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16 Jun

Hill, a regular in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series who won the season opener at Daytona, will compete in the July 5 Xfinity Series race at the track in an entry fielded by Hattori Racing Enterprises.

Hill, 25, currently drives HRE’s No. 16 Toyota in the Truck series. HRE has not fielded an entry in the Xfinity Series since 2015.

“I never thought the day would come. I was sat down the other day, actually and (asked) ‘Hey, we’re going to do this deal, can you drive it? Even if I had something going that weekend that scratches that out,” Hill said Saturday at Iowa Speedway. “I’m going Xfinity racing.

“I can’t thank Shiggy (Hattori) enough. We are a good solid team; we just need to take that little extra step to get some wins under our belt. To be able to go to the Xfinity Series race and do it with this team, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“I have all the faith in the world with my guys in the shop and Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody backing me. It’s going to be a good opportunity for us.”

HRE owner Shigeaki Hattori told Catchfence.com that he plans to compete in at least five Xfinity races this season and has sponsorship for the endeavor from AISIN, a Japanese corporation that develops and produces components and systems for the automotive industry.

“The Supra is a huge deal over in Japan, so I really want to do something for Supra in NASCAR,” said Hattori. “We put together some races this year and we going to start at Daytona.

“He (Austin) did a really great job in Daytona, he won the first Truck race, and at the same time I want to get some more experience. Austin’s done a really good job this year. We’ve had some mechanical issues after Daytona, but he’s done a really good job, especially last week at Texas Motor Speedway.”

Hill enters Friday night’s Truck race at Iowa Speedway already locked in the playoffs by virtue of his Daytona win and is seventh in the series standings.

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15 Jun

The #7 Toyota TS050 of Kamui Kobayashi lead the sister car of Fernando Alonso by 55 seconds after four hours of racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Conway had led the way early doors in the #7 Toyota, building up a 40-second gap over teammate Sebastien Buemi in the #8 car.

Rebellion took control of the fight for third thanks to rapid pace from Gustavo Menezes in the #3 R-13, while the #1 car hit trouble early on. SMP Racing’s two BR Engineering BR1s followed in fourth and fifth. 

ByKolles went two laps down, partly because the door of the ENSO CLM P1/01 became unstuck. The DragonSpeed BR1 fell down the order after spending several minutes in the garage.

The third hour heralded the first driver changes in the top class with polesitter Kobayashi taking over from Conway and Alonso taking the helm of the #8.

Alonso lost a further 15 seconds to Kobayashi before Toyota changed the nose on the Spaniard’s car in a bid to improve the aero balance, but stayed two minutes clear of the privateer competition.

Stoffel Vandoorne made his Le Mans race debut in the #11 SMP Racing BR1 as he attempted to claw back the gap to Nathanael Berton in the #3 Rebellion.

In the fight for third the Belgian was making inroads on Berthon, who couldn’t match Menezes’ searing pace in the Rebellion, and narrowed the gap to eight seconds at the four-hour mark.

Egor Orudzhev also edged closer to the #1 Rebellion in the rear-gunning #17 SMP, a further 20 seconds back.

LMP2: G-Drive, Signatech locked in battle

In LMP2, Signatech’s leading #36 Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre was being hounded by Jean-Eric Vergne in the #26 G-Drive Oreca until the Frenchman handed over the controls to Dutch rookie Job van Uitert.

The 20-year-old immediately made his mark by overtaking the experienced Frenchman. 

At the next pitstop van Uitert had to take a 10-second penalty because had Vergne violated the second full course yellow procedure in the previous stint.

That afforded Pierre Thiriet, who took over the Signatech car, some breathing room but van Uitert quickly closed the gap and re-passed the Alpine-branded Oreca one stint later. 

After a scintillating opening drive by Giedo van der Garde, Racing Team Nederland’s Nyck de Vries caught a puncture shortly before the three-hour mark in his #29 Dallara, dropping the Dutch team well down the order.

That initially promoted the #31 DragonSpeed to third after opening efforts by Anthony Davidson and Ricardo Gonzalez, but both Jackie Chan DC Racing Orecas managed to make their way past.

Just before the four-hour mark DragonSpeed’s Pastor Maldonado retook fourth from the #37’s David Heinemeier Hansson. Paul di Resta manned the leading non-Oreca in sixth at the wheel of the #22 United Autosports Ligier.

GTE: Corvette still in command

The hotly anticipated ‘battle of the decade’ in GTE Pro certainly delivered during the opening four hours of the race. The #63 Corvette and the #93 Porsche managed to build a narrow gap over the field, while the fight picked up behind between the #67 Ford, the championship-leading #92 Porsche and its #91 sister car and the pair of AF Corse Ferraris.

Positions three through eight were generally covered by just a handful of second in the first two hours of the race.

James Calado went on the attack in the #51 Ferrari, picking off the Porsches of Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz in quick succession in the third hour. The Briton soon swept past the #67 Ford GT of Jonathan Bomarito to claim third in class. 

