Mazda Road to Indy update: NBCSN show tonight, plus Mid-Ohio recap

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The first Mazda Road to Indy show on the NBC Sports Network will air overnight tonight, (Wednesday, August 7) at 2 a.m. ET, with a one-hour show on the USF2000 National Championship first half of the season.

This weekend at Mid-Ohio, as in St. Petersburg, Indianapolis (separate tracks between IMS and Lucas Oil Raceway Park) and Toronto, all three rungs of the ladder system were in action.

Gabby Chaves took his first Firestone Indy Lights win and moved to within 15 points of leader Carlos Munoz, who put in a stirring drive to recover from an early off-course excursion. Munoz finished fourth after falling as far back as 10th; he made most of his moves before the lone full course caution of the race. The top five in the standings are separated by just 43 points with three races remaining.

In Pro Mazda, Matthew Brabham’s assault on the record books continued with a sweep of the weekend’s two races, although only one came in the conventional dominant variety. Race two on Sunday, oil on track caused the lone leader to that point, Diego Ferreira, to slide off the road and Brabham snuck through. The wins are Brabham’s eighth and ninth in 12 2013 races, and the ninth sets a new single-season record. Spencer Pigot also impressed with a run from 11th to fourth in race 1 and a fast start from fifth to third in race 2, before dropping to fifth at the flag.

Neil Alberico took the first two USF2000 race wins of the weekend – the first on wet conditions and a seriously damp track, second on a dry one. Meanwhile Sunday’s race barely had the chance to get going after an 11-car pileup at the start of the field. Garett Grist came through to take his first win.

Jaguar signs Nelson Piquet Jr. for Formula E season four

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Jaguar Racing has confirmed the signing of Nelson Piquet Jr. for the fourth FIA Formula E season, partnering Mitch Evans.

Piquet was crowned Formula E’s inaugural champion back in 2015 with Team China Racing, which evolved into NextEV from season two onwards.

Continual struggles caused Piquet to question his future with the team, leading to a deal being struck with Jaguar for season four as it looked to replace Adam Carroll.

Jaguar returned to the international motorsport scene in 2016 by entering Formula E, with Evans leading its charge by scoring 22 of its 27 points as it finished at the foot of the teams’ championship.

Now aiming to move up the field thanks to more time to prepare and plan for season four, the arrival of Piquet looks set to bolster Jaguar’s hopes thanks to his experience and success in Formula E.

“It’s a great honour to join Panasonic Jaguar Racing. Jaguar has such a strong history in motorsport and it’s an exciting time to become part of the team,” Piquet said.

“Their commitment to electric motorsport is inspiring and I’m looking forward to working with the team.”

Jaguar team boss James Barclay added: “We are hugely excited to have Nelson on board for season four. Mitch was one of the outstanding rookies of the season with some great qualifying and race performances.

“With our new driver line-up we are aiming to be a strong challenger on the grid, regularly competing for points. We have taken a lot of learnings from season three and the team have been working extremely hard throughout the off-season, focusing on the design and development of the new Jaguar I-TYPE 2.”

The new Formula E season kicks off in Hong Kong on December 2.

CORE autosport steps up to Prototype in 2018 with Oreca 07

Photo: CORE autosport
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After a single year in the GT Daytona class with a Porsche 911 GT3 R, CORE autosport will return to its Prototype roots next season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and compete in the series’ highest level of competition.

The team announced Thursday an entry into Prototype for the 2018 season with an Oreca 07 chassis and the same driver lineup of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun. Prototype could well be in the mid-to-high double digit range at this juncture.

This will mean CORE autosport as a team will have run in Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona, and also been involved in GT Le Mans as the operating arm of the Porsche North America program for its Porsche 911 RSRs.

CORE’s full release and quick video are below.

Five-time Prototype Challenge Champions CORE autosport will move to the Prototype Class for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with an ORECA 07 LMP2 and drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

CORE makes the switch to the P category after six seasons in the PC class (2011 – 2013 American Le Mans Series; 2014 – 2016 IMSA) and the current IMSA season in the GT Daytona class.

“Our start at CORE was with prototypes in 2010,” driver and team owner Bennett said. “It feels good to get back to our roots and progressing as a team.

“We’ve spent the past season watching with interest how the competition and budgets would shake out in the re-vamped Prototype category. We are encouraged to see the growth and competitiveness in this premier class and look forward to our debut at the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona.”

