HPD Blog

Monday, September 28, 2009


Fernandez, Diaz Score Team and Manufacturers’ Titles For Lowe’s And Acura

CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. — On Friday morning, hundreds of parts were strewn around the Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura garage area. A new Acura ARX-02a prototype tub had just arrived at Road Atlanta by special charter from Southern California.

By Saturday evening, drivers David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti had driven the newly-built No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a sports car to sixth overall in the rain-shortened Petit Le Mans classic, the ninth stop in the 10-race American Le Mans Series.

A brutal practice crash involving Sharp left the primary Acura completely destroyed and the team’s LMP1 class title hopes in jeopardy. But a monumental effort by the 20-person Patrón Highcroft crew built a new Acura in roughly 20 hours in the Road Atlanta paddock area.

The sixth-place finish extended to Patrón Highcroft team’s point lead to 21 over the de Ferran Motorsports team entering the season finale set for October 10 at Laguna Seca Raceway.

The Patrón Highcroft contingent, with Brabham starting from the pit lane after missing qualifications, might have had trouble maintaining the LMP1 point lead with a lightning-fast Gil de Ferran battling the factory cars of Audi and Peugeot. De Ferran drove his No. 66 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-02a to the second overall position by Lap 42. But, seven laps later, de Ferran Motorsports hopes went sliding into the mud, as Gil was hit from behind by Clint Field and his Lola. The de Ferran squad repaired the Acura in only 13 minutes, but the delay hurt the team’s chances to gain points on the Patrón team.

The Lowe’s Fernandez pair of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, seven-time LMP2 class winners this year, did not enjoy another winning effort this time, finishing second to the Mazda of Marino Franchitti, Butch Leitzinger and Ben Devlin. But the podium finish gave the Lowe’s Fernandez operation the LMP2 team championship and Acura the LMP2 manufacturers’ crown.
Fernandez and Diaz had clinched the LMP2 drivers’ title at the Mosport event last month. The Mexican stars will attempt to tie the LMP2 season win record at Laguna Seca. Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas captured eight LMP2 races in 2007 for Penske Racing.

ACURA QUOTES: DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "We obviously didn't get the chance to try many changes in the warm-up, so it took awhile to get comfortable in the car. Once I played with the traction control, I was able to get the car a lot better during the stint. I was able to move through the field and once I was on slicks, the car felt really good.”
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "I had a good double stint but I was certainly super conservative. We didn't want to take any risks at all. It was great to get back in the car, and I am so grateful to the guys for all their hard work. To build up a new car so quickly is just amazing, and the car has been perfect all day. It is a real credit to the guys.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): "The conditions out there were just terrible, probably as bad as I have ever seen. I nearly crashed while following the safety car. You get these rivers running across the track down to the esses. It is unfortunate for the fans. The Patron Highcroft crew is beat up after working all day and night to get the Acura ready. They did a great job."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “You never want to finish a race like this for the fans’ sake. Nevertheless, we are happy about clinching the team and manufacturers’. Unfortunately, we didn’t show what we could do today due to the problem with the steering. When I jumped in the car, there was something really wrong. So we needed to stop and change the steering unit.”
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “We had been facing some type of electrical problem since Thursday. The team did a good job setting up the car, but we didn’t discover the exact problem until the race. We would have loved to have won Petit, but it is great to come away with the team and manufacturers’ championships.”
GIL de FERRAN (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "This event was very disappointing for our XM Radio Acura de Ferran team. We ran as high as second today and the car felt very good in the early portion of the race. But to get taken out by a car [Clint Field] that was a lap down was ridiculous. That move took us of contention for a podium here, as well as our championship hopes. ALMS gave him a penalty, but it took us completely out of the race. The first incident caused other problems for the car, too. It was very frustrating to have the race play out that way.”
SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “This was a tough race for us today. I really thought the car was going to be able to run with the Audis and Peugeots, especially in the rain. And Gil got the car moving up well. It’s a shame that the Field car drove into Gil in the early stages of the race. It basically took us right out of contention. I feel sorry for the fans, too. The rain was really tough on the teams and the fans. They would have seen a tremendous race. Now, we have go to Laguna Seca and win the race.”
SCOTT DIXON (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): "I feel badly for the team. I made a rookie mistake in the rain. I wasn’t able to test with the Acura in the rain. I was just pushing too hard and got the car into the curbing. We had a fast car today but it wasn’t in the cards for the de Ferran team today. I really enjoy working with Gil’s team and driving the Acura.”

Honda, Acura Drivers Claim Five Titles at SCCA National Championship Runoffs

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Sept. 29, 2009) -- In the first SCCA National Championship Runoffs since Honda Racing/Honda Performance Development [HPD] announced the Honda Racing Line program of support for grassroots racers, Honda and Acura drivers won five of a possible seven titles this past weekend at the famed Road America circuit in central Wisconsin.

Bob Boileau highlighted a weekend of outstanding performances by Honda and Acura drivers at the Runoffs, winning the Touring 3 race Saturday in his Team Honda Research-entered Honda S2000. It was Boileau’s first SCCA title, as the second-generation racer from Colorado builds on the successes of his father, also named Bob, who raced Honda Civics in SCCA competition in the 1970s and ‘80s.

In addition to Boileau’s victory in his Honda Racing/HPD-supported S2000, Jim Dentici led a 1-2 Honda finish in the GT Lite race on Friday in his JTM/Ragland Racing Honda CRX, with teammate Chris Bovis finishing second, also piloting a Honda CRX. On Sunday, Dan Meller posted a dominating performance in the H Production race, starting from the pole and leading every lap en route to his first national championship in his Core Consulting Honda CRX.

Acura was well represented with championships in two classes. Joel Lipperini qualified his RaceLabz Acura Integra GS-R on the pole in the Showroom Stock C race and went on to win his third national championship. Mark Carpenter’s championship, in F Production, was the first for the North Carolina driver and his GGS Racing team.

Defending Showroom Stock B Champion Lee Niffenegger finished second this year, once again driving his Team Honda Research Honda Civic Si. Heavy rain fell just as the final race of the weekend, E Production, got underway on Sunday afternoon, but John Schmitt managed to move from 12th on the grid to a very close fourth at the finish in his Schmitt Racing Honda Prelude Si.

Each year, racers from across the country compete in 70 SCCA “Nationals”, to qualify for one last, winner-take-all event in each of 25 classes: the National Championship “Runoffs”. Previous Runoffs champions include Bobby Rahal, Skip Barber, Paul Newman, Doug Peterson and Jimmy Vasser. Other Runoffs competitors through the years have included Michael Andretti, Parker Johnstone, and current Acura America Le Mans Series racer Scott Sharp.

More than 600 drivers participated at this year’s Runoffs, the first to be held at the historic, four-mile Road America circuit, located 60 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Thirty-seven were Honda and/or Acura drivers, competing in seven of the 25 classes.

Several Honda Fit engines, as proposed for inclusion in the FF class of open-wheel racers, were displayed outside the Honda Racing/HPD Hospitality Center in the Road America paddock. The display included the prototype Swift DB-1/Honda, an engine installed in a new Citation FF chassis, and a third 1.5-liter Fit FF race engine that has been used for durability testing on HPD’s transitional dynamometers at the company’s Santa Clarita, California, headquarters.

