Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vautier: The Poster Boy for The Road to Indy

Yesterday, the 2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier was confirmed to team with fellow Frenchman and defending IndyCar Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud at Schimdt-Peterson Motorsports, a duo that is quickly been nicknamed the French Connection. Vautier held off his teammate Esteban Guerrieri to win the 2012 Indy Lights title by eight points. 

Vautier is truly the poster boy for the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. In the beginning of 2011, Vautier started his second season in the Star Mazda championship, where he won four races, scored six podiums, finished in the top five for all eleven races and held off American Connor De Phillippi to win the championship by 25 points and get promoted to Indy Lights. With his Lights title last year, Vautier's success has led him to the top of the ladder, the Izod IndyCar Series, is it was meant to be. 

Vautier joins JR Hildebrand, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan as past Indy Lights champions in the current IndyCar field while also joining other past graduates James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti.

With the signing of Vautier, the tentative 2013 IndyCar grid now appears to be up to 22 entries, 12 Chevrolets and 10 Hondas. Other potential seats that remain open for 2013 are a fourth Ganassi, fourth Andretti, third Penske, second Coyne and the addition of Michael Shank Racing. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Does Conway's One Off Tell Us?

It was announced today Mike Conway will drive for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing at Long Beach this year. It is currently only a one off deal but what does it really say about the situation at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing?

The team seemed very keen on adding a second full-time entry in 2013 to partner with newly signed Graham Rahal. A few drivers have been rumored to the seat, most prominently defending Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe. With Conway signing a one off deal, a few questions come to mind.

Could RLLR be bigger than we all think it is and have the capacity of running a two car team with a third entry possible at a few races, such as Long Beach and maybe Indianapolis?

Could the second seat be split between a few drivers over the course of the season?

Conway announced he was done racing ovals and got out of the seat at AJ Foyt Racing before the final round of 2012 at Fontana. He made it clear he was not fully retiring and has remained open to running road and street courses only in IndyCar and even tested a DTM car last year. Conway does state to the AP, "I'd like to continue in IndyCar if possible. I'd like to ultimately get together a full time street course and road course program, and I'm working towards that." If Conway is working towards running only road and street courses with RLLR, who would fill in for the oval events? The seat would most likely be filled for Indianapolis but would a quality driver be up to only running a total of six races in 2013? A younger driver coming up through the ladder system would probably take that offer but would, for example, Ryan Briscoe be up to only six races? Three of his seven career wins are on road and street courses, including Sonoma last year.

The Conway domino that fell today was unexpected and definitely throws a wrinkle into the IndyCar silly season picture. The possible second seat at RLLR remains unclear while other teams are drivers look to get their 2013 plans set.

Friday, January 25, 2013

ESPN's Time Filler and Who Owns The Rights?

Michael Schumacher, Dale Earnhardt, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jimmie Johnson.

These five men were selected as the five auto racing nominees for ESPN's "Greatest Athlete of All Time." What is really just a time filler for ESPN instead of covering the world of sports has many flaws.

1. It is a topic that should never be brought up. No one will ever truly know who the "Greatest Athlete of All Time" is and it's an opinion filled debate.

2. Putting the "are race car drivers athletes?" aside, the accomplishments do not necessarily make a great "athlete."

Definition from Webster of "Athlete": a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.

Nowhere in the definition does it say "must be a champion" or "dominated for years" or "won event X." You can be a great athlete and not necessarily been a champion. I know plenty or people who work ordinary jobs, are avid runners, compete in marathons, are in phenomenal shape and are phenomenal athletes. However they never win. Are they less of an athlete because they did not win? No. Is it safe to say the winner of any competition is clearly the best athlete? No it is not. When it comes to competing, many different factors come into play that can exceed however great of an athlete you are.

