Sep98 lead.001

Sep98 lead.001This is the eighth installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.


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The trouble with being the most revered automotive brand (and one of the world's most revered brands, period) is that your greatness is not just celebrated, it's expected. For those associated with Scuderia Ferrari, that means rock-star adulation when you're winning and relentless commercial pressure when you're not. The joy and relief clear on the faces of the team following Sebastian Vettel's victory in Australia on Sunday was clear evidence of that.

And that was for a Ferrari team that has gone a "mere" 10 years without a championship. In 1998, the passionate Tifosi were wringing their hands over a 19-year title-less streak in F1.

But times were changing. The arrival of world champion Michael Schumacher and the director of his title-winning efforts at Benetton-Renault, Ross Brawn, for 1996 had turned the red cars from mediocrities into contenders, if not quite on the same level as the Williams-Renaults, and the following year Schumacher had fought Williams' Jacques Villeneuve to the last race before their controversial collision ended his hopes.

Another obstacle to Ferrari's resurgence had arisen in 1998 when the McLaren-Mercedes team emerged as the leading constructor out of the gate, but Schumacher had swept to three straight wins at midseason and, as RACER's September issue was in preparation, all was looking promising for the Scuderia.

So, was Schumacher "The Man Who Saved Ferrari"? According to Maurice Hamilton's cover story, team director Brawn actually deserved as much credit. That theory would gain more credence the following year when an injury forced Schumacher to the sidelines and his number two, Eddie Irvine, emerged as a title threat for the house that Brawn built. 

Sep98 2Shining a spotlight on the need to continually push for enhancements to race driver safety has been a key element of RACER from the inception of the magazine. In 1998, it was NASCAR that was drawing particular attention on this score after a rash of serious injuries to its drivers in crashes. Gerald Martin addressed the matter with his feature story for the September issue. NASCAR would implement a multi-year program to address concerns over the safety of NASCAR's Cup cars, which culminated in the introduction of the "Car of Tomorrow" in 2007.

Sep98 4Less urgent than safety but still a nettlesome issue at the time was the continuing absence of an American driver – or much American involvement of any kind – in Formula 1. Gordon Kirby went to the most credible source on the subject – America's most recent world champion, Mario Andretti – to get his perspective on why the prospects for a new American champion looked bleaker than ever.

While the USA still has no F1 drivers of its own to cheer for two decades later, the re-establishment of the U.S. Grand Prix and an American-owned team has significantly raised the profile of the sport here, a vital first step. The influence of the sport's new American-based ownership could also change the paradigm.

Sep98 3

Times were changing on the media front, too. RACER's innovative editorial approach and cutting-edge design were increasingly being noticed beyond the ranks of traditional motorsports media. While working on the July 1998 issue, we learned that RACER had been selected as one of the year's top 12 magazines by min magazine – magazine media's trusted source for consumer and B2B brands – alongside the likes of Elle, The New Yorker and ESPN The Magazine. It was another encouraging sign of mainstream affirmation of RACER's mission that a "racing magazine" could go far beyond tradtional definitions of the category. 

min2Meanwhile "The Internet" had evolved beyond the mysterious stuff of futurists into a growing means of communication, and RACER jumped into this new world with the first incarnation of RACER.com in May 1997. Initially, the website was an evolution of the "RaceWeek" fax news service we had previously produced that had been edited by Gordon Kirby, who collaborated with Bill King on RACER's web-based news hub. It was already clear that the way the public would get news and indulge interest in subjects like motor racing would profoundly change in the years ahead. 

Also, by this time Haymarket Publishing had reached out to RACER to inquire about buying the majority of the company and a conversation began that would run until January 2001 before it became reality.

keating1Lady Luck owed Ben Keating a podium finish at Sebring. Any of the three podium positions would have sufficed, and thanks to a mistake made by one of his mechanics in practice, Keating and the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 team shot to the top step after 12 punishing hours of competition.

As the smiley Texan tells it, his victory with teammates Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher was part redemption, and part magic.

