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Filtering by Tag: ACO

Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton Win their 5th Championship, and Scuderia Corsa enters IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 98

JT – Let’s begin the blog with recognition of Scott Dixon’s amazing fifth IndyCar title, second only to AJ Foyt in number of championships. He clinched the title at the Sonoma Grand Prix finale, beating championship runner up Alexander Rossi by 57 points. Dixon scored three wins in 2018, a number equal to the three wins taken by Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. But Scott finished in the top-five in 13 of the season’s 17 races.

Photos via: @ScottDixon9

He now has 44 IndyCar wins, third on the all-time list behind Foyt and Mario Andretti.

“To do that in this era of racing with reliability the way it is, the evenness and competitiveness of teams, is unbelievable. It's amazing to think of what he's accomplished,” said Sonoma winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The mayor of Indianapolis declared Monday, September 24, “Scott Dixon Day”. And there’s a feature-length documentary on Scott called “Born Racer” that debuted on October 2. 

Image by:  @BornRacerMovie

Image by: @BornRacerMovie

You’ve been with Scott, as his manager, for all of the 18 seasons he’s raced in IndyCar and beforehand when he drove for your Indy Lights team in 1999. What are your thoughts on Scott and his accomplishments?

SJ – It was an amazing end to a very tough season. Scott, like all the great drivers through history, has the obvious natural talent to be fast, but the raw talent will only get you so far. It’s really how hard he works that makes the difference.

scott-dixon-gym-bw.png

Scott is relentless in chipping away at being the best he can be, at going after championships and always looking at the bigger picture. Whatever weak area he feels he’s got left he just keeps working on it. He’s in the gym like probably no other driver in the world. Every little aspect that can make him a little better he just keeps working on them. It’s extraordinary to have that level of motivation, especially after doing it for so many years. Each year after a Championship win it becomes a little harder than the one before, and remember he’s been in the hunt to win the Championship every year for the past 10-15 years now. If he’s not in the top 6 after qualifying he’ll be the last guy to leave the track in the evening, digging through the data with his engineer until they find why they’re not faster.

Michael Schumacher was the same. Senna was the same. Prost was the same. They might have five percent more talent than the others to start with, but they’d put in 20 percent more work than the rest. Michael, instead of cruising around on a yacht in the Mediterranean like the rest of the drivers in the summer, he was at Maranello testing. All the great guys are the same, in any sport, it’s the work ethic and the mental attitude that makes the difference, not the raw talent.

And it’s true, it’s an amazing achievement what Scott’s done, particularly given how difficult it is to win in IndyCar now. Back in the day (CART), IndyCar was a little bit more like Formula 1 in the sense that one chassis usually wound up dominating when there were multiple chassis available. That’s not the case now, today it’s virtually impossible to have that dominance you could sometimes achieve by being in the best car and the best team. As we can see from the results every year, it’s impossible for one driver or team to dominate. This is why every year it’s down to 3-4 or more drivers fighting for the championship all the way to the final round.

JT – Do you think there was one turning point for Scott this season that really put him on a path to the championship?

SJ – The season started pretty badly if you remember. He was nowhere until we got to Detroit where he won the first race and then won again in Texas. In the span of a week the whole thing turned around. He was like fifth in the championship until that point and then all of a sudden he was leading it.

Photos via: www.scottdixon.com

Sometimes you have to be lucky too, like he was at Portland. But how many times was it the other way for him when he could have locked the championship up but then something happened. But even there he had the presence to keep the engine alive instead of stalling and was able to pull away without going down a lap.

But what really clinched the Championship this year more than anything was the consistency and perfect execution. Even in the races when where he was “nowhere” he still scored strong points and that all adds up at the end of the year.

JT – Lewis Hamilton was also crowned champion recently, taking his fifth title alongside the only other F1 drivers to achieve that feat - Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Despite lackluster performances in the last couple races, Hamilton’s 4th place finish at the Mexican GP was enough to earn him the 2018 world driver’s championship. What do you make of his success?

Photo via:  @LewisHamilton

Photo via: @LewisHamilton

SJ – I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and it rightfully put’s him in the company of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport. I have always claimed that there’s never been a World Champion that did not have the best car, but this year it is arguable if Lewis did not win it more on his own then because he had the best car. Much like Scott, if I’m allowed to make a comparison between the two, he’s honed his craft to a point where he’s nearly flawless in the execution and that’s what makes a champion. He made less mistakes than anyone else and made the bad days as good as was possible, scoring big points when he should normally not have been able to. Formula 1 should be thankful they have him as he is truly a Superstar in every sense of the word and people love that. He’s got his own style and his own thing going and he delivers every time he gets in the car. As long Mercedes stay committed there is no reason why he could not beat Schumacher’s records before he’s done racing. It’s almost a certainty that Mercedes will always be challenging for the Championship as long as they stay involved given the resources they have compared to the other teams.

JT – With the 2018 season in the rearview mirror, IndyCar is carrying some very positive momentum into the off season. New teams will be on the grid next year, as well notable new drivers. The 2019 race calendar was recently released and a new addition to the schedule is Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

This has created more excitement and is of interest to fans as Formula 1 also races at COTA. Many have said IndyCar should race the track using the same configuration as F1. But you have a different take.

SJ – I think it’s great that IndyCar is going there, it’s without a doubt the best venue in North America and it makes perfect sense that Indycar is racing there also, and not just F1.  But I actually think they should experiment with the track layout. IndyCar has an opportunity to make it a track that has great racing by eliminating a couple of the corners and getting rid of the go-kart track nature of the Tilke design which only ruins the racing and contributes nothing to the overall experience except adding a few unnecessary corners.

