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IMSA’s LMDh regulations come into focus

Now that the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans is complete and the Toyota Gazoo Racing team has notched their third consecutive victory in this year’s late summer twice-around-the-clock classic, the Automobile Cub de l’Ouest (ACO), the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) can now, together with the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) turn their collective energies towards the future of sports car racing.

The Le Mans race marked the end of an era in endurance racing and crowned champions in the FIA’s WEC final standings: Toyota Gazoo Racing earned the LMP1 title, United Autosports clinched its LMP2 team trophy while drivers Albuquerque and Hanson took the drivers’ honors, Aston Martin secured the LMGTE Pro prize. Toyota Gaza’s TS050 Hybrid prototype, after trying 20 times to win Le Mans, took home the Le Mans trophy a third time, which allows the team to keep the trophy as its spoils of victory.

The Le Mans race, customarily held in June close to the Summer Solstice and, therefore, conducted during primarily sunlit conditions, traditionally includes a press conference on the Friday prior, a gathering that can portend future organizational changes and, from time to time, celebrate the past of this classic contest. With the race being held devoid of the hundreds of thousands of fans who customarily surround the French countryside circuit that includes public roads, so, too did the conference take place in virtual manner. Only through technology would participants have knowledge of its contents.

Pierre Fillon, ACO president joined Richard Mille, president of the FIA Endurance Commission, Gerard Neveu, CEO of the FIA WEC and IMSA’s president, John Doonan to discuss new regulations afforded the top class in endurance, HYPERCAR. Prior to this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, this group acknowledged their agreement to make rules that would complement one another’s for the premier HYPERCAR class; those regulations were intended to be unveiled at the June Le Mans race but had to be retained until this past week.

Both the WEC-specific LMH (Le Mans Hybrid) and the LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) IMSA classes will be eligible to participate at Le Mans under the name HYPERCAR. This is intended to begin with the 2022 season. The cars will all have hybrid power mills and, to date, have several manufacturers that have shown category interest to IMSA, which is keeping those nominees close to the vest. 

There are four registered and approved chassis builders for this new racecar: Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and ORECA. While the lower body area will be common to all manufacturers, each LMH and LMDh race car will have upper body styling that allows automotive manufacturers to bring their own styling and identification cues. There is a controlled underfloor.

Highlights of the new LMDh regulations include the car’s rolling chassis estimated cost – less engine – of about $1 million and its combined 500 kw horsepower, including the spec hybrid system from Bosch, Williams Advanced Engineering and Xtrac, the sole gearbox provider. The Bosch motor integrates with the Xtrac gearbox, while Williams’ battery integrates with Bosch’s motor controller. According to IMSA, it’s a compact assembly, installed from underneath the cockpit in a compartment isolated from the driver.

It is projected the hybrid system will perform up to 22,000 kms between rebuilds, using the locked hybrid software. Regeneration is expected to deliver a maximum of 50kw continuous power at the wheels, but this is dependent on the track being used.

Minimum weight will be just over 2,270 pounds, according to IMSA, with a maximum width of two meters, computing out to about 6-1/2 feet. Maximum length is 16.7 feet for the LMDh and there’s a common wheelbase of 10.3 feet for all four chassis. The engine/car manufacturers that have conveyed interest to both the ACO and IMSA, aside from Peugeot’s entry to LMH after several years away from sports car racing, has not yet been revealed.

By Anne Proffit

WEC Hypercar era begins this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. World Endurance Championship. Prologue 25th to 27th April 2021 Spa Francorchamps Circuit, Spa, Belgium

The FIA’s World Endurance Championship kicks off this weekend at Belgian’s Spa-Francorchamps road circuit, one of the most famous racetracks in Europe. The occasion marks the start of the Hypercar category, which replaces the LMP1 class that was, most recently dominated by Toyota, the second Japanese manufacturer to win the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hypercars will compete against LMDh cars from IMSA once the series changes from its current DPi premier category.

On the projected 37-car entry list, there are five Hypercars expected to be at the circuit for the six-hour race. Toyota Gazoo Racing has entered two of its GR010 cars for reigning champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez (in the No. 7) and Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the No. 8. 