Through its Honda Racing Line program, Honda Racing/HPD provides support and incentive programs to Honda and Acura racers competing at the SCCA Runoffs and in other forms of grassroots motorsports competition. Additional details on the Honda Racing Line can be found at http://racing.honda.com/hpd.

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 the 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.

2009 Honda and Acura SCCA Runoffs National Champions:
Touring 3: Bob Boileau, Monument, CO, Honda Team Research Honda S2000
GT Light: Jim Dentici, Oconomowoc, WI, JDM/Ragland Racing Honda CRX
Showroom Stock C: Joel Lipperini, Pittston, PA, RaceLabz Acura Integra GS-R
F Production: Mark Carpenter, Charlotte, NC, GGS Racing Acura Integra
H Production: Dan Meller, Milwaukee, WI, Core Consulting Honda CRX


Saturday, September 26, 2009

SCCA Runoffs: Boileau Wins Touring 3 National Championship

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Sept. 26, 2009) – Bob Boileau, of Monument, Colo., took his first SCCA National Championship Runoffs win at Road America in Saturday’s Touring 3 race. Kevin Fandozzi, of Saint Joseph, Mich., and Bret Spaude, of Bushnell, Fla., completed the T3 podium.

Though he started from the pole, Boileu’s first SCCA National Championship did not come easy. As the T3 field took the green flag on a damp track thanks to overnight rain, Boileau’s No. 43 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Honda S2000 shuffled back through the field, with a conservative start strategy on the driver’s mind.

“All three [Boileau, Fandozzi and Spaude] of us signed up for hardship laps this morning,” Boileau said. “I had a suspension failure in the final qualifying session, so I was granted a hardship, because we had to replace everything in the right-rear corner of the car. When I went out, I thought ‘oh my gosh, this track is ridiculously slick.’ I almost spun on the hardship lap.

“I was sitting on the grid, contemplating what I should do and my friend, Mark Mercer, who won the Sports 2000 National Championship yesterday, had told me to let some guys go by and show me what the track could do and that was some excellent advice. I couldn’t stop these guys from going by [Fandozzi and Spaude], but I would have preferred not to have the Volkswagens go by as well. I was pretty far back. I think I may have been all the way back to ninth.”

Resetting the fastest lap of the race as the 14-turn, four-mile track continued to dry, Boileau charged through the field, challenging the No. 24 Autobarn Motorsports Volkswagen GTI of Richard Fisher, from Glencoe, Ill., for third by lap six.

“The Volkswagens were pretty hard to pass, but I kept saying ‘pace yourself and let the race come to you,’” recalled Boileau. “I could out-corner the Volkswagens, but boy are those things fast on the straights! There was some nose-to-tail bumping, but it was insignificant and no one was turned around. Once I got around them and I had my sights set on these two [Fandozzi and Spaude], it looked a lot like last year. This time I was able to track them down and get them. The track really just came to me. My speed through the Carousel was significantly higher than theirs and coming out of Canada Corner. The track came to me and we won the Runoffs! It’s amazing!”

Boileau took over the lead from Fandozzi on lap nine and never looked back, winning the 13-lap, 52-mile race by 2.117 seconds and setting the fastest lap of the race, a 2:36.994 (91.723 mph).

Starting fifth, Fandozzi had a tremendous start in the No. 34 Hoosier/Moton/Insight Driven Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and was already around Boileau for the lead in Turn One. Seventh-starting Spaude followed Fandozzi through and into second. While Spaude fended off the No. 24 Autobarn Motorsports Volkswagen GTI of Richard Fisher, from Glencoe, Ill., Fandozzi was able to hold the race lead for first nine laps. There was no stopping Boileau from claiming the lead on lap nine however, and Fandozzi would have to settle for second.

Defending T3 National Champion Spaude brought his No. 12 TSRacing.com/Red Line Oil/Hoosier Chevrolet Cobalt SS home in third.

Though they gave Boileau and the Cobalts of Fandozzi and Spaude a hard time in the first half of the race, the No. 68 APR Motorsports/Westside VW/Kumho Tires Volkswagen GTI of Aaron Stehly, from Richfield, Minn., and the VW of Richard Fisher finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Tenth-place finisher Tony Wedderbum, of North Miami Beach, Fla., was named the Sunoco Hard Charger for advancing seven positions during the race in his No. 16 WeatherTech.com Chevrolet Cobalt SS.

The Touring 3 National Championship race will be available on demand at www.speedcasttv.com shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.


Acura: Sharp’s Nasty Thursday Practice Crash. . .

. . .Leaves Patrón Team Building New Acura Prototype For Saturday’s Petit Le Mans
New Tub Shipped From California For LMP1 Point Leaders
CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. (Sept. 24, 2009) — Scott Sharp’s frightening practice crash Thursday at Road Atlanta has left the Patrón Highcroft Racing team scrambling to hold its current American Le Mans Series LMP1 point lead entering Saturday’s prestigious Petit Le Mans sports car race.

Sharp, co-point leader with driving partner David Brabham, amazingly walked away from a horrific Turn One crash Thursday afternoon in ALMS practice when Sharp’s No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a collided with a GT car and rolled violently into a catch fence that left the Patrón Highcroft machine not repairable for Saturday’s 12th annual 1,000-mile endurance classic.

Sharp walked from the wreckage with parts and pieces strewn for hundreds of feet around the 2.54-mile road circuit. A replacement tub was shipped to Atlanta Thursday night from the Honda Performance Development headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif., and the Patrón Highcroft organization will build a new mount all day Friday in hopes of taking the green flag at 11:20 a.m. Saturday. ALMS qualifying is set for Friday at 2:55 p.m.

The Patrón Highcroft Racing team holds a 17-point lead in the current LMP1 class point standings over the de Ferran Motorsports Acura operation with two races remaining in the 2009 tour. Sharp, Brabham and IndyCar Series star Dario Franchitti are expected to race the new No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-02a prototype sports car from the back of the field in an effort to maintain the team’s point margin. The final 2009 ALMS race is set for Laguna Seca Raceway on Saturday, Oct. 10.

“I really don’t know what happened,” Sharp said. “I was heading up the hill in sixth gear and felt a hit in the right rear. The wheel arches are very high with the wide front tires on the Acura. I didn’t see a thing, only felt the contact. I knew it was a big one and I am just really grateful to Acura and all the boys at Patrón Highcroft Racing for building such a strong car. I’m shattered for Duncan, all the guys, Brabs and Dario (Franchitti). We went through this last year and I can’t believe it’s happened again. I was just thinking to myself how much I like this place when next thing I’m headed upside down with a mouth full of Georgia clay.”

The Patrón Highcroft Racing team was already preparing a variety of parts — bodywork, suspension, engine and gearbox — to assemble on the new tub when it arrives at the track at 9 a.m. Friday.

“The most important thing is the fact that Scotty was able to walk away,” team owner Duncan Dayton said. “Cars can be rebuilt, but looking at the amount of dirt covering the top of his helmet we are just grateful he is fine. The guys are getting stuck into the car now, and we will do whatever it takes to get the car back together. Unfortunately, we suffered a similar set-back last year but the guys are not getting down. They are ready to work through the night. Our thanks go to all the guys at Acura, HPD and Wirth Research – that crash looked like an airplane accident and it is a credit to the those guys that Scott was able to walk away after that.”

