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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

#SJblog

Indycar Iowa Corn 300, F1 British GP at Silverstone & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – Usually, we lead off the blog chatting about Formula One. It remains the technical pinnacle of global racing and the most widely known form of motorsport. It was also a huge highlight of your career and a world you’re still intimately familiar with. But some would argue that Formula One is no longer the pinnacle of open wheel racing from a competition perspective.

In recent years IndyCar has returned to the top of the heap competitively. As you’ve observed, even drivers in F1 have taken note. The experience and ability of today’s IndyCar pilots is the rival of any racing series in the world. It makes one think back to the glory days of CART when Nigel Mansell, fresh from winning the Formula One World Championship in 1992, left Europe and F1 to come to America to race Indy Cars in CART. You were there as well, having left F1 in 1991 to join Bettenhausen Racing.

And once again, as is usually the case these days, last weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race – the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway – was the best race of the weekend. It proved more interesting than the British GP even though Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden nearly lapped the field. But the racing was great throughout the field. As I know you agree, that makes IndyCar the right place to start this week’s discussion.

SJ – I agree with you that the actual racing in Indycar is hard to beat. It was a terrific race again. You can’t beat short-ovals. As far as the racing goes, it doesn’t get much better. There’s always action – non-stop. And the action isn’t just at the front. There are battles going on all through the field all the time.

As I’ve said, the competition in IndyCar is the best out there right now. At almost any track, there’s hardly more than a second between the front of the field and the back.

However, I don’t know how many drivers or fans are taking notice, I still think the sharp end of F1 is a good as it’s ever been, maybe even better. There is a lot of depth of talent and a number of World Champions competing at the same time, plus some incredibly talented new guys, like Verstappen and Sainz for example. F1 is still the pinnacle for sure, it’s just a shame they are not able to really display their talent in equipment that is more challenging.

JT – I remember NASCAR driver Mark Martin saying many years ago that a talented driver can overcome poor car balance on a road course by driving around it, essentially “carrying the car”. But he added that there’s no way to do that on an oval. Basically he said that you can be the world’s best driver but if you miss the setup on an oval you’re finished.

SJ – Exactly, there’s nothing you can do. It’s sheer torture if your car is not balanced, and especially so if the car is loose (oversteer). I went through that a few times too many back in the day with Bettenhausen.

I remember one year at Indy when the team did an engine installation before the race. One of the bushings for the engine mount was twisted just slightly. They didn’t realize that. But it was enough so when they did a torque-check with a torque key it was tight.

As soon as the car got loaded up at full speed, which was on the first lap going in to Turn-3, I felt this clunk as the engine came into position. From then on, there was maybe a millimeter of play in that bushing. Over the distance back to the rear wheels, a millimeter of play in the bushing translated to probably five millimeters of play at the wheel.

The car was absolutely un-drivable. It was stupid-loose one lap and on the next it was pushing like a pig! It was totally inconsistent. You didn’t know what it was going to do from one lap to the next. We should have just parked it but stupidly you hang in there hoping there’s going to be a multi-car accident that puts cars out of the race and moves you forward but of course, no way. That was 500 miles of sheer torture.

You’re just spent if the car is off. You’re fighting the thing all the time. Even on the straights it can be a handful.

JT – At one point, Josef Newgarden had lapped everyone but the leading car. He and Ed Carpenter Racing must have absolutely nailed the setup. Have you ever driven a car that worked that well on an oval, and if so, what is that like?

SJ – I had a car that worked quite well but never that good. But when you have a car that’s hooked up on an oval it is the most fun racing you can do. It’s fantastic. You’re racing all the time, every lap.

Scott [Dixon] had a car like that last year on one of the ovals where he was absolutely dialed in. Unfortunately, the team missed the setup on the car at Iowa at the beginning of the weekend and eventually had to revert to last year’s setup. Scott basically ran it like that and improved it as much as possible through the race. On every pit stop they dialed it in to get a decent balance but at least the car was drivable.

Scott finished third but didn’t really gain much in points. (Pagenaud finished fourth) Scott’s been very unlucky with DNFs, scoring no points. He probably would have won Race One in Detroit if the car hadn’t had a mechanical problem. And then again, at Elkhart Lake (Road America) he probably could have fought for the win or at least second place if the car hadn’t let him down.

That’s at least 80 points off the table for Scott and Pagenaud is doing what you do to win championships, scoring points in pretty much every race. He’s won several times this year and he’s basically just having consistently good finishes. With a championship as close as IndyCar’s is, points make prizes. If you score in every race you’re gonna be right up there fighting for the title. So it’s going to be very tough to beat Pagenaud.

JT – The Chevrolets dominated at Iowa. Only three of the top ten finishers were in Hondas. That’s odd considering that Andretti Autosport won just last year with Honda at Iowa and that they won the Indy 500 with Honda this year.

SJ – It’s very strange. Honda kind of dominated Indy but apart from that they’ve struggled at every other track. It’s odd how they managed to be so good at Indy but not anywhere else really.

JT – In the wake of the rain-postponed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar announced that the race will “resume” at the 71-lap mark where it was halted on August 27. Newgarden, now second in the championship standings, will not be allowed to race as he and Conor Daly had a massive accident before the race was red-flagged. Scott has made the gracious and intelligent point that the Texas race should be re-run in its entirety for the sake of the fans who waited out multiple delays. That seems only logical.

