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Tommy Boileau: “Testing With Olsbergs Was A Humbling Experience”

Image via Tommy Boileau Facebook

For future reference, race fans, make sure you remember the name Tommy Boileau.

At just 18, Boileau has accomplished more in his teenage years than some drivers will accomplish over their entire careers. One of the fastest rising talents in American road racing, he’s converted his impressive resume into opportunities as both a race driver and driving instructor.

The biggest opportunity of Boileau’s young career came on November 1, when he joined an impressive crop of nine drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to test rallycross cars for Olsbergs MSE. Four would test the same SuperCars that OMSE fielded in this year’s Global Rallycross Championship, while Boileau and four others would shake down OMSE’s new SuperCar Light. On Monday, he would talk to us about his career so far, driving the new vehicle, and taking in the sights and sounds of Las Vegas:

First things first—we do this question the first time we talk to anyone because we like to hear it better in your own words. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from, and what you’ve accomplished so far in your career.

I started racing when I was eight years old—I started in go-karts and did that for about five years, and I won a few championships doing that. When I was 14, I decided to try to make a move into the full-blown race cars, so we talked to the SCCA and NASA, and NASA allowed me to begin racing with them at the age of 14. So we did that, ran a spec Miata my first year, became Rookie of the Year with them that year, and raced one more year in a BMW in NASA. Then I moved on to the SCCA my next season at 16, became Rookie of the Year, won a divisional championship, and became National Driver of the Year with the SCCA in my first year racing with those guys.

Image via Tommy Boileau Facebook

After that, I did a few IndyCar tests between there, trying to get familiar with some faster stuff, and then last year I acquired my FIA Grade B professional racing license. It’s an international license that allows me to race anywhere in the world. I’ve also just recently become an instructor for the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

I’m a third generation driver on both sides of the family. Both my mother and my father raced, as well as both of my grandfather. So I’m a third-generation American race car driver on both sides of the family. That’s a pretty cool thing—it’s definitely been in my family for a long time and I hope to carry on the tradition of racing.

When did you get the call to test for Olsbergs at Las Vegas? How did that come about?

It was probably about a month ago, a couple of weeks before the test. I had met all of the guys from OMSE at the PPIR Global Rallycross race here in Colorado (in June 2011). I had kind of gotten to know them and hung out with them quite a bit, and they actually invited us out to do X Games with them. I was also coaching a few guys at X Games for some driving. So we hung out with them there some more, and just talked to them on and off for I’d say about a year. Then, just a few weeks ago, we got the call asking if I was going to be at SEMA, and if I was, that I should bring my gear, because they wanted me to test in the new car for them.

Photo credit: Bob Boileau

Did you do much driving in a rally or rallycross car before you got to the test?

Yeah, I did. Once I got the call I kind of sniffed around town, and one of our good friends, Scott Crouch, actually has a rally car that he just did the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in. So I went up to Boulder, picked up the car, and brought it back to Colorado Springs. I did probably 60 or 70 laps worth of testing on a dirt track out of PPIR, and got pretty familiarized with some of the off-road driving as well as driving a four-wheel drive car, because it’s not something I have as much experience doing. So I figured I’d kind of get familiarized with that before I’d go out and have my big opportunity.

You weren’t the only one testing either of the Olsbergs cars—who else was there shaking things down?

There were five young drivers testing in the Lights car—myself, Tanner Whitten, who’s an oval racer, and two of Andreas (Eriksson)’s sons were out there testing, as well as another European rallycross driver.  Those were the other four drivers in the Lights car alongside me.

Image via Tommy Boileau Instagram

Then the four drivers testing in the SuperCar were stunt driver Terry Grant, he was just doing some shakedown stuff. There was Patrik Sandell, who’s a WRC driver who won in one of the World Rally categories driving for Red Bull. IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud was out there testing as well, and that was pretty cool because he’s always been one of my idols, so getting to hang out and talk with him was definitely a cool opportunity. And then the fourth driver won the Super 1600 category in European Rallycross this year, Andreas Bakkerud.

It was definitely a humbling experience as well—just to have all of these guys that have done so well in rally cars and all other sorts of driving disciplines, to be out there and see how I compared with those guys in their own little world of rally, coming from a 100% asphalt and road racing background. It was really cool, and they were all super nice guys, I got to hang out and talk to them. It was a great experience.

We saw that you were testing the SuperCar Light, the new Olsbergs project. It’s a pretty new car—what was driving it like? How did driving it compare to some of the other cars you’ve raced before?

