Deepest blue: Grand Prix of Monterey Gallery…

Monterey

As always, Monterey provides a spectacular backdrop for sports car racing.  It may be a cliche, but standing at the bottom of the Corkscrew when the field comes through under green remains one of the great experiences in racing. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, it’s a natural theater for speed, and this year’s Continental Tire Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda did not disappoint. Enjoy some of our highlights…

***

For the last few years, the prototype ranks have thinned out at the top level of North American sports car racing.  When Audi departed the scene, the ALMS was left with a handful of P2 prototypes led by Mazda and Porsche.  The merger of the ALMS and the Grand-Am Series ensured that Daytona Prototypes would become the top predator, with P2 loyalists soldiering on at Mazda and, now, Honda.

Enter Mike Shank and his French-built Ligier JS1 P2.  The Ligier is a handsome P2 prototype, designed by French engineers and powered by Honda. With so few entrants running innovative designs in IMSA, it’s reassuring to see a new prototype racing in North America. Michael Shank Racing has made the leap, but other than the Delta Wing and Mazda, most TUSC teams are waiting out any further investments until the new design rules are announced for 2017. One thing that is almost certain is that the ACO will authorize four builders to construct all of the P2 chassis, wtih a single engine supplier. IMSA may receive an exception to allow for other P2 designs, but credit Shank for continuing to push.

LigierSide

LigierJS P2

ShankLigier

The alternative to the Ligier is the venerable Daytona Prototype.  Chip Ganassi Racing is now supported by Ford rather than its traditional Target livery. Ford has struggled for results this season compared with the Corvette juggernaut.

DSC_0841

EcoBoost

I had a chance to speak to Don Panoz after the Delta Wing retired with an exhaust system failure. The car is innovative and has grown on me over the last few years. The problem for the car is that it is like no other car in its class, making comparisons nearly worthless.

Delta

Delta2

In GTLM, the privateers have all but disappeared. Falken’s program is not a factory program but remains competitive against manufacturer support from BMW, Porsche and Chevrolet.

Falken

Porsche911RSR

Prototype Challenge cars remain an affordable option for prototype racing, as well as a great training ground for young drivers. Zach Veach, an up and coming open wheel racer, stepped into a JDC Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09 for the first time at Mazda Raceway, and finished fourth.

Veach

JDC

The Martini livery never disappoints.

DSC_0906

PC class winner Bruno Junqueira knows Mazda Raceway from his days as an open wheel driver.

Bruno

Count on Porsche to be at the front: Park Place Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT America took top honors in the GTD class.

Park Place

An Aston Martin in blue? In the hands of Christina Nielson and James Davison, the car finished fifth.

aston

Aston2

Some very obvious differences between Risi Competizione’s GTLM-spec Ferrari F458 Italia, and the GTD version below.

FerrariF458

Now compare Risi’s car with the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GTD , as raced by Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell. Similar, but not the same.

GTD Ferrari

GTD is the last truly competitive category for privateer racers.  With a decent selection of cars to choose from, and an affordable technical package, GTD racing was tight at Mazda Raceway.

GTD

Second place in GTD for Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 LMS:

R8

R8number2

IMSA at Mazda Raceway-Laguna Seca: Damn this traffic jam…

VisitFL

The Tudor United Sportscar Championship returned to the Monterey Peninsula with one concern in mind: traffic.

Of course, Bay Area traffic is never a pleasure. But with the entire IMSA field together on track after last year’s split-class races, every driver knew that traffic would be an issue throughout the race.  This was also a shorter sprint race, leaving little time to waste behind backmarkers.

On Saturday, Jordan Taylor captured the second straight pole position for Wayne Taylor Racing in his Konica-Minolta Corvette DP.  With Michael Valiante’s Visit Florida Corvette DP lined up behind Taylor, and Scott Pruett by his side, Taylor knew that he would be harassed from the green flag forward.  Taylor showed early pace after a strong start from Valiante, and the pair of Corvettes took an early lead over Ozz Negri and his Ligier-Honda. When the inevitable traffic jam arrived, Valiante’s teammate Richard Westbrook finished off Taylor, giving Visit Florida Racing its first victory of 2015.