SJ – Yes, it makes no sense to just run a partial race. Everyone will be starting from scratch anyway, going through the whole weekend ritual of practice just as they did before. Obviously, you can’t send them out on track without practice because everything will be different – different track conditions, different temperature, everything.

It would be much fairer to simply start from scratch. It will be a completely different race anyway.

JT – Newgarden is obviously a proven winner with victories on road and street courses, and now an oval. Many are speculating that IndyCar’s top teams have their eyes on him, including Ganassi.

SJ – He’s been the new, young hope since last year when he won and was very impressive. He certainly hasn’t gone backwards this year. He’s doing a very good job and it’s no surprise that people are looking at him. I also think that Ed Carpenter’s team has done an amazing job, their engineering group is clearly on top of things.

JT – The British Grand Prix had a predictable outcome. Mercedes finished first and second on-track with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton winning his home grand prix once again. With the start having taken place under safety car due to rain, he had had an advantage once the field was released. He gained a couple seconds right away and was never really challenged. He was also lucky, as were some others, not to crash after an off course excursion on dry tires.

SJ – Yes, to have a clean track in front of you in a wet race after the safety car releases you is huge. That’s why Lewis pulled 100 yards on everybody right away. You tend to do that when you have no visibility problems and the opportunity to control the start. That was a given almost.

I don’t think the conditions were that terrible to be honest. I don’t know what the current cars are like to drive but I’ve certainly had many races where the conditions were much worse. I think they definitely held the safety car out there for too long. The start is a great element of the excitement of a grand prix and you didn’t get that at Silverstone.

JT – Nico Rosberg became embroiled in a battle with Max Verstappen who passed him after the first round of pit stops. Verstappen’s pass was impressive and delayed Rosberg’s progress. Rosberg finally gained second place back on lap 38 of 52. By then Hamilton was gone but Rosberg left Verstappen behind quickly and was gaining on his teammate until a gearbox issue arose. He couldn’t get drive in seventh gear and asked the team what he should do.

Unlike at the European Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues and the team informed him that they could not advise him on what to do because of F1’s ban on radio coaching, Mercedes told Nico what to do. It’s confusing because in one instance, they opted not to advise Hamilton for fear of a penalty but at Silverstone they did speak to Rosberg and must have known there would be a penalty. That’s what happened and Rosberg was demoted to third with a ten second penalty following the race. The radio ban and Mercedes’ decisions make no sense.

SJ – The whole thing, the radio ban, is a complete joke as far as I’m concerned. I hate to complain again but at least with IndyCar and NASCAR when they see something getting out of hand they nip it in the bud right away.  F1 creates these monstrously complex vehicles and then gets way down the road before they realize that what they’ve done is causing huge problems.

As I’ve said for the last three years, the multitude of complex settings and technical adjustments on the current cars’ steering wheels never should have been allowed – these insanely complicated differentials and gearbox settings and on and on.

Either you have radio communications or you don’t. With the complexity of these cars engineering was telling the drivers on every straight what settings to have for the next corner – which is ridiculous of course. So they then ban all kind of communication. Which effectively means that currently you can’t even tell a driver what to do even if there’s a technical fault on the car.

What does the radio ban have to do with advising a driver how to fix a fault? It’s not like Rosberg’s performance was going to be better than it was before the gearbox issue came up if the team told him how to resolve it, all it will do is allow him to finish the race.

In the case of Perez in Austria it was outrageous that they couldn’t tell a driver that his brakes were about to fail because of this radio ban. Imagine if that happened at Monaco coming out of the tunnel? There’s no logic to any of it.

Beyond that, if you allow the designers to make cars so complex that you have to tell a driver how to drive them during a race…. You’ve got to pull back and get back to basics, fast! What we have now is what I keep repeating – engineering porn. That’s all it is. The drivers don’t even understand half of it so how can the public?

There have been three races in a row – Baku, Austria and Silverstone - where there have been issues with the radio ban.

JT – This seems to be a good illustration of how irrational F1 is these days. Mercedes decides not to tell one driver what to do at Baku to avoid a penalty, then tells the other how to proceed at Silverstone and gets that penalty – a penalty which logically could have been awarded during the race. Why did the decision have to come after the race? The whole thing is nuts.

SJ – Yes totally. I can’t help myself, I get up at 5am every Sunday there’s a GP as I live in California, all excited for the race, get a nice cup of coffee and it starts and then I think, ‘why do I bother?’ You just sit there getting angry. It’s crazy.

I’m the biggest fan in the world. I love racing and I love F1. It’s my passion and I watch every race live and I just end up being frustrated because of the absurdity of what takes place. And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine what the casual fans think. You have to wonder.

There are so many strange things going on all the time with this subjective rule making that it’s very difficult not to get worked up about it. A good example is this nonsense going on with track limits and white lines. At Silverstone they said if you put four wheels over the line in three of the corners there was a penalty, no compromise. But in all the others it was ok? (The FIA proclaimed a “zero tolerance” policy for exceeding track limits in “certain corners” at Silverstone)

What is that? If you go over the white line anywhere, that should be it. If there’s a penalty for exceeding track limits then apply it to the entire track. In tennis the ball is out if it goes past any of the white lines. They don’t call the ball in if it crosses a white near the net or something. If it’s out, it’s out.

Why is there all this subjective judgment all the time in F1? If the rule is that you don’t exceed the white lines and you go over them then you should get a penalty – simple as that. The officials, not only in F1 for that matter, have gotten so used to these endless gray areas. It’s not the drivers’ fault. If they actually enforced that rule every time someone crossed a white line I guarantee you after two races no one would go over the line.

