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Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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The deeper analysis of this year’s Indianapolis 500 has already occurred. Now, MotorSportsTalk’s IndyCar writers offer their final say on each of the 33 drivers ready to take the green flag at noon today. This year’s field is one of the deepest in recent memory, and it’s hard to be too high or low on anyone. So, without further adieu, our final take on the field of 33:

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: He’ll be up front over the course of the race; for him, it comes down to positioning for the final 100 miles.

Chris Estrada: The Indiana native was a threat to win late last year, and if he can stay out of trouble, I see no reason why he can’t contend for at least a top five once more.

26-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With clean lines and a patient drive, a top-10 finish and perhaps Rookie-of-the-Year honors could follow.

CE: A Top-10 result would be a nice ending to a great month for the Colombian youngster, who has turned a lot of heads with his efforts.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s never had a better chance to win, and his improved race focus and mentality should see him in contention until the end.

CE: The third-generation racer has grown considerably in maturity and in race craft, and he could definitely be in the mix for the win if he’s in position late.

Row 2

5-E.J. Viso (Andretti Autosport + HVM/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Viso is happier, cleaner and driving within himself, and should not be overlooked within the Andretti camp – a top-five would be a great result.

CE: Things have been coming together nicely for Viso this season, and his confidence should grow even more with a good finish.

2-A.J. Allmendinger (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has everything to gain in terms of future full-time IndyCar prospects from a great race, and has the benefit of Roger Penske on his radio.

CE: I have the sense that ‘Dinger will be steady in his first ‘500’ and have a moment or two to really shine on Sunday. Give him credit for quickly embracing this race’s traditions.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: In bizarro world, Power wins this year’s 500 to catapult himself back into title contention from the doldrums of the standings; in reality, his best case result is probably a solid top-10 finish.

CE: He could be the wild card in the Penske deck. He certainly has a chance with the team and talent he has, but hasn’t had the greatest luck here (or ovals, in general).

Row 3

1-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s too good a driver to have not had better results in Indy, and might have the strongest of the Andretti cars in race trim.

CE: That same thing about luck at Indy goes for the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, too. But like Power, he’s definitely aiming for the front.

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He needs a comeback from the abyss of anonymity in the last three years, and he hasn’t looked particularly strong in race trim.

CE: Barring trouble on the track or in the pits, racing’s original “Spider-Man” stands a shot at joining some very illustrious company as a four-time ‘500’ winner.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Would be a popular winner, but more likely to finish from fifth through 10th given the level of competition around him.

CE: The Canadian has been part of a noteworthy month for Andretti Autosport, and he has the potential to be a dark horse late in the going.

Row 4

4-J.R. Hildebrand (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A win – or being in the top-five late on merit – would do wonders to vault him into the spotlight for something other than his last lap accident in 2011.

CE: Few seem to be talking about the 2011 “500” runner-up, but his team has shown time and again that it knows the Brickyard very well. Watch that No. 4 car.

98-Alex Tagliani (Barracuda-BHA/Honda)

TDZ: As good a sleeper pick to win as you can make in this field – this team won two years ago and Tagliani has gotten everything and then some out of his Barracuda Honda this month.

CE: Outright speed hasn’t been a problem for Tagliani at Indianapolis, but he hasn’t been able to convert quality starts into really good finishes. Still, a top-10 is not out of the realm of possibility.

11-Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The people’s champ, but he’s struggled to find a balance in race trim all month, and will need to rely on his usual passing and restart heroics to have a chance to win.

CE: A victory for TK at the Brickyard would trigger some of the loudest cheers this old track will ever hear. He can definitely have a say in how this race ends.

Row 5

22-Oriol Servia (Panther DRR/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s been Indy’s “ghost driver” in years past, coming from nowhere to contention in the dying stages, and will be extra motivated to do so again and potentially add more races to his 2013 schedule.

CE: The Spaniard has been sneaky quick in his last two tries at Indy, and charged from 27th to fourth last year. A steady car can put him in contention again.

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’s downplayed his chances but some other Honda runners like his car in race trim – Wilson should be a top-10, possible top-five finisher.

CE: Wilson also came from the back of the field to a Top-10 result last year. His overall work on the ovals has improved and another Top-10 could be in the cards for him.

7-Sebastien Bourdais (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Despite a flashy chrome and red livery, Bourdais’ pace this month has not gotten the credit it deserves this month; the question is whether his team can keep him in contention for 500 miles.