In racing this has been seen time and time again. Parnelli Jones said on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee last week he still attempts to do around 70 to 80 push ups and crunches every day and has been doing it his whole life. Parnelli's career by the numbers are not as spectacular as others, but the numbers don't always tell the story. Tony Kanaan is an avid cyclist and has competed in Iron Man competitions. James Hunt was an avid tennis and squash player. Ayrton Senna trained like a mad man. Sterling Marlin was an excellent high school football and basketball player. JR Hildebrand played varsity baseball in high school.

Are any of the driver's listed above greater or worst than the five ESPN selected? I don't know and it's a silly quesion to ask. What are we getting out of that? ESPN, instead of wasting time on a mythical competition to ruffle some feathers, why don't you cover the world of sports? There is plenty going on (NHL season started, Africa Cup of Nations, college basketball and hockey, hell cover some auto racing. Doesn't matter if it's sport cars, rally, IndyCar, Formula One, NASCAR in moderation, just cover something).

Who Owns The Rights?
I tweeted the PR man for ESPN's motorsports coverage, Andy Hall and I asked him about the possibility of ESPN3 broadcasting the Iowa heat races.

With that said, I ask IndyCar this: who owns the rights? If nobody owns the rights to practice or qualifying, then why isn't IndyCar getting out there and either selling the rights or showing the sessions by themselves online? Fans WANT to watch these sessions, especially the heat races but the fans are getting robbed. Why? Because nobody owns the rights and nothing is being done.

Online coverage of sports is growing. ESPN3 shows many things one cannot find on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. NBC Sports Net has to get on the same page as ESPN's online coverage if they want to compete and seeing as how their new deal with the English Premier League starting this August says all EPL matches will be available between NBC, NBC Sports Net or streaming online, that could be around the corner. But NBC Sports has to include all of their other properties online as well. IndyCar, NHL, MLS, etc. Online coverage is a new extension of television and expanding TV packages to include online rights is the smartest thing for NBC and all their properties to do.

How about this: IndyCar, I will buy the rights, because as of now they are just being wasted.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

IndyCar at the Rolex 24, The Diversifying DTM Grid and IndyCar Silly Season

Racing season is knocking on our door as the first major race of the 2013 motorsports season, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is this weekend.

IndyCar at the Rolex 24
30 drivers entered for this week's 24 Hours of Daytona have or have had some involvement in IndyCar. Active drivers within the IndyCar umbrella taking part include Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, Dario Franchitti, Sébastien Bourdais, Jorge Goncalvez, Gustavo Yacamán, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Spencer Pigot, Tristan Vautier and James Hinchcliffe.

Dixon and Kimball are teamed with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya and the #01 Ganassi pairing won pole earlier today. The #02 Ganassi of Dixon, Franchitti, Joey Hand, Jamie McMurray and Pruett will start second. Simon Pagenaud, Wayne Nonnamaker and Dane Cameron will start from third position. Defending champions the #60 Michael Shank entry of AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Oswaldo Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson will start from sixth position. Bourdais and the Starworks entry will start in seventh position.

Other IndyCar related entries and their starting positions: Hunter-Reay 12th (Wayne Taylor Racing, DP), Tony Kanaan 42nd (Dener Motorsports, GT) and Hinchcliffe 55th (SpeedSource, GX).

The 24 Hours of Daytona begins 3:30pm on Saturday and coverage can be found on Speed.

The Diversifying DTM Grid
Alex Zanardi may have said no, but Timo Glock and Robert Kubica are testing the DTM waters as well. Glock will be testing for BMW after losing his Marussia F1 seat to what appears to be a ride buyer yet to be named. Kubica has been trying to comeback to motorsports after a rally crash severely injured the Polish driver in the beginning of 2011. Kubica did compete in a few rallies towards the end of 2012 but his test with Mercedes was the first time on a closed circuit since the accident.

Others who have tested a DTM car over this winter include Bruno Senna, Mike Conway and Jérôme d'Ambrosio.