Make it a stop-and-go penalty for races or take away a lap time in qualifying or practice. And do it during the race or session, not afterwards. They have cameras around the tracks for that. It would be easy to monitor. And as a driver all you want to know is where you stand, black and white. For instance, you already know that if anyone crosses the white line leaving the pits they get penalized. Why shouldn’t it be the same on the race track? That’s the kind of consistency everybody wants.

JT – In the last blog we chatted about the difficulty of following F1 races via television coverage. We agreed it’s difficult to keep informed about what’s taking place in the race for different competitors while it’s in progress. Apparently we’re not alone in that view.

SJ – Yes, I spoke to a couple friends in England, two former F1 designers, after the race. They both agreed that it’s so confusing trying to follow the races live on TV. There’s barely any information on screen and the commentators are all busy yapping away about their own theories or whatever so they miss half the action.

I think there’s a lot more that could be done to make following the race on TV easier. You could present graphics on-screen that would make it easier to understand what various competitors were doing as it happened. That would spice up the coverage and make it a lot more interesting and intelligible for everyone.

Maybe you have graphics for what tire a given driver is on and how many stops he’s made. That gives you an idea of what strategy everyone is on. Pirelli has different color coding for the tires but the problem is you don’t see half the cars on screen during an entire broadcast or at least parts of it.

JT – Again, Max Verstappen’s performance was impressive. He out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo and finished on the podium, ultimately in 2nd place while Ricciardo was 4th.

SJ – I think that everyone, including myself, who had doubts about him is being proved wrong. He’s doing an incredible job apart from that hiccup in Monaco which he seems to have learned from. But ever since he got into the Red Bull Verstappen’s been impressive to say the least. He’s super fast, his race craft is amazing and he’s probably one of the best overtakers in the field already. If he manages to pick the right teams going forward, there is a good chance he could smash every record there is in F1.

JT – Kimi Raikkonen was finally re-signed by Ferrari for 2017. Apparently, Sergio Marchionne wanted the deal to get done and they made it happen quickly. Some have suggested that his re-signing was in part spurred by Kimi’s willingness to be a number 2 driver at Ferrari. You don’t necessarily agree.

SJ – That’s possible but I think more than anything there’s a nice harmony in the team and a good relationship between the drivers. And I’m not so sure that Kimi will play number 2. Right now he’s third in the championship and Vettel is 5th. Ok, Vettel has maybe been faster in general but not all the time.

Had Kimi been in a position to win more often, I think all the effort would’ve gone behind him last year. I wouldn’t by any means count him out. Assuming Ferrari can provide a winning car for both drivers, I’m pretty sure Kimi will be a contender.

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s performance at Silverstone seemed a bit weak and it’s been that way for quite a few races now. I think they’re slipping back. Red Bull’s definitely making gains and their Renault engine is pretty close to everyone except Mercedes.

JT – As the race was the British Grand Prix, it’s even more appropriate to talk about the performance of Williams and McLaren which, to put it plainly, was lackluster at their home GP.

SJ – I think what Williams has done with their car shows they’ve must have taken a gamble in some areas and it’s obviously not working. I touched on it in the last blog but I also don’t think that the engine advantage they’ve had with the Mercedes power unit is what it was in the past.

Everyone’s closed the gap to a degree now so that makes it more difficult. Last year, their chassis looked better than maybe it was partly because they had a bigger advantage with Mercedes power. That’s no longer the case and now Red Bull, Toro Rosso and even McLaren are able to give them fits.

That’s what always happens when you have rules stability. It’s the best way to even out racing. Now for 2017 there will be wholesale rules changes yet again with more aero and bigger tires. It’s just going to lead to the same thing. Mercedes and the big teams will have a huge advantage. One of the mid-fielders will probably get it right and the rest will be nowhere.

I like the idea of the bigger tires for next year but they’re adding even more downforce and now the obsession is faster lap times. Who cares? The cars might go 10 mph faster and five to six seconds per lap quicker but the competition will be just the same because of the aerodynamics. The racing won’t change for the better. It’ll just be a bit faster and it will cost everyone a mountain of money to develop a new car.

No one will still be able to pass because of the aero. You saw that at Silverstone last weekend. All the commentators were going on about Verstappen not giving Rosberg an inch, etc. But you can’t get close enough to the car in front of you now, especially those medium speed corners where aero is so important. You get to a certain point on those straights at Silverstone and then in the corners the front of the car washes away as you get to close behind the guy ahead. It was the same story in Barcelona.

So through the corners you lose enough ground and when you exit them onto the Hangar Straight for example, you can’t get close enough to pass even with DRS. It’s the same for everybody and it was only when they encountered traffic and Verstappen also had dirty air to deal with that Rosberg got close enough to have a go. That’s how he got back by Verstappen.

With McLaren, I have a sneaky feeling that something’s going on because they’re talking a big game - Alonso and even Ron [Dennis]. I don’t see why they would do that unless they know something. I think they’ve definitely got something in the pipeline. I do believe they’ll eventually get back to the front because they have the resources and the people to do it.