I think they should cut out the twisty section between the end of the back straight (Turn 12) and the fast right-hander (Turn 16). If you just made it a longer straight you would arrive into the fast right hander with one gear more speed which would make the entry much more challenging and you would then carry more speed into the second part of the corner which would make the whole section more difficult.

Image from Google Maps

Image from Google Maps

Likewise, the last one of the sweepers going downhill from Turn 1 – all of the left-right-left-right stuff – get rid of the last one (Turn 8) because it ruins the rhythm completely and you would then carry a lot more speed to the top of the hill (Turn 11). It will be spectacular to watch when the cars come over the brow at the top of turn 11 because they’ll be carrying a lot more speed and you’d really have to aim into the corner, and the cars will probably get light as they cross the top of the brow. Plus, an IndyCar has significantly less downforce than an F1 car so that would add up to be very challenging and a lot of fun to watch.

Whether they’d do that or not is another question but I think there’s an opportunity to do something that could make the track really special and spectacular to watch.

JT – You’re involved with one of the new teams that will be on the IndyCar grid next year. IMSA sports car racing stalwart Scuderia Corsa will expand its operations to compete in IndyCar in 2019, joining the series for 13 rounds of its 17-race calendar including the Indy 500. Ed Jones will drive for the team which will be an affiliate of Ed Carpenter Racing.

It’s exciting news for Scuderia Corsa coming on the heels of the team’s win at Petit Le Mans earlier this month for Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Daniel Serra in the No. 63 Weathertech Ferrari 488 GT3.

Photos by: Scuderia Corsa

SJ – Yes, the stars lined up perfect and it ended up being a very good situation for everybody – for Scuderia Corsa, for Ed Jones and for Ed Carpenter. Everybody’s happy and it’s very exciting.

Road Atlanta was a great win for the team. Daniel Serra who was brought in as the Pro driver did a great job, along with our regular drivers Cooper McNeil and Gunnar Jeanette, and it was good to come out on top finally. It was about time, we had a tough year for a number of different reasons.

JT – There has been some reporting lately that some current IndyCar teams may be considering some of the likely refugees from Formula 1 for next year. Marcus Ericsson has been confirmed to drive with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2019 and Brendon Hartley has been mentioned as a possibility for a seat if his Toro Rosso drive ends this year. It’s another indication that IndyCar has momentum and is an attractive alternative.

SJ – It’s not surprising that the teams might talk to those guys but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to put together a deal. I know there’s a lot of interest in Indycar from many of the F1 guys, they can see how good the racing is. They talk a lot about how fun the cars look to drive and the fact that you have to drive them hard from start to finish, no driver aids to speak of and proper race tracks that punish you if you make a mistake. This is what any driver worth their salt is looking for.

It's exciting to see that Indycar has now become a real alternative to F1, with Alonso also showing serious interest earlier in the year, although it doesn’t look like it will happen for 2019 anymore.

If you look at the cost of IndyCar, it’s spectacularly affordable compared to almost any other premium series. And it’s so hard to win in IndyCar compared other series because there is so much competition and no one can get an edge on the rest because of the way the rules are written. You just never know who might come out on top depending on strategy, caution flags, the quality of the drivers and teams, all of that stuff.

I think the car count will go up a lot next year. I think we might end up seeing maybe four to six more cars. IndyCar is really on a roll at the moment. It’s getting stronger and everyone is starting to realize how good the racing is and how it makes more sense financially than other series. There are a couple of sports car teams from Europe looking at it, a couple of Indy Lights teams that are going to move up and maybe a few others. I think manufacturers are starting to pay attention to it as well.

It would be ideal if they could get one more manufacturer to come and share the load of supporting more teams with both engines and technical support. I think both Honda and Chevy are on the limit with their engine supply and support budgets to the teams that are currently competing. With more competition comes more spending, which is good for both the teams and the top drivers as each manufacturer will do what it takes to win.

JT – Steve Letarte, a former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s now part of the NBC NASCAR television broadcast team, made a great point during the race at Richmond a few weeks ago. Referring to Brad Keselowski leading the race at one point even though he didn’t have the fastest car on track, Letarte said, ‘it’s a race, not a speed contest”.

That struck me as a terrific observation and it’s a big problem for Formula One where a lack of racecraft among drivers and the absurd amount of money it takes to compete with the top teams exaggerates F1 as a “speed contest” with very little actual racing. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a very good observation. Racing is a speed contest, of course, but only to the point where you obviously have to go fast in order to win, but it won’t help if you don’t know how to race. Qualifying is a different story of course, but unfortunately, race craft seems to be a skill that most team owners have almost forgot about. I don’t know exactly what the teams in F1 specifically are looking for in the young drivers they’re bringing in but for the most part, it certainly isn’t adding to the end result.

If every team owner were looking for the best racer rather than the driver who could set the fastest time over a lap, it would be a whole different scenario. It’s long been the case in F1 that whoever does the quickest lap time in a shoot-out test ends up getting a drive – at least 95 percent of the time or more. But most often that’s completely irrelevant to race results over the course of a season and where they eventually end up in the championship. There’s been hundred’s of really fast drivers over the years in F1 that never accomplished anything except being fast over a single lap, but it’s extraordinary how they were able to hang on to their drives for this reason alone.

We can see it clearly. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the cars or whatever but in every single race, people are taking each other out in the first couple laps. If this is supposed to be the highest level of motorsport none of this makes any sense. It’s unforgiveable that very highly-paid professional drivers, supposedly the best in the world, can’t make it past the first two laps without constantly driving into each other. Unfortunately, F1 has evolved into more of a speed contest rather than pure racing due to the nature of the cars and also the tracks to a certain extent. The cars are getting more and more aero sensitive when you follow another car which prevents a driver getting close enough to have a go, hence the DRS system to help overtaking. This helps overtaking but it doesn’t help the racing as the driver in front is more or less a sitting duck. So, instead we now have a committee of people at each race determining what is legal and not when a driver is defending his position by blocking the guy behind who’s got his DRS system wide open. It’s a bizzare situation that sadly seems to get worse and not better with each passing year.

