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Filtering by Tag: Justin Wilson

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Justin Wilson's death, F1 at SPA & Scuderia Corsa

Stefan Johansson

Stefan-Justin-Wilson

Jan Tegler – Last weekend was a sad one for the global racing community overshadowed by the death of driver Justin Wilson stemming from a late race accident during IndyCar’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Struck by the nose cone of Sage Karam’s Ganassi Racing Dallara when it flew off after Karam impacted the outside wall, Wilson succumbed to massive head trauma.

Stefan Johansson It’s obviously very tragic. I got know Justin and his family well recently because I tried to advise and help his younger brother (Stefan Wilson) when he came over to the U.S. to try to do some IndyCar. They’re just the nicest, finest people you could ever meet. It’s very sad. And Justin was always on the cusp of getting a ride with a top team but never quite got the break he really deserved.  

It was obviously a freak accident but freak accidents happen because other accidents happen I suppose. I think there were 12 cautions, most of them for crashes. That seems to be the trend this year, much more so than in the past. It’s hard to say exactly why but it’s clear that the cars have more downforce now than they’ve had before.

The reason IndyCar went away from the original Dallara chassis was partly that and partly because of other safety issues with the cars. The bottom line though is that they’re now back to cars with high downforce on these banked ovals again. That means that the cars are relatively easy to drive and everyone is running in a big gaggle again. Anyone can run with the pack. That’s something the series wanted to get away from after Las Vegas (Dan Wheldon perished in an accident in Las Vegas 2011).

At one point there were seven cars abreast at Pocono. That’s just too much I think. It’s the same scenario we had in Fontana where they were 5-6 cars abreast with only an inch or two between the cars. It was only luck that nothing worse happened in Fontana, just as it was bad luck that we had a tragic accident in Pocono. But you must question if it makes sense to rely on nothing more than luck if something goes wrong, which we have now seen more often than not in both Fontana and Pocono. Last year the race was completely different with the cars having less down-force and as such more difficult to drive and also to get the right set up.

JT – While it’s certainly unusual, Wilson’s accident is the latest of a few that have had something to do with open cockpits. Jules Bianchi perished after contact with a crane at the Japanese Grand Prix, Felipe Massa was hit by a spring and severely injured in 2009 at Hungary, and F2 driver Henry Surtees lost his life after a loose wheel came into his cockpit. Next month the FIA is set to conduct closed-cockpit tests, considering a number of designs including a fighter jet-like cockpit and a blade or boomerang-like arrangement. What’s your take, should these ideas be considered?

SJ – It definitely makes sense to look at different cockpit solutions especially after what’s been happening lately. By the same token, I think different ways to strengthen other parts of the cars to stop debris flying off them should be considered too. Crash testing is effectively done with 90-degree impacts; they never test at other angles at any great speed to see what might fly off the car if you hit at heavy impact at a 45-90 angle for example. There is no way the entire nose assembly should separate from the car the way it did on Karam’s car for example.

My concern with a canopy approach for closing the cockpit is how do you get out of the cockpit if you’re pinned upside down? I’m sure that could be figured out but there can always be freak accidents and even with a closed-cockpit you can never make racing completely safe. I don’t know what would happen in a prototype sports car with an enclosed cockpit if you hit something like that nose cone. That’s a big, heavy object, no matter if you have an open or closed cockpit.

Obviously a lot of testing is being done and that needs to be done.

JT – Leaving aside Wilson’s tragic mishap, the IndyCar field seems to be getting more and more aggressive on ovals. At Fontana, Iowa and Pocono in particular there were many instances where drivers chopped in front of one another while trying to pass. It looks pretty sketchy viewed from the stands or on TV. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, there’s absolutely no respect among the drivers anymore. It’s horrendous. People are just chopping each other and taking the air off of each other. That’s not acceptable on ovals. You’ve got to show some respect. But people keep doing it and pissing off other drivers. Then as a driver when you get pissed off, you do the same thing and it all snowballs.

Unfortunately, the people in race control don’t seem to understand the problem because they’ve never sat in a race car, there is no way that some of the drivers should be able to get away with some of the stuff they’re doing without a penalty of some sort.

The ultimate penalty is of course when you eventually eat it big yourself, which will eventually happen to all of them. That will typically make them think once or twice before they pull the same stunt again.

Scott-Dixon-Pocono-2015

JT – Scott finished the race in ninth position and never really seemed to have the car balanced as well as he would have liked. Heading into the final double-points paying race this weekend in Sonoma, he sits third in the standings, 47 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya. Penske has had a lot of success at Sonoma over the last few years but Dixon won last year. What’s the outlook for the final race of 2015?

