IMSA updates “competition procedures” but is it enough?

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While I have known to be a bit of a crotchety guy in the last couple of years, for some reason my overly critical attitude doesn’t often make it into my writing. Not sure why, perhaps I just like to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than throw hard working people under the bus. With the announcement that IMSA is making some procedural changes, perhaps the time has come for me to weigh in on the disaster that is the Tudor United Sportscar Championship.

First off, I must say that I was excited about the so-called merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand Am, even if it was a not so thinly veiled buyout situation. There are some pretty talented people on both side of paddock, so I was anticipating that they would pull it off.

Two races in, the organizers have done many things well. I was at the Rolex 24 and the crowds were truly impressive, certainly much larger than last year. From what I have heard, the crowds at Sebring were equally large. The field is jam packed full of top level teams with some spectacular machinery. Two of the biggest problems in auto racing these days seem to have been overcome. While there was limited television coverage, depending on where you live, the online stream of Sebring was better than any television coverage I have ever seen, even though it did seem to crap out for an hour or so around the 11th hour.

The problem is that the things the series has screwed up are equally as fundamental as having fans and competitors, so much so that they could very well be starting to lose both already. [Read more...]

2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona has a stressful afternoon

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A little over five hours in to the inaugural race of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and it has already been an emotional rollercoaster. The yellow flag is out for the third time at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, this time for a spinner at the entrance to the East Horseshoe.

As soon as the green flag fell, drivers were hard at it, driving as if this were a sprint race and not a 24 hour endurance event. As the sun started to sink, the #62 Ferrari, being driven by Matteo Malucelli had slowed off the pace and Malucelli was sticking to the left side of the track just past the kink. Memo Gidley, at the wheel of the #99 Gainsco Chevy was most likely blinded by the setting sun and slammed hard into the back of the #62.
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BMW wins crash filled Continental Tire race in Daytona

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The first Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge is in the books following an exciting race at Daytona that saw fierce battles and lots of contact. The fifth caution period of the race came out with just 12 minutes left in the race and the race finished under yellow. The Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen and Toronto driver Paul dalla Lana too the checkers first.

It was a tough race for some other Canadian competitors as John Farano, Frank Blanchet, Michael Valiente, Ashley McCalmont all crashed out, as did the Theetge brothers. Blanchet’s co-driver Damon Sharpe went back out after the initial incident and then was crashed out by two other cars.

Rolex 24 at Daytona gets under way

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For the second year in a row, I am fortunate to be on site for the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona. This year is more special than usual, as it is the first event of the new Tudor United SportsCar Chaampionship.

Without a specific assignment from my daily gig at Wheels.ca, I am pretty free to go where I want, when I want, so this is going to be a pretty laid back weekend. Yesterday I spent a bit of time shooting along pit lane, but spent most of my morning with Mazda’s Director of Motorsport, John Doonan, discussing the team’s decision to test their cars in public, under racing conditions. I’ll have that interview up soon. I also spent some time hanging out with my buddy, Canadian Indycar star, James Hinchcliffe. Now I know what it is like having guys like me sticking cameras in your face all the time!

Here is a bit of a gallery from my travels yesterday.

Action in the pits

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Daytona was a bit weird for me, as it was the rare time that I have been at a race without photo credentials. That meant that I didn’t have my go anywhere access, but my media creds still offered unlimited access to the pits, unlike some other series. As Sunday rolled onwards and teams packed up and went home, the empty pit stalls became perfect spots to shoot the action in the pits. I decided to stitch together some stop action footage and through in a soundtrack of the on track action. I hope you like it!

NASCAR – The Good Guys, The Bad Guys, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Wrestling

With the impending approach of the Daytona 500 and the official start to NASCAR’s season I have been watching and reading all the news reports coming out of the different teams/stables/garages, and the more I read, the more it felt like watching the opening act before a wrestling match at Wrestlemania.

I keep seeing the drivers walking down a long entry way, fireworks going off, loud music blaring, and the drivers dancing around like a prize fighters in  firesuits, making their way down to their cars. As they walk by, the NASCAR Sprint Cup girls try and get a few words from them.

Monica Palumbo stands off to the side holding the mic and asks Kyle Busch ” How do you think things are going to go out there today Kyle? Are you driving a real car or just a toy today?” KyBu rips the mic from her hand and shows off his Zorro like cape he is wearing “Well Monica it goes like this, anyone who gets in my way is going into the wall, YOU HEAR THAT HORNADAY!?”

