GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma - Day 1

Time running out for Hunter-Reay, Andretti in IndyCar title race

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Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and Marco Andretti’s chances of winning the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship are not done for, but with just five races remaining on the schedule, their margin for error is gone.

Finishing behind points leader Helio Castroneves and second-place Scott Dixon (-31 points) won’t do for either Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion, or Andretti, who has 12 Top-10 finishes this year.

Starting this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the Andretti Autosport duo must find ways to beat – and more importantly, keep beating – Castroneves and Dixon as the summer starts giving way to fall.

But the first step may well be the hardest, considering Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s degree of recent dominance at the winding circuit north of San Francisco.

Still, every point will be critical, like the one bonus marker that will go to the pole winner in this afternoon’s qualifying session (5:30 p.m. ET; broadcast on NBCSN at 9 p.m. ET).

Should Hunter-Reay manage to find his way onto the pole position – and he stands a chance after placing third overall in Friday’s practice runs – he’ll need to convert it into a better result than what he got the last time he started at the front of the grid.

Three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, Hunter-Reay took P1 in qualifying but a two-stop strategy proved to be the wrong way to go and he finished fifth. With Castroneves taking a sixth-place result that day, he only moved from 69 to 65 points off the Brazilian for the championship.

As for Andretti, who sits in fourth in the standings at 76 points out, he must break a string of bad results in the wine country. Since winning at Sonoma in 2006 (his first IndyCar victory), the third-generation competitor has finished no higher than 12th across his last six starts there.

Events such as electrical problems at Milwaukee and a lack of fuel mileage at Pocono – where he had the dominant car – have damaged his bid for a title, and now it seems he has no other option but to make a sizable cut into his deficit this weekend.

If he can’t do that, then his hopes for an IndyCar crown may be done.

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.