Detroit to Daytona

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SAM_0410What a weekend! It’s Thursday & I am STILL winding down from all the excitement of the official kickoff to race season in the States. While I was unable to make it down to the Rolex 24 in Florida, it didn’t keep me from being surrounded by incredible automobiles and crazy talented racecar drivers! I enjoyed a trip up North to Detroit this past Friday, for the North American International Auto Show. I spent about 6 hours walking through the enormous Cobo Center, taking in the sights and sounds of the newest 2014 & 2015 models – everything from Toyota’s i-ROAD concept transportation (essentially an enclosed 3-wheeled motorbike) to the exquisite Bentley Mulsanne.

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I loved exploring everything on display and especially appreciated the racing presence throughout the show. From the United SportsCar Series SkyActive Mazda Prototype and the Chevy Corvette C7.R from the GT LeMans class to IndyCar’s Chevy-powered DW12’s driven by Tony Kanaan & Helio Castroneves, as well as NASCAR model’s driven by Jimmy Johnson & Matt Kenseth (just to name a few of the series represented), I found myself thoroughly impressed by how many racecars were on display and the extensive descriptions that were provided to educate non-race fans as well as those like me, who basically live for it.

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Another really great connection that the Detroit Auto Show made with racing fans was having appearances, autograph sessions, and a panel discussion with professional drivers from multiple series. I was lucky enough to time things out and attend these events throughout the day. The panel discussion was a great conversation between the drivers and the audience, with most of the topics revolving around the upcoming Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix (May 30th – June 1st, 2014). Some interesting news that they discussed was the addition of the Stadium Super Trucks to this year’s weekend – making for a total of SEVEN different races across four different series over the three day event! Make sure you get your ticket now, because that post-holiday weekend is going to be one for the books… I just have a feeling.

One of the drivers on the panel that day was Juan Pablo Montoya, who makes his return to the IndyCar Series this season with Team Penske. He was discussing his career, having raced in IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR, concluding that,

“…IndyCar is the most fun and exciting racing.”

SAM_0536Obviously, loving the IndyCar series so much, I grinned from ear to ear upon hearing him say that. One of Juan’s fellow Chevrolet-powered IndyCar drivers, Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing) was also on the panel that afternoon and I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly afterwards. He had mentioned that double-header weekends can be grueling on the drivers – this made me wonder which type of weekend he found to be more difficult: back-to-back race days or a 24 hour endurance race (note: Charlie was one of the drivers on the winning team of the 2013 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona).

“I think the 24 hour endurance race is more challenging because you don’t exactly know when you’re going to be in the car. With a double header like you have here with the Detroit Grand Prix, you’re able to plan for it and plan your recovery after Race 1 so you’re ready for Race 2. The 24 hour, you kind of have to be ready for 24 hours even though you won’t drive for the whole thing.”

While Charlie did not participate in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this year, his respect for it was obvious and I hope to see him back on the track there in the future. Some of his IndyCar colleagues were down in Florida, however. If you are curious about who, you can catch up here & here.

Two of the biggest winners (and most talked about) at this year’s race-season-kickoff in Daytona were Sebastien Bourdais & Townsend Bell. Sebastien, at the wheel of the Corvette DP for the Action Express team, along with Christian Fittipaldi & Jaoa Barbosa, took the checkered first overall! They celebrated with their families around the winning car, Sebastien reflecting on the victory,

“It’s just as big as it gets, you know? It’s just one of these historic races that you want to put on your resume… it’s just a relief when the checkered flag goes by.”

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Townsend Bell and his fellow Level 5 Motorsports drivers Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Guidi were not as happy in the immediate aftermath of the day-long endurance race. On the last lap of the race, Alessandro was battling the Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi for position when they came to a portion of the track referred to as, “the kink”. The Level 5 team was penalized for Avoidable Contact.