IndyCar Silly Season
With what appears to be 21 cars set for 2013, the scramble has already begun to find a ride. Rumored remaining vacant seats that could be filled are a fourth Ganassi, third Penske, fourth Andretti, second Coyne, third Dragon, second Schmidt, second RLLR, second Foyt, Shank and HVM. Free agents on the outside looking for rides are Ryan Briscoe, Tristan Vautier, EJ Viso, James Jakes, Ana Beatriz, Sebastián Saavedra, Alex Lloyd, Wade Cunningham, Bertrand Baguette, Narain Karthkeyan, Esteban Guerrieri and probably a few others looking to make their way into IndyCar.

Only the third Penske and second Coyne have each applied for one of the twenty Leader Circle spots available, which would guarantee the teams just over one million dollars in funding.

Most recent rumors have a possible second full-time Foyt seat, however it looks as that will become another Indianapolis 500 only entry joining Takuma Sato and American Chase Austin. That additional Foyt entry is rumored to by filled be either Alex Lloyd, Bertrand Baguette or Conor Daly.

Other recent rumors have included EJ Viso going to Andretti Autosport, however that has since been denied. The return of HVM has been mentioned as the landing spot for Viso or possibly be a partnership with Dragon Racing, with Katherine Legge being loaned to the once Lotus manufacture and the second Dragon seat being filled by a new driver.

Monday, January 21, 2013

IndyCar Releases Race Start Times And Distances

The final details of the 2013 IndyCar schedule were completed and announced earlier today. The nineteen races will be featured over 11 different time slots between NBC Sports Net and ABC.

The breakdown of the time slots go as followed (all times are Eastern):
11am: São Paulo, Indianapolis.
Noon: St. Petersburg, Pocono.
1pm: Houston (race 2).
1:30pm: Barber.
2pm: Baltimore.
2:30pm: Iowa.
3pm: Both Toronto races, Mid-Ohio, Houston (race 1).
3:30pm: Both Belle Isle races.
4pm: Long Beach, Milwaukee and Sonoma.
8pm: Fontana.
8:30pm: Texas.

Four races will see a change in race distance. The season opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will run an additional 10 laps, 110 laps in total, while Milwaukee will be a 250 lap races, instead of 225 and Mid-Ohio will be 90 laps long. Long Beach will be shortened 5 laps to 80. The reason behind these changes are to prevent future fuel mileage races.

Meanwhile the three doubleheader race distances have been announced. Belle Isle will be two, 70 lap races, Toronto will be two, 85 lap races and Houston will be two, 90 lap races.

My Response: I wish the start times were a little more consistent. Back when the schedule was first announced, I took a look at what other events IndyCar races were to be going head-to-head with.

The list goes as followed:

