HPD Blog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Acura at Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport August 2009


Patrón Highcroft Win Clinches Manufacturers Title; Fernandez, Diaz Take Drivers Crown

BOWMANVILLE, Ont., Canada — David Brabham and Scott Sharp are familiar with the victory lane at the fast Mosport International Raceway, northeast of Toronto.
Both Acura drivers have won at the Canada track quite often.
On Sunday in American Le Mans Series’ eighth 2009 race, the Acura pair made it look easy by driving the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car to another Mosport winner’s circle celebration in the two-hour, 45-minute Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport.
The victory for Brabham and Sharp was their second consecutive ALMS overall after a win at Road America two weeks ago, and extended their LMP1 class point advantage to 17 with two races remaining on the 2009 ALMS calendar. The duo also won at Mosport last year in the LMP2 division.
For the fifth time in 2009, Acura cars scored a 1-2-3 sweep overall. The Patrón Highcroft Racing triumph also helped clinch Acura’s first the LMP1 engine and chassis manufacturer championship.
Gil de Ferran took the lead early Sunday in his No. 66 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-02a, but a gearbox issue forced for the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner to pit early in the 131-lap race. De Ferran and co-driver Simon Pagenaud made seven pit stops throughout the event to nurse their machine home for second overall. Pagenaud still managed to record the race’s fastest single lap.
The Lowe’s Fernandez Acura team, with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, recorded third overall with the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b sports car and won their seventh LMP2 class race of the year. The popular Mexican pair clinched the LMP2 drivers championship with the victory over the Dyson Mazda of Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger.
Fernandez survived a pit violation late in the feature, and trimmed a 15-second deficient in just twelve laps in capturing his team’s seventh LMP2 class triumph.
The LMP1 championship battle between Patrón Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports moves to Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans on Sept. 26 in the 1,000-mile classic.

"This is our second straight win of the year and second straight here at Mosport. While it wasn’t as challenging as the Road America, you always have to put yourself into position to win. We did that today. We have had some tough breaks in races this year, and, today, we got a break with the de Ferran team having trouble with the gearbox in their car. It is great to clinch the manufacturers title for Acura in LMP1. I’m glad our team was able to secure the championship for them here today.”
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “I just love racing here at Mosport. I won three straight years in the 1990s in Trans-Am and, now, two in a row in ALMS. My stint was difficult earlier with the rain and the cool temperatures. The Michelin tires were excellent once we got some heat in them. But it was tough to do that in the beginning of the race. This win extends our point margin with two races to go. That is very important for us.”
GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "It was a real shame today. We had a very good car. I was able to get by Scott [Sharp] at the start and push hard in the slippery conditions and open a gap. Unfortunately, we developed a leak in the gearbox, which meant we had to make numerous pit stops to continuously refill the gearbox with oil. The crew and Simon did a great job to continue to preserve to do that. It’s important for us to gain every point and try to fight on in the next two races.”
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “The team did a fantastic job to prepare a fast race car, and I was able to go as quickly through some corners as I did in qualifying. We had the fastest lap of the race, and that shows the pace we had. This track is really thrilling with all the high speed corners and the Michelins were amazing on such a difficult track for tires. We had a tough day with the gearbox issue but we’ll take second.“
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “I was pushing very hard at the end of the race. I got a penalty for speeding in the pits and had to make a stop-and-go late. I was able to come from 15 seconds but to less than one second. We had a good handling car today. I wanted to pressure the Dyson guys. They had trouble at the end, and we scored our seventh win of the year. It’s been a dream season for us.”
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “Early in the race, the car was pushing a little too much. It was raining a little and I was running with the Mazda cars. We were able to get better fuel mileage and that helped us today. Our Lowe’s team has been fantastic with race strategy and today was another example of working the strategy to perfection. It feels great to clinch the driver’s championship today. Adrian was my idol as I came through the ranks. It is a privilege to win the championship with him and his team.”
ACURA QUOTES: DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a):

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Acura at Mosport ALMS August 2009

The return to the lightning-fast Mosport International Raceway always gives the American Le Mans Series racers a little trepidation. It is scary fast.

The legendary 2.459-mile, 10-turn circuit northeast of Toronto has hosted all forms of motorsports, and many of the greatest drivers and riders.

It was the site of the first Canadian Grand Prix in the early 1960s and Sir Jack Brabham, David’s dad, won the 1967 Canadian Formula One Grand Prix over Denis Hulme and Dan Gurney. Jackie Stewart, Peter Revson and Emerson Fittpaldi also won F-1 races at Mosport. Gilles Villeneuve won Formula Atlantic races there in the 1970s. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and the Unser brothers competed in USAC champ cars at Mosport during the 1960s. Mark Donohue drove the famed Penske Porsche 917/30 there in the 1970s; Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan raced in the Can-Am championship during the 1980s, and even the 500cc Motorcycle Grand Prix (now MotoGP) competed on the famed Mosport track.

The fastest qualifying lap in American Le Mans Series history was recorded at Mosport, when Dindo Capello turned in a speed of 138.116 miles per hour in 2008. Some of the fastest sections in all of road racing can be found at Mosport. Many drivers just shake their heads when describing Turns Two and Eight at the blistering-quick track.

“The place is so much fun to drive,” said Scott Sharp, a winner of three Trans-Am races and one ALMS race at Mosport entering the eighth round of the 2009 ALMS tour. “But there are some extremely scary spots. Driving through Turn Two and later, Turn Eight, is a wild sensation. They are so fast in a prototype car. The LMP1 car is flat-out in those turns. It’s one of the wildest rides we have all year.”

Sharp and driving partner David Brabham seemed to have a quickness in their step coming to Mosport. They won the LMP2 class there last year, and they were very confident following their exciting, close win over the de Ferran Motorsports pair of Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud two weeks earlier at Road America. Four consecutive victories by de Ferran and Pagenaud prior Road America had closed the gap in the LMP1 driver and team standings. So, the Elkhart Lake victory was important for Sharp and Brabham.

The Patrón Highcroft contingent held a 13-point advantage over the de Ferran squad entering the Mosport round. The pressure was back on the de Ferran team for a win and a chance to close the points gap with just three races remaining.

The weather at Mosport was going to be an issue from the outset of Friday’s testing session. The hills northeast of Toronto can become socked in with clouds and mist on a regular basis, and that was case on Friday afternoon as the LMP1 and LMP2 prototypes rolled out for their session. Pagenaud threw down the gauntlet quickly in testing by taking the No. 66 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-02a sports car to a lap of one minute, 5.521 seconds. With 20 minutes gone in the session, the flying Frenchman had a two-second gap on the next-fastest prototype, Marino Franchitti in one of the Dyson Racing Mazda machines.

Seven minutes later, Pagenaud lowered his best time to 1:05.470, with Sharp at 1:06.946.
Times slowed a bit during the next one-hour session, as the full field of ALMS cars participated, rather than just the prototypes. In addition, a slight mist dampened the racing surface. Even so, Brabham and de Ferran took over their respective mounts and ran strongly in preparation for Saturday’s qualifying attempts.

At the conclusion of testing, Brabham had closed within a tenth of a second of Pagenaud’s top time. Pagenaud remained quickest at 1:05.470, followed by David at 1:05.513 and Luis Diaz in the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b LMP2 car at 1:06.478. Diaz and co-driver Adrian Fernandez have put together a tremendous season, with six LMP2 victories entering the Mosport race. But heading to Mosport, they remained concerned about the straight-line speed of the Dyson Mazda Lola car

On Saturday morning, the cloudy, wet conditions continued. The top three LMP2 cars didn’t even head to Pit Lane until 20 minutes into the one-hour session. De Ferran posted the best time early with a time well off Friday testing at 1:21.447. But the de Ferran team wanted to be ready, in case the qualifying attempts were also wet. The clouds were so thick that the drivers were having trouble seeing from one corner to the next. It was scary, to say the least.

Both the Lowe’s team and Dyson teams decided to get on the track in the last 20 minutes of practice. At the close of the session, it was de Ferran at 1:21.447, followed by Brabham at 1:21.936, Chris Dyson at 1:25.401, Diaz at 1:26.706 and Jon Field in the Intersport LMP1 car at 1:27.160.

The weather conditions improved for the afternoon practice as all of the teams were preparing for qualifying. But trouble lurked for members of the de Ferran team. They encountered a problem with the gearbox losing fourth gear. They were forced to replace it with an older gearbox that would later pose a major problem in the race. With the rain and mist on the racing surface earlier, the track’s grip had changed. Brabham posted the quickest afternoon practice time at 1:05.931, with Pagenaud at 1:06.298, followed by Franchitti, Clint Field, Diaz and Dyson.

Qualifying was going to be a shootout between Brabham and Pagenaud. De Ferran had won the last two poles at Mid-Ohio and Road America, with Pagenaud taking three poles prior to that and Scott Dixon a pole at Sebring, all in the No. 66 Acura. Brabs’ lone pole had come at Long Beach. Pagenaud was confident, but you just had a feeling Brabham was going to make it difficult for the young Frenchman this time around.

Brabs was a veteran of Mosport , while it was only Pagenaud’s second visit to the tricky, fast Canadian circuit. Meanwhile, in LMP2, Franchitti was going to be tough. He was super-fast in the AGR Acura at Mosport in 2007 and he loves the Mosport track. So, it was little surprise that Marino was fastest out of the gate in qualifying. Franchitti easily took the LMP2 pole, his second straight of the year, with a 1:06.397, good for third overall on the grid. Diaz was sixth overall and third in LMP2 at 1:06.944.

“The car wasn’t as fast as we thought it would be,” said Diaz. “The track changed a bit from Friday, and we didn’t get the setup as good for qualifying. But I’m confident we’ll have a good car for the race.”

LMP1 qualifying was a different story. It was destined to be a tight battle right down the last lap of the 20-minute session.

Both the Patrón Highcroft and de Ferran teams waited a bit before rolling onto the track. On his second lap, Brabham jumped to the top of the charts at 1:05.821. Any chance of getting close to Capello’s overall track record was gone, due to the earlier rain and slippery track surface. So, the battle for the pole was the focus for teams, media and the fans.

