FOG

Foggy Paddock

Sunday morning’s heavy dense coastal fog in Monterey delayed the start by two hours for the third and final day of the Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With practiced tweaking by the mob of involved Stewards, Race Officials and Track staff, the schedule was adjusted, keeping the announced order of races for the five series. The series retained most if not all of their promised track time, with the day slated to end 55 minutes late.

Again the SFR SCCA volunteer race marshals gave up their lunch hour for another, now familiar, Grab and Go drill. The sun broke the fog at 11 am, with the help of a languid breeze. The temperatures were in the low sixties.

Sunday’s schedule called for seven races, with at least one race per series; and two series have two races, morning and afternoon.

The races, in order, are: Pro Mazda Series Presented by Cooper Tires – Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products; IMSA Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires; Global MX-5 Cup Invitational; Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda; Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires; and then the second race of the day for Pro Mazda Championship and IMSA Prototype Lites. Now that’s a mouthful!

One of the amazing things about this weekend is that there is such a plethora of young talent, drivers honing their skills and doing some incredible racing. All this talent and energy, which will develop and rise to higher levels. The sad thing, to me, is that the better they get and higher up they go, the fewer the chances become of getting a good ride. All dressed up and no place to go. Forty-two of the 82 drivers (mostly young and mostly male) are Americans, and the rest hail from 22 other countries far and wide. Let’s wish them luck and opportunities.

Foggy Sunday

42 AND COUNTING

TGPLB Logo

Jim Michaelian

It’s April 15th and while many Yankees are slaving away on their income tax forms due Monday, the North American racing world is converging on sunny Southern California for its annual rite of spring – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This year the granddaddy of all American street races turns 42; and it still has the same sponsor – the longest corporate sponsorship in motorsports history, we’re told. And the good news from Jim Michaelian, grand poobah of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the contract, currently through 2017, has been resigned in a multi-year deal. His words: “It will be around for a long time to come.”

This year the schedule calls for the Verizon IndyCar Series-the headliner race, WeatherTech IMSA Series Bubba Burger Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Pirelli World Challenge, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium Trucks Presented by Traxxas, and the Motegi Racing Super Drifting Challenge. This year there is no IndyLights race – it was too expensive for them. The schedule starts each morning on or before 8am and goes into the evening with the Drifting. Sunday Stadium Trucks end the show after the IndyCar race.

Max Papis's car

This is the 40th and last year for the Pro/Celebrity race-the longest running corporate-sponsored charity race. Toyota is moving its headquarters from nearby Torrance CA to Plano TX. So the finale will be a blowout – bringing back many former drivers including Al Unser Jr, Jimmy Vasser, Adam Carolla, Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Mike Skinner, Rod Millen, and MS Dara Torres who won the Celebrity races in 2002.

Celebs Parked on Street

Thursday afternoon all the drivers took to the track for a Walk-Around, which also included various forms of two and four wheel vehicles.

CORE Racing Team

Wayne Taylor Racing Cart

Will Fitchner

The paddock was busy Thursday getting set up, with cars going through Tech, getting tires, fueling the cars, various systems checks, circuit inspections being completed, and people getting back into the swing of things.

Will Power 's car in Tech

Radios

James Hinchcliffe's car being fueled

Friday calls for practice for all groups and qualifying for Pro/Celebs, IMSA and Drift. The day started at 7:40am with IMSA practice and will end with Drifting, finishing at 9pm. How would you like to be a corner worker with that schedule? Let’s hear it for those hardy volunteers in White!

The weather forecast is for warm and sunny, increasingly so each day, with ocean breezes. History says it’s never rained on race day.

UNSUNG HEROES

TURN 12

There are more than 300 SCCA volunteer race marshals and officials working the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Many of them have worked many of these events dating back to the F5000 and F1 days – an annual trek. They come from SCCA Regions up and down the West Coast, from across the country, and from abroad. Such is the lure of The Beach. They all pay their own way, buy their uniforms, and work long hours in a variety of specialties. Their day starts before sunrise four days in a row, and with the late night Drifting Demonstrations, some work until 10pm. All for the love of the sport.

Thank you one and all!

