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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

Rules for sportscar prototype getting closer

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During late January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, opening race for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, that sanctioning body, together with the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO, sanction for the 24 Hours of Le Mans) announced the formation of a single class to govern WEC and IMSA prototype competition.

bottom Pierre Fillon, Jim France; top Gerard Neveu, John Doonan, Ed Bennett

The LMDh category, standing for Le Mans Daytona hybrid, is just beginning to come together, with regard to its rules, as there needed to be distinct rules and technical regulations formulated to interest automotive manufacturers and chassis constructors. This week, on May 6, a draft of initial technical regulations was released by all three governing entities, recognizing that this is a starting point for the class and understanding that, with current and exceptional conditions around the globe, steps need to be taken carefully.

The three entities revealed more than a dozen vehicle manufacturers and the four nominated chassis constructors – Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and Oreca – are collaborating in this formation of regulations. The unveiling of new regulations was intended to occur during SuperSebring, a gathering of both WEC and IMSA competitors at Sebring International Raceway. Due to the novel coronavirus, that extraordinary race meeting never occurred.

Meeting through the use of remote group software that allowed the interested parties to work together, the LMDh platform has evolved to the point where all three sanctioning groups have decided the prototype will be a common car created by ACO and IMSA, with the capability to race in both WEC and IMSA. LMDh is a cost-capped prototype that has the common spine as the next  generation of LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2), no matter the constructor or engine manufacturer, which means it’s a complete car without bodywork, engine and hybrid system.

The LMDh prototypes, at this time scheduled for introduction in both WEC and IMSA’s 2022 racing seasons, will only be homologated by a mainstream automotive manufacturer who is associated with one of the four chassis builders. Cars will feature manufacturer-branded and stylized bodywork, a manufacturer-branded engine, a common, single-source rear-wheel-drive hybrid system and a minimum homologation period of five years, which will allow proper development and to add to cost containment.

The joint regulations governing the new LMDh prototype category allow a minimum car weight of 1030 kg (2270.76 pounds), with peak combined power of 500kW from both an internal combustion engine and the common hybrid system. There will be a single bodywork package with identical aerodynamic performance, a single tire provider and global balance of performance (BOP) to, as the ACO and IMSA put it, “harmonize the overall performance of the LMDh and LMH (Le Mans Hyper) cars.”

It’s expected that the top category of WEC competition, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans as its cornerstone event, will integrate the LMDh and LMH race cars to lead to similar performance parameters. IMSA will welcome WEC-based LMDh cars while being open to LMH participation from mainstream automotive manufacturers. This would result from performance at IMSA circuits being validated for acceptance by ACO and WEC.

While the timeline states a start date in 2022 for LMDh racecars, the ACO, WEC and IMSA are keeping their eyes on the current medical crisis exacerbated by the novel coronavirus, which has created the COVID-19 pandemic. A delay in introduction could become necessary. Even so, final regulations are anticipated to be release prior to, or during the September 2020 postponed running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

Ford announces Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 for straight-line racing

Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400

More than a year after Chevrolet debuted its all-electric prototype eCOPO Camaro at the season-starting NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, where that 800-horsepower machine met its objective of running under 10 seconds in the quarter-mile, Ford has unveiled its all-electric Mustang Cobra Jet 1400.

The Ford machine, projected to hit the quarter-mile in the low eight-second range at more than 170mph, is the perfect accompaniment to Ford’s Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV road car that debuted last fall, and which drew hordes of admirers at last November’s Los Angeles auto show, achieving maximum reservations once the ability to purchase was unveiled.

Ford Performance’s battery-powered Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototype is expected to deliver 1,400 horsepower and more than 1,100 lb-ft of on-demand torque. It’s being produced to demonstrate the capabilities of all-electric powertrains in drag racing, acknowledged as one of the most demanding motorsports environments.

Ford’s global director of Ford Icons, Dave Pericak, who is involved in the company’s motorsports activities, said the company elected to promote this vehicle in order to show off Ford’s motorsports trends. “Electric powertrains give us a completely new kind of performance and the all-electric Cobra Jet 1400 is one example of pushing new technology to the absolute limit. We’re excited to showcase what’s possible in an exciting year, when we also have the all-electric Mustang Mach-E joining the Mustang family.”

