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Motorsports: Vasser-Sullivan gears up for Watkins Glen

Motorsports: Vasser-Sullivan gears up for Watkins Glen

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After placing both team cars in the top five while racing through the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit two weeks ago, Vasser-Sullivan Racing is gearing up for a six-hour endurance race in the IMSA WeatherTech Championships at Watkins Glen this weekend.

At Detroit, driver Jack Hawksworth had the speed to win, with lap times just a fraction of a second behind the winner. But a small mistake on the tough and tight street course, which leaves little room for error, cost him a likely podium finish.

He finished fourth in the GTD class and teammate Townsend Bell was fifth, each driving a Lexus RC F GT3.

“The race should have been better for us, but I clipped the wall and had to pit for a punctured tire while I was chasing the leaders,” Hawksworth said.

The 3.4-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen road course presents a different challenge than the tight streets and two-hour sprint at Belle Isle. In addition to higher speeds, the Watkins Glen International is a six-hour endurance race that puts a premium on reliability.

The team’s best shot at winning this season was on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car road course in mid-May. Aaron Teliz claimed the pole in the GTD division and was leading the race when the rear suspension failed, ending the team’s day.

After four races on the IMSA tour, Hawksworth and Teliz are sitting seventh in the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup Challenge standings.

Big entry list for Trans Am at Mid-Ohio

The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli has attracted 53 cars for this weekend at Mid-Ohio, the most teams the series has seen in five years.

“What a difference a year makes, said Trans Am Race Company President John Clagett. “We are extremely excited to return to Mid-Ohio with one of the largest fields we’ve had since 2016.”

Notching his second win of the season at Lime Rock Park on Memorial Day Weekend, Chris Dyson — who won a non-championship points race at Sonoma Raceway earlier this year, lapping the field twice — leads the championship standings in the TA class.

“Mid-Ohio is one of my favorite tracks and we've had some big successes there in the past,” said Dyson. “We are taking the season one session and one race at a time, but I’m feeling confident.”

Though Ernie Francis Jr. has collected the most wins at Mid-Ohio, this year is different than any other season for the four-time Trans Am champion. Francis finished on the podium in the SRX Racing Experience at the Knoxville Raceway dirt track, but will enter the weekend without a victory and sitting third in the TA championship standings. Francis will race again in the made-for-TV series SRX on Saturday night, on the dirt at Eldora Speedway, before running Sunday at Mid-Ohio.

The full weekend will be live streamed for subscribers at bit.ly/35EAnND — the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing app.

COVID keeps Trans Am, Indy Car stateside

As a result of the ongoing pandemic and its impact on international travel, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will stay stateside for 2021, canceling a visit to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park slated for Sept. 3-5.

The two 100-mile Trans Am races slated for CTMP have been rescheduled for the following weekend, Sept. 10-12, at Watkins Glen International. The timetables will be adjusted to feature two combined-class rounds, making it a doubleheader and double-points scoring weekend for Trans Am drivers.

“We totally understand this decision as the ongoing pandemic and quickly-changing guidelines at our borders make planning very difficult,” said Myles Brandt, president and general manager of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. “We look forward to seeing Trans Am in 2022 at CTMP.”

The NTT Indy Car series announced this week that the Honda Toronto Grand Prix, originally scheduled for July 11, has been cancelled due to COVID-related travel restrictions. In a statement, series officials said no other race will be added to the Indy Car schedule to make up for it.

“We look forward to a strong and compelling 2021 season,” the statement read, “and this year’s 16-race schedule has set the stage for a tremendous stretch run.”

The NTT IndyCar series will race next on Aug. 8 at a new street course in downtown Nashville.

IndyCar setting stage for next-generation powerplants

With the NHRA and Trans Am having already announced plans for electrification, the NTT IndyCar series is setting the stage for a next-generation powerplant that will be a hybrid.

Chevrolet and Honda, the companies that currently provide engines for the series, are expected to begin testing their new 2.4-litre IndyCar engines next spring, as the series prepares for the introduction of hybrid power in 2023. The current 2.2-litre twin-turbo V6s that have been in service since 2012 produce approximately 700 horsepower on road and street courses, with a further 50hp available on push-to-pass boost. IndyCar aims for the new 2.4-litre engines to have an 800hp baseline by 2025, with a further 100hp on tap from the KERS energy recovery system.

Series president Jay Frye said testing will begin in early 2022.

“We have delayed this a couple of times but now feel good about where we’re at, so the first quarter of next year we’ll be on track,” said Frye. “Until that on-track test, Honda and Chevrolet can’t do anything except bench testing.”

The hybrid unit — the manufacturer of which remains unannounced — will require a cooling system, extra wiring, control box and energy storage unit, all of which various team engineers estimate will add about 100 pounds to an Indy Car that already weighs about 1,700 pounds.

