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Victory, Defeat – and Plenty of Surprises – at the Rolex 24 at Daytona

Another tequila sunrise to start the 2016 racing season.

by on Feb.01, 2016

Luis Filipe Derani celebrates after driving the last leg in the ESM team's Honda at the Rolex 24.

It wasn’t champagne flowing in Florida Sunday afternoon — nor milk, the beverage of choice for Indianapolis 500 winners. After 22-year-old Luis Filipe Derani shot across the finish line to wrap up the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the drink of choice was tequila.

No surprise, for Derani and his four co-drivers claimed an unprecedented victory behind the wheel of the Honda-powered Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports prototype, a full 26 seconds ahead of their nearest competitors.

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It was the first time ever that a P2-class race car had claimed victory in what is generally seen as America’s most grueling endurance race – and a prelude to the summer’s main event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Words can’t describe it,” said ESM co-driver Scott Sharp, a previous Daytona winner. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s amazing.”

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From Track to Street, How Motorsports Improves What We Drive

“Improving the breed.”

by on May.31, 2013

GM President Mark Reuss with the Corvette pace car he'll be riding in during the IndyCar race on Detroit's Belle Isle.

When the field of IndyCars lines up on the grid at Detroit’s Belle Isle race track this Sunday, you can be guaranteed that General Motors will lead the pack. That’s because Mark Reuss, GM’s President of North America, will be riding in the pace car, a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

There’s no way to know who’ll ultimately take the checkered flag but Reuss and GM clearly hope for a repeat of last week’s Indy 500, the maker’s Chevrolet division powering to a 1-2-3 victory, the first time Chevy has won the celebrated race in 11 years.

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That victory has a number of benefits, according to Reuss. “We’re a company that lost what it feels like to win,” he says, recalling with a grimace the bankruptcy that nearly shut GM down just four years ago. But wins like Indy are “giving us a feel of what it’s like to win again as a company.”

There are other payoffs, the executive says.

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Controversial IndyCar Chief Steps Down

Targeted by owner’s coup.

by on Oct.29, 2012

The fiery Las Vegas crash that took the life of Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was one of many missteps that led to Bernard's ouster.

Randy Bernard, the head of the IndyCar racing series, has stepped down after a controversial, three-year reign following an angry revolt by team owners determined to oust him.

The announcement comes despite widespread praise for the IndyCar Series which was credited with having one of its best seasons ever.  Among other developments, Chevrolet returned to the racing program this past year, a season that saw IndyCar introduce its first all-new car in nine years.

But the series has been plagued by dissent, some owners openly talking of a coup against Hulman & Co., which controls both the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Despite the strong showing this past year, Bernard was blamed for a number of missteps that hurt both the racing league and his own position as its chief executive.  Among the most criticized moves was a decision to hold the series’ final race of 2011 in Las Vegas at a track that some experts felt was too dangerous at IndyCar speeds.

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Dodge Pulls out of NASCAR

“Clearly an extremely difficult decision.”

by on Aug.07, 2012

What was to have been the 2013 Dodge NASCAR entry (r) sits alongside the street version of the Dodge Charger.

In what a top executive described as “Clearly an extremely difficult decision,” Dodge is pulling out of NASCAR, the maker announced Tuesday afternoon, confirming reports that had first surfaced on the website run by the popular race series earlier in the day.

The decision to abandon what is the most widely followed motorsports program in the U.S. was the belated result of the decision by Team Penske to abandon Dodge and sign on with its arch-rival Ford Motor Co.  That unexpected setback, last March, left the smaller brand frantically searching for a new team and sponsors just as was ready to begin testing an all-new car for the 2013 NASCAR season.

After months of effort, no effective solution came together, a senior Chrysler executive lamented during a Tuesday conference call with reporters, leaving the Dodge brand no option but to pull out.

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“Cash,” insisted Ralph Gilles, the head of Chrysler corporate motor sports operations, “was not the issue.”  Instead, he repeatedly stressed, the effort to replace the Penske team had to be seen as “a multi-piece puzzle.  We couldn’t, unfortunately, put together a structure that made competitive sense for next year.”