The Prototype class features both P2 and DPi-style cars racing together. The ORECA 07 LMP2 falls into the P2 group. CORE already has a successful history with ORECA, running the ORECA FLM09 chassis in all six years of its PC program.

“We are of course really happy to have CORE autosport joining the ORECA family in LMP2,” Hugues de Chaunac, President Group ORECA said. “Actually, it feels like the team is coming back home because of the long-term relationship we have since the involvement in Prototype Challenge. Jon Bennett, Morgan Brady and the whole CORE autosport team have done such a great job in IMSA that we are looking forward to working together with the ORECA 07.”

Both Pro-Pro and Pro-Am driver lineups are allowed in the Prototype class, which races at all the 2018 IMSA venues except for the GT-only events at Lime Rock Park and VIRginia International Raceway.

CORE will finish the 2017 season in GTD with the No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 R, including this weekend’s Monterey Grand Prix and the Petit Le Mans season finale in October. The team expects to take delivery of its ORECA by the end of the year.

“We’ve enjoyed our experience in GTD with Porsche and expect the Prototype class to be no less competitive,” CORE COO Morgan Brady said. “The potential to win races like Daytona and Sebring, overall, is something we’re all looking forward to. No doubt this transition will be a lot of work, but everyone at CORE has proven time and again that they are up to the challenge.”

The 2018 IMSA season begins with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 25 – 28, at Daytona International Speedway.

Coastal motorcycle ride, 2017 season recap with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell

Photos courtesy Townsend Bell
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Editor’s note: Our NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell headed back from San Francisco, outside the season finale in Sonoma, to his home in Los Angeles on a BMW motorcycle and answered your Twitter questions sent to @IndyCaronNBCSN along the way. Here’s a similar recap from last year.

Check out the blog below from Bell to see your questions answered and his reflections on the season (Bell’s 2017 season preview on linked here, along with an archive of past posts).

Another trip down the coast, and through an IndyCar season

By Townsend Bell

Thanks for all your questions. I enjoyed another epic ride Monday and Tuesday with a few friends. Zig-zagging our way between the California coast and Central Valley by way of some of the greatest twisty back roads on the planet.

Here was our route starting out in San Francisco:

  • Monday- Highway 35 to Highway 9 to Santa Cruz. Lunch in Pebble Beach. Carmel Valley Road to King City. G14 to Lake Nacimiento to Paso Robles. Highway 41 West to Morro Bay. Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo.
  • Tuesday- Highway 58 East to Taft. Highway 33 West to Ojai for lunch. Highway 1 South through Malibu.

Over 550 miles of two wheeled ecstasy and a nice reminder why we pay through the nose on taxes in this great state of recreational opportunities.

Big thanks to BMW Moto USA for loaning me their new K 1600 Bagger. Visually it took some getting used to. If Paul Tracy and Heidi Klum got together, this would be their love child. But the features don’t lie: 160 HP, heated grips and seat, traction control, ABS, adjustable fairing, cruise control, and highly engineered to still be nimble enough to go for it on the twisties despite being over 700 lbs. It was a blast to ride.

And now to your questions:

@coy_john: Do you prefer seasons to end on an oval? Did you find the Sonoma race interesting or as Will Power said, boring?

Townsend Bell: Good question. I agree that the Sonoma race lacked for some excitement this year. But there are a number of factors to consider. Team Penske locked out the top four slots in qualifying and, as such, dictated the race from there. A right they had earned based on a dominant qualifying performance. It was clear that Helio and Will Power were playing supporting roles all race which meant there really wasn’t a battle for the championship between four Penske drivers like we hoped. Josef and his team just had to execute flawlessly and they did.

Sometimes we have really exciting ovals, like Indy or Pocono, but St. Louis for example could be similar to Sonoma if the Penske situation noted above played out there for the Championship.

I’ll remain optimistic that next year’s spec- aero kit will remedy some of the racing limitations (on all road courses and short ovals) that come with ultra high downforce. Keep in mind the lap times will be slower at places like Sonoma.

That is, until we add more horsepower. I hear a slow chant starting now….. 1 Thousand….1 Thousand!