Photo credit: Bob Boileau

It was a really fun car to drive, if nothing else. It did take a little bit to get used to, coming from a rear-wheel drive, pretty mild, medium-horsepower background. The all-wheel drive was definitely a new thing for me to get used to, just because the front tires are gripping, so wherever they’re pointing it’s trying to drag you in that direction. That was a little hard to get used to, but once I got the hang of it, the sequential gearbox and everything, it was a blast to drive. It was pretty similar to some of the shorter wheelbase stuff, but if I could compare it to anything I’d say it was like a go-kart with 300 horsepower, I guess. Really quick reaction times, and you’ve got to be up on your game and stay ahead of the car for sure.

What was the test course like? Was there any dirt at all or was it just pavement? Was the course challenging or straightforward?

We were set out in the drift lot, the parking lot for the bullring (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway). It was a pretty short track, probably about a half mile test loop. We were doing about 30 second laps out there. It was probably about two thirds asphalt and one third dirt.

Do you know what Olsbergs’ goals were with the test? Have you heard anything about the bigger picture for 2013, such as a series of the Lights cars, and how interested are you in being primarily a rallycross driver next year?

Photo credit: Bob Boileau

Yeah! I don’t know the full intention—I know they were trying to run a bunch of laps on it to see how well the equipment is going to withstand taking beatings, I guess. From what I understand, they’re running the car next year alongside the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, but I do believe their intention is to have a feeder series for the Global Rallycross Championship as well, just to bring younger drivers up through the ranks and into the sport of Global Rallycross, to grow that brand. And after driving the car, I definitely enjoyed it and would love to have another opportunity to get behind the wheel. If I could have a full season racing in one of those cars, that would be amazing.

Finally, you got to spend much of the week while you weren’t testing taking in the GRC finale and SEMA show. What were some of the highlights of your Vegas trip?

We did all kinds of fun stuff. It was actually my first time at the SEMA Show, as well as my first time in Las Vegas, so the first night we got there we kind of just walked up and down the Strip, walked about five miles just taking in the sights. And then going to the SEMA Show, that’s another whole experience taking that in, because it’s so immense. So I got to see a bunch of cool cars, like the McLaren MP4-12C, and then just getting to walk around and see all the people—I got to meet Rutledge Wood from Top Gear, who’s definitely a cool guy, and I love watching Top Gear, it’s probably my favorite show. Just walking around and meeting all the people was definitely a great networking opportunity, especially for a young race car driver to meet all the important faces and get your name out there.

I also met Conor Daly—he’s definitely been an inspiration to me. He’s only a few years older than me, but he’s over there running all the stuff that I’ve always dreamed of doing, getting to test some of the F1 cars and stuff like that. So being able to run into him, just hanging out at a dinner, was definitely cool.

Tommy Boileau’s website is GoTommyGo.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @TommyBoileau34 or like his Facebook page.

– Chris Leone

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IndyCar: Pagenaud Making Most Of IndyCar Opportunity

Simon Pagenaud’s open-wheel career was put on hold when the Champ Car World Series disappeared before the 2008 season. After four years in sports cars, US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, Pagenaud has returned to the single-seaters with a vengeance, taking IndyCar by storm in 2012.

INDYCAR: Honda Fails To Capitalize On Advantage At Long Beach

When Chevrolet changed engines in all 11 of its IndyCar entries before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it opened up an opportunity for Honda to score its first win of the season. But as US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, tough luck befell the top Honda teams one by one until their final shot at a win finally drifted away.

Chevrolet Power, Economy Embarrasses Honda In Long Beach

Photo credit: Ned Leone

After accruing 10-spot grid penalties for each of its teams by virtue of voluntary engine changes, Chevrolet left the door wide open for Honda to avenge losses in the first two races of the season at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Hondas would fill the first nine spots of the grid, giving them a prime opportunity to re-establish themselves as the sport’s top dog.

Consider it an opportunity missed.

Will Power won his second consecutive race at Long Beach, holding off the Honda of Simon Pagenaud after a frantic charge in the last few laps. Worse, seven of the top 10 spots in the field were occupied by Chevys, and a sure podium for Takuma Sato was swept away after he was spun on the last lap by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Pagenaud, Sato (who fell to eighth), and tenth-place Justin Wilson (promoted after a penalty to Helio Castroneves for avoidable contact) were the only Honda-powered drivers to crack the top 10.

In the end, Honda drivers led 61 of 85 laps, and for the third race in a row, a Honda led the most laps (Pagenaud was the top driver this time with 26). But Hondas suffered a series of issues during the race, especially in the Chip Ganassi Racing camp: Dario Franchitti had a lack of power on most restarts, eventually sinking to 15th place in the running order, while Scott Dixon had a mechanical issue with 27 laps in that ended his race. Meanwhile, Mike Conway had an issue with fourth gear that ended his day, and early incidents ended the days of Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

But Chevrolets posted five of the top six qualifying times, including Ryan Briscoe’s pole time, before falling to the middle of the grid, and they worked their way up through the field in the first third of the race. The first Chevrolet to lead was Hunter-Reay’s under caution on lap 28, but he pitted to hand the lead to Briscoe. Hondas would lead most of the rest of the way, but when Power took the lead for the first time on lap 71, he wouldn’t relinquish it.

