FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
The news that racing executive Beth Paretta is going to take a run at the 2021 Indy 500 with a women-led team brings a sense of déjà vu: Indeed Paretta has done this before. She previously headed Grace Autosport, attempting to qualify Katherine Legge for the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Paretta pulled the plug just a few weeks before the green flag that year. We got a hold of Paretta to find out how the 2021 Paretta Autosport effort came about and why this time things are going to be different.
For one thing, the group plans to have 2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Simona De Silvestro drive the team’s Chevrolet-powered car this year. Also, this time none other than Roger Penske is involved.
“About a calendar year ago I was actually looking to do something on the IMSA side,” Paretta told Autoweek. “I love IndyCar and I love sports car racing, and IMSA seemed more financially viable at the time. So I went to the Rolex 24 last year just to look around and meet with some people and see what’s going on. My intention was to try to start something for later in the season and then do the whole season this year.”
Paretta told Autoweek she was interested in IMSA’s LMP3 class because it looked cost effective and she liked that the cars run internationally. She figured once the IMSA program was established, maybe, just maybe, she could expand into Indy Lights and then on to IndyCar. Then COVID hit. It definitely wasn’t the time to have conversations about partnerships. “Everybody was tightening their belts, or not even fielding those calls, so I put my plans on hold.”
Paretta, the former SRT Motorsports director, has long been passionate about education in her work, speaking at schools and hosting student groups at races, to name just two examples, and encouraging young people, particularly young women, to pursue their dreams through careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The proverbial light bulb went off last July when Penske’s IndyCar series announced its Race for Equality & Change, the sanctioning body’s shot at creating a more diverse and inclusive IndyCar community. Paretta thought maybe her years reaching out to young people and IndyCar’s new program might work well together.
“I wondered what their plan was and thought this could be something good,” Paretta told us. “Roger and I have always had a good working rapport, he knows my background, so I emailed him and said I’d like to learn more about the program and I offered to help in any way.”
They spoke in August and Paretta told Penske of her plan to establish an IMSA team, with the root of it being getting more women involved in all facets of the program. Penske said he’d love to have Paretta in IndyCar, so they put their heads together and decided Team Penske would provide Paretta Autosport with technical support for this year’s 500.
Paretta next got De Silvestro on board. “Everyone’s been on the same page from the beginning,” she said.
Right now Paretta’s plan is to just do Indy with maybe a few more races later in the year. Down the road the hope is a full-time racing program designed to both win races and open doors for women across all of racing. Penske obviously sees the potential, and he’s not one to mess around with unsuccessful entities.
Paretta has been working toward this for more than a decade. It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
Here’s what else is happening in the car world:
CAR NEWS AND NOTES
Mercedes-Benz took the wraps off its latest (and smallest) EV, the EQA. As the name implies, the small crossover is the electric version of the GLA, going on sale later in 2021. Benz hasn’t decided whether we’ll get it here in the U.S. The car has a 66.5-kWh battery pack and a front-mounted motor, the combination good for 187 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. EQA will have about a 230-mile range.
If you think Ram’s Hellcat-powered 1500 TRX and its 702 hp isn’t quite enough, don’t worry. John Hennessey has you covered. The Texas-based tuner claims he’s cranked the Ram’s power to 1,012 hp. Yeah, that should do it. Hennessey also added bigger rubber and tacked on some extra features in the truck he calls the Hennessey Mammoth 1000. Mammoth, indeed.
Stéphane Peterhansel’s win at the 2021 Dakar Rally was his 14th overall and eighth in cars (the other six were on motorcycles). Amazing! It was also his third win in a Mini and Mini’s sixth win. The win also came 30 years after Peterhansel’s first Dakar win, that one coming on a Yamaha YZE 750T back when the route was from Paris to Dakar, Senegal. This year’s version was held in Saudi Arabia and covered 4,751 miles. The course looped around much of the country and began and ended in the city of Jeddah. Nasser Al-Attiyah finished runner-up in a Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. Carlos Sainz, also driving a Mini, finished third, one hour behind Peterhansel.
Four-time NHRA champion crew chief Rahn Tobler is calling it a career effective Jan. 31. Tobler has captained Ron Capps’ Funny Car team for Don Schumacher Racing since 2012, scoring 33 wins and the 2016 NHRA Funny Car championship. Capps finished fourth in the 2020 Funny Car standings, as DSR drivers Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman and Capps finished 1-2-3-4 in the final standings. Tobler, 66, has been involved in drag racing since 1971. In addition to the Funny Car title with Capps, Tobler won Top Fuel titles with Shirley Muldowney in 1980 and 1982.
MOSTLY ODDS, SOME ENDS
Will EVs kill the manual transmission? That’s what we want to know. Every year the number of cars available in the U.S. with manual transmissions gets smaller. Europe has hung on to them in larger numbers for a longer time, but in the U.S. they have mostly survived almost solely in sports cars, even though until the early 2000s you could get a manual in BMW X5! But we predict electric and electrified vehicles will spell the end of manual transmissions in new vehicles, as more automakers start to go electric. Discuss in the comments below.
THIS WEEK IN GEAR
A lot of sports cars come with integrated dash cams today, mostly for performance driving purposes — your average crossover or sedan, not so much. But if you want to put an aftermarket setup on your car now it’s easier than ever. We take a look at cameras that work with any vehicle and range in price from $40 to more than $100.
While most pickup trucks come pre-equipped with a hitch receiver, let’s be honest, most of the time you’re not towing anything and it just sits there empty, doing nothing. Now, however, there are dozens of accessories available so your hitch can help you out when not dragging the boat. Here are a bunch for you to check out, from a bike rack to a place to hide your keys.
On this week’s episode of Quick Spin, Mark Vaughn puts a Gunther Werks Porsche 911 through its paces. Gunther Werks, based in Huntington Beach, California, is building what it calls the “ultimate” 993. Gunther Werks says it can make your 911 into basically whatever you want — you pick the interior materials, accent colors and finishes, Gunther Werks does the rest. The reborn 993s have bespoke lighting, a 4.0-liter flat-six producing 400-plus hp and much more. Vaughn gives you more detail on what goes into these remastered cars during a walk-around of the car, takes you along for a ride while he reviews the car and talks about this baby with host Wesley Wren. It’s one you won’t want to miss! Tune in here, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever podcasts are played.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I am extremely frustrated as a track owner that there was zero communication from NASCAR. Nobody ever had any conversation with me about Eldora or Cup on dirt until the deal with Bristol was about to be announced.”
—Tony Stewart expressing frustration at NASCAR’s lack of communication about staging a Cup race on dirt.
That’s it for this week. As always we’re on the case this weekend, monitoring and reporting on automakers’ and sanctioning bodies’ latest happenings. We’ll continually update the site, of course — you’ll know what’s happening when we do. Check back often!
Thanks for reading Autoweek and please stay safe.
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