To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

A quicker alternative is to post on Twitter & Instagram with the following:

  1. Twit/Post a photo and list your top 3 drivers in the correct order along with the hashtag #F1TOP3
  2. TAG:

The Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry continues at the Austrian GP, Scuderia Corsa triumphed again & Chip Ganassi is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

Stefan Johansson

JT – Qualifying for the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix was a messy affair due to wet weather. Hamilton won the pole with Nico Rosberg 2nd. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Jenson Button made the most of it qualifying in 3rd and 5th positions respectively.

However, Rosberg actually started from 7th after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Sebastian Vettel lost his 4th place qualifying effort due to the same penalty - a gearbox change - and had to start 9th. This allowed Hulkenberg and Button to actually start in 2nd and 3rd positions. The “penalties” for having to change a gearbox and other similar penalties for changing other components seem absurd. What’s your view?

SJ – The weather definitely helped to mix up the qualifying so it was hard to read anything into the pace of some of the cars but grid position is always important, although less so on most tracks since the introduction of DRS.  

You are correct that some of the rules they have introduced to F1 over the years are very confusing and make no sense in many ways. These grid penalties are a perfect example. I guess the intention when they introduced them was to bring costs down and discourage teams from bolting on a new engine or gearbox in every session or race, which was often the case back then. But of course, these rules make everything even more expensive because the engineering required being at such a high level to design and fabricate parts utilizing materials that last a long time.

But, what I don’t understand is that when you have an accident and damage an engine or gearbox, why should you be penalized? You’ve already suffered the penalty of having an accident. No one’s having an accident on purpose. So why should you get a penalty for replacing components damaged in an accident? This has nothing to do with reliability.

It makes no sense. If you crash in qualifying and can’t compete for the best grid position, you already have a penalty.

JT – Button ran well for McLaren finishing 6th but Fernando Alonso had yet another bad weekend with his McLaren-Honda failing to finish due to a “battery pack system failure”. Nico Hulkenberg went backward immediately, ultimately failing to finish, scored in 19th position.

SJ – Button had a strong weekend in general and McLaren is getting closer and closer although it’s taking some time. I still maintain that they will be a force to reckon with eventually. They have great people and great resources and it will all come together eventually.

Yes, Hulkenberg went backwards in a hurry. Obviously, his car wasn’t suited at all to race conditions. Perez had a tough race also.

We touched on this in the last blog also and it seems to be a very narrow window, especially in race trim, where the drivers and teams get it either right or wrong with their choice of tires, pressures and the general car set up. You’re either in the operating window or out it. Some cars just totally fall off the cliff while other cars suddenly get hooked up.

One of the Manors (Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th) for example was all of a sudden in the right range and it ran very competitive lap times. Pascal Wehrlein could not explain where the pace came from but the car was running very competitive all day. There’s a very weird dynamic with these tires and it seems much more prevalent this year than it’s ever been before.

JT – We’ve spoken about it previously but the racing in F1 remains hard to follow via television. The television broadcasts are very fragmented and the broadcasters do a poor job of keeping viewers informed about relative positions and circumstances facing cars and drivers throughout the field. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I find it incredibly hard to follow. With all of the pit stops and the cameras directed in what seems to be random fashion, you have real problems knowing what’s going on. There’s no real scoreboard or pit board that you can access as a TV viewer and it makes understanding the dynamic of the race very difficult. You almost need your laptop next to you with the online scoring board to be able understand the dynamics of the race. But you need to be real “anorak” to go that far.

It’s frustrating because you sit there really trying to pay attention to what’s going on and suddenly cars are missing or out of place from when you last saw them. I understand that some are pitting and others staying out but most often you don’t have any detailed information of what happened.

JT – The race’s main talking point was the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg on the final lap. Hamilton had drawn to within one second of Rosberg and used his DRS to catch Rosberg heading into Turn 2. As he attempted to overtake Rosberg, the two made contact. Rosberg’s car was damaged, resulting in his falling to 4th place. Hamilton’s car continued apace and he took the victory. What’s your view of their coming together yet again?

SJ – Poor old Nico seems to come up on the short end every single time the two of them have a get together. He seems to always have his car in the wrong place. It’s tricky, Lewis obviously has terrific race-craft there’s no doubt about that. He gets in a dogfight and generally comes out ahead. I guess the fact is that Lewis will simply not back down, under any circumstance. So, the only result is that he will either come out ahead or there will be contact, or sometimes both like in this case. It could have just as easily gone the other way where Lewis would have ended up with a wounded car. This makes it even more difficult for Rosberg as he knows by now that his options are very limited and there’s a very good chance they will make contact if they are fighting for the same piece of road.

But sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. You can have a year where every time you make a move it sticks and the other guy comes out on the short end. Then you do the same thing the next year and it goes wrong every single time. You end up with a broken car or a spin or whatever.

JT – The die seemed to be cast when Hamilton got within DRS range. Rosberg was a sitting duck and you knew any pass would be contested.

SJ – It’s one thing when you’re racing for second, third or fourth place and another when you’re racing for the win. If it’s for the win, you go for it. That’s how you’re programmed as a racing driver. You either have team orders or you let the drivers have a go.

It’s incredibly difficult because you’ve got two guys who are so close competitively in the best equipment, fighting for the win pretty much every race. It’s a perfect storm really. I don’t actually remember a dynamic quite like this – having two drivers in a team who are so close, always dominating and fighting for the win.

There was Prost and Senna of course but even that didn’t get as serious apart from one occasion at Suzuka. (A collision at the final chicane between Prost and Senna during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix put them both off the track. Prost retired, Senna continued, taking the win. Following the race Senna was controversially disqualified for using the chicane's escape road to rejoin the circuit. Thus, Prost won the 1989 title.)