St. Pete (March 24, noon)- NASCAR is at Fontana that day. The race should get in by green flag for NASCAR.
Barber (April 7, 1:30pm)-IndyCar will be up against NASCAR at Martinsville and of course baseball season will have begun.
Long Beach (April 21, 4pm)- NASCAR is at Kansas that weekend. Race should be close to over when Long Beach begins. Other than that, NBA playoffs will have just started and the NHL playoffs (if the season ever starts) could also be going on season will be coming to a close.
Sao Paulo (May 5, 11am)- With an 11am start time, the race may avoid going head-to-head with NASCAR at Talladega. NBA playoffs and Stanley Cup playoffs will be going on.
Indianapolis (May 26, 11am)- Who cares? It's Indianapolis.
Detroit (June 1, 3:30pm & 2, 3:30pm)- NASCAR will be at Dover that weekend. Good news: Detroit Tigers will be out of town that weekend.
Texas (June 8, 8:30pm)- NASCAR is at Pocono the next day, as is the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix. If it is anything like 2012, we will be deep in the NBA playoffs and in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, IndyCar could use an NBA playoff game as a walk in to the Texas race.
Milwaukee (June 15, 4pm)- NASCAR is at Michigan the next day. Formula One is in New Jersey but won't be racing until the next day. Milwaukee Brewers will be in Cincinnati that weekend. This will be the third day of golf's US Open. FIFA Confederations Cup will be taking place from Brazil. More specifically, Brazil vs. Japan.
Iowa (June 23, 2:30pm)- NASCAR will be in Sonoma. Race should get in before the green flag there. Two FIFA Confederations Cup matches.
Pocono (July 7, noon)- NASCAR races at Daytona the day before. Philadelphia Phillies are home that weekend (1:35pm), as are the New York Yankees (1:05pm). Should be the day of the men's finals at Wimbledon but that should be over or close to over by the green flag.
Toronto (July 13, 3pm & 14, 3pm)- IndyCar will be going against NASCAR at New Hampshire on Sunday. Toronto Blue Jays are in Baltimore that weekend.
Mid-Ohio (August 4, 3pm)- Pocono will be hosting there second NASCAR race that weekend. Good news: No Olympics in 2013. Cincinnati Reds are home (1:05pm) and the Cleveland Indians are on the road.
Sonoma (August 25, 4pm)- NASCAR races Saturday at Bristol. NFL preseason will be going on. The World Champion San Francisco Giants are home (4:05pm), Oakland Athletics are on the road that weekend.
Baltimore (September 1, 2pm)- Labor Day weekend. NASCAR is at Atlanta, but they normally run that as a night race. Baltimore should be well over before going green flag there. The Baltimore Orioles are on the road. U.S. Open tennis will be heading into it's final week.
Houston (October 5, 3pm & 6, 1pm)- NFL season will be a month in already. Hopefully the Houston Texans are scheduled either a bye, playing on Thursday night or Monday night that weekend. NASCAR will be at Kansas that day.
Fontana (October 19, 8:30pm)- Saturday night means going against college football. USC will be at Notre Dame that weekend and UCLA are at Stanford. NASCAR is racing Sunday at Talladega.

I think IndyCar missed it.

Where They Missed It?
I get the first race of a doubleheader being in the mid-afternoon but Sunday races on the east coast I don't. Sure the second Belle Isle race is not starting the same time as NASCAR at Dover but remember last year? I don't want a repeat of that.

Wasn't the biggest problem originally with Milwaukee the late start time and how it did not allow people from Chicago to drive back and forth in one day and that's why it was moved to a Saturday afternoon? I don't get the point of moving the race back to 4pm unless their is going to be extra busing to and from place such as Indianapolis and Chicago.

If anything, IndyCar should be starting their races before NASCAR to draw in any potential viewers and have them stay through the entire race by the product they are watching on track. Once the IndyCar race is over the viewer will then change the channel to whatever else they want to watch.

Where They Got It Right?
Texas being on ABC during prime time, one week after a doubleheader on ABC. Pocono starting at noon. Iowa on ABC is great to begin with.

The bigger question is how will these doubleheaders take there toll on the drivers? Street courses are much more demanding than the natural terrain road courses and ovals. Not to mention the toll doubleheaders could take on the equipment, although the DW12 has proven to be quite durable and after seeing Will Power get back out at Fontana after his accident, repairs may not be as bad as we're all thinking.

What Other Lingering Questions Are There?
Heat races at Iowa. I for one want these to return. Hell make ESPN an offer to show them live on ESPN3 the night before. Just came to my mind: Could the later Milwaukee start time be made to accommodate heat races before the race that will be shown live on either NBC Sports Net or online?

How will the grid in the second races of doubleheaders be decided? Should we invert? Have two separate qualifying session? Use the race one results? Use fastest lap from race one? Nobody seems to know what the best option is and that must be figured out.

Overall, the start times are not something to be overjoyed about but the extension of races and the uncertainty of doubleheaders are enough to get some people looking forward to the 2013 season. And it cannot start soon enough.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Peterhansel Wins Eleventh Dakar Title

Stéphane Peterhansel goes back-to-back and now has eleven Dakar Rally victories on his résumé. Peterhansel finished tenth today in the fourteenth and final stage of the 2013 Dakar Rally, only three minutes and forty-three seconds off stage winner Nani Roma, enough to keep his lead in the car class. This was the Frenchman's five Dakar win in the car class. He previously won six in the bike class.

