Stat surprises through two IndyCar race weekends

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With St. Petersburg and Barber in the books, there’s a couple interesting nuggets to note from the first two rounds of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.

QUALIFYING SURPRISES

Three teams – Dragon Racing, KV Racing Technology, and Sam Schmidt’s teams – have seen the regarded “junior” driver outqualify their more experienced teammates in both races.

Since Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton) is regarded as one of the fastest young drivers in the series, it’s been surprising to see Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson) outdo him on both occasions. Vautier is one of three drivers, along with Team Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves, to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six both races.

Simona de Silvestro has rebounded nicely from her Lotus engine nightmare 2012 season and pushed Tony Kanaan at KV. Receiving less attention but no less noteworthy, Sebastian Saavedra (right) has outqualified Sebastien Bourdais by at least 12 positions the first two races, ending ninth each time.

One other qualifying stat of note: the first two races have seen JR Hildebrand, Ana Beatriz and Ed Carpenter each locked into the bottom three spots on the grid. In a field this tight, setup or car differences have made relatively small gaps of more than one second to the session leader look larger.

CLOSER MARGIN OF VICTORIES

Andretti Autosport’s winning drivers – James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay – have withstood pressure from Castroneves and Scott Dixon, respectively, to take the first two wins of the year.

Hinch’s St. Pete win came in at 1.0982 seconds, while last year Castroneves beat Dixon by 5.5292 seconds. At Barber, the MOV dropped from 3.3709 (2012, Power over Dixon) to 0.6363 of a second.

MARCO IMPROVING, BUT STILL HUNGRY

The re-focused Marco Andretti has only one less top-10 finish in the first two races (two) as he did the entire 2012 season. Still, with a win having eluded him since Iowa 2011, he’s itching to get back on the top step of the podium.

Ricciardo: Red Bull has ‘decent chance’ of Abu Dhabi F1 victory

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Daniel Ricciardo believes Red Bull stands a “decent chance” of signing off from the 2017 Formula 1 season with a victory in next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After a slow start to the year, Red Bull made massive gains across the course of the season by developing its RB13 to end the season as front-runners, rivaling Mercedes and Ferrari for pace.

The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has a number of slow-speed sections that should suit the RB13 car, with Ricciardo optimistic about his chances of not only ending his podium drought at the track, but even winning the race.

“Yas Marina has actually been one of my favorite tracks over the years,” Ricciardo said in Red Bull’s pre-race preview.

“It’s been a bit like Suzuka for me though, a track that I’ve always enjoyed and gone well on but not quite reached the podium at. I broke that trend in Suzuka this year so hopefully I can do the same in Abu Dhabi.

“When you have so much time away from the car in the off season it helps to sign off with a strong result as it makes you feel like you really deserve a break.

“I think we should have a strong car in Abu Dhabi. I said I want another win before the season is out and I think we have a decent chance of achieving that.”

Red Bull has claimed three race wins through 2017, with Ricciardo’s victory in Azerbaijan being followed up by successes for teammate Max Verstappen in Malaysia and Mexico.