CE: Nobody doubts the talent of the four-time Champ Car World Series champion but he has definitely been flying under the radar this May. Don’t be surprised if he makes his way toward the front on Sunday, however.

Row 6

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Never rule him out, and if he isn’t in the top five going into the last 100 miles, it would be a surprise.

CE: Always there, always lurking. He’s won the “500” once before and if he has no issues, you can bet he’ll be fighting for a second victory at Indy.

10-Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: His team found something on Carb Day but otherwise has struggled this month – that said, like Dixon, he’ll be there at the end in some way, shape or form.

CE: Franchitti’s run at Indy over the last few years has been sensational. Remember, he was knocked to 28th last year after an early pit road incident and still came back and won. Never count this guy out.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Driving at the top of his game right now, and buoyed by the confidence of his run last year, should once again figure into the top five in the last 100 miles.

CE: His emergence this season has been one of the better stories from the IndyCar paddock. I can see him being up toward the front again at Indy like he was in 2012. Expect a lot of cheers if he is there.

Row 7

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has finished 500 miles both of his first two starts, and another in the “sleeper top-10 finisher” category this time around, if not the outright fastest.

CE: He bagged a solid Top-10 finish last year in the “500,” but with this competitive of a field, a Top-15 may be the most likely target this time around for Kimball.

16-James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: All I can say about Jakes is that no one expected Bertrand Baguette and Takuma Sato to be in the winning frame late for RLL the last two years, and if the team again plays the strategy cards right, this is your “über-sleeper.”

CE: The thing that strikes me about Jakesy is that he keeps out of trouble. That could play to his advantage if there’s a higher rate of attrition on Sunday.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Very strong in race trim, and with a year’s worth of oval experience behind him, Pagenaud has the confidence and team to contend for a top-10, perhaps top-five, run on Sunday.

CE: He was the fastest man on Carb Day and considering how wide-open the grid is, a top-10 finish is definitely doable for IndyCar’s reigning rookie of the year.

Row 8

60-Townsend Bell (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: If his pit crew can keep him in the frame for all 500 miles, Bell is the one of strongest of the Indy-only entries.

CE: The veteran driver has proven to be a steady and reliable one whenever he’s called upon. A top-10 finish would be far from unexpected for him.

8-Ryan Briscoe (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’ll have a fresh engine but hasn’t had the smoothest of months; in a one-off entry, it’s hard to see him doing much better than 10th.

CE: Last year’s “500” pole winner has had to deal with qualifying difficulties and a blown engine this month, but he’s had success here in the past. He could be a sleeper as the race plays out.

78-Simona de Silvestro (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: She needs race laps more than anything else, and a finish of any kind would be a boost after two challenging race days the last two years.

CE: The Brickyard hasn’t always treated her well – and that may be putting it mildly. But now that she has a competitive engine, expect her to come away with a finish better or close to her Indy best of 14th (2010).

Row 9

21-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Another sleeper, Newgarden’s maturation process is noticeable from his first to second years, but he and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team need to avoid reliability pitfalls.

CE: The social media maven can rise up the pylon on Sunday but with his starting position, he’ll definitely need a good car in traffic to do it.

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: Like Jakes, Graham has the benefit of RLL strategy in his camp, but has struggled for pace; most likely, a borderline top-10 finisher at best.

CE: A win from him would make the Rahals the second father-son combo to win the “500.” One wonders how that would make their rivals, the Andrettis, feel.

6-Sebastian Saavedra (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Just finishing his third Indy 500 start would be a victory for the Colombian and his spiked hair; finishing ahead of Katherine Legge, whom he replaced at Dragon, would be a bonus.

CE: The most memorable moment of the month for Saavedra may wind up being his chrome silver and blue paint job literally going to pieces in a practice session.

Row 10

55-Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Given he’s the only full-season rookie in the field, just needs race laps and a finish from his first 500, with anything 15th or better a bonus.

CE: The Frenchman needs to show a lot of patience as he makes his way from Row 10. Finishing this race on the lead lap would be a good showing for him.

18-Ana Beatriz (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: With three DNFs from the first four races, Beatriz is another in the “needs a finish first” camp, and would go a long way for her participation the rest of this season.

CE: Beatriz has had finishes of 21st, 21st and 23rd in her first three Indy appearances. That would appear to be right where she’ll likely be again.

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: After her car had a vibration on Carb Day, Mann just needs to run 500 trouble-free miles this Sunday.

