Enders-Stevens: 'We're definitely headed in the right direction'

Erica Enders-Stevens, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro, is the defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world champion and recently scored her second event win of the season at her home event in Houston. It was her third final-round appearance of the year, and she has been the No. 1 qualifier at two events. She also won the K&N Horsepower Challenge specialty race in Las Vegas for the second consecutive year. She took part in a recent NHRA media teleconference to talk about her season to date.

Q: Erica, it seems that Las Vegas kick-started the season a little bit for you guys. What did you find either going into that race or at that race that kind of was a breath of fresh air to the team?

Enders-Stevens: We kind of struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, as all teams have with the rule changes and the tire and the fuel. The key to our success in Vegas was staying after the Charlotte event on Monday and doing some testing. We made some significant changes to our race car and definitely headed in the right direction. So Vegas has been really great to my team and me over the last few years. I was very happy to be able to get everything lined up in order to go into that event and come out with a double win again.

Q: We race in Vegas twice a year. Does it give you that little bit of comfort at the start of the season thinking you can sort some stuff out and boost the season?

Enders-Stevens: Yeah, absolutely. We love going to Vegas because of our past success there. But had we not gone to Charlotte or stayed at Charlotte and tested, we would not have run like we did in Vegas this spring. That was crucial to our success there. Vegas is lucky for us. Some drivers have lucky tracks. Some crews have tracks where they have better setups. It seems to be a combination of both of those for our team. I think we have 18 consecutive round-wins there now. And headed into the fall race later this year in October, you know, that's the second-to-the-last race before the season ends. Hopefully we're right in the mix of things like we were last year.

Q: You've been doing this it seems like forever. I wonder if over the years your personal habits have changed in terms of working out or dieting. Your reaction times are amazing. Is that something you can actually work on, or over the years are there exercises or programs that you've done that keep you in shape?

Enders-Stevens: Yeah, absolutely. My sister, Courtney [Enders], is a personal trainer. She has my entire team and me on some sort of a meal plan. I'm pretty mindful of what I put in my body on race weekends. Obviously, living on the road is pretty hard to stay in shape while you're gone on the road all the time having to eat out three meals a day, just being physically and mentally exhausted. She's really been a help to me. What you fuel your body with is pretty crucial to how you perform. As far as reaction times and stuff goes, I have a simulator here at our shop in New Orleans. Every race weekend, I get in my car in the pit area, and I sit in there for 15 or 20 minutes alone by myself, and I do a lot of visualizing. That mental side of it really helps to perform the best that I can.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about getting that second championship after coming off of a championship? Talk a little bit about the special moments that you've had already trying to become a repeat champion and what you hope will work for you to get you that second one.

Enders-Stevens: It was such a dream season last year for my entire team. Aside from my engine guy, Nick Ferri, none of us had won championships before. It was a first for us. We all definitely wanted it very badly. I talk about my team a lot. I feel like people are the most important part of the puzzle. This is the first time in my professional career that I have had such a solid group of guys. I mean, they have my back. They treat me with respect. It's just an awesome environment to work in. It's positive. That's what allowed me to do my job better, I believe. Being able to have fun with these guys, we have a lot of natural team chemistry; we choose to spend our time away from the track together as well. Typically, when you're done racing, you're just out of there, going to hang out with your family or friends rather than your team.

I've got a unique environment to work with, and they're definitely the reason why we are successful. This year is a little different. We've had a little bit of a target on our back throughout my career, just being a girl. When we started to have success again after I joined back with Cagnazzi in '11, '12, and '13 and our dominant season last year with Elite Motorsports. It's different to be chased rather than to chase. It's a little bit of a different mindset. Going through the struggles that we did at the beginning of this year, being able to tackle those issues and come out on top again, the season is very, very long and challenging. I'm sure it will be another knock-down, drag-out fight till the end of the year with Jason [Line] and me. Being in the position we are now, having accomplished exactly what we accomplished last year to this point -- last year, we had a runner-up at Gainesville, doubled up at Vegas, win at Houston -- this season, we had a runner-up at Phoenix and went on to double up at Vegas and win Houston. We're on the track to doing what we did last year, but just keeping at the front of our minds that we're out here to have fun. We're a lower-budget team, but we're doing the best that we can with what we have. Richard Freeman has just organized a great group of people. I'm really excited and optimistic about what's to come.