Monica politely responds “Hornaday raced on Friday night in his Truck Kyle, he’s not racing today.”

“I don’t care if he’s not racing, I’ll find him in the garage and PUT HIM IN THE WALL!” he says and stomps off towards his car readying himself for the battles in his head.

Next down the ramp is Kurt Busch, and before he even gets to the mic you can hear his profanity laced rant starting. “Is this gonna take long Monica, you know I f*&^@ng hate to wait. I’d call you a Mother F*%$@er too but we all know that can’t be the case. I had better win today or someone is going to get a f*&$#ng earful when I get back to the garage! So everybody better stay out of my way if they know what’s good for my crew chief’s life this time!!” And off he goes to his #51 Thank a Teacher car way in the back of the field.

Next out is Jimmie Johnson. His smiling good looks and bright blue Kobalt firesuit seem amiss amongst the boos and jeers he gets from the crowd. “And here comes our 5 time champion, Jimmie Johnson” announces Monica. “I don’t know why they boo me” says Jimmie “I am one of the good guys. The referee’s never call me on my questionable actions because I am good for the sport, I win a lot, and I NEVER break the rules…. that’s my crew chief’s job” he says with his trademark smile. ” I guess you can’t make everyone happy, so I’ll just go out and win another race just to make them hate me some more.”

Next out is Tony Stewart. Monica gets an extra special smile as she announces “Here he is, our current and reigning Champion TONY STEWART.”

The crowd gets on their feet, there is a dramatic pause before the music starts, and just when you think no one is coming out, the curtains part, the pyrotechnics go off, and a little guy with a big smile, and a wink comes walking down the ramp.

“So are you ready for another hot season Tony? Do you think you might get a win before the chase this year?” she asks.

“Well it’s like this Monica.  I was the best before Jimmie and now I am the best after Jimmie, I have a new crew chief to blame things on if stuff goes wrong, and I am man enough to take all the credit when I win.  My plan is to go out there and make my opponents tremble with my candid remarks and by telling them that I have an advantage over them, and then never telling anyone what that advantage is, gotta keep them on their toes you see.  That should give me enough of an advantage to win today, I hope I don’t have to fire another crew chief if I win however.”  he says with a final wave to the crowd as he walks off to his race car.

Carl Edwards enters next doing a series of tumbles and back flips down the ramp dancing around like a Lucho Libre and smiling his trademark 1000 watt smile.  Ever the gentleman, he walks over to Monica and puts his arm around her waist as she begins her quick interview.

“So Carl, after being the second runner up twice in your career so far, how do you plan to get your championship this time?”

“Well Monica, as one of the good guys I will try not to break any rules, I will drive faster than everyone else, I’ll even turn left better than everyone else, and I will not let Tony Stewart intimidate me with his confusing talk about advantages.  I will make sure that Brad Kesolowski and I tangle enough to keep the crowd happy, but not so much that his dad tries to beat me up after the race.  Then I will finally get NASCAR to approve a nitrous boost on my car so that I can boost to the front after hanging around the back all day long and win every race from the tail end of the lead pack.”

The crowd goes wild as he finishes and waves his hands in the air, realizing too late that the crowd is cheering for Dale Earnhardt Jr who stands at the top of the ramp waiting for him to finish.  He runs off to his car as Jr makes his way down the ramp to the tune “We Will Rock You” and crowd noise so loud that you can hear, and feel, it reverberating around the track.

Monica can barely be heard as she asks Dale Jr. “Jr it has been 126 races since you have found your way to the winners circle, what’s your plan to end your drought this year?”

Jr. stands quiet for a minute in thoughtful contemplation, “Well Monica, I am coming off a good year with some excellent momentum.  I have a good relationship with my crew chief Stevie Baby, and we’re going to go out there with a new attitude and all the skill I have and we’re going to win us some races this year.  Even if I have to start looking like one of the bad guys and get more aggressive out there, people will know I am coming up behind them, and maybe I’ll rattle a few cages this year like my daddy used to do.  It’s going to be a whole new season for me and I am going to take it one race at a time, and of course I am going to win at Daytona this year.”

The crowd roars and stands on their feet as he walks away toward his car, waving to the crowd and surfing on the sound waves as they get even louder than before.

Monica faces the crowd once more with the brightest smile she can smile “So there you have it folks, our drivers have had their say and now they are preparing their cars to race… there only 2 things left to say “Drivers START YOUR ENGINES!! And lastly ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?!?!”

NASCAR – David Ragan Plays NASCAR Survivor to Win at Daytona for Redemption.

