Starring roles for Viso, Conway, Jakes and Tag in Detroit Fast Six

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It’s hard to call anything in IndyCar this year “surprising” but a Firestone Fast Six that includes E.J. Viso, Mike Conway, James Jakes and Alex Tagliani might fit that description.

Viso has taken like a duck to water (and note both were present on Friday) to his new team of Andretti Autosport this season and has his second consecutive Fast Six appearance. He qualified fifth for this race last year, and second last time out on a street course in Brazil. He’ll start first in Race 1 tomorrow after a 10-spot grid penalty has hit Dario Franchitti, for an unapproved engine change.

“This qualifying was fun,” Viso said of the effort executed by the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti/HVM team. “One of the sessions was a fully wet session, then the second one was damp, then the third one was fully dry.”

Just Wednesday, Conway went from the sidelines to a race seat by taking over Dale Coyne’s second car for this weekend, after Ana Beatriz’s deal ran out. Conway – regarded by many in the paddock as one of IndyCar’s top street racers – fit in immediately in the No. 18 Honda and was bang-on pace from the get-go.

“Yeah, I mean, obvious not easy jumping in and getting the job done,” Conway admitted. “I think obviously Justin (Wilson) has done a great job with the car over the year.  It felt good.  It’s definitely a handful around here. I just felt comfortable as soon as I got in. If you can just get up to speed really fast knowing everything is all good, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Jakes (pictured), third on the grid, has his best ever IndyCar qualifying effort (beats eighth at Motegi, Japan in 2011) and is the second of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers to make a Fast Six this year – Conway did in his one-off appearance at Long Beach.

“I think the biggest key was staying patient,” said the driver of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. “We were out in the first group, of the first 12.  It was quite a bit wetter, you just had to make sure you had a clear lap at the end of the session with a couple of minutes to go to maximize the potential out of the car.  I think we did that.”

Tagliani led the morning’s practice session, which was frequently interrupted. He kicked off a string of four consecutive Fast Six appearances with third in Detroit last year, and has his first Fast Six entry now in 2013 in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda.

“Yeah, it’s really nice to be back in the front,” he said. “Obviously we struggled a little bit with the new tires this year, from the beginning of the year. The team worked a lot to get it back.”

Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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