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Germany’s Legendary Nurburgring May Close

F1’s Ecclestone may step in with rescue.

by on Jul.23, 2012

A pair of camouflaged Cadillacs undergoing testing on the Nurburgring's brutal Nordschliefe.

Short of Indy’s brickyard perhaps no race track in the world is as well-known as the German Nurburgring. But the challenging course could soon see its last race.

Dating back to the 1920s, the long and challenging circuit has been regularly used for a variety of motor sports events, such as Formula One but has become increasingly familiar to even non-racing fans because it has become the track of choice for testing by manufacturers such as Porsche, Ford and Cadillac – something they frequently note in commercials.

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But the track’s management warns it is rapidly running out of cash and with the German government rejecting a requested $16 million bailout, the ‘Ring, as it’s frequently called, may be forced into insolvency.  A rescue is still possible, however, and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, not a many known for having a charitable side, is offering to “do everything” he can to help the track survive.

“We will do everything that is commercially feasible,” the 81-year-old Ecclestone told the German weekly Auto Bild, suggesting that his F1 organization would “bear all costs” for the 2013 race though the quid-pro-quo is that it would “also claim all revenues.”

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Nissan Darting into LeMans with DeltaWing racer

Revolutionary design could reshape motor sports.

by on Mar.14, 2012

Nissan has put its name on the DeltaWing racer as its title sponsor.

Over more than a century of motor sports, the racing world has often been transformed by dramatic shifts in design.  Today, aerodynamics can play as significant a role as the powertrain in a race car – as fans of the Formula One world can readily attest.

Is the DeltaWing project ready to unleash the next big revolution?  The dart-like concept, which has more visually in common with a fighter aircraft than a NASCAR or even an Indy racer, is set to get its first big test during the unforgiving 24 Hours of Le Mans thanks to the project’s latest sponsor, Nissan.

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The Japanese maker says it is “aiming to change the face of endurance racing forever” with what has now been renamed the Nissan DeltaWing.  That’s no minor boast when you consider what the exotic concept will be going up against, including the likes of Audi’s latest diesel-powered monster, the R18 eTron Quattro.

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The Montery Motorsports Reunion: Disneyland for Race Fans

Watching racing history come back to life.

by on Aug.22, 2011

A trio of classic race cars come back to life at Laguna Seca during the 2011 Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

It’s hard to escape your past – or so Derek Bell discovered as he wandered through the paddock at the Laguna Seca race track.  Everywhere he turned he discovered another car that he had driven, at one point or another, during his long and illustrious career.  That includes a Ferrari 250 GTO that is getting ready for a race on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m always surprised,” the British legend said, “by how many cars they have here and how many cars I drove,” including the classic ’64 Ferrari 250 GTO he piloted at the Goodwood Festival of Speed five years back.

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Bell isn’t alone.  Indeed, it seems there are surprises for everyone at the annual Monterey Motorsports Reunion.  The three-day event gave the estimated  40,000 fans a chance to see some of the world’s rarest, oddest and most successful race cars – some nearly 100 years old – come back to life on one of the country’s most challenging tracks.

And unlike the typical race event, the Reunion broke down the traditional barriers, letting race fans get up close and personal with the cars and the drivers.  That includes not only weekend racers like Tom Price, a San Francisco collector with a warehouse full of old cars, but some of the best-known names from the motorsports world, including Bell, Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, Carroll Shelby and British racing giant Stirling Moss.

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Germans Invade France: Victory at Le Mans

Disaster turns into victory.

by on Jun.15, 2011

Germany's secret weapon: the Audi R18.

It started back in 2000 when the first Audi prototype showed up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  At a race where sports car manufacturer Porsche has won 16 times and Ferrari nine times, the upstarts from Ingolstadt came with a serious race car, the turbocharged gasoline-engined R8, and took first, second and third the first time out.

In the years since, the Audi R8, R10, the R15 diesel and now the new R18 diesel have won the race nine more times.  They took a year off in 2003 when, at the suggestion of management, the Audi race car was reconfigured into a Bentley coupe, and the Bentley took first and second using Audi engines.

