alonso_reuters

Invaluable lessons learned from F1 Barcelona testing

9 Comments

Pre-season Formula 1 testing is an impossible language to translate. Trying to figure out which team is genuinely quick is about as tricky as it must have been for intellectuals of bygone years to ascertain the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs before the discovery of the Rosetta stone.

You see, there is no solid reference. It changes each lap. Everyone runs new cars with new aerodynamic configurations beyond a daily basis, an hourly basis … or even with each run. Such is the manner in which testing is conducted and such is the exact science of data collection, that wing levels and car set-up are often changed on a lap by lap basis. Fuel levels are kept secret. A new generation of tires are reacting in unusual ways to the different track surfaces at the various testing venues in Spain, their characteristics being further altered by a single degree drop in temperature.

So what can we learn from the timing screens at the end of the day? Not a lot.

But we can learn something from being on site, and that is why NBC Sports’ visit to Barcelona last week was so useful. Because, at this time of year, there are only really two ways to learn who might turn up in Melbourne with a winning car. The first is to watch the cars out on track. Don’t look at the times, look at the way the car drives the circuit, attacks the corners … listen to how the drivers apply the throttle on corner exit, listen to the engine pitch and hear how well planted a driver can keep his right foot in the fast stuff. You will learn pretty quickly who has a responsive car, who has a dependable car and who has a fast car.

The second is to watch the drivers themselves, watch their body language, the way they relate their findings to their engineers. Watch the way they walk around the paddock, read their actions from the way they greet an old friend to the way they drink their tea. And if you can, talk to them.

Last week, as part of NBC’s “staggering” (in the words of paddock colleagues) pre-season filming shoot in Spain, I got to do just that. One on one. And the results were fascinating.

I’m not going to give away all that was said, that would sort of ruin the whole point of sending out all the Hollywood cameras and crew and I don’t think my new NBC bosses would be terribly impressed with that.

The one thing that was clear was that this season is going to be tight. Nobody was giving much away, but the theme seemed to be that with minimal changes to the regulations, almost everyone thinks they have a better car underneath them than they did at this point 12 months ago.

This is even true at McLaren. Jenson Button admitted the team was feeling somewhat confused by its new challenger, and that they were behind the curve compared to their rivals, but that the potential of his 2013 car was far greater than his 2012 ride.

Ferrari have a night and day difference from last season. The car isn’t a dog, and that has given both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso the boost they needed after the wretched pre-season testing they endured in 2012. If Alonso could fight for the title with an awful car, imagine what he can do with a half decent one.

Red Bull’s boys were giving little away, too, but Mark Webber has an assured confidence about him. It’s going to take something massive to get one up on his now three-time world champion teammate, but he’s clearly viewed as the best choice to partner the man who is rewriting the record books.

Mercedes has much to prove with its new superstar driver Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion is playing down expectations, as much to manage his own hunger for champagne as that of his fans and new bosses. There is an underlying confidence about him and Nico Rosberg. I don’t think it is a championship confidence for 2013, but perhaps the feeling that they are embarking on something special together for the long term.

The one team that really seems pumped up right now is Lotus. Both drivers were totally at ease, confident and jovial. There wasn’t a hint of pressure, nor of frustration… not even when we sat Kimi Raikkonen down for a 15-minute interview. He even cracked a smile and a few jokes. Right now, the read I get off the Lotus boys is by far the most positive of all the top challengers.

There’s an air of confidence around the Williams and Sauber teams too, and if the assured calm of their drivers is replicated with the speed of their cars, they could be ones to watch.

At the back end of the grid, I’m sorry to say that Caterham’s boys, while excited about the challenge, could not hide a tremendous challenge ahead. Marussia meanwhile may actually start the season with a slight advantage over its next-door neighbors  I was worried to see Luiz Razia not given any test mileage in Barcelona, and one can only imagine that sponsor issues would have been behind a reason to keep a rookie away from much needed cockpit time. He was my stand-out driver in last season’s F1 feeder category GP2, and I hope for his sake that things are resolved in a positive fashion. His teammate Max Chilton, meanwhile, gave some of the most mature and introspective answers I heard all week in interview. I’ve known Max a while, but my word he’s grown up fast over the last few months.

But if one interview stood out for me from the week, it was the one with a driver who may not even have a race seat in 2013. Adrian Sutil stepped into an F1 car for the first time in over a year on the third day of the test and impressed everyone. Force India has a spare race seat this season, and their former driver is favorite to land it. A year out of the sport has not dulled his hunger nor his senses, but from speaking to him I learned that it has given him that rarest of gifts: perspective. He is relaxed, rested, and has come to appreciate that there is more to life than racing. He sees the wider picture, he sees the world and all it has to offer. But still he wants to race.

I’d like to see Adrian back in a race seat. With his raw pace, combined with a new maturity and worldliness, he could be a hugely potent force in 2013.

