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Racers at Home Series: Colin Braun

The latest Racers at Home series article saw me ask IMSA WeatherTech racer Colin Braun some questions. Braun is a legend of American sportscar racing. He is a three-time Rolex 24 class winner and has enjoyed success in series as varied as Nascar and Global Rallycross.

Braun enjoyed a long partnership with amateur driver Jon Bennett at CORE Autosport. They secured back-to back LMPC titles in 2014-15 before stepping up to the main Prototype class in 2018. They came within three points of the overall title in their debut season. For 2020 he joined DragonSpeed to win the LMP2 class, and is projected to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time since 2007.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I have been spending that at my home in Charlotte, NC!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I have been spending it staying in shape, my trainer Trey Shannon from Podium Performance has created some great at home work outs, and I am lucky to have my own home gym – as well as a lot of cycling!  Plus getting into the SIM scene a bit has consumed some serious time!

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Braun has experienced success in many categories, but has really made his name in sportscar racing. Here he is is celebrating one of three Rolex 24 victories back in 2014. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 with the DragonSpeed team?

I was really thrilled, the entire team did a great job and it was a total team effort win!

Q4) How have your racing plans for 2020 been affected by Covid-19?

Well I think fortunately for the racing community most of our events have been postponed and not cancelled, so certainly some schedule changes but other than that I am glad to know we can all look forward to getting back to the track here, hopefully, soon and safely!

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

Yes I have been getting back into that scene, it is tough – lots of little tricks and things to go fast on the SIM vs real life but I am learning and having fun!

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

Man tough, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona 3 times is pretty darn special!  Also though my NASCAR Truck series win in Michigan was really special!

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Braun has found success in many categories, including this Nascar Camping World Truck Series win at Michigan in 2009. Photo: Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

I love Mosport – such an amazing track – great rhythm and flow!  Very fast and full commitment in the prototype cars – just an amazing feeling to be on the limit there!

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

I miss the feeling in the car of being on the limit the most!  A close second is all the great people in the sport, so fun to be able to get down to work with a lot of motivated and focused people pushing towards the goal of winning!

That wraps up my chat with Colin, my sincerest thanks go to him for giving up the time to answer these questions! Follow Colin on Twitter here and be sure to check out his website https://colinbraun.com/.

Racers at Home Series: Tristan Vautier

The latest driver to feature in the Racers at Home series is Frenchman Tristan Vautier. He made his name in America, with a 2011 Star Mazda and 2012 Indy Lights title leading to an Indycar berth in 2013. Since then he has diversified into sportscars, both in America and Europe.

He has parallel programs with Mercedes-Benz as a GT driver and with JDC-Miller in the IMSA WeatherTech series. For drivers like Vautier will multiple drives in a season, Covid-19 and the rescheduling of the season could really affect him.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been in my US hometown in St Petersburg, FL, since the start of the confinement. Not the worst of places to be in these tough times!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been training a lot outdoors, practicing on the sim, and doing some reading and some other non-racing related stuff!

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Vautier celebrating his 2012 Indy Lights crown. The Road to Indy scheme propelled him from the junior ranks to the Indy 500. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your JDC-Miller team?

The team made a huge leap forward in this year’s Rolex 24, One car on the podium, two in the top five. Last year we qualified a second off the best Cadillac, this year, we were less than two tenths away. We still have some work ahead but everyone can be proud of the progress made after only one race with the Cadillac Dpi.

Q4) How has the Covid-19 rescheduling affected your racing plans for 2020?

It’s tough to know for now as we are not sure of the new schedules, conflicts, etc.! I should have a much clearer idea in a month or so.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I have! I have been trying to not get too addicted and to make sure I use it in the best way possible to be a better driver when we go back racing!

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

My Star Mazda Championship title in 2011 because that’s what put me on the path to IndyCar, and to where I am now, at a time when it was make or break.

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Vautier returned to JDC-Miller for the 2020 Rolex 24, helping the team achieve a very respectable fifth place finish. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

It was the Baltimore Street course but IndyCar doesn’t go there anymore. I’d say Watkins Glen, just because of the flow, the rhythm and the high speeds.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

That moment when you are about to get going and things get quiet, and you can feel your heart beat rise.

