Felipe Massa’s safety comments draw backlash from IndyCar paddock

IndyCar drivers are continuing to push back on comments made by retired Formula One star Felipe Massa about the American open-wheel series’ perceived lack of safety enhancements.

Massa, now the president of the FIA’s International Karting Commission, criticized IndyCar this week in the wake of Robert Wickens’ Pocono crash and Charles Leclerc’s close call with Fernando Alonso, in which Leclerc was saved by F1’s “halo” device.

Massa tweeted F1 is “always trying to improve” while IndyCar “is not doing much.”

Dario Franchitti and Michael Andretti were among those to initially disagree via Twitter, along with Graham Rahal — who expanded on his comments Wednesday.

“First of all, in his position with the FIA, I think you need to be a little more professional before lashing out like that,” Rahal said after a news conference promoting the Portland Grand Prix. “Second of all, the risk we take is different than the risk they take. Being wheel-to-wheel on an oval at the speeds we go, you’re always going to face these inherent risks.”

Sebastien Bourdais agreed and said others should be more careful about making comments when they aren’t in IndyCar to see what’s actually going on with safety.

I can understand both sides of the story where you could think from afar what we do is overly dangerous and we’re not really doing everything we should do about it, but it’s not true,” he said. “It’s the challenge of getting cars safely around a superspeedway at 220 mph between two walls. That’s always going to be extremely complicated.”

Rahal noted despite Wickens’ serious injuries — spine, leg and arm — none were to his head. So the criticism about not having a halo for head protection, Rahal said, isn’t applicable in this case.

He added a halo wouldn’t work for IndyCars since they race on high-banked ovals.

On the ovals when you look through the corner, like at Texas, you’re kind of looking up,” Rahal said. “If you’re looking straight, the halo would block a visual. It doesn’t work for us. That’s not a concept that works.”

Rahal noted the IndyCar windscreen — which looks like half of a fighter jet canopy — is still in development and “needs to be implemented.” But he added “it’s not that easy.”

The biggest difference is we don’t build a new car every year (like F1),” he said. “So how do you attach that properly? How do you make sure it’s not going to just fall off in the case of an impact like (Josef) Newgarden took where the roll hoop went into the wall first (at Texas)?”

Bourdais said he’d put IndyCars to the test against F1 cars in many safety situations “and they’d be pretty surprised by the results.”

“There’s a lot of effort that’s been put on the safety side for IndyCar,” he said. “The places and the kind of racing we have is exposing us more, which is why we’re trying as hard as we can.”

How I Got Here: Zach Veach and Dalton Kellett

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. This week, it’s a doubleheader: Andretti Autosport drivers Zach Veach (IndyCar) and Dalton Kellett (Indy Lights) visited Portland and explained their backstories as well as what the future of IndyCar’s ladder system could be.

Zach, can you tell us how you got to where you are today? I understand a pastor played a big role in you finding a ride?

Veach: I was 4 years old and I told my dad I wanted to be an IndyCar driver. He kind of giggled, because it’s like, “He’ll want to be an astronaut next week.” But I never changed my mind. At the time, he was a national champion of truck and tractor pulling, so I was constantly traveling around the country with him. It took me the next eight years to finally get him convinced. I told him, “If I don’t get started soon, it’s going to be too late.”

That really hit a chord in his heart, because he decided to quit his dream and sell his truck, his transporter, everything, so we could afford to buy a go-kart and go racing.

I started racing go-karts when I was 12. Through some hard luck and things, by the time I was 15, I got contacted by Andretti Autosport to join Sage Karam in USF2000. So that was my start on the Mazda Road to Indy. I spent two years in USF2000, one year in Pro Mazda, then I did two years with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights — in 2013 and 2014. I came close to winning the Lights championship in 2014, but had a mechanical failure at Sonoma, the last race, which kind of took a lot of us out of it.

Then 2015 was kind of a hard year. That’s when I broke my hand and didn’t have the sponsorship, so I was sitting kind of on the sidelines trying to figure out how to be in the sport. That’s when I started by broadcasting career and got to work with IndyCar Radio and all them.

Luck kind of came back into it. Brian Belardi saved my life and offered me a ride in Indy Lights for 2016. Had another close year — wins and almost won the championship but came out fourth — and then 2017 was just trying to find money again.

I was at the end of my rope, per se, and I was out of people to talk with, and I just had this gut instinct to call my pastor. He pulled me through some other things in my life and I was getting close to the deadline for the Indy 500. So I gave him a call and he gave me the connection to a local Indiana businessman.