BROOKLYN, MI – AUGUST 1: Helio Castroneves driving the #3 Marlboro Penske Racing Toyota Dallara leads Scott Dixon in the #1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota GForce and Townsend Bell in the #2 Menards Panther Racing Chevrolet Dallara during the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Michigan Indy 400 on August 1, 2004 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

@CarMcFast1: Why won’t Helio be able to stay? What are some of your favorite Helio memories?

TB: It’s just time and I think Roger Penske made this plan some time ago with agreement (if not a tad reluctantly) from Helio. I’m guessing Helio and Montoya were a big sell to Acura to get the sportscar program in place too.

I will remember the way he doubled down after Will Power arrived at the team to step up his pace and meet the challenge. That’s hard to do late in a career. I’ll also remember the number of times he raised his hand in a driver’s meeting to ask for clarification on something Brian Barnhart had just said. The look on Barnhart’s face is always priceless!

@KeithSchmitz: Would you like to see these cars get more power or do you like how they’ve run with their current power levels?

TB: It’s the biggest thing we need to change to boost the appeal of the product. I advocate for 1000 HP any chance I get. Increase displacement, add an intercooler, switch back to methanol, increase revs, and watch the people push down the gates to come see just one car blow their minds. Let alone 33 lined up together!!!

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 27: Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan of Brazil pose on the finish line with the Borg-Warner trophy during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

@BalchJamesBalch: How will Tony Kanaan do at Foyt next year? Can he win a race?

TB: It will be tough. Tony had a challenging year in 2017. He will bring some of the Ganassi personnel with him to Foyt but the team will need to ramp up the resources that good people need to perform. It would be really exciting to see A.J. Foyt Racing and Tony Kanaan challenge for the win at Indy next year. Long shot but I’d love to see it.

@ITSAKIRBY97: Who do you think was best rookie/young driver this season?

TB: Ed Jones. Hands down.

@NickHames1 / @KenAgain: Great job in the booth with the team – how fun is the dynamic between you and PT as ‘professors of the sport?’

TB: Paul is like having another teenager to look after. And I already have two teenage boys to manage. But behind the incessant napping, kit-katting, and missed conference calls is a guy who knows more about what it takes to win than anyone who has ever sat in the booth. We have fun, sometimes a wee bit too much, but I think the fans like to roll with our style because we are passionate about the sport and focus on getting the little things right.

@AdrianlmpMata: How impressive was Josef Newgarden being able to drive like a veteran rather than team rookie in year one at Penske?

TB: He has four years of experience previously so I expected big things and a calm head. I would say his apprenticeship lasted about two-three races. After that….he was on his way.

@RennPhoto: Big kudos for onboard shots at Sonoma… great to ride along. How cool were some of the new shots such as the visor cam?

TB: Uber cool. That’s exactly what it looks like as a driver in an Indycar.

@BDingess2010: Do you see IndyCar add more races to the schedule and/or returning to ovals such as Milwaukee/Kentucky?

TB: I think Portland will be the next up, maybe in 2019. Which is awesome because it’s a great market and fun race track close to the city. Hope they can make it happen. Milwaukee was a dud the last several years. Mark Miles and his team have done a terrific job of hammering out schedule consistency and overall league stability. It’s not a highly visible thing (stability) but I feel better about the health of Indycar than I have in the last 10 years. The Indycar management should be applauded.

A couple questions I added (-TDZ)

TDZ: Where did the inspiration for some of the nicknames – i.e. Joey New Jive and Slick Willy P – come from?

TB: PT listens to too much disco on his down time. Which is nearly all the time.

TDZ: You said at the beginning of the season that this would be one of the most competitive years in memory. Fair to say it lived up to that?

TB: I would say so.  Next year will be just the same, maybe better.

TDZ: Between Josef’s two title-defining moves at Mid-Ohio on Will and Gateway on Simon, which is more impressive and why?

TB: Gateway because it was much higher risk.  And they touched at 180 + which made the drama even higher.

Smith: Did Sebastian Vettel kill his F1 title hopes in Singapore?

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Formula 1 had waited 10 years for its first wet night race, and boy, did Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix live up to the hype.

A short, sharp rain shower in the lead-up to lights out at Marina Bay drenched the track, perfectly saddling the gap between intermediate and extreme wet tires being required.

All of the front-runners opted for intermediates, including pole-man Sebastian Vettel, who entered the race as the overwhelming favorite for victory.

