Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Long Beach IndyCars--Something for Everyone"

On the bottom--Dario Franchitti, who like Gil deFerran yesterday, found his way to Victory Lane at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Franchitti, with the win for owner Chip Ganassi over polesitter Will Power, now takes the series point lead to Kansas. He was challenged by Danica Patrick, who started 22nd and thanks to race strategist and team owner Michael Andretti, picked her way through the full course cautions and made it to second, before a fade to a 4th place finish.
On the top--Will Power and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske chatting after a post race media availability. Power gave up the #3 to Castroneves this weekend, as he agreed to do, and will next be in Penske livery at the corner of 16th St. and Georgetown Road in late May for the Indianapolis 500, a race where Mr. Penske has a solid record of accomplishment. Helio started 8th, led some laps, but also shuffled back in the pack--he finished 7th.
We will be back at the track in Richmond for Sprint Cup qualifying on May 1, and the race on May 2.

"One Year Later--Victory At Long Beach"
The last motor racing victory for Gil deFerran was an IndyCar win in 2003 at Texas Motor Speedway. He came close here in Champ Cars, one year leading 100 of 105 laps (1997) only to fall victim to mechanical gremlins. A year ago he announced his return to driving, and his entry into team ownership in an American LeMans Series LeMans Prototype 2 Acura. Fast forward to Saturday, where he led a 1-2-3 Acura sweep of the podium.
This is a big deal, since he started on the fly in 2008 with the LMP2 Acura. After the season ended, deFerran ramped up to the LMP1 Acura Program, starting with Sebring a few weeks ago.
He will have a tall order next race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah...we'll have more previewing that race in an upcoming edition of "Race-Talk".
In other auto racing...Winnngs over Shanghai... Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel wins the Chinese Grand Prix; Jenson Button remains the Formula One point leader with a third place finish. Mark Martin showed Saturday night why Rick Hendrick picked him as a driver...the 50 year old Martin beat Tony Stewart to break a 98 race victory drought in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Comments from him on this week's Race-Talk, as well.
We'll blog a snapshot from the IndyCar winner's news conference later on.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Will Power on Pole; Can He Win His Way to A Full Time Ride?"

Will Power (center, black driving suit), last year's winner, sits on the pole for Sunday's 35th edition of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This is a big deal, since all he had to do is acclimate himself to a new engineer and team, after putting the #3 car driven now by Helio Castroneves in front in Friday practice. It's a big deal, but do-able since he drives for Roger Penske, and "The Captain" is one of a few owners in any form of auto racing with the acumen and resources to pull this off. Power knows the way to Victory Lane, since he won here last April. Dario Franchitti made his return to Long Beach in fine style, starting alongside Power in 2nd. Teammate Scott Dixon also in the top 6 in are Justin Wilson (5th), EJ Viso (4th), and Raphael Matos (3rd). Helio Castroneves did not get to the Fast 6 but was in the Swift 12...he'll take his first green of 2009 from the 8th starting spot. Other notables: St. Petersburg winner Ryan Briscoe starts 10th; Tony Kanaan 11th, Marco Andretti 19th, Danica Patrick 22nd.
The rhetorical question I ask is this: If Power wins, and attracts the interest of an advertiser with sufficient willingness and authority to commit to a sponsorship (yes, even in these times sponsors are there--but they are harder to find), would the "Captain" reconsider?
"Helio's Back"
We join you from the 35th edition of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where a real-life feel good story just took place. Helio Castroneves retook his place behind the wheel of the #3 Dallara Honda owned by the legendary "Captain", Roger Penske--scan hours after a Miami jury acquitted him on six counts of federal tax evasion in US Federal Court. Penske made it clear--he stood behind Helio and assured him that he (Castroneves) would get the seat back if acquitted. That put Will Power into a third car in Verizon livery this weekend, and for the Indianapolis 500. The Captain was certainly loyal to Castroneves and kept his word. I am not so sure other owners would have had that much patience and loyalty if faced with such a dilemma.
Helio makes no secret about the practice of his Catholic faith. He says that faith, and weekends in shifter go-karts, helped him through the dark days of that 7 week trial.
The last time Castroneves raced here in 2001, he led 82 laps on the way to Victory Lane. The fastest driver this morning was Dario Franchitti. Power, who won this race in 2008 (the last of the Champ Car series in reunification) was third in the Verizon car...point leader Ryan Briscoe (third member of the Penske triumverate) clocked in 16th.
David Brabham put the Patron Acura LeMans Prototype 1 car on the pole for this afternoon's race in the American LeMans Series sprint race which will take the green after qualifying.
In the signature Toyota Pro Celebrity Race, a familiar name took the checkers in the Pro category--the now retired Al Unser, Jr. with seven checkers--five in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and now two in the Celebrity race (first one was in 1985--25 years ago) Keanu Reeves won the celebrity portion--Jamie Little was mired in mid pack--the ESPN pit reporter and last year's celebrity winner was never a factor.
More after qualifying for the Indy Cars and definitely more after the American LeMans race.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Segway, Fisker Electric Options @ NY International Auto Show

