IndyCar’s movers and shakers out of Milwaukee, heading to Iowa

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The IZOD IndyCar Series’ manic stretch of five races in four weekends after the month of May concludes at the Iowa Speedway this Sunday.

Some stats of note leaving Milwaukee and entering Iowa for the Iowa Corn Indy 250:

  • In the last four races, the gloves have come off between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves. They each have a win and have smoked the field from a points standpoint; Castroneves holds a 147-145 edge over Hunter-Reay, with Dario Franchitti having scored the third most points at just 111. Simon Pagenaud (104) is the only other driver in the field in this stretch of diverse races with more than 100 points.
  • Unsurprisingly, Hunter-Reay and Castroneves have also scored the most points on ovals this year. Hunter-Reay has secured 136 points to Castroneves’ 129; Tony Kanaan is the only other driver (110) over 100. Marco Andretti is next on 88 points, with Ed Carpenter on 86 and Will Power on 85.
  • E.J. Viso kept his qualifying hot streak alive with his sixth straight top-five grid position in Milwaukee. He followed that up with his first top-five finish of the season. His only career podium came in Iowa in 2010, a third-place result.
  • After his frustrating ending to a dominant weekend in Milwaukee, Marco Andretti heads to undoubtedly his best track on the schedule in the cornfields of Iowa. In six prior starts, Andretti leads the field with four podium finishes, and a win there in 2011. He’s led only 87 laps at the track though, which trails four other current drivers.
  • Alex Tagliani hasn’t scored a top-10 finish for the Barracuda Racing/BHA squad since St. Petersburg, and Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais hasn’t scored one all season. They’re due.
  • Following the form of bad race-top 10-bad race, expect Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden to crack the top-10 this weekend. In all four even-numbered races this year, the series sophomore has ended there (ninth at Barber, fifth in Brazil, seventh at Detroit race one, eighth at Texas).

Sauber, Honda call off F1 engine deal for 2018

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Sauber has confirmed that its planned Formula 1 engine deal and technical partnership with Honda for 2018 has been canceled.

Sauber announced at the end of April that it had struck a deal to use Honda power units from 2018 as part of a new partnership with the Japanese manufacturer, brokered by then-CEO and team boss Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn’s departure ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June threw the deal into doubt amid a dispute with team chairman Pascal Picci, with the incoming Frederic Vasseur tasked with resolving the matter.

In a statement issued by Sauber on Thursday, it was confirmed that the deal with Honda had been canceled, the team adding that its new engine partner would be “announced shortly”.

“It is very unfortunate that we have to discontinue the planned collaboration with Honda at this stage,” Vasseur said.

“However, this decision has been made for strategic reasons, and with the best intent for the future of the Sauber F1 Team in mind.

“We would like to thank Honda for their collaboration, and wish them all the best for their future in Formula 1.”

Hamilton aims to seize momentum in Hungary before F1 break

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) At the Hungaroring circuit where he secured the first of his many wins for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton will aim to seize the momentum this weekend heading into the Formula One championship’s midseason break.

After a reversal of fortunes, the British driver is only one point behind F1 leader Sebastian Vettel ahead of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. It was at the tight-turning track outside of Budapest, one of the toughest for overtaking maneuvers, that Hamilton secured the first of his 36 race wins for Mercedes in 2013. That year, Vettel totally dominated as he sealed his fourth straight F1 title when driving for Red Bull.

Hamilton’s win here, though, was the precursor to a period of Mercedes dominance. The following two years, Hamilton won the title and his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, won it last year before suddenly retiring.

Now Vettel is the one trying to deliver the title back to Ferrari for the first time since Kimi Raikkonen – his current teammate – won it in 2007.

Against expectations, Vettel took the early ascendancy in this year’s championship and, with Hamilton struggling with some technical issues on the car, moved 20 points clear after the Austrian GP.

But, two weeks ago, Vettel had problems at the British GP in Silverstone with his tire shredding late on. Hamilton won in style, Vettel squeezed home in seventh, and the 20-point buffer evaporated to just one.

It was Hamilton’s fourth and best win of the 2017 season, restoring his confidence after two difficult races – including a heated clash with Vettel in Azerbaijan.

Now Vettel, who has three wins, is the one needing a boost.

