These days, Ford Motor Co. has two-day grab-a-ride sessions for journalists to test a vehicle for oh, about a half-hour or so for each one. They did one of these festivals recently in the Los Angeles area, bringing their new 2017 Fusion Sport AWD, Fusion Platinum Hybrid, Fusion SE, Titanium and Platinum Energi sedans, four “crew” 4×4 trucks – F250 gas, F250 diesel, F350 and F450 diesel and a quartet of Focus RS hatches.
Because of time constraints and an out-of-town job on the first day, we had only a short amount of time to sample the wares and that allowed for only two drives: the Fusion Sport AWD 2.7L (V6) turbo and the Focus RS. Only one guess as to which one got thumbs up? Yep, the Focus.
It wasn’t that the Fusion Sport wasn’t sporty enough for a big, heavy four-door sedan. Giving us a less-than-favorable impression is steering that seemed vague, the number of “nannies” on the car was a turn-off – like when those big red lights flashed on the windshield as the car thought it was going to crash, even though the driver is attentive to surroundings, that rates a thumbs down. The Ford engineer said that was adaptable, but this photojournalist isn’t a fan. Period. The Fusion Sport driven wasn’t even a production vehicle, so never mind.
After that, getting into the 2017 Ford Focus RS was a real pleasure. Opening the door to a power Recaro seat, slithering into it, finding all the controls and setting up seat, mirrors, audio, navigation and taking one last swig of the water bottle before heading out in this six-speed manual racer for the street felt like coming home.
The Focus RS dressed in Stealth gray with black interior is a truly stealthy car, unnoticeable, even with its lovely rear winglet and diffusers, together with that aggressive front grille emphasizing downforce without lift.
A mid-size vehicle, the 2017 Ford Focus RS has running gear to die for: a directly-injected turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder engine propels the beast to 350 horsepower at 6000 rpm and the same amount of torque at 3200 rpm; redline gnarls at 7000 rpm. Connected to a supremely direct six-speed manual transmission, this Ford just scoots.
Even the EPAS electrically-assisted power steering is precise, something we’re not used to with this type of system. Brembo brakes perform as expected and the strut/control-arm suspension is well-modulated for both street and track usage. On this vehicle Ford fit P235/35 Michelin Cup 2 summer track tires on 19-inch forged alloy wheels. They were close to being track-ready by the time we climbed in – the tires are a $1990 option on the Focus RS.
Okay, pricing: the base price of a 2017 Ford Focus RS is $36,775 including freight. The second option on this car is an RS2 package, which includes power/heated outside mirrors, heated front seats and steering wheel, along with voice-activated navigation, set into the central dash display. It’s quite nice, as is the trip computer that allows us to see all truly pertinent info directly ahead in one window – what a novel concept. MSRP all told is a hefty $41,550.
The provided Sony audio system includes 10 speakers and subwoofer under the hatch’s covered floor. There is no spare tire but Ford includes a repair kit in the nifty below-floor compartment. HD and SiriusXM radio are part of a standard audio offering and speed-adjusted volume control tends to drown out the lovely dual pipes.
Even in the abbreviated drive of the 2017 Ford Focus RS, we’re able to feel the linear power delivery and check out the Sport, Track and Drift driving modes available on this car. Listening to the audible feedback from the exhaust pipes is sensual – far more than the delicious Sony audio.
Handling is superb in any of the chosen modes but trying to break free in this nose-heavy hatch (59.4 percent of weight is over the front wheels), but in Sport mode the ride is definitely hard. Mileage is rated at 19/25/22 mpg; when the ride began, the average was just over 14mpg from other drivers. No comment on whether it increased or decreased by the time we returned.
Yes, it was a quick trip but it definitely was fun. If your budget doesn’t groan under the weight of the entry fee, this is a great car to have and can be used in practical manner. It earns high marks here, and aside from the Subaru WRX STi and the late, lamented Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driven earlier this year the best choice for a sporting hatch. There is not substitute.
Words and Images By Anne Proffit
When he won the 100th Indianapolis 500 on May 29, Verizon IndyCar Series rookie driver Alexander Rossi thanked, among others, Matt Jaskol for getting him to this point.
As Rossi turned 10 years old, his father Pieter enrolled him in a karting class to help advance his son’s newly realized love of motorsport. One of the teachers at his school was Jaskol, who realized this student had real talent. Jaskol took the young Rossi under his wing, coached him for a year in karts before Rossi began his move up the racing ladder, going into single-seaters in the United States (Skip Barber, Formula BMW) and then taking off for Europe in 2009 and further training – that eventually landed the American in Formula 1 as a reserve driver for Marussia Manor.