But these are just my impressions. How good were the boys’ poker faces? We have just over two weeks left until the flag drops. I can’t wait.

Will Buxton is the F1 pit reporter for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @WillBuxton.

Hawksworth’s luck goes from bad to worse leading into Indy 500

04CJ9986
Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

After a rough start to the 2016 season, Jack Hawksworth was hoping for some good luck and better performances when he got to Indianapolis earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it’s been more of the same.

Entering the Indianapolis 500, the Bradford, England native sits 20th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with just 60 points, a whopping 182-point deficit behind points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Hawksworth’s best finish to date in the first five races of 2016 has been 11th in the season-opening event at St. Petersburg.

Since then, it has all been downhill, as he’s finished 19th (Phoenix), 21st (Long Beach), 19th again (Birmingham) and then a 20th place finish (in a 25-driver field) two weeks ago in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – despite qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six for the last event.

Hawksworth continued to endure niggling engine issues during the first week of practice and qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.

That included qualifying a disappointing 31st in the 33-car field, his worst effort in three tries to make the Indy 500 (Hawksworth qualified 31st in 2015 but moved forward three spots as the last row changed).

Luckily for Hawksworth, only 33 cars were entered for the historic running of the 500, so he was assured a spot in the field either way.

But bad luck reared its ugly head once again in Monday’s practice session at the 2.5-mile Brickyard when Hawksworth felt the engine go in his No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda.

“We’ve had our fair share of setbacks these past two weeks (but) this is the cherry on top of the cake,” a dejected Hawksworth said. “We’ll obviously have to change the engine.

“I was pretty happy with the car today. Now we need to get miles on the new engine on Carb Day. That’s important to break it in before Sunday. Then we reset and go to the Indy 500.”

Given all the bad luck Hawksworth has endured, there is one bright spot: the only direction he can go from here is up.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Andersen working to ensure value for MRTI schedule selections

41bk1834-L
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

One of the key goals for Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, which runs and operates the Mazda Road to Indy, is to ensure when a race is added or dropped to the schedule, it’s done with the right business reasons in mind.

Looking first at the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the schedule grew from 16 to a planned 18 races for the 2016 season. Phoenix and Boston single races were added with Road America also added as a doubleheader; Long Beach and Milwaukee fell off compared to 2015.

However, in looking at three of those events – Long Beach, Phoenix, and Boston – things have quickly evolved just in the opening months of the year.

Phoenix ran at an admittedly odd 1:30 p.m. MT and local start time, nearly five full hours ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series race with nothing on-track in-between.

Long Beach’s absence made for a topic of discussion in the paddock.

Perhaps in an unfortunate coincidence, the magnitude of North America’s marquee street race was put into direct comparison to the challenge of launching a first-year street race, when Boston’s cancellation came out late last week.

It’s with that as context that we sought out some insight from Andersen about how the schedule came together – why Phoenix and Boston were the new adds and why Long Beach was dropped.

First up, looking at Phoenix, Andersen was equally as perplexed by the mid-afternoon start time as many were, this writer included.

“We tried to move our race slot, and IndyCar did as well. That was a track decision,” Andersen told NBC Sports.

“I believe it had to do with the concert in-between and maybe they didn’t want to have anything going on to detract from the concert. That will be a topic to discuss for next year.”

Andersen noted Phoenix International Speedway track president Bryan Sperber was influential in getting the track back on the calendar to some acclaim, but prefers a closer gap to the Indycar race in 2017.

“That event, I didn’t actually make our deal with the track – that was done by INDYCAR directly,” he said. “The track was very good to us, and Bryan Sperber was super nice, but next year we’ve got to try be closer to IndyCar.

“Bryan didn’t explain the time slot directly to me, but Phoenix was apparently pretty inflexible on what is was going to be. As that was a co-promoted event between Phoenix and INDYCAR, we and INDYCAR didn’t have the same situation that normally exists.”

Shifting to Long Beach, the vibe was weird with Indy Lights not on the schedule. Indy Lights had run at Long Beach in its earlier iteration from 1989 through 2001, and again in the reincarnated version from 2009 to 2015.

It’s understood that Andersen would have needed to pay a considerable amount in order to remain on the Long Beach weekend bill for 2016, and with that in mind, Andersen was conscientious that teams couldn’t afford the extra hit in budget that would come along with it.

“We absolutely wanted to go back to Long Beach,” Andersen explained. “When I took the series over, Long Beach was part of the INDYCAR sanction, and when INDYCAR renewed their agreement, Lights wasn’t included.

“INDYCAR basically said to me, ‘what do you want to do?’ and I replied ‘We want to go there, but if you can’t make that happen, you can’t make it happen’. Then Long Beach came to me and said ‘we’d be glad to have you back, and this is the number.’