Simon Pagenaud topped the Acura teams in Thursday’s three practice sessions in the No. 66 XM Radio Acura ARX-02a with a speed of 132.072 miles per hour, fourth overall in the 30-car field. Before the crash, Brabham held the seventh fastest overall at 129.923 m.p.h. The Lowe’s LMP2 Acura duo of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, winners of seven LMP2 class races this year, were second in the LMP2 speeds at 127.046.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Patrón Highcroft Team Picks Up New Acura Tub, Continues Work To Make The Race

CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Young Acura driving star Simon Pagenaud made a charge at a top three qualifying position Friday at Road Atlanta against a stellar field of LMP1 driving talent in preparation for Saturday’s prestigious Petit Le Mans sports-car classic.

The 25-year-old Frenchman, with three pole positions this year, took on factory drivers from Audi and Peugeot on the 2.54-mile road circuit in search of a front-row spot for the 1,000-mile endurance classic. Driving the No. 66 XM Satellite Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a gas-powered prototype, Pagenaud came within a tenth of a second of posting a top three grid spot against the four diesel-powered European cars.

On his last qualifying lap, Pagenaud had the pace to take third overall until the Lola of Jonny Cocker ran out of fuel right in front of the de Ferran driver. Simon was forced to avoid the British driver’s car and missed a shot at besting the Audi machines.

Pagenaud set the fifth-best time of one minute, 8.348 seconds with an average speed of 133.786 miles per hour. Pagenaud will co-drive with Indy 500 winners Gil de Ferran and Scott Dixon in the No. 66 Acura when the green flag falls at 11:20 a.m. Saturday. The race will be televised live flag to flag on SPEED Channel.

Nicholas Minassian won the pole in a Peugeot with a speed of 136.606 m.p.h. followed by Franck Montagny in a Peugeot, Allan McNish in an Audi, Lucas Luhr in an Audi, and Pagenaud.

In the LMP2 division, current class point leader Adrian Fernandez posted the third-fastest speed in the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b sports car at 127.428 m.p.h.. Fernandez and partner Luis Diaz have won seven LMP2 class events in 2009 and seek to tie the ALMS record of eight set by Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas of Penske Racing in 2007. Marino Franchitti won the LMP2 pole Friday.

The Patrón Highcroft Racing team, current LMP1 point leaders, did not attempt to qualify after Thursday’s devastating practice crash of Scott Sharp that completely destroyed the No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-02a car. The team received a replacement Acura tub Friday morning and began construction of the new machine from the ground up. The experienced Patrón Highcroft crew plans to work around the clock to assemble the new Acura for drivers Sharp (who was uninjured), David Brabham and Dario Franchitti in time for Saturday’s race.

ACURA QUOTES: SIMON PAGENAUD (#66 XM Radio de Ferran Acura ARX-02a): “The de Ferran team did a great job setting up the car for this track. We have been very consistent with the handling. I think we have a good car for the race. The humid weather conditions probably hurt us in some straight-line speed. I was happy with the car. On my final lap, I had a good one going that might have given us third, but I was blocked. Overall, we feel good about our chances in the race.”
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe’s Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): “We really didn’t have a chance at the pole today. The Mazda has the straight-line speed over our car. But I am confident that the Lowe’s Acura will be strong in the race. We want to there at the end.”
DUNCAN DAYTON (team owner, #9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a): “We are still on target to be ready to roll for the warm-up tomorrow morning. The guys have a big day on their hands but everybody remains in very good spirits. One of the most rewarding aspects about owning this team is our people. They are incredibly dedicated and everybody has their sights set on this championship. I’m very proud of their efforts and I know Scott, David and Dario are very grateful for their efforts.”

SCCA Runoffs: Dentici Takes GT-Lite National Championship on Home Turf

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Sept. 25, 2009) – Jim Dentici, of Oconomowoc, Wis., took his second-career GT-Lite National Championship at the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America. Defending GTL National Champion Christopher Bovis, of Lawrence, Kan., and Robert Lentz, of Chantilly, Va., completed the podium.

Starting second, Dentici immediately moved past polesitter Bovis on the opening lap, putting his No. 77 Raglin Racing/JDM Group Honda CRX into the lead as the field exited Turn One. Bovis was able to draft back up to Dentici on the long front straightaway to start lap two, but was unable to make a move for the lead. From there, Dentici continued to extend his gap on Bovis’ No. 4 Goodyear/RedLine/JDM Motorsports Honda CRX, winning the GTL National Championship by 11.510 seconds.

“I got a push from Bob [Lentz’s] car on the start,” Dentici said. “It was really slow, I was in first gear. I really did get a good jump. I had enough room to turn in front of Chris in Turn One.

“We just had to fly. The deal Chris [Bovis] and I had when we came into this was that whoever was in the lead, let’s go. And that’s what we did. We pushed hard. We were turning laps faster than Chris qualified and a second faster than I qualified. The tires worked good, the car worked good. I ran hard the whole race. On the last lap I saw that Chris fell back, so I just talked myself around and got it done. It was pretty nice!”

Dentici also set the fastest lap of the race, a 2:33.285 (93.943 mph) en route to his fifth-career Runoffs win.

Bovis briefly slipped to third behind Lentz on lap two, but took the spot right back on the following lap. The 2008 GTL National Champion went unchallenged from that point forward, though transmission problems would prevent him from giving chase to Dentici and nearly cost him a podium finish in the closing stages of the race.

“Jim’s [Dentici] car and my car were pretty much dead even,” Bovis said. “He built the motors for both cars. He had just a little bit better of a reaction to the flag than I did. We were as close as you can get without hitting each other. We had a pretty good plan to work together and then worry about the order later. Bobby [Lentz] got between us there, but we figured that out and tried to pull a gap.

“About lap three, the clutch pedal wasn’t working any more,” recalled Bovis. “I’d never driven a car without the clutch, so I was trying to figure it out on the fly. Got the hang of it and caught up to him. I started losing gears toward the end and on the last lap I only had fourth and fifth gear. It ended up being a really good result. It was the result that Jim and I wanted. I think we disagreed on the order, but it is a good result.”

After losing second to Bovis, Lentz also lost a position to the No. 72 Road n Race/Honda/RedLine/Goodyear Honda CRX of Peter Shadowen on lap nine. Lentz spent the remainder of the 13-lap, 52-mile race stalking Shadowen. After taking numerous looks in Turns Five and 12, Lentz waited until the final corner of the last lap to pull alongside Shadowen for a drag race up the hill to the finish line. Lentz would take the final podium spot by 0.031-second.

“The cars were amazingly well-matched,” Lentz said. “[Shadowen] caught me mid-race. He pushed me to run a lot faster than I had up to that point. Whoever it was behind had a slight advantage down the straights because of the draft. I think his tires were starting to go away. He was starting to get very loose and then he bobbled a little in Turn 12. I was on his bumper and he ran a defensive line in the last corner which gave me a run up the straight.”

Shadowen, of Loxahatchee, Fla., finished fourth. Rob Mcfarlane, of Happy Valley, Ore., completed the top five in his No. 27 Loyning’s/Hoosier Toyota Celica.

Barry Bannon, of Saint Cloud, Fla., was named the Sunoco Hard Charger, for advancing nine positions during the race in his No. 46 Goodyear/Redline Oil/Goodyear Honda CRX.

The GTL National Championship race will be available on demand at www.speedcasttv.com/scca shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.