Their competition is a single Alpine Elf Matmut Alpine A480-Gibson for Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviera, which is a grandfathered LMP1 car. Two entries from the American Glickenhaus Racing (Glickenhaus 007 LMH) notes only two drivers, one for each car: American Gustavo Menezes and Ryan Briscoe, each the lead driver for the No. 708 and 709, respectively. Romain Dumas, Pipo Derani, Olivier Pla, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux are team drivers but their car assignments haven’t been confirmed. All but the Alpine still have to be licensed by the FIA and its WEC tech department prior to the first practice session.

The WEC held a two-day Prologue test at the track earlier this week in anticipation of the six-hour race and it was then that one issue cropped up: the LMP2 prototypes, which are all powered by a V8 Gibson engine, using either Oreca, Aurus or Ligier chassis, lapped the 7.004 m (4.352 mi), 19-turn circuit quicker than the Toyota Hypercar. During the test session LMP2 cars took first through third places with Toyota’s two entries fourth and fifth. These results show the speed differences compared to the LMP1 predecessors. No doubt the Hypercar will develop well; it’s still quite an infant without a single competitive lap turned.

Toyota, which considered its new hybrid Hypercar a direct descendant of the 1980s and 1990s Group C period, conducted thousands of miles of testing in advance of the Prologue testing, has carefully constructed this new car with a front motor generator unit that delivers 272PS of hybrid power and four-wheel-drive traction at speeds over 120km/h. It’s combined with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, giving its drivers 680PS. In comparison, last year’s TS050 Hybrid weighed 162 kg less and boasted 1,000PS.

The drivers are hoping the team can overcome issues they experienced during the test and have the team start the season as they ended it, in Victory Lane. “It’s been a challenging week, but the mechanics did an exceptional job to get us back on track,” said Mike Conway after having to spend much of the first day waiting for hydraulic and electrical issues to be resolved. “The balance feels okay and we’ve been working on race pace, which means consistency and reliability.”

The six-hour race, which also features the Corvette Racing No. 63 Corvette C8.R driven by Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia in the LM GTE Pro division of five cars, takes the green flags at 1:30PM CET, which computes to 7:30AM Sunday, May 1st.

By Anne Proffit

Politics and Racing

Is it right and proper for racing organizations to publicly endorse candidates for office? While we all see individual racers and teams who lean one direction or the other, it’s not often that we see a trade group visibly asking racers to favor one candidate over another.

This summer, NHRA was faced – during its return to racing after a near five-month hiatus as the novel coronavirus struck the country – with racers who placed large decals on their cars favoring one presidential candidate over another. 

Because of broadcast rules, NHRA could not show those race cars on national television and declared those involved in the sport of NHRA professional drag racing would be able to show their preferences – just not as large as they originally wanted to do.

Most of the racers understood the series’ dilemma in meeting its obligations to the broadcast partner with whom they’d just extended a contract. The decals became smaller and, in many cases, more were added to the cars in question in order to make the point heard. No further discussion was necessary and the season concluded the first of November in Las Vegas.

The United States’ national election was held a few days later and most results have been tabulated and accepted. In one case, elections for both senate seats was too tight to call and a runoff election has been set for early January. 

This week a racing trade organization got involved with that statewide election, asking its members in the state to favor certain candidates over the others because of the candidates’ affection for the sport and acceptance of racing in the state where the candidates are campaigning. 

While we all want our elected officials to enjoy the same love we have for the sport of racing, voting is a private decision and not one that should be influenced by a trade organization. That this particular group is set on influencing votes is very disturbing. A press release asked members of the organization and ancillary voters to cast their ballots strictly on support for motorsports, giving info that could lead to invalidate votes coming from out-of-state. 

We all want support for racing at the local, state and federal level, but it’s imperative that voters make their own educated choices without influence peddling of this type. And that’s exactly what Performance Racing Industry has asked its membership to do: support strictly on the basis of what they believe is best for racing.

Perhaps PRI has forgotten that, once ballots are cast and elections are won or lost, politicians tend to conduct their business by herd. If the balance of the party they’re affiliated with disagrees with the elected’s stances on racing, you can bet your last dollar the two candidates for senate in this particular state will turn away from the sport and advance the party’s stance. 

In this writer’s opinion, it’s not right for a trade organization to be this strident in support of certain candidates for office. No matter how much they profess to love our sport.

