INDYCAR released its over-the-air television broadcast schedule for the upcoming 2014 IndyCar Series season, as partners ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) share duties in scheduling the 18-race season that includes a new road-course venue at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and three double-header road/street course races.
ABC has the bulk of the early-season schedule in its corner, starting with the season opener on the streets of St Petersburg, a race that takes sponsorship from Firestone, the series’ long-time tire partner. NBCSN takes over for the (40th annual) Long Beach and Barber Motorsports street/road courses, while ABC covers the month of May, including the 98th Indianapolis 500 May 25th and then the first doubleheader at Detroit a week later.
The balance of the season belongs to NBCSN, which takes over the broadcast duties for the series’ exciting annual visit to Texas Motor Speedway on June 7th, staying with INDYCAR through to the season-ending 500-mile contest at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Labor Day weekend.
This is the first time in a good while that ABC has elected to televise qualifying at Indy; that’s been the province of NBCSN the past few years. The network will decamp in Indianapolis for nearly the entire month of May this year, a welcome change and a sign of consistency in its broadcast plans. Although not mentioned by the series, we’re hoping there will be plenty of pre-race coverage on the day of the Indy 500.
Mark Miles, CEO of INDYCAR owed Hulman & Co noted, “ABC is the destination to tune in for our three big weekends of competition in May.” He stated the company is “very grateful to our television partners for working with us on a schedule that gives our fans the best of both networks. Fans will know that NBC Sports Network is our home for the final 11 races of the season, including two doubleheaders as we build up to another exciting championship.”
In keeping continuity, all ABC race broadcasts (other than Indy) will begin at 3:30PM eastern time. “The Indianapolis 500 has been an important property for our company for many years and the milestone of the 50th consecutive race on ABC is one that we plan to celebrate,” declared Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president, league sports programming. “It’s only fitting that our celebration also will include the new race on the Indianapolis road course and the drama of qualifications.
“At the same time,” she said, “we’re also very happy to again be able to air the season opener from St Petersburg as well as the doubleheader from Detroit. We look forward to an exciting season with the IndyCar Series and the Month of May at Indianapolis.”
Jon Miller, president of programming at NBCSN said, “We’re pleased to again present a record 13 races to IndyCar’s passionate fan base on NBCSN, including Long Beach, Barber, two doubleheaders (Houston and Toronto) and the final 11 races of the season.”
ABC/ESPN has yet to appoint a lead anchor for its broadcasts next year.
By Anne Proffit
I’m almost giddy with excitement over the news that Paul Page is returning to his natural home, the radio broadcast booth, and will henceforth be the voice of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. It’s appropriate that the man who began broadcasting his beloved Indianapolis 500 in 1974 (mentored by the late Sid Collins) will helm the radio network’s broadcasts of both the 500 and the entire series in the coming years.
While Page, 68, has been active on television for the past 30 years, he had his start in radio broadcast. “I’ve always thought radio was so much more fun to do,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “I think it’s more artistic.”
Over the years, Page has been the voice and face of IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 and branched out into X Games, Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest and he broadcast the fastest motor sport of them all for six seasons: NHRA drag racing. His love of the 500 – and all of Indy car racing – has always held sway, no matter what other jobs he held.
Page worked with prior radio broadcaster Mike King on the 500 the past five years and it was always a highlight of his season. It was like coming home for the Evansville, IN native, who traveled the world as a military brat but always found his way “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
In his new role Page will enjoy the freedom not offered by televised broadcasting, with an ability to excite the listener with words, rather than images. He considers that “freedom” more to his liking, he said.
Now that INDYCAR has announced its radio broadcast team, it needs to consult with ABC/ESPN to make sure the next television team has the same star power as radio. ESPN’s Vince Welch, who has ties to the Indianapolis area and whose son is successfully involved in the sport, is widely mentioned as one of the primary candidates for that position.
Words and photo by Anne Proffit
Erica Enders-Stevens is on the move, taking her prodigious talents from Cagnazzi Racing to Elite Motorsports. Elite is the team that won the most recent, season-ending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, CA, the ancestral home of professional drag racing. New teammate Rickie Jones earned his first Pro Stock title at that prestigious race.
Enders-Stevens is the first – and only – woman to win an event in the Pro Stock category, which is certainly the most competitive and technologically-advanced class in the NHRA pro ranks. She has six Wally trophies to her credit over a nine-year period, most of it spent with Cagnazzi’s squad. Despite a partial season in 2013 due to financial difficulties, Enders-Stevens drove her Chevroelt Camaro into the Countdown to One playoffs for the third straight year and was in the hunt for the title until the final few events.
