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PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team owner Bobby Oergel will announce his choice of LMP2 chassis manufacturer in the coming days. His PC team, a perennial championship contender, will make the leap to IMSA's top WeatherTech SportsCar Championship class in 2017, and with a series of important decisions to consider on which constructor to select, Oergel took RACER inside the process.

The cost-capped nature of the 2017 P2 cars manufactured by Dallara, Onroak (Ligier), ORECA and Riley/Multimatic, and the fixed sum to acquire a spec Gibson V8 engine, makes shopping a somewhat straightforward experience. So, in the absence of a big discount from the four options, where did Oergel start his evaluation?

"For me, it is really about the people that are with each of the manufacturers," he said. "Who is really going to be pulling the all-nighter in the event you need it? We make no bones about it; we are small fish in a big ocean if you look at it on a world scale. In the U.S., I like to think we are small but mighty and keep our head down and push hard to do a good job. And that is all we are."

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One concern for Oergel involved the long relationships between some Prototype teams and the four P2 constructors.

"Making the decision of who is going to be able to understand who we are, and work with us in a nondiscriminatory way, and not favor a bigger team because maybe they have more cars or money than us, that's also where I began my process," he said.

IMSA has promised to balance the Gibson-powered WEC P2s and the WeatherTech Championship's custom P2-based Daytona Prototype Internationals to a point where any model can succeed. And while that commitment should come as a relief to every team, new Prototype entrants like PR1/Mathiasen will face a longer learning curve compared to teams with P2 experience.

Shortening that learning curve through a solid engineering exchange with a P2 manufacturer where simulation data, chassis and aero setup recommendations, and sharing insights gained during each race weekend is another area of great importance, according to Oergel.

"We're not asking for anything more than the others, and don't want anything less in regards of support," he said. "Stepping in to a new class with a new car, for us, is absolutely about finding the best engineering support and technical support. These are new cars for them as much as they are for us, and I'm sure they're all going to be pretty darn good. The trust and the depth of which they are willing to jump in the trench with us to get them figured out is a big piece to consider."

The most interesting aspect of Oergel's selection criteria is the lack of weighting he places on the four P2 models available for purchase. Although his team has run an ORECA FLM09-Chevy PC car for years, and earned a Drivers' championship with the car in the ALMS, you won't find an automatic allegiance to the French constructor. The same is true for PR1 and the other three brands.

phpThumb generated thumbnailjpg 2This dynamic contrasts some of the 2017 P2 buying habits that have been based on pre-existing relationships. Longstanding Riley customers Ben Keating and Peter Baron have purchased Riley Mk 30s; Ligier customers ESM went with Ligier (pictured) to develop a new DPi, and other pending P2 announcements will reveal similar team-constructor continuations.

"A lot of the research we've done is getting to understand the plans for these manufacturers and what they have in mind for the future," Oergel said. "We don't really have one relationship that's bigger than we do with the others; we've tried to learn where they are going, and then looked at if it's the right fit for our team.

"And I think that's where you find the real differences. If everyone is selling cars, and we're expecting them to be almost identical once they're out and racing, you want to be aligned with one that is going to see you as something more than another vehicle sale. We're confident we've found one that is just as excited to work with us as we are with them."

Asked if buying a car from a constructor with a DPi program in the works would make a difference in his selection process, Oergel says it wasn't a factor at this point for PR1.

"The fact is, a DPi program is absolutely something we want and aspire to go be a part of, but the scenario there is they are going to be few and far between, so I didn't really put any weight in that area," he added.

"We definitely have the team to work with a DPi program, and want to align ourselves with a manufacturer down the road if the right opportunity was there. But it's not going to happen soon enough to have it enter into what we're doing in the near-term."

Having come into the 2017 P2 buying process as a new team to the class without ties to steer PR1 in any specific direction, Oergel admitted he was relieved to complete the decision-making process on Monday.

"For me, now, it is about receiving our car and where we're trying to go with it in the next four years," he said. "It's a relief to have all of the ducks lined up and I'm pretty excited. This morning was a nice breath of fresh air from the standpoint of, okay, we're finally done."

F1 start, Monza

The FIA has announced the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship calendar, featuring only minor adjustments from this year's schedule.

The season will again feature 21 races, starting in Australia at the end of March and ending in Abu Dhabi eight months later.

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There are small alterations to the order of some events compared to the 2016 calendar.

China and Bahrain swap places, with the Shanghai race moving up to the second slot on the calendar after Melbourne.

Malaysia moves forward from this year's early October date to mid-September, swapping places with Singapore, which is now back-to-back with Japan.

A fortnight gap is created between the United States and Mexican Grands Prix, but there is now just a week between Mexico and Brazil.

The Canadian, German and Brazilian GPs are all listed as subject to confirmation, with Hockenheim slated as the German venue even though 2017 would ostensibly have been the year the race returned to the Nurburgring under their alternating deal.

F1 again clashes with the Le Mans 24 Hours, which takes place on the same June weekend as the European GP in Azerbaijan.

PROVISIONAL 2017 F1 CALENDAR

March 26 Australia (Melbourne)
April 9 China (Shanghai)
April 16 Bahrain (Sakhir)
April 30 Russia (Sochi)
May 14 Spain (Barcelona)
May 28 Monaco
June 11 Canada (Montreal)*
June 18 Europe (Baku)
July 2 Austria (Red Bull Ring)
July 9 Britain (Silverstone)
July 23 Hungary (Hungaroring)
July 30 Germany (Hockenheim)*
August 27 Belgium (Spa)
September 3 Italy (Monza)
September 17 Malaysia (Sepang)
October 1 Singapore (Marina Bay)
October 8 Japan (Suzuka)
October 22 United States (Austin)
November 5 Mexico (Mexico City)
November 12 Brazil (Interlagos)*
November 26 Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina)

* Subject to confirmation

Originally on Autosport.com

WhiteHouse Obama KyBusch Helmet 092816

Kyle Busch and the defending Sprint Cup Series champions were honored by President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the White House in a ceremony marked by several pointed jokes.

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"There were some people who thought we were going to see a Bush back here in the White House this year," Obama joked, referencing former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. "But they didn't know it was going to be Kyle –especially after he broke his leg and his foot at Daytona and missed the first three months of the season."

The President of the United States traditionally honors each of the major sporting champions and NASCAR is no exception. Bush was joined by crew chief Adam Stevens, wife Samantha and Joe Gibbs Racing team president Dave Alpern.

Busch presented Obama with a replica race helmet, and the Commander in Chief responded by asking what the 31-year-old really pumped through the air hose.

"Some really good stuff," Busch quickly quipped.

Obama also wanted to take the championship-winning Toyota Camry for a drive but said both the Secret Service and First Lady Michelle Obama would forbid it – the latter because M&M's were not a healthy snack option like a carrot.

WhiteHouse KyBusch Obama ShakesHands 092816

For his part, Busch was also in an upbeat mood, making a joke of his own in a Twitter video.

Lastly, Obama also recognized the off-track work the Busch family does off the track with their various charitable foundations.

"For Kyle, it's not what he does on the track, it's what he does off the track," Obama said. "Kyle and Samantha are working hard to make a difference for folks all across the country. They donate wedding gowns to military brides, help couples afford fertility treatment and covering expenses for those battling breast cancer."

Busch captured his first Sprint Cup championship with five wins last season, including one in November at Homestead Miami Speedway in the NASCAR Championship Race. Busch missed the first 11 races of the season due to injuries sustained in February 2015 in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona.

He is again one of the 16 Sprint Cup playoff drivers still eligible for the 2016 championship.