By Anne Proffit

Long Beach’s corruption continues unabated

It’s humiliating to think the citizens of Council District 2 still aren’t ready for proper representation and prefer a 9-0 “clowncil” that bows to the whims of Dr. Robert Garcia, our upwardly mobil “mayor.” From the time of, at least, Dan Baker on through to Suja Lowenthal and Jeannine Pearce, it’s plain to see how CD2 became a wasteland of other peoples’ priorities. 

In selecting Cindy Allen, you have decided you prefer: road diets, rampant density, a Garcia supplicant who will back him on every single issue, far less accessible parking, more bike lanes on major thoroughfares, more mentally disabled homeless destroying our district and, even more important, someone who will allow both fire and police (who back her with massive union dollars) to increase their pay without any consideration towards the welfare of the community. Like her, they’re all in to win, not to serve our needs.

Cindy Allen, a longtime Orange County resident who was a republican up to about two years ago, who lied about selling her business – twice – whose stated rationale for running is that she’s a “social butterfly” (her words, not mine), based her campaign on lies about her opponent, Robert Fox. Fox, a 36-year resident, homeowner and small businessman in CD2, has been extremely active in his community. Is that such a horrible idea for a council representative? She called the life-long democrat a republican, said he was a poor landlord and did everything possible to debase him. Sounds “trumpian” to me.

So that’s what you get for the next four years. A clowncil member who can’t vote on certain issues because she has skin in the game – kinda like Pearce – and who won’t even discuss massive legal problems about her former business, preferring to leave a pre-election forum rather than explain her stance on those issues, who won’t even discuss her time as a police officer in this city in the 1990s. Dr Garcia had his clowncil conveniently destroy all police records from that era prior to the election.

So I’m disgusted with my neighbors. You didn’t do your homework and your choice will bring our community even more dismal problems than those we currently face. As to you, Cindy Allen: prove.me.wrong. 

By Anne Proffit

Lexus’ 2020 ES300h is an unexpected pleasure

front side view

There was a time when Lexus’ ES model induced yawns. It was wallowy and boring, and didn’t stand out from the crowd. To many, it was simply a tarted-up Toyota Avalon with, perhaps, better customer service at the point of sale and beyond.

Forward to today’s Lexus ES300h and discover a fun, rewarding four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan that can be driven (rather than simply operated) and enjoyed. An 11-day trip to the midwest to attend NHRA’s return to racing back-to-back races outside Indianapolis, afforded the opportunity to live with and enjoy this mid-size hybrid sedan, which celebrated a redesign last year.

rear side view

The 2020 Lexus ES300h sedan in Matador Red exudes elegance. It’s inviting from the first ignition and rewarding over the road. Its looks aren’t generic, but do have a Lexus familiarity to them, from the exaggerated waterfall grille at the front to the upswept rear trunk area with its winglet. Chrome accents abound at the grille, window surrounds, at the trunk opening and lower rear fascia. It’s all very cohesive and, yes, elegant.

side view

Lexus’ ES hybrid has been around for ten years now and has evolved to be an excellent machine, as have all Lexus and Toyota hybrid vehicles. Under the hood, Lexus matches an Atkinson cycle 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine of 215 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque together with a battery pack that lives below the rear seats, keeping the trunk usably large.

engine

Lexus employs an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) that adds to this sedan’s efficiency but doesn’t hunt and peck for gears as many of its ilk do. For those that intend to use the sport setting, rather than eco or normal modes, Lexus fits paddle shifters that encourage spirited driving. Front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspensions keep the ES300h planted to the road, while [optional] P235/45R Bridgestone Turanza tires adorn 18-inch twinned five-spoke alloy wheels.

Brakes are excellent and handily recharge the battery pack, while electronically controlled power steering has only a slight vagueness on-center. When the car is placed in sport mode, everything tightens up and feels more sporting; you’d almost think this was an F-sport, not a hybrid as it dances through the wooded area roads where we spent our Indianapolis-area visit.

front view

This sedan is extremely comfortable, with dual power seats up front and plenty of space for those in the rear. The driver’s seat has a seat-bottom extension for the taller folk. There’s even sunshades for both the active and the porthole back-seat windows, as well as the rear-facing window, which is power operated. These shades are awfully nice when the summer temps in Indiana creep towards triple digits. Rear passengers have their own air flow and USB/auxiliary outlets.

