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16_2ndinopeninglaps

Holding down 2nd in the opening laps!

After a busy week of traveling abroad with the Friends of MX-5 event in Barcelona, I was ready to get back at it in the Mazda Prototype at Long Beach. The Long Beach Grand Prix is an historic event, and it’s a really intense environment for endurance sports car racing because it’s the shortest event of the year at 100 minutes. It’s really just a flat out sprint race!

We knew from our previous experiences there that the track surface is really bumpy, which is not the most ideal situation for the P2-style chassis. But through hard work from the team with simulation and development, we arrived with an improved package that we hoped would be competitive.

After the first practice, we saw that certainly was the case, with Mazda leading practice for the first time in this program’s history. Qualifying was nothing less than exciting with a stack-up in the hairpin, where it’s nearly impossible for drivers to see around the corner – it’s a 25mph U-turn! With just minutes remaining in the qualifying session, the green flag waved again and we were off for a one-time flyer to fight for a better starting position. The lap worked out and we managed to grab third place in our No. 70 Mazda, which is my best qualifying to date in that car. Getting a second-row starting position was a satisfying result and gave the team great momentum and encouragement.

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Running nose-to-tail…

We all figured it was going to be an interesting start, and our intuition was correct as the front row had some contact, which allowed us to slip through to second place. Maintaining second through the opening stages of the race was very intense and exciting, and it was like doing one qualifying lap after another because of the pace. Traffic was an extra factor on that circuit, too. I definitely learned a couple of lessons throughout my opening stint about navigating traffic and exchanging positions with the other prototypes.

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…while leading laps thanks to a great fuel strategy.

We were able to outlast the competition on fuel mileage and took the lead, with Mazdas going one-two for several laps before making our pit stop.

As the race came to the closing stages and the leaders cycled through, we found ourselves on the heels of a podium position. Our No. 70 Mazda finished fourth and the No. 55 was fifth, which is the best result in the program’s history. We’re certainly excited about that, but it definitely leaves us hungry for more when we go to Mazda’s home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in two weeks.


I was fortunate to be invited on behalf of Mazda Europe to the press introduction of the Friends of MX-5 program in Barcelona. (If you haven’t seen them already, I posted some pics from my first and second days in Barcelona last week!)

Mazda Europe has announced the launch of the Friends of MX-5 concept all across Europe. The program is a talent search for racing while also offering MX-5 enthusiasts “money can’t buy” experiences on track and at Mazda-sponsored events, like VIP concert access.

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Global MX-5 Cups ready for Friends of MX-5 on-track action with the media guests.

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iRacing simulators as an integral piece for Friends of MX-5.

Specifically, the talent search aspect was the reason for my involvement, since I was the lead test and development driver for the Global MX-5 Cup car. Through iRacing and various MX-5 racing series around Europe, Friends of MX-5 is designed to find Europe’s most talented MX-5 racers, both on track and virtually, who will compete in a shootout hosted in Barcelona this summer. Drivers will be in the Global MX-5s. The winners will go on to a Global MX-5 Cup Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September, where racers selected form around the world will compete for the title of Global MX-5 Cup Champion. As part of the prize, the champion will receive a test in the Mazda Prototype.

My role in Barcelona last week was to introduce the media to the race car. Most of the media had already driven the 2016 MX-5 street car, so this was their chance to see, touch and drive the Global MX-5 Cup car at the race track. Media even got to ride with F1 driver Johnny Herbert, who also won LeMans in 1991 in the Mazda 787B.

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Everybody having a great time enjoying some simulator action, including special guest Johnny Herbert!

We spent several days hosting media from all over Europe, as well as some special guests. Everyone got to drive the race car on the track and the street car on an autocross course. They could also look under the hood and learn about the changes made to the race car.

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Always the seal of approval: big smiles from Yamamoto-San, chief of MX-5 project design.

Getting the chance to visit Barcelona for the first time was an incredible experience. The city is full of excitement, and having the opportunity to visit various places such as the Cathedral and downtown cafes gave me a great sense of what the city is all about. I got to learn about Catalan culture, too.

Interacting with the media guests from all over Europe was really fun for many reasons. Dinner conversation with Swiss, German, British, Italian, Turkish and Slovenian media members was unforgettable—it was so neat to interact with all of those people and cultures, and then to work with them at the track and share the details of the MX-5 Cup program with them.