Back Front 5Setbacks don't get much bigger than James Hinchcliffe's near-fatal crash at Indy last year, but the Schmidt driver turned a disaster into a catalyst for improvement.

In 1971, a fan jumped onto the stage at a Frank Zappa concert in London and pushed the musician into the orchestra pit. Among his injuries – which kept him wheelchair-bound for almost a year – Zappa suffered a crushed larynx. His voice remained a third of an octave deeper for the rest of his life.

"Having a low voice is nice," Zappa mused in his autobiography years later. "But I would have preferred some other means of acquiring it."

Aside from a predilection for facial hair, the one thing that James Hinchcliffe and Zappa might have in common is the experience of finding a diamond in the rubble. The circumstances of Hinchcliffe's horrific accident during practice for last year's Indianapolis 500 have been covered to the point of exhaustion, from the speed (228-ish mph), to the forces involved (126G), to the amount of blood he received via transfusions (14 pints).

Back Front 4 copyThe popular version of the narrative reached a redemptive crescendo when he returned to the Brickyard in May of this year and put his No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara-Honda on the pole.

But the real story might lie below the surface. While Team Penske runs away at the front, Hinchcliffe has quietly spent 2016 putting together the most consistent season of his Verizon IndyCar Series career. Some of those gains have been found outside the cockpit: Hinchcliffe is benefiting from the continuity that comes with working with the same engineer (Allen McDonald) for two years in a row – the first time it's happened in his career. (He worked with Craig Hampson twice, but in nonconsecutive years.) And there have been gains with the car itself, particularly with the team's ability to squeeze performance out of the Honda road and street package.

"This year's aero kit behaves a lot more like a traditional racecar than it used to," he says. "The joke in the engineering office was that the 2015 kit was the 'anti-car,' because everything you'd traditionally do to fix a problem, you'd have to do the exact opposite with that thing. Now we have a car that behaves like a racecar."

But Hinchcliffe himself deserves some of the credit as well. Is he a better driver because of the crash? That's a stretch. But did the accident provide an unexpected springboard for improvement? Now there's an idea that might have some merit.

"Going through what we did last year, it makes you look at certain things differently," says Hinchcliffe, "and I definitely came into this season more prepared than I ever had before – physically, mentally, every way.

Back Front 3

"It was one of those situations where, when something you love and that you've worked hard all your life for is almost taken away from you, you appreciate it more and take it for granted less."

In the Hollywood version of the story, the trauma of the accident and the months of rehab that followed built to a triumphant closure in qualifying at Indy, when Hinchcliffe strung together a four-lap average of 230.760mph to make pole his own. "Drama, redemption, heartbreak, exuberance," began one report. And it was true – for those on the outside looking in.


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Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul admits the works team's return to Formula 1 this season has been harder than initially imagined due to a degree of naiveté in the organization.

At the unveiling of this season's car, two months after completing a takeover of Lotus in December last year, Renault hierarchy including CEO Carlos Ghosn significantly played down expectations for the 2016 F1 campaign.

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Fifteen grands prix into the season, Renault has just seven points to its name. Abiteboul always knew the situation would be tough, but did not expect it to be as hard as it has been.

"It's fair to say this season has been much more difficult than we anticipated, and to a certain degree another demonstration of the pace at which Formula 1 is evolving," Abiteboul told Autosport.

"The car we are using is not from this year, but more or less designed in the winter of 2014-15, to which we added at the last moment the forced introduction of the Renault engine.

"So clearly it wasn't the best gestation you could imagine, but still we could not imagine that in 18 months there would be such a gap from this car to the others. Maybe we were a bit naive, but that's behind us now

"What's important is to keep our head down on a race-by-race basis and be optimistic and bullish about next year to try and keep the motivation high for the two teams [chassis in Enstone, engine in Viry], and to continue to point in the right direction."

EIGHTH PLACE THE AIM, BUT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE

Going into the final six races of the season, Renault lies ninth in the constructors' championship, six and seven points clear respectively of bottom two teams Manor and Sauber, and 21 adrift of eighth-placed Haas. Abiteboul would love to overhaul Haas, but concedes he does not believe it possible.

"Regarding the target for the end of this year, I would like to be able to fight for eighth position in the championship, which is the only position we can target," he said.

"In my opinion that is going to be a tough challenge because clearly we can see the Haas package, is more competitive now than the Renault package.

"I don't see how we are going to secure enough points to be able to do that, but it can only be the target, so that will remain the target."

Renault took only its second points finish of 2016 with Kevin Magnussen's 10th place in the last race in Singapore.

RENAULT'S CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE

PosConstructorPoints
8 Haas/Ferrari 28
9 Renault 7
10 Manor/Mercedes 1
11 Sauber/Ferrari 0

 

Originally on Autosport.com

DOLE BelleIsle2015 00278 edited1IMSA's Grand Touring Prototype formula spanned 1981-'93, its replacement, the World Sports Car concept, took over in 1994, and with Saturday's season finale at Petit Le Mans, the WSC-inspired Daytona Prototype formula will bid farewell after its lengthy reign.

The tubeframe prototypes ushered in Grand-Am's top-tier Rolex Series category in 2003, and are responsible for many of the businesses, team owners, drivers, and crew members that populate today's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Positioned between GTPs and LMP1s, DPs fostered limited enthusiasm among fans, but their value in keeping North American sportscar racing alive and moving during turbulent financial patches cannot be denied.

To give DPs a proper sendoff, RACER spoke with the father of the DP formula, IMSA's Mark Raffauf (below), Bill Riley  whose DPs won more poles, races, and championships than any other model  championship-winning DP driver and team owner Wayne Taylor and Michael Shank, whose junior open-wheel team used DPs to build a privateer team into a program that has recently earned its first major factory racing contract.

RaffaufRAFFAUF: "We knew there was going to be a change in the early '90s, and the easiest thing to do would be to take the basis of GTP, a customer-type car, put a reasonably powered engine in it, and take some of the downforce out of it. It resulted in the Ferrari 333 and the Riley & Scott, and a number of other pretty good cars.

"That project went through the '90s and eventually became LMP1 in Europe. The WSC was the car that the ACO adopted. They then proceeded to make decisions to use big BMW V12s, and things like that, which really the class was never conceived for. It was always conceived to be a 4-liter, 5-liter class, because that power level was more than enough than what was needed here, and was sustainable. It was definitely economically viable for customer guys to go race.

"Wayne Taylor had a WSC program, Gianpiero Moretti had a program, there were a bunch of Ferraris out there, a bunch of Rileys. It was smart, it fit the times. And it looked different from GTP, because we basically took the roofs off.

"We carried that WSC style of car in Grand-Am when it started in 2000 as the top-class car. As time progressed and the decision was made to develop a new Grand-Am car, we based it on the same concept, which was essentially flat bottom, low downforce, with a minimal amount of power. We figured out pretty early on that you didn't need more than 500hp to go 200 miles an hour at Daytona.

doran 2003"Trying to maintain some sort of control over how fast those cars could go was an eye-opener, because with less downforce you go faster in a straight line. The whole idea was for them to have some diversification but a lot of standardization, so a very specified chassis was described. We used common parts like the Riley Trans Am wheel hubs; it's still the hub essentially in use today.

"We tried to use a lot of off-the-shelf componentry; let each constructor choose how to skin it, what kind of engine to put in it, and use production-derived engines, which was basically the lineage of WSC as well.

"DP was a continuation of WSC, no question about it. It was a closed [top] car, with a more NASCAR style to it. It was roll cages, steel construction, which anybody can do well. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to weld steel tubes together. And it all worked.

