, and go over the the front of the bike. The photos tell the rest of the story.

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After landing chest first on the rumble strip, Joe Roberts attempted to get up. He was only able to crawl to his bike, and then sit down. He was taken away in an ambulance, but was back in action at the next AMA event at Barber Motorsports Park a few weeks later.

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The BMW M1

Since there have been cars, there have been discussions and arguments about which is best or coolest. All of us, myself included have our favorites. Weather it be affordable production cars or expensive exotics, any of us can go on for long periods about which we would or would not own.

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Henry Schmitt’s 1979 BMW M1 at The Hawk with Brian Redman.

Speaking for myself, I can think of car companies who make some models I would consider owning, and a couple who do not make anything I would spend money on. Among these are Volkswagon, Suburu, and BMW.

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Henry Schmitt’s 1979 BMW M1 at The Hawk with Brian Redman.

That brings us the subject of this article. While BMW does not make anything I would ever buy, they have made a couple of cars which I admire and respect. Both the BMW M3, and M5 make good looking cars in race form. Both are popular in various racing series from SCCA to Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, and have had a measure of success. The M5 in particular has a solid winning record in GT racing. Run in the American LeMans series by Rahal Letterman Lanigan, they recorded several wins in the M5 before moving to the Z4.

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The BMW M3 of Rahal Letterman Lanigan at Mid Ohio in 2012.
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The BMW M3 of Rahal Letterman Lanigan at Mid Ohio in 2012.

The one car made by BMW that I can honestly say I truly like was the M1. Manufactured between mid 1975 to 1980, the M1 is a sleek exotic sports car with stunning looks and performance. The total production run of this car was only 430 units. I can only remember ever seeing one on the streets. I was pleasantly surprised to see two of them running in “The Hawk with Brian Redman” at Road America this year. I can also say I like it as much now as I did then.

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Fall Line Motorsports BMW M3 at Blackhawk Farm Raceway.
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A pair of Fall Line Motorsports BMW M3’s at Blackhawk Farm Raceway.

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