SJ – Yes, Scott was never really comfortable with the car at Pocono. It’s a shame the way the championship is playing out. Penske is good at Sonoma but Scott did win last year so the team (Ganassi Racing) should have a pretty good handle on the track.

My biggest worry given the way things have gone at road courses this year is that it will come down to strategy again. Someone who’s not even in contention for the championship will roll the dice, as has happened many times this year, and win the race. They’ll go off the conventional strategy and gamble. But no one can predict what will happen so we’ll see.

F1-SPA-2015

JT – Formula One was back in action at Spa-Francorchamps after their summer break. Lewis Hamilton won, beating teammate Nico Rosberg without much drama. Romain Grosjean scored a podium finish for Lotus-Mercedes, the team’s first since the USGP in 2013. The race wasn’t terribly exciting after the start. Force India’s Sergio Perez did challenge Hamilton on the first lap and after the first pits stops but apart from that there wasn’t much to be impressed with.

SJ – Well, if you think about it F1 has been like this for a very long time. Because of the way the rules are and the cars are you’re always going to have one, two or maybe three teams fighting for the wins and the championship. The rest are there but never really a serious threat. Mercedes is more dominant these days than what we’ve seen for some time but Red Bull was nearly as dominant and there was the Ferrari period before that.

I think the difference now is that the rules are very confusing with development tokens and engine penalties for this and that. For instance, if you have a rule where a team can be penalized 105 grid positions; clearly there are too many rules and too many boffins involved in the rule making process. F1 needs to be simplified dramatically.

Force-India-2015

JT – Silly season is in full swing in F1 with everything from driver and team pairings to engine-suppliers and teams in the mix. For example, there’s now speculation that Renault wants to buy Force India and that Fernando Alonso has been talking to Red Bull Racing. Should we be paying attention?

SJ – Everyone’s had a month off from racing now and it’s the usual thing from the F1 media, everyone thinks they have the big scoop. They’re notorious for making up rumors and relentless in doing it. If someone has a conversation with someone, well there are people on different teams in F1 who are friends but the media makes up a story. It’s always been that way. But no one really knows the truth aside from the people involved. All the moves will shake out eventually whatever the media speculation says.

F1-2016-rules

JT – A number of rules changes for the 2016 season are already being discussed or implemented. Do you think any of them have the potential to improve the competition?

SJ – Let’s hope so. I think some of the ideas that are been brought up seem to make sense, others not at all in my opinion. They keep talking about the need to make the cars go faster. I think that will lead to them altering the aerodynamics of the cars again completely. That would be ok if they actually came up with a plan that made sense instead of just making the sport more expensive yet again.

I still hold that they should limit aerodynamics. Just institute a limit on how much downforce the cars are allowed. That would eliminate this incessant, expensive and never-ending aero development. If anyone calculated the cost per kilo of downforce gained I bet you would get some insane number.

The easiest way to make the cars faster is by opening the tire regulations to competition and let the competing manufacturers build quality tires with more grip and better endurance. Let it be a tire war again. Right now, you have teams spending north of $500 million in some cases on making their car faster. Then the tire manufacturer basically gets a mandate to build a bad tire to make the racing more interesting supposedly, to help the show.

That leads to a situation like you had at Spa where Ferrari decides to take a gamble on strategy with a one-stop race for Vettel and not only does the tire not perform close to how it could perform but it’s not even safe after 40 laps! (Vettel’s right rear tire came apart on lap 42 dropping him to 12th)

If tires can be made to do four stints at Le Mans on the limit every lap with a car (LMP1) that has at least as much downforce as an F1 car, weighs 50% more, has 1100 horsepower when you put it all down and does its best times at the end of the four hours, why can they not be that good for F1?

It would be a no brainer for Pirelli or Michelin to build a decent tire that would go even 5-6 seconds a lap quicker after a year of development if you had the two tire companies competing. Problem solved. Leave the cars alone. Don’t spend a bunch of money on nothing. Let the tire manufacturers spend the money. They have money and they are prepared to spend it.

Then give the cars another couple hundred horsepower more. They’ll get another 25 km/h down the straights and better acceleration and they’ll be more difficult to drive. It would be a no brainer to go 10 seconds a lap faster.