Three days later, I had an Indy 500 ride. And about three weeks after that, we were working up the paperwork for my first full year in IndyCar with Andretti.

So there’s a lot of dark. There’s a lot of times when I really thought this thing wasn’t going to happen. But when you love something so much, you take every negative bit and you just keep pushing. I’m so thankful I did, because now I’m getting to live one of the best years of my life.

How close did you come to saying, “This is probably the end?”

Veach: I’d say three times. In 2014, after the Indy Lights year, I was basically all but signed with Andretti Autosport. We had a contract drafted up for me to run my first full year of IndyCar. And a week before testing, the sponsorship fell through and it all went away. So that was tough.

And then I broke my hand (in 2015) and thought that was it for me. And then after 2016, I really wasn’t getting things in place to go IndyCar racing after that and I thought, “Well, that was my last chance.” But I just didn’t give up, and I think that’s the key role. You have to stay present in the sport, you have to stay around. And you have to take time to talk to every single person, because you don’t know who is going to be the person to change your life.

That’s crazy, yeah. Even a pastor can be the one to change your life in racing.

Veach: Divine intervention. (Laughs)

So Dalton, how did you get started?

Kellett: Well let me hit you with the most Canadian racing background you’re ever going to hear. So I’m from Toronto, Ontario. The first thing I ever raced were these 90cc, two-stroke Arctic Cat (snowmobile) sleds called Kitty Cats — like for 3-year-olds. So my good friends and I, we used to race those on a frozen lake up in Canada around an oval our parents made out of milk boxes. So that was my first real race.

And then after that, I didn’t really do anything until I was 14. I always wanted to race. Those kids I raced the skidos with, they went off and raced go-karts. I was like, “Hey Mom and Dad, I want to race karts with Gary and Ryan.” After six or seven years of begging, they relented and let me get into it when I turned 14.

I raced go-karts in the Canadian scene for a bit, went over to Europe, raced there, moved into the F1600 championship in my last year of high school. When I went to university — I have a degree in engineering physics from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario — I raced USF2000 and Pro Mazda all through my Bachelor’s degree. Kind of bounced in between racing and school. And then I moved up into Indy Lights with Andretti once I graduated.

What’s the outlook now for you and what have you had to do to keep staying in the sport?

Kellett: Obviously right now we’re still focusing on the end of the 2018 Indy Lights championship. But looking forward, IndyCar is the goal. We’re trying to put a program together for next year. I just partnered with Ten80 Education, a STEM charity. We’re looking to kind of tie in an IndyCar program with those guys. We’re working on securing the (Indy) 500 first and then kind of going from there. There’s a possibility next year could be a bit of a piecemeal season — maybe a bit of IndyCar racing, maybe some one-off Lights races, maybe some sports car stuff. Of course, if a full-budget, full-year (opportunity) comes together, then that’s what I’ll be doing. But I think (mixing it up) is the more realistic outcome right now.

Both of you obviously took advantage of Mazda Road to Indy. It just came out Mazda won’t be sponsoring that anymore. Most of the people reading this are NASCAR fans, so could you give us a basic overview of what Mazda Road to Indy is?

Veach: Mazda Road to Indy was the first clear path for us young drivers to have a path to IndyCar. For me, I was part of the first generation to ever be on the Road to Indy. I was in the inaugural season of USF2000 in 2010. USF2000 was the first step out of karting, usually when you’re about 15 years old. Next step was Pro Mazda, which started out as Star Mazda at the time. That’s what I did when I was 17. And then Indy Lights, which is basically college ball — that’s the last step before you get to IndyCar.

So each step was so fundamental to learning. USF2000 is pretty much learning how to drive an open-wheel car. Pro Mazda, you learn more of your craft as you get a little more downforce. And Indy Lights, it’s all about learning how to work with an engineer and work with kind of a high-downforce car, as well as learning everything else you need to get that jump start into the IndyCar Series.

So without Mazda’s participation, how could that affect things for people who want to follow your path?

Veach: I hope something comes into place. It’d be great if we saw another manufacturer like Honda or Chevy — someone who already has that presence in IndyCar — come in and try to help the ladder system. I think everyone understands how important it is. We constantly have to have a flow of talent and new kids coming aboard. And I think people see it’s successful. Guys like Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, myself, we’ve all won at different levels and that allowed us to get to the next level and eventually to IndyCar. And that scholarship as well — it helps a ton for people to get their feet wet in IndyCar if you win an Indy Lights championship. So I really do think it’s going to continue to thrive under a new brand, hopefully, and continue to grow. Because to me, I think it’s the best ladder system in the world.