CE: The Englishwoman did a great job getting her car into the show, but she’s going to need a strong race car in order to keep from being lapped.

Row 11

41-Conor Daly (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good name, good genes, but a rough month for Foyt’s rookie; if he cracks the top-15, it’s a good result.

CE: The mission is simple: Run as many laps as you can, bring it back in one piece, enjoy the experience.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s fit and his car looks sharp, but he’s unlikely to trouble the leaders at any point.

CE: Does the 1996 Indy winner have another good run left in him at the Speedway? Lord knows, he’ll try. Much like Kanaan, he’s a bulldog. A top 20 sounds right.

81-Katherine Legge (Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: There’s nothing to lose for her, with a car that was quick on Carb Day and wanting to again prove herself in her first IndyCar start of the year; she potentially could finish in the 10th-to-15th range.

CE: A nice showing on Carb Day (eighth-quickest) may indicate that she has something decent for the race.

DiZinno: COTA, Austin shake off nightmare 2015 with bounce back 2016

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari line up on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The old adage in the restaurant service industry is that good service can often overcome poor food, but good food does not necessarily overcome poor service.

Such an analogy serves as a perfect transition to describe the last two contrasting years of the United States Grand Prix in Austin at Circuit of The Americas, a city where the food itself is actually never in question.

Consider the race weekend on site as a whole the comparative meal, here.

In 2015, call the race the “good food,” and the overall weather and atmosphere the “poor service.”

The race itself was excellent, aided in large part by the mixed weather conditions, heavy attrition, a late Safety Car and a subsequent pass for the lead and win which netted Lewis Hamilton his third World Championship.

But the weekend on the whole felt underwhelming and disappointing, owing primarily to the heavy rain that interrupted the weekend proceedings through Saturday.

As COTA Chair Bobby Epstein said so bluntly about the resulting attendance and financial hit, “I think we’re screwed.”

That left the 2016 version of the USGP weekend having a point to prove: deliver a weekend on par with the first three weekends and seek to overcome the poor fan turnout a year ago with a big bounce back.

In other words, the service needed to deliver more than the food.

In a two-word answer, it did.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the grid at the start during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 23: Race start during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The 2016 United States Grand Prix race – the food here in this analogy – was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. The quality of F1 racing itself is another topic for another day. But thanks to the collective efforts of the track and organizers in partnership with F1, by the race start time it didn’t need to be to make this a successful weekend on the whole.

This race saw Hamilton pretty much ran away and hide, Daniel Ricciardo lose a sure second-place to Nico Rosberg thanks to a Virtual Safety Car period inadvertently caused by his teammate Max Verstappen, Spanish countrymen Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr. perform some late-race theatrics and Haas F1 scored a point on home soil in 10th with Romain Grosjean. Otherwise, it was a largely forgettable 56 laps, particularly as it lacked that “signature” moment as Hamilton had delivered with passes for the win in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

But why the weekend worked was how COTA, which has often been in the crosshairs over the years for its volatile financials, leadership, staff turnover and possibly inflated attendance figures (I’m looking at sports car weekends in particular, having been to four of them in the last four years), pushed on to create a near-perfect weekend it absolutely had to have after last year’s disaster.

COTA’s push to make Austin 2016 a successful weekend was, to use your stick-and-ball equivalent example, the equivalent of Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary pass for the Green Bay Packers to break the Detroit Lions’ hearts last year or Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit grand slam for the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS this year to break a tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was not a case where they’d gather a few singles to bring in a run on a sacrifice bunt or assemble a 17-play, 94-yard, eight-minute drive full of methodical three and four-yard run and pass plays.

No, COTA threw down the gauntlet and went big to bring in Taylor Swift, for her first and only planned concert this year. And make no mistake, her “squad” brought it in a big way.

Had she not delivered the crowd she did – which was officially pegged by COTA at 83,000 although reports ranged lower than that by some reporters and higher than that to some members of her fan “squad” – it would have been trouble when she walked in.

That alone generated significant buzz on a day when the qualifying order was all but decided going in, when you knew it would either be Hamilton or Rosberg scoring the pole a couple hours earlier.

I was fortunate to be out walking the grounds Saturday afternoon after qualifying, and seeing the crowds hanging out for the remainder of the day’s races – Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and Historic Masters Racing were also on tap – as well as prepping for T-Swift were very much present between the grandstands, the bar area, the food trucks and then prepping to get in line to waltz onto the Super Stage lawn assembled inside Turn 11.

