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levitt IMSA Rolex 12185

Reigning IMSA GT Daytona champion Christina Nielsen will be parting ways with her title-winning Scuderia Corsa team at the end of the season. The Dane, a revelation in the Pro-Am No. 63 Ferrari 488 GTE she shares with Alessandro Balzan, is leaving on good terms with the Los Angeles-based outfit.

"Scuderia Corsa is a winning group of people, [but] unfortunately, I'm not going to be back next year," she told RACER. It's believed the budget required to continue with the Ferrari-affiliated program has become untenable for the 25-year-old.

A move to another works-related GTD program, or offers to compete in GT Le Mans or Prototype are among the rising star's interests.

"I love racing in America and want to stay here if I can, but I can't control the doors that might open or close for me," she continued. "There are people I'm going to miss very much. My dad always said you might cry a little, you might be sad, but it's only because it's that good. They've given me a lot of tools, a lot of knowledge to wherever I go in the future."

On the cusp of a second GTD title, Nielsen would like her body of work in IMSA to be deemed worthy of landing a job elsewhere in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock.

"Hopefully someone will give me a shot and see I've been in contention for a championship the last three years in a row," she said. "Finished second, first, and now [we're] leading going into the final two rounds."

RD LS 17 089Cadillac and Nissan spent Friday trading a tenth of a second atop the pair of one+hour practice sessions, and after the American brand led the morning, the Japanese marque took its turn as the fastest in the afternoon.

Tequila Patron ESM's Ryan Dalziel pushed the No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi to the top (1m18.026s) as Wayne Taylor Racing's Ricky Taylor (+0.086s) came close in his No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Further back, Dalziel's teammate Pipo Derani claimed third in the No. 22 Nissan (+0.423s). The fastest non-DPi belonged to Visit Florida Racing's Marc Goossens who was fifth in the No. 90 Ligier JS P217+Gibson (+0.609s).

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In GT Le Mans, Risi Competizione's Toni Vilander took command in the No. 62 Ferrari 488 (1m22.635s). A multinational top three followed as Alexander Sims in the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM (+0.419s) and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette C7.R (+0.599s) were a considerably slower.

Porsche's 1+2 from the morning with the 911 R GT3 model was disrupted by Ozz Negri in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 (1m25.253s). Daniel Morad maintained second in the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche (+0.101s) and Park Place Motorsports' Jorg Bergmeister was only a few hundredths off in the No. 73 Porsche (+0.132s)

Other than a few spins and dust clouds created by exceeding track limits, Friday was relatively calm under the vivid blue Monterey skies.

Click here for full results.

UP NEXT: FP3, 8 a.m. PT

Danica BrettmDanica Patrick still does not have her next job lined up but she reiterated her interest in competing only in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

"If I don't do Cup, I don't think I will do anything," Patrick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "My only goal is to win in Cup. My only goal is to be one of the few drivers who have won in IndyCar and NASCAR [and] that's attained through winning in the Cup Series."

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Patrick suffered a setback this season with the unexpected departure of primary sponsor Nature's Bakery from the No. 10 Ford. Knowing her future with Stewart-Haas Racing was contingent on funding, Patrick announced earlier this month that her time driving for three-time champion Tony Stewart will end with the season finale in Miami.

But whether she is behind the wheel next year is still to be determined. And Patrick, now 35, knows there is a short list of quality rides available.

"That's the challenge," she admitted. "So, if I don't think that there's a really solid potential for that [winning] to happen, then I'm just spinning my wheels."

When asked if she had a list of potential landing spots, Patrick said she did. But as to whether she's had any discussions, Patrick said she leaves that up to her management.

"I let them do the work. There's not really anything I can do," Patrick said. "It comes down to money, and it also comes down to what I want to do. Moving parts and answers that have yet to come to fruition."

What she wants to do might very well be away from racing. Patrick keeps plenty busy in other ventures, such as yoga, a wine vineyard and most recently the launch of a clothing line. Admittedly, racing 38 weekends a year is a grind and Patrick knows she has decide if she wants to continue doing as much beyond this year.

In 181 Cup starts to date, Patrick has seven top-10 finishes. She became the first woman to win a pole in the premier series when she claimed the top spot for the 2013 Daytona 500. Patrick's career-best finish in points is 24th the last two seasons.

kybu loudon thackerHad it not been for a bobble in the second round of qualifying, Kyle Busch might have been perfect Friday night at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch laid down the fastest lap in the first round of qualifying and was fifth in the second round after he got out of the groove in Turn 2, fortunately pulling off the save. Busch then rebounded in the final round to put down a lap of 135.049 mph to take the pole for Sunday's ISM Connect 300.