Peterhansel finished forty-two minutes and twenty-two seconds ahead of second in class, Giniel de Villiers of South Africa. Despite four stage victories, Nani Roma could only finish fourth in class, with the Russian Leonid Novistkiy finishing third. American Robby Gordon finished stage fourteen in sixth place and fourteenth in class, five hours, thirty-eight minutes and fifteen seconds off Peterhansel.

In the end Nani Roma won the most stages (four) in the car class, with Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar winning three stages. Al-Attiyah withdrew from this year's race after stage 10. Peterhansel and Gordon each won two stages, while Carlos Sainz, Guerlain Chicherit and Orlando Terranova each won a stage.

The bike class was much closer entering the final day. Stage fourteen winner Ruben Faria was only fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds back of Cyril Despres entering the day but only gained three minutes and fifty-eight seconds on the Frenchman, who won his second consecutive Dakar Rally and fifth overall, all in the bike class. American Kurt Caselli finished thirty-first in the bike class, after receiving a grand total of three hours and thirty-five minutes of penalties, fifteen of which were assessed after stage fourteen. Caselli won two stages and finished six hours, three minutes and forty seconds off Despres. The other American in the bike class, Johnny Campbell finished fortieth in class, eight hours, eleven minutes and forty seconds back. Campbell's best stage finish was stage eight, where he finished in second position.

The other two classes were won by the Argentine Marco Patronelli (quad class), his second Dakar Rally victory and Russian Eduard Nikolaev (truck class), his first victory in the Dakar Rally.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dakar Update

With only two stages remaining, the 2013 Dakar Rally is come down the stretch.

Nani Roma won his second stage in car class today, holding off Robby Gordon by four minutes and eighteen seconds. Giniel de Villiers finished third with the class leader, Stéphane Peterhansel finishing fourth. Robby Gordon won a shortened stage eleven yesterday after flash flooding ended the stage prematurely.

Stéphane Peterhansel leads de Villiers by fifty minutes and twenty-one seconds in the overall car class standings with Roma in third, one hour, thirty-one minutes and six seconds back. Barring a massive problem, Peterhansel is very well on his way to his second consecutive Dakar Rally victory and his eleventh career Dakar Rally victory, with four previously won in the car class and six in the bike class. Despite Robby Gordon's success (a stage victory, seven stage podiums and nine top five finishes in stages), a rollover during stage four squashed out any chance of competing for the overall podium and he sits sixteenth in the car class, five hours, fifty-three minutes and thirty-two seconds back.

Frans Verhoeven of the Netherlands won the bike class today with American Kurt Caselli finishing eighteenth. Caselli won a fully complete stage eleven in the bike class yesterday but after a disastrous stage eight, which saw him have trouble staying on course, and having three hours and twenty minutes of penalties added to his time, Caselli sits twenty-fifth in the bike class, four hours and forty-five seconds back. Ironically enough, the other American in the bike class, Johnny Campbell finished second in stage eight and finished forty-seventh in stage twelve. He currently sits forty-fourth in the bike class, seven hours, thirty-seven minutes and twenty-one seconds back.

Cyril Despres of France leads in the bike class, five minutes and thirty-nine seconds ahead of Ruben Faria of Portugal and thirteen minutes and forty second ahead of Chilean Francisco López.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sato to Foyt, The Dakar Rally and The Chili Bowl

Sato to Foyt
Takuma Sato has officially signed with AJ Foyt Racing for the 2013 season. The former Formula One driver will be entering his fourth year in IndyCar. Sato leaves Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, where the Japanese driver was a contender to win at multiple races including Long Beach, Indianapolis, Edmonton, Baltimore and Fontana. Last year, AJ Foyt Racing's best finish was a third at Toronto with Mike Conway, the teams third podium finish since reunification in 2008. The last victory for the Texas based team was on July 7, 2002 at Kansas Speedway by Brazilian driver Airton Daré. It was Daré only IndyCar victory.

