Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Day 3

Indy 500 rookies learn the ropes on Opening Day

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As he attempts to make the field for his first Indianapolis 500, A.J. Allmendinger’s past stock car experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is of very little help to him.

“It just tells me that there are four corners around this racetrack and I have an understanding of what they feel like,” said Allmendinger (pictured), who was one of three Indy 500 rookies to pass the Rookie Orientation Program this afternoon at IMS. The former Champ Car driver posted a top lap of 219.239 miles per hour in his ROP session.

“Obviously, it’s two different race cars — completely different race cars. The line and just the way the track feels, that I kind of knew, but from there it’s a completely different technique of how to get in the corners. You can’t hit the brake pedal, and you don’t want to lift. [I’m] trying to get used to that. The first few laps when I was trying to go wide-open, the right foot was quivering. I had to get the left foot to hold it down and say, ‘OK, it’s time to get used to this.’ It was enjoyable.”

Unlike Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier does have some open-wheel experience at Indy to fall back on. However, that was in a Firestone Indy Lights car that is considerably slower than the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Dallara DW12 he’s been driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this year.

“That was so much faster than an Indy Lights car,” said Vautier of his rookie orientation. “It was harder to run slow when they were asking us to stay between the lower speed ranges, because it was difficult to judge how much to lift to stay in that segment. It was fun, though. I managed 15 laps at full speed at the end and loved it. Everything happens faster in these cars, and you need to anticipate everything. It’s easier to make a mistake, and you have to be on it all the time.”

As for Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz, the third man to pass ROP today, he came away P3 overall on the practice charts behind Ed Carpenter in first and Josef Newgarden in second. That should give the young Colombian some energy as he prepares throughout the upcoming week for qualifications.

“My day ended really well with this afternoon’s practice,” he said. “I feel like each time I get in the [car] that I’m getting better. I’m starting to feel more and more confident, and I think my last lap was one of my best of the day. But it is still a long month with a lot of work left to do. I’m with the best team this season, which gives me confidence in my abilities as we go through this month.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.