That wraps up this latest installment of this series, my sincerest thanks go to Tristan for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to follow Tristan on Twitter here. When racing resumes later this year be sure to watch out for him both in the IMSA WeatherTech series and the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

Racers at Home Series: Nicholas Boulle

This is the third installment of this Racers at Home series. If you want to view my previous interviews with Zacharie Robichon and Dennis Olsen you can find them here and here respectively. My latest interview comes with with IMSA racer and former Rolex 24 class winner Nicholas Boulle.

Boulle dovetails his racing career with working in the family business, de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry. He was the first driver in history to be a licensed Rolex dealer to win a Rolex watch at the Daytona 24 Hours. He’s been spending to keep busy in lockdown, and is competing in the IMSA iRacing challenge. You can watch it at 3.10pm Eastern Time via this link here.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been in Dallas for the majority of lockdown – near my iRacing sim setup! I’ve had to make a few work trips down to Houston as well and I’m getting very good at making the drive without stopping.

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Nick Boulle in action with his #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport LMP2 Oreca at this years Rolex 24. Photo: Nick Boulle

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been doing the WFH as best as I can. This involved a lot of work on our companies website as well as pre-owned watch sales & jewelry sales. In addition, I’ve definitely taken some time to invest in my racing sim. It was pretty basic initially but now I at least have nice pedals and I’m going to upgrade the steering base some time soon too. The pedals made a massive difference so I am hoping the wheel base takes the same step forward for me. I’ve been playing catch up for sure but once I upgraded the pedals I suddenly saw the training value just by fixing that one touch point.

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your PR1/Mathiasen team?

I always really enjoy working with the PR1 squad. Everyone on their team is there to get a result. It’s a family feeling, but no one is without purpose. I think as a whole we were the strongest team in the LMP2 class. And the guys actually showed that through the race even our mechanics & crew were just so prepared. I woke up to find out one of the guys had made a mistake on the banking and had to pit with damage. The guys got the car rolling and really were able to minimize the accident’s effects. Looking back, having learned what happened, we were just so lucky to have them prepared with the parts & capability of fixing the #52 on pit lane so quickly.

Q4) The IMSA season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?

You know… It’s really hard to say right now because it seems like more news comes out every day regarding COVID and safety & health measures around the United States and the world. I wake up most days wondering what information is going to come out that could change it all for the better or the worse. I’m excited though and it’s positive to hear about the steps IMSA is taking to get things going again.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I’ve been getting into iRacing a lot actually! My setup is pretty basic but I put a better set of pedals on it recently and it kind of opened my eyes up to how helpful it can be.

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The PR1/Mathiasen crew recovered from a small off to finish second this year, only two laps behind the more fancied DragonSpeed entry. Photo: Nick Boulle

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

Definitely winning the ROLEX 24 Hours of Daytona in 2017. I’m not sure I ever found a picture of the car crossing the line which I had the honor of doing for the team… but that’s a special moment with a great group of people. Pato O’ward, James French and Kyle Masson were great teammates and still consider them friends. James French and I actually later had the opportunity to run together in IMSA twice thanks to the 2016 COTA round where we finished 3rd place.

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

I’ve got several favorite race tracks, but one in particular I have never been able to race in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship. I really enjoy Mid Ohio. It’s tight & twisty and a tough place to race, but it’s so rewarding when you get it right. I also really enjoy how much of a flow it has to it.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?
This is a tough question to answer because I don’t know where to begin! I would say the
beautiful thing to me about racing is that you live in a bubble for the weekend where the world is binary. The only thing that matters is winning and going faster. That’s maybe an oversimplification with sponsors, friends, family, team dynamics, but it’s how I approach the weekend.
That wraps up this interview with Nicholas, I would like to thank him for giving up the time to answer these questions! Go and follow Nicholas on Twitter here and be sure to check out the de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry website here. Next up next week will be IMSA DPI and Mercedes GT driver Tristan Vautier.