rear air flow & outlets

Lexus equips this 3,704-pound vehicle so nicely, with standard items such as 10 airbags, Bi-LED headlamps, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Lexus Enform WiFi that’s compatible with smartphones and smart watches, Sirius XM satellite radio, electrochromic heated folding outside mirrors, dual-zone climate control, three memories for the driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, wood trim and ambient lighting. There’s a small, usable sunroof as standard equipment and all seating is leather-faced.

office

Of course there are a pile of options on the 2020 Lexus ES300h that increase its entry fee of $46,685 including destination to a grand total of $55,550.. Some of these items, in this writer’s opinion, should be included but not my call. Lexus charges $1,900 for blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection and panoramic view monitor. The wireless charging pad ($75) sits inside the central storage area, while the 18-inch wheels carry a $950 charge.

On this car, Lexus fits a 10.2-inch head-up display ($500) and triple-beam headlights for $1,515. The big option is Lexus’ Navigation/Mark Levinson audio package ($2,900) which includes the nav system with a 12.3-inch color multimedia display, replacing the standard 8-in unit, Lexus Enform dynamic navigation, dynamic voice command, Lexus Enform destination assist and the luscious Mark Levinson PurePlay 17-speaker, 1,800-watt premium surround sound audio system. There’s also a heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel with windshield wiper de-icer and fast response interior heater ($480), door edge guards for $145 and illuminated door sills for $400.

We flew into Chicago and drove this 2020 Lexus ES300h to the Indianapolis area. It is exceptional over the road and gets an easy 44mpg at outrageous speeds (don’t ask; don’t tell) from the 13.2-gallon tank, using regular unleaded fuel. A massive shopping trip en route to our friends’ home didn’t even start to occupy the trunk’s 16.7 cubic feet. This foot-operated trunk is massive, has a first-aid kit and a pass-through to the cabin. A small spare is fit below the trunk floor with tools.

rear seats

The head-up display is excellent, showing the speed limit, actual speed, economy report and lane departure; the display can be raised and lowered as needed. It was easy to sync with the phone on this ES300h, which isn’t always the case with this manufacturer. The large, split screen notes freeway exits on main roads and a little box on the gauge cluster shows the speed limit – it’s rimmed in red when even one mile per hour over the limit.

Lexus’ infotainment system has received some upgrades and is becoming even easier to use. The navigation system is excellent and has little difficulty finding some of the back, back roads used on this trip. The wireless charger is efficiently placed in the small central storage area with its clamshell opening on both sides for easy access. There are USB/aux/12-volt plugs inside, as well as inside the front cup holder that can also be closed.

It was surprising to drive this big, heavy car and find it as agile as it is, particularly in sport mode. Staying away from interstates and using back roads was enticing and with the excellent mileage it was quite rewarding. While the four-cylinder engine doesn’t scream with power, it’s capable enough to get around farm trucks and folks who just like to mosey down the road.

So thanks, Lexus, for restoring my faith in your ES model and giving me a great machine for this midwestern visit. Putting more than 1,000 miles on the Es300h was, unexpectedly, a great pleasure.

Words and photos by Anne Proffit

INDYCAR adjusts schedule, adds doubleheaders

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As expected the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has updated its schedule – again – joining many other sports leagues in catering to its long-held constituency.

By shortening the entire schedule to 14 races and by making next weekend’s Honda Indy 200 a doubleheader, INDYCAR will stay close to its midwestern roots by holding all but one of its remaining eight races in either Ohio, Indiana or Illinois. The sole outlier in the season finale, held where recent NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedules normally begin: at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Following the brace of races in Lexington, OH the INDYCAR contingent returns home to Indianapolis for the 104th Indianapolis 500, with qualifying on August 15-16 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s historic oval and the postponed Greatest Spectacle in Racing, held the following Sunday. Then it’s a short jaunt to St Louis, where World Wide Technology Raceway’s 1.25-mile oval hosts the open-wheel set for a pair of Bommarito Automotive Group races on August 29-30.

Two additional races will be held on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, with the doubleheader INDYCAR Harvest GP contests scheduled for October 2-3. INDYCAR’s trip to Florida is set to close out the season on October 25, smack in the middle of hurricane season. Spring weather in St Petersburg has customarily yielded at least one day of precipitation; it’s the series’ hope that INDYCAR can hold the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg as scheduled.