But most of the time their battles sorted themself out with one or the other being further ahead and separated in the races they each won. In 1988, McLaren were as dominant as Mercedes has been but it was never quite like this. I think a lot of that also had to do with the fact that they could not use the DRS function, which effectively makes the guy in front a sitting duck if you’re within 1 second or closer.

JT – If you look at the overtaking aids in Formula One and IndyCar - IndyCar seems to have a far better solution. Like you just said, with DRS in F1, every driver is a sitting duck when the following driver gets within one second. Push-to-Pass in IndyCar seems to be far superior as not only can the driver attempting an overtake use Push-to-Pass, the driver in front can use it defensively.

SJ – The IndyCar Push-to-Pass method is 100 percent better. Without DRS, the Hamilton-Rosberg incident would never have happened. I’ve never liked DRS from its institution. It’s a strange way to try to spice up the show. I don’t really think it’s fair and it doesn’t help the racing. If the driver behind gets within a second there’s nothing the lead driver can do. It has nothing to do with skill or bravery or whatever else is required to pass the guy in front. It’s lost the art of racing to very large degree in my opinion.

The IndyCar system is as close to perfect as you can get, I think. You can defend as well as attack and you only get so many attempts in a race. It’s up to you to distribute it and decide when and when not to use it. In addition, the public is informed of how many Push-to-Pass boosts are left for each driver. That makes it interesting. But in F1 the guy in front is completely helpless, waiting for the attack. It’s not fair and it doesn’t help the show at all.

This is the irony of F1. You have these insanely complicated, technically sophisticated, ridiculously expensive cars and then you add a crude wing opening system, which dumbs down the technology the series, emphasizes.

The other thing I don’t understand, we have these cars that are simply masterpieces of engineering, so sophisticated and complicated in every way in order to optimize every half a percent of performance from both the chassis and the “power units”, and then the series mandates the tire manufacturer to effectively build a crap tire to supposedly make the races more interesting. Then there’s the radio ban. Again, they allow the teams to develop this sophisticated and insanely expensive technology with endless options on the steering wheel to adjust the cars literally from corner to corner, and then you have to ban advice from the pits about how to use them because it effectively means that engineers are driving the car. Now they can’t even inform the driver if there’s a safety issue with the car. Perez had huge off because he was not aware his brakes were about to go, his team knew but were not allowed to communicate with him over the radio.

It defies all logic. Thank god the tracks are all so clinical and safe now. You could have had at least a couple broken legs otherwise.

JT – Meanwhile, Ferrari still struggling for pace against Mercedes, opted to keep Sebastian Vettel on super soft-compound tires for 27 laps. On lap 27, his right rear Pirelli exploded and he crashed out of the race.  It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

SJ – We don’t know what happened yet, so it’s not really correct to comment, as it could have been something like debris or whatever that caused the tire to blow up in the first place.

JT – When you raced in F1 were the tires prone to these types of catastrophic failures?

SJ – What happened back then if anything was that tires would blister. But you could still carry on. It’s just that they lost so much performance that you basically had to pit for new tires. They didn’t delaminate or anything like that.

JT – Heading to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix, there’s an 11-point gap from Rosberg back to Hamilton. That lends some interest to the racing going forward but what gets lost is that Mercedes is still dominating. No one is close. 

SJ – A tight points battle like this is what Formula One needs… with a bit of hate and rivalry. That brings out the fans. But yes, Mercedes is still destroying everybody and it’s clear the title fight will become even more intense with every race going forward. This is all great for F1 though, all we need is for Ferrari and Red Bull to close the gap a bit more and we will have some very interesting races for the remainder of this season.

JT – Suspension failures were a recurring theme throughout the weekend in Austria. New curbing was installed at the Spielberg circuit in place of the astro-turf previously in place and it seemed to cause more problems than it solved.

SJ – Four big accidents from suspension failure is highly unusual. The thing is, every single track on the F1 schedule is like a dance floor now. There are no bumpy, rough circuits left. That’s part of how Formula One is today, every track is more or less perfect in every way. I’d like to see what would happen if they ran a current F1 car around a place like Sebring for example. It would probably have no wheels left after 10 laps! I’m only joking but it definitely adds to the challenge.

Dealing with the imperfections of all the cool old circuits used to be a big part of the racing and that’s what made them great. The fact that they were bumpy and horrible made them unpredictable and difficult. It made it a great challenge to get your set-up right and a great challenge to drive.

You had to be super precise over the bumps – to be able to feel them and lift at exactly the right moment and then get right back on power. When you felt the front tires hit a bump you mashed the throttle. By the time you got your foot down, the power would be coming on just as the rear tires passed over the bump. You could pick up two or three-tenths if you got it right. It was another added element of skill and it was a real challenge to get it right lap after lap during a race.

There are varying opinions on whether the rough circuits were a good thing or not but the current cars have been designed around these tabletop flat circuits so when they encounter taller curbs like in Austria they can’t cope.

I think Hamilton had a good point. Why not just bring back grass at the track edge like it used to be? That enforces the track limits automatically, because if you put a wheel on the grass you’re going to spin or at least loose enough speed for it to never give you an advantage which often is the case now. Just have grass for 20 feet from the track edge and then you could have asphalt and all that nonsense to catch the cars that go past that.