"I think the best comment I've heard in my career is there was never as competitive a competition as there was in DP. The commonality of things made the really good guys shine, and even the Pro-Am drivers could shine."



dp2005Riley Technologies took the greatest advantage of the opportunity provided by Grand-Am, as the father and son duo Bob and Bill (below) took its dominant WSC design and morphed it into the defining DP chassis. The North Carolina-based manufacturer will also continue its line of offerings with the 2017 Riley Mk 30 LMP2.

Dole Weather Sat COTA302RILEY: "It's had a huge impact on our company. Obviously, we get all the marks in making a great car, whether it is service and parts, or the actual speed on the racetrack, and [we] have a good team to serve us. And I don't want to say it put our team on the map, but it definitely put the stake in deeper into that map.

"But I am not getting teary-eyed about it being the last year of it, because it has run its course. The rules that were laid out in 2003 far exceeded everybody's expectations for longevity, and the cars did exactly what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to be a robust, safe car. They had a lot of life in them, so teams didn't have to buy a new car every year. As you know, teams are still running pretty old cars. I think it did hit all the marks of what the France family and Grand-Am laid out to do."

On a similar theme, but in many different ways, Shank (below) credits DPs for turning his Ohio-based operation into something solid in ways junior open-wheel racing could not provide in the early 2000s.

LAT levitt imel 11503SHANK: "Daytona Prototype redefined my business 110 percent, and established me where I'm at today. The reason it did that is very, very simple. The concept of it when I came in 2004 was that a good team with a good driver, a good mechanic and [good] engineers can come and compete with Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, or whoever else comes along and has a lot of money.

"And it worked all the way through the Daytona Prototype era. The ability to tell people, 'we have a real shot to win overall at major sportscar races' really had not been around until then. You could take a solid crew and a good pair of drivers, and establish yourself. That was compared to other [sportscar] series, where something new and very expensive was required every year, or year and a half. In DP, I had three to five years between updating my cars from Gen 1 to Gen 2 and Gen 3, and that was critical. And it didn't require me to buy all-new cars.

"Being able to amortize a car for three to five years made my business. Period. It meant I didn't have to reinvest, it meant I could keep building my inventory, so I was able to buy spares as we crept along, or had parts that we repaired that became spares. We bought a car from Mark Patterson in 2006, and we had parts from that car being used in 2014. I think that says a lot.
shank 2007"When I came along, a bunch of Atlantic teams at the time came too, right after I did. I think they saw that 'if Shank can do it, I could do it'. And they got to move on because at the time open-wheel racing was in the real crapper, especially for teams. The peak of the war between IndyCar and Champ Car was really affecting the ladder teams, and we had to look for other ways to make a living.

"If you are in racing for a living, the biggest problem I had was when I ran Atlantic cars [was], from September 1 until Long Beach in April, we were out of business. There was no way to span that gap financially after the season was over. The way I did it was with a credit line.

"With sportscar racing, we're done October 1 and we're back going November 1, theoretically. So the downtime is much, much less. It's a better business model for people to do it for a living, and you got that with the DP because you could run it affordably."


040613 BARBER BC65812Thanks to the steel construction and rock-solid componentry attached to the steel frame, DPs could take a hit better than some production-based GT cars. DPs would win every grudge match and leave their opponents bruised and battered, which is another distinction that only DPs can boast.

RAFFAUF: "There's no question, you could hit each other and drive away from it. The cars were built like tanks. And in many cases they were driven like tanks. But they had the ability to take a lot more downforce and a lot more power. They were over-engineered in every regard.

"I remember in the beginning guys bought a spare gearbox, and two years later that gearbox was still bolted to the pallet that it was shipped on because the original gearbox was bulletproof. Guys used to argue about the axles. We put axles in the car that were mandated to handle 1000hp. They ran them for two or three years. We over-engineered just about everything we could.

"Other components, like A-arms and other pieces, the smart guys realized you don't need to make one that weighs 3 ounces and has got an aero shape to it that if it falls on the floor it's bent and it's no good anymore. You can make it out of steel tubing and it will last forever, and you can bang wheels and it won't bend.

"Some of those experiences came from taking good guidance from some of our NASCAR brethren in the early days of Grand-Am about how to do that kind of stuff, [and it] really panned out over the long run. Talk to Chip Ganassi and ask how many miles of racing some of his chassis have, because it is in the [range of] 30,000 to 40,000 miles of racing. There isn't another racecar series out there that can say that."

The fond memories of close DP racing are a recurring theme among our panel.

lat levitt imsa 114 06566TAYLOR: "The formula was really good when Grand-Am was formed, and we got up to 30 cars at one point. Gradually, over time, the grids have dwindled, but this is normal, and however many cars, it was always the closest racing. But it was far from easy.

"People forget that there are a lot of people that come into these things and think they can instantly win. I watched Adrian Fernandez come to our series with Lowes and they struggled; they soon left. I watched the Penske organization come in with two superstar drivers; they soon left. Ganassi and I have been there from the beginning, along with Action Express, Spirit of Daytona and Mike Shank. And so the guys I think that have been around from day one; we've all benefitted from the quality of racing.

"If there's one aspect we don't get any recognition for, it is that the racing is tremendously competitive. Given the different engines, given the different chassis manufacturers, I think Grand-Am, and now IMSA, has done a good job of managing the cars. With a DP, you can go into every race thinking, 'I can't guarantee the win, but I can guarantee I will be racing for the win.'

Establishing parity between a variety of body shapes and engine suppliers was one of the greatest achievements to come from Grand-Am's technical department.

bmw8RAFFAUF: "In my opinion, the best years of DP was when we had 5-liter V8s from GM, Ford, BMW and Lexus. Porsche was in there with a V8 eventually, but for most of the time, it was the odd man out because it used a 4-liter six-cylinder boxer.

"That was the hardest thing to balance. Before it was all about the V8s, guys used to complain all the time. We were pleased when almost everyone was using V8s because you could show them a dyno sheet with everybody's numbers on it and graphs and say, 'pick yours'  and nobody could. That's how good it was. To be successful was all down to tuning the car and the guy driving it, which was the whole idea in the first place."

The costs to operate a DP changed significantly when Grand-Am bought the American Le Mans Series and re-emerged as IMSA. Upgrading the Gen 3 DPs to keep pace with the faster P2s was an expensive process, and with many of those performance items being consumed at a higher rate, and more time spent on-track with the blended schedule, a championship-caliber DP entry moved north of the $4 million mark. With midfield IndyCar budgets running just over $5 million, the formula said goodbye to its cost-friendly ways in 2014.

TAYLOR: "The unfortunate part about DP is it has just become too expensive. It is just the nature of the sport. The thing about what we have now is, we really have the cream of the crop in terms of sportscar races. We have Daytona, we have Sebring, we have Petit Le Mans, we have the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Laguna Seca...we have great venues.

"But the costs involved for those races...you get it to the end of the season, and your car is pretty worn out. And then you have to rebuild it for Petit Le Mans, and then at the end of Petit Le Mans it is worn out again, and then you have to build it again for Daytona. At least for us with DPs, adding all of the long races came at a heavy price."


 

082011 mont bc 4441The third-generation DPs, most notably the Corvette DPs, were a visual treat. The Gen 1 and Gen 2 "Proto-turtles" (above) were rarely leveled with the same accusation.

RAFFAUF: "In that regard, yes, they weren't the prettiest things ever made, but they were functional, and they probably hit their mark for their purpose better than anything else in that regard."

