Firestone 550 - Practice

Can Rahal turn around rough 2013 at Iowa?

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Graham Rahal’s first full-time season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan has not gone like some expected it to go. He achieved a podium finish at Long Beach back in April, but with four finishes outside the Top-20 and a 17th-place standing in the championship, 2013 has not been a stellar campaign so far for the second-generation competitor.

But Rahal earned a boost of confidence yesterday during the heat races that set the field for today’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway. He only posted the 19th-quickest time in single-car qualifying, which meant a starting position of seventh in Heat No. 2. But with only 50 laps to work with, Rahal was able to move through the field and seal a win with a high-line pass of Ed Carpenter with three laps left.

“I’m very proud of the guys because we’ve been working hard,” Rahal said after Heat No. 2. “It just hasn’t been the easiest of years for us. But to get a result like this, even though it’s just a heat, it means a lot to us.”

Rahal transferred over to Heat No. 3 as a result, where he finished ninth after contact with Carpenter early on damaged his front wing and created handling issues on his No. 15 RLL Honda.

That finish means he’ll start on the outside of Row 4 for today’s 250-lap race (his best start of the season), and after a decent Saturday on the Iowa bullring, he may have some much-needed momentum going into today’s main event.

“We really, really felt the car was very competitive [in Heat No. 2] and were able to charge through the field which not a lot of the guys were seemingly able to do,” he said. “And again in the second heat race, I think we could have won it. I think we had the car but unfortunately, Ed and I bumped and we lost four percent front COP [center of pressure], so the car didn’t want to turn.

“The fact that we could still run high 18’s [18-second lap time] without a front wing is pretty impressive, so I’m pleased with the car. I think it’s going to be pretty good.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.