Tagliani, Barracuda, BHA due for a luck turnaround

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Ardent observers of this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series will note a few drivers’ results have not accurately reflected their pace. Alex Tagliani, for the Bryan Herta Autosport/Barracuda Racing team, is one of those.

Once BHA switched from the woeful Lotus powerplants to Hondas a year ago – which meant they withdrew from the race at Sao Paulo, Brazil – Tag and the No. 98 Barracuda team were a revelation. Qualifying as the second fastest Honda at Indianapolis was followed by four consecutive appearances in the Firestone Fast Six on road and street courses.

Tagliani was one of only four drivers (Will Power, Dario Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe) to post such a streak. The Lotus experience made the team stronger, because it allowed them to better develop the car to compensate for the horsepower deficit.

“It was bad memories and frustrating, but we really worked hard to compensate and from the moment we got the Hondas, the boys were prepared and the pace was really good,” Tagliani said in a phone interview Monday. “There were lots of little glitches from not being used to the Honda with software and things like that. We paid the price and that was normal. But our pace was fantastic at that point.”

This year, despite qualifying positions of 17th, 15th and 21st, and only one top-10 finish (10th at St. Petersburg), both team and driver are actually ahead of their pace a year ago. The endings haven’t been happy yet because of poor luck, but the package is substantially improved.

“Where we’re at right now, I’m not too afraid of the pace and performance,” Tagliani said. “But I’m gonna go light some candles at Church, or I’m gonna try some weird (stuff) to get our luck back. The only race where we were not up to par was St. Pete.”

The reason for that was the team had not yet found the right setup balance on the 2013 Firestone tire compounds. BHA tested only twice in the offseason, once at Sebring in December on the 2012 compounds, and at the official preseason test in Barber in March.

From Barber, Tagliani has often ended practice sessions in the top five, but has seemingly drawn the short stack in qualifying every group. Quicker times don’t necessarily translate to advancing if one group’s collective times beat another’s.

“We were good on the 2012 tires – like second or third at Sebring – and then it took a weekend to dial the 2013 ones in,” he said. “We’ve already progressed. The blacks or reds just change the balance and sometimes you’re better on one or the other.”

Long Beach was another exercise in frustration – a run from 21st, near Marco Andretti and eventual podium finisher Justin Wilson – had Tagliani up to the top 10 by lap 32 before contact with Charlie Kimball at Turn 8. Kimball didn’t have a chance at making the corner and when Tagliani turned in, the collision was inevitable.

Still, Tagliani praises the team’s continuity and his own level of dedication to maintain the high performance. At 40, he’s the oldest full-time driver in the series, but you wouldn’t know it by his fitness regimen.

“We have the continuity, and we have the chemistry,” he said. “You think those things are overrated but they’re not. I’m in the best shape physically I’ve been in. I don’t need to say much to interact with the guys – we just get it. We know where we need to be and work as a group. We’ve already regrouped and got the car back. Now we just need the luck.”

Penske drivers lament missed victory at Road America (VIDEO)

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Team Penske dominated the entire Kohler Grand Prix weekend at Road America, twice going 1-2-3-4 over the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and then doing the same in qualifying, with Helio Castroneves taking pole from Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud.

However, race day represented a missed opportunity. Though Castroneves led early, it was Newgarden who emerged as their best hope for victory following a spectacular outside pass on Castroneves entering turn 1 on lap 19. That put Newgarden in the lead, and he seemed to be in full control.

Still, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon had been stalking the Penske foursome all race long, and sat behind Newgarden in second for a lap 30 restart. With Newgarden on primary blacks and Dixon on alternate reds, Newgarden was somewhat of a sitting duck, and Dixon muscled his way into the lead with an equally spectacular outside pass in turn 1, with Newgarden briefly falling to third behind teammate Castroneves.

Josef Newgarden led several laps, but could not find his way around Dixon for the win. Photo: IndyCar

Although Newgarden regrouped, overtook Castroneves during the final pit stop sequence, and closed to within a second following a restart with seven laps remaining, he was never close enough to make a move for the win.

Even though the Team Penske drivers all finished in the top five, going 2-3-4-5 with Newgarden leading Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power, missing out on victory was a bitter pill to swallow.

“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car,” Newgarden revealed in the post-race press conference.

He added that an ill-timed lap 28 caution for a spinning Takuma Sato ultimately put paid his chances of victory. “The caution didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict that stuff. It hurts when it comes at the wrong time. That’s pretty much what happened today. With (Tim Cindric calling the strategy), I feel confident with all our decisions, everything those guys do on the pit box. Things just didn’t fall our way today.”

For Castroneves, a slight error before his final pit stop saw him pit earlier than the team wanted, due to an alarm that went off in the cockpit. However, as he explained to NBCSN’s Marty Snider, it was of little consequence to the outcome of the race.

“We mentioned in the debrief that if in turn 14, the blue lights come on, you are to come right away. So I came in. I am sure they had a little buffer, and they knew what exactly was going on. (Race engineer Jonathan Diuguid) said keep going but I couldn’t quite understand him. But at the end of the day it didn’t cost us anything in terms of a win or second place.”

Still, the strong results see Pagenaud and Castroneves sit second and third in the championship, while Newgarden and Power sit fifth and sixth, respectively.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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One of the crazier, most eventful Formula 1 races in recent memory took place at the Baku City Circuit today in Azerbajian.

That makes it a challenge to recap but it’s something NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, along with producer Jason Swales, attempt to do in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass.

You can see it below. Thursday’s pre-race edition is linked here. A full roundup of Sunday videos from Baku is linked here.

 

Bottas gives everything in Baku fightback from a lap down to P2

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Valtteri Bottas says he “gave it absolutely everything” after falling a lap down and running last early on in Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Baku before fighting back to finish second for Mercedes.

Bottas qualified second for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, but dropped back after contact with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2 on the opening lap, sustaining a puncture.

Bottas fell a lap down on the field immediately, but was waved past and able to get back onto the lead lap during the first safety car period.

From there, Bottas produced a stunning fightback, dodging the minefield of incidents through the race to eventually cross the line second after a drag race to the checkered flag with Williams’ Lance Stroll.

“Today was a crazy race, especially for me. I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1,” Bottas said.

“I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.

“My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner.

“We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”

Bottas ultimately finished as Mercedes’ lead driver following Lewis Hamilton’s second pit stop when his headrest came loose, resigning the Briton to fifth place at the checkered flag.

F1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix race videos on NBCSN (VIDEO)

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Videos from today’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit from NBCSN are linked below.

Daniel Ricciardo won a chaotic, crazy, bizarre race for his first victory of the season.

With a mix of post-race interviews and in-race highlights, there was a lot to digest. The post-race edition of Paddock Pass will also attempt to recap it all.

POST-RACE INTERVIEWS/FEATURES

Lewis Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel

Sergio Perez

Lance Stroll’s podium “shoey” with Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo’s “shoey” tradition

IN-RACE HIGHLIGHTS

Bottas, Raikkonen tag each other at start of race

Verstappen tries to force Perez into errors at Azerbaijan GP

Verstappen forced to retire in Azerbaijan GP

Fernando Alonso calls for a red flag due to debris

Vettel hits Hamilton in crazy restart

Repercussions possible for Vettel and Hamilton after contact

Ricciardo slings his way to third

Sebastian Vettel relinquishes lead due to penalty

Ricciardo drives to victory, Bottas steals second at the flag