SHANK: "I get that some people think they are ugly dinosaurs, but the competition was fierce. The drivers are excellent, and the teams were top-flight."

Shank switched to P2 prototypes in 2015, but says his affinity for DPs has never waned. Taylor believes the timing is right to move to the P2-based carbon fiber prototype formula that will replace DPs, while Riley was raised to focus forward.

lat levitt imel 10426SHANK: "It's a very mixed emotion for me. I think it's time to move on. Having experienced both P2s and DPs with a Pro-Am driver situation, trying to make this a business, you have to make a car that is fun to drive, and the DP was fun in different points of its life. When it was 500hp without the heavy downforce, they were a little easier to balance and drive, which attracted more gentleman drivers. Our car was much more knife-edge once we started putting all that downforce on it in 2014.

"Over time, from the standpoint of what's better to drive for a guy that would be willing to spend some dough, a P2 car became a bigger consideration. If you're spending about the same on either car, the P2 became what more people said they wanted, so that has led us to this formula change. I understand all the reasons behind it, and I can't really argue with any of it, but the DPs were something really unique that gave a lot of us a chance we'd have never gotten elsewhere. I can say that without any hesitation."

TAYLOR: "I'm not sad about it, because the change had to be done at some point. These tubeframe chassis have been arounds for a long time. It's time to build new cars. I think from a safety standpoint and everything we've got coming with this P1 monocoque-type of car, the timing is right."

RILEY: "The way that my dad programmed me, I don't get too hung up on old cars because I'm too excited about building the next one. I know I should have a room full of old racecars that are worth a bunch of money, but unfortunately I am too focused on buying a new piece of equipment like our new 3-D printer, rather than have an old racecar sitting around the shop. The DPs have been great, but there's always going to be something new on the horizon."

Both Riley and Raffauf see some of the GTP, WSC, or DP DNA carried forward into the P2-based Daytona Prototype internationals that will lead the WeatherTech Championship for years to come.

RILEY: "I think so, for sure. If you look at best concept of either production based engines or GT3 engines, and then have stylized bodywork so the manufacturer has a lower cost solution to being involved in a top class in the U.S., it definitely hits the marks that DP set out to do. Obviously, Corvette did a great job on styling its body. And everybody knows it is a Corvette. In the future, if we get a lot of OEMs signing off on this and getting involved, it's really going to be a great series for everybody because all the cars will look a little different."

RAFFAUF: "The Daytona Prototype name is not just a carryover; there's a lot of elements of that new 2017 car that are related to what we have done in the past. You can even take it back to WSC, GTP; the lineage probably goes back that far. Some of those things we learned from that GTP and WSC experience have worked out very well, and we expect in our [DPi] environment that they will work out again. It's another long period of four to five years of homologation for the new cars, which is more of that stability we had.

"One of the things that people used to ask with the DPs: why did you change to Gen 1 to Gen 2 to Gen 3? I said this from the beginning: If we are racing the same thing in five years that we are our racing today it will be boring, because it'll simply look the same. It's not acceptable in sportscar racing for everything to look the same for five or six years. Three? Yeah. Four? Yeah. But I the visual change-up...people expect to see that.

"There's a certain element of that in the new cars. We're going to have a good basis to start with in January of 2017, and it will run for four years as-is. After that, it may well be finely tuned and improved to carry on well beyond that period with some visual changes in a very similar fashion that worked with DP."

STATS: The DP era, by the numbers

pruett• From the first event in 2003 to the final this weekend, DPs competed in 171 races (141 Rolex Series, 30 IMSA).

• Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates earned the most DP wins with 46 (41 Rolex Series, five IMSA), followed by Wayne Taylor Racing 33 (26, six) and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (16 Rolex Series).

• The greatest number of DP wins earned by a driver goes to Scott Pruett (pictured) with 44 (40 Rolex Series, four IMSA), followed by his teammate Memo Rojas 31 (27, four); Max Angelelli 27 (26, one), and the combo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty (16 Rolex Series).

• The greatest number of DP pole positions earned by a driver goes to Jon Fogarty with 24, followed by Scott Pruett with 17, Ricky Taylor with 14, Memo Rojas with 11, and David Donohue with eight.

• The largest fields of DP cars in a race were all found at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2006 with 30, in 2005 with 29, and in 2007 with 28.

• And finally, here's a breakdown of the 103 DPs produced by nine manufacturers, starting with Riley, the numeric kings of the class, with 47, Crawford with 15; Fabcar with eight and Coyote eight, the angular Doran with seven, Dallara with six, the description-defying Multimatic with four; Lola with three, the unforgettable Picchio with three, and the rare Chase with two.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images of Daytona Prototypes through the years:

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phpThumb 1Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD

Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: After watching the snooze fest at Sonoma, I intended to write a plea letter to you in hopes of influencing some press for a move back to an oval for the IndyCar finale. Work travel prevented that, but lo and behold, you felt the same way, and your article was excellent. I also liked your list of alternatives. I was at Texas in 2002 when Sam Hornish edged out Helio after 30 laps of side-by-side daring. No one was sitting. Chicago used to be a nice finale track as well. Jay Frye appears to listen and has done great things in his short tenure – thanks for alerting him to this obvious need for change.

Ed Koenig, Sacramento

RM: Trust me, Jay didn't need to be alerted, he was a proponent of an oval-track finish long before I wrote that column, but because of contracts it may take a couple years to make it happen. I kinda like Gateway now that there's no pro football team in St. Louis and with Curtis Francois promoting IndyCar, but Phoenix might also be cool.

Q: Can we use some common sense here? There is only one place that should host the IndyCar season finale. It's Indianapolis. Get the GP out of the month of May, where it has no buzz and gets swallowed up by the Indy 500. As you have pointed out many times, nobody cares about road racing at IMS in May. That month is, and always will be, about oval racing and the Indy 500. Give the GP a stand-alone in early October as the final race of the season. The vast majority of open-wheel racing fans and IndyCar fans reside within driving distance of IMS. Bring the championship to those fans, and you might actually get more then the friends and family that have shown up each year at Sonoma or Fontana. And IMS could spread out their big racing events (Indy 500 in May, Brickyard in July, ICS finale in October). This isn't rocket science, but some in the IndyCar world seem to be too dense to figure it out. 

Drew, Gale IN

RM: If an oval can't be secured for the finale, I'm all for your suggestion for all the reasons you stated. The only good thing about the road race in May is that it's on national television and helps promote qualifying and the Indy 500, and gives IndyCar a three-week shot on ABC. The only downside is that the Boston Consulting Group also favors this as the last race.

Q: Amen to your pitch for an oval finale. I love road racing as much as anyone but totally agree that for a wrap-up with real drama (and forget artificial double points) an oval is the way to go. As you said, it brings the heritage in as well as close racing with passing. And as you also point out, there are several good candidates. As an old friend of mine used to say, " from your lips to God's ears."

Jeff Brown, Bernardsville, N.J.

RM: The desired ingredients for your title-clinching race is passing, a few nail-biting moments and drama – which any oval can deliver in spades compared to Sonoma. I don't care how nice the restaurants are; I want an ass-kicker for the finale.

Q: Last week a reader opined that Mosport should replace the downtown Toronto race and you seemed to agree. Mosport is my home track and a fine one, but if the crowds (in fewer, smaller grandstands ) are dwindling downtown, a trolly ride from anywhere, how likely will they improve holding a race an hour-and-a half out in the boonies? Would a circuit race anywhere ever be favored over a downtown one? I thought bringing the race to the people rather than the other way around was an IndyCar mantra. Thanks for a great season!