“Our race fans have loved the exciting doubleheader action of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year at Road America and Iowa Speedway,” said Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp. “We look forward to giving them even more world-class entertainment this season at three of the most exciting racetracks on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic that causes COVID-19 has caused INDYCAR’s visits to two iconic road courses, Portland International Raceway and the planned doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway laguna Seca to be cancelled. This three-race cancellation is a mutual decision between the series and track promoters. There has been monitoring of local situations and INDYCAR looks forward to returning to both venues next year.

By Anne Proffit

INDYCAR, NASCAR doubleheader at Indy

This weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) marks the first time in the history of the historic track that NASCAR and INDYCAR will share the bill. They’ll do it alone, though, without fans and with minimal media coverage – again.

The NTT IndyCar Series will conduct their GMR Grand Prix, the second race in a protracted season just after noon Saturday, July 4th, on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile clockwise road course. The road-course race was initially scheduled for the first weekend of May, another tradition lost to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Little more than an hour after the Indy cars have completed their 80-lap contest, the open-wheel set cedes the circuit to NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, using the same road-course track for their triple-stage Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard. The Xfinity road race is a first for NASCAR’s second-tier stock car series and this race marks the first time since the series returned to action that practice will be permitted, a wise move considering NASCAR’s lack of experience on the IMS road course.

On Sunday afternoon, NASCAR’s Cup Series takes over on the historic 2.5-mile counter-clockwise oval for the 27th time, contesting a 160-lap, three-stage Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 powered by Big Machine Records. This 400-mile race marks the first time NASCAR’s Cup Series has raced at Indy on the July 4th weekend.

For the NTT IndyCar Series, the GMR Grand Prix is only the second race for the series this year; the first occurred nearly a month ago at Texas Motor Speedway. The GMR Grand Prix begins a summer rush and features some returning and new faces, both in terms of drivers and teams.

The team to beat, of course, is Team Penske, whose drivers Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are the only two that have won on this IMS road course. Pagenaud secured the first Indy Grand Prix victory while driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2014; he swept the month of May last year with Team Penske, earning both poles and wins in the Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500.

There are 26 cars entered in this race, which marks the return of Dreyer & Reinbold (Sage Karam in the No. 24 Chevy) and Spencer Pigot, racing for the new Citrone Buhl Autosport Honda team that’s aligned its efforts with Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing. Familiar faces and new ones abound on this entry list, one that includes rookie Dalton Kellett in the venerable No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy, Conor Daly’s first drive for Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 20 Chevy), James Hinchcliffe in the Genesys Andretti Autosport Honda and Max Chilton taking the reins of the No. 59 Carlin Chevy.

In NASCAR, everyone will be chasing two drivers who have stood apart from the pack since the series resumed its on-track action a month and a half ago. That would be Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, a Toyota and Ford driver, respectively. Both racers won at Pocono last weekend during the doubleheader plagued by rain delays; Harvick is looking to notch back-to-back victories on the Brickyard oval, while Hamlin leads the series with four victories in 15 races.

The Brickyard race marks seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s final opportunity to tie former teammate Jeff Gordon with five wins at Indy. Johnson, who’s had miserable luck this protracted season, is scheduled to test a Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car on the Wednesday after this race, in anticipation of perhaps contesting the Indianapolis 500 after his NASCAR career is complete.

As is customary, the weather will play a big part in the happenings at Indianapolis this weekend. There is a 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms on Saturday and, unless they’re severe, the Xfinity drivers may have the opportunity to race in the rain, an anomaly for NASCAR. Otherwise we can expect hot, muggy conditions. Sure sounds typical for Indy in the summer.

By Anne Proffit

Cory Mac is coming back!

Cory Mac's DSR dragster

Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) is pulling out all the stops for next month’s NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series return to action at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis. After announcing on Monday that eight-time DSR Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher would be racing a dragster for the two Indy races, scheduled July 11-12 and July 18-19, this mega-team upped the ante with the return of Top Fuel veteran Cory McClenathan.

Cory Mac, who announced his retirement last fall and entered the three final races of NHRA’s 2019 season, is still hankering to secure his 35th national Top Fuel Wally winner’s trophy. “I had made the decision to hang up my driving shoes last year,” McClenathan said, “but I ran the past three events of the 2019 season, and things didn’t go as I had hoped. I was left feeling like I had some unfinished business.