Is the way you came up going to be the way drivers come up the ladder five or 10 years from now?

Kellett: It’s hard to speculate that far in the future. Racing is obviously an iterative process — we’ll go through different iterations of support series and competition formulas and all that. But I think the big takeaway right now with this time of change on the Road to Indy is the formula Dan Andersen and their team has put in place clearly works, because we’ve brought guys like Zach, Spencer, Gabby, Josef Newgarden. Yes, the name may change and we’re all grateful for Mazda and their wonderful contribution over the last nine years, but I think that process and methodology will live on, because we know it works. We’re not going to throw away something that works. It’ll just live on under a different name.

I’m sure you get parents who ask you all the time about where to start their kids in racing. What do you tell them as far as advice these days?

Kellett: That’s always a tough question. Starting in go-karts is always a key way to get into it. That’s how I learned all my race craft. There’s other avenues: You could start at a racing school and then move directly into cars, you could start on the oval circuit — which I can’t really talk too much about because that’s not my background — but whichever way you want to go, there’s an entry point at the grassroots level. Even you don’t want to do it as a professional career, it’s a great family activity. Some of my best memories growing up were me and my mom and my dad camping at the racetrack, having barbecues at the track and racing go-karts. It was a lot of fun.

Veach: For me, it’s always been the Mazda Road to Indy if they’re in the karting ranks already. If not, I’ve always recommended Yamaha Junior Sportsman, because that’s where I started. But with the Road to Indy, it’s been nice to have that vision. When you have success and you’re so thankful to be in IndyCar, and I look back and I think, “What else could I have done differently to get here?” It definitely wasn’t a decision on which series to run, and that’s nothing I would have changed about my past. Each step taught me a lot. Granted, I learned the most in Indy Lights — that’s where I came into my own and started to thrive as a driver — but it’s the whole journey that taught me to be successful in any way.

Editor’s note: IndyCar recently issued a news release regarding a five-year plan to strengthen the Indy Lights program.

How I Got Here with Cara Adams

Each week, I ask a member of the motorsports community to shed some light on their career path and journey to reach their current position. Up this week: Cara Adams, chief engineer for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is transcribed for those who prefer to read.

What does your job currently entail?

Myself and my team of mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, chemists and technicians, we design and develop all of the tires used in the Verizon IndyCar Series. So there’s a lot of work that goes on back in Akron, Ohio where our home base is, and tire production and tire testing — all of those things we do to develop the tires. We come to all of the IndyCar Series races to make sure everything is going well with the tires, (talk to) anybody who has any questions and make sure the drivers can get the most performance out of their tires.

How did this whole thing get started for you? Did you grow up and have this as your dream?

My grandfather was an engineer on the launch team for NASA. He got to work on the space shuttle missions, the Apollo missions, and I always thought NASA would be really cool. I didn’t know much about racing. My family are not sports people. We’re not into sports-ing. (Laughs) They didn’t really watch much racing, if any.

When I went to school for engineering, I wandered down into the machine shop in the basement of the University of Akron’s engineering building, and they were putting something together. I was asking them about what it was, and it was a Formula SAE car (a student-designed race car competition). They were doing all of the machining, all of the designing and I didn’t know much about cars or tools or anything at all. All I knew was something about rebuilding a carburetor was what you did with cars. My dad had an old Volkswagen Beetle and all he did was rebuild that carburetor.

So I started to learn machine tools. That’s where I learned to use a mill, a lathe, all of that. We built the car, I got to drive in a friend’s fast car and between that and driving in the SAE car and then winning tickets on the radio to go see a Champ Car race, I just fell in love with the mechanics of the car. How the car worked, how the car shifted under load — those are the things I really fell in love with.

What would have happened in your life had you never gone down in the basement and seen that car?

I don’t know. I think I might have gone the route my little sister has. She’s actually an engineer for Boeing and she works on finite element analysis and now she’s doing project management for Boeing. So I might have gone the airplane route had I never gotten interested in the cars.

Once you were interested in cars and got out of college, what was the first step in your career?

