Tag Archives: Indycar

RIP Dan Gurney, 1931 – 2018

The great American race car driver and constructor Dan Gurney passed away at the age of 86 on January 14th.

A very good Autoweek obituary is here and a fine list of Gurney’s remarkable technical accomplishments has been published by Jalopnik.

A titan of motorsports and a tireless innovator for more over 60 years, Gurney survived the most dangerous era of Formula 1 in the 1950s and 60s and not only lived to tell the tale but thrived. Gurney participated in 86 Formula 1 Grand Prix and took victory four times, most significantly at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1967, where he drove a car of his own design and construction, the beautiful Eagle Weslake, to become the first and still only American to win as both constructor and driver in F1. If that wasn’t enough in that banner year for Gurney and the USA, he had only a week earlier triumphed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver A.J. Foyt in a Ford GT, again becoming the first all-American team to achieve that illustrious feat at the most famous 24-hour race in the world. It was on the Le Mans podium that a delighted Gurney first sprayed champagne on his teammates and the crowd after victory, something that instantly became a permanent tradition across all forms of motorsport.

Of course the podium celebration was not the brilliant Gurney’s only lasting contribution to racing. Blessed with not only movie star good looks but also an engineer’s keen mind, Gurney devised several technical improvements for racers and their cars that are still used today. Unusually tall for a driver at 6′ 4,” the big American became one of the first high level competitors on four wheels to adopt a full helmet and perspex face shield similar to that of those worn by dirt bike racers back in his Southern California home. He debuted the protective helmet designed by Bell at Indianapolis in 1968 and soon thereafter it became standard equipment for all drivers. In 1971 he came up with the now de rigueur Gurney Flap, a small right angle lip at the edge of the rear wing to increase rear downforce by creating vortices that enhance the airflow coming off the wing. In the early 1990s Gurney’s All American Racers team came up with a radical design for their IMSA Prototype entry that featured not only a small 2.1 liter 4-cylinder turbo engine by Toyota capable of producing a whopping 750 horsepower but also a monocoque chassis made entirely of carbon fiber, a radical proposition at the time, especially in sports cars. The AAR car also featured built-in aerodynamic assists from the front air intake holes and superior ground effects beneath. The result was the Eagle Mark III, a beast of a car that won the 1992 and 1993 IMSA  drivers’ and constructors’ championships going away, including a streak of 17 wins in a row.

To the very end Dan Gurney was still utilizing his prodigious gifts as a designer and innovator, playing a key part in the radical Delta Wing project and even helping design and fabricate the carbon fiber landing legs for the reusable Space X rocket. But he shone brightest as a driver. In his heyday he won races in Formula 1, Indycar, NASCAR and sports cars. Only the great Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have posted such a display of victorious versatility in all four major automobile racing categories. He survived several crashes in the unsafe cars of the 1950s and 60s, the second in a BRM at the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix that killed a spectator. It was then that Gurney remarked to legendary journalist Robert Daly that racing “is a cruel sport.” And yet even with a young wife and growing family Gurney persisted. Even through the deaths of his rivals and friends on the track over his long career — Wolfgang von Trips, Swede Savage, the Rodriguez brothers, Jimmy Clark, Bruce McLaren and Jo Bonnier  — Gurney persisted and kept his foot down. He had full faith in his ability to delineate a necessary risk from a foolhardy one and when he started designing his own cars in the late 1960s he finally had full faith in his equipment, as well. A wonderful story teller, a survivor of a deadly golden era, a rarely matched driver and innovator and an all-around gentleman, Dan Gurney lived a true racer’s life from his teen years as a hot rodder in Riverside trying stay one step ahead of they cops to his discovery by Ferrari’s man in America, the brilliant Luigi Chinetti, to his remarkable, decades-long career full of victories to his final moments on the Earth just a few days ago. As the Spanish are fond of saying about a truly exceptional person — ¡Qué Hombre!

RIP Justin Wilson — 1978 – 2015

Very sad news today from the world of motorsport — racing driver Justin Wilson has died after suffering severe head injuries in last Sunday’s IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway. The English racer was struck by a large piece of debris at speed when Sage Karam’s car crashed into the wall late in the race. He was airlifted to nearby Lehigh Valley Hospital directly from the track but remained in a coma and passed away this past Monday evening. He is survived by his wife Julia, his two young daughters and his younger brother Stefan, who is also a professional racer. Wilson was 37.

IndyCar’s official statement is here.

The family’s statement with their charitable wishes is here.

Justin Wilson was an extremely talented driver who competed in the highest forms of motorsport on several different teams and in several different disciplines. Along the way, he overcame numerous serious injuries to continue racing, his lifelong calling. Working his way up through karting and the lower development divisions, Wilson then won the 2001 Formula 3000 championship and then got a Formula 1 ride with Minardi in 2003. Due to his unusual height — the lanky Englishman was a very un-pilot like 6’4″ — Minardi designed the car around Wilson. After outperforming senior teammate Jos Verstappen, Wilson jumped to Jaguar for the last races of the season, scoring his first Championship points at the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. But due to that odd F1 paradox of talented drivers with insufficient sponsorship or personal funds being passed over for less gifted pay drivers, Wilson was bounced from his F1 seat and came to America to find work. And find it he did. He got a ride in Champ Car (precursor to indyCar) in 2004 and won his first race in that series in 2005 in Toronto. Wilson finished runner up or 3rd in that championship from 2005-7.