Acura, SCCA Runoffs: Lipperini Sprints To Showroom Stock C Championship

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Sept. 25, 2009) - Joel Lipperini, of Pittston, Penn., captured his third-career National Championship in Showroom Stock C at the 46th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America. 2008 Champion Joe McClughan, of New Braunfels, Tex., and Morgan Hill, Calif.-native Ali Naimi completed the podium.

Lipperini led start-to-finish in his No. 81 RaceLabz/BFGoodrich/RaceShop Acura Integra LS to claim a 5.74-second victory. The race was Lipperini’s first in the Acura.

“We took a gamble this year,” Lipperini said. “The car that I won my two National Championships with after driving the last couple of years I decided to retire right before this event. We built the Acura, and the first time I drove it was 15 feet into the trailer to come here. We took a big gamble, but it paid off. The car was great all week.

“Every win feels good. This one is nice because I actually won it on the track. Winning in the tech shed is one thing, but this is great. We savored it. That had to be the slowest victory lap ever. We wanted to take three [riders in the car], but they were going to kick us off the track.”

Lipperini also collected the SCCA Club Racing Super Sweep for winning the Runoffs, the nationwide point standings, the Northeast Division Championship and one of nine key National races, each in SSC.

McClughan, just eight weeks removed from quintuple bypass surgery, and Naimi spent most of the first part of the race in a four-way battle for second place. Naimi, driving the No. 14 Hoosier/Mazda/OffLineRacing.com MAZDA3 S, made one run at McClughan in the No. 36 McClughan Racing enterprises/Mazda MAZDA3 S heading into Turn Three on Lap 12. After that pass failed, Naimi couldn’t get close enough for the remainder of the 13-lap, 52-mile race.

The eventual third place for Naimi was his best career Runoffs finish.

John Phllips, of Sealy, Texas, finished fourth in the No. 01 MRE/Mazda/Hoosier/Red Line PRP MAZDA3S. Driving the No. 00 Hoosier/FeedUS/RedLine Oil/Carbotech MAZDA3S Jonathan Start, of Caledonia, Mich., completed the top five.d

Eric Van Cleef, of Huntsville, Ala., turned the race’s fastest lap and was running in second place when a transmission problem forced him out of the race with two laps to go. Van Cleef turned a race-best 2:49.975 (84.718 mph) around the 14-turn, 4-mile Road America circuit.

Daniel Geiger, of Minneapolis, Minn., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger award after improving 10 positions to finish 10th behind the wheel of the No. No. 53 Hoosier/Maggiano’s/David Hobbs Honda Honda Civic Si.

The Showroom Stock C National Championship race will be available on demand at ww.speedcasttv.com/scca shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.


Monday, September 14, 2009

IndyCar® Series Race for the Championship Finale

Don’t Miss the IndyCar® Series Race for the Championship Finale! Who will be the next IndyCar® Series champion? That will be decided Saturday, October 10, 2009 in the Firestone Indy® 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, featuring a winner-take-all battle between title contenders Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe. Learn more.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Paddock Report: Chicago(land) 8/29/09

Chicagoland marked the start of the “home stretch” for the 2009 IndyCar championship, the first of three oval races to cap an interesting season.

All three are 1.5-mile circle tracks, but each approaches the concept of turning left in a different way: Chicago has a “typical” 1.5-mile layout – really more of a ‘D’ shape – similar to Texas, Kansas and Kentucky; Motegi, meanwhile, is egg-shaped, wide open at one end, tight at the other; and finally, there’s the more “traditional” Homestead – two straights connected by two sweeping, 180-degree turns.

And so, to Chicago, where the new/old aero package had its second test since being unveiled/reinstated at Kentucky. Could we once again tread that very, very, very fine line between “boring” and “scary” that is known as “thrilling”?

Yes. But a couple of times – most notably in the final dozen or so laps after a late-race caution – it teetered, wobbled and generally leaned toward “terrifying” for a bit….

Still, in the immortal words of Robert Woodward Rahal, “no harm, no foul” and we had an exciting, near-photo finish with Ryan Briscoe coming out ahead of perpetual Chicagoland runner-up Scott Dixon, who summed things up perfectly after the finish: “I’ve seen this movie before!”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was what didn’t happen. Going into the event, a lot of us were convinced that we’d see a press conference/announcement formalizing Danica Patrick’s return to the Michael Andretti-led team currently known as Andretti Green Racing.

It all made sense: She’d dropped hints at Mid-Ohio and again at Infineon that the deal was all but done; Chicagoland is the closest IndyCar track to both her hometown of Roscoe, Illinois, and the corporate headquarters of Motorola, her long-time sponsor; and she was scheduled to appear as featured guest on SPEED TV’s “Wind Tunnel” program Sunday night.

But, sometime during the days leading up to race weekend, something went at least slightly pear-shaped, and no announcement was forthcoming. Don’t know what, how or why, just yet. Hopefully, it’s being worked out, or has been, as you read this.

One thing that DID get announced at Chicagoland was the formation of a new IndyCar team called FAZZT, centered around driver Alex Tagliani. Tags bolted from Conquest following the Edmonton race, and most likely had this deal bubbling in the background at the time as he was joined by ex-Conquest “marketing partner” Jim Freudenberg, who has been involved with several IndyCar teams in recent years, starting with Kelley Racing back in ’00 or so. Throw in financing from a pair of Canadian businessmen – Andre Azzi [hence the team name] and Alexandre Dubresne, and the deal got done.

Together, they bought all four of Roth Racing’s cars, its equipment, and – in the most surprising move of all – hired long-time Walker Racing GM Rob Edwards to be team manager and run day-to-day operations. Rob had been with Walker for as long as I can remember – since at least ’95, if not longer – so, for the FAZZT group to hire him away is impressive.

In the new paint job department, Dario Franchitti was in a bright yellow “Lifelock” livery that he also planned to run in Japan; while former Andretti Green teammate Tony Kanaan traded 7-Eleven green for a shade of brown for one-off sponsor Oscar Meyer that provided fodder for several rude comparisons. TK himself twittered that he was driving a “Weinermobile” for the weekend.

It was another two-day oval “weekend” for us, with practice and qualifying on Friday, and the race on Saturday. ARCA and the NASCAR Truck series were also in attendance, which led to the oddity during qualifying of seeing the towering Michael Waltrip (seriously, this guy is 6-foot-5 if he’s an inch) walking around with Danica Patrick (5-foot-2, MAX) in Pit Lane, and surely setting off a new round of Danica-to-NASCAR rumors in the bargain. Mission accomplished, by both, I’m sure.

Another hot rumor in the garage area was “Takuma Sato to Luczo Dragon for Homestead”. Which, apparently, was more-or-less a done deal until Robin Miller got wind and actually printed it (horrors!). Once word got out, Luczo’s team owners got a bit sideways over the premature announcement, so it may not happen now. I guess we’ll find out during the second week in October.

In Indy Lights World, with just 16 cars in the field and JR Hildebrand needing only a 13th-place finish or better to clinch the title, the championship fight with impressive rookie teammate Sebastian Saavedra became a bit anti-climactic. Still, with Lights guys (and girls) on a 1.5-mile oval, you NEVER count your chickens before the checkers.

Trivia question: When is a “Home” race not really at home?