I’m not saying that driving a race car fast is easy by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than racing well. F1 is a bit unique in that unless you have the best car there’s not a lot you can do. You’re basically circling within a three or four-car segment of competitors at best. But Alonso, for example, has certainly shown that you can haul an underperforming car up to places where it shouldn’t necessarily be. It shows that if you’re a good enough racer you can make a difference.

I guarantee you that many of the drivers in F1 now, if they came over to race in IndyCar, they’d struggle to get results, at least initially because in IndyCar it’s all about execution. If you make one little slip up, if you’re too slow on an in-lap for a pit stop, you lose three spots. Every little detail has to be right. That’s how Scott won his championship this year. He simply made fewer mistakes than everyone else.

That’s how racing should be. Not only do you have 20 other cars you theoretically have to beat on speed on any given weekend, you also have to be error-free or you’ll pay for your mistakes.

JT – You also make the point that – weirdly - teams seem to be trying to develop the very young and comparatively inexperienced drivers they’re recruiting in F1 itself, rather than bringing in drivers who’ve gained considerable experience lower formulas.

SJ – Yes, it’s a very strange situation. Apparently you’re finished by the time you’re 23 years old these days, too old for F1. They’re bringing in guys who are 19 or 20 who have been in a lower series for a year or two maybe. When did Formula 1 become a development series for drivers?

I always thought the whole point of F1 was that you hire the best drivers in the world. How the hell do you know if a guy who’s 20 years old and has very little experience is going to be good enough? Fast enough, yes, but getting the job done on Sunday afternoon, no one knows at that stage of their career until they’re thrown in the deep end.

Verstappen is an extraordinary exception, but even he with all his speed and natural talent has had to develop in F1. He’s certainly made errors that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a driver in F1.

And now they’re giving Kvyat a third chance at Toro Rosso. Apparently he is now in a much better place and is “very calm” compared to how he was when they fired him a year or so ago. How do they know that if he’s not even done one race since he last raced in F1?

It’s one thing the be calm and in a “good place” over dinner, it’s a whole different matter when you sit on the grid and the red mist starts to rise, it’s only then you can really judge how good a driver is. Let’s hope they are right but I’m having a hard time understanding how a driver can become a better racer by not doing any races? It all seems a bit odd to me.

JT – Since we last chatted, Scuderia Ferrari announced that F1 rookie Charles Leclerc would leave Sauber Alfa Romeo in 2019, taking the seat Kimi Raikkonen has held for five years. Meanwhile Kimi announced that he would return to Sauber next year where he began his F1 career in 2001. He’ll be joined by Antonio Giovinazzi. What do you make of the changes?

SJ – First, I think Kimi has done a very good job this year. I don’t think anyone could expect a huge amount more in the circumstances. Leclerc is clearly a star of the future but as Ferrari is sort of in control of Sauber I would have thought it would make a lot more sense to keep the momentum of the dynamic they have between Kimi and Vettel because it’s a pretty strong relationship and they’ve been able to develop the car in a pretty positive direction.

Photo via:  @Charles_Leclerc

Photo via: @Charles_Leclerc

At the same time, they could have left Leclerc to hone his racecraft a little bit more and get the inevitable silly mistakes out of the way. If you make one silly mistake at Sauber and it doesn’t work out it’s like “Oh that was ballsy, what a shame it didn’t work out this time.”

But if he does the same mistake at Ferrari, the press will be all over him like a ton of bricks. It’ll be the usual, “He’s finished, it’s over. He can’t handle the pressure, yada, yada, yada…”

That’s just how the F1 press is and especially the Italians, and sooner or later, that’s going to happen. If you look at Verstappen in year one he was pretty spectacular. In year two he started to make one mistake after another. Year three was a bit of a disaster and now he’s sort of getting a bit of momentum back. It’s inevitable that Leclerc will go through the same thing. That’s how it goes when you make these moves with very young inexperienced drivers.

And of course, the dynamic within Ferrari is going to change. Vettel’s going to have to defend his territory now. Leclerc is going to come in young and fresh and try to blow the doors off him. I don’t think it’ll be happy days necessarily. I think there will be some politicking and other stuff that you don’t have going on at the moment.

JT – On the other hand, some would say that even with a relatively harmonious relationship between himself and Raikkonen, Vettel has been making quite a few mistakes this year. Maybe a teammate who can push him might make him a bit better? What do you think?

SJ – In the case of Vettel I doubt a team mate that can push him would help. It’s not exactly as though Kimi is not pushing him. They’re very close to each other pretty much every race, so it’s not a matter of speed in either case.

It looks to me that a lot of the moves he’s made are just coming from being a bit impatient and we’re talking tiny margins which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, very similar in fact to Verstappen in that one race every move you make will stick - the next race you do exactly the same and they don’t. But in the case of both drivers, the moves have been very low percentage and that is subsequently what happens, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not a way to win a championship no matter how you look at it.

I don’t know anything about Vettel’s situation in terms of how he’s set up with the people he has around him, but he apparently doesn’t use a manager and instead does all his own deals.

Knowing from my own experience and working with both Scott, and more recently with Felix and some of the other drivers I work with, we talk quite a lot about all the things going on both before and after the races. The teams, the technical stuff, the races in general and about the other drivers they’re racing against.

scott-stefan-01.png

At least if I view it from my own perspective, it’s always good to have someone who first of all you can trust 100 percent - who’s “your guy” - someone who you can just blow off some steam and frustration with every now and then. Or someone you can discuss differences you may have with your team – how they may be focusing on one area when you think there’s something else that needs to be addressed.

