Indianapolis 500

Ten with Townsend: Milwaukee debrief

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As  the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to the NBC Sports Network for this past weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest, so too did we check in with our resident NBCSN driver analyst Townsend Bell for his take on the 250-lapper at the historic Milwaukee Mile.

Since Bell’s last “Ten with Townsend” after Brazil, he’s finished fourth in the GT class at the American Le Mans Series’ race in Monterey in a Ferrari F458 Italia, completed his annual appearance in the Indianapolis 500 in the Sunoco/“Turbo” Chevrolet, and made Robert Graham’s line of hats pretty noticeable (right).

Without further adieu, the latest  “Ten with Townsend” installment (St. Pete, Barber, Long Beach/Brazil) from our resident expert after the Milwaukee IndyFest:

-Since we last checked in, you had a little 500-mile race to attend to in May. Although the result was tough, how was this month of May for you as a whole?

Overall it was a great month of May. I sure wish I would’ve had a better result. But we had some issues on race day and at the Indy 500, you can’t have any mistakes. As usual, the countdown begins to next year’s race. I hope to get a chance to go back and continue to apply everything I learn each year.

-What did you make of the Detroit doubleheader weekend and Texas races?

Detroit was incredible racing, especially Mike Conway. What he pulled off there was nothing short of spectacular. I still think that IndyCar racing should be about one main event during the weekend. I’m a traditionalist (agreeing with Mario Andretti here). So from that standpoint, I don’t prefer doubleheaders.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Milwaukee win last year kicked off his title charge. How much better do he and the team look now a year later, after this latest win?

They’re just more confident. Ryan was already a strong driver, but winning the championship confirmed to him and everybody else what he believed for so long. Now it’s not about believing, it’s about knowing. And you see that every time he drives – he’s a little less anxious and a little more confident. I think he’s the strongest overall driver in the field right now, with a very strong team that is humming on all cylinders.

-Championship contenders at the halfway point (eight of 16 weekends down): Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Marco, Sato, Dixon, anyone else? Or probably between those five?

I think you can’t discount Will Power either, especially after a solid Milwaukee weekend. We can’t forget that he has the natural ability and every chance to go on a freakish run of street and road course victories if he can put it together. He’s certainly capable and certainly has proved that over and over in the past.

-Did you feel traffic was more of a factor than normal this year or just typical Milwaukee?

It was just typical Milwaukee.

-The way E.J. Viso is driving right now, would you expect him to join the ranks of first-time winners soon?

Maybe. But I still think E.J. has a ways to go before he has that “quarterback-style leadership” within his team. If he continues to study the way Ryan and James (Hinchcliffe) have behaved in the face of adversity, then I think he’ll have a good chance. He certainly has the ability to lay down the lap times, but piecing together an entire race weekend is still the goal for him in the future.

-Biggest surprise and disappointment at Milwaukee.

The biggest surprise to me was probably how strong Will Power was both in qualifying and the race. I think that was a huge step for him to show so well on an oval. I’m afraid the biggest disappointment continues to be Graham Rahal.

-Is this stretch of six races in five weekends too much? Too hard on the crews? Really doing its job of proving the haves and have-nots in the field?

To me, absolutely not! In a perfect world, we would race every weekend with INDYCAR straight through the summer.

-How did you enjoy the booth experience getting to work with David Hobbs? Had you two had the chance to work together previously for F1 broadcasts?

I had substituted for David Hobbs with Formula One on SPEED previously, but I had never had the chance to work with him during the broadcast. It was fantastic. His voice is iconic and he is so clever with humor and analysis.

-Lastly, what did you make of the ride in the Miller roadster for the GoPro course preview?

The Miller roadster drive will go down as one of the surprising favorite memories of my career. I thought it was gonna be like driving a tractor. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was absolutely fantastic and tempted me to push it harder and harder with each corner. But David was wishing otherwise!

FP2: View from the ground in Austin, 2016 edition

during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas – One of the joys of coming to the United States Grand Prix on an annual basis is the opportunity to have a session to sample the view from trackside, and attempt to gauge quite what the feel on the ground is.

I must say though, with this being my third crack at a “View from the ground: FP2” trackside occasion, this one was a bit like most movie three-quels (2013, 2014 editions linked here).

It had its moments of greatness but was not quite the measure of the original, nor the first sequel.

This was a truncated walk, I’ll admit. I got to see the outside of Turn 1, the two bridges covering the Esses and before the Turn 18 Carousel, and the respective crowds from there. I didn’t get to the hairpin at Turn 11 to see that crowd figure. I didn’t get to soak up as much time as I would have liked, having come from another event just previous following FP1 this morning.