It would be a blow to the German driver’s morale, and to Ferrari, if he went into the month-long summer break trailing Hamilton.

Vettel’s motivation level is likely to be higher than usual, and that makes Mercedes wary of a Budapest backlash from Ferrari.

“Our rivals will be determined to fight back strongly and we have to anticipate that,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “There is no complacency at all at Mercedes, just a resolute determination to get the job done.”

While Hamilton is chasing a fourth F1 title to match Vettel’s career mark, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is proving to be much more than a reliable backup – which is initially how he was perceived after leaving Williams to replace Rosberg.

Although Bottas remains an outsider for the title, he has trimmed Vettel’s lead to 23 points after four highly consistent races. He won in Austria and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and at Silverstone.

The Finnish driver seems to be driving with a point to prove to Mercedes, which has yet to say whether he will get a new contract next year. With the drivers’ market likely to be wide open next year, Mercedes is leaving it late.

Still, the odds are improving in Bottas’ favor.

“Valtteri has a fierce work ethic, steely approach and a great natural talent,” Wolff said. “He threw himself into the challenge of switching teams and we are now starting to see his full potential. I have the feeling he is getting better with each weekend and I’m excited to imagine how he will continue to develop for the rest of the season.”

The top four in the championship have all had their moments of excellence this season.

Daniel Ricciardo, who is fourth, secured five straight podium finishes heading into the British GP. Perhaps even more impressively, he steered his Red Bull from 19th place on the grid to fifth place there. It was a fine drive and showcased the Australian driver’s speed and flair.

His teammate, Max Verstappen, had a determined fourth-place finish at Silverstone.

The 19-year-old Dutchman, arguably the most impressive driver last year in an incredible breakthrough season, will hope that his car’s troublesome issues are finally over.

For having Verstappen in top form, and with a reliable car, will add even more spice to one of the most tantalizing seasons for many years.

F1 Preview: 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix

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This weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix marks the natural mid-point in the Formula 1 season, acting as the final race before the enforced summer break and shutdown.

Following his crushing victory on home soil in the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton (pictured above) arrives in Budapest eyeing the outright lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time this season.

Hamilton sits just a single point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the standings, and has a scorecard at the Hungaroring that is the envy of the field, having claimed a record five wins at the track during his time in F1.

However, with Ferrari eager to strike back and end its two-month win drought at a track where its SF70H should run well, it is unlikely Hamilton will have things all his own way.

Here is our full preview of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

2017 Hungarian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Can Hamilton continue his stunning Hungary record?

Lewis Hamilton has a knack for success when it comes to the Hungarian Grand Prix. The site of his third ever win in F1 with McLaren back in 2007, Hamilton is unmatched with five wins at the circuit. Curiously though, he has just a single victory in the V6 turbo era, the height of Mercedes and his own success.

Perhaps the most significant win in Hungary came in 2013, when Hamilton took his first win in Mercedes colors. Despite having a car that was well off the pace over longer stints compared to the rival Red Bull team, Hamilton was able to deliver one of the performances of his career to win, having said it would take a “miracle” to do so.

Hamilton heads into the race as the favorite by account of his Silverstone success and Mercedes’ apparent advantage over Ferrari that has emerged in recent races. If Ferrari can strike back anywhere though, it should be here – meaning that Hamilton might have to dig deep and deliver a display worthy of the tapestry that may depict a fourth world championship win come the end of the year.

Ferrari under pressure to hit back

This race could be make or break for Ferrari’s season and its championship aspirations. After making such a strong start to the year and appearing to have the run on Mercedes at the front of the pack, the gap has shrunk dramatically of late.

Now that Mercedes has finally cracked the code for its ‘diva’ of a car, Ferrari needs to start to make up ground – and if it is on the back foot in Hungary, it will be an ominous sign for the remainder of the season.

The tight and twisting nature of the Hungaroring should suit Ferrari’s SF70H car, much as Monaco did. It is a circuit that will see Mercedes’ power advantage mean less given the absence of any long straights, with aerodynamic ability and tire management – two of Ferrari’s key strengths earlier in the year – set to mean more.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will still be licking the wounds of their late tire failures at Silverstone two weeks ago which cost them a decent haul of points, allowing Hamilton and – often forgotten, but a definite title contender – Valtteri Bottas to close up in the drivers’ championship.