Seven Stages Down, Seven To Go
Nani Roma of Spain and Nasser Al-Attiyah won stages five and six respectively at the 2013 Dakar Rally. Stéphane Peterhansel and Robby Gordon both finished second and third in the two stages. Stage one victor Carloz Sainz has since withdrawn from the Rally.

Today was stage seven and the Rally has entered Argentina. In the bike class, American Kurt Caselli won the stage, the first American to win a stage since Robby Gordon won the final stage of last year's Dakar Rally and first American to win a stage in the bike class since Jonah Street won stage 9 of the 2011 edition in Copiapó, Chile. Caselli currently sits 8th in the bike class, twenty-seven minutes and forty-six seconds between bike leader Olivier Pain. The results are still unofficial.

Stéphane Peterhansel won stage seven, thirty-nine seconds ahead of fellow Frenchmen, Guerlain Chicherit. Robby Gordon finished third for the third consecutive stage, a minute and eight seconds back. Peterhansel still leads overall. Nasser Al-Attiyah, who finished sixth in the stage, is three minutes and fourteen second back in second and Giniel de Villiers is still in third, however forty-four minutes and three seconds behind Peterhansel. Robby Gordon is currently five hours, fifth-eight minutes and twenty-one seconds back. Cars are still finishing the stage and Gordon position in class is not yet final.

The Chili Bowl
The 2013 Chili Bowl is this weekend. Kyle Larson, Sammy Swindell and Kevin Swindell have won the three A-Mains on the qualifying nights to date, with one more tonight. Larson won on Tuesday night and advances to Saturday's A-Main along with Brady Bacon and Tony Stewart. Sammy and his son Kevin won on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. 2008 Chili Bowl winner Damion Gardner and Jac Haudenschild qualified for Saturday on Wednesday, while Brad Sweet and 2006 Chili Bowl winner Tim McCreadie qualified on Thursday.

Notables not locked into Saturday night's race are Kasey Kahne, Jerry Coons Jr., Tracy Hines, Bryan Clauson and Cole Whitt.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Al-Attiyah Goes Back-To-Back

Nasser Al-Attiyah won stage 4 of the Dakar Rally, his second consecutive stage win of the 2013 edition. Despite Al-Attiyah's success, Stéphane Peterhansel still leads the car class overall after a third place finish in stage 4. Carlos Sainz had a poor day. After losing his second stage victory, Sainz had an electrical problem costing him any shot of a stage victory and ended up finishing two hours, thirty-six minutes and forty-four seconds off Al-Attiyah.

American Robby Gordon did not have any better of a day. Gordon's Hummer was on it's roof for most of the day after a second place finish in stage 3. Gordon was able to finish, however five hours, six minutes and nine seconds back.

As stated above, Peterhansel still leads, five minutes and sixteen seconds ahead of Al-Attiyah. 2009 Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers is in third place, thirty-three minutes and twenty-two seconds back. Following their poor days, Sainz is in twenty-fourth place, three hours, eighteen minutes and nine seconds back and Gordon is fifth place, five hour, fifty-one minutes and thirty-nine seconds back.

Two other Americans are competing in the 2013 Dakar Rally, both in the bike class. Kurt Caselli is in twentieth position in class, twenty-four minutes and thirty-three second back of the bike leader, Olivier Pain of France. Johnny Campbell is in one hundredth and twenty, four hours, fifty-three minutes and twenty-nine seconds back.

Stage five tomorrow will see the competitors go from Arequipa, Peru to Arica, Chile.

The Ever Changing Results of Stage 2

After retroactively being given a victory of the second stage of the 2013 Dakar Rally, Carlos Sainz has had that decision reversed and the stage 2 results will go back to as they were originally posted.

The GPS on Sainz's Buggy had failed to acknowledge the Spaniard had past the waypoint, forcing Sainz to turn around and past it again, costing him over twenty minutes. The decision to overturn the retroactive stage 2 results was determined after the organizers found the secondary GPS was working properly on Sainz's car and should have picked up the problem.

