WHISTLIN’ DIXIE

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the fastest Verizon IndyCar driver Saturday noon for the warmup leading to the IndyCar GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His lap was 1.10.8157

Max Chilton. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Max Chilton. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was second fastest, followed by Ryan Hunter-Ready/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, and Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet.

Other leaders were Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and King.

All 24 cars were on course. The weather was overcast, 78 degrees F and wind 12 mph.

Marco Andretti Crew changing engine

Marco Andretti/No.98 Honda pulled off into Turn One with a smoking engine on Lap Three, bringing out a Red Flag. His car visibly slowed going down the front straight. He blew his engine, which the crew changed as soon as he got back to the pits. The clock kept ticking during the incident, and the Red Flag time was 7.33 minutes. Race Control added five minutes to the end of the session. Andretti only had two laps and finished last. The loss of warmup laps put him at the bottom of list of laps completed for the weekend – 35.

Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda continued to lead the charts in terms of laps completed. He ran 57 for the weekend.

A second Red Flag was called a minute later for wildlife in Turn 12. Rescue trucks were dispatched to shoo a small flock of geese. But they just landed on another track section, where they danced and cavorted around. The cameramen had a field day portraying the antics. On the ground, that would be a gaggle. In the air they would be a skein. The gaggle became a skein. This Red Flag lasted 3.83 minutes.

Graham Rahal. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Graham Rahal. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Gaham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda tested the grass and continued. He finished fourteenth.

It was all stop or go racing, with no cautions for the session.

Castroneves sat out the final five minutes of the half-hour session, as he took the Checkered Flag twice in qualifying.

Tony Kanaan. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Tony Kanaan. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

This GP will be the 288th consecutive race for Tony Kanaan/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet ranking him second overall behind the 329 consecutive races for Scott Dixon.

For Race Day, the mobile TV personnel on the ground get an assigned Security Guard, who facilitates a clear path to wherever the broadcaster has to go. I confirmed with one well-known ABC TV pit reporter that the Guards are invaluable in ensuring the shortest/safest path is maneuvered, and that the governors on their golf carts are removed to speed the transit.

The weather continued to be a concern. The predicted afternoon thunderstorms moved northward and the track was dry for Saturday racing.The predictions were for high heat, but the wind – which felt stronger than the listed 1 mph – tempered the heat considerably. It was only been mid seventies all morning, with track temperatures in the mid eighties.

The Mazda Road To Indy support series had qualifying and races Saturday morning.

Alex Baron/No.19 started on the front row and won the first USF2000 Royal Purple GP of Indy He took over the lead from Pole sitter, Rookie Kyle Kirkwood/No.12 , who led the first eight laps. Kirkwood came in second, followed by two more Rookies – Jose Sierra/No.15 and Jamie Caroline/No.28. Finishing fifth was Kory Enders/No.11. There were two cautions for five laps for accidents: Lucas Kohl/No.22 in Turn Four, and Rookies Oscar DeLuzuriaga/No.38 and Michael d’Orlando in Turn Eight. Twenty-three of the 26 starters finished the race, twenty of them on the lead lap.

Rookie Scott Harrison/No.10 RP Motorsport Racing started third and took the lead in Lap 16 to go on to win the 25-lap Pro Mazda Royal Purple GP of Indy. Pole Sitter/Rookie Oliver Askew/No.3 came in second, but never led any laps. Rookie VeeKay Rinus, who started on the front row, led twice for 13 laps and finished third. The other driver who led laps, Rookie David Malukas/No.79 BN Racing led for two laps after starting fourth. He finished seventh, and turned the fastest race lap of 107.876 mph/1.21.3931. Fourteen drivers started and 11 finished, all on the lead lap. Three drivers retired – one for contact – Sting Ray Robb/No.82 Team Pelfrey; and two for mechanical woes – Rookie Andres Gutierrez/No.81 Team Pelfrey and Rookie Megennis/No.9 Juncos Racing. There were two cautions for five laps to tow the wounded cars.

The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series had an exciting first race. The Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America has to be one of the longer race titles I’ve covered lately. The race may have lacked quantity of drivers, but it had quality of exciting racing. Andif you wonder where all the Lights teams are – check out the Indy 500 Entry List. Every team in Lights has a car or more running this year. Talk about Development Series – Indy Lights is the epitome of the concept.