Sixteen years – and a tumultuously successful INDYCAR season – later, Rossi is returning to his roots with his former teacher, as the duo intend to race together in the most prestigious American kart competition: the SKUSA SuperNationals near Jaskol’s Las Vegas home. Rossi won’t be the first ex-Formula 1 or INDYCAR driver to come to this race as Michael Schumacher, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Will Power and Marco Andretti have also competed in these races.
Jaskol admitted the duo have been planning this get-together competition since Rossi won at Indy, where they met up again at the 500. Jaskol was visiting with his former roommate and best friend, Grant Haughawout, tire engineer and truck driver for Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti. Haughawout insisted Jaskol come to the 100th race after giving Jaskol a home during his time representing Red Bull’s Junior Team in Formula BMW and through Jaskol’s 2008 Indy Lights driving career.
“I hadn’t seen Alexander or [Rossi’s father] Pieter for years and the fact that I just showed up renewed the relationship,” Jaskol recalled of that May day. “I hadn’t seen or spoken to Alex in almost 10 years, although Pieter and I had kept in touch, but it had been a good five years since we spoke. I was standing outside the garage with Grant and I see Pieter. We started catching up, found Alex and had a little reunion.
They started talking about the SKUSA SuperNationals before the 500 took place. “I remarked how cool it would be if Alex and I were to race as teammates. The rest went from there and we’ve planning ever since,” he said.
For the SKUSA race Matt and Alexander will team up with Factory CRG Racing Team in two categories: KZ Pro Class (which used to be known as ICC) and the 125 Moto Honda Pro Class, S1. Each of them will run the two classes as teammates – and most likely get to see who’s got the upper hand these days?
Rossi, who claimed both Rookie of the Year honors at Indianapolis and for the 2016 IndyCar season stated he’s “thrilled to be taking part in this year’s SKUSA SuperNationals racing alongside Matt and the best karters in the world. This is where it all began and for me to give back to the foundation and roots of my profession is something I really look forward to.
“Matt was and is an inspiration to me and a really big part of the reason I took the next step in racing. He’s an incredible go-kart driver and champion, and it’s a huge honor to finally be racing with him. I believe Matt and I have a good program and we will work very hard to be as competitive as possible.”
This writer first met Jaskol in 2000 – two years before he became Rossi’s tutor – at a CART-promoted kart race on a track formerly owned by Bryan Herta, that was a bit south of Las Vegas. Jaskol was racing with Paul Tracy’s kart team at the event and I was writing a story for CART.com. We became friends and still keep in touch. Currently, Jaskol manages Woodcutters, the family business, continues to instruct at Dream Racing, works with Hammer Nutrition and, just last weekend helped Travis Pastrana (and friends) celebrate Pastrana’s birthday with a sky-dive into a RAD (Real Action Daily) park in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Just normal stuff.
By Anne Proffit
It’s less than two hours before the Verizon IndyCar Series holds its season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Taking place on the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway undulating road course, this 85-lap contest will determine which Team Penske driver earns the 2016 title in the team’s 50th anniversary season. Will it be Frenchman Simon Pagenaud or Australian Will Power?
A half-hour warm-up was held just before noon, under sunny, growing hotter-by-the-minute skies. We’re expecting temperatures around start time to peak well into the 90s and stay there throughout. This will cause even further tire degradation than the teams have been talking about since their Friday arrival and could change the status of the race greatly.
This morning, Josef Newgarden was quickest in the half-hour of running; he starts 10th later this afternoon. Pole sitter and points leader Pagenaud was only 18th in practice and his sole challenger for the title, 2014 INDYCAR champion Power (starting fourth) turned only the 21st best lap in practice, of 22 drivers.
While you can’t call the outcome of a race from its warmup session, it’s easy to see who’s working on what aspects of the upcoming 85-lap enduro. Yes, there were plenty of race-ready pit stops performed but with 382 laps turned in half an hour, it’s obvious everyone was focused on how their cars perform in traffic on this low-grip racetrack.
So take a look at the warmup results versus the qualifying standings and starting positions. And please note, everyone but rookie Conor Daly starts on Firestone’s red, alternate tire, which has shown itself to be short-lived. It would appear most team managers are expecting an early caution period by doing that, so they can get their obligatory two laps of green on the alternates completed before the race finds its true groove.