“It was clean [racing] for a while, but then we hit heavy, heavy traffic,” Valiante said.  “I got frustrated, I was really boxed in. I got by one PC with a little contact, going into turn 1 was a huge traffic jam. I made contact with a GTLM car, and I think it hit Jordan on the other side. We sort of forced him off the road and gave him a different line.”

After taking over from Valiante, Westbrook went on a tear to chase down Taylor.  He succeeded when Taylor ducked in for a pitstop and emerged in heavy traffic.

“When Ricky got in, we held the lead and then pitted,” Jordan Taylor said. “Richard (Westbrook) had clean laps while Ricky had traffic, and that’s where Richard made up his time. It was more a strategy and traffic race than anything.”

“The race was dictated by traffic,” Taylor said.  “Once we hit traffic we could gain a gap or lose a big gap. That’s what really changed the race today. We were leading by 10 seconds and then we’d lose the lead.”

Ozz Negri was persistent but couldn’t manage to keep pace with the leaders, his Ligier-Honda JS P2 a step behind the all-conquering Chevy power plants.  Mazda had a fantastic weekend, finishing sixth but most importantly, finishing – giving the marque a top 10 finish at its “home” circuit.

In GTLM, almost 40 years to the day after Hans Stuck won at Laguna Seca in a CSL, BMW Team RLL took a 1-2 sweep of the podium, with John Edwards and Lucas Luhr finishing ahead of teammate Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner.  Porsche’s Patrick Pilet and Michael Christensen finished third on a day that saw an uncharacteristically subdued performance from both Corvette factory entries. In fairness, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia’s yellow machine started from the back of the grid due to an engine change.

The larger question about BMW’s win is whether it’s pure pace or a generous balance of performance adjustment by IMSA. BMW’s minimum weight was reduced before the race, with its air restrictor enlarged, while Corvette didn’t receive any breaks.

In GTD, Park Place Porsche (Spencer Pumpelly/Patrick Lindsey) took top honors ahead of Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 LMS. Ian James and Mario Farnbacher finished third for Alex Job Racing.  In PC, Bruno Junqueira and Michael Cumming paired up for a class win over Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. James French and local racer Mike Hedlund finished third in the all-Oreca class.

Although their Corvette DP finished a modest fourth, it’s Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi who sit first and second in the driver’s championship, with Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook just three points behind. The next round is at Belle Isle in Detroit.

More photos to come!

WTR

BMW24

Corvette3

Copy

Laguna

westy

Mazda2

 

Down in Monterey…

photo (1)

The Tudor United Sportscar Championship returns to the Monterey Peninsula May 1-3, with the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda leading a bill that includes the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Mazda MX-5 Cup, and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. It’s the series’ second visit to Mazda Raceway-Laguna Seca following the unification of the ALMS and the Grand-Am Series in 2012.  Last year, ESM-Patron Racing won the first victory for a P2 car, answering critics who questioned whether P2 and Daytona Prototypes could compete fairly against each other. In 2014, the event featured split classes with a pair of races for P/GTLM and PC/GTD, respectively. That format will not return but the race is now a two and a half hour sprint race with all classes combined.

You like fast, close racing, don’t you? Check out our instagram page for more photos from the event.

Living Legends: Sonoma Historics ready for new era

DSC_0047

The Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival opens May 28-31 at Sonoma Raceway, marking the first time the event will be operated by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (“SVRA”).  In late 2014, SVRA merged with General Racing (Steve Earle), founder of the famed Monterey Historics. With Earle having moved his event from Monterey to Sonoma six years ago, Sonoma now stands on its own as an event on the historic racing calendar.  Hopefully, SVRA’s size and market share will allow the event to continue to grow.  As part of its “gold medallion” celebration, SVRA plans to focus on cars that are presented as-raced.

