Indianapolis 500

Exploring IndyCar’s 2014 schedule rumors, Round 1


As traditionally has been in the case in past years, NBC Sports Network IndyCar insider and pit reporter Robin Miller has the first lines on next year’s IndyCar schedule. A report posted on on Thursday had several interesting nuggets, notably a possible IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and two possible west coast race date changes (Houston and Fontana).

Miller reports that likely, Fontana could get moved to June to create three consecutive months with a Triple Crown race and Houston could move to August. An IMS road course event could be held to kick off the month of May.

One race that if it stays, will likely need to move anyway is Baltimore, which has held its first two and will hold its third race on the same Labor Day weekend. In 2014, however, the city’s “Star Spangled 200 Spectacular” celebration kicks off on Sept. 6 with the annual Defenders’ Day event at North Point. Labor Day is the Monday just before that, on Sept. 1, 2014, but the city would likely need the preparation time for that event.

The upside of such a schedule, if it comes to fruition as Miller projects, would be more races than in 2013 and no event casualties, and packed into a tighter period which would by default reduce the number of two or three-week gaps in-between races. That’s a good thing to sustain interest and keep IndyCar in the news cycle.

The business upside of an IMS road course race, while it will probably drive traditionalists’ minds nuts, could be too big to ignore. Title sponsorship potential for an IMS road race would temporarily eliminate the need to worry about a title or presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 itself. Pair it with the entire Mazda Road to Indy ladder and suddenly the USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams have their first opportunity to race at IMS, which could be an attractive possibility.

The downsides of the potential schedule: June is already stockpiled of events as it is, with five in four weeks there this year. Fontana in June wouldn’t be pretty from a temperature standpoint, even as a night race. Same would apply for Houston in August.

Road America is a wild card. As I noted earlier this week, Road America seems all but a cinch for the 2014 United SportsCar Racing schedule and in an August date; that would be a nice landing spot for IndyCar on the same weekend. It almost makes too much sense, and that’s why it probably won’t happen.

IndyCar helps Road America if the track needs to fill weekends – the track already will lose the SCCA Championship Runoffs next year and its separate GRAND-AM weekend, which was paired with the NASCAR Nationwide Series in years past, was folded into the American Le Mans Series weekend this year to create the one-time only combined weekend of the two sports car championships. That lost revenue from needs to be accounted for somewhere; we all hope it’s IndyCar but for yet another year it might be the case of “if only.”

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.