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2016 ND MX-5s lined up for the autocross.


Here are some photos of the stunning Mazda Space in downtown Barcelona, where the Friends of MX-5 event I’m at this week will host its welcome event for media guests. It’s an incredible space that hosts all of Mazda Motor Europe’s vehicle launches and is open to the public during afternoon hours.

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Johnny Herbert will be on hand as host for the evening’s events, with his 1991 LeMans winning Mazda 787B on display.


I’m in Barcelona this week for a Mazda event. We arrived this morning, and I had a little time to explore the city. I thought I’d share these pics from our first day here.

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First Barcelona sign found! In good automotive taste, of course…

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The view when we arrived was of a wet, foggy morning.

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In the center, a Christopher Columbus statue points toward “the new found land, America.” He’s looking over the Mediterranean Sea in the background.

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The Barcelona Cathedral peeking out from a narrow street.

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A look inside the Cathedral, built in the 1300s!

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The small city side streets I just can’t get over, as cars still use these too. And we thought Long Beach had narrow lanes?


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Bradley got a win in only his second Spec Miata race weekend!

In the past week I’ve spent time at both Carolina Motorsports Park and Road Atlanta. First up was our final test with the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car at CMP. We were finalizing the specs for the ECU. It went very well: we were able to validate that everything worked as we anticipated, and we were able to build in some neat features that the MX-5 Cup competitors and car owners will have available to them in the near future.

After two days of testing, I stayed at CMP so I could coach 16-year old Bradley Zilisch during an SCCA club race. I’ve worked with Bradley before, and he’s a local racer from the Charlotte area who is transitioning from karting to car racing. This was only his second race weekend with his Spec Miata.

Bradley grew up racing on the karting track at CMP, but this was his first race event on the car track there. On Saturday morning, in Spec Miata qualifying, he turned the quickest lap to earn the pole. He had an extremely exciting race with some really experienced Spec Miata racers. He ran at the front, and on the last lap he pulled out to pass for the lead. He made it stick, and he took the win in only his second Spec Miata race weekend! Bradley is planning to run the SCCA Majors at Virginia International Raceway in a few weeks, where the competition will be fierce. I’m wishing him the best of luck!

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Ashton’s new GMX5 all painted up & ready for the season!

From CMP, I traveled to Road Atlanta for a Chin Motorsports lapping day so I could work with Ashton Harrison. It was her first time driving her brand-new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car on the track, and she loved it. We had a beautiful day, and we accomplished all of the goals that we had at the outset. She learned a lot about the car, including setup and driving style techniques. In a few short weeks she will be at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first two rounds of the series during the IMSA race weekend!

It was also good to catch up with some other coaching clients while at Road Atlanta – everyone is getting on track after the off-season, and it was great helping them get their 2016 season off to the right start!

 


NightPracticeI had a great time at Sebring this past weekend for the 12 Hours. It was one of the most dynamic 12 Hours I can remember, with all types of driving conditions. We had sunny weather and hot track temperatures for the start, then drizzling rain, then thunderstorms that created a rain delay, and then drying conditions while nightfall set in.

During qualifying, our Mazda Prototypes had their best performance to date, qualifying 5th and 7th. This was really exciting because I got to start the race alongside F1 legend Rubens Barrichello, while directly ahead of me was Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
We had beautiful weather for the start of the race along with a large crowd, and there was a lot of excitement in the first few laps. I finally settled into a nice rhythm, and once the Prototype field stretched out, we were able to focus on fuel conservation to maximize our strategy.

After my stint, conditions began to change, and drivers were caught out in the rain on slick tires. There were a lot of issues as drivers tried to deal with the tricky situation, and unfortunately we had a setback, as well, which put us down a couple of laps.

DriverLineupThere was a red flag for a couple of hours due to lightning, but track workers got the circuit back to racing conditions once the threat had passed. We got back underway with about eight hours left in the race.

Our goal was to regain the lost laps through pit strategy, and as the track dried, we found ourselves only one lap down heading into the night.

By the end, I had experienced driving in hot, greasy conditions, pouring rain, a drying track and at night. A little bit of everything in one race! It was a lot of fun at night: the track had good grip, and the cooler temperatures meant we were pacing just as fast as we had in qualifying.