Once 5:30 p.m. hit and the crowd was released to get in line, 90 minutes before the show started, the line stretched from the entry point past Turn 7 all the way to the Fly Emirates bridge at Turn 2, with more fans continuing to stream in across the bridge. Mind you, that’s the length of the entire Esses section and then back across the way, into the infield.

Sunday’s crowd was also strong, with fans getting to the track early and already a good number of folks already on hand at the hillside several hours before the lights were out.

Between the old Grand Prix cars and Supercup preliminary races, there was some genuine appreciation there.

Yes, mostly gentlemen drivers pushing 1970s to 1980s-era F1 cars at 60 or 70 percent is not the same spectacle as the actual drivers in their heyday, but for younger fans and students of the sport, it’s vitally important you get that chance to witness – and listen to – living F1 history in motion.

Supercup, meanwhile, provided a tasty appetizer of a race with some clean, fair fighting for the lead between Porsche Juniors Mathieu Jaminet and Matteo Cairoli, a deserving new champion in Sven Mueller, and a great Supercup weekend debut for American Alec Udell in his step up from Pirelli World Challenge’ GT Cup class.

Regarding the announced attendance figure of 269,889, it is worth noting that COTA’s attendance numbers have been called into question in the past, primarily for its sports car weekends. This could be an optimistic number, but if so, it’s not to the same degree as on sports car weekends.

For reference, although I wasn’t at the initial USGP race here in 2012 (more than 265,000), I have been to the last four. This weekend number was pegged higher than the 2013 number of 250,324, and while I would say the Friday number was lower this year compared to then, the Saturday and Sunday numbers appeared higher.

If possible, it would benefit COTA to provide a deeper news release and analysis of the figure beyond just the number itself, to dismiss any potential doubts or red flags. But flying out of the Austin airport Monday morning and seeing how packed it was, with many folks still dressed in team kit, was a sign there was a very good turnout this weekend.

The celebrity presence at COTA, while something of a running joke and perhaps source of frustration among hardcore fans and observers, is actually something to be embraced if I’m honest.

Part of the reason Monaco works – and has worked for as long as it has – is it’s because it’s a glamorous destination that attracts some of the world’s richest, most beautiful and popular people. You can choose to not like that fact, saying it takes away from the action on track, and that’s fine. But the allure of an event is amplified when people with big audience consider it worthy of their time to attend.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: San Antonio Spurs basketball player Patty Mills watches the action in the Red Bull Racing garage with skier Lindsey Vonn during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Lindsey Vonn’s presence among others this weekend was a perfect example. Vonn, the star skier, appears to be a burgeoning racing fan in her own right with her interest piqued by Red Bull, a brand that understands the value of getting stars outside the norm to an event.

The fact Vonn was tweeting about F1 during the weekend (by the way, sending thanks from my colleague Luke and I for a RT of one from @F1onNBCSports) to her hundreds of thousands of followers must be considered a good thing from an “F1 in America actually being taken note of” standpoint.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks with actors Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar in the garage during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks with actors Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar in the garage during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Add in the random Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar sightings, tennis star Venus Williams (who I almost inadvertently bumped into in the airport this morning), Gerard Butler’s Red Bull podium “shoey,” Gordon Ramsey and Jeff Gordon, and it was a full plate of celebrities here this weekend. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that we didn’t get the obligatory Matt LeBlanc at COTA shot, and unless he was hiding, this would have been the first one he’s missed.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Actor Gerard Butler does a shoey on the podium with Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing after Daniel finished third in the race during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 23: Actor Gerard Butler does a shoey on the podium with Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing after Daniel finished third in the race during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

If you create a race weekend that people want to go to and make it a proper full-on experience, it can make it a bigger draw to add stability for an event going forward. And if there’s one thing F1 in the U.S. has perpetually lacked, it’s that: stability. Ultimately, that is the key takeaway I have from the 2016 USGP weekend.

Hamilton, who’s more or less adopted the U.S. as his second home, actually has become something of an unofficial ambassador for this race, and this city of Austin in particular.

In the buildup to the race, Hamilton made a big deal about going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and for good reason. Ellen has massive audience, and it’s not the usual hardcore race fan. And Hamilton, admittedly, isn’t her usual guest.

