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Special: A Family Affair for di Resta, Franchittis

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Editor’s Note: Two of racing’s biggest events take place on Sunday – the Monaco Grand Prix, which airs live on NBC Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET, and the Indianapolis 500. One family has a particular interest in both races. They will be the squads that form the Franchitti/di Resta clan.

Guest contributor Andy Hallbery, a former editor for both Autosport and RACER magazines, had the opportunity to speak to Force India’s Paul di Resta over the weekend, and files this report. Image to the right is courtesy of Sutton Images.

Paul di Resta, fresh off the back of fourth place in Bahrain for the Grand Prix, heads to Monaco – where he now calls home – aiming for his first F1 podium. Meanwhile across the ‘Pond’, his cousin Dario Franchitti will be preparing for the Indy 500. A win would be his fourth at the hallowed track, and place him well within the list of Indy legends.

“I would say we speak at least once a week, maybe twice,” says di Resta. “It will either be a conversation or a series of dodgy emails flying backwards and forwards!

“We have more of a brother relationship than a cousin,” he adds. “It’s a shame that he lives the other side of the water, but the relationship is obviously very close. He’s been very supportive of my career as I have to his, and it’s nice to have that. But essentially when we’re actually together we don’t speak about racing because it’s family. It’s a completely different conversation.”

Paul is feeling his years, despite only being 27. It’s Bump Day at Indy, but he has other things on his mind. (“I must speak with Dario today. He turns 40!”)

“I’ve not actually been to an IndyCar race,” he admits. “The last time I went it was a CART race. That was 11 years ago, so I was 16. That’s a long time ago, but that’s what happens when you get racing yourself and how it pans out. I was trying to get to Detroit this year.  It’s just so difficult to schedule. But he finishes a lot earlier than us this year, so I think he should come to our races more.”

Despite his advancing years, Franchitti shows absolutely no sign of stopping racing, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see him, his brother Marino, and cousin Paul taking on Le Mans. One day…

“That would be nice, but where we all are at the moment, it’s difficult to do. Obviously Marino’s into the sportscars, and Dario’s coming to that bit of his life – he’s been quite open. He’s succeeded with what he wanted to do in America. So he needs to back it off a little bit. And I’m obviously a few years away from that, but if the right opportunity arose, I think we’d probably do something.”

As for Paul following his cousin Dario’s footsteps to America, well, don’t hold your breath. “I would have a go at a street track,” he says, before adding. “I have got no interest in ovals. They scare me a bit. Until I got to Formula 1 I was quite open about it because of what Dario had done. But a few things set that back… When Dario stops – and that’s no time soon I think – there will be a kind of relief from us. That’s not something we talk about.”

The Monaco Grand Prix airs live on NBC at 7:30 a.m. ET, with pre- and post-race coverage on the NBC Sports Network. Meanwhile across the pond, the Indy 500 telecast begins at 11 a.m. ET, with the race at noon ET, on ABC.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.