lat abbott lbgp 0417 12050

lat abbott lbgp 0417 12050It's not a done deal just yet but the chances of IndyCar keeping the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the forseeable future look very strong.

After several months of evaluating proposals and listening to presentations by the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (IndyCar) and the World Auto Championship California (Formula 1), the City of Long Beach announced Tuesday its intent to award the contract to the GPALB.

"Based on information provided in the interviews, proposals and clarification, as well as the analysis provided by KPMG, the Selection Committee identified GPALB as the most qualified firm to operate the Long Beach Grand Prix race," read the memorandum from the City of Long Beach.

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Jim Michaelian, the president and CEO of the GPALB since 2001 and a mainstay of the race since its inception in 1975, was understandably upbeat with the news.

"So far so good and the City Council still has to meet on Aug. 8 to give their final approval, but from our perspective it's a strong step in the right direction," said Michaelian, whose contract to host IndyCar is set to expire after 2018. "The city was asked to consider the best option and it hired worldwide accounting firm KPMG for $150,000 to do the evaluation.

"It was a lot of work to make sure the city got the true picture of what IndyCar contributes to the city and what problems could be encountered with F1."

levitt 0417 lbgp 10826First and foremost is the millions of dollars F1 commands for a sanction fee and Long Beach would have to undergo a multi-million dollar facelift to try and make room for F1's teams, television village and track upgrades.

The recap of the KPMG research also noted that Michaelian's group "was the best proposal in fully demonstrating the ability to deliver a race and providing the breadth of information required to financial stability, race implementation, marketing plan, minimizing negative impacts and conformance with the terms of the request for proposal."

Last October, the city released a request for proposals seeking an open-wheel auto racing format to run the annual street show but Michaelian and Chris Pook were the only two horses in the race. Of course, the great irony is that Pook founded Long Beach and turned it into a treasure with F1 and then CART before leaving in 2001. In 2014 he started making noise about bringing F1 back before getting serious in 2016 and putting the wheels in motion during the past several months with his World Auto Championship California.

Michaelian was Pook's right-hand man before becoming the boss and he's helped keep Long Beach as the longest-running and most successful street race in American racing history. In 2005, then Champ Car owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe bought the company and remain co-owners today.

Just having staged its 43rd consecutive year of racing (the last 34 with IndyCar), Long Beach is the second-most prestigious event on the Verizon IndyCar schedule. And losing it to F1 would have been a major blow.

Image146RACER's Marshall Pruett takes you for a narrated technical tour of IndyCar's new 2018 superspeedway bodywork.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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DOLE MRLS323 RD2 1921Monterey County's Board of Supervisors has reviewed the latest management proposal from the Friends of Laguna Seca (FLS) group and declined the offer in favor of sticking with its longstanding partners at the non-profit Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP).

With its decision to continue with SCRAMP and the three-year facility management agreement it created at the beginning of the year, board member Mary Adams, who supervises the district where Laguna Seca resides, demonstrated her reluctance to hand the famed circuit over to a new entity like FLS.

"Looking at a long-term relationship with a start-up didn't seem like a wise investment involving such an important asset for the county," Adams told The Monterey Herald. "I think for me and perhaps for other supervisors we were really looking at a business decision on behalf of the residents of Monterey County. This was a very laborious, time-consuming process to reach the same conclusion we reached earlier this year. I think we'll stay on the same path at least for the time being."

Under the direction of Adams' predecessor, the board sought proposals from multiple parties to replace SCRAMP on two separate occasions. In its last venture, which concluded late in 2016, the board chose the promise-filled FLS organization to lead Laguna Seca into the future.

 Y2Z6747Although the FLS claimed to have tens of millions of dollars to donate and renovate the aged property in exchange for receiving a long-term management contract, the board and FLS were unable to come to terms. The FLS' vast angel investment was also revealed to be a much smaller sum of money the group had in its hands; the large, attractive investment figure was determined to represent funds that were verbal commitments from its supporters rather than actual dollars in the possession of FLS.

With the golden goose looking more leaden than expected, the newly installed Adams expedited the creation of a fresh contract with SCRAMP, which has run Laguna Seca since it opened in 1957, to stabilize the strife-ridden property.