The pressure will now be on Ferrari to answer Mercedes’ recent form and stop its winning run.

Could Red Bull come into play?

Much as the Hungaroring is a circuit that should suit Ferrari, Red Bull is another team that is theoretically set to benefit, potentially allowing Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen to move into the fight at the front of the pack.

Red Bull has been largely marooned as the third-fastest team for much of the season so far, but appeared to show signs of its gains at the Red Bull Ring earlier this month. Having trailed the race winner by 30 seconds in Australia, Red Bull was able to finish just six shy of Bottas at the chequered flag in Austria, signaling the team’s progress.

But things turned around again at Silverstone. Ricciardo was able to admirably fight his way back through the order, but Verstappen – despite a spirited early fight with Vettel – never looked within a shot of the podium. P4 and P5 thanks to Vettel’s late demise was about the best Red Bull could have hoped for.

Hungary should bring better things, perhaps allowing Red Bull to put the significant updates that have been applied to the RB13 car through the European leg of the season to good use. It could help to create a very interesting scrap at the front if the two-team battle we’ve grown accustomed to this season could expand to include a third party.

Baby I can see your Halo…

…pray, will it fade away? Beyonce puns aside, the announcement from the FIA that the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device would be introduced to F1 in 2018 has certainly caused a stir in racing circles since the paddock last convened at Silverstone.

The decision makes good on the FIA’s desire to introduce some kind of cockpit protection in 2018, with a subsequent statement from F1’s governing body stressing that the Halo is, at present, the best solution in existence.

However, there are many parties that feel the decision has been rushed. Very little has come out of the F1 driver side or the GPDA since the announcement, so quite how they react when questioned about it through the course of this weekend will be of particular interest.

Should they tow the party line, then it would, for the most part, be a dramatic turnaround from what has previously been said. Jolyon Palmer was saying as recently as Austria how against any kind of cockpit protection he was, going as far as calling the proposed ‘Shield’ “pants”.

Lewis Hamilton has previously said he hopes that using Halo will be optional so he can decide not to do so, but don’t expect that to be a course of action that comes about.

Let’s see what they’ve got to say this weekend.

School’s out for summer

The summer break may not give the teams a huge amount of time off – just a month between races – but it is nevertheless a crucial time for the F1 paddock to finally get some rest after a busy season.

Through the month’s break, teams are required to take some enforced shut down, usually totally two weeks. It means that the drivers and, perhaps more importantly, the personnel involved behind the scenes with the racing effort are able to take a bit of time off and avoid the stresses of the sport for a little while.

Inevitably, there’ll be some news coming over the summer. Silly season will continue to rumble on, perhaps even kicking into gear in Hungary. Before you know it, we’ll be getting ready to go to Spa.

So make the most of the break, because once we get to Spa, there’ll be no slowing down until the checkered flag falls on another F1 season in Abu Dhabi.

2017 Hungarian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Hungaroring
Corners: 14
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:19.071 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft/Soft/Medium
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:19.965
2016 Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:23.086
DRS Zone: T14 to T1, T1 to T2

2017 Hungarian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Kligerman: Formula E is an Instagram hit, but attending a race is an out-of-focus experience

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NEW YORK — On a rare Sunday off (after a few days in the pits covering one of the oldest and most popular racing series in the world), I decided to spend my day attending one of the world’s newest racing series, Formula E.

If you haven’t heard, it’s an all-electric Formula car series (think F1 with electric cars).

The race was being held in, as the CEO of the new series called it, “The Capital of the World” — New York. Specifically, a picturesque setting near a landing area for cruise ships in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. This fittingly positioned NYC’s famous Manhattan skyline as the backdrop for many pictures of the cars and track.

Formula E is car racing’s first disrupt-the-status-quo tech startup built on a Silicon Valley vibe, social media buzzwords and celebrity endorsements. Like the provincial tech companies of the West Coast, it was born because a couple of people believed there was an insatiable appetite for something that didn’t exist.

Mitch Evans (NZL), Spark-Jaguar, Jaguar I-Type on track in front of the New York skyline during the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT Images)

An eco-friendly, bring-it-to-the-people, electric-car test bed.