“I’m able to commit to spending a stipulated amount on suites, hospitality, signage, and ticket buys, but this was a straight fee, and I just don’t have the budget for that. I would have had to add significant cost to every car for their entry fees.”

So why add Phoenix, Road America and (in theory) Boston, then?

“We were disappointed in losing Long Beach, but delighted that we could add Road America, Phoenix and Boston – and now, Watkins Glen.”

The Boston fallout meant there was a temporary drop off to 17 Indy Lights races, but with Watkins Glen being added it’s back to 18.

Fortunately, the Boston cancellation didn’t affect the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires or Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda schedules.

To get all three series on the same weekend, Andersen and series partners often are willing to commit a certain amount in purchases from the promoter to showcase the entire Mazda Road to Indy.

“Certain tracks, we are able to commit our partners to spend a certain amount of money,” he said. “Here (Barber), for instance, I have agreed to spend a certain amount of money to have all three of my series on this venue, and to cover that, Allied Building products stepped up, Cooper stepped up, and Mazda stepped up.”

May is both busy and important for the Mazda Road to Indy from both a current schedule and future planning standpoint.

The new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which will premiere in USF2000 next season, will be revealed later this week at IMS – at 9 a.m. ET on Carb Day.

Meanwhile on-track this month, there’s been the usual six races at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend – arguably the standout weekend for the full Mazda Road to Indy of the season.

Then you get to Friday, May 27 – which is going to be “Fully Jam-Packed Friday” for the Mazda Road to Indy – with Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its usual Carb Day slot and then Pro Mazda and USF2000 having their third time and date in as many years at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Clermont.

The race was the “Night Before the 500” for years and ran late Saturday night, but shifted last year to an early afternoon race during the day. Now, it’ll be a Friday night affair, the “Carb Night Classic”.

And with other race events ongoing in the area, it might be a tough draw at the series’ shortest track. That being said, Andersen is bullish the Friday night opportunity might work better than what’s been done in the past.

“Last year, (USAC) realized they were losing a lot of teams to the Little 500 so they decided to go to a daytime race on Saturday instead of a nighttime race so that teams could exit Lucas Oil Raceway and run to Anderson, Indiana and do the Little 500,” Andersen explained. “That sort of worked, they had a little bit better car count then the year before

“So, this year they’ve decided that we are going to move it to Friday night, because I guess the Hulman 100 moved to Thursday night, so there’s no real conflicts with Friday night.

“I’m actually happy with that because Saturday, Legends Day at the Speedway, is an off day for us. It’s a little busy for us with Carb Day being Friday, but it works because we do Carb Day with the Indy Lights and then we go over to Lucas Oil Raceway and we run a traditional nighttime race there. I think it will work.”

Scheduling is one of the areas that Andersen can control, and doing so to make things as cost effective as possible for all three rungs on the ladder is key to success.

As Andersen made the important note, he’s in this for passion and to help promote the next generation of open-wheel talent – not to make money on this personally.

PWC weekend wrap: Long leads winners at CTMP

2016--PWC--Wright-Motorsports-Celebrates-Twin-Victories-at-CTMP
Photo: Wright Motorsports
Leave a comment

This past weekend, the Pirelli World Challenge headed north to Canada at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – the track formerly known as Mosport – for an incredibly busy weekend featuring no less than eight races among the full complement of seven classes, plus the debut of the new Sprint-X series.

There wasn’t much in the way of passing though in the GT ranks, following the round of Balance of Performance adjustments determined prior to the weekend. In race one, each of the top 12 starters finished in the top 12, with only minor changes. Race two was similar, with the order shifted only by a first green flag lap accident on a damp track.

Nonetheless, in his first weekend with a new team, albeit one he’s worked with in other categories, Patrick Long dominated proceedings in his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Long swept the pair of GT races and for good measure, so did his teammate, Michael Schein, in his No. 16 Wright Porsche in the GTA ranks.

“It was an iconic weekend from Wright Motorsports,” Long said. “They hit the ground running. We were able to put together a strong car for qualifying, and we continued to dial the car in all weekend.

“They were two very different races. The first one was a hot and long race where we had to manage traffic.

“On Sunday half of the track was wet, and it was a cut-throat sprint. The top three cars traded qualifying laps during the course of the race. We had the car to beat, and it was a storybook debut for us. John Wright and Bob Viglione [engineer] put their heads down and turned out two terrific cars for Michael and I.”

Saturday’s race one saw Andrew Palmer in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and Ryan Eversley in the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT complete the podium.

On Sunday, James Davison finished second on the road in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, following a determined and aggressive start to get himself into podium position, past Eversley and the two Bentleys of Palmer and Adderly Fong. Unfortunately the maneuver would halt Eversley’s momentum, knocking him back into Fong, who proceeded to pitch the Acura into a spin that caused a heavy accident. Per a Nissan release, Davison was later assessed a post-race penalty for the incident, although the team has appealed the decision from PWC officials.