Sustainable mobility is not only cute---it can be fast, too.

Top is the GM/Segway collaboration for a two person people mover powered by batteries.

Bottom is the business end of the Fisker hybrid convertible. The manufacturer's figures for their conventional hybrid, gets 0-60 in 7.5 seconds running on batteries alone; 5.1 with the 2.0 liter gas engine working. The company also markets a plug in hybrid.

All of the manufacturers are touting enhanced fuel economy numbers. For the four and six cylinder models, you get specific numbers. For the performance and big V8 engine models, you get a percentage.

As you saw on the last Tweet, Roger Penske and I had a chance to chat as we met near the Cadillac exhibit and the new SRX. "The Captain" is looking over the new models (after all, his Penske Auto Group sells vehicles from most of the manufacturers exhibiting) and was pleased when I congratulated him on his IndyCar team win at St. Petersburg.

Most interesting panel of all will be the Future of Automotive Newsweek panel discussion later this afternoon.

I'll Tweet if there's any neat stuff.

"Answer Me This:"

Interesting Keynote Speech by Stefan Jacoby, Volkswagen of America President & President of Auto Alliance. He says he and the organization supports regulations mandating fuel economy and, befitting his European background, perhaps more government influence on owners of cars to get rid of them for more efficient models, as is done in Germany. But one of the first things he said was "(the) free market works."

How do you have a free market with restrictive regulations that mandate building cars that people in the real world don't want?

He set the themes for the show--fuel economy, alternative fuels and sustainable mobility. I suspect that performance, if it is mentioned at all, will be very much in the background.
More later.
"NY International Auto Show"
Checking in early from the press room...with all that is going on in the business...the GM & Chrysler sessions ought to be interesting.
We'll blog a picture of any interesting cars/trucks we see...and we will Tweet from the floor.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"The Captain Wins Again in St. Pete; Briscoe Takes IndyCar Green-White-Checker"

Ryan Briscoe survived a challenge by Ryan Hunter-Reay in the last two laps, to notch his third career win, and owner Roger Penske's third win here on the temporary downtown 1.8 mile street circuit. Justin Wilson was the beneficiary of a first lap incident that punted polesitter Graham Rahal from the lead. Wilson led the most laps, but was caught by Roger Penske's strategy, which put Briscoe in the lead. Hunter-Reay was catching Briscoe, but thought better of a last lap banzai move in the late stages of a caution filled Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The green-white-checker evolved because the last green flag of the race flew on lap 99 (green). The next lap was the white flag lap (100) and then the checker was shown first to Briscoe.

The win is the Captain's 30th victory since Penske Racing joined the IndyCar Series.