Cory Mac at Pomona2 2019

“I’ve known Don Schumacher and the Schumacher family for years and have remained close with them,” he explained. McClenathan, who has run a limited, part-time schedule in Top Fuel since his last full-time employment with DSR ended in 2010, hoped to increase his win total past the five he secured with the team during his 2008-2010 tenure. “Don knew that I really wanted to go out with a bang last year, and that didn’t happen, so when all of this talk of re-starting the 2020 season with two consecutive Indy races came about, he told me that if I could come up with the necessary funding, I could run those two events in a DSR Top Fuel dragster.”

With the ability to run a competitive car at Indy, McClenathan was able to contact some of his longtime partners and they were able to put a deal together, allowing all-time ninth-placed dragster winner to return to the track next month, first with a Nordic Boats/Revchem Composites dragster, while his rail will carry the colors of Nordic Boats/Hawkeye Industries for the second weekend of racing. Longtime Cory Mac fans should recognize the overall look of the first weekend’s car as it closely resembles his family’s famous ‘Mac Attack’ dragster from the 1990s.

“Nordic Boats has been a big supporter of mine since 2006,” McClenathan allowed. Owners Sandy and Randy Davis are big fans of the sport and “have been with me since back in my DSR days. Revchem is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year so I’m excited to be able to showcase their brand and celebrate that milestone with them.”

Looking to tie the achievement of earning 35 race wins with the legendary Don Garlits, McClenathan is “just so excited to get back out there, see the fans and hopefully add another Wally trophy to my collection. Yes, I’m here to have fun, but I’m also here to win.”

Todd Okuhara Pomona2 2019

Cory McClenathan will be at the wheel of Leah Pruett’s back-up car and is reuniting with his former crew chief, Todd Okuhara, who will assume double duties tuning both the Corona, Calif. resident’s dragster in addition to working with Pruett. McClenathan has kept his skills sharpened with frequent NHRA one-off appearances and by racing an off-road Pro-Lite truck. He’s returning to a track where he’s earned two NHRA U.S. Nationals trophies in 1996 and 1999, together with two runners-up appearances.

As will Tony Schumacher, Cory McClenathan intends to make two test runs at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday, July 10 prior to qualifying for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals the following day. Eliminations are scheduled to start at 9am on Sunday July 12.

Words and photos by Anne Proffit

Chris Pook tells his story

Pook book cover

Demonstrably, the second most important race in the NTT IndyCar Series is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the most successful street race for major open wheel motorsports in the contiguous United States.

Born of the dream of one Christopher Robin Pook, a British expatriate who had settled in what was then known as “Iowa by the Sea”, the Long Beach, Calif. race, first a Formula 5000 event in September of 1975 and then a Formula One race exactly six months later has run without interruption through to 2019. The scheduled 2020 race was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Pook, together with author Gordon Kirby tell the story of why, how and when the race began, the variety of issues that plagued its earliest runnings and how this mega event went from an F1 race in 1983 to become Championship Auto Racing Teams’ (CART) most successful contest outside the Indianapolis 500. As part of the current NTT IndyCar Series, Long Beach retains that status.

Pook’s story – and this is Pook’s story – tells of his upbringing and his enthrallment with the sport. It tells how and why he came to the United States, settled in Long Beach and became a successful travel agent in the early to mid-1970s. Pook’s alignment with the iconic Dan Gurney and with a group of Long Beach influencers helped get the race off the ground. Pook would, until his death, rely on Dan Gurney’s vast racing knowledge and intuition in much of what he’s done both in and outside of Long Beach.

And there’s much to tell outside of Long Beach, as Pook was the instigator behind the revival of racing outside St. Louis, MO and in Memphis, TN. He’s attempted more than one other street race and has assisted many other promoters in their quest to have their own Long Beach extravaganza. Pook tells of his forays outside the local racing scene and how he ended up shepherding CART in its waning years.

Pook also attempted to renew F1 racing in Long Beach but was unable to get the city to work with him in that recent attempt. You could say he’s retired now, but if a program became available that Christopher Robin Pook thought he could bring to fruition, there’s still a glint in his eye and, of course, a swagger in his step.

Fans of the Long Beach race can learn what it took to bring racing to streets adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and how it became such a success – one that remains to this day, pandemics notwithstanding.