JustinWilson2

Wilson continued to race in America when Champ Car merged with the Indy Racing League to from today’s IndyCar series in 2008. He kept winning and worked hard to improve on the alien American oval tracks but always had trouble finding a long-term drive, probably due to the lack of personal money he could bring to a team. His management group eventually resorted to selling “shares” in Wilson to support his racing career. But like a throwback to a 1960s or 70s driver, Wilson hustled and competed in all forms of the sport, carrying his helmet to the 24 Hours of Le Mans early in his career, a win at the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona after several tries, multiple Indianapolis 500 starts, V8 Supercars in Australia and even Formula E this year. Simply put, Wilson was a professional driver who could make any car go faster and improve the performance of a chassis through his experience and valuable technical feedback, particularly on road courses.

And that’s how he came to be driving for Andretti Autosport this past Sunday after being signed for the last five races of the season. Continue reading

IndyCar’s Dario Franchitti calls it quits

(Photo via Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Four-time Indycar Champion Dario Franchitti has decided to retire from racing on the advice of doctors after a horror shunt during the second GP of Houston on October 6, where his Target Chip Ganassi car was catapulted at high speed into the catch fencing.

The Scotsman, a 3-time Indy 500 winner, suffered what was termed a “significant concussion”, as well as a broken back and badly fractured right ankle, which required multiple surgeries to repair. The back and head injury were of the most concern to doctors in advising him to quit racing.

The 40-year old walks away from the sport as arguably the most successful open wheel racer in United States history and with his matinee idol good looks and loquacious personality, Franchitti would seem to be a perfect fit in the broadcast booth going forward. It’s probably also a sure thing that he will remain involved in IndyCar in either an official or semi-official capacity. While Franchitti never really got to terms with the Dallara DW12 chassis used in his last two seasons, Dario’s exploits prior to that compare well with any driver in a major motorsports series during any time period. There is no word on who will replace Franchitti in the Number 10 car for Ganassi next year.

Indycar Series — Tonight a champion will be crowned

Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves (photo from USA Today/Gannett)

The Izod Indycar Driver’s Championship comes down to the last race of the year once again. Tonight’s MAVTV sponsored 500-miler from the 2 mile D-oval in Fontana, California will determine whether Scott Dixon can hang on for his third Indycar Championship or Helio Castroneves can recover from late season woes to claim his first. Despite the fact that Chip Ganassi’s Dixon has won four races this season to Penske driver Castroneves’ one, a mere 25 points separates them. And the Penske cars’ Chevy engines seem to have the flat out speed this weekend with a 1st-2nd-3rd lockout in Qualifying (Power, Castroneves*, Allmendinger), as well as the comfort level at Fontana having tested there frequently. But the Honda-powered Ganassi cars might have the advantage on gas mileage even with Dixon starting 7th*, so look for a very interesting strategic race to unfold so long as both contenders can avoid crashing out early on this notoriously slippery and windy circuit.

As you might have noticed with that Qualy result, Penske has added a third car to help their Brazilian ace try to win, with hot shoe A.J. Allmendinger joining Aussie Will Power and hoping to recreate his superb Indy 500 run. Power, too, has been excellent in the latter part of the season and he will be hoping to erase memories of last year’s early race wipe out at Fontana, which led to yet another heartbreaking fumble of the championship and gifted it to American Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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The state of play in Indycar

Championship leader Helio Castroneves

Heading into the race at Mid-Ohio this afternoon, it’s been a very topsy-turvey season in the Izod Indycar championship, America’s premier open wheel series. Not only is perennial championship contender (and bridesmaid) Will Power lying 10th after 13 rounds but his employer, the mighty Team Penske, has only one win. If it’s any consolation (and it won’t be to Power), that lone Penske win was by Helio Castroneves at the Firestone 550 at the big oval in Texas in round 8. Despite that paltry victory total, it’s the 3-time Indy 500 winner who tops the driver’s standings with 425 points due to excellent consistency if not outright speed.

Hot on the Brazilian’s heels is Kiwi Scott Dixon with 396 points for the Ganassi team, Penske’s arch-rival. Dixon is smoking hot having won the last 3 races in a row (yes, you read that right): Indycar’s return to Pocono’s “Tricky Traingle” on July 7th and then the 2-day double header in Toronto the following weekend. You’ve got to like Dixon’s chances of cruising by Castroneves in the overall today, having won the Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio four out of the last six seasons. It’s hard to imagine one driver being so dominant at a course as technical as this one but Dixie is definitely the real deal and I like his chances for another win today. In fact, I also like him to finish up the season as overall champion.

Contender Scott Dixon has a lot to smile about lately

Other notables:  Continue reading