Stéphane Peterhansel had originally won stage 2 and is now the overall leader after three stages. The Frenchman is six minutes and thirty-three seconds ahead of stage 3 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah overall. Carlos Sainz drops back to tenth place, forty-two minutes and forty-two seconds off Peterhansel. The American pairing of Robby Gordon and Kellon Walch are currently thirteenth overall, forty-six minutes and forty-seven seconds back after finishing second in stage 3.

Today, stage 4 goes from Nazca, Peru to Arequipa, Peru, a 717 km (445.54 miles) stage for the car and truck classes, 718 km (446.14 miles) stage for bikes and quads.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dakar To Daytona

The Dakar Rally
While it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, in the south it is middle of summer and more specifically, in Peru, Chile and Argentina, the 2013 Dakar Rally is currently taking place.

Through two days, two-time World Rally Champion and winner of the 2010 Dakar Rally, Carlos Sainz was the overall leader ahead of the defending race winner Stéphane Peterhansel. Sainz won the first stage and was retroactively awarded the second stage after a problem with the GPS on his car caused the Spaniard to drive back-and-forth for twenty minutes before he was given credit for passing the waypoint.

Stage Three is wrapping up and unofficially Qatari driver and 2011 Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah has won it, a minute and eighteen seconds ahead of American Robby Gordon, three minutes and fifty-two seconds ahead of Peterhansel. Carlos Sainz has finished in fourteenth position, thirty minutes and thirteen seconds back. Note these results are still unofficial, penalties could still be added.

Live timing of the stage can be found here.

2014 Class Structure
With the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Rolex SportsCar Series merging in 2014, the new class structure was announced last week.

The Daytona Prototype and LMP2 classes will combine to form the top division in the unified series leaving the future of LMP1 class in America uncertain. The American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge Class will be carried over in 2014.

The American Le Mans Series GT class and Grand-Am GT class will not be combined but run as two separate classes. The GX classes, which is debuting this year and feature new, alternative fuels and technologies in Grand-Am, may either join the Grand-AM GT division or run as a fifth class.

My Response: There are still a lot of questions on the table. First and foremost, I do not want to see the LMP1 class go away totally. LMP1 is the premier class for the World Endurance Championship but existence of the class in domestic series are not as well built. While not producing mammoth fields, LMP1 does produce the most technologically advanced cars of all the classes. However, other than Sebring and starting in 2013, Austin, the big teams such as Audi do no show up any other time in the United States. The Petit Le Mans is not on the World Endurance Championship schedule and the manufactures do not field cars for the smaller events at Baltimore and Lime Rock Park for example.

But the big factory supported teams of Audi and Toyota are not the only ones affected. Greg Pickett and Rob Dyson both field full-time entries for the LMP1 class in ALMS and while only being a two car field, provided some exciting racing in 2012. Pickett has already made his mind known by saying he would not be open to fielding a Daytona Prototype.

My hope is a provision is made for LMP1 cars at the endurance events of Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans, Watkins Glen, Road America and/or Indianapolis.

As for the talk of Daytona Prototypes possibly being invited to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while some are against the idea, I for one see no problem. Daytona Prototypes are seen by some as the "dumbed down- NASCARized sports car" and far inferior to the technologically advanced Le Mans Prototypes that experiment with diesel, hybrids, V8s and inline-4s. While I share the view of Le Mans as the premier proving grounds for automotive innovation, it should not been held as an exclusive club. Sure, Daytona Prototypes are nothing fancy inside or out and do not create heart pounding speeds, but the simplicity that are found in Daytona Prototypes should not be punished. Allowing two or three Daytona Prototypes will not kill the French classic. In 1976, two stock cars, a Ford Torino and Dodge Charger competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and they were not met with protest and cries for the cars to be send back across the pond, rather became things of interested and were welcomed into the paddock. If anything, inviting one or two stock cars may not be a bad idea either.