Pilet’s #93 Porsche was shuffled back into the chasing pack due to a 10-second penalty for not respecting a full course yellow, meaning Magnussen was left out in front alone in the #63 Corvette ahead of Calado and Bomarito.

The latter was the next car to be delayed after being slapped with a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release.

At the four-hour mark the #63 Corvette remained out in front with Mike Rockenfeller taking over at the wheel. The #93 Porsche of Earl Bamber briefly appeared in second, having yet to make a fifth stop. Daniel Serra was a net second in the #51 Ferrari followed by Laurens Vanthoor’s #92 Porsche. 

The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche controlled the race in GTE Am with first Matt Campbell and then Julian Andlauer after the #88 sister car dropped out of contention in the first hour.

The defending GTE Am champions pieced together a 50-second lead over their nearest opposition.

Jeroen Bleekemolen charged to second place in the #85 Keating Motorsports Ford while the #90 TF Sport Aston moved past the #62 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari for third.

The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari, which had been running up front early on, dropped down the order as Giancarlo Fisichella handed over the keys to Thomas Flohr. 

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15 Jun

The DJR Team Penske driver showed his hand early in Q2, a 1m06.126s on his first flyer leaving him comfortably on top.

He did emerge for a safety run at the end of the 10-minute segment, but failed to improve on that early benchmark.

It was the same story in the pole-deciding Q3 session, McLaughlin setting a weekend-best 1m06.010s on straight out of the gate.

Again he did look to improve with a final run, but after going purple in the first sector he elected to abort the lap after a mistake in the middle sector.

Not that it mattered, the points leader still taking his 10th pole of the season, and a 600th for the Team Penske organisation.

He also put himself level with Peter Brock on 57 Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars poles, the pair sitting second on the all-time list.

“It’s so cool. This is obviously for The Captain and his team,” he said. We came on very late [to the Team Penske organisation], but glad to add a few poles to it.

“To get the cheque today, our 10th of the year, is fantastic.

“Our car is awesome, I stuffed up that last lap, I’m pissed off, but anyway, it’ll be alright I was up a fair way in that first sector and just tried to brake too hard and locked up.”

David Reynolds ended up second, although the Erebus driver was made to work for it. He had been sitting behind McLaughlin after the first run, but was knocked onto the second row by Will Davison when the final runs started.

Reynolds was able to respond, though, moving back into second with a 1m06.153s right at the flag.

That moved Davison back to third, with Anton De Pasquale capping off a solid session for Erebus with fourth.

Tickford pair Cam Waters and Chaz Mostert will share the third row, followed by teammate Lee Holdsworth in seventh.

Jamie Whincup will start eighth in his Red Bull Holden, Kiwis Andre Heimgartner and Fabian Coulthard rounded out the Top 10.

Shane van Gisbergen will start down in 12th, next to Nick Percat, after failing to make it out of Q2.

The Red Bull Holden driver only just scraped out of Q1 with the fifth-best time, before opting for just a single late run in the second segment, which wasn’t good enough to sneak into the Top 10.

“We were good on the old tyres, it’s the story of our last few rounds,” said van Gisbergen.

“It’s a shame, but that’s where we are. It’s quite simple, we’re not fast enough. We just need to try and make it better.”

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15 Jun

Twelve three-driver teams are battling it out in nine-races over a 24-hour period, with a $100,000 prize pool and a place on the real-life podium.

The first eight races set the grid and time intervals for the 90-minute finale, which will decide the series champions.

Baguette, which is made up of Red Bull Esports driver Aurelien Mallet, Christopher Cabrera and Alexandre Arnou, didn’t win any of the races but finished no lower than fourth in each race.

It’s leading the points table, four points ahead of Kitty Krew – they emerged victorious in a tense third race at Silverstone with modern prototypes.

The team with the most prize money accumulated so far is the Mad Motorsport entry, it sits third in the points standings, but won the opening two races and brought its total prize money up to $9,000 by dominating the fifth race.

Mad opted to prioritise its budget on cars that would be advantageous in the early races, sacrificing its chances of major success in the finale.

“Our team has gone for the strategy, where we’re aiming for the wins the smaller races,” Mad Motorsport driver Cian Butler told Motorsport.com.

“We’re going for top six in the final race, anything more is a bonus.”

Williams Esports sit level on points with Mad in fourth place, it picked up second place and $2,000 in the second race. Wildcard entry Veloce rounds
out the top five.

Both Williams and Veloce have suffered mixed fortunes so far. The fifth race was the perfect microcosm of this. Veloce was punted off down the order, recovered but was then handed a stop-go penalty for causing a collision.

Veloce then nicked fifth place from Kitty Krew on the final lap of the race, while further up the road, Williams lost the final place on the podium to Keep it Simple Racing.

