Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud paces Saturday morning Long Beach practice

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Simon Pagenaud led IndyCar’s final practice session before qualifying at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Frenchman lapped the 1.968-mile street circuit in 1:08.0960, more than 1.4 seconds quicker than the fastest times on Friday and still on the Firestone black tires.

Pole time should be in the low 1:07s, perhaps high 1:06 range, once teams have the option to run the softer, alternate, Firestone reds.

Times tumbled at the end of the session as Will Power, Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal all posted their fastest laps at the end of the session to complete the top five.

The session was interrupted for two red flags, both involving Team Penske drivers. Power made contact in Turn 1 and damaged his rear wing, while Helio Castroneves had slight mechanical issues and dropped back. He returned to the track but also had a lazy spin at the end of practice.

Qualifying begins at 5 p.m. EST with TV coverage on at 6 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network. Live streaming for Sunday’s race will be available online at http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/.

Qualifying groups for the three rounds of knockout qualifying are below, via INDYCAR:

Group 1                  Group 2
#17 Mike Conway          #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay
#55 Tristan Vautier (R)  #12 Will Power
#16 James Jakes          #3 Helio Castroneves
#10 Dario Franchitti     #98 Alex Tagliani
#14 Takuma Sato          #27 James Hinchcliffe
#19 Justin Wilson        #78 Simona de Silvestro
#15 Graham Rahal         #9 Scott Dixon
#77 Simon Pagenaud       #67 Josef Newgarden
#7 Sebastien Bourdais    #25 Marco Andretti
#11 Tony Kanaan          #4 JR Hildebrand
#5 E.J. Viso             #2 AJ Allmendinger
#18 Ana Beatriz          #83 Charlie Kimball
#6 Sebastian Saavedra    #22 Oriol Servia
                         #20 Ed Carpenter

Berlin Formula E clash could rule de Silvestro out of Indy 500

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Simona de Silvestro of Andretti Formula E Team during the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
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BUENOS AIRES – Simona de Silvestro doubts that she will take part in the 100th Indianapolis 500 this May due to her existing commitments with Andretti in Formula E.

De Silvestro has made five Indy 500 starts, recording a best finish of 14th in her first appearance that earned her the Rookie of the Year award at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2010. She only got to race in four of them, however, as she and Jean Alesi were parked within the opening 10 laps due to an off-pace Lotus engine in 2012.

The Swiss driver joined Andretti in 2015 following her unsuccessful attempt to reach Formula 1 with Sauber, and has raced for its Formula E team since the London ePrix back in June.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in Buenos Aires, de Silvestro admitted that although she is still keen to race in IndyCar, her focus for the time being primarily lies with Formula E.

“I always tease Michael [Andretti] a little bit about it because he knows I’m really passionate about IndyCar and there’s still stuff that I wish I could race there and show what I can do still,” de Silvestro said.

“But it’s just difficult and really depending on sponsorship. Right now, Formula E is really the focus and the opportunity is really good here. I have to prove myself here and that’s what I’ve got to do first.

“Maybe who knows what happens next year or whatever or maybe one race, we never know. But that’s the good thing about a team like this. There’s different options and that’s cool.”

When asked about the possibility of racing at the Indy 500 in May, de Silvestro said that as much as she would like to be a part of the 100th running, qualifying’s clash with the Berlin ePrix makes her involvement unlikely.

“I’d love to you know because it’s the 100th running also,” de Silvestro said. “It’s really special because I’ve raced there four times now and it’d be really cool to do it, but it might be difficult this year especially with the Berlin race.

“I would have to miss quite a lot of practice and also qualifying. I wouldn’t be able to be there, so it makes it a little bit trickier.

“If Berlin wasn’t there, maybe it’d be more of a goal, but right now you never know. Berlin is the focus.”

Theoretically, another driver could qualify her car and she could race it. This happened at this past year’s Indianapolis 500 when Tristan Vautier qualified what would be James Davison’s car with Davison stuck at an existing commitment, but under unusual circumstances Vautier wound up racing Carlos Huertas’ car when Huertas was medically ruled out.

Meanwhile Ryan Briscoe also got a call-up under similarly unusual circumstances, filling in for the injured James Hinchcliffe after his accident in practice.

It wouldn’t be an ideal situation for de Silvestro, though, who’s traditionally shown better on road and street courses than on ovals throughout her IndyCar starts.

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

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Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

Bird 62a
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.