The project was enhanced by assists from several specialty suppliers including MLe Racecars, which designed and built the Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 and tuned it for the quarter-mile. Watson Engineering built the roll cage and provided chassis support and development, while AEM EV’s software and motor calibration and controls were integrated with Cascadia’s motor and inverter.

According to Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, “We saw the Cobra Jet 1400 project as an opportunity to start developing electric powertrains in a race car package that we already had a lot of experience with, so we had performance benchmarks we wanted to match and beat right now.” He indicated this is the first step in Ford’s electric vehicle racing program.

Ford will test this new drag racing machine before its debut later this year at a drag racing event where fans, competitors and media will get a chance to meet the car and see its capabilities on an asphalt quarter-mile race track.

A sneak peak at the new Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 is available this Sunday, April 26, on MotorTrend on Demand’s “Hard Cell,” a program that showcases electric vehicles pushing innovation boundaries.

eCOPO at speed on 2nd pass

Who knows, maybe Chevy’s eCOPO Camaro will have been tuned to produce a similar amount of horsepower as the new Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 by the time racing resumes and the latter vehicle is introduced on a racing weekend? Would there be anything more exciting than seeing a side-by-side competition between these two?

By Anne Proffit

Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.

eCOPO Camaro photo by Anne Proffit

Bob Lazier succumbs to COVID-19

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Bob Lazier is the latest member of the motorsports community to be felled by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Lazier, father of 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy and fellow INDYCAR competitor Jaques, passed in a Denver hospital this weekend after a fervent battle against the pandemic. He was, until this virus felled him, a vibrant 81 years old.

Lazier, who had an enviable career in smaller formula cars, excelling in Formula Vee and SuperVee in the 1970s, did race some Formula 5000 before coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1981, where he earned Rookie of the Year honors, starting 13th and finishing 19th. Lazier earned the same rookie award in CART that year. He was a “one-and-done” racer at Indy, as then 14-year-old Buddy begged his father not to race in 1982 after Gordon Smiley’s horrific and deadly accident.

Known as “Easy Money” during his SCCA years for an ability to rack up the wins, Bob Lazier hung up his helmet after not racing the 1982 Indy 500, but never lost his love for the sport. When both Buddy and Jaques showed interest, their cheering section and closest advisor was their dad, who could be seen at INDYCAR races through the 2019 season, whether his kids were racing or not.

Buddy Lazier, of course won the Indianapolis 500 in 1996, the first year of Indy Racing League competition at the Brickyard. He raced with a broken back (from a Phoenix accident) and showed the world what true grit and determination looks like.

In 2013, Bob Lazier started Lazier Racing Partners to aid Buddy’s career in the latter stages of his older son’s competitive days, but with little funding and always-late entries, they never managed to finish higher than 25th and ceased to enter after 2017.

Bob Lazier built and owned Tivoli Lodge in Vail, Colorado. He was one of the first to set up stakes in the mountainous area of Vail, coming to the town in 1960 and using European ideas to construct his first hotel, which he extensively remodeled in the past decade. He considered himself a “guardian of the mountain” and made sure everyone who stayed at or visited Tivoli Lodge felt like a member of the Lazier family.

Bob Lazier, a man beloved for his kindness to everyone he ever met, is survived by his wife, Diane, Buddy and Jaques, daughter Wendy and several grandchildren, including grandson Finn, who looks to be the next Lazier to pull on a helmet at Indy.

Words and Photo By Anne Proffit

 

(I’ve known Bob Lazier since his Vee and Super Vee days; his kindness and generosity, that winning smile will help him live on in my memories)

Papadakis Racing builds new Supra for 2020 Formula Drift; Adds Ryan Tuerck in Toyota Corolla

Aasbo LB 2019

The last time Stephan Papadakis built a new race car for Formula Drift racing, the Rockstar black-and-yellow Toyota Corolla hatchback won the first time out of the box with 2015 champion Fredric Aasbo at the wheel. It wasn’t as easy as it looked, though, as the new vehicle warranted a preventative engine change after Friday practice at Long Beach that race weekend in 2018.