Colin Herta

Colin Herta

Aaron Telitz

Aaron Telitz

Two of the seven drivers were Rookies – Pole sitter Pato O’Ward/No.27 Andretti Autosport and Victor Franzoni/No.23 Juncos Racing. Ward had the pole with Colton Herta/No.98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing beside him on the front row and Franzoni behind in third. There was a battle going into the first turn with a couple of cars going wide of the mark. Santi Urrutia/No.5 Belardi Auto Racing prevailed and led for the first half of the race, while Herta and O’Ward playing catchup. There were no cautions so it was Green Flag racing for 30 laps. Herta took over the lead on Lap 16 and held on for the finish. He also turned the fastest lap of 113.214 mph/77.5557).

Urrutia finished second and Aaron Telitz/No.9 Belardi Auto Racing was third. O’Ward finished fourth. All cars finished on the lead lap.

There must be mega media interest in the IMS events this weekend, as the WiFi just keeps getting slower and slower, making electronic transmissions of material problematical.

After the IndyCar GP there will be an authorized Track Invasion, with ten designated entry points.

VICS Driver Banners. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

VICS Driver Banners. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

CAN YOU SAY MAZDA?

2016 MRLS Mazda Drivers

Mazda is busting out all over at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey CA, for the Mazda Road to Indy races, featuring five professional race series all running Mazda Engines in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder as well as the Mazda Road to 24 level. Those series bring 82 drivers from 21 countries including the US. This unique Mazda develoopment program provides more than $2 million in racing scholarships available to the champions in several series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires, Mazda MX-5 Cup and Indy Lights Powered by Cooper, as well as the IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires Series. This whole program spans across three sanctioning bodies – IndyCar, IMSA, and SCCA Pro Racing.

Thanks to the Mazda Road to Indy and the Mazda Road to 24, Mazda has 82 drivers from 21 countries racing this weekend at our home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Five series are in action with 100 percent powered by Mazda, with more than $2 million in Mazda scholarships available to series champions. For those too far away to join us in Monterey, you can watch most of the weekend’s 12 races at MazdaLive.com.

Saturday’s National Anthem was sung by Mazda MX-5 Cup driver, Aurora Straus of New York, who races No.17 for McCumbee McAleer Racing. Her car number is her age, a high school senior, who advantageously utilizes her race trips with visits to prospective colleges. This trip she visited nearby Stanford University where she wants to major in English and Mechanical Engineering.

Foggy Friday

Friday’s practice day got off to an inauspicious start – one hour and 45-minutes late due to a seasonal fog delay. Talk about Foggy Mountain Breakdown. But all’s well that ends well. The crackerjack San Francisco Region Sports Car Club of America volunteer race officials and marshals worked closely with the officials from the three series and the race track to put it to right, and with a well-orchestrated Grab and Go Lunch for the workers, all drivers got their track time and the day only ended a few minutes late.

Once the sun came out Friday and Saturday the weather was picture-perfect beautiful: sunny and warm with cloudless blue skies and gentle breezes. Saturday’s morning fog delay was only an hour, and the time was made up to with shortening the generously long lunch hour and nice breaks between sessions.

Kyle Kaiser

Kyle Kaiser

Ed Jones

Ed Jones

Kyle Kaiser of Santa Clara CA, driving No.18 Juncos Racing has the pole for the Saturday Indy Lights race, with a lap of 1:15.2733/107.034 mph. He currently is fifth in the standings with 279 points, 41 points behind Rookie Santiago Urrutia of Uruguay in No.55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Urrutia qualified third, behind Ed Jones of Dubai, UAE in No. 11 Carlin. Jones currently is second in the standings, with 318 points, just one behind Urrutia. All cars have a Dallara chassis with Mazda engine and run Cooper Tires.

Kaiser said “I think I have everything to lose, so I’m just going for the win today. The grip changed today, car was faster.”

Jones was fastest in the first practice and Rookie Dean Stoneman of England was fastest in No.27 Andretti Autosport in the second practice on new tires, second fastest in the first practice and fastest overall.

In the IMSA Prototype Series, Clark Toppe of TX has the pole for Race One in No.10 JDC Motorsports, with a lap of 1:24.504/95.3 mph. Second and third were his teammate Austin Versteeg of Utah in No.7 and Kyle Masson of FL in No.18 Performance Tech Motorsports. In the Masters Class, the top driver was Michael Chlumecky of Canada in No.31 Eurosport Racing. He will start sixth.
All cars have a Elan DP02 chassis with Mazda engines, on Cooper Tires.

Mark Drennan

Mark Drennan

John Dean II of FL was fastest in the second practice for the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, in No.16 Sick Sideways Racing. Teammate Nathanial Sparks of AL got the pole position for the first race, in No.8, with a lap of 1:41.737/79.192 mph. Second and third were Robby Foley of NJ in No.63 Atlanta Motorsports Group and Rookie Mark Drennan of San Jose CA in No.50 Winding Road Racing TFB.