The pole is Busch's eighth of the season and second at New Hampshire. Busch is also two-for-two in qualifying on the pole in the playoffs.

"Same as it is every other time – you've got to have a fast car, so certainly feels pretty good to capitalize on another good Friday and we just need to somehow figure out how to turns these things into good Sundays, you know?" Busch said. "Being able to start up front, it'd be nice to stay up front all day and limit our mistakes and not have any of those and be able to carry on and go to Victory Lane on Sunday.

"This is a good place for us and the weather is going to be warmer – more like a July race – and we run better here in July than we typically do in September, so hopefully that will bode a little bit for us in the 18 car this weekend."

Kyle Larson will start second after a qualifying lap of 134.911 mph. The July winner at New Hampshire, Denny Hamlin, will start third following a lap of 134.763 mph. Ryan Blaney (134.720 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. (134.188 mph) rounded out the top five. Truex is the only driver breathing easy this weekend, coming off a win last weekend at Chicagoland that locked him into the Round of 12.

Defending race winner Kevin Harvick will start sixth at 134.108 mph with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch qualifying seventh at 133.985 mph. Rookie Erik Jones was the only non-playoff driver who qualified in the top 10. Jones will start eighth following a lap of 133.971 mph.
Completing the top 10 were Kasey Kahne (133.966 mph) and Matt Kenseth (133.689 mph).

"It was a good effort for our Target team. One lap in the first round, one lap in the second round. I knew we would have a good shot at the pole for the final round," Larson said. "I felt like I ran a pretty good lap my first lap. Maybe I could have found a few tenths more, but overall, I felt like I hit my lap pretty good, but Kyle [Busch] was quite a bit faster than us throughout qualifying, especially that first round.

"But it is a good starting spot for us on Sunday. I got the pole here earlier in the year, but didn't get to start from up there (after NASCAR found an unapproved rear deck fin lid) and had to come from the back and pass a lot of cars, so hopefully, we can just maintain our track position this time around and get another good finish. A win would be great, but just some stage points and a top five or top 10 would be good."

Eleven of the top 12 in qualifying were championship-eligible drivers. The worst qualifying playoff driver was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 24th.

NEXT: Second practice at 9 a.m. ET Saturday.

Image263Michelin and IMSA have already started discussions on the desired performance levels for the French manufacturer's tires when they replace Continental in 2019.

"We are having discussion, more along the lines of how do we maintain reasonable and appropriate gaps between classes," Michelin North American motorsport director Chris Baker told RACER.

With Michelin already responsible for the GT Le Mans class, outfitting Prototype and GT Daytona will serve as the new areas for both parties to explore. Given the highly restricted performance level for GTLM cars, the speedy, relatively untamed GT3-based GTD cars could match or exceed the GTLM cars on similar Michelin rubber without intervention by the series.

Speeds in the Prototype class, with its P2-based cars, could also improve if IMSA and Michelin decide to accelerate its marquee category.

"Everybody seems to think that cars going faster, within reason, is a good idea," he added. "So, we're aligned on that, and of course in our testing, we'll see what kind of magnitude difference we actually wind up with.

"Really, the important thing for us, right now, is the gap between GT Daytona cars and GTLM cars. Not worried about Prototype. Helping IMSA to manage the gap between GTLM and GTD is the first work at hand."

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2017 24h Daytona AT1 3568

Brian Alder's BAR1 Motorsports team is one of two remaining full-time PC entrants this season, and with the class set to fold next month after Petit Le Mans, plotting a new Prototype course for 2018 has been his priority.

"There's a lot of moving pieces to put together, but we're making progress, for sure," Alder told RACER. "We have everything in position and we're ready to go. It's just a matter of how we get to that point. We have lots of irons in the fire, and it's just figuring the best way to position everything. If everything comes together, we could have two cars on the grid. It's the last five percent of the deal that is hardest to complete."

Beyond considerations of what kind of Prototype model Alder will race next season, the shift from being a leading PC entrant to taking on factory DPi efforts and other privateers with a WEC-spec P2 is a major adjustment for the Ohio-based team. A new business plan is, first and foremost, the greatest challenge to execute.

"Unless you have a wealthy gentleman funding your team, budget is the first thing you need to make everything work if you're going up to the big class," he said. "You want to do well and win, and those will come in time, but you have to have the right budget in place to structure your team and purchase the cars. And will that budget let you hire a pro driver, or two, or will you need a gentleman driver? It's a lot more complicated than just getting cars and going racing."

Selecting a chassis supplier will be the easiest part of process, according to Alder.

"If we went with ORECA, Ligier, or Dallara, we'd be in great shape with any of them," he said. "Picking one comes down to a couple of things: customer service, spare parts availability, past experience with the manufacturer, and whichever route we go, I don't think we can make a bad decision."