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Lewis Hamilton (C) of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates with Kirby Bumpus (2nd-L), Gayle King (2nd-R) and Lindsey Vonn (R) during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 23: Lewis Hamilton (C) of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates with Kirby Bumpus (2nd-L), Gayle King (2nd-R) and Lindsey Vonn (R) during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Then in his post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton, Hamilton described why he feels the way he does about this country, and the race in Austin itself.

“This is such a beautiful country,” he said (perhaps he hasn’t been following the 2016 presidential election that closely).

“This race, the whole weekend in Austin, with the ambiance and atmosphere, it’s the only Grand Prix I go out to dinner every night. No other Grand Prix do I do that. Since Wednesday, I’ve gone out to dinner every night. It’s great food, great service, and the people here make us feel so welcome.

“The crowd … is almost like the British Grand Prix. There’s the crowd on the whole front straight when we’re on the podium.

“I’m so glad we still have the grand prix here. I hope it continues. I hope more and more people get exposed to it. Being on The Ellen Show the other day, I hope has done so to get more.”

When Hamilton, who’s a student of the sport and has carved his own legacy within it by winning his 50th Grand Prix of his career this weekend, compares a race site in its fifth year to a race that has graced the calendar all but annually since 1950 (Silverstone), it speaks volumes of that race’s place having established a foothold on the F1 calendar.

COTA has now set the bar from a service standpoint to its fans, and done so in spite of the fact the F1 race itself Sunday wasn’t the best showcase of the sport.

It has now set a standard to meet, to keep the full race weekend as strong as it was this year.

For one year at least, COTA and Austin have shaken off the 2015 blues, thus making it harder for haters to hate.

Schmidt confirms Mikhail Aleshin’s return for 2017

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, driver of the #7 SMP Schmidt Peterson Honda, sits in his pitbox during a rain delay prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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For the first time since expanding to a two-car team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will continue with the same two drivers on a year-to-year basis.

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt confirmed to that the “mad Russian,” Mikhail Aleshin, will be back for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season alongside James Hinchcliffe.

“Now that we’ve got those two done, it’s a matter of firming up with all of the key individuals on the team and hopefully continue on and win races,” Schmidt told

“This deal is all about chemistry and continuity and it’s been a building process for us. Starting in 2011 with one car and then having two cars from 2012 on, we’ve never had the same guy in the second car for a second season.

“Really, Mikhail coming back for a second season, even though there was a year gap, I think you can really see the chemistry and the morale and the continuity building toward the last half of the season, when we were clearly the fastest Honda at most tracks if not all and right up to the front with the top five to eight guys, which is where we want to be.”

Schmidt took over the former FAZZT Race Team, which then featured Alex Tagliani as the driver, prior to 2011. Schmidt had a technical partnership with the Bryan Herta Autosport team that won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with the late Dan Wheldon.

Wheldon later replaced Tagliani in Schmidt’s No. 77 Honda for Kentucky and ultimately his final start in Las Vegas.

New signing Simon Pagenaud asserted himself as team leader from 2012 through 2014, with Tristan Vautier (2013) and Aleshin (2014) coming on board as second full-time driver. Hinchcliffe then took over as SPM lead driver in 2015 when Pagenaud left for Team Penske, before his injuries sustained at the Indianapolis 500 forced a change of driver for the balance of the season.

Owing to a mix of sponsorship and political issues, Aleshin was unable to continue into 2015 with James Jakes filling the spot. But Aleshin came back for a one-off in a third SPM car at the 2015 Sonoma season finale, which blossomed back into the full-time seat once more last year.

With these two Honda seats now secure, it remains to be seen whether SPM will run a third car beyond the month of May, which it has done the last four seasons (driven by Oriol Servia in 2016, Conor Daly in 2015, Jacques Villeneuve in 2014 and Katherine Legge in 2013).

NBC Sports understands a third IndyCar for SPM could run a handful of races next season (three to five a possible range), but would likely be dictated by crew and engine availability.

SPM has traditionally run a four-car program in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, although that program dipped to two full-time cars only starting at Road America this year. SPM looks to reassert itself as the dominant force in that series, in the midst of a three-year title losing drought after more or less controlling the title most years between 2004 and 2013.

These seats are still yet to be finalized/revealed:

  • Andretti Autosport (car four)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (car four)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (cars one and two)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (car one, and road/street races in car two)
  • Dale Coyne Racing (car two)
  • KVSH Racing (car one)

Antonio Felix da Costa joins grid for Macau Grand Prix

FIA Formula E Hong Kong e-Prix.
Qualifying Session.
Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), Amlin Andretti, Spark-Andretti, ATEC-02.
Hong Kong Harbour, Hong Kong, Asia.
Sunday 9 October 2016.
Photo: Adam Warner / FE / LAT
ref: Digital Image _14P5958
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Antonio Felix da Costa has become the latest driver to sign up for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, linking back up with Carlin for next month’s Formula 3 event.

