Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 3

Ten with Townsend: St. Petersburg debrief

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Following a gripping start to the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, we asked NBC Sports Network analyst Townsend Bell for his thoughts and overview of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a new element we hope to feature regularly on MotorSports Talk. Without further adieu, here’s the first “Ten with Townsend.”

-Biggest surprise of the weekend?

Hinchcliffe driving a perfect race to notch his first win.  We knew he was talented but that was perfectly executed like a guy that has been winning all the time!  Great to see.  With Craig Hampson on his program, expect many more front running performances going forward.  Honorable mention goes to Marco for working hard over the off season to refine his craft.

-Biggest disappointment? 

JR.   Nobody is more frustrated than he is with the result.  He needs to get things on track and he knows it.  I’ve been in his shoes before and its not fun.  But you can’t jump your way out of a hole.  Its one foot in front of the other.  A steady climb.

-Your most improved team and driver?

KV Racing.  They are looking very strong with a lean and mean org chart.

-What did you make of the gap between Firestone’s black and red tires?

It was a little bit of a mystery here.  Not much of a gap in qualifying but more noticeable on some cars in the race.  The biggest story was Penske’s ability to make the red tires last over long distance where most other struggled with wear- i.e Simona.

-Hinch: One-hit wonder or do you think this will be the first of many victories?

More to come.

-What do you make of Andretti’s engineering additions, Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon?

They made a big time response to losing two talented engineers in Allen McDonald and Tino Belli.   They stepped up and secured two of the best available.  That’s the sign of a team that is serious about winning.

-Simona: How did you rate her weekend? What areas of improvement beyond the obvious (new engine, team) can you see in her?

Super impressive but frankly not many were surprised who have followed her career.  When she has equal equipment, she runs with the best of them.  Sector times (where horsepower was not a factor) last season showed that the driver and engineer (Gerald Tyler) were strong.

-Why do you think Target Chip Ganassi Racing struggled as much as they did? Honda on the back foot? Dario’s driving style/braking still not meshing with the DW12?

I think Sato proved that Honda’s performance was capable of top-5 qualifying.  In fact Sato’s qualifying lap was one of the more impressive one lap performances of the weekend.  Several teams struggled to adapt their 2012 setups to this front tire.  I’m putting Ganassi in that grouping.  They’ll get it right and it won’t take long.

-Thoughts on JR’s mistake, if any?

Simple distracted driving.  When everyone is doing burnouts and slamming brakes before a restart there is a massive accordion effect.  It’s an easy mistake to make if you glance down at the knobs or data on the wheel at the exact wrong time.   But he won’t ever make that mistake again I’m sure.

-And lastly, any off-the-wall observations you witnessed around the paddock.

A hot lap as Wally’s passenger, on a race track he’s never driven, can lead to PTSD.


IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.