That she managed to get to that point despite missing several mid-season races spoke to Enders-Steven’s consistency and overall competitiveness in the races she was able to run on a limited budget. A sponsor came onboard for the Countdown playoffs and with Husky Liners backing, she was able to complete all six races of the Countdown.
“I’m really excited to start this next chapter of my career,” she said. “It’s hard to believe that 2014 will be my 10th year in Pro Stock but it’s true.” While not able to contest Pro Stock during the 2013 campaign, Enders-Stevens kept her hand in by driving in ADRL competition.
“The last three years we’ve been in contention for the championship very late in the season, and we expect to be there again with Elite Motorsports,” driving the team’s new Camaro that will be tuned by Rick and Rickie Jones, propelled by in-house horsepower from Nick Ferri and Jake Hairston. “Rickie just won the NHRA Finals, so it’s obvious the team has all the pieces in place to be successful.”
Still, it pains her to leave Cagnazzi Racing, where she got her start and where Victor and Brita Cagnazzi have helped her gain all of her Pro Stock wins thus far. “I certainly value our relationship, but the deal that Richard (Freeman, team owner at Elite Motorsports) offered assures me a full-time ride in his top car. At this point in my career, I thought it was the best move for me to make.”
Enders-Stevens, like most before her (including 2013 Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon) began her career in Jr Dragsters, moving through different Sportsman categories. Some of her immense fan impact came from the Disney Channel movie Right On Track, chronicling her time – with sister Courtney – in NHRA’s Jr Dragster ranks. The film showed young girls dragging their parents into the Pro Stock pits to meet their on-screen hero (Enders-Stevens) in person.
“I’ve been so blessed to have had the opportunities I’ve had so far,” Enders-Stevens related after finishing sixth overall in 2013′s NHRA Pro Stock campaign. “For many years I got to race with my dad (Gregg), which was something we always dreamed about when I was younger and something I’d love to do again some day. I love this sport so much that I’ve fought to stay out here. The support I’ve received from my dad and the rest of my family, my longtime friends and all of the wonderful fans out there have made it all worthwhile.
“This new start with Richard and Elite Motorsports is exciting for me. I hope I can repay their faith in my by being competitive and chasing after another championship.”
The Elite Motorsports team intends to test extensively in Florida before the first, season-opening race of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The season kicks off February 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit
This Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo was the star of the show
This year the Los Angeles Auto Show decided to add a third day of previews, incorporating what they called the Connected Car Expo. Most of the attendees were paying customers, joining in day-long seminars. It would almost appear the event was over-sold as media were left on the LA Convention Center’s South Lobby floor to watch live steaming of the proceedings.
We did have a chance to have a close look at the merchandise – connectivity devices, software in action and in development, hardware and providers dotting the lobby floor. Oh, and there was also a display of Via electric trucks championed by “Maximum” Bob Lutz, the framer General Motors chairman.
Among the more interesting items during Tuesday’s connectivity expo reveals are Audi’s first 4G LTE service, launching in spring of 2014 solely with the four new A3 models that were also revealed later during the show. Audi is the first vehicle manufacturer to offer 4G connectivity to drivers and its system, used in a pop-up display provides access to a wide range of data for those drivers interested in quick downloads and access to social media.
Another innovation that piqued my interest – and will likely annoy any government agency wanting to learn more about the habits of a modern driver – is the Cyber Lock, which its maker touts as the next big thing – black box cyber security. It’s widely known that the federal government in the United States enjoys prying into the public’s privacy and intends to give itself access to vehicle “event data recorders” (EDL) in the coming future. To stop tampering and other electronic scanning, the Cyber Lock does just that – locks them out. It has key actuation and costs a rational $30, about the same as parking for two days in downtown Los Angeles.
Because I prefer connectivity with my car to come from its feedback to me as driver and because I drive a manual transmission car to gain that connectivity, much of the gizmos introduced during the Connected Car Expo are of little value to me. I did note the appearance of both Sprint and Verizon, hyping their connectivity tools and ready to jump head-first into this realm of vehicular infotainment. Cadillac showcased its OnStar program which keeps on humming along after all these years…
Enough of that!
Wednesday morning Motor Press Guild held its own version of Cars and Coffee, with a good variety of race cars, show cars and strange cars (heightened by the appearance of George Barris and his Batmobile). Food trucks were serving, coffee was flowing and it was a good way to get the long day started, thanks to the weather, which deteriorated through the show’s media days but stayed clear for this outdoor breakfast.