The hillside out of Turn 1 really stands out in terms of not being as packed as it has been in the past. It used to be standing room only or close; now, I’m afraid, there was plenty of room to walk and move around. Similarly, the Esses were only about two or three rows deep of folks from the top, rather than four to five; the best grandstand packing seemed to be the one exiting Turn 17 in the stadium section just near the Austin 360 Ampitheater and COTA Tower.

The crowd here is good, but not great, and this is with nearly perfect weather for the onlookers, with highs in the low 70 degree Fahrenheit ambient range.

If the circuit releases a crowd number today, be wary of it if it’s listed in the 60,000 or 70,000 range – there are simply not that many fans here today. A more conservative estimate would be 10-20,000 less than that, at least.

So the hope now is that Saturday’s Taylor Swift concert to go along with qualifying will produce a crowd bigger than today’s, and the race itself plus the Usher/The Roots concert on Sunday does the same, to achieve COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein’s goal of this being the second highest attended USGP weekend of the five here on site.

The upside, of course, is that there’s been an inevitable and expected bounce back in attendees today following last year’s dreary, rainy Friday – when only FP1 ran and FP2 was scrubbed owing to the miserable conditions. But it’s not a massive surge in numbers.

Some other notes from the ground:

Still missing that ear-piercing sound

I want to like the 1.6L V6 turbo power units. I really do.

But, I also want to come to an F1 race and have my ears damn near ready to fall off from shrill, piercing shrieks that I can’t get anywhere else.

Coming from traditionally IndyCar weekends, where the series run 2.2L V6 twin-turbos, to now F1 weekends, you expect a little bit of a change in pitch.

The pitch is similar – and it is still sonorous, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s quite nice actually.

But there’s something about coming to a Grand Prix where you’re not wanting to be able to have a solid conversation while cars are on track. It’s good that you can get that now in some respects. But man, I want some screams.

Good merchandise displays on offer

Whether behind the main grandstands or throughout the main fan corridors, the fans have a good lot of options when it comes to finding team gear. It did not seem as though one or more teams was slighted; admittedly, though, there was not as much Haas F1 Team regalia on display as I might have figured.

Respectable fan offerings in Guest Services and food options

Between the track food at concessions and a number of food trucks – an Austin staple – there seemed a good lot of options for fans to eat today. How reasonable they were priced, however, depended on how much you got and where you looked.

Guest Services having free sunscreen on offer was good to see, if perhaps you were not properly prepared and hadn’t put any on. One of the things about attending a race at Circuit of The Americas is that you will get sun-drenched if you sit anywhere besides the primary frontstraight grandstand, or are lucky enough to have suite access somewhere covered and perhaps, air conditioned.

Red storm of colors

Because I was walking more rapidly than normal on this track walk occasion, I didn’t get a great look at the percentage of attire team-to-team. I will say, though, that plenty of Ferrari kits caught my eye, and it was no surprise to see. I didn’t see as much in the way of fans wearing Mercedes gear or others to match. It is fun to see older kit – Renault’s old blue and yellow from the Mild Seven tobacco days was present.

Welcome back, Danny

The 1985 Indianapolis 500 champion and one time Benetton-sponsored Tyrrell F1 driver, Danny Sullivan, has made his first visit back to Circuit of The Americas since the inaugural running here in 2012. Sullivan emceed a Quint Events-hosted fan event in the Legends Club outside of Turn 1 earlier in the day, taking fan questions about the state of play in F1 and other forms of racing today. He shared a memorable Paul Newman story, where their competitive juices flowed even when it got to rental cars. Sullivan has been an F1 driver steward on a number of occasions over the last five to six seasons, including most recently at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Tower time, if you want

The iconic COTA Tower remained packed today, particularly for FP2. Fans can access the tower for $30 for a standard tour, or for an additional $15 ($45 total), they can go to the tower in an expedited VIP line – and get champagne in the process.

More thoughts from today at Circuit of The Americas will follow in MotorSportsTalk’s Friday Paddock Notebook.

Rosberg quickest as Ricciardo, Red Bull rally in second USGP practice

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Formula 1 championship leader Nico Rosberg stamped his authority on proceedings in Austin, Texas ahead of the United States Grand Prix by topping the second free practice session on Friday afternoon.

Following his ninth victory of the 2016 season in Japan two weeks ago, Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ standings by 33 points from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The German driver has started on pole for the past two years at the Circuit of The Americas, only to finish second to Hamilton on both occasions.

After seeing Hamilton lead FP1, Rosberg hit back in second practice to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:37.358, enjoying an advantage over the field of almost two-tenths of a second.

However, it was not Hamilton who played second-fiddle this time around. Instead, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shot up to P2, suggesting that the sizeable advantage Mercedes enjoyed in FP1 was exaggerated. Hamilton was left to settle for third in the final standings.