Answer: When you’re Newman Haas Lanigan Racing, and most of your team members live in the northern and northwest Chicago suburbs – an hour-plus (on a GOOD day’s commute) from Chicagoland Speedway. For those of you living in L.A., think commuting from HPD to Disneyland in Anaheim… So, the NHL guys all got hotel rooms in the Joliet area. Yes, kids, the metro Chicago area is spread out ALMOST as much as the Southland. So ends today’s geography lesson.

Unlike during the rushed race day at Kentucky, the teams had time to try out different aero options and combinations at Chicagoland. EVERYONE was running the inner rear-wheel covers, but after that, the setups varied considerably. For instance, in use of the kickups in front of the rear tires: AGR’s Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti utilized them, but Tony Kanaan and Hideki Mutoh did not. The NHL cars ran everything -- kickups and sidepod extensions included – but the Penskes were “clean,” without either piece. Ganassi ran the kickups but not the extensions, etc.

Finally, with MotoGP scheduled for the same weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a bunch of us (yrs trly incld) made the three-hour run south from Joliet to Indy either late, late, late Saturday night (due to the silly 9 p.m. start time for the IndyCar race) or early Sunday morning. It was fun, and I highly recommend that all of you check out the MotoGP scene sometime in the future.

On track, the lone practice was uneventful, with the usual suspects up front (Dixon, Briscoe, etc) and at the back (Milka, Jaques Lazier). No yellows, except a single track inspection. So, on to qualifying we went…..

…where it was an all-Penske front row, with Ryan Briscoe on the pole and Helio Castroneves alongside. Franchitti ran third, and the only mild surprise was Dixie a relatively poor sixth.

Who was in between? TK and Graham Rahal. For AGR, the long claw back towards respectability, begun at Kentucky, continued, with three cars in the top 10 and Mutoh not that far off in 13th. KV and NHL also continued to inch up on the “Big Two,” with Moraes eighth and Oriol Servia ninth, to go with teammate Rahal.

The 20-minute final practice was rather “spirited”, with lots of two-and-three-wide action and the session ending with most of the field running in a large pack. As I said at the top of this piece, it’s a VERY fine line between “thrilling” and “scary”. We were definitely straddling that line…

Saturday was Race Day for IndyCars, and Practice/Qualifying/Race Day for the Lights crowd, who, for the second time this season –and first time by design – would have a Sprint-Car-style, one-day show.

The thing about Lights on the big ovals is this: If we’re tip-toeing that thrilling/scary line in the IndyCars, then the Lights field is stomping full-on into “scary” territory. You can tell most of these drivers haven’t had a “big one” yet, but at this rate, it’s only a matter of time for several of them…

In a mild upset, USAC racer Brandon Wagner had a nice qualifying run to take the Lights pole, with Saavedra second. Where was Hildebrand? Thirteenth, with fuel pressure issues that also affected several other cars … at least four in all, all of them on different teams. Hmmm, junk in the fuel, clogging up the filters, perhaps? This might get interesting, after all.

At the green, Wagner got swallowed up and passed by several cars. His day got worse when he made contact with Pippa Mann while completing Lap 5, losing his right-front wing. That contact caused Mann to spin at Turn 1, which caused Rodrigo Barbosa to spin, as well. Ana Beatriz was lucky to pass the spinning Mann without making contact with the outside wall. Wagner was able to replace his damaged wing, but eventually dropped out with handling issues. This was just the start of the silliness.

Mike Potekhen made contact with Daniel Herrington on the back stretch on Lap 32. Both cars continued, but Potekhen was unable to keep his car in the bottom groove and drifted up, making contact first with Beatriz, and then, with James Hinchcliffe. All three cars ended up in the wall and out of the race. The wreck also meant that Hildebrand had clinched the title – afterwards, there were only 12 cars running, and JR was free to go for the win.

The field went back to green on Lap 41, and from there, no one was able to get past Herrington, despite some breathtaking moves in the field. This was a crazy race, with pretty much the entire field running together throughout. James Davison finished second, while Andrew Prendeville made a late charge to finish third. Wade Cunningham recovered from a late drop in the pack to finish fourth, while Hildebrand clinched a well-earned championship with fifth.

Here’s an equally quick IndyCar race recap: Dixon had stretched out a big lead over Briscoe after the final round of pit stops, but it was erased in a Lap 184 crash by Helio Castroneves, who hit the Turn 4 fence with vigor following a right-front suspension (pushrod?) failure.

With just a dozen or so laps remaining, the final run to the checkers was “big casino” (i.e. a crapshoot), complete with clean passes, some not-so-clean passes, check-ups, slide jobs and even a set of teammates (or two) carving one-another up in the mass scrum to the finish.

Briscoe repeated his Kentucky performance, this time eking out a narrow, quarter-of-a-car-length victory over a nonplussed Dixon. For only the second time this season, the points leader coming INTO a race weekend remained the points leader AFTER the event.

Moraes completed the podium and emotionally dedicated the run to his late father. The third-place effort was his best career IndyCar finish.

In addition to Castroneves, Mutoh also had a hard impact mid-race, when an apparent toe-link failure turned him right into the wall in a crash similar to Kanaan’s impact at Indy. Like Helio, Hideki was okay, too.

Even though the team is showing improvement, in general, it was not a great night for AGR. Marco Andretti was their highest finisher, 11th despite causing the second caution of the night when he brushed the wall on Lap 108. Pit strategies backfired on Danica and TK.

Panther Racing had another forgettable evening, as Dan Wheldon broke a half-shaft exiting his pit during the first caution. This was the kind of track that Panther hired Wheldon to do well at, yet once again, the team wasn't a factor.

Meanwhile, NHL continued its upward march, with both cars finishing among the top 10. Rahal finished fifth and looked for a while like he might have something for the leaders, but lost out in the final lap free-for-all. Teammate Servia might have finished even better than seventh if he hadn't made a mistake on his last pit stop that cost him time. At this rate, we MIGHT have a “Big 3” again next year, but with NHL replacing AGR as the third member of the clique.

Semi-regular Tomas Scheckter and Justin Wilson also looked good at Chicagoland, perhaps the best the Coyne team has looked on a big oval to date. Ed Carpenter also looked really fast early -- from 12th at the start to sixth by Lap 5 -- but he was another guy to get shuffled back after the last caution.

The usual final notes:

  • We’re still awaiting final word on the Brazil event location. The latest now has Rio de Janeiro as the leading candidate, ahead of the northern resort town of Salvador. I just want to see something – anything – formally announced.
  • Likewise, regarding the issue of a series title sponsor: The League claims to have two potential candidates lined up. It’d be nice to close the deal on one or the other – soon. It’d be a great way to end the season on a positive note.
  • Forget about Milwaukee for 2010, so we’re just about out of short ovals for now. Only Iowa is left, and it’s so high-banked that you don’t see the cars slide around like they did at Milwaukee and Richmond. And that’s a shame. We need Milwaukee and tracks like it (Phoenix, Richmond, New Hampshire) to truly have a diverse schedule.
  • Injury updates: Both Will Power and Nelson Philippe continue to recover nicely. Vitor Meira is just about ready to go (update – he tested at Indy on Oct. 2), but won’t run Homestead now. The Foyt team doesn’t have the manpower or equipment to run a second car in the event. All should be back, either full- or part-time, in 2010.
  • The Versus – DirecTV squabble continues, even into the start of the NHL season, where Versus is the primary carrier. What may finally settle it? Well, there is a rumor making the TV industry rounds that Versus’ parent company, Comcast, is about to purchase a controlling interest in NBC from General Electric. That might shift the balance of power in this pxxxing contest.

