Tony Kanaan puts on his driving suit during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis

Fans want Tony Kanaan to finally break through at Indy

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Which driver is the one that the IZOD IndyCar Series’ faithful really want to see win the 97th Indianapolis 500?

When one ponders that question, some obvious thoughts come to mind. Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal would certainly satisfy the longtime fans and intrigue the casual ones. Same goes for three-time “500” winner Helio Castroneves. You’d think Takuma Sato would be up there too after his brazen move for victory in last year’s race, which ended in the fence but still earned him a bigger following.

But then one comes to Tony Kanaan. And then the question is truly answered.

The Brazilian has been part of the series’ nucleus for a decade, going through good times (his IndyCar championship in 2004) and bad times (the death of good friend and former teammate Dan Wheldon in 2011). Through it all, he has garnered an almost universal measure of respect in the paddock and in the stands.

The latter part is represented vividly every May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Kanaan is often greeted with some of the loudest cheers.

“To me, the best memories I have [of Indianapolis], it’s [that] every time I drive my golf cart out there, I can hear my name – big time,” he said on Wednesday at IMS.

In 11 career starts at Indy, he has led laps in eight of them. He earned the privilege of leading the field to the green flag in 2005. He has come close to winning on the sport’s biggest stage. But he has yet to sip the milk and get his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Naturally, some believe the Brickyard owes him one. Perhaps they remember 2007, when he led 83 laps but wound up 12th. Or maybe they remember that vicious double hit Kanaan sustained in the 2009 race, in which his car suddenly broke right at full speed into the backstretch wall and then went skidding into the Turn 3 wall. Then there’s 2010 – coming from dead last in 33rd starting position to lead the race only to come in for fuel with five laps to go while running second.

Star-crossed moments like these have been prevalent for Kanaan at Indy, and he thinks that they may have made him an even more heroic figure amongst the fans there. But while he appreciates their belief that he is owed something, he knows full well that the Brickyard plays no favorites.

“I love the way the fans think that, because I think they know how much I work for it,” he said. “But it would be really unfair for me to say ‘I deserve to win this thing’ because there’s another [32] people here looking for that as well.”

Besides, he already has an idea of what it would be like to finally claim victory at the world’s most famous oval.

“The year that I started last [2010], we went all the way to the lead and we ended up finishing 11th because of a strategy [call] at the end,” said Kanaan. “I got out of the car, the entire place was screaming my name, and Dario [Franchitti] had won the race.

“If I never win this thing, I think I got the feeling from the people around here [on] how it is to win.”

But one can imagine what those cheers would be like if he actually did.

Let’s just say Tony Kanaan, the people’s champion, would make a very popular winner this month.

RC Enerson stars in first official day in Coyne’s No. 19 IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – On Friday, 19-year-old rookie RC Enerson delivered arguably one of the most impressive debut days in an IndyCar in recent memory – if not ever.

With only one day of testing, Enerson took what he learned from his first day last week and translated it into some seriously impressive practice pace for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Enerson went from 1.1042 seconds off the pace in the first 75-minute practice session in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 21st, all the way to within 0.5322 off in the second – all the way up to seventh in that session and second Honda in the field, only behind defending Honda Indy 200 race winner Graham Rahal.

That time in free practice two left Enerson a combined 10th on the day, again second among the Hondas only to Rahal.

It didn’t really surprise those who’ve followed his career in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires closely. However, it did wow the paddock at large.

It was fitting, perhaps, Enerson was behind Rahal and then was sat next to Scott Dixon in the day end press conference because Rahal also starred as a teenager in his first season in open-wheel – 2007 in Champ Car – while Dixon became IndyCar’s then-youngest winner at age 20 in his first season in CART in 2001… before Rahal beat that in 2008 at age 19.

“I grew up watching a lot of these guys race,” Enerson explained during the post-practice press conference. “My first Indy 500 was when I was three years old, and seeing these guys go around, and now I’m 19 years old and there’s a lot of the same guys still there.

“It’s kind of like I get to race with my idols, really,” he added, to a room full of laughter.

Dixon followed, “We must have had a good generation, I think.”

But putting aside the obvious “yeah, he’s young” line – trust me as the youngest full-time member in the IndyCar press corps I get that joke at least once per weekend – what Enerson did on Friday was take in a wealth of information the team was throwing at him and translate it into pace on paper.

“It was incredible. It’s completely different than anything I’ve driven, and coming from — every time I come here, I always tend to do alright, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.

“It’s got this thing about it that it fits the driving style really well, and I’m just excited to be here, and this is probably — it’s probably the best track to make my debut at.”