Da Costa has contested the Macau race three times before, winning on his most recent appearance in 2012 with the Carlin team against a field that included current Formula 1 drivers Carlos Sainz Jr., Pascal Wehrlein and Felipe Nasr.

Since winning at Macau, da Costa has raced in Formula Renault 3.5, DTM and Formula E, the latter becoming his priority for the 2017 season with Andretti.

Da Costa will return to his roots on the November 20 weekend, joining Carlin’s line-up for the race that comes one week after the next Formula E round in Marrakech, Morocco.

“Yes it’s Macau and it’s happening. I will be back to Macau F3 GP with Carlin!” da Costa wrote on his Facebook page.

“Macau is a special place, it’s just pure driving. There is no special aim as such as going back for me, I’m doing it for the love of the sport, so when I got the call from Trevor [Carlin] I couldn’t say no.

“There will also be a few Macau winners going back as well as a lot of talented young guys so it will be a fun weekend. Thanks to BMW Motorsport for supporting my Macau comeback.”

Da Costa will be joined in the field by fellow Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist, who is chasing an unprecedented third straight Macau victory.

Americans Askew and Kirkwood have strong runs at Formula Ford Festival

Photographs courtesy of Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography.
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While Formula One was in the U.S. for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, several American open-wheel racers had a strong go of it at the Formula Ford Festival in Brands Hatch, England.

See the release below for more info on who:

Team USA Scholarship drivers Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood continued to impress during a thrilling Formula Ford Festival Final on Sunday. Fellow American Chase Owen also posted a strong drive in the 20-lap finale, finishing sixth in another Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray.

The distinctive pair of red-white-and-blue Rays of Askew and Kirkwood lined up fourth and 16th on the grid after finishing second and eighth, respectively, in the morning’s Semi Final race. The Final began in cold but dry conditions and the opening stages delivered some scintillating action as polesitter and former British Formula Ford champion Scott Malvern held onto a tenuous lead over 2016 BRSCC Avon Tires British FF1600 champion Niall Murray and a vast, snarling pack of hungry young drivers all seeking to claim Festival glory.

Askew made another excellent start to move into third place at the first corner, only to fall to fourth when a defensive Malvern bottled up the pack under braking for Clearways and Luke Williams took the opportunity to drive around the outside of two of his rivals, including Askew, to run third. Askew lost another position on the following lap when an attempt to pass Williams at Graham Hill Bend was strongly rebuffed and the hard-charging American lost momentum on the exit and was promptly passed by two cars on the Cooper Straight, including Malvern’s teammate Chris Middlehurst.


Undeterred, Askew quickly fought back, regaining fourth on the next lap as Murray brilliantly squeezed past Malvern for the lead under braking for Paddock Hill Bend … after the pair had run with interlocked wheels for virtually the entire length of the Brabham Straight! Murray quickly pulled away to snag a well-deserved victory.

Askew aggressively regained third position on Lap 9 and initially reduced the small gap to Malvern, pulling clear of Middlehurst until Malvern’s obstructive tactics slowed them both appreciably and allowed the pack to close in again. The battled continued to be hot and heavy until Lap 14, when Askew abruptly slowed and headed for the pits with a punctured tire after being forced over the curb on the exit of Druid’s hairpin.

“Fantastic weekend up until about halfway through the Final,” said Askew with a broad smile. “I had a puncture and had to pull off the track unfortunately, but the car was unbelievable. Cliff Dempsey nailed the tire pressures and the setup. It was unreal. I had more grip than anyone around me. I was super-fast and had speed for at least second. I was passing for third when the  puncture happened.”

Kirkwood, meanwhile, was embroiled in a typically fraught battle in the midst of the 30-car field. He lost a place in the early stages before finding his feet and making a series of strong passes, especially under braking for Clearways, before finally crossing the finish line in seventh.

“Overall the race was good,” said Kirkwood. “I just had to pick people off left and right. After a couple of laps it almost seemed like you had to get the car in front of you comfortable with you in their mirrors and then make a move on them when they left the door open.”

The pair will return to action for the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone on November 5/6.