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It has been a crucial few weeks for McLaren. Following its decision to split with Honda, approval finally came after the Italian Grand Prix for a switch to Renault for the next three years.

A busy and stressful period of negotiations, contract signings and eventually the announcement followed. Plenty of questions were asked as a result. Is Renault a big enough step forward? What if Honda makes big improvements over the winter? And one of the biggest ones: Does this mean Fernando is staying?

Alonso, of course, has been very vocal about the Honda situation and his desire to see McLaren switch power unit supplier, but he's not the only driver that the change has a big impact on.

"Probably Fernando is a little bit more emotional when he's in the car," Stoffel Vandoorne says after confirmation of the McLaren-Renault deal. "I'm always very cool when I'm racing. I've never really been like that in any series. Even when there's bad things happening during a race, I've always kept my cool and not really been moaning about it, let's say.

"Of course internally every now and then you have to knock on the table and say what you have to say, but there's different ways of doing that."

Far from criticizing Alonso, Vandoorne is instead explaining why the Spaniard outwardly appeared to be more of a catalyst for the McLaren-Honda split. The Belgian rookie has been less outspoken, but he says that's his choice rather than a sign of his teammate's status within the team.

"No I don't think it's any different between us," Vandoorne replies when asked if McLaren gravitates toward Alonso more. "Lately my performances have been very, very strong. I've been matching Fernando, and on a couple of occasions been better than Fernando, so I think it's all going very well.

"I'm very happy with the team, with the way everyone is behaving, with the way the car is developing as well," he says. "For me, it's an exciting future. I'm feeling much more comfortable in the car now as well, performing every session that I'm out there, and now for me it's just a positive to be next to Fernando, because if I can keep being up there with him and be faster than him, then it's very good for my own reputation.

"The only [improvement] would be if we were fighting at the top – this would be even better, I think."

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Fighting at the top is no guarantee, but McLaren is confident the newly-announced engine supply deal will ensure that the gap to the front is much smaller next year. For Vandoorne, that would represent solid progression after a year that started off slowly, but has picked up momentum.

"I think it's positive news for everyone – for McLaren, for Renault, for Formula 1," he says. "I think it's very exciting. After all the talks that there have been in the past, it's good to have confirmation. Everything is now settled for our future. But there are still six races left this year, which we still have to treat as well as we can, and really try to make the most out of.

"For sure this is a first big step forward, let's say. I think for the short term it will be a very positive one. Our car has been performing very well this season. We've not had the reliability and the power we were hoping to have this year, and this has hampered our results and our mileage – especially at the start of the season.

"Next year, hopefully everything will be more stable, the results will be more consistent and everything should hopefully be a step forward. So I'm very excited for that. And also I want to fight at the front; that's where I want to be."

The lack of mileage is a key point for Vandoorne. The 25-year-old did not score a point until the Hungarian Grand Prix and was failing to hit the heights expected of him after an outstanding junior career, but after two top-10 results in four races, he feels he has turned a corner.

"It's definitely not been an easy start to the season," he said. "Of course I was hoping for much more in terms of results and the positions we would be, but it hasn't turned out to be that way. In the beginning it was not easy to deal with that in terms of going to a race weekend and kind of knowing you have almost no chance to finish in the points, but it also has enabled me to focus on different things, to find different motivations every time that I go to a weekend.

"Now when we are a bit more competitive, also with Fernando next to me who is pushing very hard, you set yourself different challenges. I think lately it has been positive, I've been very motivated going to all the races and trying to make the most out of it.

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"It's both that races have come together a bit more in terms of myself adapting better to the car, but also my relationship with my engineers [has improved], so they can make the car better suit my driving style as well. So everything in that perspective has come much more together – but I think it's also because of the track time that we missed at the start of the season that we maybe lacked a bit of performance.

"I have a different driving style to Fernando and what Jenson [Button] had, but now the team is completely on top of that. They know exactly what I want from the car, I know exactly what I need as well, and lately the performance has just been very strong."

Amid the uncertainty of the McLaren-Honda partnership, it has been hard for Vandoorne to shine. But the team publicly backed him with an extension of his contract before his home race in Belgium, and his form has continued to pick up.

Vandoorne himself sees the Renault deal as particularly crucial for him personally, as he hopes the improvement in performance will put the team back at the competitive level he had become accustomed to in the past.

"You always need to have some high hopes," he says, "Otherwise, it wouldn't be nice to be here if you don't think there is an opportunity. I think we probably won't be quick enough to win the championship next year - we have to be realistic - but we should hopefully be in a position where, when there is a bit of mayhem happening in front, we take the opportunity.