Allard will be the featured marque for this year’s invitation-only event.  Just mentioning “Allard” evokes the great Bill Pollack and his fabled wins at Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1952.  Fitted with a massive Cadillac engine, Pollack’s Allard managed to beat fellow Californian and future F1 champion Phil Hill.  Bill is celebrating his 90th birthday this summer, a true legend among road racers in California.

Montoya, rising

DSC_0125

You can say a lot of things about Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian IndyCar driver who won Sunday’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for Team Penske.  You can call him brash, you can call him mercurial, but mostly, you can call him a winner.

After taking the lead in the later stages of the race from teammate and defending series champion Will Power, Montoya held off the Australian with a sublime drive to claim victory in the season opener. It was the second win for Montoya since returning to American open wheel racing after forays into Formula One and NASCAR.  Montoya also joins a select group of drivers to have notched victories in CART and the IndyCar Series, albeit years apart.

In the days of Jim Clark and Graham Hill, it was something to be an “all-arounder”; a driver who was quick no matter what he was driving. Clark drove in F1, NASCAR, touring cars, and the Indianapolis 500. Montoya has shown speed in every type of car he has driven, earning wins in the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, and the 24 Hours of Daytona. He also has a NASCAR road course win under his belt. It is an impressive list, made all the more impressive by how few have done it.  Montoya has impressive car control, confidence in his abilities, and the good fortune to have driven for owners like Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Frank Williams.  Those men know talent when they see it.

With a win over Power in the first race of the season (and both Ganassi and Andretti mostly lost at sea), Montoya has made a clear declaration of intent. It should be an interesting summer inside Team Penske.

JPMonty

JPMSonoma14

JPM&Connie

JPM

Bell bottoms, big tires – F1 in the early 1970s

DSC_0069

As a child of the Seventies, I’m still fascinated by F1 cars of the early part of the decade. Cars like the 1973 McLaren M23 (above and below), decked out in Yardley’s classic livery or Chesterfield branding (in red, below).

Elf brought French blue to the 1970 March 701 (third below), which Tyrrell raced briefly while the team set out to build its first car (in secret!). Like a lot of you, I first heard Jackie Stewart’s voice on ABC’s broadcast of the Indy 500. My respect for Jackie led to an abiding love for Tyrrell and his non-corporate approach to F1.

The 1970 Ferrari 312 (bottom) was fast, with three wins in the hands of Jacky Ickx, but it couldn’t take the title from Lotus. All of these cars were designed at the dawn of the “aero” era, and they don’t look as if they were designed by a computer based on wind tunnel metrics. Think of bell bottoms, Ray Bans, fat rear tires, and wide-open racing. And the drivers: three-time world champion Stewart, six-time Le Mans winner Ickx, and the dashing, doomed Revson.

DSC_0067

DSC_0879

DSC_0871

DSC_0867

DSC_0868

DSC_0552

DSC_0551

DSC_0474

Ferrari312

Tyrell 007 as driven by Jody Scheckter:

DSC_0381

DSC_0373

Best in Show – the 2014 Ecurie

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the most visually compelling cars that I photographed in 2014.

1. 1957 Ferrari 250 Testarossa, CSRG Sonoma Opener

DSC_0374

DSC_0443

photo (2)

DSC_0375

2. 1967 McLaren M6B, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

McLarenM6

McLarenCanAM

DSC_1120

3. Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype, Tudor United Sports Car Championship

ShankDP

ShankDPb

DSC_0818

DSC_0824

4. Corvette C7.R, GTLM Class, Tudor United Sports Car Championship

CorvetteC7Laguna

CorkscrewTudorMRLS14

DSC_0489

5. 1970 Porsche 917, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

Porsche917(2)SON14

Porsche917aSON14

Porsche917eSON14

Porsche917bSON14

6. 1965 Holman-Moody NASCAR Ford Galaxie, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