As for the talk of split races due to the size of the field, I am all for it at every non-endurance event. I maybe in the minority but I would rather see two 90 minute races (one prototype, one grand touring) at Lime Rock Park, Barber Motorsports Park, Mid-Ohio, Long Beach and Mosport than a two hour and forty-five minute affair with all cars on track. Why? It's been a while since GT teams have gotten a chance to go all out and not have to worry about having a prototype looming in their rear view mirror. I think a race where you have 22-25 prototypes going all out for 90 minutes and 35-40 GT cars going all out for 90 minutes is not a terrible thing. If anything you could argue a fan could get to see more racing in the same period of time.

There is still plenty of items to work out for 2014 and 2013 is only one week old. This is going to be a fun year for sports cars.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Testing at Daytona

It's January 4th and race cars are finally back on the race track. Testing for the 24 Hours of Daytona begins today and a slew of IndyCar drivers head to Florida ready to compete in what will be to most their first race of 2013.

Chip Ganassi Racing is rolling out the big guns as he always does. Teaming with the powerhouse duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas is Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball. Since 2006, Pruett has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times, while Montoya and Rojas has won it twice. The other Ganassi entry finds Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon paired with BMW factory driver Joey Hand and NASCAR's Jamie McMurray. Franchitti won the 2008 race with Pruett, Rojas and Montoya while Dixon won all the way back in 2006 with Dan Wheldon and Casey Mears. Hand won two years ago with Pruett, Rojas and Graham Rahal as teammates.

Last year's surprise team in the Rolex SportsCar Series, Starworks Racing, is back with two cars entered. Three drivers from last year's runner up finish at Daytona return and will be teamed with a four-time IndyCar champion. Ryan Dalziel, Allan McNish and Alex Popow will team with Sébastien Bourdais in what looks to be a serious contender on paper. The second Starworks entry has not been announced but it is known that Alex Tagliani will join the team for Daytona.

Wayne Taylor Racing will feature Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli and the defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Wayne Taylor Racing last won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2005.

Simon Pagenaud will be driving for Team Sahlen, a traditional GT entry who is transitioning to Daytona Prototypes. This will be Pagenaud's debut in the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Other Daytona Prototype teams will see Paul Tracy will race for Doran Racing and team with Jim Lowe, Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. Spirit of Daytona is a reunion of Corvette factory drivers with Oliver Gavin, Richard Westbrook and Antonio García being joined by Ricky Taylor. Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing is back with Jon Fogerty and Alex Gurney being joined by Memo Gidley and 2009 winner Darren Law. Another superpower team on paper is the new 8Star Motorsports which features former Peugeot factory drivers Pedro Lamy, Nicolas Minassian, Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson and Enzo Potolicchio

Defending 24 Hour of Daytona winners Michael Shank Racing has yet to announce their driver line-ups but it is believed Justin Wilson will return for the 2013 edition.

In the GT field, Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello lead an all-Brazilian line up with fellow Stock Car Brasil drivers Ricardo Maurício and Nonô Figueiredo. Max Papis will drive for AIM Autosport with Jeff Segal, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander as teammates.

AF Corse and Michael Waltrip Racing are partnering up again for 2013 and Michael Waltrip, Robert Kauffman, Clint Bowyer and Rui Águas.

The defending GT winners of Magnus Racing are back with Andy Lally, John Potter and Richard Lietz being joined by Nicolas Armindo. René Rast leaves Magnus Racing for the Audi R8 of APR Motorsport and teams with Ian Baas and fellow Germans Marc Basseng and Frank Stippler.

Raphael Matos will join Scuderia Corsa and another all-Brazilain line up with Chico Longo, Xandinho Negrão and Daniel Serra.

Finally in the new GX class which features alternative technologies and alternative fuels see the Mazda G6 GX of Speedsource as the favorite with drivers Sylvain Tremblay, Jonathan Bomartio, Marino Franchitti and James Hinchcliffe. Tristan Vautier and Spencer Pigot will compete for Yellow Dragon Motorsports in the GX class.

While there are less than three weeks until the 24 Hours of Daytona, other driver announcements are expected to be made.