Anthony Jenkins

RM: Before CART came apart, Molson left and construction began eating away at the track, Toronto was one of the best, most vibrant and well-attended events in North America. It's still a great city with its share of passionate fans, but its not much of a circuit anymore. Mosport has been refurbished and I think would draw a good crowd. Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio draw much better than Toronto or Detroit or St. Pete. Long Beach is obviously the benchmark for street racing, but road courses are making a serious comeback in IndyCar. Look for Portland to join the fun in 2018.

Q: I saw your editorial about how Sonoma should not be the final race of the year, and I agree fully. I watched the race until Power dropped out with mechanical issues. Then, I turned off the TV as I knew Simon Pagenaud was going to be champion. I believe that the championship-ending race should reflect Indy's heritage and should be run on an oval, on a Saturday evening, under the lights. Watching a Sonoma snoozefest of Sunday evening at 6pm CST doesn't cut it for me.

Jerry Wilt, Houston

RM: A night race on an oval combined to give IndyCar some great finishes at Fontana, it just started so late for Midwest viewers. So, ideally, maybe a night show at Gateway or Iowa would be the best place to wrap up the season.


lat levitt mot911 09038Q: I agree with you that the season finale should be on an oval, and I wish the powers that be could make Fontana work. I think the series needs three superspeedways. Has there been any talk of doing away with double points? As you have said, IndyCar doesn't need it, and the series that thought up this gimmick dumped it after one season. Also, has there been any talk of going back to Motegi? (ABOVE) I know the oval was damaged after the earthquake a few years ago. It seems the series wants to expand in some direction overseas, and this could be another oval brought back. Thanks, keep up the great work here and NBCSN!

Thomas Peterson, Newport News, VA

RM: I like the way Jay Frye has listened to the paddock about rules, cars and testing so I would think he's open to blowing up double points if that's what the majority wants (and I don't know anybody that likes it). As for Japan, it's up to Honda, but I think Sato needs to have a ride to make it happen.

Q: All the recent chatter about where and when to end the season, possible new tracks, or maybe starting earlier spurred me to chime in here. Where and when the season starts is fine. St. Pete the week before Sebring is a great starting point for the year. Starting in February you can pretty easily get lost, as it puts you up against Speed Weeks and a little event called the Super Bowl. I looked up old PPG Indy Car schedules from the early 90's and confirmed my memory that they started in mid-March and didn't run much past Labor Day. They ran three races after Labor Day in 1994, and ended on Columbus Day weekend.

This needs to happen again, starting in 2018. If Portland is in the mix and Fontana still is interested, it wouldn't take much to do a slight alteration to the schedule. Put Portland in where Gateway is now. Move Gateway to Sonoma's current date - even if Portland isn't in the mix. Put Sonoma on the first weekend in October, then end at Fontana on Columbus Day weekend, on Sunday afternoon.

I'm fully aware ABC has a lock on network coverage, but that seems like it might be addressed when the current contract runs out. If NBC gets the chance to put IndyCar on it can use it as a lead in to Sunday Night Football. The start times for the two west coast races would be the perfect lead-in to SNF for TV and the spectators. Don't give me this nonsense that it's too hot in SoCal in early October, because it isn't. I'm sure Fontana would be pleased to be on network TV and hosting the finale. Again, I'm aware NBC coverage might not happen in 2018 but why not get the schedule set up to be ready when/if it does? What do you think?

Eric Zwirlein, Lancaster, NY

RM: Well, first off I know the season always ended in November at Phoenix in the USAC and early CART days, and it went until Halloween or Nov. 1 from 1997-2000 at Fontana. Not going to be any network but ABC until the new contract is negotiated after 2018, but Fontana has made it clear that it needs a night race in October to bring back IndyCar. I'd be in favor of that or a Friday night finale at Gateway, since Saturday and Sunday are so college and NFL saturated.

Q: I'm with you Robin, Sonoma is not the ideal final race. Personally, I think one thing stands between figuring out a logical solution to: more ovals, sanity for double-points, a good finale and the Triple Crown returning. It's Mark Miles channeling the Boston Consulting Group! My solution? Bring back Fontana (the finale in autumn needs to be someplace where it's NOT likely to rain – Gateway and Chicagoland are too iffy, even though they can have awesome weather in the fall). Make it the finale in October (heck, November!), thus making every IndyCar fan + the paddock happy. Restore the Triple Crown (with the $$$ bonus for winning all three). Make Triple Crown events double points because they are LONGER events – pseudo-endurance. It's logical, non-gimmicky. Other than West-Coast starting times (even more painful for me because I live in Europe), I see no downside – only positive changes. I'm pretty sure the only people that do are Mark Miles and the BCG!

David Leigh

RM: As discussed in an earlier letter, Fontana would be fine if it's held in October at night but that's not going to happen on Mark's watch. And the Triple Crown only makes CENTS if there's big money involved, which isn't likely. I hate double points anywhere and qualifying points at Indy is ludicrous. IndyCar's championship usually plays out like real competition should so no gimmicks, please. A Gateway finale at night in September should have good weather and I just like the idea of a Midwestern race to end the season. Thanks for staying up late and watching IndyCar.


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Q: First, do you think J.R. Hildebrand (ABOVE) will ever get back in an IndyCar full-time? He had a rough few years and now everyone seams to be afraid of him. But he's proven strong at Indianapolis these past few years, and I'd love to see him ruffle some feathers in the field. Secondly, what do you think of the possibility of Tony Kannan staying at Ganassi? My thoughts are that with Ganassi losing Target, if TK goes elsewhere would Ganassi will be willing to lose two big sponsorships in one year? Yes, there's talk of them going with Honda, which could bring in more money, but still ... Also, maybe Ganassi would want to keep TK for a few more years until another sought-after driver becomes available, like James Hinchcliffe.

Kaitlyn Swanson, Kandiyohi, MN

RM: I think Ed Carpenter really likes J.R., as a racer and test driver, and it's obviously Hildebrand's best chance for returning full-time. And he's done an excellent job for ECR the past couple Mays. T.K. will make his decision this week and, initially, I don't think Chip wanted to give me more than one more year but with the NTT Data people pushing to keep him and Honda in the picture (they love Kanaan), it could be a two-year deal – which is what A.J. has already offered him.

Q: A few thoughts on now that the IndyCars have parked them for the year:

Awesome racing again, from some of the best and most approachable drivers in any series. Best-kept secret in all of sports.
Am I the only one who would've like to seen Newgarden anywhere but Penske, for no reason other than that we don't need one team dominating the series like they did this year? IndyCar does not need an all-Penske fight for the title in the last race.

The aero kit freeze is a good thing, and with Jay Frye, Bill Pappas and co in charge of the next kit I have hope it will race better and look like an IndyCar. Now that Mark Miles has fixed the schedule to a degree, it is imperative that he not screw up the TV contract. ABC/ESPN does squat for IndyCar across all its platforms and received way too much consideration for what it has done in the past instead of what it will do over the life of the contract. Give it to NBC/NBC-SN and be creative with Twin 125's at Pocono, PrimeTime weeknight races, whatever! Now is the time to work with the partner to take the next step. Thanks to RACER.com for your great coverage when we can't be there. You guys have the dream job.

Scott St. Clair, Erie, PA

RM: No you're not the only guy who doesn't want to see JoNew at Team Penske. I wrote a column a couple months back that said as much as I've hounded The Captain to hire him, I changed my mind and I want him to stay with Ed Carpenter. I don't want the balance of power to be shifted any more than it is (although Ganassi going to Honda will certainly help) and I've been hoping I'm wrong about Newgarden going to Team Penske. There may be competition from FOX, ABC and NBC for the new TV contract, but give Miles credit for getting the month of May on ABC – that was a good move for sponsors. Naturally, a lot of us hope NBC gets the deal because it's obvious motorsports matters to NBC and NBCSN, and it would be best for IndyCar. I've had the dream job for almost 50 years.