Keep it Simple’s Tobin Leigh had taken a dominant victory in the previous race, lapping the entire field, while the Chinese trio who topped the Asian qualifying competition, picked up second despite a bizarre pitlane crash.

The remaining four races of the Super Final are been streamed right now across Motorsport.tv, YouTube and Twitch. The final race will also be on Facebook, with the broadcast beginning at 9.15am CET on Saturday morning.

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14 Jun

The Iowa Speedway weekend schedule is subject to change. All times are Eastern Daylight Savings Time (EDT).

Saturday, June 15

9:30 a.m. – 10 a.m., Truck Series practice (No TV)

11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m., Truck Series final practice (No TV)

3:05 p.m. – 3:55 p.m., Xfinity Series practice (TV: Fox Sports 1 – FS1)

5:35 p.m., Truck Series qualifying (TV: FS2)

7 p.m. – 7:50 p.m., Xfinity Series final practice (TV: FS1)

8:30 p.m., Truck Series race M&M’s 200 (200 Laps – 175 Miles) – Green flag 8:38 (TV: FS1; Radio: Motor Racing Network – MRN)

Sunday, June 16

2:05 p.m., Xfinity Series qualifying (TV: FS2)

5:30 p.m., Xfinity Series race Circuit City 250 (250 Laps – 218.75 MIles) – Green Flag 5:45 p.m. (TV: FS1; Radio: MRN)

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14 Jun

Mercedes has won all seven races so far this season and Hamilton has taken five of those victories, with the most recent coming in controversial circumstances last weekend in Canada.

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Sebastian Vettel’s lost victory in Montreal left the lead Ferrari driver 62 points adrift of Hamilton, who is adamant Mercedes has a clear engine deficit to overcome.

“They were so quick on the straights,” he said. “They definitely have another power mode that we currently don’t have.

“So, all of a sudden they turn up the power and he pulls away massively on the straight, even if I have DRS open.”

Hamilton said his statement is “not an assumption” because the evidence was there in qualifying in Canada, where Mercedes felt it was losing as much as six tenths on the straights.

Vettel was told to go to ‘Engine Mode 1’ when he was chasing more performance during the Canadian GP.

“In the race I know all of a sudden they pick up a lot of pace on the straights [as well] but that’s the name of the game,” added Hamilton. “They’ve clearly done a great job with their power unit.

“There used to be a point where Mercedes was ahead in that area by a good chunk. We’ve got work to do there. They are ahead of us at the moment there.”

Ferrari’s straightline performance is also boosted by its aerodynamic concept, having chased more efficient performance compared to Mercedes’ greater peak downforce.

Hamilton said he was pleased that he had not “left anything on the table” after pressuring Vettel into the error that ultimately cost the German driver the win, because of the five-second penalty he picked up when rejoining unsafely.

“I like to think that I conducted myself in the right manner, and the guys worked so hard collectively and we came out with a good result,” said Hamilton.

“We’ve got work to do. We’ve seen how quick the Ferraris were [in Canada], they were right there in the last race [Monaco] as well, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

“They’re quicker than us on the straights, they have another level of engine mode that they can go to, particularly in qualifying and also in the race. So we’ve definitely got work to do, but at least we’ve got a good fight.”

 

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14 Jun

Ogier headed into Friday as rally leader courtesy of his stage win on Thursday’s superspecial stage, but fell to ninth as he fought against the conditions as the opening car on the road.

But Ogier’s morning would get worse on the Monte Barante stage that concluded the loop. On the quarry section where the stage began, the Citroen driver clipped a boulder on the inside of a left-hander, immediately breaking the steering on his C3 WRC.

Upfront, it was Teemu Suninen who made a flying start to the morning, dominating the early Tula test to edge teammate Elfyn Evans by 4.8s and thus establishing an early one-two for M-Sport.

Evans dropped 7s on the following Castelsardo stage of the morning as “something was not quite right with the braking”, but Suninen maintained his form with another stage win over Latvala who moved into second.

Suninen would lose the lead on Tergu-Osilo though, spinning his M-Sport Fiesta early on the test. He lost 15.1s to stage winner Tanak and dropped behind Latvala into second.

Latvala suffered a stall on Motne Baranta, but maintained his lead over Tanak who finds himself second, despite describing the feeling on the stages as “like a cow on slippy ice”.  

Hyundai’s Dani Sordo “didn’t understand” how he picked up a slow rear-left puncture on the Tula stage, but recovered to set the third fastest stage times on the following three tests to lie a mere 3.5s away from Latvala in third.

Suninen dropped more time on stage five to end the loop 1.8s behind teammate Evans in fifth, but just 7.7s splits the top five.

Thierry Neuville opted for an adverse tyre strategy to the majority of his rivals, selecting six mediums for the morning loop whereas most of his rivals chose five or six hards.

He was left to rue his choice, but is only 14.1s back from Latvala in sixth.

Like teammate Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen chose four medium compound tyres which he would also admit was “completely the wrong tyre choice”.  