The point is, you won’t gain any time by going into the grass with all four wheels like you do now by keeping your foot in it over the curbs or even on the astro-turf. The Mercedes accident in Austria would most likely have been avoided as Lewis would have never attempted to go on the outside as there would not have been enough room to carry the speed through the exit.

As it is now, everyone is abusing the track limit rule and there is no enforcement. If you have all four wheels past the white line, there should be an automatic penalty as far as I’m concerned, end of story, just as you can’t cross the blend line leaving the pits. It will take a few races of screaming and shouting, but if everyone knows where the limit is, everyone will very soon fall into line and that will then become the norm. As it is, the tracks are already designed this way and I can’t see a good solution to fix the problem any other way. If the ball is past the white line in Tennis it’s out, I don’t see why they can’t enforce the same rule in motor racing.

JT – IMSA raced at the newly repaved Watkins Glen last week. Scuderia Corsa triumphed again, following up success at Le Mans with a GTD win for the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. The team is really in good form.

SJ – They’re having an incredible season. It’s fantastic to see. The 488 is obviously a great car. What they’ve always been really good at is strategy. Between Giacomo [Mattioli] and the engineers, they have always done a better job than anyone else; they’re just doing a superb job. That’s how we won the Championship at Petit Le Mans last year too, by simply understanding the rulebook better than the rest and thinking on their feet during the race. They snookered everybody and won the championship.

JT – In the GTLM class the Ford GTs dominated once again. Only the RLL BMWs could get close to them. Finally, IMSA is going to adjust the balance-of-performance, having announced additional weight and a boost reduction for the Fords while others get weight breaks and larger restrictors for this weekend’s race at Mosport.

SJ – Yes, the BoP saga continues, I so wish there was a different way to sort all this out. I hope they will eventually find a way to make everyone happy.

JT – In related news, Chip Ganassi was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame last week. What a career he’s had with 11 IndyCar titles, multiple Indy 500 wins, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 wins, six Rolex 24 wins and now a GTLM class victory at Le Mans.

SJ – You’ve got to admire and respect what he’s accomplished over the years. His team has won pretty much every major racing event and series in the world, in every category except Formula One.

His Hall of Fame induction is well deserved. Having been able to observe his teams at close range, he’s the dream team owner for a driver. He gives you every bit of support and every tool you would ever need to be able to win. There are no compromises and no excuses.

I couldn’t think of a better owner to drive for. I only drove for him for one year (2005 GRAND-AM Season with teammate Cort Wagner) but having been around Scott [Dixon] all these years you can see it’s a really amazing operation. The people he has around him are all top talent and the best in the business. His leadership is very impressive in that he understands the business inside and out, he’s passionate about his team and he gives his people all the tools and motivation they need to perform at all levels within the organization.


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Misfortune and controversy at the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, F1 Canadian & European Grand Prix

Stefan Johansson

JT – The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a compelling event, notable in terms of history, misfortune and controversy. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa and Scott Dixon who made his first start at Le Mans with the Chip Ganassi Ford program. Both teams had a fantastic race, winning the GTE and the GTE AM categories handily.

Interestingly, Bell and Sweedler have now won the Daytona 24, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 as teammates. Segal has won all three as well. What did you think of the Scuderia Corsa team’s performance in just their second year at Le Mans?

SJ – What a difference a year makes. Although that’s kind of typical for Le Mans. It’s such a daunting track on your first visit. If you’re not prepared and already know what to expect it takes time to get up to speed there – for the drivers and also the teams. When you do it for the first time, you start to get the hang of it halfway through the race, once you have a couple of stints under your belt you start getting into a rhythm and little by little it all comes together and the lap times suddenly start coming down. Practice is generally a disaster your first time there because you get very little seat time with three drivers sharing the car, and the fact that each lap is almost four minutes long. If you’re not qualifying you will go into the race with probably less than 15-20 laps of practice beforehand. If the car is not well balanced and handling close to your liking it makes it very difficult.

This year all three drives came back with a clear frame of mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a Le Mans where there was so little drama from beginning to the end. The car ran perfectly from the first lap and handled really well. There were no mishaps or incidents either in practice or the race. The drivers did their bit perfectly and everybody was happy with the way the car was handling which makes a huge difference.

During the race everyone just got on with the job. Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do, all three drivers were very fast and not one mistake from any of the drivers. We didn’t have a single unscheduled pit stop the whole race. That’s how you win endurance races of course, spending all the time on track and not in the pits. The execution was flawless by everyone on the team and most importantly by the guys in the car. It was great to be a part of.

JT – What was the overall atmosphere at the circuit like this year? There seemed to be a great anticipation for the race.

SJ – It was very upbeat overall. Every year the event seems to be getting a little bit bigger and better. There was another huge crowd and a tremendous atmosphere. Everyone was excited and it was everything you expect Le Mans to be. It’s just like the Indy 500, steeped in tradition and procedures that no other race has, or would ever get away with. Starting with the scrutineering on the Sunday or Monday prior to the race, which means you have been there almost a week before the race even starts. It’s a fantastic event and for everyone involved and the build up over the week is a huge part of it. The manufacturers are spending a fortune not just on the racing but also on the activation around the track. I don’t think there’s any sport or event that actually comes close to the set up Audi and Porsche have around the track, it’s incredibly impressive.

JT – One of the biggest stories was the heartbreak for Toyota in LMP1. Their cars had led most of the race and looked fast and very reliable. The No. 2 Porsche 919 was their only competition. The No. 6 Toyota had a setback when Kamui Kobayashi spun into a gravel trap after dawn but otherwise this looked like Toyota’s race to win.