This caused a huge uproar, not just at the track, but on social media particularly – generating commentary from race fans, professional drivers and team owners alike. The majority of comments seemed to be in the realm of confusion, irritation and sometimes flat out anger. My assumption for this is because no one saw legitimate contact. (I understand that IMSA rules allow an avoidable contact penalty to be called without their having been ACTUAL contact – but just because it’s written, doesn’t mean it warrants logic. What it does mean is that maybe the terminology for this rule needs to be reconsidered. That’s a WHOLE other Pandora’s Box to open up though and I am not getting into it for this piece.) I went back in the Fox Sports 1 broadcast and replayed the event as it happened since it was all a bit chaotic in-the-moment. This was the live commentary during the incident:

“Side by side for the drag race! Here comes the kink! A high speed left-hander! Is the Audi gonna survive the outside move?! NO! HE’S OFF! – – – Uhh, did he get shoved off? – – – He didn’t leave him any room, that’s for sure (laughter) – – – And nor should he have done… that was absolutely, that was RACING!  – – – And I don’t think they touched, I just think he did what he had to do.”

And here is the live commentary after the announcers were made aware of the avoidable contact penalty on the #555 Level 5 Ferrari, before the cars were even back to their respective garages and/or pits:

“For someone overtaking you on the outside of a left hand corner… I don’t think that’s a great call. Sorry, but, [that’s a] little slap. – – – Ugh, what a gut punch for the Level 5 team. – – – I don’t know guys, if I was driving that Ferrari, I wouldn’t have done anything different. – – – I would not have either. – – – Yep.”

As you can tell, these professional race announcers seemed to be on the same page as most social media participants – looking for a justifiable reason for this harsh penalty, and coming up empty. After hours of speculation on the public end and deliberation on the end of IMSA and TUDOR, the penalty handed out by race control was overturned and the Level 5 team was reinstated as champions in the GTD class at the 2014 Rolex 24 of Daytona!

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See? What did I tell you? One HECK of a weekend! As many of you may know, this is my first season following SportsCar racing – I feel like I am catching on pretty well and I am definitely learning a lot from all of you and from reading as much as I can on the Tudor Championship Series. One thing I love is the variety of cars in the series. I enjoy the details and attempting to retain all the information – from who is driving what and which team owns which car and who their sponsors are, not to mention learning about all the new drivers and sometimes even finding familiar names & faces! I think those changing variables & infinite differences between cars is part of what peaked my interest while at the same time, if I’m being honest, kind of intimidated me! However, I realized something this weekend; the United SportsCar Series is similar to an auto show in that way…

The vast collection in Detroit was nearly overwhelming and yet somehow, exactly what I needed.  There was something so exciting about being at that world-renowned show, in the company of others who share your passion for these machines, who understand and appreciate the multiple roles that they play in our society… these automobiles are mechanical wonders, they are functional art, they fulfill our inner desires for power and adrenaline while continuing to push us to dream bigger, go faster, and get there safer. How many “things” in our life satisfy our needs AND our wants just by existing? Cars are insanely innovative – they have a personality of their own. If you don’t believe me, take a moment to think back… I guarantee that you’ve spoken to your car at least once in your life… in fact, you may have even named it.

Our automobiles become a part of us and I think that’s why we are so fascinated by them – they constantly inhabit two crucial roles: power & beauty. Now you may still not believe me… you may be thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a clunker in the driveway and in no way, would I call it beautiful.” And sure, its aesthetics may not be as pleasing to the eye as they once were, and it may not get up to cruising speed as quickly or as easily as it used to, but we love it nonetheless. We are sentimental with our cars, perhaps more so than any other “non-living” object we possess in our lives. It’s pretty cool to look at that clunker we’ve put so much love and money into (and refuse to part with) and realize that years ago, that very car model sat on an auto show floor – maybe even a rotating platform – being hand-dusted, presented to the audience by a spokesmodel and leaving people in awe and want. Cars are very much like us in that way – they age (some more gracefully than others), all the while requiring maintenance and help. Perhaps that’s why we’ve grown such an attachment to them… they are a humbling reminder of life in all its stages.