When I first graduated, there weren’t too many jobs in the automotive field. It was right after a downturn. I ended up at Bridgestone and I was working in our tire vehicle dynamics group. Now, I knew Bridgestone/Firestone had a phenomenal history in motorsports; I didn’t realize how far back it went. I didn’t realize it went all the way back to the 1911 Indy 500, when Ray Harroun and his Marmon Wasp drove to victory on Firestone tires. But I did know they were in Champ Car at the time and they were in IndyCar, so I did know there was that history there.

When I started with the company, I basically talked to the manager at the time and said, “I really, really want to work in race tire development. How can I get that role? What do I need to be able to do? What are you looking for in your ideal engineer?” So he went back and talked to some of his engineers, and he said, “Well, we really want somebody who understands vehicle dynamics, somebody who can do programming — specifically MATLAB (engineering software) — and somebody who understands tire force moment behavior.

I thought, “OK, well I have a little bit of vehicle dynamics background. I don’t know much about force moment behavior at all. But I’m going to learn.” So I just spent nights and weekends (studying), and any kind of project I could volunteer for at my vehicle dynamics job that might involve me in racing later, I did.

So you were basically taking your free time to learn whatever you could and better yourself in order to further your goal?

Yeah. (It was) “I don’t have that job yet, but until I have it, I’m going to buy the textbooks and take notes.” My husband was always laughing at me (because I was) writing down notes for something I wasn’t actually doing yet.

I also did a lot of rebuilding of cars on my own. So that helped me get to the point where once I got into IndyCar, I could relate to the mechanics, I could relate to the engineers. Because I understood what it meant to rebuild an engine and some of the stuff that goes into making your suspension improved.

A young Cara Adams spent her spare time rebuilding cars, like this Chrysler Sebring, to enhance her vehicle knowledge in hopes of landing a job in racing. (Courtesy Cara Adams)

So what was your big break between the time this started to become a dream and the time it became a reality for you?

I’m not sure if there was one single big break. But there was one person who moved on from race tire development over to production, and that job became available. When I went in to interview, it was like I had the answer key. I had already talked to the team to know what they needed, so I walked in there and it was like, “Now I know a whole lot about vehicle dynamics, I can program really well in MATLAB and I volunteered for a program to build a force moment tire model of a passenger car and update the steering system of the force moment model.” So because I had all those, it was like I had checked off every box they had in what they were looking for in an engineer.

It sounds like you went out and made yourself the most-qualified candidate and made it impossible to not give you this position when it was open.

That was my goal: Make it impossible for them not to hire me. There was a really, really great candidate who was also highly qualified for this role, but I just had that little extra that I had done it and wasn’t going to let them say no.

How did evolve from once you started until you reached your current position?

When I started out for the Firestone Racing group, I was actually designing the street course tires. So I started out with Long Beach, St. Pete, Toronto — those were all my constructions. They were already well-developed constructions that I was tuning and making small tweaks on. So it was talking to the drivers after they get out of their cars and saying, “Alright, at this street course, was there anything you wanted more? Is there anything the tire didn’t give you that you were looking for?”

Then I started working on road course tires. And about five or six years ago, I started working on all of the oval tires — anything from a superspeedway to a short oval to Indy, which are all very different animals. There’s a lot more changes you make on oval tires than you do on a street course tire. A street course tire is pretty good for every street course, but oval tires are very specific to the track; if you tried to run a Milwaukee tire at Texas, it wouldn’t work so well — and vice versa. You wouldn’t have any grip at Milwaukee if you tried a Texas tire or even an Indy tire.

So I worked with that a lot and learned a lot about that. I took charge of the force moment testing program for racing, and then last year I even worked a lot with track rentals. I got to know people from Iowa Speedway and Texas and Indy, because I’m working with the tracks to try and get tire testing to happen. The person who came before me in this role, Dale Harrigle, really prepared me for this chief engineer role.

How long does it take you to build respect in the garage and get to know people? How long did it take you to get comfortable enough to really start to shine?

I’m going to go back to the management we had before. Before Dale, we had Page (Mader). And Page was really good about introducing me to teams and basically giving a little of my backstory and saying, “She’s excellent, she’s really smart, you need to listen to what she says.” So really early, my management helped me by setting the stage for my eventual performance.

And once a team has a question about something and you’re able to present a solution to something they hadn’t thought of before, that builds street cred really quickly. So the fact you can understand what they’re talking about and understand something outside just the area you work on — not just tires — to be able to show something like that, it does wonders.

Cara Adams checks with drivers like Graham Rahal to get their thoughts on how the tires are performing. (Courtesy of IndyCar)

What’s next for you? Do you see yourself in this role as long as possible?