Then on the penultimate lap, the No.5 TS050 Hybrid with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel ground to a halt on the main straight due to a turbo component failure. With minutes to go the No.2 Porsche took the win. Toyota, having made numerous attempts at Le Mans came up short once again. It was Porsche’s 18th overall victory. Mazda remains the only Japanese manufacturer to have won overall.

What are your thoughts on the late race drama?

SJ – It was shocking in a way and gut wrenching to watch the car stop on the very last lap. Like every single person in the place I just felt so bad for them. It’s just unfathomable that the car would break with three minutes to go. They had done such a great job the whole race and really, I think they took everyone by surprise. Both the drivers and the team had done a phenomenal job. I’m sure will take them a while to get over this.

JT – It could be said that Toyota had an “Audi-esque” performance. On the other hand, Audi didn’t look like the Audi we’ve known at Le Mans. Both of their cars had reliability problems and issues on-track. The only reason they kept their streak of podium finishes alive is because the No. 5 Toyota was not classified.

SJ – It was strange. Qualifying was a bit weird overall anyway because of the weather. It was unrepresentative of a lot of the cars pace so we didn’t know where Audi was really. As it turned out, they never really featured in the race.

Of course, Porsche had a problem too with one its cars. It’s seems to be the nature of the beast now though. The P1 cars are getting so incredibly complicated with all of the systems they have and the technology is relatively new which all contributes to more reliability problems of course. I was given a tour around the Audi garage on Saturday morning. Their setup is just mind-boggling. It makes even Formula One look like club racing in comparison. It’s truly unbelievable how far it has come in recent years.

JT – Moving on to the GTE class, controversy still surrounds Ford’s historic win with the new GT. There were three Fords in the top four finishing positions with the Ganassi Team USA cars as the chief rivals - finishing first and third - for Ferrari’s entries from Risi Competizione and AF Corse. The American-fielded Risi 488 GTE finished second in class.

Both the winning No. 68 Ford GT and the No. 82 Risi Ferrari received post-race penalties with Ganassi and Risi protesting each other. A further investigation is pending on whether the Ford GTs were outside the ACO’s “7 Percent Rule” which is enforced to establish a minimum buffer in performance between classes.

Balance of Performance adjustments made after the Le Mans test day and then again just before the race affected the Fords and Ferrari’s least. Many of the other teams opined that the ACO was favoring Ford and Ferrari. Fords accounted for eight of the top ten fastest laps during the race and took four of the top five spots in qualifying, besting the top normally-aspirated car by nearly four seconds.

Their pace during the race was impressive. Much of this can be attributed to the driver line-ups and professionalism of Ganassi Racing. But observers both in the paddock and outside it have questioned the politics behind the BoP for the race and the outright pace of the Ford GTs. What’s your take?

SJ – Well first of all, the 488 has been winning races all year leading up to Le Mans. It’s a fantastic car, and so is the Ford.

It’s not just a question of weight, horsepower, aerodynamics, etc. There are so many other factors. Obviously a production Ferrari is far more inclined to be a great race car than a Corvette or an Aston Martin – just by the way the car is built. Then take the Ford GT, it’s half the height of any of the other cars so it will obviously cut through the air a lot better. It’s a different type of car and in my opinion it sets a precedent for how manufacturers are going to have to look at GT racing in the future.

As I’ve said many times, I don’t like the BoP. I can’t give an answer as to what should be done other than to un-restrict the cars but lots of people disagree with me. The bottom line with the BoP is that there’s always going to be only one team happy with it – the team on top of the podium. The rest will always think they’re being shafted.

Let’s face it, everybody is playing the game to a degree, it’s a sensitive subject obviously and frankly I don’t think you can ever find a happy medium that will suit everybody on every track. Clearly every manufacturers goal is to win Le Mans first of all, and I think some cars are more suitable to this kind of track than others. I think all you have to do is look at the design and shape of each car to figure out which one looks more suitable to achieve this goal compared to some of the others.

Don’t forget as well that the driver combinations that  the Ganassi US operation had were beyond what any other team had in my opinion. All of this adds up. And the GT was built to be quick at Le Mans specifically. I think you also have to give a considerable amount of credit to Chip Ganassi’s team for figuring out what needed to be done. They’ve never been to Le Mans before and they show up and basically clean up. From my point of view I would have loved to see Scott win of course but it didn’t pan out that way unfortunately, his car got separated from the leading bunch on one of the early safety cars and the gap basically remained the same throughout the race, everyone was running so close to each other on pace among the top three cars that it was impossible to make up enough time. He did get fastest lap and a new lap record for the GT category, which was impressive for his first visit to the track.

JT – That’s a good segue to another question that may arise for manufacturers in the GTE/GTLM class in the future. Ford has made it clear that they designed the new GT as a race car first and a production car second. GTE and GTLM are “production-based” classes. Yes, their adherence to the actual road-going versions of the cars raced is far from complete but it looks as if Ford has moved even further from the production-based formula. What might that mean going forward?

SJ – Again, I think there a number of factors, not just horsepower, weight, aero and the rest. It’s how you look at a car like this philosophically – how you take into consideration weight distribution, center of gravity, suspension design. But the more competitive anything gets, the further the goal post will be moved and it’s fair to assume we may see some different looking cars from some of the manufacturers in the future, if they are serious about winning at Le Mans.