"Sebring in general has been a race that has escaped me many times," Keating told RACER from a Caribbean port days after the race as he celebrated with his Riley Motorsports colleagues on the Gas Monkey Cruise. "In 2013, we had basically a lock on third place and ran out of fuel on the back straight on the way to the checkered flag. In 2014, we caught on fire, burned the car to the ground. 2015, we blew our engine from the lead with two laps remaining. Last year we broke an axle. We have had a really good car at Sebring many times and I've never been able to put it together.

keating3"And this year, it was like they ran out of bad things that could happen to us. It was really special to finally, not only to have a great car, but to close the deal and win the race was really special for me."

Coming off an impressive third-place debut for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in January at IMSA's Rolex 24 at Daytona, Keating knew the throaty V8-powered front-engine coupe would be competitive at Sebring. It took an unexpected ingredient, however, to transform the car into a genuine threat for the win.

"Talking about it being special, there are only a handful of times I can remember in my career where we made a change to the car, and a small change just completely transformed the car," he said. "As I think about practice at Sebring, as we went through and developed the car and made small changes, it was good, but we knew it could be better. It was actually a mistake by the team in practice that helped us find that thing we were missing! I mean, it was totally incredible.

"It was one half-turn in ride height. We were supposed to raise the car on one corner and they accidentally lowered the car. We went out and all the sudden we are a second faster on the track. All of a sudden, the car comes alive. It was in the warm-up session before the race where it is like, oh my gosh, all of a sudden where has this been hiding and what is going on here now?"

The happy accident – a slight mistake with a wrench – unlocked the full potential of the big 'Benz.

"Jeroen said this may be the best car he had ever driven," Keating continued. "It wasn't really about [Balance of Performance]; it was more that this car is dialed in so well that it does whatever I am asking it to do. It was really neat from the standpoint of just from a racing driver's perspective of having a car that is that hooked up and that dialed is such a rare thing."

Keating was instrumental in making the Mercedes-AMG deal come together with Riley Motorsports after years of being the top Pro-Am representative for Dodge with the GT3-spec Viper. And while some of his competitors might disagree about the Mercedes-AMG GT3's BoP at Sebring, the car's pace was undeniable.

From the GTD pole by Tristan Vautier in the upstart No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and their eventual third-place finish, to the win by Keating's No. 33 entry, the German brand had plenty to celebrate in Sebring.


keatingAbove: Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher smile after taking home the 12 Hours of Sebring win in GTD.

"We are delighted to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in what was our first attempt in the 50-year history of Mercedes-AMG and the first appearance of the three pointed star in this legendary race in 60 years," said Thomas Jaeger, program coordinator for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing. "The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has proven itself a major endurance race winner around the world but the challenge of the 12 Hours of Sebring is unlike anything else we have undertaken in the past."

Pitted against teams like Scuderia Corsa – the defending class champions – new factory teams from Acura and Lexus, and all of the monsters that make the race to Victory Lane such a brutal endeavor in GTD, Keating says Riley Motorsports' early success with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 platform is remarkable considering the opposition it faces.

"All the stars seemed to align; that was really neat," he added. "And to see our face on the Mercedes-Benz website after the win, watching them celebrate our success was really cool. From an IMSA standpoint or a championship standpoint, we are in a different position than we have ever been. We have had a really successful program in the past, but it has been really high highs and really low lows.

keating2"But when you have a car that is that hooked up and dialed in like this, you don't mind being in fierce competition. Scuderia Corsa were right on our heels the whole time. At the four-hour mark, we were in the lead and they were in second. At the eight-hour mark, we were in the lead and they were in second. The 12-hour mark, we were in the lead and they were in second. They were not far from the fastest race lap and we had all the usual teams to go up against. The harder you have to fight for each win, the sweeter that win is, and that was our case in Sebring."

Basking in the Sebring win will soon be replaced by another fight as IMSA heads to Long Beach for Round 3 of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Keating knows Riley Motorsports' lead in the Drivers' and Teams' standings will be under fire from the moment practice begins on the legendary street circuit, and cannot count on a Sebring-style smackdown to hold the other brands at bay.

"After the [Sebring] race, I thought [Scuderia Corsa's] Christina Nielsen said it best," he said. "We were over there at the podium standing in line and she said, 'Hey, enjoy it while you've got it. Last year we had the car to beat, we had a very dominant car and we made the most of it. And congrats to you for taking a car that was very strong and making the most of it.'