The star of Wednesday’s reveals was at the Mercedes-Benz stand. M-B designers created a new super sports car concept called the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo. It celebrates Play Station’s Gran Turismo 6 and has the kind of voluptuous lines and sheer extravagance that can’t help but draw the eye. Variegated LED lighting from inside the grille area was gorgeous, the flattened yet curving lines of the car had everyone reaching for their cameras to take photos of this beast.
Fitted with the AMG V8 biturbo engine, the Vision Gran Turismo delivers 577 horsepower and maximum torque of 590 lb-ft from its lightweight construction. With this kind of racing DNA, this concept vehicle begs to be made into a production (or at least racing-capable) road-going car.
Jaguar had two new vehicles on display: the F-Type coupe is Ian Callum’s latest design that captures both mind and heart and Jaguar’s pending small SUV, called C-X17 looks light, powerful and more fun than the usual offerings – as it should be from Jaguar.
Porsche then took the official wraps off its Macan petite SUV, which bears some resemblance to Cayenne but with more suitable proportions for Porsche fans. With its light weight, exceptional handling and economy, the Macan is sure to be a hit, particularly in Southern California. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long has already put his name in to own one, a great recommendation. Sorry, but I didn’t like any of the photos I took.
Nissan showed off its Nismo GT-R and trotted out Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man to pose for photos in front of its fastest car. I opted not to wait in line for the photo op but took a picture of Mr Bolt for my files – please note this guy is rangy, much taller than I expected.
Kia introduced its first rear-wheel-drive business sedan called K900. Most likely mated to the Hyundai Equus platform (nobody ever said), it’s going to show up with a wide variety of bells, whistles – all at a price that should impress most people that thought they couldn’t afford a car of this type. We liked the rear seat adjustments and this car’s feeling of stability.
Honda keeps pushing alternative vehicle programs and, since they were first to mass market a hybrid with the 2000 Insight coupe (almost bought one last year) have every right to brag about being in vanguard with their plans. Of course, I miss the feel-good Honda cars they used to make but understand the demands of the marketplace and the fact that’s where the money lies.
Mini made the small car a bit bigger this year in its third iteration of the “new” Mini. As an owner of a first gene modern Mini and the former owner of the Alec Issigonis version of 1964, I’m not sure this is what I like to see in a Mini, but I’m sure they’ll sell a pile of ‘em. Nice of Mini to place the speedo and tach together in front of the driver, but doesn’t that de-emphasize the “driver” part of driving a Mini? Just saying’.
Hyundai closed the day by introducing its hydrogen Tucson SUV and touting its remarkable terms: free maintenance and hydrogen for the duration of a lease with $2999 down and $499/month. Then the Korean brand upped the ante by taking the media down the sodden street (it was raining pretty hard by 5:30PM and dark, to boot) to Hotel Figueroa, where it had stilt walkers, belly dancers, Mediterranean food and music by Ziggy Marley. Hyundai knows how to do auto shows. And parties.
Thursday morning dawned wet – so it was good to hold breakfast inside. Because of the weather, it was difficult to get the newly named “Legislator of the Year” to the convention center early, so we did the right thing and headed for the halls. Green Car of the Year is the 2014 Honda Accord hybrid which, hopefully, will sell better than its predecessor – which came and went so quietly nobody knew it was even there!
As long, tiring and exciting Wednesday’s auto show had been, Thursday’s was definitely low key and easy by comparison. The best press conference was also the first as Infiniti detailed its Q30 concept hatch in an enticing salmon color. Just build it, I say! The closing press conference came from Volvo, who decided at the last minute to show off its V60 wagon, bringing the hatch (without SUV height) back to the USA.
We did get a nice drive through downtown Los Angeles in BMW’s i3 electric car, which is an easy and intuitive electric car. Very roomy with all of its motive equipment under the chassis or in the hatch area, the i3 is quiet and nice. All the i3 cars were dressed in a copper tone and had nice natural wood-trimmed dash areas. Liked it a lot!
One thing that’s bothersome about a lot of the cars shown is a definitive lack of diesel entries. As usual, everybody wants to talk about electric and/or hydrogen, but diesel is a grand solution for the here and now of ecology and economy without paying the price of having a bland car. Only VW, BMW and Mazda seem interested, with GM taking baby steps into the segment (Cruze diesel).
The rain stopped and we went home, carrying enough thumb drives to wade through for the next few days.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit
The news that Mazda is bringing its SKYACTIV-D diesel technology to the Tudor United Sports Car Challenge (TUSCC) in 2014 is good for the fledgling series.