In the new agreement, the county made one key change by taking control of concessions at the park, leaving SCRAMP to concentrate on the management of the circuit and surrounding campgrounds. In what came to light in recent weeks, steady lobbying and pressure from the FLS group to open a new round of discussions led to the board revisiting the topic of a management change. By acquiescing to those calls, the circuit returned to a familiar place of destabilization.

The newest offer from the FLS, as cited by The Herald, involved its group offering "$10 million upon signing a long-term deal, as part of $50 million over 25 years."

The lump sum payment would be beneficial, but the remainder – approximately $1.5 million per year for the length of the 25-year contract – would not appear to make a great difference to the profits the board anticipates generating on its own.

Where the $50 million offered in 2016 caught the attention of everyone in the county, the revised proposal with $10 million up front and a slow investment of the remaining $40 million through 2042 could have led Adams and other board members to arrive at a less compelling reason to sever ties with SCRAMP.

Although the county has held firm with SCRAMP, one significant modification was made earlier this week in the repositioning of former CEO Gill Campbell.

A new plan, crafted between both parties, has seen the splitting of management duties once held by the CEO. Going forward, a new CEO will be hired to control the financial and operational aspects of the facility. The managment of event creation, planning and promotions, which also fell under Campbell's leadership, has been removed from the CEO's duties. Campbell, who came to SCRAMP with an extensive background in event management, will fill the new event role effective immediately.

SCRAMP president Michael Smith will act as Laguna Seca's temporary CEO while the search for Campbell's replacement is conducted.

"This is a response to the needs and plans of the new SCRAMP that began operation under a new agreement and structure with the (county) in January," Smith told The Herald. "It will enable SCRAMP to address the increased demands of running the entire Laguna Seca Recreation Area while staying focused on an ambitious plan for racing and non-racing events at the facility. The realignment allows Gill and her team to focus solely on ensuring future success to meet SCRAMP and Monterey County's shared vision for the future of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca."

For now, it would appear Laguna Seca can move forward and continue with the multiple renovation projects that began earlier in the year.

Provided the board is willing to avoid more unnecessary distractions and focus on its current contract with SCRAMP, it's entirely possible the county and race fans could prosper throughout its duration.

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Pirelli has ruled out a structural failure as the cause of Kimi Raikkonen's tire problem late in the British Grand Prix, suggesting instead that it may have been caused by contact.

Both Ferraris encountered problems with their front-left tires late in the final laps of the race, prompting Pirelli to conduct a investigations into the two incidents over the days that followed.

It quickly determined that Sebastian Vettel had suffered a slow puncture, however the source of Raikkonen's issue proved more difficult to trace. But on Wednesday, the Italian firm announced that its analysis had ruled out any problems with the tire itself, nor any related to Ferrari's set-up.

"The results of the analysis on Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen's front-left soft compound tire, which experienced an issue at the end of the recent British Grand Prix, reveal specific damage in two places at the edge of the belt close to the internal shoulder area," the statement read. "This damage is not present throughout any other areas of the tire whatsoever. Furthermore, the belt and structure do not show any signs of fatigue.

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"The possible initial cause of this damage is consistent with contact against an external body, leading to a partial separation of the belt from the carcass in the two affected areas. In one of these two places, as a logical consequence, part of the tread also became detached.

"This damage did not however compromise the actual tire structure, with Raikkonen able to make his way safely back to the pits on an inflated tire.

"A number of detailed tests have since been carried out, both destructive and non-destructive, on other tires used by frontrunners at the British Grand Prix with a similar or bigger distance on them compared to the set used by Raikkonen (for 25 laps). On no occasion was there any sign of fatigue, detachment or laceration – or even the beginning of such problems – that affected the structure of the tire.

"In conclusion, Pirelli can confirm that no issues have emerged connected with the tire itself."

Raikkonen heads into this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix fifth in the drivers' standings, 19 points behind Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in fourth. Teammate Sebastian Vettel heads the table with a one point advantage over Lewis Hamilton.

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Amid all the excitement following the British Grand Prix, a small milestone went largely unnoticed some 700 miles away.

Frederic Vasseur will walk into the Hungaroring paddock tomorrow as the new team principal of Sauber, the same job he performed wearing the yellow of Renault less than a year ago. His first official day at Hinwil was the day after the race at Silverstone, just over six months after leaving Enstone.