Unlike Neuville, he had two hard tyres in the boot which he bolted onto his i20 for the final two stages of the loop. Ultimately this made little difference, and he ended Friday morning in seventh.

Toyota’s Kris Meeke has only competed in Sardinia twice in the last four years, feeling frustrated after stage three Castelsardo after doing “as much as I can do with the experience I have”. He stalled at a hairpin on stage five to end the morning eighth, 19.1s shy of the lead.

Both Citroens ran into trouble on Friday morning, as Esapekka Lappi’s difficult season continued in Sardinia. Lappi was sixth after stage three but dropped 38.3s on Tergu-Osilo after touching a bank and pushing his rear-left tyre off the rim.

Juho Hanninen is contesting Rally Italy in a fourth Yaris WRC in a bid to test various parts for Toyota. He completes the top 10, 5.3s behind Lappi.

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14 Jun

There was something different about Team Penske’s IndyCar team at the start of 2019 and it was hard to pinpoint at first. It wasn’t the performance of the cars on track – they remained fast, the driver line-up was the same as the year before, and the liveries were familiar too.

But if you studied the Penske garages hard between or during test sessions, it would eventually have dawned on any regular onlooker that there was a notable absentee. Where was that short mustachioed guy, the one who always looked busy, and seemed to avoid making eye contact with anyone not wearing Penske logos?

Well, that man was Clive Howell, general manager, and despite appearing to have stopped ageing soon after the age of 50, he retired at the end of the 2018 season aged 63. This year, for the first time since 1979, Roger Penske started a season without this Surrey, UK-born human dynamo in his ranks. Perhaps that explains why The Captain himself still speaks of Howell in the present tense.

“Clive has been an important part of Team Penske for nearly four decades,” Penske told Motorsport.com. “His work ethic, his focus and his attention to detail helped him stand out when he joined Penske Cars in England in the late ’70s. His leadership helped continue the growth of our IndyCar program and his track record is remarkable – he was part of 15 Indianapolis 500 victories with Team Penske. Although he’s retired, Clive is still a big part of our team and he always will be.”

Tim Cindric, team president, added: “Clive began his career when mechanics had to know how to make the cars and put them together. He truly helped establish ‘The Penske Way’ of doing things.”

Neither of their statements is surprising: it’s easy to imagine Howell as a general leading troops into battle, winning, yet content to return without fanfare. Similarly his disciplined and zero-bullshit approach would also work wonders back at base.

Howell’s business-like approach to the business of motorsport – get on with the job and do it to the best of one’s ability – means he tended not to regard one team member as more important than another, and he thus took a lot of convincing that he was worthy of a story here. Finally, thankfully, he acquiesced…

Born in 1955, Howell left school aged 16 to serve an apprenticeship at the British Aircraft Corporation [which in 1977 merged with Hawker-Siddeley and Scottish Aviation to form British Aerospace] at Brooklands, Surrey, and became a qualified tool-maker. But his mother was secretary at Motor Racing Developments, the company formed by Sir Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac and bought by Bernie Ecclestone at the end of 1971, and even while Clive had still been at school, she got him in at the ground level there, cleaning parts. When he left BAC, he joined Brabham as a junior mechanic.

“I joined when Gordon Murray was chief designer, Herbie Blash and Charlie Whiting were still there, and we were running the Alfa Romeo flat-12 engine. Bit of a disaster – the only real success was Gordon’s fan-car that Niki Lauda won with at Anderstorp – and before the end of the ’79 season, we’d bailed on Alfa and gone back to Cosworth. I was working on Nelson Piquet’s car that year – he was quick as a rookie right away, kept Niki on his toes, but that car never finished.

Nelson Piquet, Brabham BT48 Alfa Romeo, Hockenheim 1979.

Photo by: LAT Images

“Herbie wanted me to stay on as chief mechanic for 1980, but by then I’d had a call from Derrick Walker, who’d I’d overlapped with just for a short period at Brabham before he moved to Roger Penske’s F1 team. When RP quit F1 and decided to focus on Indy cars, Derrick went with him to America. So when I got a call from Derrick asking me if I’d be interested in working for Penske in the States, I thought about it in quite simple terms: I liked going to Watkins Glen, I liked going to Long Beach, but I didn’t know anything about the big bit in between! So I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll go for a couple of years, travel around America, see what it’s all about.’

“So first I moved down to Penske UK, in Dorset, working under the tutelage of Nick Goozee and Geoff Ferris [designer] as a fabricator until the season started. Then I headed off to the States for 1980 as a mechanic on Bobby Unser’s car and working out of Penske’s base in Reading, Pennsylvania. I went back to the UK to work for Penske Cars in the off-season, returned to the U.S. for ’81, and then at Indy I met Mary, who’d become my wife. Bobby’s wife of the time, Marsha, had introduced us, we’d been on a double date, and it went from there. Again I went back to the UK in the offseason but after that, I never worked there again, and America became my home.