And car manufacturers the likes of BMW, Audi, Citroen, Renault, and Jaguar agreed and all joined.

The world’s tabloid hogs have joined, too, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Branson and (in attendance at the Brooklyn event) Michael Douglas, and Chris Hemsworth. The only thing missing amongst the Instagram-friendly metrics are what most racing series tout first — fans.

But before I go any further, full disclosure: I attempted to race in this series a couple years ago. It was 2014, and my NASCAR Cup team had folded. It seemed through a friend who was a CMO at an energy company that there might be a way to swing getting into a Formula E car.

It wasn’t to be as it was too new, too foreign, and we quickly got distracted by other opportunities. But ever since, I have kept a keen eye on its development.

Bring on NYC.

I was excited to view the upstart series up close. But after a little too much caffeine in the form of a coffee, a bigger coffee and then an energy drink to get home from New Hampshire. I wouldn’t rest my overly caffeinated body until 2:30 a.m. that day. It was a struggle to awake.

Awaiting me was a media credential. But it was to lay dormant as I decided to bring my girlfriend and conned my best friend into joining us. Mostly because he lives in Brooklyn, and this event has zero parking. The official travel guide tells you, “Not to bring a car.”

Certainly odd for a car race but understandable being in NYC. So I parked at my friend’s apartment, and we Ubered.

The Arrival

As we approached the ride-share dropoff zone, I oddly felt devoid of that half-euphoric, half-anxious feeling of attending a new racing series.

I turned to my friend and Blondie to say I remembered attending my first F1 race in Montreal at 14 years old and being able to hear the cars from 2 miles away. The city was overflowing with Formula One fever.

Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT) and Amlin Andretti, Spark-Andretti, ATEC-02 race during the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Alastair Staley/LAT Images)

I’ll never forget walking up to the corner just before the hairpin at the Montreal circuit, as practice just had started and an F1 car approached. It sounded like a fire-breathing, human-slaying alien spacecraft was rapidly coming our way, and it was not going to be pleasant.

Suddenly, the sound was all around us in a flash of yellow, an ear-piercing scream and a loud BOOM! The Jordan F1 car of Timo Glock streaked past where I was standing. As he shifted gears, the sound and explosion hit me in the chest so hard, I could barely breathe.

It, to this day, is one of my favorite memories in life.

This event was not going to provide that.

Obviously one of the biggest departures from traditional motor racing is the cars don’t make a lot of sound. That’s part of what allows them to race in The Capital of The World. There are no issues with deafening sound reverberating through NYC’s already overflowing boroughs.

As we told our Uber driver to stop, a few Formula E signs were plastered on the walls around us. He asked, “What is this?” and my friend said, “It’s like a Formula One race.” The Uber driver replied, “Who knew? That is cool.” Not exactly a good sign for the promotion of the event.

Nonetheless, I felt good about being able to buy three tickets if our driver had no idea it was happening.

Except when we went inside, the ticket building was completely empty. We abruptly were told it was sold out and actually had been for months. Even though on Friday, Ticketmaster indicated (for $85, mind you), there were tickets available … odd.

G.H. Mumm champagne was served at the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

We were told we could have free general admission tickets and maybe could get in with them. And this was something I knew Formula E did in its first season as a way to get people to come. I’ve always thought this was brilliant.

From there we went into the stringent security lines, where I got my first glance at what I will refer to as “the clientele” and not “fans.”

Two young men in front of me were the embodiment of the clientele. Both almost identically dressed in expensive, perfectly pressed, white button-down shirts, light tan belts and navy blue linen chinos.

I must have missed the memo.

One wearing Oliver Peoples glasses (if you ever go to an Oliver Peoples store, they will remind you President Obama wears their glasses) turned to the other as they were going through the security scanner. He remarked, “This certainly isn’t like Monaco,” and his friend nodded. Aside from wanting to punch him square in the face, I knew I was in for an experience only the Europeans can provide.

Fans enjoy a champagne toast during the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

I call it, “European Exclusionary Events,” where they invite you to spend money to feel superior to the others around you. Hence our free ticket allowed us in, but Mr. Oliver Peoples took a very visible red carpet-lined hard left into the E-Motion club, and we were forced down a route past a port-a-potty.

