Hinchcliffe, de Silvestro due for big Long Beach weekends

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Two of the stars of the St. Petersburg IZOD IndyCar Series curtain-raiser figure to play heavily into the equation at this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, if history is any indication.

James Hinchcliffe’s Long Beach record includes a podium in his first Formula Atlantic start (2006), his first Indy Lights win (2009), his first IndyCar top-five (fourth in 2011) and first IndyCar podium (third last year) in the last seven years.

The Andretti Autosport driver and St. Pete winner seeks a bounce back after a frustrating early exit from Barber when a wheel went loose.

“It’s a track I’ve always enjoyed, and one where Andretti Autosport has a good history here too,” said Hinchcliffe. “Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and (Mike) Conway have won here. And I got the first Lights win, first IndyCar top-five and podium. The first pole would be nice? That would translate well.”

For KV Racing Technology’s Simona de Silvestro, Long Beach also holds a special place in her heart with her first Formula Atlantic win in 2008 – a win that was overshadowed as Danica Patrick won her first and only IndyCar race the same weekend, the other side of the world, in Motegi, Japan.

“Yeah, it’s always cool to be here, as it’s a real tricky place!” she said. “My IndyCar career has had some good weekends here and some miserable. Last year we actually had a strong car (probably her best with Lotus, after starting 17th) and with the things we learned at St. Pete, should be competitive. I always enjoy coming here.”

Both drivers noted the key to Sunday’s race will once again be tires, as Firestone is expected to bring the same primary and alternate compounds as was at St. Pete. Hinchcliffe’s managing his tires helped aid his victory, while de Silvestro fell off on the red alternates just shy of a podium finish.

“It depends when you use what compounds at what stage. You have to stay up on it,” said Hinchcliffe.

Both have had some fun this week too, Hinchcliffe with recent filming of a new GoDaddy spot with Patrick – Hinch estimated a full five minutes of footage was usable, only to be condensed to 30 seconds – while de Silvestro took in her first NHL hockey game Wednesday night, as the Anaheim Ducks played the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I was very excited, but unfortunately they lost and Graham (Rahal’s) team won!” she admitted, reluctantly. “I was a bit frustrated about that. But they’re going to the playoffs, and that’s what counts.”

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.