We'll blog from the NY International Auto Show later this week...and don't be surprised if you see something about our 800th Road Test somewhere else.

"Junior (Strous) the Real Deal"
We are in sunny St. Petersburg, FL, and not outside Ft. Worth, TX (as a reminder), and had the chance to witness a performance from Junior Strous in the Indy Lights doubleheader that opened our eyes. Strous swept both ends of the doubleheader with impressive drives.
This is one of the big dilemmas of the open wheel world. Even before the economic contraction, drivers with lots of talent and not so much money had a very hard time advancing from solid performances in the junior formulae to the "show" a/k/a, IndyCar Series. Now, marketeers will tell you that no other form of racing exists other than NASCAR and its Sprint Cup Series, and that they would not back drivers in open wheel like Strous, with sponsorship for a race car, even with demonstrations of talent such as Strous's this weekend. NB: Regular readers know I use the term marketeers to describe the "geniuses" that provide vision, strategy and direction for a firm's marketing budget, and base their judgement on a herd mentality.
The marketeers need to do more study and look beyond the figures.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"Acuras Double Up in St. Pete; Brabham, Sharp Notch First LMP1 Overall Win for Patron Highcroft Racing"
Scott Sharp started, and David Brabham finished up in Victory Lane with the LMP1 Acura ARX 02a, which we showed you on this blog in January. (OK, that's the excuse I am giving for not blogging a snapshot). The Acura driven by Simon Pagenaud and Gil deFerran started on pole and was fast--the gremlins bit, and the car completed only 66 of 93 laps on track...and was on the transporter by the time Sharp and Brabham went to Victory Lane.
This is Sharp's first LMP1 win, and the first in ALMS competition for the ARX 02a. Sharp and Brabham won Acura's first LMP2 tilt at Lime Rock last July.
The Patron Highcroft team leads the LMP1 points as the series gets a break for Easter next week.
In LMP2, Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz are two for the season. Their Acura ARX 01b was the only LMP2 car fast enough to stay on the same lap with the Patron squad, notching their second class win.
Fernandez and Diaz similarly lead the LMP2 points.
We're multitasking and trying to watch a little NC2A Final Four National Semifinal action in between work. Time for us to say good night and see all of you tomorrow morning.

"Front Row At St. Pete"

To your left, Graham Rahal, at 20 years, 90 days old, the youngest IndyCar pole sitter, with an effort of 103.828 miles an hour for his first pole, and a leg up on defense of his win here last year. To your right, Justin Wilson, who drove his fast lap of 103.196 miles an hour to give new owner Dale Coyne Racing his best ever team starting position. Rahal had a semi-close moment on an otherwise impeccable Fast Six...the son of Bobby Rahal thought he needed to get an even quicker lap, and upset the car ever so slightly enough to kiss the wall.
The top 6 are Rahal, Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, and Will Power. Scott Dixon will see the green from 8th, Danica Patrick 15th, and her teammate, Marco Andretti, 18th. Rahal showed a bit of pleasure when asked whether he derived satisfaction from beating and out qualifying Marco.
We'll blog after the American LeMans Series race wraps up.
"Knockout Qualifying at St. Pete; ALMS Warmed Up--Just Like the Weather"
Our colleague Jeff Wolf reported in yesterday's Las Vegas Review Journal the presumptive move of NASCAR's season ending Sprint Cup Awards banquet/ceremony to Glitter Gulch, a/k/a Las Vegas...leaving the Waldorf-Astoria and confiscatory New York taxes behind. A good move--besides, America's Happiest Mayor, Oscar Goodman, actually enjoys the visits--unlike the sourpuss Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has a more important task--actually trying to attract and keep taxpayers in New York City.
Here at St. Pete, the first pole position of 2009 is up for grabs in the Indy Car Series. The "knockout" format works like this--drivers are split into two random groups. The top 6 from each group go to Round 2. The twelve are reduced to the 6 fastest. Those six shoot it out in a ten minute no-holds barred qualifying session. BTW last year's winner Graham Rahal, and last year's series champion, Scott Dixon are in...along with returnee Dario Franchitti.
We'll blog you a pole winning snapshot later on.