Rookie Aaron Telitz of WI in No.82 Team Pelfrey has the pole for Race One in the Pro Mazda Series, with a time of 1:23.2863/96.736 mph, turning his time on his last flying lap before the checkered flag in the 12-car field. Eight of the drivers are Rookies. Second and third fastest were Pato O’Ward of Monterrey Mexico in No.80 Team Pelfrey and Rookie Nicolas Dapero of Argentina in No.33 Juncos Racing. Telitz had been fastest in the second practice, while Will Owen of TX was fastest in Practice One in No.23 Juncos Racing.

Aaron Telitz No.82

Aaron Telitz No.82

Telitz is the current points leader with 345 points to O’Ward’s 331. He has six poles and five victories. O’Ward has six victories and five poles. Third in the points and the only other driver to have won races (2) and poles (2) is Rookie Nico Jamin of France in No.2 Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing. He will start the race from fifth position on the grid.

Victor Franzoni of Brazil was fastest in all sessions for the USF2000 Series, taking the pole with a lap of 1:26.3066/93.351 mph in No.9 ArmsUp Motorsports. Second and third were teammates Anthony Martin of Australia in No.8 and Parker Thompson of Canada in No.2. They race for Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing. Thompson was second in both practices followed by Martin. All cars run a Mazda engine in a Van Diemen chassis on Cooper Tires.

All the series have a race on Saturday afternoon, and another race on Sunday. Two groups – the Pro Mazda Championship Series and the IMSA Prorotype Lites have a third race Sunday afternoon. It’s a full, full weekend. And many of the races can be followed live by streaming from Mazdalive.com.

Mazda has a Zoom-Zoom radar speed trap high atop the Start-Finish Cross-Over bridge, which measures the speed of the cars on the front straight and headed up into Turn One. The top speed I’ve observed so far this weekend was an Indy Lights car at 148 mph. Zoom-Zoom!

Zoom-Zoom

WINE COUNTRY GREETINGS

IndyCar Pit Lane

It’s bright, sunny and warm at Sonoma Raceway for the first of the three-day race weekend in the famed Northern California wine country. The feature race is the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, starring the Verizon IndyCar Series. The support races are SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge Series with all the GT classes, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Series presented by Cooper Tires, and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series powered by Mazda. The usual afternoon brisk breeze cut the mid-seventies temperature.

This weekend has a different schedule than in the past. IndyCar is only on track Saturday and Sunday, which means its two forty-five minute practice sessions on Saturday are mid morning and early afternoon. The 70-minute qualifying starts at 4:35pm Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning half-hour warm-up is at 10am, with the 85-lap race starting at 1:40 pm, all Pacific Coast Daylight time.

Juan Pablo Montoya's No.2 Chevrolet

Ryan Hunter-Reay's No.28 Honda

Tony Kanaan's No.10 Chevrolet

On Friday, the IndyCar teams were unloading, prepping and teching the cars. Drivers were scarce. Several drivers were at the Presidio Golf Course for a Charity Golf Tournament. One IndyCar foursome was Rookie Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, Josef Newgarden/USA, Simon Pagenaud/France, and Sebastian Saavedra/Colombia. Although I heard points leader Will Power and Penske teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya were at the track, the only IndyCar people I spotted in the paddock were IndyCar Director of Competition, Derek Walker; IndyCar Series Race Director, Beaux Barfield; Andretti Autosport Honda Rookie, Carlos Munoz was tooling around on his bicycle; Schmidt Peterson Hamilton team owner, Davey Hamilton; and Ed Carpenter, who owns his Ed Carpenter Racing Team, but is not driving this weekend. He runs the oval track races, and Mike Conway of England races on the road and street courses.

Recently announced was the merger of the Carpenter and another single-car team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Its driver is Josef Newgarden in No.67 Honda. No details so far on which engine package, driver line-up, or personnel absorption. Both teams want to get through this 2014 season, which ends Labor Day weekend. Then plans will become more apparent.

Will Power's No.12 Chevrolet getting a final dusting

Will Power in No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is leading the IndyCar Driver Standings with 602 points. His team seemed to have everything under control as the only person I saw was someone dusting the car. Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves in No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet is second, 39 points behind. Simon Pagenaud in No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda, 92 points behind. Power’s Penske teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya in No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, is fifth, 114 points behind the leader, and 16 points behind fourth placed 2013 IndyCar Champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay in No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.