Brabham’s third lap was a 1:05.616, and he followed up with a fourth circuit at 1:05.323 with seven minutes remaining in qualifying. Pagenaud was feeling out the tarmac with a 1:06.225 on his second lap. Simon’s third lap was his best, at 1:05.397, just shy of Brabs’ best. But the de Ferran team was hot after a slower LMP2 car had pulled out of the pits and briefly moved into Pagenaud’s line.

Mosport is such a rhythm track that the slightest hesitation on the throttle can cost a driver time. That’s what happened to Pagenaud on his best lap. He then had to regroup for another run at Brabham’s quick time. Brabs threw down a quick lap, and, feeling his front-grip level was there again, pulled the No. 9 into the pits.

Pagenaud kept flogging his mount in an effort to win his fourth pole of 2009. The 25-year-old racer worked valiantly, with laps of 1:05.486, 1:05.566 and 1:05.845. But at the checkered flag, Simon had to settle for second.

“That was a great battle with David today,” said Simon. “He is very good at this track. I actually thought I had a 1:04 in the car today, but it didn’t work out. I got blocked a bit on my fast lap, but that can happen with anyone in qualifying. You basically have that one lap with the tires just right. On that lap today, we didn’t get all of the car’s potential. We’ll be ready for the race.”

Brabham, this year’s overall 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, was pleased with his first pole position since Long Beach. The Patrón Highcroft team had been working hard to match the pace of the de Ferran team, and this run was a good showing in David’s heads-up battle with Simon.

“We felt the car was getting better with each run this weekend,” said Brabham. “I thought we had a good shot at the pole today. Of course, Simon is very fast and we had to be on our game today. Our engineering staff has been flat-out since Mid-Ohio to get our pace stronger. I think we showed that today with the pole.”

In Sunday morning’s warm-up runs, the track and the air were damp, like a fog. Sharp was quickest early in the session with 1:09.808, but de Ferran posted the best time of the 20 minutes with a 1:08.276. Fernandez was second overall at 1:08.726, and the popular Mexican star felt good about his Lowe’s Acura entering the two-hour, 45-minute feature in the afternoon.

The Canadian racing fans are always enthusiastic and this year’s Mosport ALMS race was no exception. A driver autograph session at noontime proved extremely popular with the spectators in the paddock area. All six Acura-powered drivers enjoyed visiting with the fans and signing a variety of items, from hero cards to personal photos to die-cast cars.

A later green-flag time, 3 p.m. EDT, produced a darker sky and misty conditions at the famed Mosport circuit. Planning for weather would be a key for the two Acura LMP1 teams, as well as for the Lowe’s LMP2 Acura squad. The Patrón Highcroft team decided to start Sharp on a medium-hard Michelin tire from the pole. Meanwhile, de Ferran was starting in the No. 66 XM Acura and went with the softer Michelin rubber.

You had the feeling Gil was going to make a strong outside move on Sharp in Turn One when the green flag dropped. And that was case, as de Ferran drove hard into Turn One and grabbed the advantage. In fact, a hard-charging Jon Field in the LMP1 Lola also slipped by Sharp for second on the opening lap. Field’s 5-liter V-8 engine produced horsepower on the back straightaway, and Field passed de Ferran for the overall lead. But Gil fought back to regain the advantage in Turn Eight with a superb pass.

Sharp was able to get some heat into the medium-hard Michelins and took back second place in Turn Five. But the veteran was 3.6 seconds behind de Ferran. In the LMP2 class, Diaz’ Acura wasn’t handling as he would like. He kept reporting, “a lot of push [understeer]” in his radio communications. Diaz still managed to hang onto the fifth overall spot, while, from the pit stand, engineer John Ward worked on a plan to improve the car’s handling during the upcoming pit stop.

Traffic from the slower GT cars assisted de Ferran as Gil opened up a nearly a 10-second margin on Sharp by Lap 16. He grew the gap to 11 seconds on Lap 25, but trouble was in the offing for the No. 66 team. The older gearbox that had been installed on Saturday was beginning to leak. The transmission was getting hot and the team needed to pit de Ferran earlier than planned as a result. Meantime, Marino Franchitti slipped by Sharp in traffic and took second overall in the Mazda.

On Lap 27, de Ferran’s team asked him to pit for fuel, tires and gearbox oil. But Gil seemed confused by the team’s call. He believed that if he was asked to pit that he would be replaced in the cockpit by Pagenaud. But the team wanted Gil to stay behind the wheel. So, de Ferran pitted and leaped out of his Acura, while the team urged him to stay in the car. The confusing pit stop dropped de Ferran to fifth. In addition, the sticker tires proved slick out of the pit lane and Gil put the car in the grass in Turn One. By the time he could recover and get back on track, Franchitti and Sharp had put a lap on de Ferran, and it was to be a long road back to the front for the team.

By Lap 34, Sharp had closed on Franchitti for the overall lead, and he took the point on the next lap. Sharp utilized traffic to his advantage and pulled away to seven-second advantage by Lap 38. On Lap 43, Diaz pitted the Lowe’s LMP2 Acura and Fernandez took the controls. On Lap 45, the full-course caution flag appeared as Chris Dyson suffered a hard crash in Turn One, but walked away.

The caution period enabled Sharp to pit and Brabham to take over the reins of the Patrón Highcroft Acura. De Ferran stayed on the track and moved to second overall. In fact, de Ferran was able to utilize a “wave around” the pace car to gain back his lost lap. Following the “wave by,” de Ferran pitted for Pagenaud. As the clean-up continued from the Dyson crash, Pagenaud pitted to top off the fuel load and gearbox oil supply.

The green flag dropped on Lap 55 and Brabham took off in the Patrón Acura en route to a nine- second lead. Pagenaud, meanwhile, tried to fight his way through some slower traffic. He actually cut Brabham’s lead to just under two seconds before he was forced to pit again for gearbox oil. It was a shame, as the battle between the two Acura squads was just beginning to form. But the de Ferran team was working with a wounded transmission and hoping to bring it home without any further repair. In addition, Pagenaud’s radio was not working as well as possible. It was difficult for the French driver to hear his crew.

A total of seven pit stops hindered any chance at victory for Pagenaud and de Ferran, but the crew and drivers put in a fine effort with their fractured gearbox. Despite the repeated pit stops, Pagenaud recorded the race’s fastest lap, with a 1:06.3 on Lap 88.

In the meantime, Brabham was weaving his way through the tight traffic to hold his largest overall advantage. Despite the one-lap lead, Brabham felt his concentration level needed to be high as he drove to the checkered flag.

“It is difficult to keep your edge when you have a large lead,” said Brabham, who sought his 19th ALMS career win. “It is easy to make a mistake with a back marker and see your good race end suddenly. You need to drive as you would if just seconds from the second-place car.”

As for Fernandez, the popular Mexican star was holding a lead on the No. 20 Mazda of Butch Leitzinger when he made his final pit stop. But, a pit-lane speeding infraction cost Adrian dearly. He had to bring the No. 15 Lowe’s Acura back for a “stop and go” penalty. The violation gave Leitzinger the lead with 30 minutes remaining in the two-hour, 45-minute contest.

Fernandez made his “stop and go” on Lap 102 and trailed Leitzinger by 15 seconds. Adrian then began a stellar performance by clipping off seconds lap after lap, reducing his deficit to just six seconds on Lap 112. By Lap 118, Fernandez was down by under a second and Leitzinger’s Mazda was laboring. The Dyson team wasn’t getting the same fuel economy at the Fernandez contingent, and the Mazda was attempting to stretch its fuel to the end. But the Mazda engine couldn’t handle the pressure and Leitzinger was forced to park the car on the side of the track near Turn Two on Lap 119.

For Fernandez to capture his seventh win of the year, he needed to get to the finish line. He did, and the win for the Fernandez and Diaz gave them the ALMS LMP2 drivers’ point title with races remaining at Road Atlanta on Sept. 26 and Laguna Seca on Oct. 10.

At the same time, Brabham cruised to a victory for himself, Sharp and the entire Patrón Highcroft organization. The victory was the second consecutive for the Connecticut-based squad and extended the LMP1 team and driver points lead to 17 with just two races left.

“It was a good win for our team today,” said Duncan Dayton, team owner of Patrón Highcroft Racing. “We would like to have another race with the de Ferran guys like we had at Road America, but today’s event was easier for us because of their problems with the gearbox. I don’t wish any bad luck on anyone in this kind of racing. But we’ll take the win and continue our fight for the title. Road Atlanta is up next and we’ll set our sights on trying to win that prestigious race, the Petit Le Mans.”

With Audi and Peugeot factory teams set to return at Road Atlanta, the LMP1 battle for the Petit Le Mans title could be one of the best ALMS races seen in some time. The Audis bested the Peugeots and Acuras at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, but things have changed a bit since then.
Peugeot placed 1-2 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and the new Acura ARX-02a chassis has been developed much more since the opening round of the ALMS season. So the competition level is expected to be the highest in some years when the green flag drops for 1,000 miles of racing at 11 a.m. on Sept. 26.

-- Tom Blattler

Acura at Mosport ALMS Qualifying: Brabham Gains Pole

Popular Australian Racer Continues Family’s Success At Famed Canadian Track
BOWMANVILLE, Ont., Canada — Veteran David Brabham battled young star Simon Pagenaud right down to the wire Saturday to win his 12th career American Le Mans Series pole position in preparation for Sunday’s Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport at the legendary Mosport International Raceway, just outside of Toronto.
Brabham, the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans overall champion, posted a superb one minute, 5.323 second clocking on his fourth lap of the 20-minute qualifying session on the 2.459-mile, 10-turn circuit and watched the French youngster take a shot at stealing the pole on his concluding laps. Driving the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car, Brabham waited until the nine-minute mark of qualifying to actually enter the racing surface and quickly established the speed to beat with a clocking of 135.517 miles per hour.