"What will be possible is difficult to say, but of course I hope we can fight more regularly for some top positions and at least be in the mix.

"It's where I used to be, let's say. I've been racing at the front in every series I've raced in, managing to win races, to win championships nearly everywhere, and for sure where we race now is different than racing at the front. I think it's been a learning experience this year to be in the position where I am... but I'd much rather prefer to be at the front."

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99 GB MS Crash 01

During the opening laps of the 1999 British Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari went flying off the road at a high rate of speed. The resulting crash broke his leg and ended a potential championship season, but it could have been much worse.

Schumacher's rear brakes failed at 191mph as he attempted to slow for the Stowe corner. He still had front brakes, which slowed the car down to 127mph before locking up and continuing his deceleration to 67mph when he made impact with the tire barrier.

In a statement after the crash investigation the sanctioning body proclaimed: "The gravel trap performed satisfactorily in a worst-case situation."

Oh, really?

First, this wasn't a worst-case scenario. Schumi was going 191mph heading to Stowe. What would have happened if there had been a total brake failure? A stuck throttle? An incapacitated driver? It takes little imagination to come up with far worse scenarios than what actually happened. Worst-case my ass!

Secondly, you have a driver with a broken leg in what was far from the worst-case scenario. What about this is "satisfactory" in the eyes of the governing body tasked with safety? Was there some sort of gruesome driver injury quota they had to satisfy back in 1999?

Odd statement aside, the lessons that should have come from this crash are still in need of learning 18 years later – and 18 years later we are still killing drivers because we refuse to learn it.

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Fast-forward six years from Schumacher's accident to the 2005 Continental (then Koni) race at VIR. I was driving a 996 Porsche in the GS class. Our first practice session was run in a heavy downpour, and on the out lap I was in thick traffic. As the pack came into Turn 14a I went to the brake pedal only to have it go to right to the floor.

My first instinct was to avoid the cars ahead, which put me immediately in the wet grass at near top speed. From that point on, I was a passenger. Here I was, in a similar situation to Michael, except I was going faster in a car that definitely wasn't as safe. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I emerged completely unhurt. We were even able to repair the car before qualifying.

What was the difference? Curtains.

In racing, there are two types of offs. By far the most common are the simple ones where a driver makes a mistake and spins, overshoots the brake zone, or gets punted going into a corner. These typically result in anything from a trip through the runoff to a meeting with a tire wall. I don't want to minimize the potential dangers of any off, but in general the racing world has done a good job of identifying areas where these are likely to happen and added the necessary safety features.

What concerns me the most is what I like to refer to as a "rogue" car. Cars can go rogue for many reasons, some of which I mentioned earlier. Mechanical failure, incapacitated drivers, car-to-car contact on straightaways and hydroplaning are just a few of the things that can send cars uncontrollably off of race tracks at very high speeds. From that point on it's not a matter of if they will hit, but rather what. "What" makes all the difference.

What should have been clear from Schumacher's crash, and Gunter Schaldach's, and Mark Pombo's, and Allan McNish's, and Sean Edwards', and Brad Keselowski's, and RB Stiewing's, and Jimmie Johnson's, and Tim Bell's... (I could go on) is that gravel traps don't stop rogue cars. That means that the only thing between a driver in a rogue car and a serious injury is the barrier that they hit. Too often, as was the case with Schumacher, barriers behind gravel traps are just not very deep, leaving little distance for the car to decelerate across.

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What is needed is what VIR and some other forward-thinking tracks in the U.S. have implemented: tire curtains (above). Tire curtains are rows of tires, bolted together. Then they are set between the hard concrete wall at the end of the runoff and the track in layers, each about ten feet apart. The faster the approach area, the more curtains are placed in the runoff.

The idea is that the car makes impact with the first row of tires, and then dissipates energy as it drags the first row across the void and into the next row. Instead of having four to ten feet to stop a speeding, car curtains allow for 20-60 feet depending on approach speed.

These tire walls aren't free, and there is the labor of assembling them, but for the amount of protection they provide, the cost seems very reasonable. Yet very few tracks we race on in the major professional road racing series here in the U.S. have them.

Most of our facilities are one rogue car away from a repeat of Schumi's Stowe crash, or worse. This is a problem we can, and must fix. I'd love to see curtains everywhere a rogue car could end up everywhere we race. It's time we start making smart decisions with track safety before it's curtains for another one of us.

Spencer Pumpelly's long sportscar career spans the ALMS, Grand-Am, IMSA and the PWC, and includes two GT class wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona. He is currently racing in IMSA's Continental Sport Car Challenge ST class with RS1, and also competed for Magnus Racing in the PWC's 2017 SprintX series.

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