“I went from being mechanic for Bobby, to then leading the test team, working as crew chief on various cars, and ran the shop for a while…Then when Derrick left at the end of ’87 to run the new Porsche team, there was a bit of a shake-up, and Roger put Chuck Sprague in charge and I was Chuck’s right-hand man until he was put in charge of the Marlboro Racing School. I then ran the race team until the Tim Cindric era started [in ’99], and that’s been good for everybody there; he’s a very accomplished guy. And I enjoyed being team manager, and general manager and all the other things that went with it.”

By anyone’s standards, 39 years is an extraordinarily long time to stay at one team, and Howell says he could never have foreseen establishing such roots when he signed up.

Bobby Unser's Penske PC9B-Cosworth wins the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

Bobby Unser’s Penske PC9B-Cosworth wins the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

Photo by: IndyCar Series

“I knew some guys who’d gone to work for RP,” he says, “and everyone told me he was a great guy to work for, it was a good environment and so on. But that’s all I had: I mean, there are no guarantees in this business, are there? But once I was in, I didn’t want to be one of those people who bounced around from team to team. Some people do that and maybe earn a little more money but they also go into the off-season wondering where the next paycheck is coming from because they’re looking for their next job. That wasn’t for me. I like the security, and in this business, working for Roger is about as close as you can get to a secure job.”

Unsurprisingly, Howell doesn’t like the way IndyCars have become spec in all but engine and shock/dampers. For him, job satisfaction came from two directions. One was “doing the oddball stuff when we felt as an engineering team we could really make a difference. Running that pushrod 209ci Mercedes for Indy in 1994 was great fun but it felt like Anderstorp ’78 with the Brabham fan-car – we do the job, we win, and the authorities ban it right away!”

The second aspect he misses is the innovation and problem-solving from engineers working directly with the drivers.

He explains: “When I first came over, you could find big chunks of time through engineering. You’d have Bobby Unser dreaming up something, and we’d be fabricating new underwings in the garage at midnight, and you’d be looking at it saying, ‘Yeah, that looks about right, let’s try that!’ The only proof you’d have was when it was on the racetrack, and Bobby or Rick [Mears] would set a time and come in and tell you how it felt.

Pocono 1984, with Rick Mears' Penske-run March (6) leading Mario Andretti's Newman/Haas-run Lola (6) and Tom Sneva in the Mayer March. Howell misses the era of multiple chassis manufacturers and more engineering freedom for teams.

Pocono 1984, with Rick Mears’ Penske-run March (6) leading Mario Andretti’s Newman/Haas-run Lola (6) and Tom Sneva in the Mayer March. Howell misses the era of multiple chassis manufacturers and more engineering freedom for teams.

Photo by: LAT Images

“Compare that to now, where your hands are almost completely tied because it’s all so spec. All you’re allowed to do is change the shocks and change the wicker: that’s not going to keep engineers happy. I mean, the guys running CFD [computational fluid dynamics] to get a read on the aero mapping probably gain satisfaction from that… but from what I’ve seen, CFD is far too dependent on ideal-world scenarios, which rarely arise in the real world.”

The fact that doing things ‘The Penske Way’ has less influence on engineering an IndyCar these days reduced Howell’s love of racing, but it was a heartbreaking personal loss that brought his retirement forward a few years.

“Five years ago, Mary died of cancer and that changed my outlook,” he says. “I decided that as soon as I was in a position to retire, I’d start doing the other stuff that I wanted to while I still can. I love touring on my motorbikes, and although I’d ridden up and down the east coast, I’d never done anything out west. So I bought a toy-hauler – like a camper but with 10 foot of garage space out back for storing a bike – so I can drive out west of the Mississippi River, and even on to Texas, and then go touring on the bike.

“And that’s what you’ll find me doing a lot of the time now – making a trip or planning one.”

Clive Howell on drivers

Clive Howell, as an enthusiastic 22-year-old Brabham employee, was standing at the pitwall in Kyalami for the 1977 South African Grand Prix when Renzo Zorzi’s Shadow expired and halted on the other side of the track, smoke wisping gently from its engine. A few feet away from Howell, two volunteer marshals responded by running from the pitwall across the track, and the one carrying the fire extinguisher, Frikkie Jansen van Vuuren, never made it. They were just beyond the brow of a hill and suddenly four cars appeared at 170mph; one was Zorzi’s teammate, Tom Pryce, who struck van Vuuren and the extinguisher, the impact killing both driver and marshal.

This was one incident that persuaded Howell never to get too close to drivers. The incident that convinced him he was right came in 1999 when cheery and talented Gonzalo Rodrgiuez was killed in a Penske at Laguna Seca.

Gonzalo Rodriguez's death convinced Clive he was right not to get too close to any drivers.

Gonzalo Rodriguez’s death convinced Clive he was right not to get too close to any drivers.