"She said, 'some competitors may be upset with you because you had such a strong car, but don't pay any mind to them. Everyone is going to take their turn at the top and you have to make the most of it when it is your turn.' It was very nice to hear from a competitor. But don't get me wrong, if they get the chance to beat us, they're going to jump at it."

SNE25216Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are relishing the opportunity to fight each other for the drivers' championship in relatively equal machinery after being closely matched in the Australian Grand Prix.

vettel2 melbourneVettel took victory in Melbourne after jumping polesitter Hamilton during his only pit stop, with Hamilton held up behind Max Verstappen's Red Bull and losing touch with the Ferrari. The two cars look to have similar performance at this early stage of the season, which is a rare occurrence for the two world champions to enjoy.

With a combined seven world titles between them over the past nine seasons, both drivers have won the majority of their championships in dominant cars, but when asked by RACER if they are looking forward to going head-to-head with each other, both Vettel and Hamilton said they are excited by the prospect.

"Great respect for Lewis – I think he had an amazing debut 10 years ago here [in Melbourne]," Vettel said. "I still remember his move around the outside when he made other people look a bit silly. I think since then he proved he is very, very quick, very talented and also working hard. It was only a matter of time for him to win a championship, which I tried to stop him in Brazil as hard as I could in my Toro Rosso! Great memories. I don't remember the last 10 years we've been racing each other..."

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Hamilton: "I'm going to get you back for that!"

Vettel: "I hope not! Actually if I have the same outcome as you had on that day then..."

Hamilton: "I'm going to get you back!"

Vettel: "To cut it short, great respect. He's proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid. For sure I'd love to have a close battle. Right now it looks like we have equal machinery. I hope it stays that way and then we'll see how it turns out, but it's obviously a lot of fun to race for victories and a lot of fun to race against the best."

Hamilton: "Yeah I second that. Incredible amount of respect for Sebastian and what he's achieved in his career. It has been a privilege to be racing in the same era as him and now finally we are at a period of time where we can actually have a real race. I wish we could race a lot closer in the cars that we have today, but still I think the fact that pace-wise we are similar, it's going to be a very, very hard slog this season.

"It's going to be physically and mentally demanding but as Sebastian said, racing the best is what Formula 1 is all about and ultimately makes you work that much harder – having to raise the bar – and I'm looking forward to that."

91912Spy shots of the 2017 Porsche 919 Hybrid – with which the German marque is set to campaign this year's World Endurance Championship season – have emerged today.

The car, which is set to be officially launched next week at the FIA WEC's Prologue test at Monza, completed a single lap on the tail end of a GT test at the Paul Ricard test circuit in the south of France.

In terms of looks, the differences are immediately noticeable with a larger front fender, headlights and reworked sidepods. It is not yet clear which aero configuration the car pictured is running.

91924
91931This is compared to the 2016 car:

fia wec 2016 prologue
wec 2016 porsche lmp1 launch 0194

This season the team will race with a pair of 919 Hybrids for the full season, including the Le Mans 24 Hours with a refreshed driver squad. Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber return to the LMP1 cockpit for the first time since winning Le Mans in 2015, while Andre Lotterer moves to the team from the now defunct Audi Sport LMP1 effort.

The FIA WEC Prologue test is set to take place April 1-2, where Toyota's new-for-2017 TS050 LMP1 racer will also be officially unveiled on Friday.

bowyer lat auto clubWith a third-place finish in the Auto Club 400, Clint Bowyer headed for a place he hasn’t been in quite a while: A post-race press conference in the media center.

Brad Keselowski, who finished second, was the first to greet Bowyer. As the Stewart-Haas Racing driver made his way to the stage, Keselowski welcomed him with a joke:

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"My man, Clint Bowyer," Keselowski said. "How long has it been since you've been in here after a race?"

There was no malice intended. It has been well documented how far out of the spotlight Bowyer has been for the past year, if not longer. He's been winless since 2013, which is also the last time he's finished higher than 19th in points. During his time spent HScott Motorsports last year, Bowyer earned just three top-10 finishes.

Bowyer broke his dry spell Sunday at Auto Club Speedway with his first top five since the summer race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2015. The finish was also his second top 10 in five races with Stewart-Haas Racing.

"Just to have the organization behind me, everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, my teammates," Bowyer said. "To have these teammates like this, at this point and everything I've been through, you know how fortunate you are when you get this opportunity. Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, getting out of the car and giving me this opportunity, just appreciative of everything."

