Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sprint Hangs Up on Sponsoring NASCAR's Top Series Beyond 2016

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

At the start of the 2017 NASCAR season, the green flag for the Daytona 500 will drop inaugurating a new path for their biggest stakes tour. First and foremost, NASCAR's top series will no longer be known as the Sprint Cup Series. In a brief statement issued by NASCAR on Tuesday afternoon, it was announced cellular phone service provider Sprint would not renew their title sponsor role in the premier stock car racing series.

Citing the need to concentrate on their core business, Sprint has decided not to renew their title sponsorship commitment to NASCAR. Steve Gaffney, Sprint's vice president of marketing commented, “We are proud of our association with NASCAR’s top series but have made the decision not to extend our sponsorship beyond the next two years,”. Gaffney also stated, “We genuinely appreciate the fans, teams, drivers, tracks and media who have been so supportive and welcoming to us during these many race seasons,” adding how Sprint looks forward to fulfilling the final years of their current deal.

The series had been known as NASCAR Sprint Cup since 2008 but the original contract began in 2004 through the company Nextel. Called the Nextel Cup Series for a single season, Sprint and Nextel merged in 2005. The original ten-year naming right deal for the NASCAR series was extended at the end of the term to three additional seasons. The Nextel-Sprint arrangement replaced a long-running sponsorship deal with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company resulting in the existence of the Winston Cup Series for 33 seasons. Besides the series title sponsorship, Sprint has also been providing their brand name to the invitational event at Daytona International Speedway and the all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Sprint Cup Series isn't going to be the first major touring division of NASCAR to undergo a rebranding. Starting next year, Comcast's Xfinity brand will be the new title sponsor in the NASCAR division previously known as the Nationwide Series.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tequila Patron ESM Track Tests New HPD ARX-04b Prototype Sports Car

The Tequila Patron ESM (Extreme Speed Motorsports) team opened one of their Christmas gifts early this week. Waiting for their newest speed machine since May, the drivers for Tequila Patron ESM turned their first laps in an all-new Honda prototype race car in preparation for the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship.

Received by the race team operated by Scott Sharp (a long-time American sports car racing driver as well as a co-champion for the 1996 Indy Racing League drivers’ title), the first of two all-new Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-04b prototype coupes was acquainted with an unidentified race track. Team Principal and Tequila Patron ESM squad’s co-driver Sharp was first to take the new vehicle out on track. “This HPS Coupe is very exciting for us, there has been so much anticipation building up to our first laps”, said Scott Sharp as he ran some initial shakedown laps. An early test of the ARX-04b, HPD prototype project leader Allen Miller slated, " Our goal today was simply to check all the systems to ensure the ARX-04b is where it needs to be, as we start our pre-season test program."

A vehicle fully compliant with ACO LMP2 rules, HPD’s new ARX-04b is powered by a twin-turbocharged version of a production-based V-6 engine. The drive-by-wire powerplant is similar to the one used on the Honda Accord as well as Acura products such as the MDX and the new TLX. The new Honda Performance Development vehicle is quickly identified for its closed cockpit setup. All the previous versions of the ARX line were open cockpit vehicles. In the 1990s, an Acura NSX-engined prototype race car ran in the GTP Lights category with an enclosed-cockpit setup. Under the Comptech Racing banner, the Honda powered prototype used a Spice chassis.

Running full-time as part of the FIA WEC tour in 2015 in the LMP2 category, the first active field-test of the HPD ARX-04b in competition will take place in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Additionally, Tequila Patron ESM was pledged to battle for the 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Championship’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup. The four-race competition for the North American Endurance Cup is shaped by the 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Tequila Patron ESM have been rapidly acquainting themselves to the FIA WEC after years involved in the American Le Mans Series Participating in three races in the LMP2 category this past season, the team posted a runner-up spot running the Shanghai FIA WEC round. The 2015 season will be Tequila Patron ESM’s sixth year of sports car racing competition.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

600-Horsepower Cadillac ATS-V Coupe to Go Sports Car Racing in 2015

For much of its 111-year history, American luxury car brand Cadillac has been focused on the road-going character of the premium brand. While other automakers like Bentley, BMW, Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz used motorsports to highlight their latest engineering know-how documented with storied wins at tracks like Le Mans and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Cadillac's past has seen the General Motors' brand more accustomed to cruising boulevards or parked at country clubs. Several seasons of Pirelli World Challenge has resulted in four drivers' championships over a decade-long timeframe including Cadillac pilot Johnny O'Connell's 2014 title. With the completion of the recent season, Cadillac also locked up its three-straight manufacturers' title thanks to its V-8 powered, race-prepped CTS-V Coupes. Fending off exotic vehicle like the Bentley Continental GT3, Lamborghini GT3, McLaren 12C GT3 and the Audi R8 Ultra through 2014, Cadillac will attempt to continue its reign in sports car competition with an brand-new car in 2015.

Designated at the Cadillac ATS-V.R, the future track terror is delivering a number of advances over the previous championship winner. The first notable change is the adaptation of the ATS-V Coupe rather than the CTS model. Originally fielding the CTS sedan in 2004, Team Cadillac has been fielding a CTS-V Coupe from 2012 up to this season. Set to be revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the yet-to-be shown stock 2016 ATS-V Coupe will be the brand's first compact performance model.

Another aspect affecting the look of the appearance of the 2015 ATS-V.R is that the race car conforms for FIA GT3 rules. The FIA GT3 specifications were approved for the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge season and is widely-applied in global motorsports. An aggressive aero kit consisting of a carbon fiber front splitter and a full undertray give the Cadillac ATS-V.R a firm sports car look. Fenders have also been shaped to allow FIA-mandated tire sizes that will be mounted to the Cadillac race car's 18-inch BBS racing wheels. Brembo brakes and three-way Penske adjustable shocks are fitted to ATS-V.R in order to handle fast, tight cornering.

Moving the brand-new Cadillac is handled by a dramatically different type of engine. The ATS-V.R will be the first recent competition Cadillac to be powered by a V-6 engine. Modified for racing, the 3.6-liter Twin Turbo V-6 powerplant is based on a production Cadillac engine like the one found under the hood of the CTS Vsport. This engine should also be similar to the one equipped on the stock ATS-V. Larger BorgWarner turbochargers and high-capacity intercoolers as well as a side-exiting racing exhaust system will allow an available output of 600 horsepower to flow through a rear-mounted Xtrac sequential six-speed transmission to the drive wheels.

Cadillac's racing history may not be as rich as other premium car companies but it does contain some notable accomplishments. During an 1909 event in Portland, Oregon for what was the first race to be sanctioned by the AAA (the United States automotive club held many major auto races prior to the formation of the USAC series), A Cadillac won a three-lap event on a 14.6-mile road course. After World War Two, competitive sports car builder Briggs Cunningham competed with Cadillac products. At the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans, he ran a largely stock Cadillac Series 62 as well as a custom-bodied Cadillac chassis called "Le Monstre". In the same year, a Cadillac-engine Allard race car won 99-mile race in Watkins Glen. Aside from sports car racing in the 1950s, Cadillac's ran in the NASCAR Grand National Series (now called the Sprint Cup Series) though never won a race. Cadillac's arrival to the Pirelli World Challenge Series in 2004 came after a three-year prototype sports car run that yielded limited success.   

Along with its expected run as part of the Pirelli World Challenge in 2015, the Cadillac ATS-V.R's compliance to FIA GT3 regulations could allow the luxury brand to spread its sport car racing profile in the future.

Information and photo source: General Motors