I really like what I’m doing right now. It’s very technically challenging, yet I get to do a lot of leadership. I have a fantastic team of engineers. To see them develop and get better is really rewarding. Before I became manager, it was all about what I could do and the best tire I could do. Now it’s about the team. It’s about seeing them get better in what they’re doing and seeing them be able to come up with better and better tires. So it’s a really challenging role, but it’s really rewarding as well.

If someone is reading this and they would like to be in your role someday, what is the career path? How should they get started?

First of all, education is really important. An engineering degree. There are a lot of great engineering schools. I have to give it up for University of Akron — they had a phenomenal Formula SAE program where we actually won out of 110 schools or so in one of the early years I was on the team. Getting involved in an extracurricular program like Formula SAE or Baja or one of these programs where you’re actually designing and building something (is important). It’s that hands-on that you’re doing and some of these collegiate projects where you’re learning about team-building and project management and a lot of things you don’t get in a thermodynamics class. All of the classes are important, but that extracurricular stuff is pretty huge.

And then the other thing is talking to people who are in the industry. There was a young lady who came up to me in Milwaukee in about 2007 and she said she said she was interested in science and wanted to do engineering and she liked racing. So I kept in touch with her all the way through when she graduated high school and college, through her first job, and now she’s an engineer at Harley Davidson. So it’s really neat to be able to follow her career. I had a young lady come up to me at the beginning of last year, and she was actually asking for my autograph and I said, “You’ve got the wrong person; I’m not a driver.” She said, “No, I know who you are. I just wanted to talk to you.” So I’ve kept in touch with her through her high school career. It’s been neat.

Will Power wins the Indy 500, but Alexander Rossi wins the show

Alexander Rossi found it hard not to smile after pulling off an impressive feat during the Indy 500. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Alexander Rossi kept saying he was disappointed not to win the Indianapolis 500 after finishing fourth on Sunday — and no doubt, that’s true.

But he could barely hide a smile while surrounded by reporters on pit road after the race, because Rossi knew he just did something pretty cool.

After starting 32nd — second to last — on the most difficult passing day in the last half-dozen years at Indy, Rossi nearly ended up on the podium. And he seemed to will himself to the front thanks to gasp-inducing moves on multiple restarts, where he improbably made the outside lane work.

Rossi said it wasn’t a matter of having giant balls, but rather “just opportunity, man.”

“It’s not anything to do with anything else,” he said. “You try to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you.”

Come on, though! Other drivers weren’t making those type of moves work — or even daring to try them, seemingly. Rossi did, and put on the most memorable show of the Indy 500 despite losing out to Will Power.

“It’s just a different mindset,” he said of starting at the back. “You’ve got to expose the car. You’ve got to do some things you’re uncomfortable with and hope they work out.”

They did. It’s fitting Rossi was accompanied Sunday by several of his fellow contestants from last season of The Amazing Race — winners Jessica Graf and Cody Nickson, along with Kristi Leskinen (Team Extreme) — because that was certainly a fitting description for how he drove. Leskinen snapped photos of the media mob surrounding Rossi on pit road to ask him about his feat.

Rossi has a subtle approach to answering questions and doesn’t seem to get caught up in his own hype. But he acknowledged the good day in his own way, noting this year’s new IndyCar made it so “your ass is clenched around here quite a bit of the time.”

When Rossi was asked about his level of confidence in making those moves, he basically gave a verbal shrug. 

“Confident enough,” he said. “I mean, you never know. The inside was blocked, so sometimes there’s not any other option. And I’m not going to lift, so…”

How I Got Here with Kyle Novak

Race director Kyle Novak (white shirt) monitors practice at the Long Beach Grand Prix from IndyCar Race Control. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Each week, I ask a member of the motorsports community to shed some light on their career path and explain how they reached their current role. This week: Verizon IndyCar Series race director Kyle Novak, who is in his first season on the job. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is transcribed for those who prefer to read.

Can you tell us a little about your role now so we can understand how you got to this point?

Sure. So I’m the race director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, which means you handle all aspects of the on-track operations of any event. We have a great staff that handles the details of every single department. I manage that staff in the room. It’s a pretty big undertaking, but we have great people that help us get it done.

Was racing on your radar? Was this a goal of yours when you were growing up or anything like that?

No. I always knew I wanted to work in the sports industry and had a calling in motorsports growing up. My dad and I are big car guys — muscle car guys. We both drag race when we can on the weekends; we have a small two-car hobby operation when I’m not at the racetrack for IndyCar that we’re racing on the weekends.