Racers at Home Series: Dennis Olsen

The latest subject for this Racers at Home series is Dennis Olsen. Olsen is the reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge champion and a former Porsche young professional driver. He’s a former winner of the Bathurst 12 Hours and has extensive links with Porsche. Olsen was hoping for a big 2020 season but has had to hit the pause button thanks to Covid-19.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

First of all I had to spend the 14 first days inside as I was testing in Paul Ricard when the lockdown came. After that I’ve been busy with coaching, exercising as well as preparing for whatever will come at the end of the year (hopefully). I also had some time to catch up some time with friends and family.

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been trying to spend time on what is important to me – it’s been pretty boring to be honest to stay at home for such a long time, but I’ve kept myself pretty busy all the time. So right now I’m just hoping to get back on the race track as soon as possible.

Q3) We’ve seen multiple GT makes scale back their racing plans, how much do you think Covid-19 will affect motorsport?

It’s a sport that requires a lot of sponsorship, money and it is and will be tough for everyone to keep on going as if nothing happened. Hopefully everybody can come through this crisis and get back competing as we did in January at Daytona.

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Olsen (left) partnered Matt Campbell (center) and Dirk Werner (right) combined for their Bathurst 12 Hour victory in 2019. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q4) The IMSA season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?
I do really hope this can be possible. Even though the championship can resume, it might be hard for me to travel. So fingers crossed that I can be there once we finally can see the green flag on track again.
Q5)Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?
I would like to and trying to get the equipment needed to be able to join some E-Sport while waiting for the real season to get started again.
Q6)What has been your career highlight to date in your young career?
My career highlight was to win the IGTC championship last year. We were competing against the best of the best, and the championship was not decided until the checkered flag.
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Olsen (center) celebrating his IGTC title with his Porsche team mates. Photo: Porsche 

Q7)What is your favourite race track and why?
Nordschleife is to me still a favorite, due to the dangers and consequences the track can give. But I do really love the tracks in the US generally as they still are ”old fashion” race tracks with small margin for errors.
Q8)What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?
First of all it’s driving the cars, and fighting for victories – but definitely also the atmosphere on track with the team members and everyone around on track.
I would like to thank Dennis for giving up the time to answer these questions. We wish him the best of luck for the future. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Racers at Home Series: Zacharie Robichon

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across the world. As the death toll keeps rising many countries are under some form of lockdown order. The knock-on effect for non-essential business has been massive, as we rightly focus on essential sectors such as health care.

Sport has rightly been largely halted across the world, including motorsport. Whilst the world focuses on much more important matters, this series will hope to bring a little relief by asking various racing drivers how they are spending their lock down time. First up in the series is IMSA WeatherTech GTD Porsche driver Zacharie Robichon.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been spending lockdown at my cottage in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Shortly after the pandemic started and before the true lockdown orders were in place my girlfriend and I decided it best to come up here instead of staying in Montreal!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

It certainly hasn’t been the easiest to fill all the free time. Luckily up here we have lots to do outside so lots of hikes and bike rides. And the same as many others I’ve certainly been trying lots in the kitchen. I’ve also had some work to do with my role in running the Porsche Experience in Canada so that gives me some work to do everyday!

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Robichon was a dominant Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion in 2018, winning 11 of 12 races. This propelled him to a stunning rookie season in IMSA GTD last year. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your Pfaff team?

Of course Daytona was a big heartbreak for the team. We really believed that we were in a strong position and honestly as a team I believe we ran a near faultless race. The issue we faced was not caused by us or anything that could have been predicted by Porsche and was really just a freak accident and we happened to be the victims.

Q4) The season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?

At this rate I believe everyone is doing their best to try and get things moving. The key is that we need to ensure that we can move ahead safely with all the necessary safety precautions in place. I believe the biggest hurdle that we will face is the international travel rules and the potential for required quarantine when you do travel between countries. I’d like us to go racing of course, but I’m unsure whether or not it will be possible at the end of June.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I have not joined the sim racing trend. There’s a few reasons for this but the main ones being I don’t have the space for one! And to be completely honest my internet at the cottage would likely not support it anyways.