-- Dan Layton

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Paddock Report: Mid-Ohio 8/09/09

Mid-Ohio: is there a more aptly-named race circuit, anywhere? You get off the interstate somewhere north of Columbus and south of the swingin’ metropolis of Lexington; cruise through a dozen miles of countryside, down some two-lane surrounded by corn fields and related agricultural flora; dodge the odd Mennonite buggy or 2; bop up over the top of a small hill and – whoop – there it is: the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Yep, in a lot of ways, going to Mid-Ohio is like returning to the glory days and venues of CART at its mid-90s best, at circuits like Laguna Seca, Road America, Michigan Speedway and New Hampshire. All were/are fantastic race tracks located somewhere east of nowhere. All had great racing (most years). All had huge crowds and plenty of atmosphere.

All had big-time traffic issues, too (well, there is a price to pay for fame and popularity…..).

Thanks in no small part to the huge turnout from Honda of America Manufacturing associates, Mid-Ohio is just like that. Since rejoining the IndyCar Series in 2007, big crowds and big atmosphere have been a hallmark of the Mid-Ohio IndyCar weekend, along with a big race schedule including the American Le Mans Series, Indy Lights, Formula Atlantic and SCCA World Challenge – a lot of everything for anyone who loves road racing.

Since we all left Kentucky a weekend earlier, the first round of driver “musical chairs” had begun, beginning with Robert Doornbos. “Bobby D” had been unhappy for some time at Newman Haas Lanigan (and the antipathy was returned in equal measure from teammate Graham Rahal), so Doornbos took advantage of an “out” in his contract after 10 races to bolt to HVM Racing, where he had driven with some success – including a thrilling wet/dry win at St. Jovite – in Champ Car.

Replacing Doornbos at NHL – for now – was veteran and all-‘round good guy Oriol Servia. One of a half-dozen experienced drivers on the sidelines, it was great to have the Spaniard back where he belongs, behind the wheel, even if its just for a few races until a suitable (ie..funded) replacement is found. Alex Lloyd is that likely replacement for ’10, and he’ll be driving for the team at Homestead next month.

Meanwhile, Mario Moraes was absent from Mid-Ohio due to the death of his father earlier that week. The senior Moraes was a genuinely nice guy, a gentleman of the old school, and an enthusiastic supporter of his son’s racing. We all knew he had been struggling with cancer for some time, but it was still sad to hear that he had finally lost the fight.

In Mario’s place, KV Racing tracked down “part-time” wheelman Paul Tracy at the Sturgis motorcycle festival, and brought him in to drive the #5 car.

It’s not a driver change, but Dale Coyne Racing arrived in style at Mid-Ohio, the team’s transporter featuring a brand new “wrap” showing an image of the team celebrating in victory lane at Watkins Glen. It was striking, really cool looking, just like a real, grown-up race team.

Back to drivers. He wasn’t at M-O, but it didn’t take long for word to get around that AGR would be running a FIFTH car at Sonoma for Franck Montagny, with the car prepped and run by shop-based staff and a couple of guys “borrowed” from other teams for that weekend only. Is it a try-out for 2010? A fifth voice added to the chorus of driver opinions in the engineering sessions? Or are they shopping a potential sponsor for oh-10 with a traditional Sonoma “wine & dine” job? It’s just one more issue in the virtual “Peyton Place” that AGR has become this year.

Also on the AGR front, and following up on my “damper discourse” from Edmonton, it was interesting to learn that the team had switched from Dynamics-brand shocks to Penskes at Kentucky, where – coincidentally? – Kanaan has one of his strongest outings this season.

For years, AGR had an exclusive deal with Honda-owned Showa for their damper program, and it definitely worked to their advantage (along with big-time Honda horsepower…..). But that all went away some time ago. Penskes are probably the most popular dampers in IndyCar, but among some teams, there’s always the feeling that a little sumthin’ sumthin’ is “held back” from the customer units, compared to the dampers run by #3, #6, and sometimes #12.

So if you’re an IndyCar team owner or engineer, and you don’t want/trust Penskes, where do you go? Ohlins are an option, as are Dynamics, distributed by one Carl A. Haas Automotive Imports (hmmm, is that any relation to the ‘Haas’ of Newman Haas Lanigan? Yew betcha).

An intelligent and good guy, Alan O’Leary, heads up Dynamic, and NHL is certainly having a relatively competitive season. But AGR is equally, certainly, struggling, so Changes Are Being Made, and one of them was the switch from “Brand D” to “Brand P” on all four AGR cars at Mid-Ohio.

But that’s [more than] enough about dampers. Because, as much as success at Toronto was about getting the car to make rapid left/right transitions; Edmonton was about working over the corner exit bumps; and Kentucky was about aero and “Push to Pass”; Mid-Ohio was All About Tires.

In a nutshell, on a warm and humid day, Justin Wilson’s car was excellent on the alternate “Red” Firestones. Starting from the outside of the front row, Wilson pulled off a cool, unusual pass of pole qualifier Briscoe coming out of “Thunder Valley” (thanks, “Push to Pass”!) and simply checked out during the first stint, holding a six-second lead over the field at the first round of pit stops.

But Scott Dixon was dominant on the regular “Black” compound. And this is not the first road course rodeo for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixie sat back in third place for the first 22 laps, conserving fuel. Then, when all the major players pitted on Laps 29-30, Scott turned up the wick, cranking off three successive maximum effort laps before he finally pitted, the last of the front-runners to do so.

It wasn’t enough to get in front of Wilson, as the tall Brit had just been TOO strong, and the gap too large prior to the pit stops. But it did get Dixon around Briscoe for second, and right on Justin’s gearbox as he exited pit lane.

Believe me, if the rules allowed for it, Wilson and his Coyne team would’ve run Reds all race long …

With Dixon now on Black tires and quicker, all he needed was an opportunity: a bobble by Wilson, a full-course yellow, or maybe a little ‘help’ from lapped traffic….

Hu-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-o, Milka……

Going down the long M-O backstraight, the leaders came up on Milka, running pretty much in the middle of the road, as usual. Wilson hesitated, just briefly, trying to figure out the best way to pass Duno through the “Madness” sequence of down-up-up-and-down-hill corners (that’s a right, left, left, right for those of you playing along at home).

That hesitation was all Dixon needed, and he was past both Wilson and Duno in less time than it took to write this sentence.

Wilson, running a long stint on his final set of Reds, hung close behind. But the Coyne braintrust tried keeping Wilson out just one lap toooo long on fuel… Justin ran dry coming into the Carousel, coasting into his pit box with an empty tank. This also cavitated the fuel pump, so he stalled while trying to leave the pit box. Game over.

Dixon romped to a huge, 29-second margin of victory for his 20th IRL win (a league record) and 21st overall, including his CART win at Nazareth in 2001. He still has a ways to go to catch all-time leader A.J. Foyt (at 67), but is only a couple behind both Helio Castroneves and teammate Dario Franchitti. Others at the top of the all-time win list include Mario Andretti (52), Michael A. (42), and Al Unser and Paul Tracy (both at 38).