Whatever it is, just to have someone to bounce things back and forth with that actually understand all the little nuances of racing and all the different aspects of it is important I think. Racing is an incredibly complex sport with so many layers of different information and issues that constantly need to be dealt with, which makes it even more difficult than most other sports to be consistently on top. I think maybe Vettel is missing some of that. Maybe he has someone who he talks with like that but I don’t know that he does, and maybe he doesn’t think he needs to. Every driver is different. Personally I think it can be quite helpful at times.

JT – The other moves in the driver market that transpired this summer, beginning with Ricciardo’s switch to Renault for 2019, make it clear that not only are the barriers to entry for F1 somewhat ridiculous but there are unforeseen barriers to staying in the series - even if you’ve “made it” as a driver.

Consider Estabon Ocon. He’s caught between a rock and hard place – one made more difficult by outside factors. As always, money is a big part of the equation and in this case, even his Mercedes management hasn’t been helpful. It seems counter-productive for F1, to the point that people like Mercedes’s Toto Wolff have suggested F1 constructors run third cars to accommodate more drivers. But how can that be a solution when even more resources will be required?

SJ – It’s really becoming evident now that the junior programs for drivers that the teams have been obsessed with aren’t working that well. One team starts a few years back and then everybody has to follow. It’s always the way. Red Bull had Verstappen come through the ranks and he’s been successful and become an asset but that doesn’t mean that everyone who comes out of a junior program is.

Now, Mercedes has got all of these guys locked up. There should be a natural culling system but the problem is that because everything is so expensive, even in the junior formulas now, it’s gotten completely screwed up. Most of the young drivers that are any good are part of a junior program of some kind, whether it’s McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

But very few of them ever get anywhere because they’re stuck in these programs. Their options are limited to literally those programs. What are the chances that one of those maybe 10 guys will filter through? It’s almost impossible. Once they’re discarded you don’t even hear of these guys anymore. Most of them end up out in the wilderness – lost, gone.

Mercedes has now released [Pascal] Wehrlein. He was the great hope for a while but he’s now out of the system. It’s definitely counter-productive and as usual, money is the problem. If you don’t have the right backing, particularly in the junior categories, you’re not going to go forward. Money is always the problem and no one is taking their foot off the gas in terms of trying to diminish the costs of running these cars.

Image via:  @MickSchumacher

Image via: @MickSchumacher

JT – Looking beyond Formula 1 at its junior categories, Mick Schumacher, Michael Schumacher’s son has been dominating European F3, winning rounds at the Nurburgring and the Red Bull Ring, taking poles for six races in a row and winning five of them. Lewis Hamilton recently remarked that he’s 100 percent sure Schumacher will make it to F1.

In fact, Schumacher’s performance has improved so much recently that Red Bull’s Daniel Ticktum said he finds it “interesting” how Schumacher and teammate Robert Shwartzman are dominating Prema's other three drivers, and the rest of the grid.

Ticktum added, “I appreciate I have lessons to learn still! I’m not denying that. You don’t know the real story because you are not at the track looking at everyone’s data. Unfortunately however I am fighting a losing battle as my last name is not Schumacher.”

SJ – I don’t know anything about Mick really but Felix tested with him in F3 and he thought he definitely had potential then. That was two years ago when he was very green and new but I think something must have suddenly clicked in the second half of the season because now he’s really on top of his game and leading the championship. Obviously people are starting to take notice.

Needless to say if he did make it to higher categories it would be a fantastic thing. It’d be a lovely story if he could carry his father’s legacy on. He’s obviously got tremendous pressure living up to the legacy of his father but he’s done a good job so far. I don’t know what the next step is in his career but if he keeps this trajectory we will probably see him in F1 very soon.

JT – Toro Rosso head Franz Tost said recently that he thinks cost caps could work in F1 despite the long stated skepticism from some teams that they cannot be policed. He says F1 already does a good job of policing its technology rules so why not costs? Do you agree?

SJ – Well, if history is anything to go by the teams will spend exactly the amount of money they can get, whatever that amount is. As long as the engineers have free reign the spending won’t stop. If you gave every team a billion dollars I guarantee you they’d find a way to spend every penny, it’s just the nature of the beast, everybody wants to win and they will spend whatever amount available to do that. The engineers will always dream up some new development program that will give them that extra edge they are all looking for.

And if you’re going to talk about costs, I don’t understand why the rules have to be changed again for next year. What is the logic behind that? This will just add more spending yet again to what are already exorbitant budgets. I can’t even remember the reasoning behind this latest rule change.

Times change, this whole argument that everyone’s been holding onto for the past 60 years now, which says if you make standard parts for the cars you lose the DNA of F1 is ridiculous. At some stage you’ve got to make a decision. As long as you have the responsibility or freedom to design the major parts of the cars, you’re always going to have a big separation between the level teams can compete at. When the brake budget alone for a top F1 team is equivalent to a winning Indycar budget you have to stop for a moment and think. Who cares if they run a standard brake system for all the cars?

Over the whole history of Formula 1 there have been at most three teams that could win in any given season. Most of the time it’s only two teams with a chance of winning and often only one. Ferrari had their years of domination, McLaren had theirs, as did Red Bull and now Mercedes. Eventually one or more teams catch up competitively but then in their infinite wisdom the powers running F1 decide to change the rules again and you end up with one team dominating for a while again.

It’s a cycle. The gaps narrow and what do they do? They change the rules again. Rules stability is historically the best way to close the gap between the front and the back of the grid and to lower the R&D costs. With new rules it will always be the teams with the biggest resources that will come out on top.