It was then that the Ilmor-built, 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 would showcase its superior fuel economy. Power had pushed by Sato despite his Penske Racing Chevrolet having less fuel than the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, and when Pagenaud pit, he opened up a significant lead. While Power saved fuel in the closing laps, Pagenaud pushed as hard as he could to catch last year’s road course champion, and even had the advantage of Power running into lapped traffic in the final few laps.

But with two laps to go, Power strategist Tim Cindric told his driver that their fuel situation was under control, and with permission to push the car as hard as possible, the Chevrolet had more than enough power to retain the lead. The result was, once again, a Chevrolet victory with a Honda bridesmaid, and a serious moral blow to the folks at HPD.

Changes may be on the way for the Honda engine, as the manufacturer looks to change its turbocharger configuration for the Brazil race and beyond. Meanwhile, Chevrolet can look back and gloat about stealing Sunday’s victory despite spotting Honda ten starting spots. With the bowtie engine clearly established as the best in the sport right now, Honda will have to go back to the drawing board to add a touch of horsepower and a dash of better fuel economy. Until then, the top step of the podium may remain just out of reach for the series’ longest-tenured engine manufacturer.

– Chris Leone

In The Spotlight: 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, Edition 1

It’s only been two races, but already, the front-runners and backmarkers of this IZOD IndyCar Series season have started to reveal themselves. With the majority of the season taking place on road and street courses, the drivers who normally excel outside of the ovals, as well as those who adapt well to the new Dallara DW12 and 2.2-liter turbocharged V6 engines, will likely dominate this year’s championship.

With that in mind, we’ll periodically visit the biggest names in IndyCar with these pieces, establishing who’s on top, who’s overachieving, and who’s disappointing over the course of the season. Through the first two races, held on back-to-back weekends on the streets of St. Petersburg and at Barber Motorsports Park, here are some of the drivers to watch:

Photo credit: Ned Leone

STAR: Helio Castroneves. After failing to win a race in 2011, Castroneves opened this season with a win at St. Petersburg and a third place finish at Barber after winning the pole. A hard-fought battle with Graham Rahal at the end of the race ensured his second podium finish in a row and a two-point lead on Scott Dixon going into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a race that Castroneves won in 2001.

DARK HORSE: Sebastien Bourdais. There’s a reason why Honda was courting the four-time Champ Car champion heavily in the offseason: he can drive the wheels off a car. Bourdais set some of the fastest sector times at St. Petersburg before having a motor issue, and sliced his way to a ninth place finish at Barber with a series of impressive moves. Bourdais is only 14th in points, but has shown plenty of why he has 31 career victories (all in Champ Car), and if the Lotus engine ever catches up to Honda and Chevrolet, he’ll win at least one more.

UNDERRATED: Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman has yet to attempt any oval runs, with his first test coming at Texas next week, but his road course prowess should give Schmidt/Hamilton racing reason to smile most of the year. Despite a 10-place grid penalty dropping him to P16 at the start at St. Petersburg, he finished sixth; he followed it up at Barber with a fifth place run. Bourdais’ performances may be stealing the attention from his countryman, which is who so few will notice that he currently ranks fifth in points.

IMPROVING: Rubens Barrichello. The 19-year Formula 1 vet is still petitioning IndyCar to restore his rookie status for 2012, but a respectable run at Barber showed that he may lose that battle. Barrichello took eighth place late in the race after starting 14th, thanks to an impressive late race pass of Marco Andretti. He’s now 10th in points – not tearing up the series like Nigel Mansell in 1993, but as the top KV Racing Technology driver in the standings, not failing to make the transition well by any means.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

ALBATROSS: Dario Franchitti. It seems clear that the DW12 doesn’t entirely suit Franchitti’s driving style, which is drastically different from teammate Scott Dixon’s. While Dixon has managed two second place finishes in two races, Franchitti could only manage a 13th place finish at St. Petersburg and barely squeaked into the top 10 at Barber. He’s now 11th in points. While things aren’t as bad yet as Dixon’s title-defending 2004 season, where the Kiwi followed up a strong 2003 with an absolute stinker due to a weak Toyota engine, Franchitti still has some serious work to do.