With Davison demoted to 11th for the time being, it promoted Palmer back to second and Kyle Marcelli up to third in the No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra, thus securing his first podium of the year and in World Challenge.

Schein, as noted, won both GTA races – thus halting Martin Fuentes’ season-long win-streak of the first seven races – while Alec Udell and local driver Chris Green split the GT Cup wins.

Lawson Aschenbach took his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R to the win in the first of two GTS races on Saturday, but contact between he and Brett Sandberg’s No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 on Sunday at the first turn and first lap opened the door for Max Riddle to score a win on home soil on Sunday in his No. 07 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

There were four additional races on the weekend, including the debut of the new Sprint-X championship, which premiered to mixed reviews.

All classes except the Sprint-X ranks head to Lime Rock Park this weekend for track activity on Friday and Saturday.

RESULTS

GT

  • Race 1: 1. 58-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 87-Andrew Palmer (Bentley), 3. 43-Ryan Eversley (Acura), Pole. 58-Long
  • Race 2: 1. 58-Long, 2. 87-Palmer, 3. 2-Kyle Marcelli (Audi), Pole. 58-Long

GTA

  • Race 1: 1. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche), 2. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 3. 96-Bret Curtis (BMW)
  • Race 2: 1. 16-Schein, 2. 07-Fuentes, 3. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes)

GTC (all Porsche Cup)

  • Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 00-Corey Fergus (MP), Pole. 09-Chris Green (Pfaff)
  • Race 2: 1. 09-Green, 2. 17-Udell, 3-20-Urry, Pole. 09-Green

GTS

  • Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 3. 07-Max Riddle (Aston Martin), Pole. 10-Aschenbach
  • Race 2: 1. 07-Riddle, 2. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), 3. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), Pole. 13-Sandberg

TC

  • Race 1: 1. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 4-Dennis Hanratty (Lotus), Pole. 33-Adam Poland (Mazda)
  • Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 54-Patrick Gallagher (Mazda), Pole. 33-Poland

TCA

  • Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 74-Matthew Fassnacht (Mazda), 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 70-Goulart
  • Race 2: 1. 70-Goulart, 2. 49-Bickers, 3. 73-Daniel Moen (Mazda) Pole. 49-Bickers

TCB

  • Race 1: 1. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda), Pole. 65-Rodgers
  • Race 2: 3. 65-Rodgers, 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 25-P.J. Groenke (Chevrolet), Pole. 65-Rodgers

Sprint-X

  • Race 1: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi), 3. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)
  • Race 2: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche), 3. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)

London Formula E race to leave Battersea Park after season finale

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 27:  Formula E cars drive through battersea park during the FIA Formula E Visa championship, ePrix at battersea park on June 27, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON – The upcoming London ePrix on July 2 and 3 will be the last to be held at Battersea Park after Formula E officials came to an agreement to move the event with the local council this week.

Ever since its addition to the Formula E schedule for season one, the race at Battersea Park has been subject to a persistent and spirited protest from a group of locals who sought to protect one of London’s most-visited parks.

Formula E team bosses were given a draft calendar for season three over the Berlin ePrix weekend that omitted London from the schedule ahead of a planned High Court review this week that put July’s event in doubt.

However, this was called off after Wandsworth Council issued a statement on Tuesday confirming it had come to an agreement with Formula E that ensures the season two finale will be the last to be held at Battersea Park.

“Formula E has notified us that they will be holding their final races in Battersea Park this summer and that from 2017 onwards they will be seeking alternative locations,” Wandsworth Council’s community services spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said in a statement.

“Our understanding is that this now includes the possibility of a street circuit in central London, which has always been their preferred option but was not previously possible.”

Reports emerged following the news that the race would move from Battersea suggesting that a possible circuit being explored would centre on Buckingham Palace and incorporate some of London’s other most iconic landmarks.

Recent races in Paris and Berlin have been hugely successful in the very heart of the city, but nothing has been confirmed for London for the future.

“We’ve had preliminary conversations with the Greater London Authority, but there’s been no permission or route authorized yet,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag told the London Evening Standard.

“I love Battersea Park, but you’re effectively in a park and all you see is trees — this would be a view of London’s landmarks.”

A spokesperson for the recently-elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The Mayor intends to work with FIA Formula E to explore other sites in the capital.”

London is not the only race that is at risk of not returning in season three, with Beijing, Putrajaya and Punta del Este also omitted from the schedule.

As reported by motorsport.com last weekend, six new races are set to join the fray including double-header events in Montreal and New York in the summer of 2017.

Other possible new rounds include Singapore, Brussels and Marrakesh, while the season-opener in Hong Kong has already been announced.