The final hours of the race were very exciting, not only for the leaders who had a 30-minute dash to the end, but also for both of our Mazdas, which gained positions during those night hours. Mazda had a great result with top-ten finishes: the 55 car finished on the lead lap in 6th, and our No. 70 finished in 8th. It feels good to have a solid result, but it also makes us hungrier for that podium finish!


Sebring race week is here, and this will be the third time our SpeedSource Mazda Prototype has competed at the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s such an exciting chance to race in the beautiful spring weather in sunny Florida. We’re also excited about the pace that we had in Daytona, along with the time we’ve had to continue developing our new engine package, the MZ2.0T.

Also new for Sebring this year will be our co-driver Keiko Ihara from Japan; she will be the first female driver with our program. Keiko is a very experienced sports car driver and has competed in the World Endurance Championship, including the 24 Hours of LeMans. She is also an advocate of the FIA Women in Motorsports Commission, which Mazda Japan supports. You can read more about Keiko in this announcement from Mazda Motorsports.

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To help Keiko get more comfortable with both our Mazda Prototype and Sebring, we were fortunate enough to utilize the “DIL” simulator owned by our technical partner and chassis supplier, Multimatic. The simulator is at their training center in Toronto, and it is state-of-the-art, allowing drivers to get the most realistic experience possible without actually being in the car at the track!

The simulator includes math models that characterize proper grip levels of the track, tires, and any other setup changes that a team might make, such as spring rate, damper changes and even preload and differential adjustments.

After two days of rigorous testing, we traveled to the SpeedSource shop, where we created the proper seat inserts to make all of the drivers comfortable – there is a one-foot difference between the tallest and the shortest drivers in our No. 70 Mazda!

A tremendous amount of preparation has gone into both this opportunity for Keiko and the upcoming race. I know the team is excited about the race, and I’m looking forward to making my third 12 Hours of Sebring start! Be sure to tune in to Fox Sports 1 or IMSA.tv Saturday morning at 10:30 for race coverage.


Last weekend I coached two drivers at Virginia International Raceway, and neither one had ever driven the track. Both of them are young, up-and-coming drivers: one is 15 and the other is 16. Their goals in motorsports are similar, but their backgrounds and where they are looking to find success in the sport are very different.

Harrison is driving in the NASCAR arena, while Brad has been karting on road courses and is now getting started in sports car racing. Harrison was at VIR because he wanted to learn how to race on a road course, which requires a whole different set of skills than oval racing, with shifting and braking being the two biggest differences between the racing styles. Brad, on the other hand, was learning VIR so that he would be prepared for his first race there later this month.

Harrison and Brad are a similar age, have a similar number of years in racing, and were driving similar cars last weekend. But because they compete in two different types of racing, they had very different skillsets.

How you approach a new track, and what aspects will likely be the biggest challenge for you, depend a lot of on your background as a driver. The type of racing or performance driving that you have done, the cars you have driven, and even the places you have driven all make a difference in what your experience will be like at a new track.

After each session with Harrison, we would review video and analyze car placement on the track. For Harrison, using the whole track and optimizing the line were new skills to learn because that technique is so different from the way stock car racers approach an oval track. As a NASCAR racer, Harrison had never had a chance to use heel-toe downshifting, either, so that was another skill he was able to work on in the braking zones.

For Brad, meanwhile, we utilized a great deal of data that we collected during the sessions, then used it to look at fine-tuning his braking and entry speeds. His experience racing his kart on road courses meant he was already familiar with the driving style, but he had to get used to doing it in a full-sized car.

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My VIR “cheat sheet.”

When learning VIR, these are the points I’ve found that really help with reducing lap time. Momentum corners are always going to be important, so you should be thinking about corners where you can keep your speed up, like turn 3, the Uphill Esses, turn 10 and, believe it or not, turns 11, 16 and 17.

Not only are momentum corners important at VIR, but so is car placement in corners that flow into each other: turns 4 and 5, the Uphill Esses, 11 and 12, 14 and 15, and 16 and 17. These are important because one turn leads into the next, and getting the car placement correct in the exit of the first corner is vital to getting a good run into the next corner. Getting all of those combinations right are key to getting a good lap time at VIR!