Photo by: Sutton Images

Howell asserts: “Drivers are just commodities like the rest of us, they’re employees like the rest of us, they’re mortal like the rest of us. So they go in and out of your life according to contracts or death. So I never wanted to get close or buddy-buddy with our drivers. Hanging out with them isn’t my idea of fun because drivers at this level are generally selfish bastards. I’m sure that’s what makes them fierce competitors on the track but it doesn’t exactly make them congenial company away from the track.”

In a way, that relative lack of emotion or personal bond made Howell a good choice for calling strategy up on the pit wall, and he admits he did quite enjoy it – at times…

“I liked calling the races for Paul Tracy at the start of his career, although he could be brutal,” he recalls. “I liked spotting for Helio [Castroneves] – him and Gil de Ferran made a good team – and I liked working with Will [Power] because he was young and eager to learn ‘The Penske Way’ so if you told him to jump, he’d ask how high. But they’re working relationships, and that’s far as it needs to go.

“When [Juan Pablo] Montoya came to the team [in 2014], he was the epitome of your typical racecar driver. Tim had asked me to call the races for Juan and I said, ‘OK, if you can’t find anyone else,’ but I wasn’t thrilled by the idea. Well, it lasted until Detroit [round six]. I don’t remember what happened but Juan ripped into us about something or other, and I think it’s important to maintain self-respect so I had to tell him to go f*** himself.”

Brabham F1 drivers from the first stage of his career didn’t impress Howell much, either.

“They all seemed a bit aloof from where I was standing,” he says, “but I suppose that may have been because I was very young and new on the scene. John Watson was a decent and polite guy but I can’t say I really knew him.

“Honestly, the only driver who I’ve regarded as a friend is Rick [Mears]. We can hang out and talk about racing but also motorbikes, boats, remote control planes and so on. Maybe it’s because he’s the only top driver I’ve worked with who didn’t come across as a head-case in some way or other!”

Rick Mears on Howell

Rick Mears with Roger Penske, 1980.

Rick Mears with Roger Penske, 1980.

Photo by: LAT Images

“Well that’s nice of him to say,” chuckles Mears on hearing Howell’s comment, “but I think we’re all head-cases in different ways: we’ve all got a screw loose to be doing what we do, and I’m no better than the rest of them! But yeah, me and Clive do plan to meet up and go out on the boat. And I think he wants me to teach him to fly drones. We’re old and retired – we’ve got time on our hands to do all that now.”

Although Howell was put to work on Bobby Unser’s car when he arrived in 1980 – Mears’ second season as a Penske full-timer, but already an Indy 500 winner and CART Indycar champion – and Rick recognized an industrious colleague with zero interest in the frippery and irrelevancies that can infiltrate a close working environment.

“Clive was all business, which fitted with the team very well,” says Mears. “Roger never would tolerate any politics that stops a team from working as a team, and so Clive was an ideal employee.

“He was also great at looking at the big picture and the chain of events. If you had an issue with the car, he’d be asking, ‘Well what issue caused that issue?’, and he’d gauge the knock-on effect of one thing after another. So if you said, ‘We’re wearing our outside front too quickly, can’t get the car turned in,’ then he’d ask, ‘So is that the cause or the effect of the understeer? Have we got the car sitting down too much on one corner so we need to change springs at the rear to put more weight over that right-front?’ And so on. He’d come up with these different ideas of things we could try and say, ‘Well if we solve it this way, that might have this side-effect or that side-effect on the car.’

“Right from the start, he was a real bulldog, very determined: you presented him with a problem and he’d get after it and keep digging, digging, digging until he came up with a solution. Well, that ability to problem-solve is what earned him a position in management, because if you have experience in how to sort out issues – and learn from them, which Clive did – then you’re the right guy to put in authority to foresee problems and head them off before they happen.

“So once he got into that position, Clive was great to have onboard leading a team of guys and looking at the overall picture.

“And he led guys by example in terms of work ethic – ‘Whatever it takes, however long it takes, get it done and get it done right.’

“You can’t ask for anything more from a guy, which is why Roger was so impressed with Clive and trusted him in different positions in the team. Zero BS, just work, for almost 40 years.”

Derrick Walker on Howell

Derrick Walker, who went on to become IndyCar president of competition and operations, was responsible for recruiting Howell to Team Penske in time for the 1980 season.

Derrick Walker, who went on to become IndyCar president of competition and operations, was responsible for recruiting Howell to Team Penske in time for the 1980 season.

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

“I got to know Clive while I was at Brabham,” recalls Walker who, after a dozen years at Penske, would go on to run the Porsche Indycar team before forming his own successful squad, Walker Racing. “Then I joined Roger, and when Team Penske quit Formula 1 at the end of ’76, I joined the main arm of the operation out here.

“I’d stayed in contact with Clive and recruited him in the winter of ’79 I think, and he said ‘yes’ to a U.S. move pretty quickly, and he joined us in time for the 1980 Indy car season. He was a very good mechanic – I never had any doubts about hiring him, and thank God he justified my faith and judgment. Made me look like I knew what I was doing!