Dixon also took over the IndyCar points lead. Incredibly, it’s the 12th time the championship leader has changed in 13 races this year.

As for AGR, in general, the team was much more competitive than it had been earlier this season, although once again NONE of the drivers made the “Fast Six” final qualifying group on Saturday. Still, Mutoh finished a hard-charging fifth, battling Ryan Hunter-Reay (having his own very strong race) for fourth all the way to the finish. Marco was just behind in sixth. Danica had a decent race going until being punted out by Mike Conway. Kanaan actually qualified best of the lot (eighth) but a decision to go “off sequence” as early as the seventh lap doomed his chances. Did the shock change work? The jury is still out.

Some final M-O notes:

  • Blisters - we saw blistered tires for the first time in a long time. Trackside Online reported that both Briscoe and Wheldon blistered the right front on red tires. Wilson’s Reds always looked good. Funny how often “identical” cars can perform so differently.
  • I must confess I’m not a “twitterererer” yet. But it definitely has caught on in the paddock and you can follow along with any number of IndyCar and Indy Lights drivers through the course of a race weekend – and often during their lives away from the track as well. Leading tweeters include Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Tomas Scheckter, Will Power, Pippa Mann and James Davison. In addition, Vision Racing is VERY active on the Twitter scene, and has been hosting regular “tweet-ups” at race weekends this year.
  • Gil de Ferran held a press conference to announce he is retiring from driving (again) at the end of the season. He said he is going to expand his race team to include the IndyCar Series in 2010. Film at 11.
  • As mentioned at the top of this recap, there was a huge crowd of campers at Mid-Ohio. This track isn't really located near...well, anything, but they do a fantastic job in getting people to show up. The fans come out early, stay all weekend and are very knowledgeable on their racing. DID you see the overhead video during the TV telecast of the race? The place was FULL!
  • On the silly season front, in addition to de Ferran, both Fernandez Racing and Highcroft Racing are working to put together an ICS effort in 2010. Dale Coyne says he’ll have a pair of cars next year, and HVM is also planning on a two-car effort.
  • Paul Tracy was his usual entertaining self on his blog, carried on both his own website and the RACER magazine site. PT is both forthright and funny, and while you may not always agree, you'll always be entertained.
  • James Davison picked up his second career Indy Lights victory, both coming at Mid-Ohio. But unlike last year, when he lucked into a win under very strange circumstances (in the rain, the leader mistook the white flag for the checkered and pitted on the last lap), this year he dominated, leading from flag-to-flag.
  • It was Vision Racing's first win in any category, and team owner Lauren George is another entertaining blogger (her stuff can be found on the Vision website).

-- Dan Layton


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paddock Report/blog - Infineon, Sonoma CA August 2009

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it; crossing the Golden Gate Bridge never fails to take my breath away. It’s a great way to start off a race weekend at Infineon Raceway – coupled with a stop at the In-n-Out Burger on the 101, at the Redwood Highway exit just north of Sausalito. One double-double, animal style, please….

I’m told that Infineon is one of the most popular stops on the IndyCar circuit for sponsors and their corporate guests, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great setting, at the base of a proper foothill on which the circuit winds up, over, down, up and down again; with a proper mix of high- and low-speed corners. The Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries are just a short drive away, and it’s less than an hour to downtown San Francisco for guests who want to spend their time away from the track in one of the truly great cities of North America.

Infineon’s facilities are exactly what you’d want for a 21st-century road course. If Mid-Ohio was “state-of-the-art” in the 1980s (and it was, thanks to the late Jim Trueman), then Infineon shows everyone what a proper road course should be like, circa 2009. Starting with amenities for the fans, who can choose from the huge oval-style grandstand overlooking Turns 1-2; the terraced seating over the carousel and downhill esses; motorhome parking and campgrounds at the top of the circuit; or simply wander the hillsides in traditional road-course spectator fashion.

Throw in a mixture of permanent suites and Chalet Village tents for the corporate types, permanent garages for the teams, and a large-enough Media Center with a good view of the track, and you’ve got all the major bases covered.

As a bonus, you have the futuristic Jim Russell Racing School building and an adjoining industrial park, where more than two dozen racing operations have set up shop. A well-run race track should be able to “pay for itself” with its daily activities: schools, corporate days, team testing, etc. The big, “pro” weekends should be profit-making enterprises. Obviously, I don’t have access to Infineon’s books, but from the outside looking in, management appears to be doing everything right.

Finally, the trip offered a chance to catch up with Cali-based friends such as former Comptech owners Doug and Gail Peterson, and Memo Gidley, who lives in nearby Novato. And the Historic Formula One series was a part of the weekend show, giving us a chance to see (and hear!) some beautiful F-1 cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s running in anger once again.

As much as I’ve always loved Laguna Seca, I have to admit that Infineon is the better, and more appropriate, NorCal circuit for the IndyCar Series.

The big off-track news of the week was the long-rumored “breakup” of Andretti Green Racing, with Michael Andretti to be taking sole control of the race team at the end of the 2009 season, while partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree receive the “lovely parting gift” of Andretti Green Promotions, the subsidiary formed to promote the St. Petersburg and Toronto street races.

The deal has been in the discussion stage for some time, but while it’s been officially announced, it is still very much a work in progress. Both companies will get new names – expect something obvious like “Michael Andretti Racing” for the race team – and the possibility of new partners for one or both operations also exists. Then, there’s the issue of which staffers go where. The mechanics and engineers, obviously, will stay with the race team. But where will the front office, marketing and PR people all end up? Things will probably stay quiet until after the IndyCar finale at Homestead, but it’s sure to be a very interesting and busy off-season at 7600 N. Zionsville Road…

Meanwhile, apparent gluttons for punishment, the AGR team made a one-off expansion to FIVE cars at Infineon, with Franck Montagny making his IndyCar Series debut in the additional AGR car, prepped by a collection of shop-based crew, and mechanics “borrowed” from the other four cars. Now sure what this was all about. Maybe AGR “owed” Montagny an IndyCar start as a result of using him in its Acura American Le Mans Series car during the second half of last season; or perhaps they were putting him “on display” for a potential sponsor. In any event, it was one more quality addition to what started out as the largest IndyCar field since Indy.

On the heels of the recent death of Mario Moraes’ father came word that the mother of Ryan Hunter-Reay is also battling cancer. Until recently, she was being treated at the same Houston hospital as Mr. Moraes. At the conclusion of her latest round of treatments, but still too weak to fly commercially, team owner A.J. Foyt made his own plane available for the Hunter-Reay family to fly Ryan’s mother home to Florida. Say what you will about A.J., he has a huge heart.

On track, things got off to an extremely rough start for the IndyCar field. Very early in the session (and after spinning in the same spot just one lap earlier), Nelson Philippe spun and stalled just past the apex of the blind, over-the-crest-of-a-hill Turn 3. I’m sure a lot of you have seen the video of what followed, with E.J. Viso clipping the nose of Philippe’s car, then Will Power plowing into it at 100+ mph.

Fortunately for Philippe, Power hit his car at the best possible place – for Nelson: the dash bulkhead. This is arguably the strongest part of the chassis forward of the engine and as a result, Philippe escaped with a concussion, compound fracture of the left foot (the result of the brake pedal slicing into his foot) and a hairline fracture on his lower right leg. With Philippe already missing his right-front wheel following the Viso collision, a hit further forward by Power might have resulted in multiple, severe leg injuries for Philippe, while a hit further back might’ve been even worse….