FordGalaxieSON14

DSC_0881

DSC_0882

DSC_0884

7. 1972 Can-Am Shadow DN2, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

Shadow

ShadowCanAm2

CanAm

8. Krohn Racing 458 Italia, GTLM class,Tudor United Sports Car Championship

KrohnFerrari

DSC_0483

KrohnFerrari458

DSC_0777

9. Pirelli World Challenge Bentley Continental GT

DSC_0210

DSC_0277

DSC_0278

10. 1954 Ferrari 750 Monza Spyder, CSRG Sonoma Opener

Monza

DSC_0422

Monza2

Monza3

Monza4

Lancia Stratos: Italian food for thought

LanciaStratos03

The Stratos was the premiere rally car in the Group 5 turbo era in the 1970s, with three world championships thanks to Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegard.  Purpose built and powered by a Ferrari Dino engine, the car achieved legendary status before the rules were changed.  This one appeared at the 2014 Sonoma Historics, but not as a competitor.

photo 2photo 4LanciaStratos02LanciaStratos01

When “rallying” meant more – 1964 Monte Carlo Rally MG

photo 1

Today, the World Rally Championship is a shadow of its former self. Gone are the epic Safari battles, the Group B turbo beasts, and most of the manufacturers.  Rallye Monte Carlo remains, and – run on winter roads around the principality – “the Monte” is as challenging as ever.

It’s been 50 years since Mini took the 1964 Rallye Monte Carlo, with Paddy Hopkirk behind the wheel.  The MG Midget in these photos is not the car that entered the Monte that year (that was an MGB), but it’s similar to the car that won its class (17th overall), with Donald and Erle Morley.  The car was a class winner the previous year at Le Mans, providing manufacturer BMC with great press (of course, the car was heavily modified from stock to produce more power and weigh less).  The Midget also raced in the US with great distinction.

It’s a good reminder of how far rallying has come, and how far it must go to return to its former state.

photo 2

IndyCar in the rear view mirror

JPMSonoma14

The IndyCar season closed last Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Although Tony Kanaan won the race, Will Power won his first IndyCar championship and proved his doubters wrong.  Penske teammates Power and Helio Castroneves (below) were a two-horse race for the title, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Simon Pagenaud a distant third.

Power had an up and down season, winning regularly but angering fans and fellow drivers with occasionally questionable driving tactics.  Penske is a five-star operation, giving each of its drivers an opportunity win the title.  For the second year in a row, Castroneves was unable to seal the deal. Juan Pablo Montoya returned to open wheel racing from NASCAR, and, while he didn’t contend for the championship, his speed was undiminished.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing had a slow start, something Scott Dixon acknowledged after he won at Sonoma.  Dixon targeted Ganassi’s sports car projects as drawing focus away from IndyCar at the beginning of the season. One can only guess what the team might have achieved with more focus.

Heliointhepits

Power (below) was the focus of attention all weekend at Sonoma and again at Fontana. Power qualified on pole at Sonoma but spun during the race and finished 10th. Power has never been a strong oval driver, but this year, he put together a consistent string of finishes to claim an IndyCar title.

PowerPits

PowerSON14

Much was expected of Juan Pablo Montoya (below, with wife Connie, on the grid at Sonoma). For the most part, the Colombian delivered on his promise, showing no loss of speed or intensity after time spent in F1 and NASCAR.

JPM&Connie

JPMonty

Pit stop action from Sebastian Saavedra.  Along with Montoya, Saavedra and Carlos Huertas formed an IndyCar Colombian Crew.

SaavedraPit

Paoli wheel gun, used for IndyCar only (costs about $4,500).

Thegun

Carlos Munoz was an impressive rookie of the year.  Behind Munoz, Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth all showed promise,  but Munoz managed to finish fourth in his rookie Indy 500.

MunozSON14

For most of the year, Ryan Briscoe was outshone by teammates Kanaan and Dixon (and Charlie Kimball).

Briscoe

Ed Carpenter stepped down from his driving duties on road courses, allowing Mike Conway to take over. At Sonoma, Conway lead almost 40 laps late in the race, thanks to a savvy fuel strategy and good luck.  Conway lost the lead on lap 83 and coasted to a halt just past the start/finish line. I spent those laps in Ed Carpenter’s pit, watching as the team bit its nails under pressure.

CarpenterSON14

Dixon won at Sonoma, but couldn’t repeat as series champion.

DixonSON14