Q: Is there any part of being a champion that you can't quantify, can't define, that you either have it or you don't?

Enders-Stevens: I don't know. I mean, I do believe that you either have it or you don't as far as being able to drive is concerned. But I go back to what I said a second ago: It's all about the people. When I drove for the team prior to this one, we had the horsepower, and we had a huge budget actually, almost a million and a half dollars more per year than what we're running on at Elite Motorsports. We weren't able to get it done. I believe it was because of the people. I've got the best people in the world now. I'm a firm believer in the idea that there's a plan bigger than mine. I understand now why he made us wait. It was all about having the perfect group together.

Q: When you tested the car, did it come easily in finding what you were looking for, or was it so fine that it took you all a few runs to discover that answer you were looking for?

Enders-Stevens: We did stay after in Charlotte. We were fighting weather all week. It rained Monday morning, so we only actually got a half a day of testing in. We made six runs, which is a handful. My crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones and Mark Ingersoll had a list of ideas they wanted to try. They were pretty significant changes. The Pro Stock cars are very finicky. The work that has to be done on them is very tedious, but at the same time, there were some huge swings for the fence that we had to change. We don't test as much as the other teams because of budget. But since we struggled so much, we had to make the decision to stay. They were changes that we weren't comfortable making during qualifying or elimination rounds because typically those changes can either make it or break it for you, I guess, without trying to divulge too much information on what we changed. They were huge swings. Fortunately enough for us, they were in the right direction. We picked away at it on that Monday test. We started with smaller changes. When we saw we were heading in the right direction, we were able to use that data we acquired to make other changes as well. When we left that test in Charlotte, the confidence in my crew chiefs' voices was very evident. That's something I feed off of. I'm excited we did stay and they were able to make the changes they wanted to make. It was definitely crucial.

Q: You're very dependent then on the crew chief and the technicians working on your car. What kind of stress was it for you to make the runs not knowing exactly whether it was going to work or not?

Enders-Stevens: I have all the faith in the world in my guys. I know that we all want it very, very badly and that everybody is trying their hardest every time we go up there, including myself behind the wheel, every crewmember that I have from my tire guys to my engine guys to my crew chiefs making the calls on the race car. It was very challenging for us at the beginning when we were uncertain with what was happening with the new rule changes. We had to dig deep and do the very best we could, even when the future didn't look extremely bright certain weekends at the racetrack, Charlotte for instance. Had there been 17 cars on the property, we would not have made the show. We did not get down any qualifying passes, and two were taken from us due to rain. That was a very grim weekend and very challenging. But we all dug deep. Staying after that Monday, it just completely turned everything around for us. I rely on them greatly. I'm there for them when they fall and vice versa. When I'm not up on the wheel, they pick me up and give me even a better race car than they normally do. It's a great team environment to work in.

Q: Dynasties, great performances are all built on little moments. Not all of them necessarily happen on the racetrack. Where does the 11-minute engine change that your team went through this past week rank for you? Does a moment like that, where your guys do something that is really impossible, yet they pull it off, does that make you a better driver?

Enders-Stevens: The motor change going into the semifinals in Houston was probably one of the most amazing experiences in my professional career. To be in my pit area when not just my team but Drew Skillman's team jumped in on my race car to get it done. We pitted after second round, did our normal maintenance on the car, serviced it for the next round, but we went to warm the car up. There was 15 minutes left before we had to be in the water for live TV. We just manned up. Everybody threw in on the race car. Drew Skillman's guys got an engine out of the trailer, took the intake manifolds and carburetors, while my guys drained the water, disconnected the motor in my car. There was one moment prior to deciding what we were going to do that one person said, “I don't know if we have time. We’ve got to be in the water in 15 minutes.” I'm like, “We got to try; we got to try.” That was it. Everybody pulled their weight, pulled together. Not only did they get it done, but they got it done with zero mistakes. It was just such a cool environment to be in.