In 2004, the R8 returned and took first, second, third and fifth.  The following year, the updated and heavily restricted R8 won again, with Danish driver Tom Kristensen winning his seventh Le Mans in a row.

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The world of sports car racing changed forever in 2006 when Audi showed up with its new R10 race cars, powered by 5.5-liter turbocharged diesel engines.  Diesels?  At Le Mans?  Yes.  Using specially distilled diesel race fuel, the Audis qualified first and second and beat the closest gasoline-powered car by four LAPS, owing to the diesel’s reliability, huge torque off the corners, and far fewer stops for fuel.  The winning Audi diesel covered 3164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 131 mph.

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Is Formula One for Sale?

After initial denial, owners admit something’s up.

by on May.09, 2011

The face of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone insists the sport isn't for sale - or is it?

After initially denying any interest in selling the vastly profitable Formula One race series, the sports owners now acknowledge there may be some talks underway – though it’s unclear where any negotiations might lead.

Rumors have been circulating that a consortium led by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Exor, the Italian investment arm of Fiat’s Agnelli family, have approached F1 owner CVC Capital Partners with an offer to acquire what is generally considered to be the world’s most powerful and profitable motor sports program.

After initially denying anything was up, CVC’s public face, Bernie Ecclestone, has acknowledged what is now being described as a “friendly” offer.

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In a formal statement, Formula One’s current owners announced, “CVC can confirm that it has recently received an approach from the Exor News Corporation consortium.”  The group added that Rupert Murdoch’s son and senior News Corp.  executive “James Murdoch has informed us that the approach is friendly, at a very preliminary stage, and that they acknowledge that Formula 1 is privately owned by CVC and not currently for sale.”

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McBlog: Racing, The Great Authenticator

When will we know the Koreans have "arrived"?

by on Apr.13, 2011

The track is where a maker -- as much as a driver -- proves its worth. Photo: Denise McCluggage.

Sam Mitani made a point in his May Road & Track column that resonated through me like a temple gong. I’ll get to that but first you’ll welcome some background. Trust me.

In the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 Ray Haroun strapped a mirror in his race car instead of toting the usual swivel-necked riding-mechanic to keep him informed on conditions to the rear. That rear-view mirror found its way into road cars and was about the only thing we could cite as argument that “racing improves the breed”. This was in those mid-century days when our carmakers turned vehemently anti-racing, pulling official participation from NASCAR and forbidding any performance numbers like horsepower to appear in ads. Only comfy-ness and, ooh, rich textures on seats and smiley smiley children with tightly-coifed mothers.

The manufacturers those days were quaking in their white-walls lest a suddenly safety–obsessed government would start decreeing all sorts of standards. Government standards were hive-producing in carmakers. (But then Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook – even before Nader’s ego swelled to its most egregious proportions – might have caused at least minor allergic reactions to anyone fond of wheeled objects.)

Not that improvement of the breed wasn’t something to be wished at that time, particularly by those few of us who had embraced driving as a sport. We were the ones who plastered numbers cut from sticky shelf paper on the sides on our perky little mounts from England, pulled on our knit-back gloves and on weekends cheerfully sped amidst hay bales stacked meanfully on old airports. In post-war years American cars had grown ever more yacht-like, lumbered about on bedspring suspensions and favored interiors upholstered with mouse fur. “Detroit iron” was our disdainful name for these monsters.

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We favored jolting about in much smaller cars, cars that you donned rather than were swallowed by.  Ah yes, many had asthmatic heaters, or none, and sidecurtains that were downright hospitable to rain. But these cars actually stopped within memory of the first application of the brake pedal. They turned corners within then breathtaking inches of where a quick-response steering wheel – the size of a large pizza — bade the skinny tall tires to go. The home-grown puffed-cheek beasts wallowed in the general direction of a chosen course, the steering wheel having required several full turns to influence that choice. The less connection with a road’s surface the more these cars represented Detroit’s intention. The anti-car carmaker ruled.

When did all this change? I would say when Detroit lightened up on trying to anticipate what Washington might want of them and began noticing customers in important numbers were being enticed off the farm by foreign cars. And vaguely wondered why.

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