David Ragan - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

Outwit, outplay, outlast.  That’s the slogan from Television’s popular show Survivor, and it is exactly what David Ragan did to win his redemption in Daytona on a wild a crazy Saturday Night at the Coke Zero 400.  Twice before David Ragan has been burned here because of penalties.  At the Daytona 500 he had a shot but he changed lanes before crossing the start finish line and was moved to the tail end of the lead lap near the end of the race and never recovered his positions.  This time however he had help from a teammate, Matt Kenseth, and he was lined up where he needed to be as the second Green, White, Checkered finish began.

”I was on Matt Kenseth’s radio that last restart and his spotter mentioned it, and I said ‘You don’t have to tell me, so don’t even say it,’ ” Ragan said. ”That kind of lightened the mood. Everyone was so tense there at the end.”

David Ragan crossing the finish line - Image Courtesy of JDTImages.ca

“It’s a good feeling to come back here — we got one back at Daytona,” said the 25 year old Ragan.  “It would have been tough to lose another one. I thought about that, actually, under that last caution. I said, ‘Man, if we don’t win this thing, I’m not going to talk to anyone afterward.’ ”

“We were able to win, and that does ease the pain from February. … This is a great race. It does ease the pain, and so we’ll think about this one a lot more than we’ll think about the Daytona 500.”

”It was a tough one in February and coming back here, we knew that we’d have a shot to win,” he said. ”We got one back at Daytona.”

The win should also help Ragan in his contract talks about securing his ride for next season.  Roush Fenway teammates are all looking to either re-sign or test the field as they become free agents for next years season.  David Ragan seemed to be the one that they were looking to cut as sponsors shopped their money around, but after the race,  Ron Rogowski, UPS vice president of sponsorship and events, releases a statement saying, ”David has a great future ahead of him and we look forward to many more trips to Victory Lane with him.”  These may have been the best words Ragan heard all night.

So how did his teammate Matt Kenseth feel about pushing to the end and finishing second?

Matt Kenseth - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

”I told him, ‘I’m not going to leave you and try to pass you,’ ” said Kenseth, ”because I knew that one of us weren’t going to win. So that was a plan to work as a team all night and it just so happened he was in front at the end. Both of us were kind of unselfish all night and worked together really well.”

It was also nice to see Kasey Khane up front and finishing in 4th as he pushed Joey Logano across in third.  With all the news surrounding the Red Bull team in the past few weeks it must have been a nice feeling for Kasey to get his best finish of the year.  Kyle Busch rounded out the top 5.

Jeff Gordon was looking good throughout the race until a late race incident looked as if it were going to put him out of the race, but a spectacular save kept him on the lead lap and still in decent position to grab a top 10 finish.

“I’d have to go back and look at it,” Gordon said when asked where that rated in career saves. “When you’re on the banking on these types of race tracks, depending on the momentum and how the slide goes — I felt it coming and I got in the gas to try to keep me out of the wall — and then I locked the brakes down knowing I wanted to just slide down and not back up in the wall.

“But then I felt it start to catch and lose momentum and it started to straighten out. The banking pretty much did most of the work — maybe a little side force in the car, too. We were just lucky we didn’t get hit, I straightened it up and away we went. That was pretty cool and pretty lucky all at the same time.”

Kasey Kahne - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

“I hate that that happened — whoever got into Kasey Kahne — but in those closing laps, what, there were three to go?” Gordon said. “You know that stuff’s going to happen. So I didn’t like being in the middle at that point, but you just have to stay wide open and go for it.

“You know in the closing laps here with the two-car draft it’s going to get wild and crazy.”

Mark Martin had every reason to feel disgruntled after being caught up in the 17 car wreck at the end of the race.

“Just a lot of wild racing there at the end,” Martin said, after stopping briefly to do a couple TV interviews. “Jeff Gordon did an awesome job of working with me and I thought we were doing really, really good and he just got run into.”

“It’s just so many cars wide and you can’t be courteous,” Martin said. “You can be courteous the first three-fourths of the race but you just can’t be courteous at the end. So when you get four- or five-wide somebody’s going to make a move that squeezes somebody else — not intentional, but it’s just what we do.

“It was just the late stages of the race. It would have been OK but somebody had to get wise and get on the outside of me and that made it four- or five-wide, you know? I was up pretty close to the wall and that made it too many cars wide for trying to do what we were trying to do.

Dale Jr. - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

“Somebody got pushed up into Jeff and I and we didn’t have room to move up because somebody had squeezed up on the outside of us. I got off of Jeff — I never touched Jeff. I got off of him because I could see that a wreck was about to happen. But they wrecked.”