Bill Galey

SCCA Marshals

SCCA Pit Lane Marshals

Fire Safety Marshal

Peter West Ambulance Marshal

Pit Lane Marshals

Cal Club Tow Truck

41 … BUT WHO’S COUNTING

Welcome LBGP

This weekend marks the forty-first running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, long considered the grandfather of American street races. The event started out with a FIA qualifying F5000 race and then moved to Formula One. Thirty-two years ago indycars began, under various banners … CART, Champ Car and now IndyCar.

The schedule, as always, is full with something for most everyone. In addition to the Verizon IndyCars, also racing this three-day weekend are the IMSA sanctioned TUDOR Championship Series, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Series, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series, ToyotaPro/Celebrity Race, KMC Wheels Super Drift Drift Challenge Series, and Robby Gordon’s SPEED Energy Off-Road Series.

Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon, along with Bryan Herta, was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Thursday. This is the tenth year of honoring those who have made legendary contributions to the sport. Gordon has raced in four different series at Long Beach – IndyCar, Indy Lights Trans-Am, and last year for debut of the Formula Off Road Series. At Long Beach, he won in Indy Lights, Trans-Am and Off-Road, and finished third in IndyCar. In two more – different – series away from Long Beach, Gordon has won three victories each in NASCAR and the Baja 1000 Off Road race.

Herta has raced IndyCars and Indy Lights at Long Beach, winning the 1993 Lights Championship. He ran five Indianapolis 500 races, coming in third in 2005. As an IndyCar team owner, Herta’s driver, the late Dan Wheldon, won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500.

Twenty-three drivers are entered for the Long Beach IndyCar race, with some new faces after the first two races of the season – at St. Petersburg and New Orleans.

Rocky Moran Jr of Pasadena CA is replacing Carlos Huertas in No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Huertas raced the first two races with Dale Coyne Racing. That announcement came Friday morning. Little was known about the change, other than a Tweet by Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, saying that “Coyne told me that Huertas is a possibility for the Indianapolis 500. Carlos isn’t racing here ‘for business reasons.’

Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia is making his first appearance this year, driving No.8 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. Rookie Sage Karam, Ganassi’s development driver, raced the car in the first two races this year, and will race again at the Barber race, the Indianapolis 500 and all the remaining race until the season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in August. Karam is the 2014 Indy Lights Champion.

Missing this weekend is Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland, who had raced the first two races in No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda, finishing fourth at New Orleans and eighteenth at St. Pete. She is expected back for the Indianapolis 500.

Empty IndyCar Tech

In the IndyCar paddock all the teams were beavering away while their drivers and Crew Chiefs were at the obligatory morning meeting. All the IndyCars had gone through the IndyCar scrutineering process on Thursday, so Friday the Tech Crew were “just sitting and looking pretty.” During the weekend, sometimes after on-track sessions, the teams will bring back a car to be checked. Otherwise, it’s all good.

The first IndyCar practice is 12:30pm PDT, with the second session at 3:45pm local time. Each session is 45 minutes.

World Record for Kept Secret

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton.

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton. Photo courtesy GRAND-AM.

Today’s Media Conference at Daytona to announce the “historic, landmark merger” of the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing was long on hope and short on details; but there are sixteen months to make it happen for one American sports car racing series.

The Fab Four were present for the big announcement – JIM FRANCE, vice-chairman NASCAR & GRAND-AM founder ; SCOTT ATHERTON, President & CEO, Panoz Motor Sports Group; Dr.DON PANOZ, ALMS founder; and ED BENNETT, Grand-Am CEO.

Other notables on hand included ED BROWN, president and CEO of Patron; COLETTE BENNETT, national sports marketing manager for Rolex; chairman and CEO of NASCAR, BRIAN FRANCE; CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, LISA FRANCE KENNEDY; NASCAR president; MIKE HELTON; NASCAR board member, GARY CROTTY; MARK REUSS, President, GM North America; JIM CAMPBELL, General Motors US Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports; JOHN DOONAN, Motorsport Director, Mazda North American Operations; BETH PARETTA, director of marketing and operations, SRT Motorsports; ANDRE OOSTHUIZEN, VP marketing, Porsche Cars North America; International Motorsports Association, chief operating officer, SCOTT ELKINS; President and general manager of Road Atlanta, JEFF LEE; president and general manager at Sebring International Raceway, TRES STEPHENSON.

In opening remarks, France pointed out that this was a new world record for a kept secret in motorsports – six months and 14 days.