JT – The increasing pace of the GTE class, particularly as demonstrated by Ford, brings us back to the points you’ve made previously about the potential lap times GTE cars could achieve if restrictions upon them were removed. The Ford GTs are already closing in on LMP2 lap times.

SJ – Yes, when you see the money that’s being spent on the P1 factory teams it makes your eyes water – it’s insane. It’s the same level as the top teams in Formula One now. The road car versions of the race cars in GTE/GTLM have almost 250 more horsepower than the race cars with all of the restrictions in place on them.

If you gave them back that power for a start that would make their lap times probably six seconds per lap quicker, I reckon. There’s no question they could be in 3 minute 40s very quickly. That’s kind of where the ACO feels the fastest cars in the field should be. So rather than restricting them why not simply let them loose and see what times they will be able to get down to. It would make the racing spectacular in my opinion.

The amount of grip the LMP1s have in the corners is simply unbelievable. Even in the rain when it’s coming down significantly their turn-in is just as fast as in the dry. The cars literally do not move. You rarely see a P1 car get out of shape. They’re stuck like Scalextric slot cars.

If you increased the tire widths on the GTE cars along with the added power - the aero could almost stay the same – they might go eight to ten seconds quicker over a lap within a couple years.

You’d have every manufacturer who wants to compete on a serious level be able to build a car that would fit the purpose. People might say that the costs will go through the roof but they won’t get anything near as expensive as building and developing a P1 car. And at least you’d be able to sell the same car to a customer racing team, to offset some of the development costs.

It could be like it was back in 1980s with the factory Porsches and then customer teams with the same cars but maybe slightly different than the factory machines. You had the three factory Rothmans cars (Porsche 956s) and about 25 privateers running the cars as well in the 80s. The factory cars will always be a bit faster than the privateers in most cases, but it would still be a lot better than the gap we have now between the P1 factory cars and the 2 privateer teams.

JT – The ACO has reversed its stated plan to allow teams with IMSA-specific engines to compete in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Next year only LMP2 cars with the new global-spec Gibson engine, as well as grandfathered prototypes, will be allowed to compete at Le Mans.

Obviously that splits the global sports car racing scene once more. It has certainly happened many times in the past but fans hoped the two P2 formulas could race together.

SJ – Yes, well like a lot of people I get tired of even listening to the debate. I just find it sad that the two sides can’t figure out a way to do this together so that everyone could run the same cars. It’s already hard to come by sponsorship for sports car racing and it would make a lot more sense if they could agree to one set of rules.

JT – You were on hand for the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took the win after Ferrari pursued a questionable pit strategy. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Mercedes obviously made the right call in Montreal or maybe it was Ferrari who made the wrong call and Mercedes had to cover by doing the opposite which in this case worked out perfect for them. It seems like every other team is up and down in terms of their performance or tactics from one weekend to the other. Nobody has the consistency Mercedes has in every single race.

If you look at Ferrari, we have yet to see them properly execute a race weekend in its entirety where everything runs smoothly from Friday to Sunday. So it’s hard to get a reading on what their real pace actually is.

When you have momentum as Mercedes does, it’s a lot easier but even they screwed up at Monaco last year so it can happen to anyone. There’s no doubt that the other teams are getting closer, but week in, week out, the Mercedes is still the fastest car and the strongest team.

JT – In the most recent round, the European Grand Prix, Mercedes won again – this time with Nico Rosberg dominating the race. Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues during the grand prix but his weekend was compromised in qualifying.

SJ – Obviously, Rosberg had everything together. Lewis’ weekend kind of fell apart from qualifying forward and everyone else seemed to have a fraught day. Obviously his electronics and subsequent radio issues didn’t help him any.

The tires seems to play a bigger part in every teams performance where some teams manage to get it right and others are completely out to lunch, then the next weekend it’s someone completely different who either gets it right or not. Which comes back to my earlier argument that they should allow for more than one tire company to compete. The tires are such a huge part of a race cars performance, and if there’s one area which is completely neglected as far as innovation goes it’s the tires. Now we have one manufacturer who’s basically been mandated to build a crap tire in order to spice up the show. Yet there’s probably more to learn in that area than anything we will ever learn about aerodynamics. And, it will cost the teams a lot less in development costs, they would have to bring back more track testing which everyone seems to want, rather than the endless simulator testing that everyone is now forced to do since the ban of in season testing. There are three major components that dictate a cars performance, Chassis, Engine and Tires. Both the Chassis and Engine are open for anyone who wants to compete, so why not also the tires?

JT- Finally, we had the Indycar series return to Road America last weekend. It seemed like the race had a great turn out with fans from all over the country coming back to this classic venue. The race gave us plenty of action although it didn’t turn out great for Scott this time.

SJ- Yes, it’s great to see there is a genuine resurgence for Indycar right now. I think the series is doing a really good job at bringing back some of these classic venues but what’s even better is the fact that the fans are responding. There is no doubt that Indycar has finally got some real momentum and more and more fans are now becoming aware that the series is producing what may be the best racing in the world. Elkhart Lake proved to be no different, it was a great race packed with action from start to finish. Unfortunately for Scott it ended early with an engine failure. If you add Detroit where he also dropped out with an engine failure while leading it makes it two races where he could have potentially scored big. This is obviously not helping the Championship but at least he’s still in the hunt although it’s becoming more difficult to close the gap with each race that goes by.