Honda issues statement after Ganassi comments

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The president of Honda Performance Development issued a statement Saturday following sharp comments from Chip Ganassi, whose Honda-powered team faces an uphill climb in tomorrow’s IZOD IndyCar Series season opener.

“Honda shares Chip’s commitment to winning, as is evidenced by our 196 IndyCar victories, many of which were achieved in partnership with Chip and his team,” said HPD president Art St. Cyr. “We are pleased with Takuma Sato’s front-row start and a strong qualifying performance by rookie Tristan Vautier in his inaugural race. But Honda is always looking to improve, and continues to work tirelessly to give all of our IndyCar Series teams the opportunity to win.”

Ganassi and the rest of the Honda squads have been unable to fully match the speed of the Chevrolet-powered entries so far this weekend. His drivers, Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball, and Scott Dixon, qualified 10th, 14th, and 20th respectively on Saturday for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — and afterwards, Ganassi criticized his engine supplier.

“They said for years and years and years they want competition,” Ganassi told the Associated Press.”Now they’ve got competition and they are not talking about winning. I feel like they want to sit around and hold hands and sing. I want to win.”

Outside of Sato and Franchitti, rookie Tristan Vautier (sixth) was the only other Honda-powered driver to qualify within the Top 10 starting positions.

To be clear, Honda doesn’t appear to be facing the same hopeless situation that Lotus found itself in last season, and the entire field as a whole is relatively tight. But because of the closeness in competition, any sort of drop-off in performance — even just one or two tenths of a second — becomes magnified, and with Chevy and Honda continuously working to improve on their motors, gaps can be tough to erase.

With that in mind, the overall pace of the Honda teams throughout the 110-lap race (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network) will definitely be a key storyline for Sunday.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.