JT – Additionally, as you’ve said previously, when the rules are changed in Formula 1 they seem to address the wrong issues or even make changes that lead to further issues.

SJ – Yes. Most of the time it seems like it’s a knee jerk reaction to one specific item that bothers them for whatever reason and they end up tinkering with the cars and do all kinds of things with the aerodynamics to either slow them down or make them faster depending on what bothers them at the time. But why not fix the tires before they fix anything else?

How can we have a situation where Formula 1 has one tire manufacturer and they can’t make a tire that lasts a race distance without blistering? That means everyone is just cruising around the whole race saving their tires and no one can have a proper go for the full race distance. The whole situation is just bizarre.

Aren’t we supposed to have the most spectacular cars that you drive as fast as you can all the time? Even qualifying is almost pointless now to watch. Half the teams don’t even try. Apart from three or maybe four cars having a go at the pole, and not even that many sometimes because they have an engine penalty or there’s some other pointless rule that prevents them from running hard. There’s hardly anything to watch.

I think we’ve almost reached the point where they should just throw out the rule book and start from scratch with the main focus on keeping things simple and understandable. They need to look at what’s really important in the bigger picture, from a lot of different aspects - starting with the competition, then the economics, followed by entertainment and relevance. At the moment I don’t feel they’re ticking any of those boxes anywhere close to the way it could be done. However, in order to achieve this, there needs to be a complete philosophical recalibration of how a race car should look and behave and this will never change as long as the engineers are allowed to be a part of the rule making process.

JT – In sports car racing news the WEC, FIA and ACO announced that the new Hypercar class the WEC has proposed for the 2020/2021 season will have a revised/lower budget target of €20 million or just over $23 million for a two-car team per season. That’s down from the previous estimate of €25-€30 million per season.

The series’ goal for lap time at Le Mans for the class is in the 3 minute, 25 second range. This means that LMP2 class cars will have to be slowed to allow the Hypercar class to be the top category. Performance targets for each area of the car that cannot be exceeded will be set. There will, for example, be maximum downforce and minimum drag numbers specified in the rules. Testing and development will be limited. Upgrades of homologated designs will only be allowed between seasons in the name of safety and reliability. What are your thoughts on the emerging rules?

SJ – I’m having a hard time understanding the point of it all. The hypercars will look like souped-up GT cars to me so why not soup up the current GTE/GTLM cars and take off all the restrictions they currently carry under the BoP regulations. Let every manufacturer build the best car they can, which is exactly what will happen with the Hypercar.

Let’s say they make every manufacturer homologate a GT car for that category with unrestricted engines. Most of the road car versions of the current GT cars are nudging 800 horsepower now so it would be relatively easy to get 800 horsepower from them to begin. Give them 10 percent more aerodynamic downforce and one inch wider tires and some wider wheel arches. The cars will look a lot more aggressive and racy and the lap times will be in the low 30’s very soon and eventually they will creep into the 20s.

Every manufacturer would simply build a car without BoP and all of that nonsense, a proper racing car, like the Ford GT is now for example. If you took all the restrictors of that car it would be flying around Le Mans. We know what the waitlist is for the road car version of that car and I’m sure there would be a three-year waitlist for every one of the other cars from every manufacturer that decide to compete. All of the manufacturers are already there, more could be attracted and nobody would have to spend stupid money on developing entirely new cars.

They could then sell the same cars to private teams that would run with either pro drivers or gentleman drivers if they so wish but everybody would compete with the same cars. The grids would be full at every race without a doubt and fans can immediately relate to the cars they are watching.

On the other hand, some of the things they mentioned for the new class are very good. You put a limit on the amount of downforce and a minimum limit for drag. That’s a step in the right direction for sure. If they limit some areas rules-wise, hopefully that will encourage people to find different areas to develop instead of keeping all of the focus on aerodynamics.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Jules Bianchi's unfortunate death, British GP, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indycar's latest & LMP2

Stefan Johansson

RIP Jules Bianchi

Jan Tegler – We begin this extra-large edition of the blog with the sad news that ex-Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend after head injuries he sustained last October in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. His car impacted a mobile crane being employed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber which slid into a runoff area the previous lap in rainy conditions.

Many have observed that the race should have been under a safety car at that point. What’s your view?

Stefan Johansson – Obviously it’s very sad and a strong reminder that Formula One and Motor Racing in general can still be dangerous when the circumstances are not right. Maybe now is not the right time to discuss this matter but I do agree the race should have been under the control of a safety car after the first incident. That’s an aspect of competition American racing has gotten right. Any time there’s recovery or safety equipment on-track or anything that does not belong on the track for that matter, there should be a full course caution or a safety car. I think that should be a standard around the world. If you try to use any form of subjective judgment of the situation, things like these can and will happen from time to time.

Massa and Bottas

JT - The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was somewhat more interesting than most of the F1 races this season. The Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas managed to get past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg by lap three. They held off the Mercedes until the first pit stop cycle but once the cycle was complete Hamilton was back in the lead. Notably, neither Mercedes driver was able to pass the Williams on-track. Conversely, both Williams passed the Mercedes on the circuit.

There was some controversy over Williams’ decision to allow their drivers to race even though Bottas lobbied to have Massa let him go past. Some thought the team handled the situation incorrectly, arguing that if Bottas had been allowed to go by Massa he could have gapped the Mercedes enough to stay in front after the first round of pit stops. By the finish, the Williams had dropped to 4th and 5th respectively.

SJ – Apart from the fact that Mercedes is still clearly dominant, it’s hard to say where Williams are now. They’ve obviously caught up a bit from where they were at the beginning of the year when they were down on performance compared to Ferrari. I don’t know if Ferrari has lost a bit of pace or if it was just Silverstone that didn’t suit them. But in the end, I don’t think any of them have closed the gap to Mercedes at all.