By Anne Proffit
They were teammates a decade ago; they’re teammates now. In Team Penske’s 50th year, either Simon Pagenaud or Will Power will bring The Captain, Roger Penske a new prize: the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. The question is: which one?
Pagenaud, the Frenchman who’s been on a tear in his second season with the team leads his Australian teammate by 43 points, but that’s not nearly enough to wrap the title in the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma this coming Sunday afternoon.
The season finale offers double points for all 22 INDYCAR drivers and teams, so much depends on the second Friday practice. None of Team Penske’s four drivers, Pagenaud, Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya turned lots of laps in the cool morning practice, holding onto their Firestone tires in anticipation of this afternoon’s one hour, 15 minute session instead.
The rationale is easy to understand. “It was cool, so that made the car a lot better,” Power said. “It didn’t make sense to run very much,” after turning only four laps around the 12-turn, 2.385-mile undulating road course. “I think the next session is going to be real telling. I think everyone is going to run a lot because around the time we’re qualifying, the temperatures are going to be the same – and hopefully the wind is. We’ll get more of an idea then.”
As it was the 22 IndyCar drivers turned only 328 during the first practice of the same duration. It started slowly and didn’t get much busier. In fact, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato was the most prolific driver of the first session, with 23 laps under his belt in position 8. Pagenaud’s five laps placed him 10th and Power held the 17th spot. Neither appeared fazed by their morning standings.
“I’m excited to be here, excited to be in this fight, excited that we’re able to, with Will and our teammates, bring another championship for Team Penske in the 50th year anniversary of the team. I think it’s very important to Roger [Penske] and the entire organization,” Pagenaud said. “Now it’s about racing – we’re just saving our tires, waiting for the conditions to be more similar to what’s going to happen over the weekend. We know the temperatures are going to rise.”
There’s nothing awkward about this battle, as these drivers competed as teammates with Walker Racing in the 2006-7 Champ Car World Series. They know each other; know each other’s styles and know each other’s flaws. And now it’s time to see who can handle the pressure of the 11th consecutive season where the Verizon IndyCar Series goes into the last of 16 contests with a new champion to be crowned at the close of the race.
Of course, in the afternoon everything changed with Castroneves, Power and Pagenaud leading the time sheets, but none of them under Power’s 2015 lap record of 1:16.2597 (112.589mph). Castroneves was close but not quite there at 1:16.6678 (111.990mph).
With “everyone else out of the equation, that makes it different,” Power admitted. “It’s a little different from last year. I was definitely further away last year when I had a shot at it, but we have a realistic shot this weekend,” he said. “Everything’s got to fall into place, but yeah, they’re all different,” these INDYCAR titles he’s battled to achieve, gaining the 2014 championship yet finishing oh so close, so many times before then.
In 2014 Power simply went about his season not expecting to win the title. “I’m not going to win a championship, so who cares,” he remembered thinking. “I just went and raced, and I won one. That’s actually how I approached the beginning of that season, then it started coming together. Okay,” he said, “I get it. Racing gods just want to play with you a little.”
And then there was last year, when Target Chip Ganassi Racing took the title in this very race, with Scott Dixon tying Juan Pablo Montoya on points, but emerging with the title due to his greater number of wins. “After what happened last year, just no way we could let that happen again. It was just such a pity, that we allowed Ganassi to get that title. It didn’t need to happen; we were very determined to make sure it didn’t happen this year,” Power said.
Still, Power has to chase his teammate Pagenaud, whose 43-point lead – under normal circumstances – would be nearly insurmountable. Letting his teammate do much of the talking about their upcoming battle this Sunday in the Wine Country, the Frenchman was circumspect. “I’m in a different position to Will. Will needs to win the race to have a legit chance, really. We don’t have a big issue,” he said.
“But I think you just race like you usually do. Everybody is going to race like you usually do. Why change right now? There’s no reason to do that. But you do need to know where you’re running around, that’s for sure. Obviously, there will be aggressive guys out there – like every year. The fact that it’s double points gets everybody pretty excited – sometimes too much. We’re going to have to be heads-up,” Pagenaud stated.