Enerson, as he told me prior to his race debut last week, noted the difference in the step up from the Cooper tires he used throughout his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career versus the Firestones now.

Enerson was really good at learning tire conservation there since there are no pit stops. But he noted the change in grip level on the Firestones, especially since the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is one of the highest grip tracks on the calendar.

“These ones tend to — after the first couple laps where you get your fast time, they tend to not fall off very much and you can keep your speeds up, and it’s amazing. It’s a completely different experience, and it’s challenging,” he explained.

On the tire note, where Enerson will have to learn, and learn quickly, is once he gets his first crack at the Firestone red alternates for qualifying later on Saturday, provided the session is dry.

“With the reds, we don’t get to see them. I’ve never driven on them, so the first time I’m going to get to see them is qualifying,” he said.

“So that’s what I think is the biggest thing for the rookies, I guess, is they don’t get to see those until it’s when it counts, so it’s hard to extract all that not knowing going into it, and I think that’s what comes with the experienced drivers where they’re able to know how much grip they’re actually going to gain to be able to push it to the max right off the bat.”

Still though, his debut impressed many in the IndyCar paddock.

Teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda told IndyCar Radio of Enerson, “We have RC here this weekend, and he’s new – but he’s doing a great job.”

Daly’s engineer Michael Cannon, himself a key talent evaluator in his long career in the sport, told me Enerson has “taken like a duck to water” to an IndyCar and is handling everything the team is throwing at him with aplomb.

And Dixon, arguably one of the best drivers of his generation? He knows what it’s like to “wow” people when you’re the new kid on the block, as he did some 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great to see young talent coming through. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of what we need to see,” he said.

“We’ve had a good influx of recent, and it’s pretty cool in the fact that we have a series that, okay, so there’s some bigger teams and some more teams that have done better jobs, but in layman’s terms, you pretty much have the similar equipment. So it’s nice that you can come, and if you’re good you can get close.

“The only hard part with rookies now is the testing program. At least this year was a little more open. It was good that RC had the opportunity to test here last week, but still, you’re competing against guys that have been coming here for years and they’ve had a ton of test days.

“It’s so close right now that you’re looking for hundredths and tenths of a second to make the difference.”

Grosjean set for five-place grid drop in Germany after gearbox change

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean is set to receive a five-place grid penalty for this weekend’s German Grand Prix after a gearbox change on Saturday morning.

Grosjean has led the new Haas Formula 1 operation’s charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its championship points thus far.

The Frenchman arrived in Germany hopeful of ending Haas’ difficult run of form, the team having recorded just one top-10 finish in the past seven races.

However, his challenge looks set to become all the more daunting after Haas was forced to change the gearbox on his VF-16 car during FP3.

FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his report that Grosjean’s existing gearbox had not completed the six consecutive events required before a change is permitted, prompting the matter to be referred to the stewards.

Grosjean will therefore drop five places on the grid from wherever he qualifies later today at Hockenheim.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Hamilton called before stewards over unsafe release in Germany FP3

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has been called before the Formula 1 race stewards over a possible unsafe release in the pit lane during final practice for the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was released into the fast lane by his Mercedes team at the start of FP3, forcing the oncoming Romain Grosjean to hit the brakes and stop.

The stewards confirmed in a short statement issued on Saturday morning midway through the session that the Briton was to reported to the stewards at 12:30pm local time.

The incident could spell trouble for Hamilton given he has already received two reprimands so far this season, with a third resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton told NBCSN earlier this week that he expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of an inevitable engine penalty, but if the stewards hit him with a reprimand, it could add another challenge to his title bid.

Hamilton received his first reprimand in Bahrain for reversing a few inches in the pit lane, and hsi second for not adhering to race control’s instructions after running wide at Turn 2, failing to take to the left of a bollard laid out.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Track limits extended at Turn 1 ahead of German GP qualifying

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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FIA Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has informed teams that track limits have been extended to the outside edge out the curb at Turn 1 ahead of Saturday’s running for the German Grand Prix.

Whiting sent a note to all teams after first practice on Friday saying that a three-strike rule would be in play at Turn 1 after drivers exceeded track limits 93 times in the space of the session.

However, after a meeting with the drivers on Friday night, this rule has been tweaked to allow drivers to run to the outside of the curb at Turn 1.

“Based upon our observations of the way in which the new curb on the exit of Turn 12 is used, and the comments made in the meeting yesterday evening, we feel that the usable track limit at Turn 1 should be the outer edge of the curb, i.e. the edge furthest from the track,” Whiting’s note read.

“The performance of any driver going beyond this point, with any part of the car, will be examined in order to establish whether or not an advantage was gained by exceeding this limit.”

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.