And then the F1 title race took a huge, huge twist.

The pictures have been shared far and wide. We’ve all seen them. The video clip has even been set to Titanic music. But the blame is still hard to pin down.

Vettel made the slowest start of the three drivers involved, sitting on the outside line on the run to Turn 1. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was able to make a slightly better getaway to start pulling alongside, but it was the fastest of the three, Kimi Raikkonen, that was the driver Vettel missed.

Moving across to try and defend from Verstappen, Vettel inadvertently pinched the Red Bull driver between himself and his teammate. Raikkonen had nowhere to go and was too committed to pull out, leaving the Finn to be turned into a spin by Verstappen and into the path of Vettel ahead.

Raikkonen and Verstappen’s cars were sidelined immediately, while Vettel spun on the run to Turn 4 due to the damage sustained.

Lap 1, three DNFs. Game over.

And, in the title race, it might well be the incident that makes it game over for Vettel as well.

SINGAPORE – SEPTEMBER 17: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on an installation lap before the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2017 in Singapore. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Luck is always a factor in the race for the championship. Lewis Hamilton learned that the hard way in 2016, with his cruel DNF in Malaysia arguably denying him a fourth world title. But things swung back his way on Sunday as he dodged the start-line chaos to take a third straight win, something he thought unlikely after being off the pace in the dry and qualifying down in fifth.

This was meant to be Ferrari’s weekend. The margins with Mercedes have been so fine this season that it has largely been a track-by-track swing in momentum, with the tighter, twistier stuff playing to the Prancing Horse’s favor.

One-two finishes in Monaco and Hungary gave Vettel and Raikkonen hope of producing a similar result in Singapore. While Red Bull was much closer this time around, Vettel’s stunning Q3 lap on Saturday and strong record at Marina Bay made him the man to beat.

It was a weekend that could have really put the championship in Vettel’s favor. While the weekends where Mercedes dominated such as Spa and Monza saw Vettel still be best of the rest, hitting the podium both times around, this was a chance for Ferrari to get a greater net gain with Mercedes being the third-fastest team. Had the race gone the way of qualifying, Vettel would have left Singapore with a 12-point lead.

Instead, he’s 28 points back, and in deep, deep trouble.

Should Vettel have played it safe at the start? Hindsight is a beautiful thing – but the truth is that Vettel knew losing out to Verstappen could have dealt a big blow to his title hopes, potentially denying him the extra seven points between a first and a second. He had to make the squeeze – he just didn’t know that Raikkonen was there.

That said, in the wet, maybe it would have been wiser for Vettel to not pull across the track as quickly as he did. The old adage of not being able to win a race at the start but lose it rang very true.

Ferrari won’t get another chance to dominate as it could have in Singapore this year. Suzuka, Interlagos and, in particular, Abu Dhabi will be the best chances, but it is difficult to see anyone stopping Mercedes in Malaysia, Austin or Mexico.

Were Vettel still only a handful of points shy, that would be so bad. The fact he is now 28 points back means that Hamilton is almost at the point where he can play the percentage game, much like Rosberg did en route to the title last year.

If Hamilton wins in Malaysia with Vettel finishing second, the gap will be 35 points with five races to play. On that basis, if Vettel were to then sweep the calendar with Hamilton P2 each time around, they would close out the season tied on points, Vettel winning on countback.

But Mercedes also has Valtteri Bottas in the picture, the Finn proving to be a much greater force in the title race than Ferrari’s Raikkonen has. All Bottas would have to do is finish in the top two once, and the picture becomes even bleaker for Vettel.

SINGAPORE – SEPTEMBER 17: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2017 in Singapore. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

As for Bottas’ title hopes? Mercedes will not publicly go on record and say it is all behind Hamilton, with Toto Wolff fearing it could affect Bottas’ mentality at the front of the pack.

But in reality, the team is already pulling in the obvious direction. Hamilton has a 51-point lead over his teammate, something that won’t turn around quickly.

Bottas has done everything right this year since joining Mercedes, and now with a new contract under his belt, he can play a part in a double championship win.

The cards are stacked in Hamilton’s favor. He has the points lead, the theoretical advantage at more of the remaining circuits, and the stronger ally with Bottas on board.

And if we come to look at another failed title bid for Ferrari come the end of the season, a great deal will be pinned on Vettel’s start-line maneuver in Singapore.