Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Day 3

Ten with Townsend: Barber debrief

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Ryan Hunter-Reay’s dominance, Will Power’s relative struggles and Charlie Kimball’s emergence highlight the post-Barber edition of “Ten with Townsend,” as NBC Sports Network analyst Townsend Bell recaps the weekend from Birmingham, Ala.

The first edition, post-St. Pete, is linked here. And if you missed his GoPro course preview lap with Wally Dallenbach, that’s linked here.

-Biggest surprise of the weekend?

Watching Dario qualify in the back.  It’s so tight these days that even a slight hiccup and you’re way down the grid.

-Biggest disappointment? 

Seeing Hinch stranded there unable to make it to pits for a simple fix.  He handles it better than anyone I know.

-Your most improved team and driver from St. Pete?

Ganassi- Dixon.  They were the class of the field.

-What did you make of the gap between Firestone’s black and red tires this week, now on a road course?

Strange how the Reds were faster AND consistent.  Don’t think anyone expected that after St. Pete.

-Do you think this was Ryan Hunter-Reay’s most complete weekend in IndyCar, since he scored pole, led most laps, win with a pass of Helio and having to hold off Dixon?

Perhaps, but I think it just shows how resilient he is.  It’s the same as last year, hardship one weekend and major bounce back the next.  He’s on top form.  He fought and survived some very lean years on the bubble of the sport and has been hardened against adversity.  In many ways this is a walk in the park from what he’s been through.

-Charlie Kimball’s weekend: How much is it his own improvement and how much is it an increased or improved relationship between his garage and Target side?

I think it’s just his steady and methodical approach towards self improvement.  His pass on Power showed there’s a tiger in their ready to get loose.  That was low percentage, but high testosterone.

-How surprising was it to see Will Power not pace any session?

We never really got to see Will drop the hammer like he could of in the race because of his fuel saving strategy which obviously did not work in his favor.  I expect he’ll come roaring back at Long Beach.  Street circuits are where his freakish fast hands, feet, and brain really shine. #quadcoreprocessor

-Thoughts and reflections on AJ Allmendinger’s weekend? About what you expected or better?

He exceeded expectations in qualifying and probably met expectations in the race.  Stalling in the pits was a killer to the final result.  I’m still not sure who or what was at fault there.

-Overall, what do you make of the competition level in that mere tenths cover 1-24 and losing a fraction costs you so many positions?

That is what makes the races so much fun to call.  There are so many capable winners but in the end, as usual, the top team are there based on their ability to minimize mistakes and execute.

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

-Meeting Bo Jackson was cool.  The fact that he was that size and perhaps the fastest man ever in the NFL is mind blowing.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.