Brabham, who’ll team with Scott Sharp in Sunday’s two-hour, 45-minute main event, didn’t show his hand until it counted in qualifications. It was Brabham’s second 2009 pole and 18th of his ALMS career.
Brabham, 43, won the LMP2 class with Sharp last year at Mosport, matching his father, Sir Jack’s, 1967 Mosport win when the elder Brabham and former Formula One champion took the Canadian Grand Prix. Brabham’s older brother, Geoff, finished second at Mosport in a 1981 Can-Am race but never won at the famed track.
Pagenaud, a three-time pole winner this year, drove his No. 66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a to a time of one minute, 5.397 seconds, just .074 seconds off Brabham’s pole clocking. Pagenaud, who will co-drive with Gil de Ferran Sunday, looked to be in position to match or better Brabham’s run, but the 25-year-old Frenchman just missed on each of his final three laps to settle for second on the grid.
Acura’s overall pole was the eighth in eight American Le Mans Series races this year.
Brabham and Sharp hold a 13-point advantage in the LMP1 standings entering Sunday’s Mosport race in a tight contest with the de Ferran Motorsports team. Brabham and Sharp won this year at St. Petersburg and Road America, while Pagenaud and de Ferran have four victories [Long Beach, Utah, Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio].
In the LMP2 category, Marino Franchitti won his second pole of the year in the Dyson Racing Mazda, with Chris Dyson second in a Mazda and Luis Diaz third in the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez

Acura ARX-01b.
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “We were a little behind with our car at the beginning of the weekend. We have improved the Acura’s handling and we felt confident for qualifying. Winning pole here is always a thrill. My dad and my brother have done well here before, so I am pleased to take pole. The track surface is not as good due to the rain this morning. This place is tough on a driver. Turns Two and Eight are hard for you. It is quite a ride at this track. It is an old-school circuit."

SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “I tried very hard to take a run at David’s time today. We are very close with the Acura cars and it gets to be a shootout. I had a little traffic on my fastest lap that might have made a difference in winning the pole. But, overall, we want to be ready for the race.”

LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “This place is just flat out all of the time. There are really only four corners where you brake. And our straight-line speed is not as fast as the Mazdas. The car feels very good and it will be good in the race. But for qualifying, we just couldn’t stay with them. I feel good about our chances for the race.”

Briscoe Wins Photo Finish At Chicagoland

Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon battled wheel-to-wheel for the final 10 laps of Saturday night’s Peak Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, leading a side-by-side and three-wide “freight train” of 13 lead-lap cars across the finish line after 200 laps of exciting, extremely close competition. At the checkers, it was Briscoe edging Dixon by less than eight-thousandths of a second, the fourth-closest finish in IndyCar Series history.

Briscoe’s third win of the season gives him a 25-point advantage in the drivers’ championship standings over Dixon’s teammate, Dario Franchitti, with just two races remaining. Dixon, the remaining driver in championship contention, is 33 points back in third.

The exciting 300-mile contest, which saw all 13 lead-lap cars finish within the same second, capped another weekend of performance and reliability for the Honda Indy V-8 engine, with 23 drivers and teams recording 10,440.88 miles at Chicagoland, once again with 100 percent reliability.

Positions changed frequently throughout the field all race long, but the final, 10-lap “trophy dash” finish was set up when Helio Castroneves suffered an apparent suspension failure on Lap 184, crashing without serious injury in Turn 4. When the green flag waved for the final time on Lap 190, Dixon led from Briscoe and Franchitti. But with five laps to go, the 10-car pack had chased down the leaders, setting up the thrilling finish.

At the front, Briscoe used his “Push to Pass” button on the final lap to move around Dixon on the high side in the run from Turn Four to the finish while, mere inches behind, KV Racing’s Mario Moraes capped his best race of the season by following in Briscoe’s wheel tracks and edging Franchitti for third by just 19-thousandths of a second.

Graham Rahal held off a charging Ed Carpenter for fifth, while Oriol Servia crossed the line in seventh in just his third start for Newman Haas Lanigan Racing. After leading four laps and running near the front for most of the race, Tomas Schekter fell to eight at the checkers, with rookie Raphael Matos and Watkins Glen race-winner Justin Wilson rounding out the top 10 finishers.

The IndyCar Series continues its run of 1.5-mile ovals to close out the 2009 season, crossing the Pacific Ocean for the September 19 event at Honda’s Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi, Japan.

IndyCar Series Standings (after 15 of 17 races):

  1. Ryan Briscoe/550 points (3 wins)
  2. Dario Franchitti/525 (4 wins)
  3. Scott Dixon/517 (4 wins)
  4. Helio Castroneves/383 (2 wins)
  5. Danica Patrick/ 353
  6. Marco Andretti/342
  7. Tony Kanaan 335
  8. Graham Rahal 331
  9. Dan Wheldon 318
  10. Justin Wilson 316 (1 win)
  11. Hideki Mutoh 309
  12. Ed Carpenter 286

Ryan Briscoe (#6 Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, third IndyCar Series win of 2009, extends his championship points lead to 25, only the second race this season where the points lead has not changed: “Man, It’s huge. That was a big win. I didn’t think I would have enough for Scott, but the side draft pulled me right along. I didn’t even know if I’d won it; I had to ask the team. I made a mistake during the first pit stop and my guys had trouble getting the fuel in. But we kept our heads down and made up the ground we’d lost. I’ve said all along we’re going to have to win races to win this championship. Hopefully, we can stop those [Ganassi] guys in these final two races.”

Scott Dixon (#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 6th, finished 2nd, his fifth second-place finish at Chicagoland: “I’ve seen this movie several times before, unfortunately. It seems like I always finish second at Chicago. It was a great race, and my guys did a great job in the pits, but we just didn’t seem to have the speed we needed to win. The Penske is clearly just a bit faster now, and we have to work hard to catch up. I think we timed our uses of the overtake button well, we just didn’t have enough speed to run with Ryan [Briscoe] or even Helio [Castroneves] in a head-to-head race.”

Jack Spurney (General Manager, Honda Performance Development) on tonight’s race: “The cold, windy weather added an interesting dimension to the race. It was great to see another exciting IndyCar oval race, with plenty of side-by-side and even three-wide racing. It was one of the most exciting finishes I’ve ever witnessed, and the ‘Push to Pass’ seemed to add to the excitement, as we’d hoped. It’s unfortunate that both Hideki Mutoh and Helio Castroneves went out with what appeared to be suspension problems, but fortunately they’re both okay and the Chicago fans got to see a great race, full of close racing, interesting tactics and an exciting finish.”

Honda Racing Report Saturday, August 29, 2009
Event: PEAK Indy 300
Circuit: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile oval) Joliet, Ill.
2008 Winner: Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Honda) 150.649 mph average
Weather: Partly cloudy, cool, 61 degrees F

Friday, August 28, 2009

“An Aspiring Engineer”

My name is Matthew! My work at Honda Performance Development, Inc., is my first job as an engineer out of college. Working for HPD as an engineer was my dream job, and my experiences have thus far exceeded my expectations.

While completing my degree, I spent three years in motorsports as a technician on chassis, engine, and dynamometer projects. Previous companies focused on the bottom line more than on development. But, HPD is different. The company provides great learning opportunities for associates because it allows us to try new things and work in an environment where these ideas are celebrated.

At Honda Performance Development, Inc., I am responsible for:

  • Engine calibration, which includes fuel and spark management, along with sensor calibration.
  • Test coordination, to verify design parameters and engine durability in representative conditions.
  • Trackside support, using engine instrumentation and trackside analysis of engine parameters.
Honda Performance Development Inc., collaboratively develops the highest level of endurance technology for racing. Individual associates’ contributions to these engines are geared towards meticulously engineered subcomponents that require precise planning to fit all pieces into place.

As a young engineer at Honda Performance Development, I have had the opportunity to work on both pinnacle racing and grassroots motorsports projects, which has allowed me another opportunity to express my creativity. During this past year, the engine on which I’ve been focused has changed from a high-powered ALMS P1 engine to a 115 horsepower FF/Fit engine, but the development theory and expectations remain the same, and these opportunities help broaden my knowledge base and, by extension, Honda’s.

I am living the Honda Racing Spirit Dream.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Franchitti Goes Flag to Flag at Infineon

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti completely controlled Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, leading from start to finish over the rolling hills of Infineon Raceway en route to his fourth IndyCar Series victory of 2009.

It was only the second time in IndyCar Series history that a race has been led throughout by a single driver. Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, is the only other IndyCar driver to accomplish this feat, at Richmond International Raceway in 2003.

But Franchitti had a shadow in the form of Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who matched his every move throughout the 75-lap contest to finish second, just 0.24 seconds behind the winner, and reclaiming the drivers’ championship points lead with three races remaining.

Starting on the the front row, Franchitti and Briscoe were ahead of a multi-car bumping and barging incident on the opening lap, which affected or delayed at least nine cars including Dixon, who came into Infineon with a three-point lead in the championship. But the first-lap incident, and contact with Marco Andretti on the final lap, dropped Dixon to 13th at the checkers and third in the championship standings, 20 points behind new leader Briscoe. With his fourth win of the year and bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps; Franchitti moves up to second, just four points out of the lead.

Behind the leaders -- who included Helio Castroneves until a suspension failure and the resulting late-race spin ended his day -- battles raged throughout the field.

Hideki Mutoh ran fourth for much of the race, until a late-race passing attempt on Briscoe for second went awry and Mutoh was in turn passed by Mike Conway and Mario Moraes, both of whom had their best finishes of 2009. Conway’s third-place result was his first IndyCar podium finish, while today’s race for Moraes was the first for the KV Racing driver since the death of his father just over two weeks ago.

Oriol Servia finished sixth in his second race for Newman Haas Lanigan Racing, but only after holding off a determined Justin Wilson for the final 20 laps. Wilson, winner at the Watkins Glen road course in July, started at the back of the field as part of a calculated race strategy that allowed him to use an extra set of softer Firestone “Red” alternate tires. Starting 22nd, Wilson made spectacular progress through the field during the first 50 laps, coming up just short of a top-six result.