“He went on to be a strong manager, too, still good at giving his blunt, no-nonsense opinions, and if someone hadn’t done their job, he’d want to know why the hell not. If something hadn’t happened on time, Clive would be the one who asked the guy why not, why hadn’t he been kept updated, or why this guy had given him an unrealistic due date. So, he was pretty unvarnished and unfiltered in that regard, because he saw no point to it.

“That might not be everyone’s ideal management style, but actually when you look at what he actually does and how he does it, he’s been a very valuable asset to Penske. He’s got that burrowing instinct for getting to the bottom of a problem, and he has a lot of stamina. A very strong player in the team, very dependable, and very efficient: don’t stand around talking about what you’re going to do. Just get on and do it. He wasn’t intolerant of mistakes, but if someone made a cock-up, he’d want to know why and how it happened, and would expect that person to not make the same mistake again.

“He had no time for the lightweight people in the sport, and he’d make that fairly clear, but within Penske he felt comfortable enough to be quite talkative. He never wanted to be in front of the cameras and being interviewed, I think maybe because he never really dwelt on the successes. He was happy buried deep in the team and the one who was saying to all his peers and colleagues, ‘OK guys, well done, but let’s get on with the next task,’ and keeping their feet firmly on the ground, as it were. To Clive, the idea wasn’t to get the job done and then sit around with the guys drinking Coronas and talk about the latest win or whatever: once a job was done to his satisfaction – and he did have high standards – he’d be impatient to get home to be with his missus, or head out and have fun on his bike.”

Ron Ruzewski on Howell

Ron Ruzewski, who has become managing director at Team Penske since Howell's departure.

Ron Ruzewski, who has become managing director at Team Penske since Howell’s departure.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / LAT Images

Ruzewski, who joined Penske as an engineer back in 2005, became Helio Castroneves’ race engineer, then technical director, and is now managing director. In Howell, Ron recalls a colleague who was all about the work and the practicalities.

“Clive is a man of few words but a lot of knowledge,” says Ruzewski. “He has just seen so much, absorbed it and applied it. He was very good as a manager because he knew how to get the opinions of the experts about various aspects of the cars, because he knew what questions to ask. For example, if there’s a part that hadn’t performed as we wanted or expected it to do, he’d ask, ‘Is it the material? Is it the design? Is it the manufacturing process?’ And once he’d gathered all that knowledge, he’d figure out the best way forward. To my mind, that’s good managerial methodology, because it not only sets him along the right path of solving the problem, it also made the rest of us think harder and cover a wider area of investigation for maybe coming up with solutions.

“As far as dealing with people, Clive was quite old school in that he’d welcome new guys to the team but would then be, ‘Right, show me why you need to be here!’

“And you always knew where you stood with him because he would never let things fester: he’d tackle any issues head-on as soon as they arose. And he’d expect the same honesty from those who worked with him and for him: if you screwed up, then he appreciated you being honest about why it happened but would want to know what procedure you were going to put in place to prevent it happening a second time. Again, that’s him encouraging you to stand on your own two feet by making you think about what you’re doing.

“Clive was also easily accessible in the literal sense: because he never wanted to be removed from the shop floor, whatever role he had and he always liked the hands-on practical aspect of racing, he made sure his office opened out onto where the cars were being worked on. So he knew everything that was going on out there. I liked that.”

If he wasn’t much of a talker, and when he did speak he didn’t sugar-coat his words, was Howell somewhat intimidating?

Ruzewski smiles. “The first time I went to see him, he exchanged three, maybe four words with me – he’s always very brief until you get to know him, and vice versa. I suppose that was… not intimidating, but it could be a bit difficult because you wouldn’t necessarily know what he was thinking. But after a couple of years, once you’ve proven yourself and he respects you, he’ll start opening up a bit, and I’d say the last four or five years I very much enjoyed my time with Clive. We’d touch base almost every morning, and some days we’d chat for 20 or 30 minutes. And when my role changed, from race engineer to technical director and now managing director, he was very supportive. I appreciated that.”

Matt “Swede” Jonsson on Howell

Matt Jonsson, who has won titles with Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr. and Will Power, was a Howell recruit back in 1996 and worked with him for 24 years.

Matt Jonsson, who has won titles with Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr. and Will Power, was a Howell recruit back in 1996 and worked with him for 24 years.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / LAT Images

The crew chief on Will Power’s #12 Penske-Chevrolet since 2014, Matt Jonsson also won the title with Sam Hornish Jr. in ’06 and Gil de Ferran in 2000 and ’01. But the Swede – hence his imaginative nickname – came to the country on the recommendation of Stefan Johansson who helped him in the door at Bettenhausen Motorsports, which at the time was running one-year-old Penske chassis.