Winning with a new race car is nothing new for Steph Papadakis, who secured his reputation as an innovator in sport compact drag racing back in the 1990s, building the first front-wheel-drive, tube-chassis drag car then in the U.S. Since that time, his teams have earned multiple records and championships, recording elapsed times and trap speeds previously thought unattainable with a FWD drag machine.

Papadakis moved his Los Angeles area-based team to Formula Drift in 2004, building winning cars like the incredible V-8 Scion tC and the Toyota Corolla hatchback referenced above, which he converged to rear-wheel-drive and installed a 1,000-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Papadakis and Aasbo have teamed over the past half-decade to bring success to both Scion and Toyota race cars in Formula Drift competition.

When Formula Drift eventually begins its season, which was to start this coming weekend at Long Beach, Papadakis Racing and Aasbo will have a brand new 1,000-horsepower  V-6 turbocharged   2020 Toyota GR Supra ready to take on the competition. They finished second to James Deane, champion for the second year in a row with the Corolla hatch and were looking for a way to overcome the lanky Briton’s consistency, style and speed.

With 13 career victories, Swede Aasbo has more Formula Drift wins than any other racer in the series. He began his Formula Drift career, earning rookie of the year honors in 2010 with a Mark IV Toyota Supra, coming full circle this season as he takes the helm of the Toyota GR Supra.

Supra and Corolla

Papadakis Racing took delivery of the showroom-ready 2020 Toyota GR Supra just a few weeks after the new model appeared in showrooms last summer; when the basic black chassis arrived at the team’s Southern California base, it had about 500 miles on the odometer. They began working on the chassis in January, planning to place the B58 engine in time for the season opener.

Formula Drift dictates showroom vehicles, rather than purpose-built race cars. They’re adapted to perform in the competitive environment, most featuring engines of more than 1,000 horsepower and are chassis-engineered to deliver 65 degrees or more of front steering angle. The GR Supra is rear-wheel-drive, so did not need to be altered in that regard; from the factory it has an inline six-cylinder 3.o-liter engine rated at 335 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque.

Steph Papadakis at work

The B58 is a 6-cylinder turbocharged, nitrous-fed engine using the factory crankshaft and block. Steph Papadakis modified the engine to accept valve train from Supertech Performance, had the cylinder modified by Portflow Design, used forged steel Carrillo connecting rods and JE Custom 11.0:1 compression pistons,  AEM Electronic’s Infinity 708 fuel injection and BorgWarner’s EFR 9280 turbocharger. Injectors are six 2000cc units from Injector Dynamics. A Gforce GSR 4-speed dog box transmission is fed through a four-disc Tiltyon 7-1/4-in clutch, while a carbon fiber Driveshaft Shop driveshaft completes the mechanicals.

Once again, Aasbo and Papadakis have wrapped the car in the bright black-and-yellow of Rockstar energy drink.

Ryan Tuerck LB 2019

For the pending 2020 season, Aasbo has a new teammate, Ryan Tuerck, a veteran in Formula Drift who drove a Toyota 86 last year. Tuerck takes over the Toyota Corolla Hatchback with support from Gumout and Nitto Tire; this is Papadakis Racing’s first season using Nitto rubber.. Tuerck brings 14 career podiums to Papadakis Racing and his multitude of social media followers. “It’s been really hard to keep this under wraps for so long,” Tuerck said of his new partnership with Papadakis Racing.

Tuerck 2020 Corolla

Tuerck had the opportunity to check out the Toyota Corolla Hatchback race car after using a detuned version in demonstration runs for Papadakis Racing last year. He retired his Toyota 86 earlier in the new year, prompting speculation among his followers. Of the Corolla Hatchback Tuerck said, “It’s a blast and I couldn’t be more excited about the competition potential of the platform.”

Aasbo is keen to begin a partnership with the the New Hampshire resident, “It’s going to be great having Ryan working with us this year. You never want to meet your teammate in tandem, but we’ve had some great battles over the years and it’s going to be a heck of a match-up when it happens.”

To understand the complexities of Papadakis Racing’s 2020 Toyota Supra GR Formula Drift build, wiring and dyne test, watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPYBTWaKYxw&feature=youtu.be

Words By Anne Proffit

Action photos by Anne Proffit; static photos courtesy Papadakis Racing