Friday, April 03, 2009

"Lid-Lifter on IndyCars; ALMS Acuras On Pole "

American LeMans-- Simon Pagenaud from deFerran Racing is on overall pole with the new Acura ARX02b LMP 1 prototype--101.606 miles an hour around the 1.8 mile course. Third overall and first of the LMP2 cars--Luis Diaz 99.420. The diesel Peugeots and Audis aren't the prototype field is a bit sparse. That said, Pagenaud didn't have a lot of time to get into the Wirth Racing simulator for the he looked around on the net, and downloaded some games and simulations of the St. Pete circuit, a lot like Denny Hamlin at Pocono in 2006.

IndyCar--Last year's winner, Graham Rahal, set the standard for the IndyCars--his practice run 102.3 miles an hour. The IndyCars sound a bit different in 2009, thanks to a rule tweak that put a different exhaust system on the Honda engines. Also...the ethanol that they use is Brazilian branded, thanks to the demise of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, who sponsored the fueling in 2008 Twenty-two IndyCars took practice times this afternoon. The series will also have a different tire rule for road and street courses for 2009. Firestone, at the behest of the IRL, developed a two tire scheme--primary (black sidewall) and alternate (red sidewall). The rules state that each team use one set of unused ("sticker") primary tires and one set of unused ("sticker") alternate tires for at minimum two laps of green flag racing. The alternate tires share the same construction as the primaries, but have a stickier tread. Firestone Racing Boss Al Speyer suggested that teams who bolt on the red-label Firehawks could gain a half to a full second of speed over use of the primary tires. This introduces some strategies in the management of the tires. But wait, there's more: The teams must declare one hour after final qualifying, what compound (primary or alternate) their car or cars will use at the green flag. If the race is declared a wet race--the rule is suspended.

Danica Patrick still draws crowds in the paddock, not quite like AJ Foyt did in his heyday...we had to squeeze up against the ropes to snap this shot of the crew working on the Motorola car.

We'll rejoin you from the downtown circuit tomorrow. In the meantime, (and I hope you will pardon this point of personal privilege) please keep my neighbors in Binghamton, NY in your thoughts and prayers, as they try to make sense of what happened on Front Street today.

"Toy Store vs Real World"
We have been monitoring events in our area--we are based in Johnson City, NY, two miles to the west of Binghamton, NY--and we note, with a lot of concern, the stories about a shooting incident at the American Civic Association, which has made worldwide news. Had we been there, we'd have been working on that story, which is never a good story to cover, or see unfold. Our thoughts and prayers (especially on this Palm Sunday weekend) are with all who are affected by this outrage. It reminds me that most of the time, what I cover is from the "Toy Store" of life. What happened in Binghamton this morning was as "real world" as one gets.
We're going to shoot some pictures from the paddock and ask Father Phil DeRea (IndyCar Catholic Chaplain) to remember the Binghamton victims at Holy Mass here at the track this weekend.
"St. Pete--Day 1"
Greetings from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season opener for the IndyCar Series and race number two for the American LeMans Series.
I'll blog a few pictures from the paddock later on. The ALMS prototypes and GT cars will qualify later this afternoon--we'll snapshot the overall polesitter.
Also going on this weekend is my 800th Radio-Road-Test. I am testing a Ford F-150 Lariat 4x2 with a five and 1/2 foot box seating for four and a V8 engine which will launch the vehicle from 0-60 in the eight second range (I gotta save the exact figures for the radio program which will likely air the week of June 3, 2009). Mileage bumps 20 on the highway...16.5 combined +/-.
I'll blog a picture of the test vehicle later in the weekend. The skies opened up this morning and washed all the Alligator Alley dust out of the box.