In terms of controlling costs, in my opinion it should also be far cheaper to do real testing than it is to do all this other stuff with simulators and god knows what else the teams have to do instead. On track testing was banned because it was to expensive apparently, yet I haven’t been able to get one answer from anyone about how it’s possible that actual testing on track is more expensive than all this simulation and other stuff the teams do now. Simulators cost more than $50 million in some cases. You can’t tell me the teams would spend $50 million per year if they went testing, and if they did then something is very seriously wrong.

Go testing again, it should be made cheaper, drivers will get more seat time, get more comfortable with their cars, and they won’t make near as many mistakes as they do on track now, particularly the young guys. The only training they get these days is in a simulator then they go racing.

Stefan-1989-Portugal-F1

JT – In the past, F1 has complained that the tire wars resulting from having multiple manufacturers made the racing more dangerous with ever more aggressive compounds being fielded. Would that hold true again?

SJ – That’s not really true. There were only very rare occasions when you had tire issues, certainly not more than what we’ve seen with a single tire supplier. Occasionally there might be something that surprises you like the cuts that result to tires when people don’t respect track limits but that’s not because of the tires themselves.

When I was racing in F1, I could run one set of tires a full race distance. When I was third in Portugal (1989, racing for Moneytron Onyx) I did the whole race without stopping. That was our strategy. There was hardly any rubber left on the fronts. They were just running on the cords and didn’t have hardly any grip left the last five laps but they were still fine.

My strategy back then was always to do two heat-cycles on the tires prior to the race. I’d run a set for two or three laps in practice – not hard, just enough to get heat into them. I’d take them off, let them sit and do the same thing the next day - another three to four laps to let them cure just a bit. They’d lose about three or four-tenths to a brand new set over the first four or five laps in the race but then they’d stay consistent for much longer.

It’s a whole different world today of course but that was part of the race strategy back then. I might give up an extra run in qualifying to make sure I got the best set of tires I could get for the race.

Martin Fuentes

JT – You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for Rounds 16 and 17 of the Pirelli World Challenge at Miller Motorsports Park last weekend. How was the racing and the results for the team? Scuderia Corsa was also in action at VIR for IMSA’s Oak Tree Grand Prix. Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler took the win in their GTD Ferrari.

SJ – It was a bit of an odd weekend partly because of the high altitude there in Utah. The Cadillacs (ATS-VRs) were dominating GT the whole weekend with Johnny O’Connell. The Ferraris (458 Italias) were nowhere. None of the normally-aspirated cars had much performance. Still, we finished second in GTA with Martin Fuentes in both races so it wasn’t bad.

Townsend and Sweedler did a great job. Bill drove like a man-possessed so a lot of credit to him.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Hungarian GP, Indycar at Mid-Ohio & LMP1

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler - The Hungarian Grand Prix proved interesting primarily because of the performance of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen - particularly at the start. Both Ferraris got away from the line well with Vettel vaulting past Mercedes GP pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg.

Raikkonen was able to slot into second place behind Vettel, getting past both Mercedes as well in the first corners. Unfortunately, Raikkonen was forced to retire with a failing MGU-K energy recovery system. Otherwise, it might have been a Ferrari one-two. What did you think of Ferrari's perfomance?

Stefan Johansson - It was definitely impressive, especially the start where both Ferraris just took off from the line. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Mercedes got caught out because all their calibrations were done assuming the lights would go green the first time.

As it was, they had to do another start when the first one was abandoned. Apparently their clutches were now hotter and therefore whatever parameters they had programmed for launch did not work as well.

Why no one else had the same problem is another story of course. Maybe it’s just that the boffins at Merc are better at setting the ultimate launch control, maybe they forgot to anticipate for a restart? One thing is clear, it had most likely very little to do with the drivers and more to do with what dials and switches were put in certain positions.

Hungarian GP 2015 - Start

JT - Mercedes on the other hand, did not cover itself in glory. Lewis Hamilton bogged down at the start and lost place after place. He followed that up by going into a gravel trap and later hitting Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, incurring a drive through penalty. Despite his poor performance, Hamilton finished in sixth place and actually gained points on teammate Rosberg. Meanwhile, Rosberg cut a tire while racing Ricciardo, dropping him from second position to eighth place at the checkered flag. Hamilton's luck seems to be carrying him forward in spite of his mistakes. What did you make of the Mercedes drivers and team performance?

SJ - It seems that once their original plan goes out the window Mercedes has a hard time recovering. More or less the same thing happened at Silverstone where they were able to recover, but at least a small part of that was thanks to the freaky weather conditions there.

