Wilson will race the Glen, and might have a new IndyCar teammate

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson has a pair of new drivers he’ll be working with this week. One is an official co-driver and another could become his teammate at DCR later this year.

Wilson will spend his off weekend from his IZOD IndyCar Series commitments in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series’ Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen race at Watkins Glen International. He’ll rejoin Michael Shank Racing, the team in which he won the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona and finished third this year, to co-drive the rebuilt No. 6 Ford Riley Daytona Prototype with Gustavo Yacaman.

“Mike has a great group of guys so it will just be like seeing some old friends again, and we can just pick up where we left off at Daytona,” Wilson said in a release. “I’ve never raced in the Six Hour, so this is a great opportunity. I’m grateful that Mike rang me to help him out this weekend.”

Wilson scored Coyne’s first IndyCar win at Watkins Glen in 2009. He replaces Antonio Pizzonia in the car, as team owner Shank cited sponsorship issues for the Brazilian.

“Unfortunately Antonio’s group had some sponsorship challenges, so we needed to develop a new plan for this weekend,” Shank said in a release. “It is a shame, as Antonio is a true talent, and we really appreciated his efforts – he was quick right from the start for us.”

For the second race in a row, Shank’s crew has performed an incredible rebuilding effort on one of its DPs to ensure it made it to the next race. The team’s lead No. 60 was fixed after an accident in Detroit, and after Yacaman had an early accident and fire in Mid-Ohio, the team has managed to put the No. 6 back together for Watkins Glen.

Meanwhile Wilson is currently at Mid-Ohio alongside James Davison, the Australian who is performing his second IndyCar test and first in the Dallara DW12 in Coyne’s second car. Davison is fairly quick and has two Firestone Indy Lights Series race wins at Mid-Ohio in consecutive years.

He hasn’t raced in a series full-time since 2009, when he finished second in the Indy Lights series behind JR Hildebrand and ahead of 10 drivers who eventually made their IndyCar debuts (Sebastian Saavedra, Wade Cunningham, James Hinchcliffe, Mario Romancini, Ana Beatriz, Charlie Kimball, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Jay Howard, Dillon Battistini).

Coyne’s notorious for naming his second driver as late as possible before a race weekend, but a good test today could go a little way in ensuring Davison joins that list of drivers stepping up to a race seat. Stefan Wilson has also tested for Coyne this year in hopes of securing a debut race in IndyCar.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.