There are lapses in these 319 pages, of course. Every book has them. Kirby’s reluctance to speak with some of the major players responsible for the success of the Long Beach race is mystifying, but the title of the book explains: “Chris Pook & The History of the Long Beach GP.” So it’s about Pook, and only touches on a few of the people who helped make 45 years of racing at The Beach so successful.

The photos that accompany nearly every page of this hardcover book are, for the most part exemplary, especially those by Jutta Fausel, who was able to document nearly every  running at Long Beach and whose exquisite work is acknowledged among the pinnacles of racing photography. There are also photos from the late Dennis Torres, from Paul Webb, Steve Swope and from LAT, now part of the Motorsport.com family.

“Chris Pook & The History of the Long Beach GP” is available from Racemaker Press. Entry fee is $80, about the same cost as a front-straight seat on a sunny Sunday for next year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race.

By Anne Proffit

NTT IndyCar Series makes noise on Saturday

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The NTT IndyCar Series gets back in action – for real – this weekend with a single-day trip to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. This marks the series’ 24th annual visit to the 1.5-mile oval west of Dallas and north of Ft Worth, but it’ll be a very different affair this year.

Only regular series participants will be on-site, together with officials and hand-picked media. There will be no fans in the stands at the Eddie Gossage-managed circuit, a situation that has to pain the showman who regularly finds new ways to entertain fans at the track. This Saturday, June 6th, there will be a single day of practice, qualifying and racing, which is not a new experience for the series but likely is for most everyone on the grounds.

Saturday night’s Genesys 300 marks the first time all teams will be using the new Red Bull Aero Technologies aeroscreen in a race; it has been tested extensively by single and, occasionally more than one driver on a track at a single moment, such as the pre-season February test at Circuit of the Americas. Still, nobody’s raced with the thing and this first test, on a banked oval should show if the aeroscreen is a viable piece of equipment.

INDYCAR is assembling a total of 24 racers for this season debut, and some of them have never raced on this oval and, in at least one case, any oval. Alex Palou, the Spaniard making his first start under the Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh banner, is new to the series and to left-turn racing. As a total pro, it’s doubtful he’ll have issues, now that he’s been able to make his way to the USA from his Barcelona home. This is the first time for Rinus Veekay, the Indy Lights graduate racing with Ed Carpenter Racing for the full season, who hasn’t been to Texas; neither has Jack Harvey, starting his and Michael Shank Racing’s first full season of competition and third together.

There was one scratch from the entry list earlier this week. Carlin will race with a single, No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet entry for Conor Daly, doing the oval honors in place of street course specialist Max Chilton. Felipe Nasr, who’s had an extraordinary IMSA career of late will not be driving the No. 31 as intended. It’s unsure whether the decision was made for monetary or travel rationales.

It’s difficult to think about winners and losers for this race because, if it runs cleanly every single one of the 24 racers will be a winner. If it’s a crash fest, everyone will be a loser. It’s imperative for this group to race well, race strong, race ethically at a time when ethics appear to be lacking everywhere beyond the racetrack.

Obviously, Team Penske will be strong as they have been over the past few years, leading the 10 Chevrolet racers with reigning champ Josef Newgarden, Month of May monster Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, a winner at this track. And the enlarged Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport-affiliated camps (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach, Alexander Rossi, together with Jack Harvey and Colton Hereto) will be ready to take them on as part of the 14-car Honda challengers, joined by the potent Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.

The number of racers is growing in this protracted season but the number of teams is decreasing. There are now distinct power houses in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock: Penske, Andretti, Ganassi are the sharp end of the pyramid; two-car entries from A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Arrow McLaren SP, Dale Coyne Racing (with separate co-entrants for the No. 18 and No. 55 Hondas) and two-car Ed Carpenter Racing, which features the series’ sole driver/owner in Ed Carpenter, an oval specialist who came up through the USAC ranks.

This Saturday’s Genesys Technology 300 will be the first season-starter on an oval since 2008’s opener on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. INDYCAR’s president, Jay Frye, has promised this race will honor the COVID-19 physical distancing strictures currently in place, has set up a Honda garage separate from the Chevy garage, and expanded pit boxes so that crews can work comfortably on the long Texas Motor Speedway pit road.

The break between the first and second races of this season, Texas and the July 4th Indy road course, allow Frye, the teams and all parties to take stock and decide if other changes are warranted. The only change we’d like to see is the wail of fans to accompany that of the engines.

By Anne Proffit