Stewart was not only on the pit box but also on the 14 radio throughout the day. Although Bowyer was, of course, pumped up about his finish, Stewart offered a simple "good job" after the race.

ACS MENCS Bowyer Suarez 032617"I know he's proud, and he was happy with that, but that's what you want in an owner," Bowyer said.

It was a winning effort from Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. Saturday night, Bowyer spent time in Bugarewicz's hotel room – something he says he's never done with a crew chief looking over all simulation, throttle traces and other possible notes ahead of race day.

A 17th starting spot soon became a minor detail as Bowyer had an average running position of 5.65 throughout the day. At one point, he found himself sitting as high as third. A rash of cautions inside the final 15 laps closed the gap to the leaders and suddenly put Bowyer in a position to perhaps challenge for the victory.

Not surprisingly, Bowyer was eager to try and make something happen.

"All day long the temptation was killing you," Bowyer said. "You could see it; you just couldn't get it. My car was so good, but it was teeter-tottering between too loose in and off the corner and too tight in the middle, and I wanted to free up to try to get it better across the center, but I was afraid to get too loose getting into (Turn) 3 because I was having trouble there on the long run.

"I was just kind of stuck in a box. This is one that you'll think about on the way home, should I have freed up a little bit, what would it have done? Would that give me an advantage that I didn't have? But that's racing. There's so much that goes into it."

Keselowski auto club gettyWith a car that looked like it had just run at Martinsville instead of Auto Club Speedway, Brad Keselowski somehow finished second in the Auto Club 400.

"We were tore all to hell," Keselowski said. "Gosh, that's unfortunate. Got tore up there really early in the race. Went all the way to the back, just clawed all the way up to second. I don't know if we had anything for Kyle (Larson, the winner) and those guys. Car was tore up pretty bad. To get that kind of finish is respectable. Certainly, we wanted to win, felt like we had a shot to do just that. Didn't come together.

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"That's the way it goes sometimes when you have a 36-race season. You're going to have some adversity and days that don't go your way. That's the way it was for us today, but we made the most of it, so I'm proud of my guys."

Keselowski was also working without crew chief Paul Wolfe, who was serving a one-race suspension after the No. 2 car failed post-race heights and measures last weekend in Phoenix. Sunday, it didn't take long for things to look like it was going to be an uphill battle for Keselowski and interim crew chief Brian Wilson.

Coming to the green flag on the initial start of the 400-mile event, Keselowski was hit from behind as the inside lane stacked up when second-place starter Denny Hamlin didn't get going.

"I got ran into the back of," Keselowski said. "It did a lot of damage to the car. We were in a lot of trouble, starting to free all through the field, then I got ran over again. I'm not really sure who, why, what. I haven't seen any of that."

Jimmie Johnson tagged Keselowski coming out of Turn 4 on lap 5, sending the No. 2 spinning through the infield grass. After falling a lap down, Keselowski received the free pass at the conclusion of the first stage.

The Team Penske driver spent the next 135 laps picking his way through the field. Just don't ask Keselowski how he did it.

"That's a good question," Keselowski said. "Glad I got the race on the DVR, so I can see it. The last few restarts were obviously key for us. We seemed to get settled into about 10th there, maybe seventh or eighth. Then kind of just executed the last few restarts. Good pit calls and so forth.

"Good timing with the yellow [flags]. We caught a few breaks, for sure, and made good adjustments to our car to make up for the damage. It takes a little bit of everything: Good execution, good work by the team, and a little bit of luck on the last few yellows."

larson wins mencs auto club gettyWhat a difference one position makes.

After three straight second-place finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, polesitter Kyle Larson finally found Victory Lane, pulling away after an overtime restart to win Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Larson took the checkered flag at the end of the second extra lap as team owner Chip Ganassi celebrated from his perch atop the pit box.

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"It's great to be Kyle Larson right now," said the 24-year-old driver.

Resilient Brad Keselowski, whose spin on Lap 3 caused the first caution of the afternoon -- and damaged his No. 2 Team Penske Ford – rolled home in second place, .779 seconds behind the driver variously known as "Young Money" and "The California Kid."

