KARTING: SALTY DOG GP & THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN RACING!

Go find yourself a Kart track this weekend. No, it’s not “real” racing, but for millions of Americans it’s the only first-hand motorsports experience they’ll ever have. And that’s surely better than the alternative, blogs Stephen Cox.

I started late. I didn’t drive in my first professional auto race until age 21. Before that, I was addicted to Go Kart racing. No, not the World Karting Association or the National Karting Alliance. I’d never heard of them.

My Karting career began by paying five dollars for ten minutes of track time. They were 5-horsepower, 25-mph “fun Karts” at tiny, tourist-driven venues during our family vacations. We stopped at Go Kart tracks from Virginia to Utah. Any track, any time. It wasn’t real racing, but it was the only racing I had.

The tracks were minuscule. The Karts were poky rent-a-wrecks. Sometimes they didn’t even require a helmet. My first races were on tracks like the Salty Dog Grand Prix against other vacationing kids, most of whom never realized they were locked in bitter competition with a teenager and his visions of grandeur.

Several days ago, while returning from my entirely unsuccessful run in the Super Cup Stock Car Series American Racer Twin 50’s at Jennerstown Speedway, I stumbled across what appeared to be an abandoned rental Kart track. The sign said it was “The Salty Dog Grand Prix” of Mt. Pleasant, PA. I parked the Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions van and started walking. The track was closed but the gate was open.

It had apparently been closed since 2015, though information has been hard to come by. The property was well kept but a sign in front of the track advertised Karts for sale, which means they probably have no intention of re-opening soon, if at all.

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that little Go Kart tracks like the Salty Dog are perhaps the canary in the coal mine for American auto racing. I’ve made it clear many times why I believe the average age of race fans continues to get older and older. Kids are losing interest in automobiles, and those who don’t care about cars will never pay to see anyone race them. Until the automobile is again viewed as a teenage ticket to mischief, personal liberty, speed and late-night fun, interest in cars will continue to decline and the snowball effect on motorsports is inevitable.

I hope the property can re-open because it’s tough to see time move on from places like the Salty Dog Grand Prix. The asphalt is still good. The tire barriers are solid. The pit area and outbuildings are nicely maintained.

Yet people just don’t flock to these venues as they once did. The world is too full of I-gadgets and screens and distractions. And lame superhero movies.

And cheap milk shakes masquerading as status-symbol coffee drinks. And discredited evening news programs that claim everything else is fake. And social media that’s not. The more hear from Bruno Mars, the better I like the smell of gasoline!

Long before I landed my first sponsor or won my first race, I looked forward to the simple purity of racing a cheap Go Kart on “tourist” tracks. No qualifying. No mandatory autograph sessions. No drivers meetings. Go Kart racing was all fun and no pressure.

Stephen Cox is Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions Driver, Super Cup Series & EGT Championship, and Co-Host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN.

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CADILLAC RACING: BACK ON TRACK!

Cadillac’s all-new Cadillac DPi-V.R racecar will compete in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series, Prototype (P) class.

The Cadillac DPi-V.R will first be driven competitively at the 2017 IMSA season opener – the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 28-29, 2017. Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing teams will field it. IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the fastest and most technologically advanced sports car racing series in North America.

“Cadillac is proud to return to the pinnacle of prototype racing in North America after a 14-year absence,” said Johan de Nysschen, president of Cadillac. “Cadillac’s V-Performance production models – the ATS-V and CTS-V – are transforming our brand’s product substance, earning a place among the world’s elite high-performance marques. The Cadillac DPi-V.R further strengthens our V-Performance portfolio, placing Cadillac into the highest series of sports car racing in North America.”

The DPi-V.R has been designed to contribute to the functional performance of the prototype using elements gleaned from the current lineup of Cadillac V-Performance models, especially the CTS-V. The racecar is equipped with the new Rear Camera Mirror, first seen on the Cadillac CT6 Sedan and available on the 2017 Cadillac CTS, XT5 and Escalade.

“The DPi-V.R racecar was an exciting new canvas for the Cadillac design and sculpting team,” said Andrew Smith, Global Cadillac Design executive director. “The studio embraced the opportunity to interpret the Cadillac form language, line work and graphic signature for this premier prototype racing application.”

Design details giving the DPi-V.R car its distinctive Cadillac appearance and presence include the vertical lighting signature; the sheer, sculptural quality of the body and bold bodyside feature line. Plus, V-Performance wheels, Brembo brakes, V-Performance emblems, and a canopy graphic inspired by the Cadillac “daylight opening.” Even subtle cues such as the cooling vents and the air intake were designed in the studio, the latter in the trapezoidal shape of the Cadillac crest.

A, race-prepped, naturally-aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 that shares architecture with Gen III Cadillac CTS-V (640 horsepower) and Gen V Cadillac Escalade (420 horsepower) engines, powers the DPi-V.R. The engine produces approximately 600 horsepower when tuned for racing as defined by IMSA-mandated air restrictors, with a maximum allowable rpm of 7,600. The engine transfers power to the rear wheels through an X-TRAC paddle-shift transmission.