Second practice featured one short red flag period after debris was left on-track at the esses, appearing to come off the back of one of the Haas cars as the American team continued to struggle at the start of its home grand prix weekend.

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari in the mix at the front of the field in second practice, finishing within a second of Rosberg at the front in fourth place, while Max Verstappen ended the session fifth in the second Red Bull.

Force India continued its impressive start to the weekend as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh, with the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso following in P8 and P9. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 10 in the second Ferrari as he struggled with front-end grip.

FIA confirms track layout for Montreal Formula E race

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The FIA has confirmed the street course layout that will be used in Montreal for next July’s Formula E race.

Montreal will become the first Canadian city to host a Formula E race on the July 29-30 weekend, acting as the final round of the all-electric racing championship’s third season.

A street course has been formed close to Downtown Montreal, comprising 14 corners and running to a length of 1.71 miles.

“Formula E wants to bring fully-electric racing to the streets of the world’s leading cities and Montreal is another fantastic new addition to the calendar,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“Montreal is a great city with a great vibe – the perfect place to conclude the third season of Formula E. I’m sure the drivers will revel in the opportunity to fight for the title against the backdrop of Montreal.”

“I’m very pleased that Montreal is now among the host cities for Formula E,” Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre added.

“In Montreal, we wish to promote transportation electrification. This race, which speaks to this wish, will be conducted on an urban circuit and will be a festive family event where everyone will be able to admire the prowess of electric vehicles.

“It will give us, in 2017, at the climax of the celebrations for the 375th anniversary of Montreal, the opportunity to demonstrate that high performance can go hand-in-hand with sustainable development.”

Tickets for the Montreal ePrix will be on sale from December 3.

Renault teammates now stuck fighting each other to stay for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 03: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo leads Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 3, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Neither Kevin Magnussen nor Jolyon Palmer wants to leave Renault Sport F1 Team in 2017, but with Nico Hulkenberg’s confirmation in the team next year coming last week, one of the two incumbents will be forced aside.

It’s been a challenging year for the team in its first year back in works guise after Renault took over Lotus, but to their credit, both Magnussen in his second year and Palmer in his first have made strides as the year has gone on.

Results haven’t necessarily shown in though, as they’ve only amassed a combined eight points from three different scores. Magnussen has a seventh and a 10th, Palmer a single 10th.

Inadvertently, this now means the two of them are racing each other for one seat. Or, as Palmer described to reporters on Thursday, “I think there’s probably, in my opinion, probably three drivers down for one seat.”

Magnussen, who’d already sought to deny IndyCar rumors swirling around him for 2017, continued to mention his desire to stay with Renault during Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“I hope I can stay on as his teammate. That’s my target and that’s what I hope is going to happen,” Magnussen said.

“And hopefully it won’t be too long before we will be able to announce what’s going to happen – either/or – so we’ll just do this race and focus on driving and enjoying my time in the car and we’ll see what happens.”

If there’s any consolation or help, the bright side for Magnussen at least is that he’s been in this situation before. He waited to see whether he’d be retained for another year at McLaren in 2014, before ultimately losing out on the spot to Fernando Alonso once he rejoined the team.

Palmer said though this is a different situation, because either he or Magnussen hope to know their fate sooner rather than later, instead of having to hold out until December. He estimates a decision will come in the next two to three weeks.

“It may look similar at the moment but it’s a different team, different management. It’s still not that late in the moment,” the 2014 GP2 Series champion explained.

“We still have four races to go. I don’t want to be taken until the end of the year and then realize I’m going to be let go. It’s in my hands to assess my options. As I see it here, there are some other seats around, so I’ll have to do what’s best for me.”

Palmer said neither he nor Magnussen has been getting the credit they deserve for fighting back given the tough moments this year.

“I think neither of us is getting enough credit, to be honest. Kevin has done some great racing as well and proved in 2014 what he can do in a good car. He finished second in his first race when the car was there to finish second, he outqualified Jenson over the course of the year,” he said.

“And now, two years on, we’re both struggling because the car’s not really there. He’s done a good job this year and probably lost a bit of credit from where he was in 2014. I think neither of us have probably not gotten the credit we deserve. And that’s proved by the fact that at least one of us is going to be replaced. The car has been tricky and I think neither of us has done well. We’ve both made mistakes, but at certain points we’ve done a good job.”

The Englishman said he’d heard at Suzuka that the Hulkenberg signing was forthcoming, but was only thrown by the timing of when things would be announced.

There’s also been rumors that Valtteri Bottas is in the frame for the second seat at Renault, but the current Williams

“I understand that stick or twist is meaning if I stay with Williams or not,” Bottas said. “We’re going to still need to wait a little bit to get things confirmed about what’s going to happen next year.”