You still do that?

We still do. We have two cars that we take a lot of pride in. It’s a lot of work, but it still keeps me close to kind of the grassroots side. We have a lot of fun with it.

But growing up in that atmosphere, always being a huge NASCAR fan, huge IndyCar fan, even more recently Formula One, anything with four wheels has been a big part of my life. So never really intended it, but I’m glad it worked out that way for sure.

How did you get your start? What were you doing in college that started to put you on this path?

I did my undergraduate work at Bowling Green State University; I was a sports management major there. As part of my major program there, you had to do two internships, and of the two internships that I did, one was with the football program. And (now Ohio State coach) Urban Meyer was the coach there. He was in his second year of his two-year tenure at Bowling Green.

After that — and this is the gateway drug into racing — was working for IMG Motorsports when they still promoted the Cleveland Grand Prix. It was an event that’s very near and dear to me, a very special event. But that got me into the racetrack/race operations side of things. And it spooled eventually into where we are today.

Before we continue more into the racing part of it, tell me a little about what it was like to work for Urban Meyer. I mean obviously, he wasn’t the star coach that he is today, but I’m sure the makings of one were there. What did you learn from him?

It was very special. When you go through life and you come across people, there’s probably a few that are mentors. He was one of those people. When he was there, he was really on nobody’s radar screen, but you’d just tell he had that presence.

I’m a taller guy, I’m a bigger guy, and I have to have thick skin to deal with a lot of these drivers and team managers who are some of the sharpest people I’ve ever met. But there’s not a whole lot of people I’ve ever met who intimidated me or if they looked at me in the eye put that fear of, “You’d better do a good job,” and he’s one of those guys — maybe the only guy besides maybe my parents. Just a very intense, clear guy that can just get every last ounce of energy out of anyone. And that’s a tribute to his success as well.

Have you taken any of those leadership things along with you at different stops throughout your career? Or are they two different things?

Two different things. Keep in mind when Urban got to Bowling Green, the program was in shambles. Bowling Green, being a small, mid-major school but with a proud football tradition, especially in the state of Ohio, it was in shambles. The biggest thing he instilled in his players and all of his staff is that of accountability.

And I remember one of the coolest stories is one of the players, a wide receiver in a drill or something significant in practice, dropped a pass. (He said) “Oh my bad, Coach, my bad.” I remember him jumping that player saying, “My bad? Of course it’s your bad. Everyone saw it was your bad. Just catch the ball, you don’t have to say it.” It was this issue of excuses leading to accountability, it was something that always stuck with me for my career and something I’ve always taken with me.

So you said you got the racing bug, or at least even more from that side once you did the Cleveland Grand Prix stuff. What was your next step after that in Cleveland?

Cleveland led to more track construction. So I actually did that event from ’03 until Champ Car was absorbed into IndyCar I think in ’08. During that time I had the opportunity to work on the Denver event — the Grand Prix of Denver — consult on a couple more street courses. I did three races in 2006, and that kind of led to me meeting so many people and a few people who I still work with today in race control. I met them in my racetrack construction operations capacity, and that kind of started helping me meet people on the sanctioning body side.

That led me to an opportunity to be series manager for the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, and that got me onto the series management side.

With the racetrack construction thing you were talking about, is it like somebody gives you a design and they’re saying, “Go make this happen, go put the walls here and fences here?” And you’re trying to figure it out?

The firm I worked for, we actually did the design work, too. We did it all, soup to nuts, so to speak. But what was cool about the race operations side was, now as race director — especially coming to a street course like Long Beach — you really have a really ground-up understanding of what it takes to put the event together and the challenges that the promoter has. And there are many: the event’s cost, down to how the cabling runs, which might affect how your race control is laid out.

So it all comes together, and that fundamental knowledge I’ve learned on the racetrack construction side really gave me a good foundation for now being on the sanctioning body side when running the race. It’s really a holistic view of the whole event from the ground up.

What was your path moving up the ladder once you ended up on the sanctioning body side of things? How did you go from level to level?

I’m actually a lawyer. So after the TDI Cup stuff, times being what they were in 2008, 2009, I thought it was time to pursue a personal goal and find some more growth. So I got a law degree.

After all that, you got a law degree?

Yeah, a law degree. I passed the bar in Michigan. I went to Ohio Northern University for law school. Kind of practiced solo for a while and always stayed in touch with a lot of my good friends.