The 2013 Grand-Am GX-class champions – in a Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D sedan - were first to enter American sports car racing with a diesel-powered production based race car. The learning curve was steep for entrant SpeedSource Engineering, which was unable to complete its first race, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with a three-car squad. There were teething pains, but they were efficiently overcome by Sylvain Tremblay and his South Florida-based crew, which went on to multiple race wins throughout the season.
For next year’s unified 12-race TUSCC series, two Mazda SKYACTIV diesel-powered Lola prototype coupes intend to challenge the gasoline-propelled Daytona Prototype, DeltaWing coupes and other LM P2 entries, with SpeedSource providing the engineering power behind the team.
At the same time, Mazda is also offering potential customers the opportunity to help develop a Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D GT Daytona race car, now that SpeedSource is moving up the racing ladder with the manufacturer.
The folks at Mazda Motorsports have a mantra of “Never Stop Challenging”. As such, Mazda will be the sole OEM racing with a diesel engine in TUSCC competition. The SKYACTIV-D Smart Diesel race engine is production-based and a carry-over (shouldn’t it be a carry on?) from the development work done with the Mazda6 GX-class cars. As such, the engine is 51 percent stock by parts content count and 63 percent stock by its weight. Mazda said it chose this path “as it is the most honest way to demonstrate the performance, quality, durability and reliability of Mazda powerplants,” particularly its diesel offerings.
Still the sole Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall – in 1991 – Mazda makes a return to global competition with this program. “Thanks to our SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 winning nine of 12 Grand-Am GX races and the GX Manufacturers Championship this year, we’re confident our two prototype cars will challenge the best North America has to offer,” declared John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports.
Mazda will conduct its testing in private prior to the Roar before the Rolex 24 in early January. The SpeedSource team will also take its time to announce drivers for the two-car squad.
It will be interesting to see how IMSA, sanctioning body for the TUSCC will contend with the SKYACTIV-D Mazda/Lola P2 diesel entries, as other forms of sports car racing worldwide have yet to devise an equivalency formula for diesel and gasoline powerplants in Prototype competition.
Balance of Performance testing for next year’s competition is currently taking place at Sebring and Daytona, home of the two longest races on the 12-contest TUSCC schedule.
By Anne Proffit
photo courtesy Mazda Motorsports
Will Dario Franchitti become the “Rick Mears” of his generation, retiring with grace and dignity from a top-line Indy car drive?
There are so many similarities in their departures from active participation in this sport just as there are a plethora of qualities these two athletes share: a love of racing, a quiet determination to succeed, an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a gentleness outside a race car that belies a fierceness inside.
I’ve been fortunate to observe and relate about both Rick’s and Dario’s careers over the years. Rick came off the dirt in the mid-1970s just as my own writing career was finding its legs. Obviously he was more successful than I in his endeavors, but to watch this kid from Bakersfield make his way through Formula Super Vee (thanks Doc Sauers) through to the pinnacle of Indy car racing was extraordinary.
Again, observing Dario Franchitti as he came to the USA in 1997 after being part of the Mercedes-Benz young driver program in Europe was an eye-opener. From the start I could see that Dario “had it” and that he could go far in the sport. He spent a single year with M-B in the USA, moving from Carl Hogan’s small team to Honda and Team KOOL Green, where the Scotsman educated himself in the ways of Indy car racing, eventually earning his first IndyCar Series title and Indianapolis 500 with then-Andretti Green Racing. Both moved on.
Both Rick and Dario had incidents along the way that defined the length of their careers. Certainly Rick’s big hit that ruined his feet and nearly ended his racing was a highlight he’d rather forget. Dario’s driving career ended with his most recent Houston accident that had all of us in the peanut gallery thinking of Jeff Krosnoff and Dan Wheldon. Had the angle been any different, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about Dario’s future, I don’t think.
Brain injury is a subject that’s been brought to prominence lately, particularly with regard to football injuries in the NFL and the collegiate ranks. NASCAR is now requiring baseline measurements for drivers in order to recognize the severity of brain injury when (not if) it occurs. The Indy car community has been fortunate to have physicians like Dr Steve Olvey and Dr Terry Trammell, who recognize the symptoms of these types of injury and are able to counsel those surviving them.
And be sure, Franchitti’s removal from the racer’s seat is all about his head injury, even though team owner Chip Ganassi, in a Friday morning teleconference, was loathe to speak in medical terms. While Dario has always exited the USA to return to Scotland for the off-season, the silence (with only a few well-placed tweets) has been deafening.
Franchitti’s retirement from the racing seat leaves a huge void for the IndyCar Series, which has now suffered its third consecutive season-ending strike: first the death of Dan Wheldon in 2011 (and I can still see the tears in Franchitti’s eyes as he was anointed titleholder at Las Vegas), the departure of Danica Patrick for NASCAR last year and now Dario Franchitti’s huge accident and necessary abdication of the driver’s seat.