Adding an electrified component is also an important factor in recruiting additional engine manufacturers to the series.

“Without electrification, that isn’t going to happen,” Frye said.

Sonoma Raceway to fill grandstands for NHRA

With the rainbow of colored tiers for crowd restrictions lifted by state and county health officials, Sonoma Raceway will expect a full-sized crowd for the first time in two years for the NHRA Nationals July 23-25. Although the weekend schedule is still being set, it is expected to include qualifying under the lights on Friday night, a second round of qualifying on Saturday, and eliminations on Sunday.

New sales executive at Sonoma Raceway

Peter Rogers, a longtime executive in the music and entertainment industry, has been named vice president of sales for Sonoma Raceway. In his new role, Rogers will oversee all aspects of sponsorships and sales for the 1,600-acre facility, including title sponsorships, premium sales, corporate events, and official speedway partnerships. He will report to Speedway Motorsports Chief Sales Officer Kevin Camper.

“This is a very exciting time to join the motorsports industry, and to take on this role at an iconic facility such as Sonoma Raceway is a great challenge,” said Rogers, a lifelong car enthusiast. “We will continue to build on the overwhelming motorsports success at Sonoma Raceway while finding new ways to better position the raceway on a local, regional and national stage. I can’t wait to get started.”

Rogers’ resume includes stops at Sony Music and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. His most recent position was as vice president of partnerships and business development for the Life Is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas. He is a graduate of the New England Conservatory in Boston, with a master’s degree in music from Yale University in New Haven, Conn. He also participated as a substitute double bassist with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in New York City and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

NASCAR week raises $75,000 for local children in need

The Sonoma Raceway chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities raised more than $75,000 through fundraising activities leading up to the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race on June 6.

“This year we had to get super creative to find unique ways to raise money during our NASCAR weekend for our area children in need,” said SCC-Sonoma director Cheri Plattner. “We greatly appreciate the support of our donors and corporate partners in helping make these activities a great success.”

For the first time in track history, guests who made a donation to SCC through the Laps For Charity program were allowed to take their personal vehicles out on the 12-turn road course and drive a few laps. On Friday, June 4, 115 donors driving everything from Toyota Camrys, Dodge Hellcats, Ford Mustangs and Chevy Camaros to a variety of vintage roadsters and muscle cars sped around the track behind Sonoma Raceway pace cars. The event raised more than $28,000.

Fan in the Stands showcased 173 guests who made donations to have cardboard cutouts of their profiles in the front section of the main grandstands near the start-finish line. More than $46,000 was raised through the program, which was supported by several corporate partners. They included LifeWest, United Site Services, Toyota Motors North America, Kaiser Permanente, Hanson Bridgett, and Ahlborn Fence.

SCC-Sonoma also hosted an online auction during the week that raised more than $2,000.

The Sonoma chapter of Speedway Children's Charities has distributed more than $6.8 million to Sonoma County youth groups since 2001.

Visit SpeedwayCharities.org/Sonoma for more information.

Three names added to Calistoga Speedway Hall of Fame roster

Calistoga Speedway has named three additional drivers who will be inducted into its Hall of Fame this September, including a barnstorming driver who won the very first race on the half-mile oval 83 years ago.

Gene Figone, who drove roadsters, midgets, champ cars and motorcycles on oval tracks throughout Northern California in the late 1930s and early 1940s as one of the most versatile drivers of his era, will join former car owner Ray Smith and retired sprint car driver Shane Scott as the newest members of the Hall of Fame.

Smith campaigned sprint cars at Calistoga Speedway and on the Northern Auto Racing Club tour in the 1970s and 1980s and ranks 19th best among car owners at the oval, had six career wins with drivers such as Phil Pedlar, Don Melvin and Billy Yon.

Scott, known as the “Flyin Hawaiian,” ranks fifth all-time with 59 career victories at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, where he also claimed seven track championships over a 25-year career.

Figone, Smith and Scott will join former car owner Roger Henderson Sr. and 1986 Calistoga Speedway and Northern Auto Racing Club champion Rick Hirst at an induction ceremony and dinner Sept. 3 at Silver Dollar Speedway on the eve of the Sept. 4-5 Louie Vermeil Classic. The Hall of Fame induction dinner and Vemeil Classic were moved temporarily to Silver Dollar Speedway this year because the Napa County Fairgrounds and Calistoga Speedway were unavailable.

“We plan to return the Hall of Fame and the Louie Vermeil Classic to Calistoga as soon as it is available again,” noted Hunt.

Visit bit.ly/LVC2021 for tickets to the dinner and race weekend.

Footage of the 2019 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

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