Pocono IndyCar Update: Andretti out in front at halfway mark

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Marco Andretti has maintained his weekend dominance so far in the first half of the Pocono IndyCar 400, but Triple Crown contender Tony Kanaan has been able to stay toward the front of the field as he seeks to continue his quest for a $1 million prize.

Kanaan is currently half a second behind Andretti at Lap 80 of 160, followed by championship leader Helio Castroneves in third, Simon Pagenaud in fourth, and Scott Dixon in fifth.

IndyCar’s first race at the “Tricky Triangle” since 1989 began inauspiciously when front-row starter James Hinchcliffe wiggled in Turn 1, then spun and slammed hard into the wall. The Canadian fan favorite, who won the series’ most race at Iowa Speedway, limped out of his car but after his release from the infield care center, he told ESPN that he had merely banged his knee inside the cockpit.

“The car just snapped loose on me,” said Hinchcliffe. “We went a bit aggressive on setup because we had an understeering car all week, and we didn’t want that in the race – maybe we overstepped it a bit; I’m not quite sure. We’ll have to go back and take a look.

“It’s really unfortunate. It’s a 400-mile race, so to go out on Lap 1 is just devastating.”

Andretti gave up the lead when he pitted under green at Lap 30, but regained it when the rest of the field cycled through their own stops. Ryan Hunter-Reay managed to leapfrog Kanaan for second when they pitted together on Lap 32, making for an Andretti Autosport 1-2 as the focus turned to disposing of lapped traffic.

But Hunter-Reay’s strong run was ended as he pitted along with Andretti on Lap 61. Takuma Sato, coming in from fourth on the track, locked up his tires while trying to slow down and skidded into the back of Hunter-Reay’s No. 1 car.

“Sato just ran into me,” Hunter-Reay spat over his team radio as the yellow flag came out. “What an idiot.”

To his credit, the former Formula One driver admitted fault for the crash, saying he “misjudged” the entrance to pit road.

“I was trying to kill speed but I was in the middle of the corner and I lost the back end and slid into Ryan,” Sato told ESPN.

Shortly after halfway, Hunter-Reay and his machine were spotted rolling out of the Pocono garage and will likely return to the track in an attempt to salvage championship points. But his incident with Sato will still likely impact his bid for a second straight IZOD IndyCar Series title; he had entered the day just nine points off of Castroneves in the standings.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.