For the other series, there was practice, qualifying and races. Each of the support series has two races this three-day weekend on the 12-turn 2.38 IndyCar configurated road course.

Rumor has it that Honda challenged Chevrolet to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. That should prove interesting. Stay tuned.

The paddock had a few fans, and some unexpected, to me, visitors. TUDOR USCC driver, Scott Pruett had an off day as his DP class was not on the schedule for this weekend’s race at Virginia International Raceway. This is the second weekend in a row that he showed up as a relaxed spectator. Last weekend he enjoyed his first-ever Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Pruett, who lives in Northern California, was again relaxed and low profile.

Another familiar face – to me – was Michael Smith all the way from Melbourne, Australia on a ‘working holiday.’ He is the CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sports) F1 Secretary of the Meeting at the annual Formula One race in Melbourne. Smith was at the track just for the day before heading East. He is also on the FIA Commission for Volunteer and Officials, which happens to be having its quarterly meeting this Friday. Smith’s good news from Down Under was that the date for the 2015 AGP has been announced as 12-15 March 2015, and it will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the race being in Melbourne. The race had its contract extended for another five years, and guaranteed to be the first race of each F1 season during that time.

IndyCar Paddock

RACING RARIN’

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

After a six-month long hiatus from racing, the IZOD IndyCar community is rarin’ to go. Driver after driver after driver referenced the long off-season and how eager he or she is to get back to the new season and even better racing.

What could be better than the season’s opener on Florida streets for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a full bill, with Firestone Indy Lights, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USFF2000 and Historic Sportscar Racing.

The weather is lovely and promises sunny and warm most of the time. Although isolated thunderstorms are predicted throughout the weekend, who knows. Fingers crossed.

IndyCars have a full complement of 25 drivers running all nineteen races. Thirteen run Chevrolets, and twelve drive Hondas. One driver, TRISTAN VAUTIER/Florida Lottery/cw Schmidt Peterson Honda is the only IndyCar Rookie, but as the 2012 Indy Lights champion, he’s already run the St.Pete street course. Vautier isn’t the youngest kid on the block … or in the IndyCar paddock. That honor falls to JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who will be 23 this year. At the other end of the spectrum, DARIO FRANCHITTI/TargetChip Ganassi Racing Honda is the most senior driver. He turns 40 on Bump Day this year.

The race will run an extra ten laps, for 110 in all, totaling 198 miles/318.7 km. The 1.8 mile/2.897 km course has 14 turns.

In response to driver input, Firestone has come up with a grippier, softer alternative (red) tire, which is hoped to provide more passing and competition. Each driver gets 24 primary (black) tires and 12 reds. Five sets of rain tires are also part of the equation, if needed.

Joe Barbieri

Joe Barbieri

This race weekend will be additionally special for Firestone, as it marks the retirement of long-time Firestone Manager of Motorsports, JOE BARBIERI.

Thursday afternoon, the Dan Wheldon Memorial monument was unveiled in Albert Whitted Park, with Wheldon’s widow, Susie, and two sons – Sebastian and Oliver. Also unveiled was the Victory Circle monument, honoring the past winners of the St.Pete street race.

The Indy Lights Series St.Petersburg 100 Race has nine drivers, five Rookies.

The Mazda Ladder series, The Road To Indy, has two series running this weekend – the new Pro Mazda Championship with 12 drivers; and the USF2000 Series 31 drivers. The HSR vintage group has 25 drivers, with cars ranging from a 1961 MGA MKII to a couple of 2009 Porsche Caymans.

The largest field honors go to the Pirelli World Challenge Series, with 41 entries.

As far as I can tell this weekend, the IndyCar series is the only group with known female drivers – season’s regular, SIMONA de SILVESTRO/KV Racing Technology Chevrolet; and ANA BEATRIZ of Brazil, who was just signed by Dale Coyne Racing, for the St Pete race. Coyne’s plans for the second seat on his Honda team haven’t been made known. Both Beatriz and STEFAN WILSON, younger brother of Coyne’s regular driver – JUSTIN WILSON – tested with Coyne recently at Barber Motorsport Park. There’s talk of the two splitting the ride. Stay tuned.

So far, by mid-morning the weather is clearing, with partly sunny but chilly weather. IndyCars have two Friday forty-five minute practice sessions. All series practice and World Challenge ends the day with a qualifying session.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

On another note, it with a sad heart I write that JOHN CARDINALE, VP of Media & Community Relations at Sonoma Raceway, has lost his valiant battle with stomach cancer. Sonoma Raceway hosts the August round of the IndyCar Series. RIP John.