A good friend of mine from IMSA who I stayed in touch with came calling and said, “We have the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race director race job open.” It was halfway though the 2015 season. He said, “Are you interested?” I went out to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) for the race and really was just blown away by impressive IMSA’s race operations were.

The next race at COTA (Circuit of the Americas in Austin), I’m the race director for Lamborghini Super Trofeo. And that was a really cool season for me because I’m a rookie race director, but IMSA hosted the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Finals in Sebring. So it was a smorgasbord of racing with eight races including the world championship shootout on the last day. That was a good way for a rookie race director like myself to get acclimated quickly to a high level of sports car racing.

So you were doing that, and then how did this opportunity present itself?

I worked up through the IMSA race director ladder, so to speak. The following year, had the opportunity to do Porsche GT3 Cup USA, and IMSA also sanctions a Canadian counterpart to the series and there’s some joint events. I did that for two years, ’16 and ’17.

In ’17, in addition to those two series, I was the race director for Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. So I had a very full plate in 2017. But some of our IndyCar staff works with IMSA as well, especially in race control — it’s just such a small community. So I had the opportunity to come in contact with (IndyCar president) Jay Frye though my travels at some of the joint IMSA/IndyCar events, just stayed in touch and here we are now.

What’s the key to being a good race director? What do you have to do right?

Two things I takeaway are one, you have to trust your staff. You have to trust everything they do, because there is no way any one person can manage these sessions as complex as our technology is now, and as layered as our approach is now with video replay and all that stuff. So you have to trust your people and they have to trust you, especially when it’s a pressure cooker in there during in some races.

And the other thing is when you interact with the drivers and teams, you have to listen and you have to be open to their feedback and you have to take care of them in the sense the perspective they have is incredibly meaningful.

The very impressive thing about the IndyCar paddock — and I’m still blown away by this — is how lucid our drivers are. There was always the urban legend they could see a quarter at the apex, and you’d laugh about that, but now I believe it. They come to me with, “Kyle, did the wall at Turn 3 move six inches left or right?” Well yeah, it did. They can see this sometimes without being prompted. The level of what they see and how they can think about it, communicate it — even during a session — I’m just blown away by it.

That raises our game, because you can’t let anything fall through the cracks or assume that they won’t see it or know about it. They do, and it’s very impressive.

Let’s say someone is reading this and they’re like, “Man, that’d be so cool to be a race director of a series and get to call these races.” How would somebody get their start? What would you recommend?

Talk to everyone. Reach out. Email people. Go find the officials. So many of our fans, they’re here obviously for the drivers, and that’s the show. The show is the drivers and we never pretend we’re the show and fans come to see us. We prefer for everyone to not know who we are; it’s like an umpire, you’re doing a good job if you don’t know who the umpire is.

But you’ve gotta meet people. The key to any industry, especially in motorsports, is who you know. One of my really good friends who works for IMSA started out by just saying, “Hey, I think race operations is for me, can I come to a race?” And that was truly his gateway into where he is now, and he’s a very successful young race operations guy. That’s all it really takes, (saying) “I want to get involved.”

It is such a small industry that we’re always happy to see young people, anybody that’s interested in what we do, because it’s an unsung side of the business — maybe in a good way — but we really appreciate anyone that has an interest in that. That’s what I recommend anyone doing.

Long Beach Grand Prix: Sebastian Bourdais infuriated after race goes sour

Sebastien Bourdais finished a disappointing 13th in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after challenging for the win early in the race. (Action Sports Photography)

Have you ever purchased a delicious-looking donut, dropped the donut after one bite, watched it roll into the street and get run over by a semi-truck?

If so, you might be able to relate to Sebastien Bourdais’ afternoon at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Bourdais made a holy-crap, did-you-see-that pass of three cars in a single corner entering Turn 1, which lit up social media with a collective “WOW.”

But that move to take second place turned out to be the highlight of his day, because it all went to crap shortly thereafter.

First of all, Bourdais was penalized by IndyCar race control — which ruled he used the pit exit lane to make the pass. He had to drop back and give one of his spots back as a result.

But Bourdais insisted he was actually forced into the lane by Scott Dixon — who was one of the cars he passed three-wide — which made the incident “an avoided crash that turned into a brilliant pass,” he said.

“It was the biggest save of the day,” Bourdais said, sitting at his pit box well after the race had ended. “When you get forced in there, then you’re braking in an area that has no grip and you’ve got to go over the eggs to come back on track, the car is bouncing up and down and you’re trying to save your life. I don’t see what I was supposed to do, honestly.”


