A comeback drive sees Juan Manuel Correa and Prema teammates narrowly miss out on LMP2 top-five finish
Fortunately for Correa, this wasn’t his first outing in LMP2 machinery. The American-Ecuadorian racer contested a pair of European Le Mans Series races in 2022, scoring a podium and a win at Spa and Portimão respectively. That meant the 23-year-old was well acquainted with the team, car, and circuit ahead of his first WEC appearance.
Unfortunately, proceedings didn’t get off to the best start when Correa’s team-mate, Netherlands native Bent Viscaal was impeded by traffic on his fastest lap in qualifying. As a result, the #9 car ended the session in P8 with ground to make up in Sunday’s 6-hour race.
Correa was given the daunting task of executing the race start and opening stint. Ever the composed wheel-to-wheel racer, he drove calmly in the early stages and by the end of the first hour, had climbed to P6 in the LMP2 standings.
Filip Ugran and Viscaal picked up where Correa left off, battling hard amongst an ultra-competitive midfield pack in an attempt to maintain position for the remainder of the race.
A combination of a well-implemented strategy from the Prema pit wall and some pacey late-stage stints from his teammates put Correa in the pound seat for the final stint. He was able to battle back into P6 and even began pressuring P5 as the clock wound down. Ultimately it was not to be, but Correa certainly made his presence known, crossing the line less than four-tenths adrift of the fifth-place car. While the #9 car crossed the line in P6, it collected the points for a P5 finish as a car further up the order competed in Portugal as a wildcard.
Correa’s next outing in the WEC series will be at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans held at France’s Circuit de la Sarthe, which is set to occur on 10-11 June 2023.
Romain Grosjean shows fierce determination on his way to scoring a second-place finish at Long Beach
IndyCar Series teams and drivers made their way westward to Long Beach, California, for round three of the 2023 season. Drivers competed on the streets of the Southern California city around a 1.968-mile (3.167-kilometer) temporary street circuit, which runs around Long Beach Convention Center and down the picturesque Shoreline Drive. The circuit offers 11 turns and holds multiple opportunities for overtaking, namely the hairpin at the final corner before the front straight which, if done right, provides spectacular wheel-to-wheel action. A total of 85 laps – 167.28 miles or 269.21 kilometers – had to be completed before a winner could be crowned at the wave of the checkered flag.
Grosjean qualified in a very impressive P3 on Saturday, positioning himself well for the Grand Prix of Long Beach the following day. Upon the opening laps of the race Grosjean and the two drivers ahead of him were closely matched, with the Andretti driver showing strong speed around the street course. Grosjean took advantage of a full course caution and pitted onto primary tires on lap 20, ready to kick off the race once more in P5. A bit of restart madness elsewhere in the field caused a melee for some of the frontrunners, but Grosjean found himself in P3 once more. A further pit stop on lap 53, one lap before teammate Kyle Kirkwood, saw a successful overcut for Grosjean which covered off then-race leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.
Within the final portion of the race, the Swiss-born driver was in a 1-2 formation behind his teammate Kyle Kirkwood, holding steady in second to protect an incredible finish for the team. Fuel saving was the name of the game in the closing stages for Grosjean, which subsequently meant he was unable to use the push-to-pass speed boost button on his steering wheel to aid in his racecraft. As told to David Malsher-Lopez of motorsport.com, Grosjean explained that the fuel situation resulted in brake and tire temperature issues, making his second-place finish all the more impressive. Though the desired results have escaped him in the first two IndyCar Series races of the season, Grosjean is demonstrating impressive skill and pace while maintaining fierce determination that has him knocking on the door of his first victory in the series.
Grosjean’s next opportunity is coming soon at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama where he will compete over the weekend of 28-30 April 2023.
Chandler Smith locks in a top-10 NASCAR Xfinity finish at Martinsville Speedway
Step One Motorsports Ambassador Chandler Smith continued his jam-packed racing season by returning to Virginia for a second race this season, this time at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This Speedway is NASCAR-owned and clocks in at just 0.526 miles (0.847 km) long. Additionally, it is known as one of NASCAR’s first-ever paved oval tracks, having been built in 1947. Drivers will undertake 250 laps around the paperclip-shaped track while carrying an average speed of nearly 60 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour) throughout the three stages.
Smith qualified P11 for Saturday’s race and quickly moved into the top 10 as the race got underway, gaining four spots early on. Despite the Kaulig driver’s claimed lack of front grip, he finished P8 in the first stage, before making a pit stop with the aim of enacting a handling adjustment. Smith forged onward into the second stage without having the drive he was looking for, yet still he held on to the top 10 and finished P9 in the second stage, owing to a late-stage racing line adjustment that yielded more pace. In the third and final stage of the race, Smith’s comment of lacking rear grip returned, and he journeyed into pit road once more for further adjustment to assist his progress. Upon the wave of the checkered flag, the number 16 Chevy driver secured P10, putting on yet another display of consistency and speed in his rookie NASCAR Xfinity series season.
Smith will race next in NASCAR Xfinity in just one week’s time at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama (April 21-22, 2023).
Juan Manuel Correa earns hard-fought points finish in Melbourne Feature Race
Conditions were sufficiently sodden for Formula 2’s first-ever Australian qualifying session and unsurprisingly, that shook up the order considerably. For Juan Manuel Correa and his team, Van Amersfoort Racing, perfectly timing the right moment to put a lap on the board was crucial. The American-Ecuadorian racer recorded a blistering lap time early in the session, placing him sixth fastest overall.