Tomorrow it becomes a bit more tense for this duo, as they prepare for qualifying with a morning practice about the same time as Friday’s, then qualify in mid-afternoon (similar to today’s time, as well). Which “P” guy will emerge on top once it’s all said and done? Qualifying may tell us more about
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit
John Force Racing (JFR)went from having among the oldest tuning crew when 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion John Force earned his 14th title (Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly) to having among the youngest tuners in the business. Since 2015 Jon Shaffer, now 29, has been in charge of Force’s effort to take home a 17th Wally champion’s trophy.
To further strengthen his 2016 chances, John Force announced the addition of Jason McCulloch to share tuning duties with Shaffer for the six-race playoffs that begin this weekend at zMax Dragway outside Charlotte, N.C. McCulloch, son of Ed “Ace” McCulloch, grew up in the Funny Car ranks where his father both drove and tuned, but found his professional expertise suited, before now, on the Top Fuel side. Now he returns to the “family” business, albeit with a different family.
Heading into the ninth annual Carolina Nationals, Shaffer and McCulloch will share tuning duties while Nick Casertano continues crew management and Funny Car operations on John Force’s Peak Chevrolet Camaro team.
“Growing up in California I always felt like my heroes Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen and Ed ‘The Ace’ McCulloch were the boys of Southern California,” John Force recalled. “I used to see Jason sitting on truck tailgates learning from all these legends just like me.
“The McCullochs are Funny Car people just like the Forces. It just seemed like a natural fit to bring Jason over with me and team him up with Jon Schaffer. I have always worked to build the next generation of drivers and crew chiefs. This move is part of that plan and one that I think will make all my teams stronger,” he said.
This year alone, Shaffer led the JFR Peak team to two victories during the very difficult three-race Western Swing. Californian Shaffer worked with Top Fuel’s David Baca, JR Todd and Doug Herbert before returning to JFR, where he’d been a mechanic with Eric Medlen. Connecting with tuner/driver Mike Neff at the close of the 2009 season, Shaffer admits that, while he learned a lot in all of his jobs, “I learned a lot more since I started working with Mike. He has taught me everything from how to tune a race car to how to live a good life.”
Now, paired with McCulloch, 45, raised to understand the business of Funny Car, this trio of Force, Shaffer and McCulloch have impetus to succeed in the tough six-race playoffs, NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
McCulloch, who worked in Top Fuel over the past decade, winning championships along the way is ready for the challenge. “I learned a lot growing up in this sport. One of the best lessons I picked up was to work as hard as you can and do whatever job needs to be done,” McCulloch said as his new position became public knowledge. “This team has a lot of talent and I am ready to do my part to win John Force another Funny Car championship.”
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit
The Verizon IndyCar Series has announced its 2017 schedule and it looks a lot like this year’s, which is a good thing. After all, date equity is something fans everywhere appreciate.
The schedule consists of six ovals, six permanent road courses and five temporary street courses, running from March 12 through September 17, with the Streets of St. Petersburg starting the campaign and Sonoma Raceway again hosting a season finale. This coming year there will be 17 races, with Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis, MO the addition, marking a return to the venue that hosted both CART and INDYCAR from 1997-2003. As Josef Newgarden aptly coined it, “This is 17 for ’17.”
Once again, the Raceway at Belle Isle features the sole doubleheader of the race year, coming one week after Indianapolis. Watkins Glen International, tabbed to replace the ill-fated Boston Grand Prix race on Labor Day returns to the schedule with the same date.
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., parent firm of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, among other holdings has confirmed all events on the current schedule are also set for 2018. There is the possibility of an international non-points-paying event, which could take place in February.
Beginning with the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 12, the INDYCAR series takes a few weeks off before venturing to Long Beach April 9, then heading to Barber Motorsports Park on April 23 and off to Phoenix International Raceway a week later, April 29. Where this year Phoenix was paired with Long Beach on consecutive weekends, Miles said he’s still talking with Bryan Sperber at that track to see if they can revert to that for 2018.
Indianapolis’ pair of races take over the month of May with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis set for May 13 and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 scheduled May 28. June will, once again, be an exceptionally busy month with four events: the Duals in Detroit at Belle Isle are on June 3-4, Texas Motor Speedway’s night race, hopefully not rained out in 2017, is on June 10, and the series takes a week to recuperate before heading to Road America on June 25.
INDYCAR pauses for the Fourth of July, then heads for Iowa Speedway July 9, followed a week later by the annual trip to the Streets of Toronto July 16. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course’s traditional date is a week earlier this coming year, closing out the month of July on the 30th, which gives the Verizon-sponsored series two races in August: Pocono Raceway on August 20 and Gateway just six days later on August 26. Again, it’s hoped that the weather cooperates for both.