After the penalty, Bourdais fell back to third and said he was so fired up about it that he made another bold pass to retake second place the very next lap.

“I was plain straight pissed off (about the penalty),” he said. “When I make a mistake or violate a rule, I’m the first one to raise my hand. But I did nothing wrong on that one.”


He only got angrier five laps later, when a caution brought out by teammate Zachary Claman De Melo occurred right when Bourdais was coming to pit road. As a result, Bourdais had to drive through pit road — losing track position — and return for his pit stop under caution.

“It was pretty straightforward until my teammate made a mess of it and hung us out to dry,” he said. “On top of that, race control decided to hang us out for two seconds. Greatly appreciated. These races turn into circuses when that happens.”

But that wasn’t even the end of it. Bourdais got even more upset after he had to restart back in the pack — where “you end up racing idiots who don’t give you any room.” He had only gotten back up to 10th when rookie Jordan King spun him around in the hairpin turn, finishing off the bad day.

“Jordan feels like a million dollars, dumps it in there and turns us around. Alright. Have at it, boys,” Bourdais said sarcastically.


Bourdais, who won four championships during the open-wheel split, said he was deeply disappointed in finishing 13th because he “drove one of my best races in quite sometime.”

He just had nothing to show for it.

Oh, and there was one more thing he was mad about, Bourdais said.

“What really upsets me the way the races are run these days,” he said. “You have a Graham Rahal who turns someone (Simon Pagenaud) around at the start of the race and ends up, what, fourth? (Rahal finished fifth.) I’m sorry, that’s just…we got to do something about this. It’s infuriating.”

Long Beach Grand Prix: How much racing is too much?

There’s no such thing as too much racing — well, perhaps unless there’s not enough time to fit it all in.

Such was the case on a glorious Saturday at Long Beach — “Super Saturday,” which squeezed in track activity for six different series over the course of 11 hours.

It was a fantastic day for anyone who likes racing even the tiniest bit, and a near-perfect one when you factor in the sunshine, spectacular oceanside setting — complete with a harbor and lagoon — and the huge motorsports expo that takes up the entire Long Beach Convention Center floor.

But there was one small blemish on the day: Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, which had a 20-minute window to race between IndyCar qualifying and the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, had to end its race after only six laps.

Stadium Super Trucks leap off jumps placed as obstacles in the street course, and driver Apdaly Lopez accidentally flipped his truck off a jump on Lap 5.

Typically, track workers just roll an upside-down truck back over and keep going. But this time, it took too long — and officials ran out of time to restart the race.

Gordon apologized to the fans on the public address system after finishing second, and third-place finisher Arie Luyendyk Jr. — also known as The Bachelor — said the drivers were “a little bummed.”

“There’s a certain time window we have to abide by,” Luyendyk said. “But typically, 90 percent of the time we get a full race in.”

A spokesman for the series was critical of the amount of time to get the truck rolled over, telling reporters the race should have gone back to green.

“We are governed by race control of the Long Beach Grand Prix, who put on an extremely great event every year and we’re lucky to be a part of it,” the spokesman said. “However, we’re obviously very upset with the way things happened. … That was just not right, and it shouldn’t have taken so long.”

Race winner Gavin Harlien said he didn’t expect the race would be over when the caution came out and thus felt a little shortchanged.

“That’s not how I want to win, but, I mean, I’ll take it,” he said.

On the positive, side, this sort of thing is only possible when so many series share the track at once. That’s actually a good problem to have from a fan standpoint.

For a $65 general admission ticket (or a $100 weekend pass with a reserved seat), spectators could spend the entire day wandering the course, which snakes its way through the prime real estate of the Long Beach waterfront.

There are multiple spots to stop and observe the cars, take photos or just bask in the California sun; personally, I walked 7.9 miles during the course of the day while exploring the circuit.

From IndyCar practice and qualifying (Alexander Rossi won the pole) to an IMSA’s slick sports cars to Gordon’s trucks to Historic Trans Am cars (that ran in the 60s and still race), it seemed like a non-stop schedule. As I write this, there are still cars on the track —  a drifting challenge competition that goes until 8 p.m. local time.

Anyway, there’s some solace knowing another Stadium Super Trucks race will run tomorrow — and since it’s scheduled for after the IndyCar race, the entire thing should be completed this time.

If not, that’s the only way “too much of a good thing” could ever apply to racing.