In the immediate aftermath of Monisha Kaltenborn's departure from Sauber, a number of names were thrown around as her potential replacement, and some reported candidates caused a sense of panic among both those within the team, and among the many who want to see it prosper.

After just three weeks without a team principal, chairman Pascal Picci made what has proven to be a largely popular choice by installing Vasseur as managing director and CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG, as well as the F1 team principal.

Before he joined Renault, it had seemed only a matter of time before Vasseur became a household name in the F1 paddock. Impressive success with his multiple championship-winning ART team in junior categories over a number of years forged a strong reputation for the Frenchman, and the task of rebuilding Renault appeared to be the perfect opportunity to make the step up from the lower formulae.

However, the mix of Vasseur and Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul didn't work, and the former left by mutual consent after just one season. At the time Vasseur pointed to different visions within the team's management as central to his decision to go, saying it is crucial that an F1 team has a clear leader with one obvious direction.

On the surface, it would appear Vasseur will be the man to set that direction at Sauber, having officially taken on so many senior roles within the team, but it remains to be seen if it plays out that way. Kaltenborn's departure was due to a lack of agreement between herself and Picci over the future direction at Hinwil. Sound familiar?

Of course, Vasseur will have been well aware of Picci's ideas and vision before accepting the job, so it would appear they are aligned in their idea of where Sauber should be heading. But even harmony at the top will not change that fact that the Frenchman has a major job on his hands.

Sauber is now the fourth-oldest team in Formula 1 based on continuous entry, with its 25 years – emblazoned on the side of a largely sponsor-less car this season – only bettered by Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. To have achieved such longevity as a team based outside of the United Kingdom is hugely impressive when you consider that many of the brightest minds in the sport settled within a radius of roughly 60 miles around Oxford.

Attracting senior staff to Switzerland - despite the tax benefits - is a difficult challenge. During the recent years of financial concern, retaining them became even harder. Following the takeover of Sauber by Longbow Finance, Kaltenborn was able to sell a positive vision of a stable future to new recruits and quickly went about expanding a team that had been contracting for a number of years. Her departure may well have dented the confidence of some of those staff, and Vasseur will need to repair it.

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Staff members are one thing; faith in next year's power supply deal is quite another. From the moment Kaltenborn left, the 2018 partnership with Honda was thrown into doubt. With just seven months until pre-season testing begins, that uncertainty is far from ideal.

Vasseur himself highlighted the power unit situation as one of his priorities when he started work at Sauber, and it appears to be an area where he will need to lay down a clear direction. With Honda management recently describing the chances of the deal going ahead as 50/50, there is obvious concern from some factions of the team over whether it is the right path for Sauber to follow next year. However, planning has continued and many team members have been planning with a Honda power unit in mind; recent meetings suggesting it is not as black and white as the Swiss side simply wanting to call it off.

With McLaren now limited to Honda and Renault as its two realistic options for 2018, Sauber is understood to have been eyeing the Mercedes supply that had potentially been earmarked for Woking. It makes sense on many levels, with Mercedes reserve Pascal Wehrlein currently driving for the team, and Vasseur enjoying a good relationship with Toto Wolff. Plus, ART has previously enjoyed tie-ups with Mercedes in both DTM and Formula 3.

Right now, a Mercedes supply looks attractive compared to a year-old Ferrari power unit, but it would offer quite a low ceiling of performance. In the V6 turbo era, Sauber has finished 10th in the standings twice, and eighth once. It is currently ninth in the constructors' championship this season, and you would hedge a bet that McLaren will overhaul it in the near future. Turning around such a performance is not going to be a simple matter of installing a Mercedes power unit with a much smaller performance advantage than it enjoyed in 2014. Solid foundations need to be set, and a different path to its midfield rivals could prove beneficial.

Mercedes could be a quick fix, but Vasseur will have to work out whether Honda could be a better long-term one. Recent signs of improvement from the Japanese manufacturer offer some – albeit limited – encouragement, and as one of a maximum of two teams to use a Honda power unit next year, Sauber could enjoy a much closer relationship than it would as one of three Mercedes customers outside the works team.