Q: I had a thought while watching Rossi in his black/white blank livery. Why not have a charity as an unpaid main sponsor on the car? They already get mostly nothing from sponsors, so the only real cost is the livery and maybe the suits. In return you might get some more publicity, with a chance at new sponsors, and with the charity probably blasting it out in email you get at least a few more people watching the race and rooting for you. You can even change charities to match something regionally relevant to each race, hold s fan vote or something. I just think seeing him blasting around in a March of Dimes or Wounded Warrior car is better than a blank paint job. This may have occurred to other people before and been rejected, I just don't see why.

Adam Johnson

RM: Might be cool to do for one race but with four cars Andretti needs any and all the funding he can get and I think they've got some opportunities for Rossi after his deal is announced.

Q: With the lack of qualified American talent in IndyCar who do you think will come along next? Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi and Ryan-Hunter Reay hold their own, but Marco Andretti seems to struggle, as does Charlie Kimball at times. There are one or two diamonds in the rough in the Mazda Road To Indy Program that, given some seasoning, could be very stout.

Matthew Marks

RM: Not sure how to answer this one. JoNew is the next big thing, think if Rahal and RHR had Chevy aero kits the past two years, and Kimball has continued to over-achieve. I think R.C. Enerson certainly has a bright future. Ditto for Spencer Pigot, and Conor Daly has shown he can run up front, he just needs a veteran teammate to give him a little oval-track schooling. And Sage Karam and J.R. Hildebrand shouldn't be Indy-only guys. There's plenty of American talent, just not enough car owners.

Q: I'm confused by Conor Daly. He appears to be built like a wrestler rather than the jockey-slim types like Power and Castroneves, and certainly unlike most waiflike F1 drivers. How does Daly get away with it?

Karl LaFong, Canada

RM: Fortunately for Daly, IndyCar installed weight ballast a few years ago – something 200-pound Paul Tracy never had the luxury of when he was running CART against 140-pounders.


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Q: It has been 20 years since Buddy Lazier won his Indy 500. Then later, he began his own team (ABOVE) just to run the Memorial Day weekend. There are so many drivers who are itching to have a full season. Will Buddy ever consider attempting to run a full-time team and give a chance to a new talent, or just run one-offs only?

JLS, Chicago, IL

RM: I believe the plan for the Lazier Racing family is to develop into a full-time team and their driver will be Flinn Lazier, the 17-year-old son of Buddy, who finished second last weekend in Formula Vee's SCCA Nationals.

Q: A recurring theme in the Mailbag is a need for bigger purses. But where is the money to come from? The only thing that seems feasible to me is if the promoters can land title sponsors for the individual events.

Chad R. Larson, Phoenix

RM: IndyCar simply gets rid of the Leader's Circle and puts that money into the purses – the promoters aren't responsible for the purses.

Q: I read that comedian Steve Harvey sought to start a race team in Sprint Cup, but failed. Seems like an opening for IndyCar. Does IndyCar seek potential team owners to help bolster the ranks, or is that left to the free market and the interest of those with the funds to start a team?

Brad VanSwol, Sussex, Wisconsin

RM: Isn't Harvey suing NASCAR? Hollywood always seemed like a good source for owners, with James Garner, Steve McQueen, Dan Blocker, Kent McCord, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom Cruise and Bill Cosby showing interest. But only Paul Newman and David Letterman pulled the trigger (Cosby got Willy T. Ribbs a sponsor with Dervice Merchandise) and put their own money into IndyCar. IndyCar doesn't seek out owners, per se, but it will help them for Indianapolis if the car count is short like it has been.

Q: Do you feel as if the series is doing enough to attract younger fans to the races, or at least to get them to watch on television? I'm 18 and have only been following the series full-time since about Milwaukee last year I was previously a NASCAR fan of sorts, but over the years have lost interest in that series.

Back to the point of younger crowd: I was able to attend my local race, St Petersburg, this year for the first time, and noticed that the average fan age was somewhere in the 40s in what I would call a city with a large millennial culture. Me and my friend must have been among only a handful of people under 30, except for little kids with their parents. Also, thanks to my parents, we took a family trip to Indy for the 500 this year, and it was more of the same except for those in The Snake Pit, who probably couldn't tell you who won the race.

I've heard Long Beach attracts a younger crowd, but that's one race on a schedule that will have 17 next year. And to compare the modern day to the past, I look back to my grandfather. He was a huge fan of open-wheel racing as far back as the 50s, and we have tons of pictures of him at IMS in his 20s to 30s with a crowd that also looked to be the same age. I also have stories of him going to local bars and drinking with the likes of Foyt and Ruttman after their races at Dayton Speedway, traveling out to California with Ruttman and having their car break down in the desert and having to stay at the Unser's, which I believe was in New Mexico.

The point is that open-wheel racing in America, especially the Midwest, was the cool thing to be into; now it seems like its mostly an aging fan base with no future 20-30 years down the road. I may be wrong, but from my point of view it's a problem that I'm not sure is being addressed by the series, maybe because there is nothing to do other than wait and see. I'm not an expert on this but I'm sure you are. Thoughts?

Stephen, Tampa, FL

RM: I think your observation about an older crowd is spot on. It's like that at midget and sprint-car races as well. And memorabilia shows look like nursing homes. Bringing school kids to IMS still seems the best way to connect, but the younger generation isn't inclined to drive a car – let alone take a road trip to Terre Haute or Mid-Ohio. I'm not sure how you get teenagers and 20-somethings interested in racing unless it's on the Verizon app.

Q: Well here we are at the end of another IndyCar season (way too soon). It turned out to be a good season with a lot of good stories and a pretty thrilling finish to boot. So, what does your crystal ball have to say about next year? I copied this question/answer out of the Mailbag in January and emailed it to my wife, and she kept it. We read it after the Sonoma race. Here it is:

"Marco, Graham, Josef each win two races; Conor Daly scores a podium; Pagenaud wins a race; Dixon wins Indy; Kanaan gets two poles, one victory and his AARP card; Power wins the championship; Montoya quits point racing, wins three times and speeding in the pits to cost him the title; Castroneves wins the pole at Indy but finishes second in the race; Road America draws the third-best crowd of 2016; Honda closes the gap but Chevy is still supreme; the Phoenix race draws more than the air race at IMS."

I must say, Mr. Miller, your crystal ball isn't as foggy as one might think! You were very close on many of your predictions. Care to have a go at predicting 2017?

Brian S, Mason, OH

RM: Not too bad but let's wait and see where the drivers and teams wind up before I make any 2017 predictions.


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Q: Congratulations on going two for two on your predictions: Pagenaud winning the championship (ABOVE), and Newgarden going to Penske. Conor Daly had a great first season (qualifying was a challenge though) and would probably be ROTY if Rossi ran out of fuel at Indy. Anxious to hear that he has a spot next year. How about a shout out to Jeremy Shaw? He must be super proud of these guys.

Lee Robie, Cincinnati, Oh

RM: Thanks but I think I must have made two predictions for the championship (see the letter on the previous page) and unintentionally duped the racing public. I blame it on age, but I know I picked Pagenaud in our NBCSN pre-season predictions and I think I also said it in the Mailbag - but it may have been after I also predicted Power on RACER.com in another story. But Ben Bretzman (Pagenaud's engineer) remembers that I predicted Simon before the first race, so I'm officially patting myself on the back.