Even Dale Earnhardt Jr, who has been decidedly quiet until recently, showed his passion after the race as he was all fired up about the 2 car draft style of racing.

”I am really ticked off. It was a foolish … race. I don’t know what to tell you,” he fumed. ”I don’t like this kind of racing and you know it.”

”I’d rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self,” Earnhardt said on Thursday. ”Been growing up all these years racin’ for No. 1, lookin’ out for No. 1, doing my job. This is what I need to do, I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives. Now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that.

”It is just different and weird.”

”I’m driving my car, do what I’m told,” Earnhardt said. ”They decided to do something different. I can’t run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car. I’m just doing what I’m told out there. I don’t know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn’t.”

And it is not just Jr who is outspoken about his distaste for this style of racing.  Teammate Jimmie Johnson also had a few things to say about it.

”It’s so hard to see how many hours these (crew) guys put into these cars, to have it torn up in the blink of an eye like that,” Johnson said. ”But it is what it is and we’ll just go on to the next one.”

Regardless of the speculation about Jimmie Johnson hanging Jr out, Dale Jr did not seem ticked off at his drafting partner.  Jimmie’s twitter account was lit up like a Christmas tree with angry Jr Nation fans blaming him for pitting and leaving Jr behind.  Johnson fired back as he posted on his page immediately after the race that he ”didn’t leave Jr hanging” and crew chiefs Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus make the decisions.

”You people are crazy,” he wrote on Twitter. ”When my crew tells me to pit, I pit. Steve and Chad sort out the details.”

 

 

 

Happy 83rd to James Garner

Hollywood star James Garner was born on this day way back in 1928 and went on to have an acting career that has spanned 5 decades and includes close to 100 titles. For most car enthusiasts though, there is really only one that matters: John Frankeheimer’s epic racing movie, Grand Prix. Ok, perhaps his role alongside Steve McQueen in The Great Escape is up there too.

In Grand Prix, Garner played American driver Pete Aron, as he worked his way through the international Grand Prix racing circus. During the filming, it became evident that the actor was as good a driver as many of the professionals that surrounded him in the movie. This revelation led to some real life racing back in the States including the 24 Hours of Daytona.

From all of us here in The Garage, Happy Birthday James Garner!

The Lightweight on the podium again at Canadian International Auto Show

It is known as The Lightweight. The reality is that this blue and yellow bomb is a heavyweight in the history of North American road racing. I’m sure many visitors to the show just saw a cool old racecar. I saw the Belle of the ball!

This 1967 Chevrolet Camaro is the 14th Z28 ever built and was originally transformed into a race car in the service department of Gorries Chev in the east end of Toronto for team owner Terry Godsall. One of Canada’s top drivers of the day, Craig Fisher, campaigned the car in the Trans Am portion of the ’67 Daytona 24 hour endurance race. Fisher finished 2nd in the Trans Am race, scoring the first series points for the Camaro. The 13th production unit was being raced by the Roger Penske and Mark Donohue duo.

After the destruction of the 13 car, Fisher joined Penske and he and Donohue co-drive the 14, but not before Penske & Donohue worked their magic on it. The car was acid dipped and received a Traco V-8 and was painted in the blue & yellow Penske Sunoco colors. Between Fisher and Donohue, the car won 2 of the final four races. In the final race, the car lapped the entire field. During post race tech, it was discovered that the car weighed 250 lbs. less than the 2,800 lb. minimum. Somehow, silver-tongued Penske talked his way out of any penalties and kept the win.
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NASCAR – The Season is Almost Upon Us.

The Champions Walk of Fame outside DIS - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

And so it begins.  After our long winter hibernation the sport we love is returning to our living rooms to give us the thrills we have been denied through this long cold winter.  Saturday night at 8PM will be the un-official start to the NASCAR season with the running of the 2011 Budweiser Shootout on the freshly paved surface at Daytona International Speedway.  Not only will we get to see cars running on the hallowed grounds of Daytona, but we will be getting a sneak peak of how things are going to run at the Daytona 500 only 8 days later.  The newly repaved surface has been the talk of the drivers who participated in the 24 hours of Daytona and spectators of the race as well.  With drivers able to go anywhere they wished on the track and still have grip to pass without sliding up into the wall, the ability to run cars 3 and 4 wide through the corners (still not a recommended move in my opinion), and a smooth surface that most drivers dream to get to race on, this is shaping up to be one heck of a spectacle. [Read more...]