Lotus and Ferrari among those already brimming with confidence

4 Comments

We were greeted on day one by the sight of an almost full F1 paddock. Nearly 100 mammoth transporter and hospitality trucks, representing all of the 2013 teams and practically all of the drivers.

Everyone we spoke to from teams were pumped and ready to have a very serious four-day test, in preparation for the first race roughly three weeks away. They put in hundreds of miles of data collection, aero, drive train, drivability, reliability and most important of all, learning all they could about the new Pirelli tires, which this year have different construction and compounds, designed to degrade quicker, and they did. Leigh and I were talking to Mark Webber in the Red Bull hospitality center and he was not a huge fan. He had great difficulty in reading the tire wear and performance and thought there was a very narrow window of usability. Jenson Button on the other hand said he thought they were easier to come to grips with, no pun intended, and would be easier to understand. Unlike his MP428, which he had great reservations about, in spite of the fact that his new teammate Mexican Sergio Perez set the fastest time of the four days, Button wound up 11th.

The only new car at this the second test was the Williams, unveiled on the Monday. It was supposed to be just an evolution of last year’s car, but according to Dickie Stanford (the team manager who spent a long time with Leigh and I) it is really all new. He told us both drivers, Pastor Maldonado and newcomer Valtteri Bottas said the car was markedly better than the 2012 model. The Williams team ended up with the most laps 367, finishing 8th and 10th on the time sheet, but both less than a second off the fastest. The last day was cold and damp and between them the two did 36 laps with no time, just pit stop practice.

Ferrari, compared to this time last year, looked really good. Fernando Alonso pounded around for three days ,with 110, 76 and 97 laps. I’m sure he slept very well. He topped the time sheets on day three, with a time that kept him second over the four days. He did a lot of drive through laps which must tell them something, though Leigh and I couldn’t figure it out. Alonso also did a tremendous amount of practice starts at the exit of pit lane, as did most of the drivers. Felipe Massa drew the short straw, only running on day four, which was cold and damp, even so he managed 80 laps. The team must be headed to the next test on Thursday with so much confidence compared to last year.

The Lotus team too must be very confident going forward. Romain Grosjean ended up 4th overall and Kimi Raikkonen was 7th. Kimi took the first two days, on day one he was parked for hours with data logging problems. Lotus press officer Andy Stobart told us that they have reverted to last year’s system, temporarily. The second day Kimi had Gear box troubles, again in the garage for some time. Romain had pretty trouble free days doing 160 fast laps. We spoke to the team principal Eric Boullier and he seemed very confidant and pleased with his boys. He said that Kimi is Kimi and needs treating in a way that is a bit special, he is also satisfied that Grosjean will have a much less troubled year than last.

Leigh and I were lucky enough to spend some time with Christian Horner, who I have known since he was a schoolboy. He is a very smart guy and plays his cards extremely close to his vest. Neither of his drivers were particularly fast, but no one seemed concerned. We also spoke to John Wheatley, the team manager, and Kenny Handkammer, the chief mechanic, all of whom seemed very upbeat even though Sebastian Vettel ended up 5th and Mark Webber was 13th. They covered two hundred miles less than Williams or Ferrari. However on the last day when most teams were practicing pit stops, Red Bull reeled off a number of wheel changes in 2.1 seconds, staggeringly fast. The fastest race stop last year was Jenson Button with a 2.31 second. Kenny Handkammer was pretty pleased with that. He wanted a picture of himself with Leigh and I which he then tweeted, saying he was with his friends from NBC and racing legend David Hobbs, very flattering coming from someone like that.

The big change for this year is of course Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes and what it will do for him and them. On the first day, Nico Rosberg did the driving and they had a lot of unspecified troubles, spending some time in the garage. Despite that, Rosberg did the fastest lap of day one. Hamilton took over on day two and had essentially a trouble-free day turning 121 laps winding up 4th. He was having gear box troubles out on the track and we could hear him struggling. On day four Hamilton took the fast time in cold and damp conditions. They were never able to match the best times of the test but nevertheless look competitive.

The Sauber, particularly in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg looked very promising ending up third overall only three-tenths off. His old team Force India looked strong too Adrian Sutil looked very good but is not yet confirmed for the team; only Paul Di Resta is. They also tried Jules Bianchi but he did not drive until day 4 when conditions were at their worst. The Marussia machine only driven by Max Chilton was consistently faster than the new Caterham in the hands of Giedo Van de Garde and Charles Pic, both new to the team, always, in my opinion, a bad move with a new car no one is able to tell whether it’s the car or the driver.

Now testing is just that, testing. Impossible at this stage to really tell the relative strengths of the teams.