All in all, Nelson was a lucky lad in what would have been the first of several races for the cash-strapped Conquest team. He’ll be sidelined until at least Homestead, but hopefully, will be back for ’10.

Meanwhile, I was perhaps even more impressed with the lack of injury to Power’s feet and legs. Despite hitting another car, with only pedals, master cylinders and the frontal “crush box” in-between, Power had NO foot or leg injuries. When I saw the car come back on the wrecker – with all the pedals visible, two master cylinders hanging off the front by their hoses and the third missing completely – I was sure he had significant lower-extremity injuries. I was very happy to be proved wrong.

Power did, however, suffer fractures to his middle and lower back after slamming forward against the dash and steering wheel in the impact. He also suffered (almost incidentally) a concussion. But it’s the back injuries that have ended his season.

Dr. Terry Trammell, “orthopedic surgeon to the stars”, said Power’s injuries are similar to those sustained by Vitor Meira in his head-on impact with the wall at Indy this year. Will also chipped a front tooth (and loosened another one), apparently from contacting the inside of his helmet with his mouth on impact. Something about the angle of the seat/shoulder belts, their mountings, or the seats themselves, is allowing drivers’ upper bodies to move too far forward in events of severe impacts – no matter how tightly the belts are fastened.

Driver safety has always been a moving target, and this appears to be the next area that needs to be addressed.

Anyway, back to the track. At Infineon, qualifying is critical. Starting up front, and dictating the race pace in the early laps, is a big key to success here. And the key to qualifying up front was keeping the brakes cool, calm and collected under the extreme loads generated through a combination of track layout (medium-long straights followed by sharp, slow corners) and the ultra-high grip provided by this weekend’s Firestone “Red” alternate tires.

With the ‘Reds’ on, the braking distances at Turn 4, Turn 7, the Turn 10 chicane and the final hairpin were so short that sometimes, the drivers had trouble making the paddle shifts to change down gears quick enough to keep up!

Dario Franchitti has always liked this place, and he immediately became the man to beat, setting the pace in both the opening practice and more critically, during qualifying. Teammate Dixon, however, had a tougher time of it, with badly overheating brakes keeping him out of the “Fast Six” final qualifying session. Tenth on the grid would make Sunday a l-o-o-o-o-o-ng day for Dixie, and I can only assume that a difference in braking techniques between the two Ganassi drivers might be the reason but, without seeing the data traces, I’m just guessing.

As you would expect, the remaining Penske duo of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves qualified second and third, respectively. The happy surprise, meanwhile, was the improved performance from AGR. Both Hideki Mutoh and Marco Andretti made the Fast Six (Mutoh bumping out Tony Kanaan to do so!). TK ended up seventh, Montagny eighth, and Danica Patrick 11th. All five in the top 11 is a definite improvement for the entire team. Remember when I rambled on a while back about AGR going from Showa to Dynamic to Penske shocks? That’s the only change I’ve noticed on the cars…
There were some other surprises in qualifying. Mike Conway was very quick in practice, but he wasn't able to move through the second qualifying round. On the plus side, Dan Wheldon qualified 12th. After the trouble the Panther team has had on the road courses, that wasn't too bad at all.

Then, there was Watkins Glen winner Justin Wilson, who didn't make it out of the first round due to a bent lower-rear wishbone. Justin said he didn't touch anything, so perhaps the pushrod was bottoming out and over-loading the wishbone.

Just how much better were the ‘Red’ tires here? Only Helio, Danica, and Conway started on the (black) primary tire, and they were obviously rolling the dice, counting on an early yellow so they could can ditch the ‘Blacks’ and run ‘Reds’ the rest of the day. The rest of the field started on ‘Reds’.

And, thanks in part to HPD’s “push to pass” and the option tires, it WAS an entertaining race, even through Dario dominated at the front, leading every lap for win Number Four of the year. But behind him, there were battles throughout the field and a lot of “hate”, as our friend Robin Miller likes to say.

The race got off to a rough start when Graham Rahal got into the back of Andretti on the first-lap run up the hill out of Turn 2, sending cars scattering and also involving Danica, Kanaan, Viso, Conway and Montagny. Viso was done, ending a terrible weekend for him, while Rahal got back to the pits, only to snap a halfshaft trying to exit. Everyone else continued, albeit delayed to varying degrees.

The rest of the race saw Dario out front, with Briscoe chasing. Helio ran close in the early stages, and threatened to pass his teammate on occasion, but ended up parked out in the desert off Turn 2 with a broken pushrod/wishbone. Hmmm, sounded like too many teams were shock-loading the suspension in an attempt to run the lowest possible ride heights here….

One guy who really, really needed a good finish was Mike Conway, and he finally got one, coming home third for Dreyer & Reinbold after a great late-race battle with Mutoh. Right at the end, Hideki made a banzai (sorry, couldn’t resist) dive inside of Conway coming down the hill into the Turn 10 chicane, but locked up his brakes and, by the time he gathered everything back up again from the crash-that-wasn’t, fell to fifth behind Moraes.

As expected, Justin Wilson passed a lot of cars all day long. But the Coyne boys rolled the dice early in the race, pitting under green to get rid of the hated ‘Black’ tires and go to ‘Reds.’ And Justin never got the yellow he needed to regain his lost track position and make the strategy work. At one point, Wilson also lost the rear end of his car heading into the hairpin. Somehow he didn't hit anyone, and lost only one spot (sixth, to Oriol Servia) when the smoke cleared.

In the final argy-bargy of the day, Andretti was penalized post-race for "avoidable contact" after punting Dixon on the last lap. He was dropped to 14th (behind Scott) as penance.

So ended the final IndyCar road race of ’09, with the points changing yet again, as Briscoe (who may be setting a record for second-place finishes this year) retaking the top spot over Dario and Dixon (who pretty much had a weekend to forget).

  • To me, this looked to be the best crowd yet for the IndyCars at Sonoma. The hillside terraces were more full than I recall from previous years, as was the central grandstand.
  • Firestone had new compounds here for both the primary and alternate tires. The “split’” between the primary (Black) and alternate (Red) was the largest we’ve seen all year, and it definitely helped the show.
  • iracing.com announced a partnership with the IRL to bring IndyCar racing to iracing.com. To all the “non-gamers” out there, iracing.com is an online interactive racing “league”, and now you will be able to race both Firestone Indy Lights and IndyCar Series machines on the site. If you’re into gaming, you should definitely check it out – and keep an eye out for Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger, who both are members (yes, one of the requirements of iracing is that you must use your real name).
  • JR Hildebrand once again spanked the Lights field – leading practice, qualifying on the pole and leading every lap to all-but-clinch the Indy Lights title. That formality figured to be handled the following week at Chicagoland, where all he needed was a finish of 15th or so to clinch the crown. Admittedly, Infineon is Hildebrand’s home track (he grew up in nearby Sausalito) but he still kicked everyone's butt, winning by almost 16 seconds.
  • Unless I’m in the middle of open-heart surgery or something, I always take time out to watch the Historic F1 field at Infineon. Power oversteer is just s-o-o-o-o-o much fun to watch. It’s a reminder of the old days when, as the joke goes, “sex was safe and racing was dangerous”….

-- Dan Layton

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