As far as making me a better driver because of it, I mean, over the years, I heard champions like Bob Glidden, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Allen Johnson say, “You’ve got to learn how to win.” That is one of those moments I completely understand that. Had I not been in an experience like that before and gone up to the starting line, I mean, your heart's pounding, things are so crazy, you've still got to go up there and get suited up and buckled in in time, then have your wits about you to calm down, get your heart rate under control, get your breathing under control. We were running Jonathan Gray, who is one of the best leavers in the class. I had my work cut out for me. I knew I needed to be on the Tree. We were able to get it done. That environment in our pit, I can't wait till people see the footage of it because it was absolutely incredible.

Q: You're starting to approach Shirley Muldowney on the list of female all-time winners. Do you look at numbers like that or do you let it fall where it may race to race to race?

Enders-Stevens: Yeah, I mean, I know the two females that are ahead of us right now are Angelle [Sampey] with 41 wins and Shirley with 18. They're heroes of mine, mentored me, been friends of mine over the years. First of all, it's awesome to have my name on the list with theirs. If the trend continues with what we've been able to accomplish over the last couple years, I'm hopeful we can continue to rack the wins up. I know where we stand with wins as far as those two women go. At the same time, we're going to go out and do what we love, have fun. I'm proud of my team regardless and very optimistic about the years to come with Elite Motorsports. I've never had as much fun in my entire life, and it's because of the guys that are involved.

Honda superspeedway kit features multi-options

Reduced drag and increased engine performance equals speed on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and Honda Performance Development COO and vice president Steve Eriksen believes its Verizon IndyCar Series entries in the 99th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race will have all three with its superspeedway aerodynamic bodywork platform and 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine.

Honda’s superspeedway aerodynamic bodywork package on the No. 29 TE Connectivity Andretti Autosport entry to be driven by Simona de Silvestro unveiled today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway features a range of options available to teams to utilize for qualifications and the 200-lap race. The platform was designed, developed and supplied by California-based Honda Performance Development, and the aero kit will make its public on-track debut May 3 during a Promoter Test at IMS. Chevrolet's superspeedway aero package also will be on track May 3.

Practice opens May 11, with qualifications May 16-17 and the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24. Ryan Hunter-Reay, driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, won the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

"I expect an increase in speed (in practice and qualifications), but I won't say how much," Eriksen said.

The superspeedway package includes a variety of individual aerodynamic components fitted to the Honda-powered Dallara chassis but is markedly different from the road/street and short oval kit that has been utilized in the first four races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. The front wing of the superspeedway kit contains fewer components to reduce drag and a rear wing element that Eriksen said is wide "like a glider." The rear wing main plane has "swan neck" supports that are carried over from Honda's sports car program, where HPD engineers learned that they helped with air flow over the rear wing. The rear wing main plane is unique to the Indianapolis 500, though an entry has the option to run the main plane to be used on the other three big ovals.
"One of the great things about IndyCar is that this aero kit has to operate over such a diverse range of circuits, it's unlike any other racing series, and it's a real challenge to make a kit that is going to work on every track well. But we welcomed it and have enjoyed doing it," Eriksen said. "The process really started with us looking at what has made us successful. The Indy 500 wins that we've had we look at and say, 'What did we do well and what could we do better in the future.' We wanted to build on that experience to build the best kit possible, and I think we've done that."