The final two races are in September, as stated earlier. Watkins Glen takes place on Labor Day weekend, occurring September 3 and two weeks later, the West Coast beckons with Sonoma Raceway closing out the contests.
“As a series we are working diligently to create long-term relationships with our promoters to establish date equity and to provide them with the opportunity to initiate ticket renewals and event promotions earlier, which is pivotal to continuing the increase in attendance at our events,” said Miles.
He noted the series had a 38% growth in both television ratings and viewership from 2013 through 2015. The same numbers are up this year by a total of seven percent compared to this time last year. Six 2016 events have attracted crowds at or near record highs, Miles explained.
All events on the 2017 schedule have broadcasting rights allocated to Verizon IndyCar Series television partners of long standing, both ABC and NBCSN. The final broadcast schedule, together with start times, is expected to be released later in the year. Miles expects the St. Louis short-oval to run under the lights as Texas always has, but for 2017, Iowa remains a day race, occurring on a Sunday once again.
The hours allocated for each race is “the next level of difficulty – and it doesn’t escape our focus,” Miles stated. “We’re working with our partners to find the right balance for the shows and for our [on-site] fans. We’ll work with our broadcast partners to find the right balance, but it’s better for our fans to minimize overlaps with NASCAR.
“Being on NBCSN, having the second half of the season with same broadcasters for the IndyCar Series and NASCAR maximizes the window. We’re working toward a significant reduction in overlapping telecasts – it’s much, much less than even three years ago – and that helps all the race fans.
“NBCSN is working to minimize key conflicts. Their objective is to be the motorsports platform in this country – much as they’ve done in golf. They have grown as cable provider, grown their audience for motorsports and been helpful in the growth of our audience.”
By Anne Proffit
2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule
When tragedy befalls us, we all hope we’re strong enough to get beyond the pain and move forward.
Such strength is found in Jim Oberhofer (Jim O), the vice president of Kalitta Motorsports. His four-car team holds the current NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car title with Del Worsham, who is mounting another late-season charge toward a repeat championship.
Jim O is the crew chief/tuner on Doug Kalitta’s Top Fuel car and minds the business of J.R. Todd’s dragster, Worsham’s and Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car entries. The team adds a part-time Funny Car effort starting next week at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Heading into the end of NHRA’s “regular season” at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, Kalitta lies second in Top Fuel points, Todd is sixth, while Worsham has third-place points and DeJoria is tenth in the Funny Car rankings. The series re-sets after the U.S. Nationals for a six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
With all that on his plate, Jim O is taking on more.
Last year he published “Top Fuel for Life,” which chronicles his missteps in life – and racing – and the life and death of his beloved wife and partner Tammy, who lost her battle with cancer on June 18, 2013. Now Jim O has established The Tammy O Foundation to further celebrate her life; this charitable fund will donate receipts from the book to organizations dear to her heart: BRAKES, Pandas International, Racers for Christ, DRAW and the Infinite Hero Foundation.
The book is available through the Team Kalitta website, trackside at the Patron merchandise trailer or on http://www.amazon.com.
While he considered starting a 501(c)(3) charitable fund to distribute receipts from the book, Oberhofer “wanted to do this the right way. This (foundation) allows me to be able to donate to things that I know Tammy would have wanted me to donate to.” Their daughter, “Ashley O and I have made a list and we are going to continue to support as many people as we can.”
The new logo for The Tammy O Foundation was designed by Kenny Youngblood, the legendary drag racing artist, and features one of Tammy O’s favorite things, a panda. The logo will run on all four Team Kalitta machines, starting at the U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis. “Tammy was very close to Kenny’s wife, Terri, and thought the world of Kenny’s work. I knew he was the perfect person to design a logo for her foundation.”
Before and during their marriage, Tammy Oberhofer was a beloved member of the NHRA and Team Kalitta families. She worked with Kalitta Motorsports for more than two decades, beginning as the team’s public relations representative and later taking over as office manager for the team.
Jim Oberhofer’s generosity of spirit in designating the receipts of his wonderful book to his late wife’s favorite charities is not unexpected. Writing the book helped him understand the how’s and why’s of his actions before and during his wife’s illness and illustrates both the stress and the love that’s incorporated into every facet of motorsports.
By Anne Proffit