I think Williams made the right decision with Massa and Bottas. You should let the drivers race, especially in the situation they are. It’s not like they have any chance of winning the championship. I think sooner or later Mercedes would have gotten by them anyway.

It’s true that the Mercedes weren’t able to get by the Williams before the first pit stops and it comes back to the typical scenario I’ve been talking about for years now. When almost all of the cars’ aerodynamic downforce is dependent on the efficiency of the front wing you’ve really got to get a good run on the guy in front of you to get by when you’re in dirty air behind them.

I guess the DRS (drag reduction system) helps at some tracks more than others but Silverstone has such fast and flowing corners that if you don’t get really close to the car in front of you, you can’t get a good run. The straights aren’t long enough for the DRS to make a difference.

Silverstone is unique because of its combination of fast and medium-speed corners and aero is king. Had it been a more twisty track with lower speed corners, harder braking zones or 90-degree bends, I don’t think it would have been a problem to pass. But you’re completely dependent on aero to get good mid-corner speed and have proper acceleration from a corner. Every corner at Silverstone demands that. If you’re in dirty air you can’t attack early enough and you’re just sitting behind the other car waiting for your front end to take a bite.

Alonso and Button - McLaren

JT – As you mention, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have made much progress recently after having made consistent gains in performance earlier. Where are they in terms of their speed? More disappointingly, what is the situation at McLaren? You and many others expected them to be better by this point in the season but Alonso was only able to manage a 10th place finish (scoring his first point of the year) at Silverstone. Jenson Button didn’t even complete one lap, crashed-out ironically after Alonso spun into him.

SJ – Again, it’s hard to say. All of the teams are now developing their cars at a high rate, particularly the top teams. But really, the gaps between them are remaining about the same.

Scuderia Ferrari - Monaco GP

It seems Ferrari have taken a step backwards if anything. The gap certainly has not closed. There is no doubt they have been made to look better than you would normally expect by the fact that Red Bull and McLaren are both completely lost.

The gap to pole in Monaco for this year’s race was seven-tenths of a second, which is exactly the same gap Alonso (in his Ferrari) had to the pole last year (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing machines qualified third and fourth) - the only difference being that the cars in between (the Red Bulls) were further back this year so instead of being fifth, they (Ferrari) were now third.

At McLaren there are a combination of problems, all made more challenging by the current rules. If you don’t get a car right from the moment the season starts you’re almost buggered the whole year. Renault is kind of in the same boat as Honda, not as bad – but there are really only two manufacturers who’ve got their engines sorted – Mercedes and Ferrari.

Everybody keeps talking about the “golden era” of the McLaren-Honda relationship when they basically cleaned up for a couple of years with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. What people tend to forget is that relationship didn’t start until Honda had already spent five years in F1, developing their engines to what they finally became. The early days were no walk in the park. I know that very well as I drove the first car they entered in 1983 with Spirit and the scenario was not that much different than it is today.

I used to joke at the time that I stopped doing all my physical training during the week because I got more than I needed on the race weekends with the engines blowing up in every session and I had to run back to the pits to get in the spare car to finish the session. Eventually they got it right of course, and then dominated before they decided to pull out. It was a similar scenario the second time when they poured enormous resources into the F1 project for several years with nothing to show.

They then decided to pull out again and more or less gave the team to Ross Brawn. And we all know what happened after that. Had they stayed in another year they would have won the World Championship! The bones of the current Mercedes Team are effectively what Honda started, and paid to set up!

McLaren-Honda F1

And with these rules, I can’t understand why you’re allowed to do as much as you want with the car (the bodywork, etc) – you can bolt new parts on every session – but you’re not allowed to touch the engine. And it’s not like this aero and chassis development costs nothing. When you’re already spending nearly $500 million, who cares? Let the teams go at it. The concept of saving money is already completely broken.

It’s always more expensive for teams to try to circumvent rules than it is to have more open rules. That’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about cost-capping F1. There are so many clever people in each team that you’re never going to be able to stop them spending money to find ways around the rules. The only way to manage it in my opinion is to make as many of the parts on the cars which are irrelevant to their overall design common parts, and pick out the most costly development areas and limit those. Everyone knows what they are but it’s almost like no one wants to give up their toys.

Max Mosley

Or, you don’t limit the teams at all. Let them go until they all kill each other. Some people worry about the manufacturers leaving. But if you look at their presence, as Max Mosley said years ago, the manufacturers don’t care really. They just throw money at F1 as long as it serves their purpose, and when they change their mind, they’re gone, in literally one board meeting – they’re out. This is exactly what happened to Toyota, Honda and BMW. From one moment to the next, they were all gone.

Audi Spots

JT – The same appears to be true for sports car racing. And if you look at the LMP1 class in the WEC now, some of those manufacturers are spending just about as much as the top teams in Formula One.

SJ – Yes and they do it for one race essentially, Le Mans. The way the manufacturers view racing has always been the same. In every series where manufacturers involve themselves heavily and start duking it out they basically ruin it eventually.

They all pull out at some stage and then it takes about three or four years to rebuild. At that point the racing is great with a lot of privateer teams with some factory backing whether it’s for the engine or whatever. Then the manufacturers return and you have another cycle.

The only manufacturer who’s been different in that regard is Audi. They stayed committed to Le Mans even when they had no one to race and afterward when rules were clearly stacked against them. They fought on and managed to win partly by being clever on strategy and great execution, and by the other teams simply screwing up when they should have won.