In both his commentary and that from Chip Ganassi, it’s evident Franchitti, an avowed and avid student of the sport, will want to stay involved – and with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. This could provide him with a perfect opportunity to learn different aspects of the sport and enhance his education in racing. Once he feels up to it, I feel confident that’s what Dario will do.
Like so many, including his wonderful family, I’m extremely proud of what Dario has achieved in this sport. We must always recall what a wonderful and tenacious driver he is, what an awesome champion he continues to be.
But mostly I think I’m most proud to know a genuinely good and kind person who sincerely cares about people – and dogs. It’s never best to be medically forced to leave a career, particularly one where success is expected and failure is not an option. That Dario Franchitti has the strength of will to listen to his physicians and counselors and recognize that his new, fulfilling life begins at 40 clearly shows that, even with a brain injury, he has the courage to accept the things he cannot change.
Like Rick Mears, I’m hoping that Dario Franchitti remains an active member of a sport in which he’s taken active part for a span in excess of 30 years. While this isn’t the way anyone wants to bow out, it is what it is. I’m just grateful for the memories and the new ones we’ll build.
Bravo Dario and thank you.
Words and photo by Anne Proffit
Dario Franchitti has made the difficult choice to step away from his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car, effective immediately.
Following his accident at Houston in early October, Franchitti has been under care of physicians who have stated their medical opinion that “I must stop racing. They have made it very clear that the risk involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long-term well-being,” Franchitti said in a statement from the team. “Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.”
Franchitti, the four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 race winner surely wanted to continue his career and earn a fifth title and a fourth Indy mug on the BorgWarner trophy. But he also wants to live a full life without pain and without threat of more debilitating injury. That’s for sure.
The Scot’s stellar open wheel career therefore ends with 31 victories and 33 earned pole positions, placing him eighth and sixth, respectively, on the all-time list. His four titles place him second to legendary A.J. Foyt; he’s only the third Indy car driver to win three consecutive titles.
It’s been just over a month since Franchitti was injured and it was evident, from his silence, that he’s been hard-pressed to work this through. After racing for more than 30 years, “It’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over. I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.”
Franchitti has been a tenacious driver during his American motorsports career, starting with his short stay at Carl Hogan’s team and then moving on to Team KOOL Green, Andretti Green Racing and of course with Ganassi’s stellar squad.
I’ve known Dario since he came to CART in 1997 and have watched him grow and succeed in everything he’s done (well, except for that short stint in NASCAR). A student of the sport and one who’s appreciative of his opportunities, Franchitti has also had the unfortunate experience of seeing his best friend, Canadian Greg Moore pass away at Fontana in 1999.
After Moore’s death, a little spark left Franchitti. He crashed heavily in early 2000 season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He later crashed his motorcycle in 2003 and had to sit out of a few races. Despite a few flying activities at Michigan and Kentucky, Franchitti was uninjured (or at least that’s what we were told) and he’s continued to thrill us with his actions behind the wheel and his ultimate accessibility outside the race car.
When Dan Wheldon died at Las Vegas in 2011, I saw another spark leave Franchitti’s eyes, yet he continued through and succeeded in 2012, albeit not to his exacting satisfaction. This past season was so atypical for this ultra-competitive and successful racer; Franchitti finished an uncharacteristic 10th in the 2013 standings as teammate Scott Dixon secured his third IndyCar Series title.
“Simply put, Dario is a motorsports legend and will be sorely missed on the race track by everyone in the paddock and in the stands,” noted Chip Ganassi, team owner. “His contributions to the sport are too many to list, but I can tell you that they go way beyond what he has done on the track.” Ganassi confirmed that the next chapter of Franchitti’s career “will be here with Target Chip Ganassi Racing,” or so he hopes and expects.
Franchitti did note that he’d be “working with Chip to see how I can stay involved with the team and with all the amazing friends I’ve made over the years at Target.”
The team stated that Franchitti intends to continue his recuperation at home with family in Scotland. When he’s ready to confirm his upcoming plans in racing, I’m sure Dario will make those known to all of us.
All I can say is thanks to this wonderful racer and gentleman, someone I’ve admired for more than 15 years, for his prowess in competition and for his kind nature outside of the racecar. Thanks, Dario, for all the thrills of watching you school us in the workings of driving an Indy car to its limits (and often beyond).
In completing his statement announcing this retirement from driving Franchitti said, “As my buddy Greg Moore would say, ‘See you up front’.”
Words and photos by Anne Proffit