Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Day 1

Schmidt, Herta squads threaten Honda hierarchy in Barber

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Honda got its groove back Friday at Barber Motorsports Park and leading the charge besides its flagship Chip Ganassi Racing squad were the efforts from Sam Schmidt’s and Bryan Herta’s teams.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Tristan Vautier paced Friday’s first practice, then ended the day third fastest with Schmidt Hamilton teammate Simon Pagenaud in fourth. An off for Vautier at the end of practice one interrupted what had been a good day.

“It was disappointing at the end of the first practice to cause a red because of a mistake, but no, I’m very happy with the car that the team has given me today,” Vautier said. “I think that I still have some room to keep improving, and we need to carry the momentum from today into tomorrow.”

Pagenaud estimated there were still gains to be made as the car struggled in some portions of the track.

“We still have quite a bit to do, as we are losing a lot in very important sectors; otherwise the car would be golden,” said Pagenaud. “There’s still a little bit of work to do but overall whether it’s Honda, whether it’s the team, and working with Tristan, this weekend has all been quite enjoyable.”

Schmidt told IndyCar Radio he hoped Honda had done its homework after both cars suffered exhaust problems at St. Petersburg, but remained cautious until the race concluded on Sunday.

Meanwhile at Herta’s Barracuda Racing, driver Alex Tagliani ended Friday in second place and put in an early candidate for quote of the year given his position on the timesheets.

“I am really proud of what the team accomplished here this weekend,” he said. “Obviously we are accustomed to being in the Firestone Fast 6 last year. I really didn’t like using the Port-a-Potty in the back of the grid. It feels good and hopefully we can have a good qualifying and it’s a tough race to pace here, so qualifying will be key.”

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.