Today’s race concludes the road-racing portion of the 2009 IndyCar schedule. Next week, the series returns to the ovals for the final three races of the season, starting August 29 with the Peak Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

IndyCar Series Standings (after 14 of 17 races):

  1. Ryan Briscoe 497 points (2 wins)
  2. Dario Franchitti 493 (4 wins)
  3. Scott Dixon 477 (4 wins)
  4. Helio Castroneves 371 (2 wins)
  5. Danica Patrick 335
  6. Marco Andretti 323
  7. Tony Kanaan 318
  8. Dan Wheldon 306
  9. Graham Rahal 301
  10. Hideki Mutoh 297
  11. Justin Wilson 196 (1 win)
  12. Ed Carpenter 58

Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, fourth win of 2009 and 22nd career major open-wheel racing victory (all with Honda power): “It was a great day for us. Track position was so important, and qualifying on the pole was critical as well. There were a couple of ‘interesting’ moments, mainly with some of the lapped traffic, but I did what I had to do, and my boys did a great job in the pits, as always. I’m feeling pretty good about our [championship] chances. We’ll finish the title chase on three ovals and both Target cars are in the running. It’s not going to be easy, but I like our chances.”

Ryan Briscoe (#6 Team Penske Honda) Started 2nd, finished 2nd, re-claims IndyCar Series drivers’ championship lead: “The championship is coming down to these last few races. If we’re going to win it, we’re going to have to do well in the upcoming [final three] ovals. If we keep our heads down and continue to run strongly, the wins will come for us.”

Jack Spurney (General Manager, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “I thought we had a fabulous race today at a fabulous circuit. Lots of close racing and great battles, not only at the front, but throughout the field. Congratulations to Dario Franchitti for his 22nd Honda-powered win, and fourth of the season, and to Target Chip Ganassi Racing for their 8th win this year. And ‘well done’ to Mike Conway, Mario Morase and Hideki Mutoh for their excellent runs, as well as to Justin Wilson, who passed more cars today than anyone else on the track.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Franchitti Flies to Infineon Pole

Dario Franchitti used the final moments of third-round “knockout” qualifying to do just that: knock Ryan Briscoe off the pole in IndyCar Series qualifying Saturday at Infineon Raceway, and claim the inside-front-row starting position for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County.

After leading much of the final, 10-minute “Firestone Fast Six” qualifying, Briscoe will start second, with his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, third. Marco Andretti will start fifth for Andretti Green Racing, leading the team in its best overall qualifying effort of the season. Teammate Hideki Mutoh will line up fifth, with Tony Kanaan seventh, rookie Franck Montagny eighth in his IndyCar debut; and Danica Patrick in 11th.

Today’s action was marred by a serious three-car crash in the opening practice. Nelson Phillipe spun just over the brow of the blind right-hand Turn 3, and his car was then clipped by E.J. Viso and then stuck violently by Will Power. Viso escaped injury, but Power and Phillipe were transported to an area hospital for treatment of concussions for both drivers, a fractured left foot for Phillipe and a back fractures for Power. Sunday’s race starts at 5:45 p.m. EDT, with live television coverage on Versus starting at 5 p.m.

Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) pole qualifier, his fourth pole of 2009, seventh career IndyCar Series pole: “I’m pretty happy right now. We’ve made the “Fast Six” [final qualifying round] at every road and street course this year, and that’s a great achievement for our team. I think we’ve got a good race car, and it definitely helps to start up front here. But the championship point [for pole] that we earned today, that’s more important than anything.”

Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma - Qualifying Report
Circuit: Infineon Raceway (2.30-mile road course) Sonoma, CA
2008 Winner: Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Honda) 100.254 mph average
Weather: Sunny, mild, 74 degrees F

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

American Honda, HPD Announce 2009 SCCA Runoffs Program

TORRANCE, Calif. (August 20, 2009) – Following the launch of the Honda Racing Line program for the grassroots racing market, American Honda and Honda Performance Development have released details of their support program for Honda and Acura competitors at the 2009 Sports Car Club of America National Championship Runoffs, Sept. 21-27 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to support SCCA racers,” said Erik Berkman, President of Honda Performance Development, Inc. “Through the Honda Racing Line and its programs, we want to encourage our competitors to fulfill their racing dreams. In providing an incentive program for Honda or Acura racers competing in the SCCA Runoffs, we can recognize and celebrate their challenging spirit and racing passion.”

To be eligible for support, all Honda competitors must be enrolled in the Honda Racing Line program and display the required “Honda Racing/HPD” or “Acura Motorsports” decals provided by the SCCA at Road America. Registration for the Honda Racing Line will be offered on-site at Road America in the Honda Racing paddock area, located in the West Paddock.

Administered by the SCCA on behalf of HPD and American Honda, these incentives will be available following the completion of the Runoffs:

  • $500 for starting the National Championship Runoffs

  • $500 for winning a Divisional Championship

  • $1500 for winning a National Championship, with additional awards of $1000 and $500 for 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes, respectively.

Honda/Acura competitors will be reimbursed at the conclusion of the event for the following costs:

  • $100 credit for reserved paddock parking space (must be reserved directly through Road America website and pre-paid by competitor)

  • $200 credit for reserving and participating in SCCA-sanctioned test day on Monday, Sept. 21st (reserved directly through SCCA website)

In addition to these benefits, American Honda will provide a catered hospitality tent on site, exclusively for Honda competitors and crew members. The tent will provide a lunch buffet from Tuesday, Sept. 22nd through Saturday, Sept. 26th.

Competitors may pick up their hospitality passes at the Honda Racing paddock area.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for Honda and Acura’s high-performance racing cars and engines. In addition to its new grassroots motorsports initiative, HPD is the single engine supplier to the IndyCar Series and competes in prototype sports-car racing under the Acura banner in the American Le Mans Series.

Two THR-W Drivers Qualify for SCCA National Runoffs

Matthew Staal earned two top-five finishes at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania to join fellow Team Honda Research-West racer Sage Marie in qualifying for the 2009 SCCA National Runoffs.

TORRANCE, Calif. – August 18, 2009 - Team Honda Research-West took another step toward realizing a national championship dream when Matthew Staal became the second THR-W driver to qualify for the 2009 Sports Car Club of America National Runoffs. Driving a Showroom Stock SSB class Honda Civic Si, Staal battled a large field to finish fifth and fourth, respectively, at Pocono in national qualifying races on Saturday and Sunday, August 15 and 16.

Staal’s strong weekend allows him to join fellow THR-W regular driver Sage Marie, who qualified for the Runoffs in a T3 class Honda S2000 with a second-place finish in the Southern Pacific Division championship. The drivers, who are being supported as part of Honda Performance Development’s new grassroots motorsports initiative, will race at the 2009 SCCA National Runoffs, Sept. 21-27 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Both cars are being prepared and fielded by Ohio-based Team Honda Research (THR).

Staal, who focused on endurance racing in 2007 and 2008, quickly got up to speed by qualifying fourth in class on Saturday. During the race, mechanical issues slowed the Civic Si, forcing Staal to focus on smooth and consistent laps, while saving his car for the second race.

On Sunday, Staal improved to third position in qualifying. He was able to utilize the Civic Si’s strong acceleration to move into second place before contact interrupted his challenge for the lead. In Turn One, Staal was hit on the passenger side, causing him to nearly spin in front of the field. Staal kept his foot on the throttle and managed to recover from the severe oversteer, staying with the frontrunners to finish fourth. These two strong finishes, following Staal’s second-place run at Nelson Ledges (Oh.) Raceway in July, earned him a starting position in the National Runoffs.

Staal is looking forward to representing Honda Racing/HPD along with fellow drivers Lee Niffenegger, Chad Gilsinger, Inness Eisele, Sage Marie and Bob Boileau at Road America for the SCCA National Championships on September 24-27, 2009.
Contact: John Whiteman (310) 781-6532

Honda Racing HPD FF/Fit Debut

FF/Fit Prototype Debuts at FF 40th Anniversary Celebration
As one of the initial offerings in its new grassroots motorsports initiative, Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD), the authorized Honda and Acura auto racing company in North America, is proposing entry into an SCCA Club Racing program with an eye toward lowering operating costs, while strengthening FF’s position as the first step in American open-wheel racing.
Check out the Honda Racing HPD FF/Fit Debut Video.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Acura at Road America ALMS August 2009

It was a quick turnaround for the Acura teams, heading to the Road America race after the Mid-Ohio event the previous week.

But for the majority of the drivers, crews and sponsors in the American Le Mans Series, the trip to Elkhart Lake, Wis., is always fun. Road America is one of the finest and most legendary road courses in the world. The famed four-mile circuit has been a favorite of drivers for the past 50 years. You could ask Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Derek Bell, Geoff Brabham, David Brabham, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti and Adrian Fernandez. They all love the place.

The history of Road America, the drivers who’ve competed there, the fans who have witnessed the races and the fun throughout the facility have given the track its own legacy.

The team facing the biggest turnaround after Mid-Ohio was the Patrón Highcroft Racing team, which had major repairs to be done. The contact between Scott Sharp’s Acura ARX-02a and the No. 44 Flying Lizards Porsche left the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft machine pretty badly injured. The left side bodywork and the car’s under tray were severely damaged, and extensive attention was required.

But the Robin Hill-led crew did a tremendous job in getting the car ready for testing runs, set for Friday afternoon.

When the track opened for the ALMS machines, there had already been a variety of cars on the track. The Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase had numerous series participating, and the majority of those cars had already run on the circuit.

So, when the American Le Mans Series took to the asphalt, the racing surface seemed in pretty good shape. It was a little different from the slippery surface that greeted the drivers a week earlier at Mid-Ohio.

The de Ferran car picked up where it had left off at Mid-Ohio, going very fast immediately with a time of 1:50.573 and Gil at the wheel. Simon Pagenaud, coming off four straight wins, looked confident as he took his first laps on the Road America pavement.

“This is a good start for us,” said de Ferran, who is now on his farewell tour in the cockpit. “We had a few red flags that hurt us a bit, but we found a good base with the car for the rest of the weekend. Man, I forgot how quick this place can be. For us, we have no strategy for the championship. We are behind and we just have to go out and win races. The Patrón Highcroft team is a world-class team. They will be strong again this weekend.”

For the Patrón Highcroft team, the Friday afternoon test was a little scary. Obviously, getting the Acura back into shape was difficult on the team. Then in testing, the car didn’t seem right to David Brabham and Scott Sharp. It wasn’t handling properly. And for Sharp, it shortly got worse.

On the back section of the course, known as The Kink, the steering locked up on the No. 9 Acura. Sharp was traveling about 150 miles per hour at that point. And suddenly, no steering! Yikes! Luckily for Scott, he got the car slowed down on the grass and didn’t get into the wall. It was only a few years earlier when Katherine Legge had a huge crash in that same area.

Sharp’s best time of testing was 1:52.916, over two seconds off de Ferran’s time. So, the Patrón Highcroft crew knew they had some further work to do to get the car up to speed for the weekend.

In Saturday morning’s practice session, the de Ferran squad continued to improve. Gil clicked off the first sub-1:50 lap with a best of 1:49.874. Jon Field, with a powerful 6-liter motor well-suited to the Road America layout, was second at 1:51.010, followed by Sharp at 1:51.349. The atmosphere in the Patrón Highcroft stable was not cheery at that point. Brabs and Sharpie were both concerned about their car’s performance. After four straight losses to de Ferran, there was a lot of head-scratching taking place in the No. 9 trailer.

But the team made improvements for the second practice on Saturday. Brabham was better with his car at 1:49.592 to Gil’s 1:49.097. David wasn’t totally pleased, but the team was moving in the right direction for qualifying and the race. Meanwhile, the No. 6 Porsche of Klaus Graf and Greg Pickett had shown some speed, posting the third overall time at 1:51.785, to Fernandez’ 1:51.899.

The Lowe’s Fernandez contingent was nervous coming to Road America when assessing its long straights and the Dyson Mazdas’ turbo-charged horsepower. Co-owner Tom Anderson knew the Lowe’s team faced a tough task in staying with the Mazdas and now, the former Dyson Porsche with Graf and Pickett, as well.
But the Lowe’s team is a veteran and experienced bunch. Chief engineer John Ward is one of the best in the business and Fernandez and Diaz are no slouches either, as Judge Smails would say. That’s a Caddyshack reference.

Qualifying can be a little more daunting at Road America because of the longer circuit and fewer laps to cut a quick time. So, the Acura teams were ready to go when the green flag flew.

Fernandez hit the course fast with a 1:52.917 on his opening lap and jumped to the top of the charts. On his second lap, Brabham took the lead with a 1:49.574, with Marino Franchitti second in the No. 20 Mazda, at 1:51.010.

But, at the eight-minute mark in the 20-minute session, de Ferran showed his prowess with a spectacular 1:49.216 lap. Brabs was in the hunt, too, with a 1:49.065 clocking. Fernandez, manwhile, closed in on Franchitti with a 1:51.796.

With 12 minutes gone, de Ferran notched a 1:48.290, almost identical to his earlier lap, and Fernandez improved to fourth overall at 1:51.222, but was still short of Franchitti. Brabham pitted, and his team looked over the Michelin tires and sent him back out for one final shot at the pole.

But David’s best at the end was 1:49.039, and the pole went to de Ferran, his first ever at Road America. Following Gil were Brabham, Franchitti (first in LMP2), at 1:51.010, Fernandez, at 1:51.222, Guy Smith in the other Mazda, at 1:51.832, and Graf in the LMP2 Porsche at 1:51.922.

The qualifying results marked the first time this year that the Lowe’s Fernandez team had not captured the LMP2 pole. But, as Anderson predicted earlier, it was not surprising, given the Mazdas’ straightaway speed.

In Sunday’s morning warm-up, Pagenaud was quickest at 1:51.358, with Field second, Brabham third and Fernandez fourth. Still, Brabham seemed pleased with the changes the Patrón Highcroft team had made overnight. Perhaps this race was going be a ‘knock down-drag out’ affair after all.

A good crowd greeted the racers when the cars lined the grid for the main event. Pagenaud, Sharp and Diaz were the starting drivers for the Acura teams.

Pagenaud, from pole, took the lead at the start with Sharp tucking in behind the No. 66 XM Radio machine into Turn One. Sharp complained on his radio that the No. 9 car had too much understeer, allowing Simon to open up a good margin by Lap 5. On the sixth lap, Pagenaud held over six seconds on Sharp, and Diaz was stuck in sixth overall, following the LMP2 Mazdas and Field’s LMP1 car.

On Lap 8, the yellow flag appeared when a GT car spun into the Turn 12 sand trap. This early caution period led to some interesting strategy among the leaders. Pagenaud had complained early in his run that the rear end of his Acura was sliding a little too much.

So, the de Ferran crew made the decision to pit early for fuel and a change of tires. They reduced the pressures in the rear tires in an effort to help Simon get through the corners better. Plus, the team had a plan to move through the field quicker and take the lead when other cars might pit under green-flag conditions. In recent years, there had not been many yellow-flag laps at Road America. So, the de Ferran bunch played with the odds this year.

The green flag flew again on Lap 12, and Sharp was off in a flash, extending his lead to 17 seconds by Lap 16. Pagenaud sliced his way through traffic and moved to second by Lap 16, then, mounted on fresh Michelin rubber, set his sights on the leader. By Lap 26, Simon was on Scott’s rear wing and the two were embroiled in an exciting battle.

But on Lap 28, the de Ferran strategy basically fell apart when a full-course yellow hit the circuit. This allowed Sharp to pit, and Brabham jumped in the car with fuel and new tires. Pagenaud did the same, and de Ferran took the wheel. It was a great drive from behind by Simon to the front of the field, but the caution period evened everything out.

Following the restart on Lap 32, lapped cars posed a problem for de Ferran, as Brabham was able to open a seven-second advantage by Lap 41. Gil closed the gap to under two seconds by Lap 50, and a shootout looked to be imminent. But the yellow came out again on Lap 53 when Chris Dyson had a problem on the front straightaway with his Mazda.

Pit strategy came into play again for the two Acuras battling for the overall lead. Gil pitted quickly for fuel and four tires. It was a fast stop and the popular Brazilian looked to be in great position to take the lead. But Rob Hill and Duncan Dayton made a call similar to the late one at Lime Rock, with Brabs taking on fuel and only two left-side tires. Thus, in a mad scramble to exit the pits, Brabs pulled out just in front of Gil.

Also in a maneuver similar to its pit stop at Mid-Ohio, the Lowe’s team made a quick fuel stop and Fernandez got out of the pits in the overall lead. It was another great move from Ward, Anderson and the entire Lowe’s team.

On the restart, the power of the LMP1 Acuras was too much for Adrian’s LMP2 Acura on the straight, and the battle was on between two good friends, Brabham and de Ferran. It was nose-to-tail before Brabs caught some traffic and opened up a five-second gap.

The final full-course caution came out on Lap 64, as Brabham, de Ferran, Fernandez, Butch Leitzinger and Graf made up the top five. As Brabs prepared for the ensuing restart, he slowed and cleaned off his tires. But his pace was slow, slower than normal pace-car speed. On the radio, Hill yelled to Brabs, “David, if you don’t get to pace-car speed, the IMSA officials will send Gil past you for the restart.”

Brabham picked up the pace quickly as the green flag flew again. De Ferran was right on Brabs’ rear wing as they entered Turn One. Meanwhile, Fernandez was keeping a strong pace to stay in front of Leitzinger for his sixth win of the year.

“I kept looking for David to make a mistake,” said de Ferran. “I felt like I was quicker. But getting by him was very difficult. He is one of the best sports-car drivers in the world. He doesn’t make mistakes. I wouldn’t think he would do anything different. There wasn’t anything more I could do.”

At the checkered flag, it was Brabham by a mere .461 seconds over a charging de Ferran to clinch the second overall win of the year for the Patrón Highcroft team. The Highcroft win snapped the four-race victory streak for the de Ferran team, which was seeking an ALMS-record five wins in a row.

“This win was big,” said Brabham. “We had a tough race at Mid-Ohio last week and the car wasn’t good early in the weekend. But the crew just threw a lot of changes at the chassis on Saturday night, and the car felt so much better in the race. This team is a top-notch team, and they showed it with their strategy in the race. It is exciting to be back on the top of the podium today.”
In addition, Fernandez placed third overall and took another LMP2 win for the Lowe’s Fernandez organization. The win extended Diaz and Fernandez’ points lead in LMP2, with three races remaining in the 2009 ALMS campaign.

“This is my first win here at Road America,” said Fernandez. “I was second and third here in CART, and Luis won here in Formula Atlantic before. So, I really wanted to win here. Road America is one of my favorite tracks, and now I can say I was a winner here. It has been a great year for us. Now, we want to capture the LMP2 championship.”

-- Tom Blattler

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paddock Report - Toronto 7/12/09

Once again, I’ve managed to get a bit (!) behind on these reports, but I’ll do my best over the next couple of days to get caught up, starting with the Honda Indy Toronto.

It was great to return to one of my favorite cities, anywhere. Toronto is just such a cool city, with everything you’d find in New York or Chicago, but on a slightly smaller – and much more polite! – scale. It was my first time back to T.O. in a couple of years, and the first time for Honda to be back for “The Indy”, as the locals call it, since 2002.

When we arrived, last week’s race at Watkins Glen (July 5) – the most exciting race of the season on EITHER an oval or road course – was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Dale Coyne was passing out cigars (genuine Cubans!) with commemorative bands on them celebrating his team’s first CART/Champ Car/IndyCar win) to just about everyone he saw, and I think some of his guys were still hung over from the post-race party at Seneca Lodge….

As many of you know, Honda Canada was the title sponsor in Toronto, and they did a fair bit of activation in the weeks leading up to the race. And, although the weekend crowds were not at the levels of the peak CART years, it was a healthy turnout and hopefully (given the action-filled race that followed), something that can be built on in the coming years.

Despite a very short turn-around from The Glen to Toronto, there were a couple of new paint jobs on display here: at Vision, Ed Carpenter had the dark gray, William Rast paint job that Ryan Hunter-Reay had run earlier in the year; Tony Kanaan traded “Nestle Pure Life” bottled-water blue for his customary 7-Eleven Green; and then, there was Will Power’s gorgeous, retro-yellow Penske Truck Leasing paint job, looking for all the world like the ’87 Indy 500-winning Hertz car of Al Unser, Sr.

Toronto marked the return of “The Thrill from West Hill”, Paul Tracy, back with KV Racing and supported by the Ontario Honda Dealers Association. His red and white paint scheme was dedicated to woundedwarriors.ca, which supports injured Canadian soldiers. Finally, Quebec (parlez-vous Francais-Canadien???) was represented by the return of Conquest Racing and Alex Tagliani. Both would have featured roles in the race on Sunday…

To me, the track looked pretty much the same as I remembered it from more-than-a-half-decade ago, but a couple of drivers (Wilson, Tags, Tracy) said it felt a bit rougher than they remembered. Don’t know if the track has grown some new bumps, or if current-generation Dallaras are just a bit stiffer than the previous Champ Car Panozes (Panoi? Ponzis?); but if I had to bet, I’d say it’s probably a result of stiffer wheel rates on the IndyCars.

Meanwhile, it was not the finest of Fridays for Andretti Green Racing, at this, a race they’re promoting. Only “DateHideki@Indycar.com” Mutoh escaped the day unscathed:

· Marco Andretti spun braking for Turn 1, very gently touching the wall. He continued.

· Tony Kanaan very nearly crashed at Turn 8, getting very hard on the brakes and just barely missing the tire barrier, while flat-spotting (ruining) his own.

· Danica Patrick, on the other hand, was not able to continue after the rear end stepped out as she exited Turn 5. She made hard contact with the inside wall, causing substantial rear-suspension damage that ended her day.

· TK ended the day 10th; Marco 15th; Danica 21st and Mutoh 22nd.

Rookie Rafa Matos (who HAS run here previously in Atlantics) ended the day on top of the time sheets, followed by Justin Wilson, Will Power and “Bobby D” Doornbos. The common link – cue up CSNY’s “Déjà Vu” – they’ve all been here before.

Saturday morning, IndyCar practice had barely started when the skies opened up to the point where the session was halted, which, literally, precipitated a 30-minute “all skate” once things were semi-dry again.

…and the rain did nothing to improve AGR’s weekend, as Kanaan lost it in the final corner and made HARD contact with the wall. Next was Marco. Same corner, but just his nosecone paid the price. Completing the trifecta, Ed Carpenter also spun and hit the Turn 11 wall, damaging a couple of A-arms.

And these guys weren’t the only ones, just those I could track easily from Pit Lane. Frankly, nearly everyone who bothered to go out ended up having “issues”. Several decided that it was better to park their cars, and quite a few others never made bothered to complete a lap in the session.

By the end of the session, E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes were the only drivers on track. More on this pair, later.

BTW, if you haven’t seen them already, check out Paul Tracy’s blogs on the Racer.com website. They’re a hoot. For example, take his description of taking out his IndyCar on the greasy, diesel-fuel-stained, wet streets of Toronto: “Bambi on skates….” Still, he was quickest of the 18 cars that actually bothered to post a lap time.

Although it was getting drier by the minute, the Indy Lights race was declared a wet race, so all drivers were required to start on wet tires. So pit stops – from teams not accustomed to making them – would figure in the outcome.

Mario Romancini was the first to stop for dry tires, at the end of Lap 1. But the stop took a full lap and left the Andersen Racing driver at the back of the field.

By Lap 9, pretty much everyone had changed to dry tires, with Richard Philippe being the last. Indy Lights pit stops are a little more difficult - not only do the cars have to be manually jacked, each stub axle has a wheel-retaining safety pin that has to be removed. Definitely not the seven-second pit stops we're used to in IndyCars.

Unlike their IndyCar brethren, the AGR/AFS Racing team dominated. J.R. Hildebrand managed to pass teammate Sebastien Saavedra in the pits. All credit to the crew - their two cars were over 15 seconds ahead of James Hinchcliffe in third when the stops wrapped up. On the other end, Vision’s James Davison went from second to eleventh on his pit stop.

Quickest guy on the track, Saavedra was all over the back of Hildebrand as they encountered lapped traffic. Saavedra used a lapper as a “pick” and checked out. J.R. was next for an AGR/AFS 1-2, with local boy James “Hinchtown” Hinchcliffe a VERY popular third. An interesting race, but no classic.

On to IndyCar qualifying and – I’m really not trying to pick on AGR here – but Kanaan spun at Turn 8 in his newly repaired car and stalled. Before he could get cleared, teammate Hideki Mutoh came around the corner, had nowhere to go and plowed into the tires to avoid hitting Tony. Hideki's damage was confined to the nose, but it just goes to show how, on some days, bad can pile upon bad.

In the second round of qualifying, Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out a local yellow when he spun at Turn 8. Raphael Matos touched the wall with his right rear but was able to come back to Pit Lane under his own power. But the news from the second group was who advanced and who didn't. Both Team Penske cars missed advancing, as did Scott Dixon. Alex Tagliani set the fastest lap in the second round.

In the final round, Wilson went out on scuffed ‘reds’ (tires) early, then switched to a set of sticker ‘blacks.’ Graham Rahal held the pole for a bit, until beaten by Dario Franchitti. Franchitti decided he could do no better and pulled onto Pit Lane. From there, he watched as Rahal, Tagliani and the rest were unable to improve. As usual in road-course qualifying these days, it was a cool session with Dario leading Power, Rahal, Wilson, Tags and a pleasantly surprising Mike Conway.

In fact, Conway was singled out by Franchitti in the press conference, with the pole-sitter saying the Dreyer and Reinbold Racing driver had done a hell of a job in his first visit to Toronto. Conway was the only member of the Fast Six who had not raced at Toronto before. Conway has had a tough rookie season, with plenty of speed but (as even he would admit) too many crashes. However, he finished sixth at the ‘Glen a week earlier, and a lot of people were hoping Mike had finally turned things around.

Let’s close out Saturday with some Toronto Trivia:

One of the signature TV shots you see here features something called Princes’ Gate: a large, vaguely arch-like sculpture with an angel on top, behind Turn 1. It was built in 1927 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the confederation of Canada. It’s similar, yet very different, to the founding of the good ‘ole U.S. of A. However, when it was heard that two of the sons of the British King (George V) were visiting, the structure/memorial was given its current name.

The angel on the top is actually called the "Goddess of Winged Victory", and is modeled after the statue of the Greek goddess Nike found at the Louvre. The statue was replaced with a copy in the late 1980s because the original was falling apart. No idea if that deficiency was blamed on the two sons of the British monarch as well, but further modifications to the Princes' Gates are now protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Thank you, Cliff Claven.

After humidity on Friday and Saturday’s rain, Sunday featured the best weather of the weekend, and also the largest crowd. As mentioned previously, it wasn’t anything like the “old days”, but still encouraging.

In the race, Dario got very lucky on the timing of his final pit stop to help him pull away and win for the third time this season. Franchitti managed to get on Pit Lane just seconds before it closed for an incident between Rahal and Carpenter on Lap 59.

Franchitti was then moved in front of Paul Tracy by Race Control, putting him into second place behind Helio Castroneves. Franchitti passed Helio on Lap 65 and cruised to the win, never being challenged despite a couple of late restarts.

So, one of the “Big Two” teams won, once more. But, for a time mid-race, it looked like a fairy-tale ending just might be possible, as Tags and PT spent a number of laps running 1-2.

After sitting out the last three races due to financial constraints, Conquest Racing DROVE from Indy to Toronto in its Honda-provided Odysseys. The Hyatt Regency Toronto footed the team’s hotel rooms in exchange for some on-car exposure, and the Rexall Edmonton Indy and King Tut Exhibition sponsorships were joined by those of Sears Canada, Craftsman and The Keg, or Eric Bachelart’s team would not have made it.

Tagliani made a great start and tucked in behind Franchitti as they funneled through Turn 1. After Franchitti pitted on Lap 24, Tags led 21 of the next 35 laps and appeared to be in the catbird seat, despite all the different fuel strategies separating the field.

But, just as in 2001 at Toronto, when Alex had everyone covered but lost to Michael Andretti because of a bad break under caution, a full-course yellow flew just as Dario pitted on Lap 59 and, by the time Tags pitted after the packup, he was shuffled back to 11th place.

Tags’ efforts earned him steady cheers during all three days, but his old sparring partner from CART, PT, stole the show. Starting 15th, Tracy immediately picked off five positions and began his march to the front. To appreciate what “The Thrilla” means to his hometown and to this race, one only needed to stand back and listen.

When he slid under Conway for third place on Lap 28, the fans watching the big screen roared their approval. When he muscled Scott Dixon out of the way for second on the next lap, the grandstands were vibrating and suddenly, the only two Canadians in the race were running 1-2.

As mentioned above, Franchitti pitted moments before the full-course yellow waved on Lap 59. That both ruined Tags’ chances and led to Dario beating his old KOOL teammate, Tracy, to the blend/timing line as he exited the pits.

When three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves missed Turn 1 on Lap 65, Franchitti made the easiest first-place pass of his career and Helio was saving all the fuel he could to make the finish.

Running full-rich, PT ran down Castroneves at the end of the long Lakeshore Drive straight on Lap 66. The two were almost side-by-side heading for the left-handed Turn 3, but that wasn’t gonna last – and didn’t – as the pair locked wheels going through Turn 4. Tracy was out on the spot, while Castroneves limped into Pit Lane and retirement.

For maybe the first time in his career, Helio heard boos – long and loud. Then, the crowd behind the pits began chanting “Helio sucks”. Tracy defused a public lynching by stopping Helio as he walked back to the paddock, and they shook hands.

Other notes of interest from TO:

-- Both Ryan Briscoe and Will Power sustained cut tires from contact right at the green (or just BEFORE, in the case of Power) and rebounded with alternate pit strategies to finish on the podium.

