Andretti Autosport driver Carlos Munoz of Colombia scratches his chin after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Carlos Munoz tops Indy Lights Open Test at Pocono

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The IZOD IndyCar Series isn’t the only open-wheel series having to adapt to the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway this weekend.

Its developmental league, the Firestone Indy Lights, is also a first-time visitor to the “Tricky Triangle,” and today, the Lights contingent logged almost 800 laps around Pocono in an open test session that was led by Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz. The Colombian racer, who finished second to Tony Kanaan at this year’s Indianapolis 500, topped the session with a lap at 187.688 miles per hour.

“In the morning, we focused on the car since it was my first time here and used the first couple of laps to adapt,” Munoz said of his day. “It’s quite tricky and Turn 1 is the hardest corner. The car is different in each corner so you have to adapt the car for each corner.

“In the afternoon, we focused on the race setup and trying to run in traffic. We improved the car a lot. Tomorrow is a long day and it will be a tough race. Hopefully, we can stay up front.”

Munoz will seek to regain the FIL points lead from Sage Karam, who has taken the top spot in the standings after back-to-back victories at Milwaukee and Iowa. Karam, a native of nearby Nazareth, Pa., was second-fastest in the test session with a lap at 187.548 miles per hour and is keen on pulling out another victory in front of his fellow Pennsylvanians.

“I want to represent Pocono and Pennsylvania and I want to win,” Karam said. “I don’t want to lose in front of my home crowd, so I’m going to give it everything I can to beat these guys.”

Tomorrow’s Lights race will take the green flag at 4 p.m. ET, with NBC Sports Network broadcasting the race on Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m. ET.

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.