– Chris Leone

Fact Or Fiction: 25 IndyCar Storylines for the 2012 Season, Part 3

With today’s post, we’re halfway through our season preview for the IZOD IndyCar Series. We’ll break down stories 15-11 today; the first ten stories went up in the past two days (see part one and part two), while the top ten will be revealed in the next two days.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

15. Mike Conway will bring A.J. Foyt’s team back to relevance with a strong season.

FACT: Conway, last year’s surprise Long Beach winner, has improved every year he’s been in IndyCar. Foyt, meanwhile, landed a Honda engine contract early in engine negotiations and will be one of the brand’s top teams in 2012. With an emphasis on road and street courses, tracks where Conway excels, the Foyt team has hired the right driver to put together a competitive season, especially since they’ve never been particularly strong on those sorts of tracks.

14. Los Angeles will provide a better setting for a series finale than Las Vegas.

FACT: Last year’s tragedy aside, Los Angeles and the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana actually have a few natural advantages over Las Vegas for IndyCar. For one, IndyCar’s media headquarters are in Los Angeles, and with the announcement of a new Dreamworks film, “Turbo,” about a snail that dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500, it’s not a stretch to figure that the series will have plenty of marketing tie-ins to utilize. The sport has had ties with plenty of movie stars over the years, from the late Paul Newman’s team ownership to Mark Wahlberg’s IZOD commercial appearances in the past couple of years. Las Vegas has its attractions, including a parade on the Strip that highlighted last year’s event, but the thought of taking over Tinseltown is too good to be true.

13. With the strongest freshman class in years, the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award is anyone’s to win.

FACT: 19 years of Formula 1 experience rendered Rubens Barrichello ineligible for rookie honors in IndyCar according to new race control czar Beaux Barfield, and ovals aside, he’s probably right. That leaves the class open to two former Champ Car drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Katherine Legge, who receive rookie status again in IndyCar because of the different sanctioning body. Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden will move up from Indy Lights, while Luca Filippi shifts from the European GP2 championship starting at Indianapolis. All have plenty of talent, and with the right luck, could feasibly take the honors. Smart money goes to Pagenaud, however, as his Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports team has the most full-time experience.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

12. Helio Castroneves is revitalized enough to be a consistent performer all season.

FICTION: 11th place in last year’s points should be motivation enough for Castroneves to pick up his performance in 2012. But for all the time he’s spent in the employ of Roger Penske, the popular Brazilian has never shown late-season consistency in his hottest seasons, and never had quite enough sizzle in his more consistent years. It seems a little late in his career to finally pick up a first championship, but keep in mind that Dario Franchitti spent a decade in the sport before his first title. And even if it never happens, Castroneves will still have three Indianapolis 500 wins (at least) to hang his hat on. Don’t expect a title, but that fourth Indy win doesn’t seem out of the question.

11. Lotus will be a distant third in this year’s engine manufacturer race.

FACT: Things look bad for the British engine supplier, which prepares its products at John Judd’s base in England. They got a late start in developing their engine, and the results showed in testing. With a solid driver lineup and what appears to be a conservative plan to gradually work its way up the charts this season, don’t expect too much from Lotus in the early stages of the year. They’ll improve later in the season, but that may be too late to compete with Honda or Chevrolet over the course of the full year.

– Chris Leone

IndyCar Season Preview: Simon Pagenaud

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#77 Hewlett-Packard Dallara-Honda, Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports

Born: May 18, 1984

Hometown: Poitiers, France

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Pagenaud competed in three IndyCar races in 2011, twice as an injury replacement at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and once at HVM Racing when Simona de Silvestro could not make it to Infineon due to a customs issue. His best finish was eighth at Barber. Meanwhile, Pagenaud also finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Peugeot that he shared with fellow French IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Pagenaud had planned to run the Indianapolis 500 for Highcroft Racing, running a blue No. 16 that hearkened back to some of the race’s earliest, French-born winners, but sponsorship failed to materialize.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The 2006 Atlantic Series champion will compete full-time in major American open-wheel racing for the first time since he finished eighth in the 2007 Champ Car World Series. Pagenaud inherits the flagship car at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which won the pole at Indianapolis with Alex Tagliani behind the wheel and scored plenty of solid road and street course finishes.

That should bode well for Pagenaud, whose bread and butter has always been turning both ways. The 2010 American Le Mans Series champion has raced on most of the series’ road and street circuits, whether in ALMS, Champ Car, or IndyCar. Meanwhile, the ovals will mark a completely new challenge for the flying Frenchman. Much like Bourdais, his countryman, Le Mans teammate, and former Champ Car rival, his overall finishing position at the end of the season should be decent thanks to a road and street-heavy schedule, but his ability to adapt to ovals will determine whether this team can finish in the top 10 or lag somewhere between 11th and 20th.

– Chris Leone