-- Mario Moraes had his usual up-and-down day - he went from leading on fuel strategy to hitting or touching so many cars that we lost count. Heck, Moraes hit E.J. Viso from behind after the checkered flag on the backstretch, as the pair carried over some bad blood from the race.

-- Alex Tagliani wore a King Tut headpiece in driver introductions. Yeah, he looked silly, but ya’ do what ya’ gotta do to get a ride (see also: Alex Lloyd’s pink firesuit and paint job at Indy).

-- Late in the race, however, Alex “blotted his copybook” and plowed into the back of Tomas Scheckter, sending Scheckter into the tires. Scheckter did his post-crash trademark “tossing of the gloves”, when Tagliani came back around following the incident.

-- As for AGR’s performance, it was kind of the same as it’s been all season - Danica Patrick turned in a quietly consistent finish in sixth (running the last 37 laps on her set of ‘red’ tires), Tony Kanaan had a crash (he made contact with the wall that broke his left-rear suspension), and Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh were on track but were not factors.

-- Mike Conway also had his “typical” day – showing flashes of great promise, followed by a mistake that knocks him from the race. He seems really talented, but really, really needs a good race. Soon.

-- Before the race started, I noticed that several teams brought out not one, but two spare nose assemblies to keep in the pit area. That seemed like a good indication that we would see a full-contact IndyCar Series race - and we did.

Leaving the track on Sunday night, fans taking the time for one last look at the big screens could see “Floyd”, a large, plastic, pink flamingo. Floyd actually existed - zip-tied to the catch fence at the end of pit lane. The message next to Floyd's picture kind of summed things up well - "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Thank You, Toronto".

All in all, this was a really good race, one of the best of the season (along with Watkins Glen). There was passing, there was blocking, there were unforced errors, and some forced errors. There was contact that did not cause a crash and some that did, plus a little officiating controversy and even a little incidental contact after the checkers.

Finally, when all was said and done, the fastest car won. All-in-all, a great day at the races.


Plans for an Indy 500 movie focusing on the inaugural 500 in 1911 are moving ahead, as is the construction of a replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from that first “500”. The model track (actually a one-mile oval) will be a part of the new Prairie Hills Motorsports Club in Lake Village, Indiana (southeast of Chicago).

Pre-production for the flick has begun and casting is supposed to start in October. Filming is scheduled to start in May, 2010. For more details, the website
http://www.prairiehillsmc.com/facility/the_track.html is a link to the Prairie Hills Club and the “500” track, and you can read more about it at http://www.ibj.com/html/detail_page_Full.asp?content=40912


Friday, August 14, 2009

Theetge, Compass360 Racing, Top Contender at Grand Prix de Trois Rivières August 15

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, QUEBEC – The streets of Le Circuit de Trois-Rivières are like second nature to Benoit Theetge of Boischitel.

Saturday, Theetge will once again compete in the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, the 1.521-mile temporary circuit playing host its 40th year of racing. He will drive in the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge, teamed with Christian Miller, the point leader in the Street Tuner class.

Theetge began competing at Trois-Rivières in the early 1990s, and has a handful of wins at his home track. However, none have come in the KONI Challenge, which is a successor to the Motorola Cup series that toured Canada during the previous decade.

Theetge and Miller will drive the #74 034Motorsport/Skunk2 Honda Civic Si for Compass360 Racing of Toronto. Last season, Compass360 fielded the winning machine – an Acura TSX – for ST winners Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood, as well as three other cars. This season, the #74 has two victories – both with Miller and Randy Pobst – and overall, Compass360 Racing has three wins in eight races. With Pobst busy racing elsewhere this weekend, Theetge steps in, and hopes his efforts will award him with a share of the victory.

"No doubt, Trois-Rivières is a special track for all of us," said Theetge, who will make his first KONI Challenge start of the season Saturday. "Even though good drivers are competitive there, there are challenges – the braking zones, the walls. The walls can be intimidating – if a driver is scared of them, [he] will lose a second or so. I have been competing at Trois-Rivières since 1992 or 1993, and I skipped a couple of years there, but by the time I started competing in Motorola Cup, I was competitive."
Theetge has four KONI Challenge starts at Trois-Rivières – three in ST and one in the Grand Sport class – with a best finish of third in 2001 while teamed with another Quebec driver, Jocelyn Hebert of Becancour.

"Honestly, I believe I am on the best team out there," said Theetge, who has led laps in each of the last three KONI Challenge ST races at Trois-Rivières. "But racing is racing. The last three years, I led – 20 minutes from the end, 40 minutes, an hour – but never came up winning. Typically, the track is hard on brakes, but this year, I don’t believe it will be because the race is only 90 minutes long. There will be a lot of different strategies. I know the car will be competitive and I will be competitive – it’s my home track.

"I have won there before in other types of cars, but I am not thinking about that right now," Theetge concluded. "I want to drive well and get the maximum amount of points for Christian to keep his championship hopes alive. Those are my goals."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Road America Cat National: Honda Racing/HPD Launch

The weekend of July 24-26, 2009 marked the official launch of Honda Racing/HPD, Honda’s new initiative aimed at expanding its presence in grassroots racing, which took place in conjunction with the Milwaukee Region SCCA Formula Ford 40th Anniversary event. Between talking with fellow Honda drivers about HPD’s new Honda Racing Line parts- and technical-support portal, Honda Racing/HPD drivers celebrated the occasion with a first-place finish in Showroom Stock B for Gilsinger, and second- and third-place finishes in Touring 3 for Marie and Eisele, respectively. This was Marie’s first trip to the daunting four-mile Road America circuit, and it was the first return in many years for Eisele and Gilsinger, so the occasion served as a valuable opportunity to prepare for September’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs, which will take place at the same venue.

Despite being in the process of learning the track, Marie managed to qualify his Honda S2000 CR at the front of the T3 grid, posting a lap time below the previous race-lap record, thanks in large part to the grip of his BF Goodrich tires. With stiff competition from a Pontiac Solstice that was recently granted a reduction in its minimum weight, Gilsinger qualified his Honda Civic Si second on the SSB grid, while Eisele fought setup issues to qualify his S2000 fifth in T3.
Multi-class fields usually lead to unpredictable starts, and this race was no exception, with heavy but powerful American sedans intermingled with the T3 cars on the grid. The bigger cars’ slower cornering speeds held Marie up after the start, while the Chevy Cobalt SS of Kevin Fandozzi was able to move from fourth place to first by the end of the first lap. After some close but clean side-by-side racing between Marie and Fandozzi, Marie would ultimately finish second. Meanwhile, Eisele was able to get past the VW GTi of Aaron Stehly and the Cobalt SS of John Heinricy to finish third.

A slow start meant Gilsinger’s Civic Si was in the heart of its power band, and he was able to motor ahead to the first turn. As the second- and third-place cars engaged in a heated battle, Gilsinger was able to focus on hitting his marks, settle into a pace, and ultimately win SSB by a comfortable margin.
Event: Road America "Cat" National, July 24-26
Vehicles: Honda Civic Si (Showroom Stock B) / Honda S2000 CR (Touring 3)
Driver/Result: Chad Gilsinger (1st SSB) / Sage Marie (2nd T3) / Inness Eisele (3rd T3)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dixon Reclaims Points Lead with Mid-Ohio Victory

Honda Racing Report Sunday, August 9, 2009
Honda Indy 200
Circuit: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2.25-mile road course) Lexington, OH
2008 Winner: Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske Honda) 94.873 mph average
Weather: Sunny, warm, 91 degrees F

A textbook performance by Scott Dixon Sunday at the Honda Indy 200 led to the fourth IndyCar Series victory of the season for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver and a return to the top of the championship points table, with just four races remaining.

Starting third, Dixon saved fuel during the first third of today’s 85-lap run over the 2.25-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, enabling him to pit two laps later than his rivals. Emerging from the first round of pit stops in second place, behind early leader Justin Wilson, Dixon moved into the lead on Lap 34 with a decisive pass as he and Wilson approaced lapped traffic. Dixon went on to command the rest of the race, setting fastest race lap just prior to his second and final pit stop; and surrendering the lead only briefly to an out-of-sequence Marco Andretti.

During a hot and humid race day, 21 drivers ran a total of 7,546 miles this weekend at Mid-Ohio -- the 44th consecutive IndyCar Series without a single engine-related failure for the Honda HI9R Indy V-8.

Dixon’s strongest rival, Dale Coyne Racing’s Wilson, led for 28 laps after an exciting pass of pole qualifier Ryan Briscoe when the latter briefly slid off-line over the crest of the Turn 8 hill. Wilson went on to build up a six-second lead over Briscoe until the first round of pit stops, and remained in contention until waiting one lap too long before making his second and final stop. Wilson ran out of fuel entering Pit Lane, and the resultant stall before rejoining the race dropped him to an unrepresentative 13th-place finish.

