No joke: James Jakes is in a real Acorn Stairlifts ad

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s James Jakes has been much improved this year in this, his third season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. So much so, in fact, I called him the “Most Improved First-Half Driver” in MotorSportsTalk’s IndyCar midseason review.

So I knew his on-track form was good, but I didn’t know he had any acting ability in him. Until I saw this commercial.

You may have seen it during NBC Sports Network’s coverage of both Honda Indy Toronto races, but Jakes is now appearing in an ad for his sponsor Acorn Stairlifts.

It does its best “Driven” imitation by starting in Long Beach’s pit lane, then shifting to Indianapolis, and then into some random commercial house where “Jakesy” can take off his helmet, install an Acorn Stairlift, then teleport back to Indy with his helmet on and drive off.

Now, there’s been something of a running joke in IndyCar circles that until this year, Jakes was IndyCar’s version of “The Stig.”  You rarely, if ever, heard him speak on TV, and it was just as rare that he had his helmet off to expose his sharp, blonde hair.

So the commercial could have played to that a little better if Jakes didn’t lose his helmet at one point or another. And hell, it is funny to note that Acorn Stairlifts doesn’t even mention Jakes by name – instead, just having his name next to an RLL logo on the bottom of the screen at the end of the ad.

All that said, Jakes has been something of a revelation this year because his pace has been staggering – he’s beat his more heralded teammate Graham Rahal in qualifying for seven of the last nine races – and the more you hear him talk, the more you realize how sharp he is. It makes his fan club – “Jakesy Nation” – all the smarter for picking up on all he has to offer before the rest of us.

And now he has 30 seconds of glory, albeit back in his Stig-like state of anonymity.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.