Q: Did you see the Top 3 markets for IndyCar were Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Richmond? You think a return to Milwaukee and Richmond makes sense? The No.4 and No.5 markets were NC - return to Charlotte? Does IndyCar management look at this type of info?

Bill Krill, Milwaukee

RM: I did and it makes sense, because the IRL always drew a nice crowd at Richmond and Milwaukee was an IndyCar bastion for 90 years before The Split and the date kept getting changed. Both of those venues could work with the right time and promotion but not sure about Charlotte. And, yes, IndyCar management looks this info.

Q: It stinks that IndyCar's ratings have declined a bit from last year, but my question has to do with the balance of the data that was in The Star's article:

"Indianapolis was the highest-rated market with a 2.38 rating. Milwaukee was second (0.83) followed by Richmond, Va. (0.80), Greenville, S.C. (0.78) and Greensboro, N.C. (0.73)."

Serious? Richmond, Greenville, SC and Greensboro, NC were the number 3, 4 and 5 markets are in the south mid-Atlantic area and an area where IndyCar has not run for years. Does such data suggest that IndyCar should be seriously trying to get a race to support those markets? Richmond had stellar draws until the last race, when no-one could pass. I was at Charlotte the fateful night in which three spectators were killed, and the crowd was way beyond what was expected. There is occasional talk about a street race in Norfolk. Should this area be a high priority, and is Rockingham a possible venue as it would be within four or so hours of all those markets?

Forrester L Morgan, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

RM: I do think Richmond is worth pursuing again, and it is rather surprising to see the Carolinas watch. Norfolk seemed like it had good potential since it has no major sports teams, and Rockingham might have been an option if Andy Hillenburg was still there.

Q: To say that I was encouraged by Jay Frye's plans for the 2018 update to the DW12 would be an understatement. It sounds like he's listened closely to what fans want to see from IndyCar, so my fingers are crossed that he and whatever aero kit manufacturer wins the bid will follow through.

As for the schedule for 2018, this also sounds promising, but one thing still eludes the series: competitive purses outside of Indy. Unfortunately, this seems to be a chicken/egg type of situation. The sponsors/promoters can't or don't want to cough up the money for larger purses until TV ratings and physical attendance is up, but big crowds almost always turn up when big money is on the line.

So I had an idea that I promise is only half hare-brained. Get the series' title sponsor to bite on this: The Verizon 4G/LTE Network Challenge. Very similar to the old No Bull 5 program that NASCAR used to run. Top 4 (4G/LTE) finishers from the previous challenge race and one lucky (randomly drawn) fan representative for each of the four drivers, are eligible to split a $1 million bonus for winning the race. The challenge races would be the marquee event of each of the 4 (4G/LTE) types of racetrack in the series: Long Beach (street circuit), Indy 500 (superspeedway oval), Road America (road course), and Iowa (short oval).

Everyone wins: 1. Verizon gets a great way to further market their new faster network in a much less annoying way than slipping the drivers a check for pitching it in every single interview. 2. The series gets to market the track diversity that is only found in IndyCar. 3. The fans to get more involved by offering the chance to pair up with their favorite driver to win some serious cash. 4. The drivers/teams have a chance to cash in a big check. Mark the eligible drivers' cars with a "Verizon Red" stripe on the leading edges of the wings, and on the suspension pieces to help fans keep track of the challenge racers. I always thought the No Bull 5 program was brilliant, because everyone was a winner. Why not mimic that?

Not to get greedy, but if they could also bring back MIS or Autoclub for a 500-miler and get someone like Sunoco to sponsor a $1 Million to win Triple Crown series, it would only add to the appeal. Finally, move the Texas race to the first weekend in October and make it the series finale. Texas used to put on some great series finales for the IRL, with the exception of Kenny Brack's awful wreck in the 2003 race. Use the momentum from this years' barn-burner of a race to build the suspense for the championship round.

Grayson Gibson, Broken Arrow, OK

RM: Jay and his staff have done a nice job of listening and planning before reacting so there's every reason to believe the 2018 aero package will be a good one. The incentive programs you pitched would be fabulous, but it's all about money and right now I think IndyCar is just thrilled to have Verizon on board, so not sure it's in any position to demand more money. Ditto for the Triple Crown. If John Menard wants to put up a $5 million point fund for three 500-milers with $10 million going to anyone who could sweep (all you do is buy an insurance policy), then it's worth doing. Without the proper amount of money, it's not worth having or promoting. But I don't think Texas will go up against football. At least that's what Eddie Gossage told me after I wrote that column.


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Q: The Penske cars were really fast on Sunday ... kinda like Verizon's 4G LTE network (memo to Verizon: please contact me for my mailing address. I'll be expecting a check). What are you hearing about the future plans of Colton Herta? (ABOVE) Seems like he's really turning some heads lately.

Mark, Niagara Falls, NY

RM: Yeah, that got real old but I think there's going to be a remedy in 2017. Colton is having another good season across The Pond, but I think his Dad wants to get him back over here sooner than later. I'd like to be his agent.

Q: Love the silly season updates! Keep them coming. Did you see the new Fox TV series premier of Lethal Weapon? Riggs and Murtaugh start a chase scene on the docks in Long Beach, and end up crashing through tires and into the Grand Prix. I had to slow it down, but it looks like they used actual IndyCar race footage from this year. I can make out Power in silver and the 2016 paint scheme for Hinchcliffe, Munoz, Aleshin and Conor Daly. Somehow they added the two street cars between Indy Cars in turn 10 in one part. Did Fox pay IndyCar, the Grand Prix Association or NBCSN for the footage? Seems like there would be some cross-promotion, but I haven't seen any.

The show also has some close up scenes with the street cars on track and smaller formula race cars passing them. It's kind of silly to see them still racing with no yellow flag, but it is TV. Can you tell if they are Pro Mazda cars? They show one of those drivers a few times in a Muscle Milk helmet. Any idea who drove those or when that would have been filmed?

Mark Z, Long Beach, CA

RM: Never seen that show and I'm sure somebody paid something for footage, although it really doesn't benefit IndyCar unless the series and/or drivers are identified as part of the plot. But some of the funniest movie footage is from '60s movies like Red Line 7000 or Fireball 500 where they switch from stock cars to Indy cars to little formula cars – all in the same corner!

Q: Why was Zanardi's pass on Herta at Laguna Seca allowed? He went off road with all four tires, cutting the turn, and Herta didn't force him off track. What did Race Control think? Was there a discussion or protest? Puzzled.

Jon Schulz

RM: Here's how chief steward Wally Dallenbach remembers it:

"Technically speaking, Alex went off course to take the lead, but that's no different than somebody putting all four wheels under yellow line on an oval to make a pass or Lloyd Ruby putting two wheels in the grass at Indy. What Zanardi did was clean, he didn't hit anybody, he was in control and he pulled it off. Unprecendented? Yeah but it was an amazing event and pass for the fans. Nobody contested it, and we didn't want to take away the glory of what happened. And there wasn't a hard and fast rule about going off-course to gain a position. Besides, I did enough things for Zanardi to think I had it in for him, and that was a classic move and he didn't deserve to have it taken away."

Q: What are the benefits of corner cutting? After watching the finale, most drivers took the Sonoma track to the extreme. (i.e., driving over curbs, taking it to the grass, hopping the corners) Why do this? Doesn't it upset the car's handling and performance? Wouldn't you want to stay off the curbs instead of driving over them completely? 