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Robichon’s debut IMSA season couldn’t have gone much better. A Sprint Cup title, two wins and third in the GTD class. The future looks very bright for this young Canadian. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your young career?

It’s tough to pick one highlight but if I had too I would say the GTD Sprint championship from last season. Moving up to this level is always filled with a bit of self-doubt on whether or not you will be able to perform but that accomplishment really made all the hard work worth it.

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

If I had to pick one track it would be Road Atlanta, I love the high risk and high speed nature of it.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

The racing itself! Nothing gets the adrenaline going like competing and pushing to your maximum against people who are doing the same. Driving is incredible, but nothing can replace the competition we feel on Race day.

I would like to say a massive thank you to Zacharie for giving up his time to answer these questions. Be sure to follow Zacharie on Twitter here and check out his website here. Next up in this series will be reigning IGTC champion racer Dennis Olsen. Stay tuned to the blog!

 

Ravens Trade For Calais Campbell

The Baltimore Ravens stole the sports headlines by announcing a trade for defensive end Calais Campbell. The 33 year-old Pro Bowler was sent to the Ravens from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick (170th overall).

Campbell has been a premier pass rusher for years now, with Pro Bowl appearances in five of the past six years, along with an All-Pro designation in 2017. The move makes a ton of sense for both parties, with the Ravens massively improving a position of need. The Jaguars also clear $15 million in cap space, as it increasingly looks like their rebuilding.

Campbell was in the final year of his four-year $60 million deal, with the Ravens quickly agreeing to a two-year $27 million extension. The move gives Campbell another two years with a premium salary, whilst it helps lower the $15 million cap hit for the Ravens. According to @RavensSalaryCap on Twitter, this now leaves the team with $17.8 million in cap space heading into free agency on Wednesday.

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Calais Campbell (left) scooped the MVP prize at the 2019 Pro Bowl. Both him and Lamar Jackson (right) are premium players at their positions for the Baltimore Ravens. Photo: SI

Baltimore now have a formidable front seven, with Campbell teaming up with defensive tackle Brandon Williams to provide a big interior presence. The Ravens like to add big defensive tackles, to help with stopping the run. The Ravens recently franchise-tagged linebacker Matt Judon, but he could be traded to improve the salary cap position.

The Ravens will look for a boost from recent draft picks at linebacker, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser. The team had already inked veteran linebacker L.J Fort to a two-year $5.5 million extension back in November.

The Ravens defense improved massively throughout the 2019 season, but they have notable free agents this year. They include run-stuffing defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis along with linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes and Pernell McPhee. The front seven position group could experience high turnover in 2020, so signing Campbell eases their concerns massively.

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With the Campbell trade news, does this mean Michael Pierce will be leaving the Ravens this free agency? Photo: USA Today Sports

It’s likely the Ravens will add to this group with a high draft pick this year, as they don’t have massive cap space to sign premier free agents. It’s an excellent move from GM Eric DeCosta, who has now traded two fifth round picks for Pro Bowl talent. Trading for cornerback Marcus Peters made a massive difference to the Ravens defense last season, and now acquiring fellow Pro Bowler Calais Campbell shows the Ravens are in a SuperBowl window and looking to win now.

What do you think of this trade? Let me know in the comment section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

What to do With A Problem Like Manchester City?

The football world was shaken to it’s core on Friday evening with the announcement that UEFA had banned Manchester City from European competition for two years. The governing body of European football took this momentous step because of financial fair play (FFP) breaches along with misleading information provided by the club.

This is a talking point that rumbles on almost a week later. This appears a solitary case, but the ramifications of this could spread far beyond Europe. For now the dispute rumbles on, but what could this mean for the future of football? Let’s examine the events that led to this moment.

Manchester City are accused by UEFA of overstating sponsorship revenue they received to circumvent FFP rules. The estimated £200m allowed the club greater financial flexibility to sign top players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and John Stones. It also helped to pay their £300m wage bill, the third most in world football behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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De Bruyne has been key to City’s success since signing in 2016, the last year of which City are alleged to have breached FFP rules. Photo: Manchester City

This extra money via alleged financial doping unquestionably helped lay the foundations for the juggernaut team that won the Premier League and League Cup in 2018 as well as an F.A Cup in 2019. Some have now questioned the validity of these successes, knowing the club could have cheated to attain them.

This UEFA investigation opened in November 2018 after leaked internal emails from the club surfaced at German publication Der Spiegel as part of their Football Leaks platform. The whistleblower Rui Pinto now sits in a Portuguese prison awaiting trial for hacking charges. UEFA had previously punished City and PSG in 2014 for rules breaches, reaching a financial settlement with the two clubs.

This previous punishment helps explains the ongoing rift between Manchester City and UEFA. The club responded immediately on Friday night, releasing a statement protesting their innocence as well as besmirching the investigation as one of bias with a pre-determined guilt. The club have now employed an army of lawyers to help with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

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This is what City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak is reported to have told FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the past. Could this antagonistic attitude cost the club? Photo: City Extra/Twitter.

A large bone of contention between the two entities is the level of dialogue. UEFA believe that City were either non-cooperative or misled the investigation, which factored into their much larger punishment. UEFA has given similar punishments in recent years to the likes of A.C Milan, who were banned from Europe for one season.

The fact City didn’t cooperate with the investigation will have factored into their two year ban. City themselves have refuted this, believing that they provided all necessary information and cooperation in this investigation, despite consistent leaks to the media.

This decision from UEFA will now be played out at CAS, and could last for several years. This is a landmark case for both parties, with the loser sure to come out of this bloodied. If Manchester City lose, they could lose star manager Pep Guardiola along with a host of players. If UEFA lose, the FFP system will lose all authority as clubs ride roughshod over it.

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City fans made their feelings towards UEFA known at their Premier League game against West Ham. Photo: EMPICS Sport

Whatever happens, UEFA could lose in the long run. City could use their two-year suspension to build their global brand playing lucrative friendlies in attractive markets such as Asia and North America. If UEFA lose this ruling, it will be a humiliating defeat that will only embolden prestige clubs to create their own breakaway European Super League.

Since taking over the club in 2008, owner Sheikh Mansour has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to elevate City to a competitive level. Since Guardiola took over in 2016 the club have a net spend of £340m. The club have the fifth highest income in football, however this drops to eighth if you discount the troublesome Etihad deal.

The club have been in the shadow of city rivals Manchester United for almost their entire history. United are a truly global club and have become a hugely successful brand across the world, in part thanks to their historic successes. This is something City have been trying to build in just over a decade.

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City rivals Manchester United have a global supporter base thanks to sustained success. This is something City are playing catch up to. Photo: China Group via Getty Images.

FFP restrictions limit the Man City model of a wealthy owner pouring money into the club until they are successful a la Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. City haven’t had enough time to build their global brand, so to compete with the best in England and Europe they will have felt under pressure to use the owners money to even the playing field.

Some pundits have already hypothesized a very small positive to come out of this for City. With looming sanctions, will they turn this into a motivational boost to win the Champions League this year. For the club, it would no doubt give them great satisfaction to be handed the biggest prize in club football by the people they are going up against in court.

This legal dispute feels like a landmark moment for European football that could have far reaching consequences in the near future. Will UEFA be able to stamp its authority, or will City show that big clubs now have the power in football? The legal battle will no doubt be ugly, however it seems this will be difficult for City to overcome.

They have never said the leaked documents were fake, so it seems clear cut that they broke the FFP rules they agreed to every season when they play in the Champions League. The emails and their reactionary statement show a level of arrogance at the top levels of the club that only sways neutrals to UEFA’s side. Maybe City can force UEFA into a reduced punishment, but for now it seems City are bang to rights and need to take their punishment.

Do you have any thoughts on this piece? Let me know on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading this article, I really appreciate it!