In a potentially best-case scenario, McLaren could cut ties with Honda and Sauber could find itself with a works partnership by default. But even if Vasseur felt it was a deal worth sticking with, would Picci agree?

Of course, the flipside is that a further year of Honda struggle would confine Sauber to another season fighting to avoid finishing bottom of the table. For all the disadvantages of the team's location and its recent problems, Sauber still has excellent facilities and many of the ingredients needed to claw its way back into the midfield. Right now, its power unit is not one of those.

With cost-cutting measures being analyzed following the last Strategy Group meeting, there are signs Sauber will have a more level playing field in the coming years, but there are unlikely to be any quick fixes.

In order to make his return to F1 a successful one, Vasseur is going to need patience. Potential rifts internally since Kaltenborn's departure will need to be fixed, and then a clear future direction must be put in place to convince the team's best assets to stay, and new recruits to commit.

It's a similar expansion job to the one Vasseur faced at Renault, although on a smaller scale. If he has full control, then the Frenchman has every chance of making it work. If not, then there could be shades of of deja vu on the horizon.

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Honda has been able to show McLaren some of the progress it was asking for in recent races, head of F1 project Yusuke Hasegawa believes.

Having failed to bring a planned power unit upgrade to the Canadian Grand Prix, Honda found itself under increasing pressure from McLaren as the team became more vocal in its calls for rapid improvement. At the time executive director Zak Brown said he was satisfied with the attitude from Honda, but wanted to see results in terms of performance.

Having delivered a step forward with its latest upgrade, resulting in Stoffel Vandoorne reaching Q3 at Silverstone, Hasegawa told RACER he sees reasons for optimism.

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"Of course from a technical point of view we needed to show some ability in terms of technical development, so from that point of view it looks better," he said. "But we still had an issue in Silverstone, so that was not very good.

"The pace itself was very similar to the Williams and Force India and definitely we had a chance to get a point [with Vandoorne]. Performance at Silverstone suggests a step forward with the spec three power unit, but also from the chassis side, so I think we have been able to show the level of improvement.

"Of course we are still not satisfied with our current position. It is good that we can show some progress, but we still need to try our best when it comes to development."

Despite the spec three power unit having been delayed until Azerbaijan and only racing for the first time in Austria, Hasegawa said there has been no knock-on effect to the next major upgrade as development work continues.

"I can't tell you the exact plan because I haven't fixed it yet, but we always keep pushing to introduce a new update. As soon as it is ready we will introduce it."

Honda took a number of power unit penalties at Silverstone in an attempt to avoid any grid drops at the Hungaroring, where McLaren expects to be even more competitive due to the lack of emphasis on power unit performance.

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Sebastian Vettel is the central piece to the 2018 driver puzzle, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

Despite leading the drivers' championship at the halfway stage this season, Vettel is yet to sign a new deal with Ferrari and is out of contract at the end of the year. With Valtteri Bottas only on a one-year deal at Mercedes and Toto Wolff wanting to see how the driver market unfolds, Horner believes Vettel is central to any movement this season – although he is adamant there is no chance of Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen leaving Red Bull.

"I guess Sebastian probably holds the key to the driver market at the moment," Horner said. "But certainly within Red Bull Racing there will be no changes to the driver line-up. [Ricciardo and Verstappen] are totally locked in and there is no price that would be high enough for those two."

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While Vettel sits one point clear of Lewis Hamilton, Bottas is also within a race victory of the drivers' championship lead, but Wolff insists Mercedes' thinking is not purely based on the immediate future.

"[Bottas] is almost a no-brainer," Wolff. "It's not only about 2018. I think it's about moving forward, about what happens in 2019 and 2020, the risk and opportunities.

"That's why after Budapest, hopefully [we'll have] a good race again and we're going to contemplate on a beach on what's about right and wrong for the team."

Despite not yet committing to Bottas, Wolff says he is looking forward to watching the Finn's development throughout the rest of the year.

"Valtteri has embodied Finnish resolve and fighting spirit," he said. "He has a fierce work ethic, steely approach and a great natural talent. He threw himself into the challenge of switching teams and we are now starting to see his full potential reveal itself.

"I have the feeling he is getting better with each passing weekend and is already a more complete driver than at the start of the season. I'm excited to imagine how he will continue to develop for the rest of the season."