What we know:

  • The new entity will take effect in 2014 starting with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and then onto The 12 Hours of Sebring, events which now can be co-promoted.
  • Probably a 12 race schedule
  • The impetus for joining sports car series started with Ed Brown of Patron talking with Jim France, who then happened to run into Atherton at an industry gathering … and meetings began
  • American Le Mans Series; Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center; GRAND-AM; International Motor Sports Association, Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway will be combined into a new entity, which also includes Panoz Motorsports Group.
  • The new organization has a Board of Directors: Chairman, Jim France; Vice Chairman, Don Panoz; and members Lisa France Kennedy; Ed Bennett; Scott Atherton; and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel, KAREN LEETZOW.

What we don’t know:

  • Name – Branding
  • Classes and categories
  • Schedule for 2014
  • Technical rules and regulations
  • Broadcasting
  • Relationship with ACO and FIA
  • Staffing
  • Officiating
  • Communications
  • Future of the eight groups within ALMS and GRAND-AM:
    ALMS’ CooperTires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series, Ferrari Challenge, IMSA, IMSA GT3 CupChallenge by Yokohama Series, and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
    GRAND-AM’s Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge, Rolex Sports Car Series, and TOTAL Performance Showcase

A sampling of the many sound bites:

France said “We do not have a name. We will be going through a plan. We have got some ideas on how to come up with a name for the new combined series.”

Panoz said what was being created is the American Sports Car Series, stressing the American part. “We have to take care of our own business, our own market, addressing our sponsors, our fans, our teams, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Of course we are going to pay attention to what’s going on around us, but we’ll be acting responsibly in our own best interests.”

France ended the session by saying “And at the end of the day, we’ll find a way to race and compete with each other and figure things out.”

FANTASTIC FRIDAY & ROOKIES RULE

Each day the weather and ambiance just gets better at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Friday was the third of a four-day weekend – the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron. Both IMSA an SCCA Pro Racing have series competing this weekend.

Friday the weather was already in the low sixties and try sunny for the first ALMS hour-long practice session.

Earlier there were two races and one qualifying session for support series.

Rookie TRISTAN NUNEZ/Performance Tech Elan DP02, 16 1/2 years old from South Florida, won from the pole position in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Series. He  led all 17 laps. Nunez also was first in the L1 class. His Margin of Victory over runner-up ANTONIO DOWNS/Eurosport Racing Elan DP02 was 2.821 seconds in the half-hour race.

SCOTT TUCKER/Level 5 Motorsports West WR1000 won the L2 class, finished fourth overall. Within the overall field, there are eleven drivers in the Masters Class. The top placing Masters driver was CHARLIE SHEARS/Comprent Motorsports Elan DP02.

Nunez has had six consecutive poles in the series. The IMSA rules require the drivers start on their qualifying tires. With the track getting dirty from all the sand and dust on the track from drivers’ off-course excursions, most drivers ran a fast qualifying lap and  parked, waiting to see how it shook out.

IMSA Lights has a second race on Saturday.

The IMSA Lites field has fifteen American drivers and two from Canada in the Lites 2 category.

In the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race, Rookie ELLIOTT SKEER won the early morning 45-minute race. He started second and got past pole sitter, Rookie STEVAN MCAleer, finished in second place, 3.001 seconds behind.

Friday was a very full day. Besides the two afore-mentioned races, there was the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge Pirelli race, the IMSA GT3 Cup race, and more practice for ALMS prior to its qualifying at the end of the day.

Last year’s ALMS Race went into the night, ending at 7:30pm, as it will this year.  But this year, the race’s end will still be daylight edging into twilight/dusk. The sun didn’t set until after 8pm Thursday night. And what a beautiful sunset it was!

JUSTIN BELL

JUSTIN BELL

 

While it was still daylight at the end of Thursday’s activities, TARO KOKI, ESPN3 Pit Reporter, eventually after much discussion and what appear to be coaxing from racer/TV Broadcaster, JUSTIN BELL, rode a miniature trike from the Corkscrew down the hill towards Turn Eleven. What we who were watching from the Media Center didn’t know that Bell was originally slated to take the ride, but chickened out. At least that’s the story I heard from ESPN. Way to go, Justin!