Race Results:
Fn. St. Driver / Team / Chassis / Laps Average / Speed/Notes
1. 3. Scott Dixon /Target Chip Ganassi / Honda Dallara / 85 / 108.541 mph average, led 51 laps
2. 1. Ryan Briscoe / Team Penske / Honda Dallara / 85 / -29.7803 seconds
3. 6. Dario Franchitti / Target Chip Ganassi / Honda Dallara / 85 / -30.0551 seconds
4. 7. Ryan Hunter-Reay / A.J. Foyt Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -33.7307 seconds
5. 11. Hideki Mutoh / Andretti Green Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -34.1839 seconds
6. 13. Marco Andretti / Andretti Green Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -46.7669 seconds, led 6 laps
7. 10. Paul Tracy / KV Racing Technology / Honda Dallara / 85 / -49.7020 seconds
8. 4. Graham Rahal / Newman Haas Lanigan / Honda Dallara / 85 / -50.5417 seconds
9. 15. Raphael Matos-R / Luczo Dragon Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -51.2296 seconds
10. 8. Tony Kanaan /Andretti Green Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -52.0810 seconds
11. 14. Oriol Servia / Newman Haas Lanigan / Honda Dallara / 85 / -52.6215 seconds
12. 5. Helio Castroneves / Team Penske / Honda Dallara / 85 / -53.2382 seconds
13. 2. Justin Wilson / Dale Coyne Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -53.5768 seconds, led 28 laps
14. 18. Robert Doornbos-R / HVM Racing / Honda Dallara / 85 / -60.0812 seconds
15. 9. E.J. Viso / HVM Racing / Honda Dallara / 84 / Running
16. 17. Dan Wheldon / Panther Racing / Honda Dallara / 84 / Running
17. 21. Ed Carpenter / Vision Racing / Honda Dallara / 84 / Running
18. 19. Richard Antinucci-R / Team 3G / Honda Dallara / 83 / Running
19. 12. Danica Patrick / Andretti Green Racing / Honda Dallara / 83 / Running
20. 16. Mike Conway-R / Dreyer & Reinbold / Honda Dallara / 69 / Did not finish - contact
21. 20. Milka Duno / Dreyer & Reinbold / Honda Dallara / 56 / Did not finish - handling

R - IndyCar Series Rookie

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paddock Report - IndyCar Kentucky August 2009

Kentucky was a very significant race for two entirely different reasons:

  1. It was the first oval race since the IndyCar Series “gave back” several aero tools for the teams to use in an effort to restore side-by-side racing; and
  2. It was the first race to utilize the HPD “Power Assist” boost button to aid with passing.

But instead of an IndyCar race weekend with two full days of on-track activity, we had an event more typical of a local Sprint Car show, with one practice, no qualifying, and the race, all in one afternoon/evening.

How much that skewed the results of all these changes is open to debate; but there is no doubt that Kentucky, in the immortal words of Ed Sullivan, “was a really, really good shew…..” It was by far the best oval race of 2009, and one of the best races, period.

And we, almost … almost …almost, had a very popular “underdog” winner.

It was clear and sunny when we rolled into the track on Friday morning, but it had rained a ton in recent days, no fewer than 6” worth – probably more than you’d see in the greater L.A. area all summer. The result was a group of “weepers” – underground water being hydraulically pushed UP through the track surface, primarily in Turns 3-4.

Practice did not start at 3 p.m. as scheduled, and eventually the teams were told that it would be another hour (at least) before practice started. HAH! Someone was dreaming in color. No one would get on track on this day. So, it was back to the hotel after a lovely day of sitting around and doing nothing. Qualifying for IndyCars was cancelled, so they would once again line up on points this weekend, leading Dario Franchitti to joke that teammate (and then-points leader) Scott Dixon “got a trophy just for sitting on his [insert slang phrase for buttocks here] in his bus all day!”

Dario also got off the second-best quote of the day, saying he was going to put a “smiley face” on his new power-assist button …

And that was about it for Friday, except for the 2010 schedule announcement. More on that at the end of this week’s segment.

The “weepers” were still around on Saturday. But eventually, track and series workers got the last of them drained, and we got on with the show. And what a show it was! In the immortal words of fellow-blogger “Pressdog”, IndyCar got its “schwerve” back. It was fast … it was exciting … it had a near-photo finish. And, most importantly, it managed to tread that fine, fine line between “thrilling” and “terrifying”.

Despite just over an hour of practice prior to the green flag (hence the Sprint Car analogy at the top of this tale), the teams and drivers put on a fantastic show, running hard and clean all night long. Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter went wheel-to-wheel, eyeball-to-eyeball, for the final 10 laps or so, before Briscoe eked out the victory.

And the racing was just as fast and furious throughout the field. Series officials got EXACTLY what they were seeking: lots of two-, three-, and four-car battles, all either side-by-side or nose-to-tail, with passing and re-passing, but without creating a huge, scary pack of 15-20 cars all running in lockstep, where the slightest misstep could lead to the Mother of All Big Ones….

All credit to the technical and executive staff of the series – along with Honda and Firestone – for recognizing there was a problem after Kansas, Texas and Richmond, and taking steps to correct it. And a special assist to the powers-that-be at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who initially suggested the course of action that produced such a great race, and will hopefully offer up exciting, side-by-side competition through upcoming oval events at Chicago(land), Motegi and Homestead-Miami.

Here’s who did what:

At TCGR’s suggestion, the league mandated the removal of the half-inch vertical Gurney lips (a.k.a. “wickers”) on the rear-wing endplates. Designed to slow the cars down on the big ovals, they did that, but at too high a price in the form of very turbulent, “dirty” air coming off the backs of the cars, which caused following cars to lose downforce and “wash up the track” with understeer.

The Series also permitted teams to re-install several aerodynamic pieces, including ramps in front of the rear wheels, extensions to the tops of the sidepods, and rear wheel “fillers” (call them “inner hubcaps”). These changes also cleaned up airflow coming off the backs of the cars. These changes were optional, but just about everyone put one or more of the pieces back on.

In addition, Firestone came up with a much-improved tire that offered more mechanical grip and also helped get everybody closer together.

And last – but certainly not least – we provided the power-assist button that maximized everything at HPD’s disposal, providing brief bursts of additional bhp to help “seal the deal” when it came to passing lapped cars, and adding a new tactical element when it came to fighting for position on track.

It wasn’t any one thing, but the combination of all that produced some great racing, so big props to one and all.

The other big news to come out of Kentucky was the 2010 calendar. If you haven’t already seen it, the 17-race schedule goes like this:

- Sun. March 14: Brazil (venue TBA, but maybe Tony Kanaan’s home town of Salvador)
- Sun. March 28: Honda GP of St. Pete
- Sun. April 11: Barber Motorsports Park
- Sun. April 18: Long Beach
- Sat. May 1: Kansas
- Sun. May 30: Indy 500
- Sat. June 5: Texas
- Sun. June 20: Iowa
- Sun. July 4: Watkins Glen
- Sun. July 18: Honda Indy Toronto
- Sun. July 25: Edmonton
- Sun. August 8: Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio
- Sun. August 22: Infineon
- Sat. August 28: Chicagoland
- Sat. September 4: Kentucky
- Sun. September 19: Motegi, Japan
- Sat. October 2: Homestead

That’s nine road/street courses and eight ovals, meaning that for the first time, the IndyCar schedule will include more road courses than ovals. The near 50/50 split is great, the only downer is the near-total absence of my beloved short ovals. Milwaukee – dead. Richmond – AWOL. No Phoenix or New Hampshire. Only Iowa lives on, and it’s the one short oval that drives like a super speedway. Oh well.

As for the newcomers, Barber Motorsports Park has earned a spot on the calendar after the excellent job – and spectator turnout – produced for our pre-season test this year. Likewise, Brazil (through Apex Energy) is the biggest sponsor the sport has at the moment, and the deal is structured in such a way that both the League and every team running the event will show a tidy profit for their presence.

Now, if only we’d get Road America back on the schedule…

As for my late, lamented Milwaukee Mile – until the State Fair Board (which controls the venue) restructures the track lease so that the promoter isn’t immediately saddled with millions of dollars in debt before he even opens the doors, well, it’s just notgonnahappen.com. And that is just a shame.

Richmond lost its event sponsor (SunTrust Bank) and didn’t appear to try very hard to find a replacement. Its NASCAR crowds have also been down of late, and I’m guessing the track would rather move its IRL marketing budget over to supporting its Cup events. Sorry to say, but it looks like another short track has gone the way of the Dodo, at least as far as the IndyCar Series is concerned.

In the Good News Department, the stretches of back-to-back-to-back races, a.k.a. “marriage killers” we’ve had in recent years are gone, mainly those that were run in June-July-August. Now, there’s just the April-May swing of Kansas-Indy’s four weekends-Texas; and the late-August threesome of Infineon, Chicago and Kentucky (moving from July to Saturday of Labor Day Weekend). That’s do-able.

Also, whether by accident or design, the season unfolds in streaks of street races, then ovals, then road/street races, then ovals once again — a layout that’s MUCH easier on teams and mechanics in terms of car preparation, logistics, etc.

Some final notes from Kentucky:

· To the surprise of virtually no one, Conquest Racing and “commercial partner” Rubicon Sports Agency have terminated their unhappy marriage.

· In the follow-up that WAS surprising, however, Conquest driver Alex Tagliani left the team and threw in his lot with Rubicon’s Jim Freudenberg. That was followed by the even more interesting news that one-or-the-other of them had found a Canadian source of income (not yet revealed) that allowed them to purchase Marty Roth’s team, shop and cars in Indianapolis. Hmmm, Marty Roth is a Canadian, too. Methinks there’s more here that has yet to be told.

· The Roth team owned four Dallaras, at least two of them new or reasonably new. A one-driver IndyCar effort can get by with only two chassis (although three is better) and reportedly two of Tag’s new toys have been sold to…..(wait for it)…..de Ferran Motorsports …

· Meanwhile, Conquest Racing regrouped and sat out Mid-Ohio (in addition to Kentucky), but will run Kosuke Matsuura at Motegi and Champ Car refugee Nelson Phillipe at Infineon and…. oh well, that didn’t last long, either. Watch this space for further developments.

· Vitor Meira was again present at Kentucky, and continues to help out in the A.J. Foyt pit, sitting in on the engineering meetings, working with Ryan Hunter-Reay on setup and strategy decisions, etc. And all the while knowing he’d much, much rather be back driving.

· Darren Manning was also in Kentucky (just a short drive down from Indy) and likewise was hanging out in the Dreyer and Reinbold pit.

· At least he still has his sense of humor department: Tony Kanaan had some decals placed on the cockpit sides of his car (where the driver’s name normally is printed). They read: "The Torch".

· I don’t “Twitter” yet – although I can see the day coming when I might be doing so. In the meantime, Vision Racing is perhaps the biggest proponent of this new social network in the IndyCar paddock (you can follow them @VisionRacing on Twitter), and the team has started hosting “Tweet-ups” for Twitter fans on race weekends. Once you’re in the paddock/garage area, it’s free. Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star and several drivers (Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, etc) are “Tweeting” these days as well.

· Friday was Justin Wilson's 31st birthday - the fans sang Happy Birthday to him at the autograph session. Always fun.


-- Dan Layton

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