It looks like their cars are struggling once they have to run in dirty air and a lot of their advantage is gone. Hamilton was certainly lucky that Rosberg did not score big this time but what struck me as rather weird was the amount of contact between all the drivers throughout the field. It’s unusual to see that much contact even when people race hard as they certainly did this time.

I know the track surface in Hungary is very strange with a very low grip level. It feels like the tires never dig into the surface, just kind of skimming on top of it all the time. Maybe that had something to do with it. But then, it’s been the same surface since 1985 so why it would be so different this time is still a bit strange.

Red Bull Racing - Hungary GP

JT - Red Bull Racing had its best outing of the season at Hungary with Daniil Kvyat finishing second while Ricciardo finished third. Both had some interesting battles during the race. Is their success an indication that RBR is finally improving or simply the result of circumstances during the race?

SJ - I’m sure they are improving. But this track helped all the teams that have a horsepower deficit which showed also in the performance of the McLarens and Toro Rosso - all helped of course by the poor and unusual performance by Mercedes.

ToroRosso - Hungarian GP 2015

JT - Toro Rosso and McLaren did have reason to celebrate with Max Verstappen coming home just off the podium in fourth place and Fernando Alonso taking the checkers in fifth with Jenson Button also in the top ten. It was McLaren's first points scoring race for both cars this season. Again, circumstances surely played a role in the trio's finishing positions but both teams may gain slight momentum from Hungary. What's you view?

SJ - The results for both were greatly helped by the circumstances that developed in the race and the unusual character of this track. Toro Rosso has been strong all year and it seems their chassis is probably one of the best this season. McLaren have huge resources and they’re relentless in trying to improve, so sooner or later they will be competitive, but I doubt very much we will see any huge improvements this year. Whether Hungary was a real turning point remains to be seen.

Pat Symmonds - Williams F1

JT - Williams F1 had a poor outing at Hungary. They don't seem to be capable of finding consistent form, even with the benefit of Mercedes power. What has to happen for the Grove, U.K.-based squad to finally run at the front routinely?

SJ - I think they simply need more resources and funding in order to be a consistent player in the top 3-4 group. There’s no doubt they made a huge leap forward starting last year when they switched to the Mercedes engine. But maybe more importantly, they had a major shakeup in the design department.

Pat Symmonds is one of the top three Technical Directors in the business in my opinion and it’s kind of a mystery to me that he’s not working for one of the top teams already. But even with a guy of his caliber, you’re limited if you don’t have the budget to spend on all the development that the leading teams do. So in the circumstances, they are still doing an incredible job. It seems they have a harder time to always stay on top of the tire situation and their performance in the wet has been very poor, however.

Scuderia Ferrari - Vergne

JT - Formula One silly-season is in full swing as the teams take their summer break. Speculation by an Italian publication says Kimi Raikkonen will be given a contract by Ferrari for 2016.

Meanwhile, Haas F1 principal Gene Haas has admitted that the team is considering Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg as top prospects for filling the team's seats next year. Two of the three - Vergne and Gutierrez - are Ferrari reserve drivers while Hulkenberg is a Force India pilot.

Finally, Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost says that talks between the team and Renault about a takeover by the manufacturer have "gone quiet" and that Renault may now be looking elsewhere - Lotus F1 - for a team. What do you think of all this gossip?

SJ - It makes sense to me for Ferrari to keep Kimi for another year. His results have not been what any of them wanted but at least 50 percent of that has been down to either poor reliability or poor decision-making on the team’s part whether it’s race or qualifying strategy. I don’t see any reason to change the drivers until they have a car that can consistently fight for wins. It’s more important to focus the effort on that.

Considering how close Vergne and Gutierrez are with Ferrari it makes sense for Haas F1 to run one of the reserve drivers so they can at least evaluate how good they are in a racing situation as opposed to spending endless hours in a simulator which effectively is what they do now. I don’t know if it would make sense for Hulkenberg to switch teams if it’s not a huge leap forward. He deserves a shot in winning car.

I really don’t know what Renault is considering. I’m sure they are looking very carefully at all the options in front of them. The one that makes most sense to me would be Lotus I suppose. I’m sure Lotus’ current owners have had enough of dipping into their own pockets every year to keep the team going. They are clearly short of funds but they have a good infrastructure and good people.

Indycar Mid-Ohio - 2015

JT - The 2015 IndyCar season continues to be unpredictable. Graham Rahal scored a popular win at last weekend's Mid-Ohio round, closing the gap to points-leader Juan Pablo Montoya to just nine markers. Fuel strategy and caution flags played a major part in the race but Rahal drove well.