As the session progressed, the times tumbled and with a red flag drawing the session to a close with two minutes remaining on the clock, Correa was denied a final opportunity to put a lap together, ultimately ending the session in P20.
Correa had a mountain to climb, and he wasted no time in getting stuck in at the start of Saturday’s Sprint Race, climbing three positions in the opening three laps. With so much wheel-to-wheel action and the first few spots of rain landing on the driver’s visors, it seemed almost inevitable that there would be contact. On lap 14, amidst a five-car duel at the fringes of the top ten, Correa and Jack Doohan made contact bringing out the safety car.
Under the safety car, Correa and the Van Amersfoort Racing team took a gamble, opting for a fresh set of soft tires. As the laps ticked down, the FIA announced that Correa would receive a 10-second time penalty for the collision with Doohan.
With just two laps remaining, Correa sat in P14 as racing got back underway. He wasted no time in dispatching Roman Staněk and Theo Pourchaire in the first few corners and then set about building as large a gap as possible. He eventually crossed the line in P12 but with the time penalty applied, P14 was his final classification.
The Van Amersfoort Racing driver’s pace held great promise in the Sprint and that quickly became evident in Sunday’s Feature Race as well. Despite initially having to make a pit stop for repairs to his front wing and dropping a lap down, an early safety car meant he could unlap himself and the comeback commenced.
After reducing a 20-second deficit to the cars ahead of him to almost zero, several incidents for other drivers and another safety car on lap 26 elevated Correa to 15th. As the race got back underway, he gained another two positions due to off-track excursions for Dennis Hauger and Victor Martins.
On lap 31 of 33, Correa claimed another position into turn one at the expense of Ralph Boschung. After a tantalizing last-lap duel with Staněk, Correa crossed the line P11 in the standings, just shy of the points positions. However, the application of post-race penalties for several drivers meant that Correa was promoted to P10, taking home a point for himself and for his team after what was a nail-biting Australian debut race weekend for Formula 2.
Chris Walsh makes his GT4 America debut at Sonoma Raceway in California
Step One Motorsports Ambassador, Chris Walsh, kicked off his 2023 racing season 30 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge at Sonoma Raceway last weekend. Walsh is competing in the Pirelli GT4 America series for the first time, which sees drivers traveling from coast to coast throughout the season. The series adopts a sprint format, running two 60-minute races over the course of the three-day event and two drivers take the wheel for 30 minutes apiece. Sonoma Raceway, a hilly road course, showcases 12 turns with over 150 feet (46 meters) in total elevation change making it a fantastic location to host GT4 America’s season opener.
Walsh, an active-duty Air Force officer, ran in the number 96 car alongside Dominic Starkweather in the Silver Class in a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport. The Silver Class comprises amateur racers and up-and-coming professional drivers. In Saturday’s tightly contested qualifying session, Walsh recorded the fifth fastest time in his class ahead of the first of two races. Upon the checkered flag for race one – which saw a lengthy safety car period in the closing stages – the duo claimed P6 in their class.
The second race of the weekend on Sunday yielded another consistent performance, with the Walsh and Starkweather combination completing a clean race, crossing the line P6 in their class once again. Despite poorly timed yellow flags overshadowing the drivers’ strong race pace and great battles, it was a solid opening round for series newcomer Walsh and one that provided valuable learning experiences that can be implemented in the coming races.
Next up, Walsh and GT4 America will visit Avondale, Louisiana to compete at NOLA Motorsports Park from 28-30 April 2023.
Chandler Smith quick out of the blocks in NASCAR Cup Series debut at Richmond Raceway
Step One Motorsports Ambassador Chandler Smith tackled a double-header weekend to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Richmond Raceway. The oval is a mainstay on the Cup Series calendar, having made its first appearance in 1953. It’s a short track circuit on which the drivers are required to complete a three-stage race comprised of 400 laps total. The asphalt track sees drivers carrying average speeds of over 90 mph (145 kph) throughout the Toyota Cares 250.
Coming off the back of an Xfinity Series race the day prior, one that saw Smith grab his first win in the series, would be no small feat but he tackled it head-on despite both practice and qualifying being canceled due to weather conditions not being conducive to track time.
Given no qualifying took place, Smith’s starting position was set by a metric from the series, the position being P37, which was last place. Smith began making up positions and avoided incidents during the first stage. The second stage brought with it a battle with Smith’s teammate, Justin Haley. Both drivers gave each other plenty of racing room and indeed, respect. At the halfway mark, Smith found himself in P29 while receiving positive feedback about his race pace. He commented on the radio that he was having a lot of fun while having a great learning experience, which is exactly what the rookie was hoping for entering the Cup Series for the first time. As the laps ticked down, he found himself continuing an upward trend. He eventually crossed the line in P17, an impressive 20 places higher than his initial starting position. Smith successfully achieved his goals of driving a complete Cup Series race distance and gaining valuable knowledge to propel his racing to new heights.
Smith will race in the Cup Series again within the 2023 season, however, his next racing opportunity comes in the form of a NASCAR Xfinity race weekend, also in Virginia, at Martinsville Speedway (14-15 April).