Cadillac and its designers collaborated with key partners including chassis builder Dallara, teams from Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing and ECR Engines to prepare the 6.2-liter V-8-powered Cadillac DPi-V.R over the past year.

 

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Fastest street circuit in F1?

Long-time Formula 1 circuit designer, Hermann Tilke, has done a quick Q&A about the new circuit in Baku. While some folks have been scratching their heads about the race itself, it seems that if Herman has this right, it could be an interesting circuit nonetheless. Here’s Hermann:

What was your first thought when you heard of the opportunity to build a street circuit in Baku? At the time I first heard about the opportunity to build a street circuit in Baku, I had no idea about the city. After my first visit to Baku I was left with just one thought: Amazing! From the very first moment, I was really proud to be a part of the project and the team here.

How long ago were you approached by FIA to design the track for Baku? We have been working on this project since June 2014 and at this stage we are beginning to get really excited. It`s only a few months to go and we can’t wait!

When did you first visit Baku? My first time in Baku was in June 2014. I was really surprised in a positive way. Baku is fascinating. I had a really warm welcome.

What makes Baku City Circuit so unique? Baku City Circuit stands out due to many factors: Baku will be the world’s fastest city circuit and the track loop around the city’s historical centre will create a unique and remarkable atmosphere for fans watching in the grandstands and at home. The City Circuit of Baku is located in a vibrant city. The streets are really narrow and this is exactly what makes it so appealing.

What was the most challenging part of the Baku City Circuit construction process? The most challenging task was to come up with an idea for the routing of a city track, which will be suitable for F1 in Baku. City circuits are always challenging to build, because the team has to construct the racetrack within the city. Various problems arise when designing a circuit in the city. But together with the Baku City Circuit team we successfully solved every problem!

What is the most similar track to Baku City Circuit? There is no track like Baku City Circuit –  it will be one of the most exciting ones on the calendar. Baku, of course, is not comparable with any of the permanent circuits, because it is a city circuit. But even when compared to city circuits, Baku is unique.

Baku City Circuit is expected be the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar. What is the average lap time expected to be? We calculated a lap time of 101 seconds, but that depends on the individual set-up of the racing cars and on the developments of this year’s new cars.

What is the expected speed in the most challenging sequence of turns on the track, beginning at Turn 8? The brake point in front of Turn 8 is V max= 204km/h. Between T8 and T9 we expect a V min of 86 km/h.

What impact did the culture and history of the city have on your design?  The culture and history of Baku is the framework for Baku City Circuit’s design. The layout of the track is designed to show off the beauty of the historic and modern views and sights of Baku.

How often do you collaborate with Baku City Circuit team? How are preparations going? We constantly collaborate with the Baku City Circuit team. We are pleased to work with such amazing colleagues. The atmosphere between all participants is just great. The entire team will work until the last minute, but everything is currently on time.

What can F1 fans expect when they visit Baku City Circuit this June? Baku fans can expect a remarkable atmosphere at and around the Baku City Circuit. I can’t wait to see the race take place now!

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Dakar Rally 2016 blog – day 2

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Daily updates from the incredible 9596km race

Saturday, 2nd Jan 2016 – ceremonial start

The 2016 Dakar Rally has begun! It’s Saturday evening as I type and I’m waiting to board a flight from Buenos Aires, where I watched the ceremonial start, to the in-land city of Cordoba. The competitors drove on from the start ramp earlier this afternoon to an 11km prologue stage – which determined the running order for the first leg – before continuing on towards Cordoba themselves.

The real action gets underway tomorrow morning and I’m going to be spectating for the first two days of the rally. Lucky sod. I’ll update this blog each evening and I’ll try to give you a flavour of the event from the ground.

As a World Rally Championship fan I’m excited to see how Dakar newbies Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen fare over the next two weeks. Loeb in particular is a personal hero so I’m hoping he can mix it with the established big names of long distance, cross-country rallying like Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah in his Peugeot 2008 DKR.

Let me give you some of the more staggering numbers. Over 15 days the competitors will cover 9596km. Almost half of that – 4775km – is timed special stage. The route runs north from Buenos Aeries and into Bolivia before returning to Argentina. The longest single special stage runs for 542km. How the drivers maintain concentration over that distance while battling dunes, rocky tracks, mud and heat, I don’t know. I’ll try to ask some of them.

The lead British entrant is Harry Hunt. He’s driving a Mini All4 Racing under the X-Raid Team banner. He’s an experienced rally driver but he’s relatively new to rally raid and this is his first Dakar. You’ll find an interview with Harry in the latest issue of the magazine.

Right, my flight is boarding. It’s just occurred to me that when I arrive back in the UK on Wednesday morning, probably short on sleep and a little worse for wear, the drivers will still have another nine days of flat-out competition ahead of them. There’s nothing quite like the Dakar Rally.