Sauber F1

JT – Discussions among F1 manufacturers, top teams and those at the back of the pack continue on the issue of “customer cars”. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, I don’t understand the attitude of some the smaller teams. They say customer cars will ruin Formula One and that they have 300 people employed and what will happen to them? At the same time they’re scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can’t afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

Back in 2003, I came up with the idea of a “B” team or “shared resources” concept (a customer car, essentially). We were going to do it with one of the top three teams at the time. Unfortunately, the sponsorship fell apart so the project never happened. Our budget then was $80 million in total – engine, car, travel – for the whole thing, and it would have been a potentially winning package.

It’s important to remember that none of the back marker teams out there now would exist without a whale of some sort. That whale might be a wealthy individual who buys into the team and then hangs around for two or three years before he disappears. These days, it’s mostly Bernie [Ecclestone] or FOM who end up being the whale for everybody. Or, it’s the drivers bringing the money.

None of these lower tier teams have any real sponsor now. Look at Sauber, they don’t have one sponsor except for what the drivers have brought with them. Manor’s the same and Lotus has been scraping the barrel for years now. So why wouldn’t these teams like the idea of a customer car?

Niki Lauda - F1 1978

If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I’d jump at it! Who wouldn’t? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

And with the limited resources these teams have they’re never in this lifetime going to design and build a car that’s going to be competitive with a Ferrari or a Mercedes anyway. They won’t be able to afford it. The traditionalists argue that F1 has always been about innovation and new technology but that’s complete nonsense.

There really hasn’t been any breakthrough innovation or new technology developed in Formula One since the 1970s. They’ve basically been fine-tuning existing technologies. There has been some development in aerodynamics specific to the race cars but mostly that technology has been borrowed from other realms (the aerospace industry).

And ridiculously, even that borrowed technology is banned in F1 before it’s fully developed for the sport. The blown-diffuser technology Red Bull was using (2010, 2011) gave them an advantage for a year essentially and then it was banned.

With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I’m concerned it’s the way to go.

Haas-F1-Ferrari.jpg

JT – Isn’t that what Haas F1 is trying to do with Ferrari currently?

SJ – Exactly, they’re pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently. They’ve done their homework, they’ve listened to the right people and it’s the way to do it.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – Recently, Juan Pablo Montoya suggested a simple solution for improving the racing in F1 remarking, “If you take away the tire sensors, the temperature sensors, and just leave the pressures, the racing will get better by 10 percent straight away. I’m certain of that.” What are your thoughts on his idea?

SJ – Yes, that could improve the racing but that’s only one small item. I think the first thing they should do before anything else is get rid of all the nonsense on the steering wheels (differential settings, ignition timing, brake balance, energy storage, DRS, fuel consumption, engine modes, and much more).

The driver should be able to manage the car himself without all of these aids or settings. I guarantee any driver worth his salt would love it. The bravado that’s been a traditional element of racing is a huge part of its attraction. I know as a driver how good it feels when you’ve been taming a car and you’ve had it on the ragged edge, controlling it with the throttle and steering. That’s what it’s all about. The fans can see that too.

All the driver aids can be great to help you go faster and it makes the driver’s job easier. In the early stages of development you might have an “unfair advantage” which is great but from a pure pleasure point of view of driving and in terms of a challenge it’s all nonsense.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

JT – The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last week saw the series using a lower downforce package for the Cup cars. The drivers reacted very positively, saying it was much more satisfying to drive cars that must be tamed and which penalized drivers for overdriving or under-driving.

SJ – Exactly, and it’s not surprising. The type of pack racing we saw at Fontana (IndyCar) might satisfy spectators but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with skill. You could put literally anyone in a car under that kind of racing condition and they would be in the middle of the pack. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It surprises me when some people suggest that this was the best race IndyCar has ever had. It was exciting to watch in the beginning but soon there was the realization that something ugly was about to happen. Is that what we want – a gaggle of 26 cars where it’s pure luck if you get sucked up to the front of the pack? There’s no difference in the handling of the car from the first lap to the last during a stint - every car is exactly the same speed as the next.

On the other hand, you don’t want racing where it’s impossible to attack. You have to find the right balance and a car should be at least somewhat difficult to drive, deteriorating as a stint goes on. When you have ten laps remaining before the end of a stint your car should be a bit of a handful.

You could de-emphasize aero or give cars another 200 to 300 horsepower. Find a balance between power and downforce. People keep saying cars will be too fast if you give them more power. Who says what’s too fast?

Have there actually been any measurements of how much greater an impact is if you’re doing 238 mph instead of 226 mph? I doubt it’s much. If you have an accident at those speeds it’s going to hurt no matter what. Who can say what the magic number is for cars being too fast? I think it’s great if they’re faster.

F1 Tires Issue

JT – You also mention the role tires could play in all of this.

SJ – Yes, we’ve talked about how much people are spending on aerodynamics in Formula One many times but what strikes me is that simultaneously, they have a tire that is very bad. The series mandated that the tire should be terrible, in a way. What kind of logic is that? Teams are spending hundreds of millions on aero and other developments to make the car go faster. Then, they are forced to run a tire that is artificially made to be bad in order to help the show? It makes absolutely no sense.

If you opened up the tire supply in F1 to several manufacturers the tires alone would improve lap times by 6-7 seconds in no time. And they could last as long you wanted. Just look at the tires the P1s run at Le Mans – four stints on one set! That’s four hours of running and they do the quickest lap times on the fourth stint sometimes. And that’s with cars that are both heavier and have more horsepower than an F1 car.

So I would get rid of a lot of the aero – half of it. If you have that kind of grip in the tires you don’t need as much aero. A lot of the dirty-air problem cars following other cars experience will be gone. You can gain all of the lap time and more back with tire grip. Give the cars another 200-300 horsepower, better tires and you could easily go 10 seconds faster than they do now.