Jonsson told team owner Tony Bettenhausen that one day he’d like to work for Team Penske, and Bettenhausen being the kind of guy he was, he allowed Jonsson to include him as a reference. In January 1996, Swede got the call from Clive Howell.

Jonsson recalls: “Clive actually hired me, and it was a phone interview – I had gone back to Sweden in the off-season – and then I flew over for a face-to-face interview, it went well and that was it.

“So over 24 years I worked with him and for him, and the things that impressed me were his consistency as a manager, as a boss, and his ability to make decisions. There was no humming and hawing: when he made a decision, it was because he had a very strong opinion and belief that it was right. So those two qualities – the consistency and decisiveness – is exactly what you want from a boss in any job.

“Two more things that I appreciated were that he was always passionate about racing, and he’d never blow his own horn. He was driven purely by the sport itself and the satisfaction of doing his job properly – he didn’t need to be seen to be doing it or to be known in the media.”

Howell was also, it seemed from the outside, constantly working. Even when he was grabbing a quick smoke, he wouldn’t be looking at his cellphone or standing around shooting the breeze: he’d be doing something whether it was tidying up the garage so it looked Penske-perfect, or helping to move toolkits or wheels.

“That’s exactly right,” says Jonsson. “Clive was a very, very hard worker at the race track and back at the shop, and when he made decisions they weren’t based on time factors. If we had a better part that was going to make our cars faster, then we fitted it, because Clive had the attitude, ‘There’s 24 hours in a day, so let’s use them if that’s what it takes.’

“He saw things in quite simple terms: ‘We are a race team, our whole purpose is to make the cars go as fast as we can do to maximize our chances of winning, so everything we can do we will do.’ I think that’s why he fitted in to the team so well: there’s no convenience factor involved. Every effort is made all the time, and that’s traditionally what has separated Team Penske from a lot of our rivals over the years and decades.

“So Clive was always Clive, and that’s what made him perfect for this team.”

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13 Jun

Rossi had endured a disastrous MotoGP weekend at Mugello, failing to make Q2 and having his race compromised by a clash with Suzuki’s Joan Mir, before ultimately crashing out.

In the lead-up to this weekend’s race at Barcelona, Rossi had a track day at Cavallara alongside works Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci.

The Italian had broken his right leg while training at the track back in 2017, which forced him to miss a race at Misano – and Rossi explained he hadn’t been allowed to ride at Cavallara again until now.

“It’s a good therapy, after a hard weekend like in Mugello,” Rossi explained. “You need to stay concentrated and continue your programme, and after the race in Mugello, we were in Cavallara, that is the track where I injured [myself] in 2017, but is one of the my favourite tracks, it’s a fantastic place, I love always to go there and I grew up there also.

“But unfortunately before the Misano 2017 I had a crash and I had the injury, so all my team – and especially my father and all the guys around don’t let me go, for two years. I push always but is forbidden for me.

“But this time, from the beginning of the season that we speak with Dovizioso and Petrucci, to go together one time, and they want to come to Cavallara, so I go to my father and I say, ‘I have Petrucci and Dovizioso this time, we have to go’.

Rossi reckoned it will be key to be on the pace from the outset in Barcelona following the Mugello letdown.

“For me, the Mugello weekend was very tough, very hard, also because I arrive with a good expectation, because in 2018 I did a good race,” he said. “So it was a bit of a shock, to arrive [into] the reality and be more in trouble.

“So, here, this track is one of my favourite tracks, I love this place.

“We arrive in a difficult moment, we are not very fast unfortunately, but we need minimum to work better than in Mugello, to stay more concentrated, try to be strong from tomorrow and try to make the best.”

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13 Jun

Sebastian Vettel took pole position in Montreal and finished first across the line, before a five-second penalty for forcing Lewis Hamilton wide when he rejoined the track following an off dropped him to second.

While the Montreal showing gave Ferrari some encouragement that it has a car that can take the fight to Mercedes, team principal Mattia Binotto is clear that the fundamental problems holding it back have not been addressed.

In particular, the issues that Ferrari has faced getting its tyres working properly have not been cured and the team believes that it was track characteristics that helped more at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

“We know it is a circuit that is more power sensitive, and it is rear limited not front [limited] like Barcelona,” explained Binotto. “So it is more similar to a Bahrain than a Barcelona.

“We knew that coming here we would be closer to Mercedes, but how much closer I don’t think we had any clue.

“I think the Friday performance relative to them was difficult, and the track improvement through the weekend, with more grip on the track, somehow we coped with the weaknesses we have.

“But the car as a matter of fact is exactly the same as it was in Spain. [There have been] no upgrades since then, so let’s say the weaknesses we have are still here on the car. It is as simple as that.

“We need to work and try to improve, because there will be other races that are not Canada. We need to keep fighting and challenge them.”

Ferrari in working on a host of new concept parts for its car that it hopes will help it better manage its tyres.

It believes its struggles, especially in slow speed corners, is down to the way its SF90 is not getting energy through the rubber.

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