Nissan 1

Electramotive Engineering's IMSA GTP program was an epic failure when it appeared in 1985. Faced with immediate disappointment, its paymasters at Nissan USA wanted to kill the project, with haste.

A stay of execution was arranged by Nissan's new motorsports manager, R. W. "Kas" Kastner, upon his arrival in 1986, but more GTP embarrassment followed. Two seasons in, the mothership – as in, Nissan Japan – came calling and wanted to scuttle the little Californian team for good.

Kastner could see the quandary at play. Nissan was looking to save face after volcanic powertrain failures, massive crashes and lowly finishes became its GTP norm. What the brand couldn't see through the oil and smoke was the potential offered by the tight-knit El Segundo-based outfit.

Founded in 1974 by Don Devendorf and John Knepp, Electramotive was bursting with talent, but needed organization. It also needed something different than the disastrous made-to-order Lola T810 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo. Kastner convinced his bosses not to pull the plug just yet and started working the problems as Electramotive's defacto leader.

"Nissan thought I was a little high handed when I told them, 'The car's junk,'" Kastner recalls of Lola's Jello-like chassis. "This went over like a lead balloon. Other than Frank Honsowetz, nobody at Nissan knew anything about racing. The team was grossly underfunded. I couldn't believe Electramotive signed a contract to do what they were asked to do."

Devendorf had raced for Kastner on the amateur circuit in the 1970s and was the primary driver for the GTP ZX-Turbo. Their bond of friendship made Nissan's first big mandate easier to accept.

"Don was a really bright guy; he was still working at Hughes Aerospace as a scientist and worked himself down to the nub," Kastner says. "His health was at risk, so the first thing I said was, ‘You’re no longer in the car anymore.’"

Freed from driving, Devendorf, a pioneer in electronic fuel injection, took charge of Electramotive’s computer controls for the GTP program, which helped make Knepp’s production-based 3-liter, turbocharged V6 the envy of the paddock. Overcoming Electramotive’s poor reputation as a prototype racing team was the next order of business.

Committed to turning Electramotive's fortunes around, the unloved T810 would become Kastner's rallying point.

Aero wizard Yoshi Suzuka came up with all-new bodywork shaped in Electramotive's wind tunnel. Kastner and Moss arranged for beefier Hewland gearboxes to replace the trail of broken Weismanns. Valuable pounds were carved from the hefty Lola by ditching the heavy, stock engine block for a new, lighter aluminum piece; it also improved reliability. Only the original Lola chassis and rock-hard Bridgestone bias-ply tires remained by 1987.

A one-off gift at the early-season Grand Prix of Miami – access to buttery Bridgestone radials reserved exclusively for Porsche's 962 – allowed Electramotive's development prowess to show as Geoff Brabham and Elliott Forbes-Robinson took Nissan's first victory. However, an immediate return to bias-ply rubber hastened the last two changes as '88 approached.

Nissan 2"With Trevor Harris coming onboard, there was a sense that there was a genuine light at the end of the tunnel," Brabham says of the renowned chassis designer. Electramotive unbolted everything that attached to the T810, replaced it with a new Harris tub, and found triple the torsional rigidity.

"Just driving out of the pit lane I knew it was 100-percent better," Brabham recalls. A new tire vendor completed Electramotive's vehicular purge.

"We get Goodyears, go to Riverside, use the same setup, and instantly go two seconds faster," Kastner recalls. "We said, 'Man, the world's in trouble now...'"

The GTP series was trampled underfoot by Brabham and Electramotive in 1988. Nine wins, including an unimaginable streak of eight straight with a Harris-designed chassis nicknamed "Elvis," turned the lean, mean Nissan team into racing rock stars and earned Brabham the GTP drivers' title.

"I came home after the sixth win and there was a big banner across the street at Nissan's corporate headquarters that read 'We won six in a row,'" Kastner says. "In two years, we'd gone from a team they wanted to cancel, to everybody standing in line to get on the motorsports bandwagon."

Nissan 3Read the complete version of this story in the 2017 Great Teams Issue of RACER, on sale now. To subscribe now at a special discount rate, click here, or to buy the 2017 Great Teams Issue online, click here.

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