Sunday, 3rd Jan 2016 – special stage

We were up before the bin men this morning to get to the first full-length special stage of the event in time to watch the 112-strong field of cars pass through. After two hours our convoy of 20 or so off-road vehicles turned off the metalled highway and onto a gravel track.

Wide and smooth at first, the track gradually tightened around us until it was single-width. The surface got rougher and more rutted, too, until we were crawling along in low-range. The weather was foul; clouds low and heavy, rain falling persistently. It rained throughout the previous night, in fact, and the lightening show from my eighth storey hotel room was the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.

The track got thicker with mud as we pressed on. It felt quite intrepid, actually, tackling that punishing path with our winches, snorkels and chunky off-road tyres. Then a completely standard Peugeot 206 passed us in the opposite direction without any fuss and we were made to look very stupid. Like a bunch delusional walkers wearing brightly-coloured mountaineering gear to traverse the perilous north face of Hyde Park.

After an hour we reached our vantage point on the first stage. The surroundings were hilly, rather than mountainous, and verdantly green. Apparently heavy rainfall is not at all unusual around here during the summer months. This section of special stage was much more like a typical sprint rally stage than I had expected. The never-ending dunes, barren deserts and featureless salt flats will come later in the event.

Frustratingly, the rain meant the stage was cancelled before it had even begun. It’s easy to be a bit sniffy about the world’s toughest motorsport event being brought to a halt by some rain, but the real reason for cancelling the stage was that the medical helicopters just couldn’t fly in those conditions. The accident on the previous day’s prologue stage – in which a number of spectators were hit by one of the cars with four being seriously hurt – is a reminder that those helicopters must be on hand at all times.

After a soggy bite to eat we cut our losses and drove another two hours to the bivouac. Don’t worry, I hadn’t either. A bivouac is a sort of traditional shelter, but in this context it refers to the traveling service park. The weather cleared in the afternoon, which persuaded crowds of locals to line the streets in the towns along the route of the rally. They waved and cheered and I could see their faces light up when they clocked our Hilux.

It has a couple of spot lamps on the front and lots of garish stickers (which is exactly why I was drawn to it in the first place), so I reckon some of the locals mistook us for one of the rally cars. I waved back, disingenuously. I may not have seen any cars out on the stage, but I did catch a glimpse of the bright orange #312 machine on a road section, driven by the ‘bad boy of the Dakar’, Gordon Robby. He sounds like a Will Ferrell character. Irritatingly, some children ruined my photograph.

We got to the bivouac at 3pm. On this day it was based in a very picturesque lakeside setting in Carlos Paz, an hour or so north-west of Cordoba, but it follows the rally and serves as the base throughout the fortnight. The term bivouac is a throwback to the days when the Dakar Rally was held in Africa and the drivers and team members would eat and sleep in a temporary shelter. It was the very heart of the event. These days the big teams take care of their own catering and put their drivers up in hotels wherever possible, but the term has stuck and the Dakar community still refers to a bivouac rather than a service park.

It wasn’t the hive of frantic activity it would normally have been because the day’s competitive action had been cancelled. We’re still waiting for the rally to really get underway. I did catch up with lead British entrant Harry Hunt, though. I’ll share what he had to say in the next instalment.

I’ve included a few of my own photos from the bivouac. You’ll notice they’re terrible. There are two reasons for this: one, my camera is also a telephone and two, my incompetence.

There’s talk of the heavy rain returning in the morning. If tomorrow’s stage is cancelled as well I’m claiming a rally spectating world record for the highest number of miles travelled versus the fewest minutes of action witnessed. Fingers crossed for sunshine.

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Nissan confirms LMP1 exit – front-drive racer is no more

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Nissan’s unsuccessful foray into the World Endurance Championship comes to an abrupt end

Nissan has announced that it will withdraw from the 2016 World Endurance Championship – ending any chance of further competition for its unique front-wheel drive LMP1 car.

Following the car’s difficult debut at Le Mans in 2015 – plagued by technical issues and a lack of pace without a working hybrid system – the team soon abandoned plans to contest the remaining 2015 rounds, choosing instead to further develop the car.

The car’s reappearance was then pushed to the first race of 2016, at Silverstone in April. In October, Nissan’s LMP1 boss Darren Cox revealed he was moving on from the team – a move that now looks ominous in retrospect following Nissan’s latest announcement.

According to an official statement from Nissan, “The teams worked diligently to bring the vehicles up to the desired performance levels.

“However, the company concluded that the program would not be able to reach its ambitions and decided to focus on developing its longer term racing strategies.”

What the move means for Nissan’s strong lineup of factory drivers – including Brits Al Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough, and original Nissan GT Academy winner, Lucas Ordonez – is unclear.

Nissan itself will still compete in the WEC as an engine supplier in the LMP3 class, while Nissan’s Blancpain Endurance Series participation should continue. But unfortunately, its GT-R LM Nismo LMP1 program is likely to go down in history as a very expensive – and high-profile – failure.

 

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