We can tell that Ferrari is ahead of where they were this time last year and Williams seems ahead. Red Bull … who knows? On time they are not there, however I’m sure they are very well aware that they are going to be strong, McLaren also looks good, but Jenson struggled badly last year mid-season and looks a bit as if he’s headed that way now. Mercedes? Hamilton has got to be worth half a second over Nico and that might put them in the ball park. We’ll know more next Sunday when the final test ends, but the real test will be P1 at Melbourne in March. See you there.

David Hobbs is the F1 analyst for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MrDavidHobbs.

Hinchcliffe engine issue hits Carb Day practice, as Castroneves leads

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has led the final one-hour practice session ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, but it’s a Honda that made the bigger news during the extended session.

Another Honda engine issue – at least the eighth this month between the INDYCAR Grand Prix, practice and qualifying – now struck James Hinchcliffe during the final 20 minutes of the session in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Heading into Turn 3, Hinchcliffe’s gold and black car took on a distinctly white hue by contrast, as smoke billowed out the back of the car. It littered the track between Turns 3 and 4.

Yet as Hinchcliffe, the 2016 race polesitter explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, the timing was as good as it could have been considering had it happened later it would have been in the race itself.

“I felt what the engineers would call a suboptimal rapid negative acceleration heading into Turn 3,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “We’ve had some issues across the Honda camp. It’s less than ideal.

“I felt bad going into 3. I hope we weren’t leaking too badly. I’m happy it didn’t happen 20 minutes later, that would have been Lap 5 of the race. We’ll get an engine, we’ll put it in. But that was by far the best we’ve felt on the 5 car all month. Let’s put this thing to bed. The car feels really good in traffic.”

Hinchcliffe will start 17th on Sunday. He ended his truncated practice in 14th.

Photo: IndyCar

Behind another gold car – the gold-and-white No. 3 car of Castronves – Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan completed the top three, with Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.

Speeds are below.

2017 Indy 500 Carb Day Rolling Notebook

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Miller Lite Carb Day is underway from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This inevitably brings a number of nuggets, notes and updates from the track besides the on-track activity.

We’ll keep this post updated as things arise.

First off, here is a link ahead of coverage on NBCSN to come from Indianapolis today.

8:45 a.m. ET: In case you missed any posts from yesterday and earlier this morning, here’s a quick roundup:

9:00 a.m. ET: We have a date, and a logo, for the 102nd Indy 500, which like the last two years continues with PennGrade Motor Oil presenting sponsorship.

Next year’s race will again fall on the fourth and final Sunday of May, May 27, 2018.

That logo and signage is below.

9:30 a.m. ET: Here is the day’s full schedule, via IMS.

 

7 a.m.: Parking Lots Open
7 a.m.-6 p.m.: Administrative Office Open, Credential Office Open, IMS Ticket Office Open
8 a.m.-5 p.m.: Ticket Trackside Office Open, Ticket Remotes Open (Gates 3, 6, 9, 10)
8 a.m.-6 p.m.: Credential Trackside Office Open
8 a.m.-6 p.m.: Public Gates Open
8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: IMS Midway Open
8-9 a.m.: Historic Race Car Exhibition
9-10 a.m.: Firestone Pin Distribution – Pagoda Plaza
10-10:30 a.m.: Indy Lights Autograph Session – IMS Midway
10:30-10:45 a.m.: Sam Schmidt Arrow Car Laps
10:45 a.m.: Clint Brawner Award Ceremony – Victory Podium
11 a.m.-noon: Verizon IndyCar Series Practice
12:05 p.m.: Indy Lights Driver Introductions
12:15 p.m.: Invocation delivered by Rev. Mike Welch
12:16 p.m.: National anthem performed by Reba McEntire
12:25 p.m.: “Drivers Start Your Engines”
12:30 p.m.: Indy Lights Freedom 100 race – 40 Laps
1:45-3 p.m.: TAG Heuer Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge
2 p.m.: Miller Lite Carb Day Concert Venue Opens
3:30-4:30 p.m.: Barenaked Ladies Concert – Turn 4 Miller Lite Carb Day Stage
4-5:30 p.m.: Hinch “The Mayor on Air” Live Podcast – Garages 35 & 36
5-6:30 p.m.: Steve Miller Band Concert – Turn 4 Miller Lite Carb Day Stage

More updates will follow in this post throughout the day.

WATCH LIVE: Indy Carb Day, then NASCAR AMERICA from 11a ET, NBCSN

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The busiest and greatest weekend in motorsports takes place this weekend from Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte, and you can see quite a bit of it today on NBCSN from 11 a.m. ET. The live stream link is here, via the NBC Sports App.