There will be differences between the Honda and Chevrolet superspeedway kits, within both manufacturers’ qualifying and race specs to achieve maximum performance, and within their respective teams that likely will run different elements – even asymmetrical on the cars – during practice.
“We’re excited to unveil our superspeedway aero kit, the newest element in this era of enhanced manufacturer competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” HPD president Art St. Cyr said.  “Coupled to our proven Honda Indy V-6 engines, these aero kits are the products of thousands of hours of research, development and testing, as we seek to give our drivers and teams the tools they need to win the race that Honda holds as its most important goal each season: the Indianapolis 500.”

Both manufacturers, under INDYCAR regulations, designed components in “legality boxes” that complement the standard components of the rolling chassis. Areas open for development in these legality boxes include sidepods, engine cover, rear wheel guards, front and rear wing main planes and end plates, superspeedway front wing main plane, and the Indianapolis 500 rear wing main plane. Standard components for all cars include the underwing, road course front wing and rear wing main planes, nose, mirror housing and roll hoop fairing.
The road/street and short oval and superspeedway aero kits were developed by utilizing the latest in Computer-Aided Design and Computational Fluid Dynamics technology, then validated using Driver-In-Loop simulators. The process allowed the aerodynamic direction to be determined before full-size components were created.

Full-scale wind tunnel testing was used to confirm performance characteristics and develop aero maps to be used during manufacturer on-track testing from early October 2014 through mid-January 2015.

Davison denies Lowndes in Barbagallo finale

An emotional Will Davison has answered his critics in the best possible fashion today, taking victory in the 200km race this afternoon at the Perth SuperSprint.

Following a promising, but ultimately disastrous run in Tasmania that culminated in his now infamous clash with James Courtney, the win today left the Erebus Motorsport V8 driver feeling vindicated. The clash with Courtney showed just how much a podium result would mean to the team ­– and today they were able to celebrate the best kind.

“I’m not a believer in karma, but to be honest … I won’t lie, you do start wondering when you’re going to win again, so it feels pretty damn special,” said Davison.

As a surprise victor, Davison rained on the parade of near-centurion Craig Lowndes as he passed the Red Bull Racing Australia driver with five laps remaining in the 84-lap fixture, scuttling any chance of a famous 100th victory for Lowndes.

“I’m one of CL’s [Craig Lowndes] biggest fans and I’ve got a lot of respect for him sitting on 99 there,” Davison said.

“But as much as that would have been a great headline, you don’t feel sorry for someone on 99 race wins.

“We’ve been working pretty hard for this, we wanted to do it clean, it’s very, very special for the team.”

Davison described the race as a ‘dream’, labelling his run as perfect across the tough test of man and machine.

“It was one of those races where everything just came together,” he said.

“It was about staying calm and to be honest, second was going to be an amazing result for us.

“I couldn’t believe when I started seeing CL have some big slides with about five or six laps to go. That actually drew me to go even smoother, just to really give us that tyre [life]. I just drove real smooth. They’re the races you dream of,” Davison said.

Davison and Lowndes started seventh and eighth on the grid, and after passing yesterday’s dominant Pepsi Max Fords drove away from the field.

On lap 79 of 83 Davison made the dive at turn six and passed the Red Bull Commodore for the race lead.

Lowndes looked as if he was in the box seat as the soft versus hard tyre battle played out – but the Erebus E63 crashed the party in Perth, delivering Davison his first win for the team and first win as a driver since Townsville 2013.

Lowndes was philosophical about how close he got to his personal milestone, but is not stressed about being in the ‘nervous nineties’.

“It would have been nice to get the 100th win today, particularly here in Perth where I broke the record two years ago,” Lowndes said.

“Ultimately, it wasn’t to be and we just didn’t quite have the tyre left at the end of the race to defend against Will. There wasn’t much I could do about it.”

Third place was also unpredictable, with Fabian Coulthard coming from the back of the grid after an off in the sand at turn six ruined his qualifying. He powered on through a cool suit failure and recovered the day in his Freightliner Commodore.

“To start the day 24th and finish thirrd was pretty cool,” Coulthard said.

“The guys and the strategy was awesome. No-one gave up. That was the message that I got today. Everyone said don’t stress, what’s happened has happened so take it in your stride, and that is exactly what I did.”

Pole man Chaz Mostert was the first Ford home in fourth, with Holden Racing Team pair James Courtney and Garth Tander fifth and sixth, with James Moffat, Nick Percat, David Reynolds and Michael Caruso rounding out the top 10.

Shane van Gisbergen, who came into the race with an additional set of new tyres thanks to a ballsy strategy call yesterday was 14th, with Saturday double-winner Winterbottom in 15th.

It was a forgettable day for Jamie Whincup, finishing 19th after spearing off track early.

Result: V8 Supercars Race 9, Barbagallo 

1 Erebus Motorsport V8 Will Davison Mercedes E63 AMG 83 01:25:26.7265
2 Red Bull Racing Australia Craig Lowndes Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:32.3340
3 Freightliner Racing Fabian Coulthard Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:34.1004
4 Pepsi Max Crew Chaz Mostert Ford Falcon FG/X 83 01:25:38.8487
5 Holden Racing Team James Courtney Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:41.5978
6 Holden Racing Team Garth Tander Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:43.4909
7 Nissan Motorsport James Moffat Nissan Altima 83 01:25:46.9039
8 Repair Management Aust Racing Nick Percat Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:51.2885
9 The Bottle-O Racing Team David Reynolds Ford Falcon FG/X 83 01:25:51.5624
10 Nissan Motorsport Michael Caruso Nissan Altima 83 01:25:51.8276
11 GB Galvanizing Racing Dale Wood Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:55.3320
12 Team Cooldrive Tim Blanchard Holden Commodore VF 83 01:25:57.0039
13 Nissan Motorsport Todd Kelly Nissan Altima 83 01:25:57.8053
14 Team Darrell Lea STIX Shane Van Gisbergen Holden Commodore VF 83 01:26:01.6450
15 Pepsi Max Crew Mark Winterbottom Ford Falcon FG/X 83 01:26:02.2944
16 Team BOC Jason Bright Holden Commodore VF 83 01:26:02.6148
17 Walkinshaw Racing Lee Holdsworth Holden Commodore VF 83 01:26:03.0823
18 Wilson Security Racing GRM Scott McLaughlin Volvo S60 83 01:26:07.6341
19 Red Bull Racing Australia Jamie Whincup Holden Commodore VF 82 01:25:32.5140
20 Nissan Motorsport Rick Kelly Nissan Altima 82 01:25:32.6822
21 Wilson Security Racing GRM David Wall Volvo S60 82 01:26:04.7346
22 Erebus Motorsport V8 Ashley Walsh Mercedes E63 AMG 77 01:25:44.5818
23 Supercheap Auto Racing Tim Slade Holden Commodore VF 69 01:26:23.2185
DNF Super Black Racing Andre Heimgartner Ford Falcon FG/X 78 01:21:12.3104
DNF DJR Team Penske Scott Pye Ford Falcon FG/X 78 01:21:12.6623

Championship Standings

1 Craig Lowndes 717
2 James Courtney 665
3 Mark Winterbottom 643
4 Fabian Coulthard 641
5 Jamie Whincup 630
6 Shane Van Gisbergen 595
7 Garth Tander 595
8 Chaz Mostert 545
9 David Reynolds 486
10 Rick Kelly 431
11 Jason Bright 429
12 Will Davison 399
13 Todd Kelly 394
14 Nick Percat 349
15 James Moffat 332
16 Dale Wood 331
17 Scott McLaughlin 318
18 Tim Slade 311
19 Lee Holdsworth 309
20 Tim Blanchard 298
21 Michael Caruso 288
22 Andre Heimgartner 272
23 David Wall 237
24 Ashley Walsh 194
25 Scott Pye 143
26 Marcos Ambrose 125

Waldron Expands with Toowoomba Speedbowl Acquisition

News broke today of Barry and Felicity Waldron’s purchase of the operational rights to Toowoomba Speedway.