That brings the driver back into the equation more because they’d actually have to look after their tires over a stint. Now, the tires just fall off a cliff after five laps which leaves you cruising along slowly trying to make it until the next pit stop. You could have tires that would last a stint, two stints or possibly a whole race.

It will be a no-brainer for tire companies to make tires that allow the cars to be six to seven seconds a lap quicker. Think about how much F1 teams spend now to gain one second of lap time. We always used to joke when I was racing about how much money the teams would spend on wind-tunnels and other developments, huge amounts, and yet you bolt a new set of tires on a car and you’re two seconds quicker right away - for a cost of $2,000.

I can’t understand why no one is thinking about this. The tire companies would enjoy developing tires like they used to and not being strangled by a bunch of restrictions and they would get great marketing from it as a result.

Indycar Iowa

JT – IndyCar has raced on two ovals in the last two weeks - the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. Addressing last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 first, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally turned their season around with a win.

Meanwhile, there was potential for a big shakeup in the championship after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske suffered a suspension failure early in the race. Scott Dixon would have gained considerably in points with a good finish but he too did not finish due to component failure. Scott now finds himself third in the standings behind Montoya and Graham Rahal who finished in fourth place at Iowa.

SJ – Iowa was interesting. It’s ironic that there were a bunch of mechanical failures - failures that you never see in IndyCar these days – and that both of the main contenders for the championship experienced the failures. When Montoya crashed we all thought this was going to be the first weekend he actually had a problem all year and Scott could finally gain on him.

But it was straight back to square one again - a seal on Scott’s right rear half-shaft failed and that was it.

After having so many problems early this season it looks like the Hondas are finally catching up to the Chevrolets. Ryan won and Graham Rahal was quite strong again. The Rahal team’s strength looks like it’s bled over a bit to the other Honda teams because they all seem to be running stronger. Maybe Iowa was more suited to the Hondas as some tracks might favor their aero kit.

In Scott’s case, he was sort of chasing the track all night. He started out with the car being quite loose and the team dialed that out with wing and tire-stagger. Then it started pushing like crazy and they were trying to dial that out. But he was making the car better, waiting to pounce at the end of the race. Then the shaft failed and well, that’s racing.

Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter

JT – Near the end of the race, rookie Sage Karam made some moves on track that displeased several drivers including Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal who both voiced their displeasure with him strongly. What did you think of his driving?

SJ – I completely sympathize with Carpenter. I think what Sage did was absolutely over the limit and it wasn’t just Carpenter he screwed up. He was chopping a lot of people all day long.  On ovals in particular, there is a certain code of conduct, especially when you run more than one line around the track. You can’t just move up and down the track and take the air off the other drivers’ cars.

It’s not fair to the other drivers because particularly on an oval you have to pay some respect to each other. If everyone drove that way, there wouldn’t be one car left on track. You could see very well on camera that Karam just drove Carpenter up into the wall basically. You stay in your line and you race hard but it was already tight when he decided to move Carpenter all the way up. Carpenter had the choice to either keep his foot in it and crash or lift and actually get on the brakes. I would certainly have been plenty angry too.

Indycar - Bourdais

JT – IndyCar’s Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was a fun race to watch with good competition. Sebastian Bourdais drove very well, scoring an upset win. His KVSH Racing team was fined after the race for violating the minimum car weight rule, however. Nonetheless, Bourdais’ driving and Jimmy Vasser’s strategy worked to a tee.

Scott Dixon finished seventh. Pole-winner Josef Newgarden finished third and continues to show that he’s matured as a racer.

SJ – I enjoyed it too, it was definitely fun to watch. Bourdais did a great job and when you’re that hooked up (Bourdais almost lapped the field) on an oval it’s awesome. Scott had a similar experience back at the Texas race. He just checked out. When the car is working that well, it feels amazing.

Bourdais’ team made a really good call as well. Pitting out of sequence and putting him in clean air was the way to go, much better than being in the middle of a pack. Even with a good car, by the time you work your way through that traffic the tires go off.

Scott got shuffled back in the last laps due the air being taken off his front wing on a couple occasions. He wasn’t happy but that’s racing sometimes.

LMP2 - 2017

JT – The FIA, ACO & IMSA recently announced the four chassis constructors (Onroak, Oreca, Dallara, Riley/Multimatic) eligible to build LMP2 prototypes under new global regulations for the class in 2017. IMSA P2 cars will be able to utilize engines from multiple makers but the FIA/ACO will mandate a single engine/electronics supplier for the WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. American teams will be able to compete at Le Mans and in the ELMS using the U.S.-based engine packages but will have to revert to generic bodywork from the chassis constructor they choose.

The sanctioning bodies claim the new regulations will bring stability to the class, creating economic conditions under which the chosen constructors can build cars for a global market profitably. One has to wonder if it will work out the way officials imagine it will. It will certainly limit the diversity which makes sports car racing appealing.

SJ – I don’t agree with the limit of four cars. I don’t see why you can’t have the class be more open. If you can and are willing to build a car to the regulations you should be able to do so.

You know what’s going to happen anyway. Out of the four constructors, one or maybe two will be the car/cars to have. Then the other two or three constructors won’t be able to sell cars anyway.  It’s the natural culling that happens in every championship. You’re always going to have one car that’s a little better than the rest. Look at CART and IndyCar. First the car to have was the Reynard, then the Lola and in more recent years, Dallara. The same in F3, and on and on it goes, it happens in every championship.

Dallara has basically decimated everybody in whatever category they’ve entered. So chances are that the same thing will happen again. Whether it’s Onroak, Oreca, Dallara or Riley, you can be sure there will be one car that’s going to be quicker than the rest. All you need to do is look at the history in every racing series.

If someone’s willing to put the money and effort into building a car why not let them do it? That’s what the spirit of racing is all about.