Brett from Brighton, MI

RM: Some guys try to miss curbs at certain tracks and some places it's more beneficial in terms of trying to make it more of a straightaway (like the Bus Stop at Watkins Glen) or simply giving the driver a chance to apply more throttle. It's whatever works best.

Q: There's now a page on Facebook called "USAC Midgets 1975-1990". A guy by the name of Craig Burghardt says he's got your old midget, and it's for sale. What do you think of crowd-funding the car, and putting you in the seat at the Chili Bowl?

Greg Rickes

RM: I think I'd like to take my old Stanton/Chevy II to Kokomo Speedway one more time and hot lap it – by myself.

Q: I gotta tell you, Robin - as a fellow 1950 vintage boomer - we all love your work. Your broadcast reports, RACER.com articles and the Mailbag make me feel like I have been hanging with you all week in the paddock as you introduce me to all your "brothers" in the racing world. And that credibility that you have gained over the lifetime of your work imparts a level of knowledge and confidence to your reports - kind of a "I don't care whose feathers I ruffle" approach, like your piece on the paltry purses at Indy 500.

As for me, when my name is drawn for the Honda two-seater next season and Leigh Diffey asks how I'm doing, I'll reply "I feel terrific. I just convinced Mario to stay out until the first round of pit stops!" You know what?" Mario says - "We've got nothing to lose." Right, what are they going to do - black flag us? Heh, heh! Let's roll!" I love racing. Keep up the good work, brother.

Jim Ginley, Taunton, Massachusetts

RM: Thanks for the kind words Jim (do you prefer a check or money order?) but I've been lucky to stooge for Jim Hurtubise at 18, drive Bill Finley crazy fixing my wrecked cars, work for Lloyd Ruby, race USAC midgets for eight years, fight and laugh with A.J., hang with Rufus and Gurney and cover racing for almost 50 years with no parental supervision. And drive around Laguna with Mario, which I hope you get to experience.

IMSA podiumAll four Drivers' championships are up for grabs during Saturday's season finale for IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Road Atlanta. The 10-hour Petit Le Mans closer will decide the Prototype, PC, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona titles, and with a mountain of other championships to settle – Manufacturers', Teams' and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup – the hardware will be overflowing in Georgia.

Thanks to IMSA's restrictive points payout system, many of Saturday night's outcomes could prove to be academic. In basic terms, for any class or championship race this weekend where the leader holds a decent advantage over the second-place contestant, it would take a big swing in fortunes for those leaders to lose.

Take the recent Prototype outcome at Circuit of The Americas, for example. Wayne Taylor Racing's Ricky and Jordan Taylor started from pole, led the most laps and won the race in dominating fashion. Entering COTA, championship leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi held 253 points for Action Express Racing, the sister AXR duo of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran were second with 252, and the WTR boys were third with 242, 11 points back from Barbosa and Fittipaldi.

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With the Taylors capturing everything possible on the road to their COTA win, Cameron/Curran coming home second and Barbosa/Fittipaldi taking third, the Taylors head into Petit Le Mans ... third in points. Granted, their championship deficit has been cut from 11 points to seven, but it illustrates how little a single race win can influence the championship when the other title contenders are close.

IMSA offers no incentive for pole, leading a lap or leading the most laps, and as a result, a Taylor-style smackdown starting in qualifying won't do much to move the needle in Road Atlanta. Considering the lack of value attached to pole/fastest lap/leading the most laps, all four championships will come down to what happens in the race.

Looking at what's available on Saturday, a maximum of 36 points can be earned in each class. IMSA's practice is to award one "starting" point for each driver who achieves the minimum drive time requirement (and is nominated to earn championship points). It then adds 35 "finishing" points to win, 32 for a second, 30 for third, 28 for fourth, 26 for fifth, and decreases in increments of one (25 for sixth, 24 for seventh, etc.) for the remaining positions.

There are a number of situations that could fiddle with the final standings; a crash by a PC or GTD contender that requires lengthy repairs could mean one or more drivers falls shy of the minimum drive time and would fail to score finishing points, for example, and rather than explore every batty outcome, we'll focus on the most likely situations with the Drivers' titles assuming starting and finishing points are earned.

BarbosaIn Prototype, it's looking like Action Express Racing will score its third consecutive championship, but we won't know whether to congratulate Cameron and Curran in the No. 31 Corvette DP on their first title or Barbosa and Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Corvette DP on their third. The tiny 285-284 lead held by the No. 31 drivers makes Prototype the only class that's truly up for grabs. And with the Taylors' No. 10 WTR Corvette DP in third at 278 points, there is also a third possibility to consider.

For the No. 31 to win, they'll need to finish ahead of the No. 5, and in the most obvious statement of the year, the No. 5 will need to finish ahead of the No. 31 to win. That part is simple.

For the No. 10 to take the title, a win is clearly a must, and the No. 31 would need to finish fifth or lower in a class with only nine cars. A similar separation at the finish would be needed if the No. 10 wins and the No. 5 finishes ahead of the No. 31. There are a bunch of funky alternatives where ties could happen and one of the three could win on a countback of some sorts, and those will surely be explained during the broadcast if the race ventures down that path.

Returning to the more realistic possibilities, in every scenario, and owing to the tank-ish nature of the Corvette DPs used by all three, AXR would have to record a dual collapse for WTR to celebrate a championship, and IMSA fans will have 10 hours to follow whatever drama may ensue.

starworksThe PC standings favor the COTA-winning No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry driven by Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow. 10 points clear of the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports car driven by Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon (329-319), van der Zande and Popow have some breathing room, but not enough to lose focus during 10 hours of hardcore racing.

With seven entries listed for PC, the No. 52 would need to win and have the No. 8 finish seventh – last in class – to come away with a one-point championship victory. Finishing second won't get the job done for PR1/Mathiasen.

The combination of endurance racing and PCs have produced a lot of broken componentry and damaged barriers since the WeatherTech Championship was formed, and while the Starworks drivers would need to have the cartoon anvil drop – and drop hard – early in the race, this is the one class where history suggests it could happen.

Determining the GTLM championship was also made easier at COTA when the second-place No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT suffered steering damage while battling with its title rivals at Corvette Racing. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner have 11 points in hand with the No. 4 Corvette C7.R over the No. 67 shared by Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook (314-303), and in a class where 10 cars are entered at Petit Le Mans, the Blue Oval representatives would need to win and have the Corvette drivers trail home in eighth or lower.

The No. 67 drivers could finish second and have the No. 4 place 10th (and last) to create a tie, but the tiebreaker would be decided by wins and the No. 4 has four to the No. 67's three – advantage Bowtie.

nielsenIt's sheer coincidence, but IMSA's WeatherTech Championship leads widen from the top down. Prototype (one point), PC (10 points), and GTLM (11 points) looks like razor-thin contests compared to GTD (32 points), where something Biblical would be required to keep Scuderia Corsa's Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen from becoming champions.

The drivers of the No. 63 Ferrari 488 have a staggering lead over Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper, and the massive margin came courtesy of a shredded accessory belt at COTA that left the Viper 13th at the finish line.

If the No. 63 drivers log the minimum drive time – three of the 10 hours at Petit Le Mans – Scuderia Corsa will take back-to-back GTD championships.

Altogether, it's a long race and Lord knows we're accustomed to seeing plenty of carnage and mechanical failures turn the event upside down, but if the PC, GTLM, and GTD points leaders can finish near the front, Petit Le Mans won't be filled with title surprises.

That Prototype championship, though ... it's going to be downright nasty.

Watch it unfold Saturday at the times and locations below:

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