Larson, who led a race-high 110 laps, kept his cool through four cautions and subsequent restarts over the final 21 laps, giving up the lead to pit for fresh tires on Lap 193 of a planned 200, as Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray stayed on the track.

But Larson quickly surged back to the front after a Lap 196 restart, passing Hamlin for the top spot through Turn 2 a lap later and holding it through the overtime.

"I was staying as calm as I could be, but also frustrated at the same time," Larson said of the late-race stops and starts. "It seems like every time I get to the lead at the end of one of these things, the caution comes out and I've got to fight people off on restarts. Our Target Chevy was amazing all day. We were able to lead a lot of laps today. Truex was better than us that second stage by quite a bit. We were able to get the jump on him the following restart and led pretty much the rest of the distance.

"I had to fight them off there after the green flag stops (before the final caution), and that was a lot of fun. This is just amazing. We've been so good all year long, three seconds in a row. I've been watching all the TV like 'He doesn't know how to win,' but we knew how to win today, so that was good."

In posting his second career victory (the first coming at two-mile Michigan last year), Larson completed his first weekend sweep, having won Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series event.

Larson extended his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lead to 29 points over second-place Chase Elliott, who finished 10th.

Clint Bowyer ran third, posting his best finish since June 2015 at Sonoma, where he also came home third. Truex, who opened a lead of more than eight seconds in winning the second 60-lap stage, was fourth, with Joey Logano recovering a lost lap with a late wave-around to finish fifth.

Keselowski cut a tire during a jam-up at the start of the race, the went for a ride off Jimmie Johnson's bumper on Lap 3.

All things considered – among them a suspension to crew chief Paul Wolfe for an infraction last week at Phoenix – Keselowski was happy with his second-place result.

"We were tore all to hell," Keselowski said. "Got tore up there really early in the race. Went all the way to the back, just clawed all the way up to second... The last few restarts were obviously key for us. We seemed to get settled into about 10th there, maybe seventh or eighth.

"Then kind of just executed the last few restarts. Good pit calls and so forth. Good timing with the yellows. We caught a few breaks, for sure, and made good adjustments to our car to make up for the damage. It takes a little bit of everything: good execution, good work by the team, and a little bit of luck on the last few yellows."

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Sebastian Vettel insists it was a "positive surprise" to win the Australian Grand Prix and puts Ferrari's strong performance down to the team's focus over the winter.

Ferrari parted company with technical director James Allison in July last year, despite Allison already working on the concept of the 2017 car. Mattia Binotto replaced the Briton, and was faced with the task of recovering from a winless 2016. The Scuderia got the new season off to the perfect start with Vettel's victory in Melbourne, and the four-time world champion says the win is a result of not looking too far ahead during the off-season.

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"I think for all of us this is a positive surprise," Vettel said. "I think the road we followed was pretty simple. We didn't look left, we didn't look right, we didn't look forward, and we didn't look back! We focused on what we had to do at the time. Obviously there's been a lot of up and down left and right in the last 12 months but I think specially in the last couple of months things calmed down and we just tried to do our job.

"Obviously there's been a big reshuffle, but as I said people are happy, happy to work, working with each other so that's the key and in the end there's no shortcut, you need to get the job done and invest a lot of hours thinking.

"Passion is a great driving force back in the factory, also here. Up and down the pitlane the amount of hours the guys are covering is mad, so you need to love what you're doing. But I think I said it years ago - joining Ferrari, there seems to be extra passion working for the Prancing Horse.

"Just focusing on ourselves really has been the big difference and the key to deliver a great car, which we obviously have. The speeds were alright both on the straights, and in the corners we are competitive - I was able to stay with Lewis. They had a little bit the upper hand yesterday, but I knew we had much better balance yesterday than on Friday so I knew in the race anything could happen.

While Ferrari's strategy won the race as it left Vettel out after Hamilton pitted early, the German says the victory is especially significant given the recent turmoil behind the scenes at Maranello.

"We say this from the outside but if you're not part of the team it's difficult to realize but what this team has done in the last six months has been really tough, rough as well, not easy to manage the whole team. But I think the new car in general... today is fantastic, a big reward and big relief for everyone.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg though, the foundation has been laid a long time ago. I'm sure we'll have a great night, create some great memories tonight and take it from there. We enjoy what we do, the spirit is great in the team and it's up to us to keep it up."

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