 

MAZDA EXTENDS LAGUNA SECA NAMING RIGHTS

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

It was a picture-perfect day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the announcement that Mazda North American Operations is extending its naming rights contract with the Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula. JAY AMESTOY, Vice President, Public Affairs and Motorsports of MNAO said the extension was for five years-thru 2017, and he expected more extensions after that.

It was smiles all around, including GILL CAMPBELL, CEO/General Manager of the track, and JOHN PINEO, Monterey County Director of Parks. And the icing on the cake in the announcement was the addition of one of Mazda’s favorite drivers, PATRICK DEMPSEY, who has been driving Mazda’s since the beginning of his race career. He lauded all the support of Mazda throughout the years. He feels the love from those in motorsports.

Dempsey had the option of running Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in Utah or making his planned ALMS debut at Laguna Seca, his ‘home’ track.’ Easy Choice said he. The track has great history, with PHIL HILL winning his first race here in a 120 (Jaguar), and “I want to be part of that history.”

Dempsey said this weekend will be a “Test With Traffic.” Laguna has great rhythm.

On another subject – the progress of Dempsey’s movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain” … he’s aiming for shooting in the fall. The director’s choice is down to two. Meanwhile, on the website of author GARTH STEIN, there is a trailer for the movie, mainly focusing on ENZO.

Thursday’s schedule for the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron weekend called for practice and qualifying for Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites Power by Mazda, IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, and SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge and Playboy ALMS field is 35 strong. The class breakdown is: P1=2; P2=5; GT=12; PC=9; and GTC=7.

COOL HAND JOEY & SNOWY DUO

Track Speedometer SignIt’s been “unseasonably cool” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, not the type of weather typical for the annual fall sports car race. This weekend is the ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron race, along with four support series – IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, Cooper Tires Prototype Lites, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, and Star Mazda Series.

All five series practice Friday morning, with qualifying in the afternoon for ALMS, IMSA GT3 and Prototype Lites.

ALMS had two hours of Testing Thursday, in cold foggy weather. The new ‘speedometer’ atop the track’s cross-over bridge shows the speed of the cars as they pass under and crest the Turn One hill. The fastest observed speed Thursday was 157 mph in ALMS. It’s hard to say which car it was, as the speed is recorded after the fact, as the cars goes out of sight.

Although it’s not usual for Test times, ALMS did post a sheet Friday morning for the Thursday session. The fastest drivers in each class were: P1 and overall-KLAUS GRAF/No.6 Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing AMR /Lola Coupe B08 62 at 1:16.293/105.603 mph. P2-CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT/No.055 Level 5 Motorsports Lola Honda – only car in the class this weekend; PC-RICARDO GONZALES/No.06 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09; GT points leader JOEY HAND/No.56 BMW Tam RLL BMW E92 M3; GTC-MARTIN RAGGINER/No.30 NGT Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, a last minute substitution Thursday, replacing SEAN EDWARDS; and the UNC leader and only car in the class RICHARD LIETZ/No.911 Porsche Motorsports North America Porsche GT3R Hybrid.

The family that plays together stays together. In the IMSA GT3 field of 38 cars, there is a Mother and Son duo. MELANI SNOW/No.56 Snow Racing Platinum 2011 has been racing for years, but has not raced at Laguna Seca since 2009. The Platinum class is for 2010 and 2011 Porsches and has 25 drivers.

Melanie & Madison Snow

Melanie & Madison Snow


Son MADISON SNOW is racing No.62 Snow Racing Gold 2008. According to the driver and the Porsche representative, fifteen-year old Madison is the youngest Pro Series Porsche driver in the world. He is a Rookie and leading the Gold class points, ahead of 12 other drivers. Madison came to the IMSA GT3 Series from Go-Karts, which he has raced for a long time and a few Skip Barber Mazda races at his home track, Miller Motorsports Park in Utah – the only circuit this IMSA season on which he’s raced. All the other IMSA circuits on the 2011 schedule, including Laguna Seca, are new to him. Madison has spent a lot of time on video games learning the new tracks..

Madison likes the famed Corkscrew, says it’s fun, but thinks maybe it has too much hype. Overall he really likes Laguna Seca He said Thursday it was hard because the wind was blowing sand onto the track, and he had to adjust for that.

With school approval, Madison has skipped classes this week. He turns sixteen on 26 December 2011.