Scott Dixon grabbed the pole for the race with a record lap and led from the start but an early caution flipped the field. Scott was mired in the pack for the mid-race but then came back close to the front before Ganassi Racing teammate Sage Karam spun on lap 68.

Rahal pitted on lap 66 just as the caution flag came out for Karam's spin, effectively putting him in front of the field when the rest pitted under the caution. Scott ultimately finished fourth. What did you think of the race and how does Scott view it?

SJ - Well, it looks like this year’s Championship might be decided on pit strategy more than real performance the way things have been going the last three or four races. Rahal was nowhere in the championship, and frankly nowhere in most of the races. But through some circumstances and some great calls on pit strategy he’s now a major contender to win the championship.

It’s obviously very frustrating for the guys who’ve been running up front but it’s the nature of the beast with Indycar. I always used to say it evens out over the course of a season. But this year it certainly seems those who have more or less been out of contention have benefitted. As such, they’ve been able to roll the dice on strategy more so than the guys up front who are more limited to stick to one strategy only.

From Scott’s point of view it was obviously extremely frustrating. He dominated the whole weekend and then got caught out by the yellow on the first safety car, making it hard to recover. Rahal’s pit-stops were timed perfectly. Whether that was luck or skill I don’t know but they sure timed the stops well and by doing so moved him to the front after the final stop.

Mid-Ohio has always been a tough track to pass on but with this new aero kit it has made it almost impossible as there is such a big wake behind each car now. Once you get in the dirty air the aero is completely ruined.

Sage Karam - Mid Ohio 2015

JT - Sage Karam's spin is under review by IndyCar and was quite publicly called into question by Montoya following the race. Montoya was leading when Karam caused the caution and ultimately finished in eleventh spot. What's your take?

SJ - I definitely don’t think for one second it was done on purpose. It was just coincidental that it happened the way it did.

Mid Ohio Podium 2015

JT - Andretti Autosport's Justin Wilson finished second behind Rahal at Mid-Ohio, driving well as usual. I think most observers agree that Wilson deserves a full time ride again for 2016 with a top team. Do you agree?

SJ - Yes, I agree, Justin has done enough to warrant a full time drive with one of the top teams. Hopefully he has shown enough to convince one of them to give him a shot.

Pocono Indycar

JT - Just two races remain in the IndyCar season. What do you think of the championship battle and Scott's position in third? Pocono could be a bit of a lottery in terms of standings post-race but Sonoma has long been a track where Penske performs well. It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy Ganassi, Penske and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan choose for the remaining events.

SJ - Pocono will be very important of course. The championship is a long-shot for Scott now but with double points in the last race anything can still happen, assuming that Pocono goes well. I just hope the title won’t be decided on pit strategy but on outright performance.

Derrick Walker - Indycar

JT - Among other developments, IndyCar announced that it will have a longer season for 2016 with more races on the schedule including some at tracks the series hasn't visited for a while and the possibility of a new venue.

SJ - I’m happy to see they have finally abandoned the crazy idea of the season ending in August. It’s been a nightmare for everyone involved. Let’s hope the new venues will be great and eventually become permanent fixtures on the calendar.

JT - Simultaneously, IndyCar competition director Derrick Walker announced his resignation. Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull has been very outspoken about the departure of another series official and has been suggested as a candidate to replace Walker. Whether that's likely or not, what do you think of Walker's move?

SJ - Walker’s departure has been expected for a while now. I don’t know all the details so I don’t think it would be fair for me to comment but I have a lot of sympathy for whoever is in that position as it’s pretty thankless job. No matter what decision you make you’re almost certain to piss someone off.

Toyota LMP1 - WEC

JT - In sports car racing news, some WEC teams have been taking advantage of the long post-Le Mans break to test. Toyota is the most recent, having tested at the Nurbugring last week.

Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon said that measures have to be taken to make the team's P1 cars more competitive and that the test was helpful. He also admitted that the team is basically working towards 2016 now, revising its suspension and braking systems and planning a new powertrain for next season.

Vasselon said further, "There was a need for a reaction and we will have a supplementary budget for the coming season, even if it won't be at the level of others." Is this an indication that LMP1 is becoming too expensive, even for manufacturers?

SJ - I don’t for a second think the budget for LMP1 is a problem for a company like Toyota. The numbers were talking about are barely a rounding error for them in the overall scheme of things and still a fraction of what they spent each year they did F1, for example. It strikes me more like they’re not 100 percent committed from the top for this project.