Indianapolis 500 Carb Day coverage will run from 11 a.m. through to 3:30 p.m. ET, in several chunks:

  • IndyCar final practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil runs from 11 a.m. to noon ET. Kevin Lee, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller on pit lane.
  • From there, at noon, it’s the marquee race of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season – the Freedom 100. With finishes of 0.0024 (2016, Dean Stoneman over Ed Jones), 0.0026 (2013, Peter Dempsey over three others) and 0.005 (2014, Gabby Chaves over Matthew Brabham), the Freedom 100 is known for fantastic and close finishes. Lee and Anders Krohn will be in the booth with Hargitt and Beekhuis reporting from the pits. The starting grid for that is linked here.
  • At 2 p.m. ET, it’s the Indy Pit Stop Competition, with the IndyCar crew back in for that. While some of the bigger teams are usually the ones that wins this, others such as Mikhail Aleshin for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Sage Karam for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing have stolen the show in this competition in recent years.

The coverage from Indianapolis runs for those four and a half hours, and leads straight into the now-annual NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special, which features live coverage from NBC crews in all of Indianapolis, Monaco and Charlotte and runs from 3:30 to 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. A standard NASCAR AMERICA show runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Among the items to look forward to from Indy and Monaco in that show:

  • An update on Fernando Alonso’s crazy month of May, ahead of his first Indianapolis 500
  • Robin Miller tours the A.J. Foyt Exhibit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
  • A look at Will Power, the dad, and the change that’s come to his life
  • From Monaco, a look at this season’s stellar battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel
  • A look at the magic of Monaco and a simulation of the track

As a reminder, here’s the IndyCar times from this weekend, and a link to the F1 times as well.

Alonso vs. ‘The Other 32’ hits Indy Media Day, plus Thursday notes

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastian Saavedra served as the perfect foil for the attention generated by Fernando Alonso on media day ahead of this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The Colombian driver was never going to be the driver to generate the most attention on this day. He starts 31st and hasn’t started an IndyCar race since the Sonoma season finale in 2015.

But being sat next to Alonso? It gave the impression poor Seb – himself about to start his sixth Indy 500 and a first with Juncos Racing as it makes its debut – was a lost soul in the wrong room, instead of one of his fellow competitors.

Saavedra could well have been speaking for “the other 32” – the drivers not named Alonso racing in 2017 – when he talked about what it meant to be back in this race after missing it for one year, and the preparation that will already begin for the 2018 ‘500, starting Monday.

“We don’t run just to run,” Saavedra, driver of Juncos’ No. 17 AFS Chevrolet, told NBC Sports. “Something needs to make sense. Coming into this year we came in with a different mentality; to build something for the future.

“When you’re not here, you miss this place. On Monday, we want everything to start up again for next year.”

In video and photographic form, the contrast between Saavedra and the scrum around Alonso’s place is captured below (or by satirist, @nascarcasm, here).

Media day inevitably serves up a series of quotes, banter and other topics from the field that we’ll flesh out over the next 48 hours on Friday and Saturday on MotorSportsTalk. As you can see below, here’s some of the facial expressions from the rest of the runners.

In other notes from the last couple days:

  • Team Penske continues to honor its legends. At its now annual Shell media lunch on Thursday, Penske has inducted legendary mechanic Karl Kainhofer and four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears into Penske’s Hall of Fame. Both icons of Penske’s legacy were awarded plaques of honor to join Penske himself and the late Mark Donohue, inducted upon the Penske Hall of Fame’s 2016 debut.
  • This event saw all five of Penske’s drivers speak, and was the second Penske sponsor event in as many days. The first, held at an event at a house in Speedway on Wednesday, saw Verizon debut its 5G LTE technology in-home, done in partnership with Ericsson. Will Power was on hand to witness the public debut of the 5G Smart House; the house is outfitted with wireless technology and ridiculous speed, which also included a Virtual Reality component.
  • We have a pace car driver. Chevrolet announced Thursday that actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has played major roles in hit television series such as “The Walking Dead” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” will drive the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Pace Car to lead the starting field of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil to the green flag Sunday, May 28.
  • The Indy Lights race has a bevy of potential surprise winners. The front row features Matheus Leist, set to run his first ever oval race, Colton Herta, who is set for his first big oval race, and two more Andretti teammates in Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman who looked great in traffic on Monday. Leist’s Carlin teammate Zachary Claman De Melo is another wild card; the Canadian has a “Jekyll & Hyde” nature to him. Then Aaron Telitz had to deal with a bit of mist and rain on his qualifying run and will start sixth. With the top two drivers in points starting 11th and 13th (Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin), it’s a fascinating day on tap.

Watch all of Indianapolis Carb Day coverage and the Freedom 100 starting at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN.