Pace Car Crash Caps Off Bleak Weekend For GM

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 4 2018

The smashed up Corvette ZR1 pace car sits in its debris field prior to the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Detroit. Lined up behind is the field of Indy cars which had to wait for the mess to be cleaned up.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

“Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” has been an OEM catch-phrase in Detroit since the mid-1960s when it was coined by Henry Ford II _ “The Deuce” _ during the heyday of the Ford Total Performance racing program.

Which makes me wonder how much grief General Motors executive Mark Reuss is dealing with today (and the rest of this week) throughout the multi-storied-and-glassed-in-offices of the Renaissance Center in downtown Motown after his pace car crash at the start of Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Reuss, GM’s executive vice president for Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, lost control of a gorgeous 2019 Chevy Corvette ZR1 Sunday wheeling left into Turn 2 of The Raceway at Belle Isle Park’s 2.35-mile/14-turn temporary street circuit. Reuss was following a two-seat, Honda-powered Indy car typically driven by retired legend Mario Andretti or another former driver to give fans a taste of open-wheel racing.

Reuss, accompanied by Mark Sandy, sanctioning body INDYCAR’s manager for electronics, were sent into the spin cycle when the back end of the Corvette broke loose on a high patch of track and crashed into a concrete barrier on the left. The car hit the barrier with its right front fender and then spun around again, spewing bits of big-dollar bodywork across the track. Pole-sitter Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport was the only driver to clear the mishap before the rest of the 23-car field slowed to a halt.

Reuss and Sandy exited the car under their own power. Reuss checked out the ‘Vette’s crunched front-splitter before walking over to the wall in disbelief. Both were transported to the medical center; neither gentleman was injured, at least physically.

Without identifying either Reuss or Sandy, Chevrolet PR issued the following statement:  “We are thankful that there were no major injuries. Both the pace car driver and the series official were taken to the infield care center, where they were checked, cleared and released.

“It is unfortunate that this incident happened. Many factors contributed, including weather and track conditions. The car’s safety systems performed as expected.”

After initially identifying Reuss as the driver, ABC host Alan Bestwick referred to him as the “celebrity driver” during subsequent replays of the wreck…perhaps wishing to minimize the embarrassment?

The start of the Verizon IndyCar Series race was delayed for a little over 30 minutes as the backup ZR1 was fitted with a transponder and veteran Indy car driver Oriol Servia was summoned to strap into the cockpit.

Team-owner Ed Carpenter, an oval-track specialist who sat out the 70-lapper, was set up in his team’s pit stand when the wreck unfolded. Speaking during a teleconference Monday morning previewing Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Carpenter said he could not recall being involved in such an incident.

“I was watching one (race) when Johnny Rutherford, I think in Texas, got into an accident with one of the race cars,” Carpenter said. “And I saw Arie Luyendyk spin out at Toronto in the wet, so it happens. I felt bad for Mark Reuss, a great guy. All of us pros have been in that situation where we’ve put one into the wall. No different than any race car driver I’ve met. We’ve all made mistakes.”

Rutherford, a three-time Indy 500 champion, was involved in a crash with Donnie Beechler on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval during the Longhorn 500k Indy Racing League event on June 12, 1999. “Lone Star J.R.” _ a resident of the Fort Worth suburb of River Oaks _ made contact with Beechler’s No. 98 Oldsmobile Aurora-powered Dallara down the backstretch on Lap 179 of 208. The impact _ which occurred well below the white line marking the apron _momentarily lifted the right-side wheels of the pace car into the air. Rutherford had entered the track because of a crash involving Tyce Carlson’s No.20 Dallara/Aurora in Turn 2.

The impact deployed the pace car’s air bag system…and triggered this message:

“Hello, this is OnStar. I’m in Fort Worth and need to report an accident.”

Beechler finished 17th in a race won by Scott Goodyear of Panther Racing in his No. 4 G Force/Aurora. Ironically, Goodyear and 1998 Indy 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr. were working as color commentators with Bestwick on what was ABC’s final Verizon IndyCar Series telecast.

The incident involving Luyendyk _ a two-time Indy 500 champion _ occurred during the 2014 Honda Indy Toronto when he spun on a wet track. Luyendyk did not hit the wall but was forced to wait for several drivers to pass him.

“The pace car has gone a lap down, guys,” one broadcaster deadpanned.

The most serious incident involving an Indy car pace car occurred during the 1971 Indy 500 at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Eldon Palmer, owner of a local Dodge dealership, locked up the brakes of the ’71 Dodge Challenger convertible (with top down) as he headed into pit lane. He crashed into a camera stand at approximately 60 mph near the exit of pit lane as the 33-car field completed its flying start.

Palmer was accompanied by legendary IMS owner Tony Hulman Jr., ABC broadcaster Chris Schenkel and astronaut John Glenn. All escaped serious injury _ miraculously including photographers who fell from the stand.

Sunday’s Detroit race was won by Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner, in the No. 28 DHL Honda. RHR graciously brushed off the incident.

It didn’t affect me at all,” Hunter-Reay said. “Race hadn’t started yet, so we just rolled out, no issue at all there. I think that’s a testament to the Corvette ZR1. I know that thing is 750 horsepower. I’ve driven one before and you do not want to jump on the gas in that thing, and for sure it’s a fast car. So no, it’s something that can happen and the race hadn’t started. No big deal.”

Runnerup Will Power of Team Penske said his primary concern was the possibility of running over debris with his car’s Firestone tires.

I think Rossi was the only one that went through it, and (Robert) Wickens got stalled, and we only had one set of new reds,” said Power, referring to Firestone’s preferred soft compound tire. “I felt really bad for whoever was in the pace car. It’s very easy to do as you go over that crest, and the traction control must have been turned off. So yeah, I felt…wasn’t really his fault. It’s just such a bad corner. Like it’s very easy to do.”

Power, of course, was one-week removed from winning the 102nd edition of the Indy 500, the first Australian to conquer “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

My first thought was just switch my engine off, once the team said, ‘Switch your engine off and just wait,’ ” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “Took a while, and then I’m thinking with the whole field stopped, that’s a lot of starters, like that would take a long time. I don’t know how long that whole process took, but yeah, that would have been a first to see that whole field stuck in one spot just on the pit lane exit.

“You know, that’s racing, right? I’ve seen plenty of pace car crashes. Like I’ve seen plenty of people coming off in the wet and crash, and not abnormal.”

Team-owner Roger Penske, a major stakeholder in the revitalization of the Belle Isle facility, said during the delay, “Come to the races, you’ll see anything.”

Reuss’ crash capped a lost weekend for GM in its backyard, where the Andretti Autosport Hondas of Marco Andretti and Rossi qualified on-pole for both races, and the Honda-powered cars of Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti’s RHR celebrated race wins around the track’s iconic fountain.

Incidentally, pricing for the 2019 Corvette ZR1 _ which reportedly cranks out 755 horsepower from its V-8 engine _ starts at $119,995. The convertible version lists for $123,995.

Which makes me wonder in the case of Mr. Reuss if this OEM catch-phrase applies:

”You wrecked it, you bought it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 4 2018
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