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Filming at Long Road Racing.

I spent quite a bit of time at Long Road Racing last week, and over 30 chassis are already out the door in their Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car trim. Last week I saw chassis number 43 being disassembled to start its transformation to a Global Cup car. Rumor has it we’re going to see quite a large field for the season opener at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from April 29-May 1. That’s the same weekend as the IMSA event, so there will be a great crowd on hand to see the debut of these new cars!

After this final push of getting cars prepped for the race series, production for club racers and track day enthusiasts will continue through the spring. MX-5 Cup race teams have already been testing the Global Cup cars, and it’s exciting to hear all of their feedback.

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Max Papis even joined us to talk about his custom MPI steering wheels that come standard in each Global MX-5.

The real purpose of my visit to Long Road Racing was to help Mazda with a video shoot in which we explain the details and workings of the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car. Mazda Motorsports will be producing several videos from the footage that we shot, including tutorials and information for both current and prospective owners.

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A “full-size” exploded diagram of all the custom parts that go into every Global MX-5.

Throughout the day, we did multiple takes for each segment, describing components in various ways depending on which video we were filming for at the time. It was quite a tedious and tricky process for me, because I’m not used to being in front of a camera like this!

Giving an interview on TV is something I’m more familiar with, where I typically talk about my thoughts and impressions, but this filming process involved memorizing prescribed technical information, and then having to convey it in a way that will be clear to viewers. In a live TV interview, you only get one shot, but at the shop we could do as many takes as it took to get it right – in some ways, that made it more difficult! I now look at on-camera hosts with a whole new respect: even though they’re talking from a script, they make it look so natural!

A lot of time and emphasis was spent going over all of the features on the car, inside and out, from safety to performance to reliability. Be sure to keep an eye on MazdaMotorsports.com for these videos, which will also include some great how-to pieces and tech tips about the new car.


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In-car video is a vital piece of post-session review.

If you have an upcoming race at a track you’ve never been to before, it’s important to be as prepared as possible going into the event. If you have the opportunity to attend a lapping day or similar driving event prior to the race, that will give you a big advantage. But simply driving the track isn’t enough: your preparation will begin before the lapping event even starts, and includes the follow-up work afterwards as well, right up until it’s time for your race week.

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The views & scenery at Mazda Raceway are always incredible.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a Hooked On Driving event with Ashton Harrison. Ashton will be competing in the Global MX-5 Cup Series this season, and the first race of the series is at Mazda Raceway. She had never been there before, so the Hooked On Driving weekend was the perfect opportunity for her to learn the track and get valuable seat time before the opening round of the series. Although Ashton wasn’t driving her new Global MX-5 Cup car, she was in a Spec Miata, so it was a comparable platform.

The valuable opportunity that a lapping day environment provides is a non-competitive setting for a driver to saturate themselves in seat time. You don’t have to worry about lap times or passing at the outset; it’s purely a chance to immerse yourself in learning the new track. Certainly learning a new track starts well before actually getting to the race track: things such as seat time in a simulator like iRacing and video review are key components to doing proper homework before you ever turn a wheel.

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Getting ready to get ontrack at Mazda Raceway!

There are a variety of exercises you can work on at a lapping day, starting with building familiarity with the track. Learn which corners are most important and tackle those first. That also includes breaking the track down into segments and focusing on each, one at a time, before trying to piece it all together. Then of course, you need to find your brake points and ensure you’re in the proper gear for each corner. Hopefully by the end of the day you’ve established a rhythm that helps you have an overall understanding of the track.

If you have a second day of driving, that’s your chance to really make an effort to go faster. Utilizing in-car video and data are the perfect tools for doing this. If you’re fortunate enough to have a second car, having a lead-follow session with your coach is a great way to speed up that process.

We had a great couple of days at Mazda Raceway. Certainly the training isn’t done yet: now Ashton will get back on the simulator to cement her knowledge of the track. She also took copious notes throughout the weekend for easy referencing both during simulator practice and when she returns for the Global MX-5 Cup season opener. It’s imperative to be as prepared as possible when you show up for a race weekend so that you can focus on the racing aspects rather than worrying about relearning what you’ve forgotten about a track.

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