It comes as no big surprise to some as the Waldron duo add to their portfolio of venues under management.

Late last year they took control of Sydney Speedway and proceeded to immediately improve the dated facility.

Capital earthworks including the now famous “Turn One Bar”, pit upgrades and the impressive BIG screen are just some of the much needed and well overdue improvements to the venue.

Company spokesperson Steve Green said,
“The venue will enjoy an injection of personnel; expertise and energy that it’s hoped will bring a wide range of positives along with it.

There are many reasons why the time is right for Barry and Felicity to bring Toowoomba into their speedway family.  It begins with the basic premise that we’d like to lift the profile and the standard of the sport in that region.

The Toowoomba region is considered a home base for Barry and Felicity Waldron as well so there’s an emotional connection to the expansion.”

Personnel from the new owners other venue “Sydney Speedway” will lend much of their energy and expertise to the initiatives at Toowoomba and the team are looking forward to working with the Downs Speedway Club over the next few weeks to begin the process.

Plans for the 2015/2016 season ahead are being formulated forthwith with announcements on the direction, marketing initiatives, schedule and proposed developments to be announced soon.

Search continues for Targa Tasmania oil spill saboteur

TASMANIA Police is search­ing for a Targa “terrorist” who poured oil on a stage in an act of sabotage condemned by officials and drivers.

Four-time Targa cham­pion Jason White slammed the “act of stupidity” as police launched an investigation into the incident at Mole Creek, about 2.6km into the opening stage of day four.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s not just sabotaging the event it’s making things extremely unsafe for everyone,” White said.

“It was not the fact we couldn’t run the stage, but that someone could do something so stupid.

“It hasn’t bothered us at all, but it’s going to be a danger to the general public for God knows how long.”

He said the oil would stain the corner on Caveside Rd, ­especially in the wet.

“Whenever it rains it’s going to leach out and be a nasty one, and it’s part of the tourist highway through that part of the world,” he said.

“They are going to have to put up a caution sign or something because I’d hate to see a tourist come round there and slip on it and have a crash.”

Targa’s sweep team has been told to be extra vigilant today as the event heads to Hobart from Strahan over another six stages, although the senseless sabotage is expected to be a one-off.

Police praised the sweep crew — the last car through each of the 39 stages before they are declared “live” for the competition — for making the discovery.

Inspector Scott Flude was dumbfounded by the oil ­dumping.

“Had this discovery not been made prior to the race commencing, the conse­quences could have been very serious,” Insp Flude said.

“Further, this could have ­affected anyone using the road.”

Targa officials were more concerned for the safety of the public than having to downgrade one of its stages.

“It’s not just for what is does to Targa but, far more importantly, it can endanger the lives of the general public,” said Targa Tasmania media manager Ian Chesterman.

MOTOGP - Rossi: “I‘m very happy to come back to Europe”

Valentino Rossi is excited to be heading to the Circuito de Jerez with a six-point at the top of the MotoGP™ World Championship standings.

"The Doctor" arrives in Spain excited to add another top finish to his list of successes achieved in Argentina, Texas and Doha. Over the first three races he scored two sensational wins and a third place. He currently leads the championship by six points and is confident he can continue his momentum in Jerez. Rossi has claimed six premier class wins at this circuit in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, two second places in 2008 and 2014, and a third place in 2010.

Valentino Rossi:

“I‘m very happy to come back to Europe! These first three races have been very positive, although some of these circuits are not my favourites nor of the Yamaha! Yet my YZR-M1 has behaved very well and we rode nice races! To go to Jerez, after the victory in Argentina and holding first place in the championship, is certainly very positive. However the most important thing is that we're doing a great job with the guys of the team. We must continue to work well together.

The championship is still very long! I feel good and returning to Europe is nice. I really like the Jerez GP. The track is beautiful and also the atmosphere is fantastic. It also has very fast turns and I like that a lot.

I did good races at this circuit in the past and I'll try to have a good race also this year!”