The Europeans love this sort of thing, because it makes an event feel exclusive – as if you have done something to deserve the first-class version of race attendance.

But Americans do not. Sure we have courtside seats in basketball, but the guy who got a ticket from his company raffle can be sitting right behind Kim Kardashian. American events are put on to make everyone feel inclusive. Formula E missed that memo.

But I digress.

As we entered the general admission area known as “E-Village,” it was not overflowing but definitely not sparse. Scattered throughout were a few informational and promotional booths from car manufacturers and racing simulators. Par for the course at a race.

And here I bumped into a friend who lives in Brooklyn. He knew nothing about racing but had brought his wife and twin babies in a stroller. It was free and a block from their place, and the electric racing ensured their babies would be OK with the sound.

It definitely wasn’t something that would happen at a NASCAR race. I thought that was very cool.

The Race

The schedule listed a 1 p.m. start, and as 1 p.m. came, everyone in the E-Village excitedly was listening for a signal or sign that the race had started. And then suddenly at 1:05 a group of cars rounded the hairpin adjacent to the E-Village. There was no warning (not even a race announcer) and the only reason you knew was the chirping of the tires and smashing of bodywork.

Surely, they must have forgotten to turn up the race announcer. But as the laps continued, it became clear they had not put any speakers in the E-Village area. So here we were with what seemed a couple thousand people desperately wondering what the hell was going on.

The start of the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Steven Tee/LAT Images)

This was incredibly perplexing because the whole selling point as an attendee of Formula E was that it was quiet enough to foster conversation. And to be able to hear the announcers so well they even could play team radios over the loudspeakers, so you could be immersed in the race.

Guess it didn’t apply to the free tickets and the people the series desperately should be trying to impress.

I became Formula E’s best friend as I informed people left and right about the rules and who was leading the damn race. At the other end of the E-Village was a nice lounge area with a big screen TV sponsored by VISA but with no volume. So once again, I was the on-the-ground Formula E informant, letting people know why they were pitting and what the energy percentage meant.

But the best part occurred as the race came to a close, as you only knew it was over because of the fans in the frontstretch grandstand that rose to give the winner a standing ovation. As the cars made their cooldown lap, a fan turned to me and said, “I think this is when they go pit and change cars.” To which I replied, “Uhh, no. It’s over. That was the winner.”

But then as the cars continued to trickle through the corner on the cooldown lap, another person asked, “Why are they going so slow?!?”

Winner Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, Spark-Citroen, Virgin DSV-02, celebrates on the podium with Felix Rosenqvist (SWE), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO, and Nick Heidfeld (GER), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO after the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/LAT Images)

It was clear with no info whatsoever, these attendees might be there until Tuesday wondering what happened to the race.

Why was it like this?

I stood at one of the exit gates to survey the crowd as the attendees and clientele left the grandstands. I begged the event for a redeeming quality, something to make me want to come back, but to no avail.

It suddenly became clear as I looked at photos of the massive but mostly unfilled E-motion VIP club for Instagram “influencers” — celebrities, media, and marketing chiefs.

Was it that this event was not for you or me? That the series wasn’t aiming to impress a race fan such as myself? (A race fan who loved this form of racing so much, I responded “open wheel cars with little to no downforce and 1000 horsepower engines on city street tracks” when asked 10 years ago what my perfect race series would be.)

Everyone attending with me began to refuse to call it a race event and started using words such as “promotional display” and “a massive advertisement.”

It became clear that Formula E is for the sponsors, the car manufacturers and the series to have media outlets talking about how they have a presence in the future of the world.

So the CMOs, marketing managers and executives in linens and sports coats can walk into boardrooms with PowerPoint slides of their logos being called “eco-friendly” in the media. And use social media buzzwords such impressions, engagement and KPI (key performance indicator) while showing their logos with Instagram “influencers” drinking champagne and being eco-friendly.

Formula E is an event that has a purpose but to entertain you would be a stretch. It’s much like in school when the teacher tells you you’re watching a movie, and it turns out to be an instructional video. It’s a relief you’re watching a movie, but you still need to learn.

This is Formula E.

You’re provided a race and a damn good one at that. But it’s clear, the truth is it’s for show and not the kind that entertains.