A look down Baltimore's pit lane (Tony DiZinno)

Thursday notebook: Baltimore IndyCar and ALMS setup day

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Although there is no on-track activity Thursday at the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT, IndyCar and American Le Mans Series teams were still heavily in action preparing and setting up for the weekend around the street course that encloses Camden Yards. A few quick news and notes to follow from both series:

  • There’s not much in the way of circuit changes, other than the asphalt being laid down around pit in and the temporary chicane being put in on the front straight. The biggest change, of course, is the painting of pit boxes in reaction to last week’s Scott Dixon/Will Power contretemps at Sonoma. As IndyCar is the primary series at the circuit, the pit boxes are designed to IndyCar specifications; the unintended consequence, though, is that the sharing American Le Mans Series teams will need to guide their cars in knowing that their available space is smaller. More than 30 ALMS cars are entered while only 24 IndyCars will take the green flag on Sunday.
  • IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves had his media availability Thursday and among the topics he discussed, besides points and IndyCar’s new pit box changes, was how restarts will work here at Baltimore. A year ago, his Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe was passed by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final restart as the two exited the chicane and launched on the front straight.  “We’ll hit the details of this in the driver’s meeting but here, it’s very difficult to time it correctly,” he said. “It goes from single file, to double file, and then you go. You have to time it just right to make sure you have a good idea of when to go.” Castroneves has finished just 17th and 10th in two prior Baltimore starts.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden did a photo shoot with the Soft Side 1 to raise awareness and help kittens in the Baltimore area find homes. If you follow Newgarden on Instagram you’re aware he’s made tongue-in-cheek references to cats before, and the sounds of “oohs” and “awwwws” were prevalent at every angle.
  • Other ALMS notes: Dane Cameron joins the PR1/Mathiasen PC class entry as co-driver to Mike Guasch. The RSR team, run by Paul Gentilozzi, has sold its own PC chassis to Peter Baron’s Starworks team and Alex Popow replaces Duncan Ende as the car’s Silver-rated driver. It’s unfortunate for Ende, who co-drove with Bruno Junqueira to victory at Road America three weeks ago and won’t have a chance to repeat.
  • In ALMS P2, as was written earlier this week, there’s a shuffle in the P2 class with Guy Cosmo moving from Extreme Speed to Level 5. Cosmo will co-drive with Marino Franchitti in the No. 552 HPD ARX-03b with Level 5 team principal Scott Tucker and the returning Ryan Briscoe in the championship-leading No. 551. Anthony Lazzaro, who had been rated a Gold driver, will take Cosmo’s place in Extreme Speed’s No. 01. P2 regulations state at least one Silver driver must be used in a car and Lazzaro, who turned 50 earlier this week (August 26) would qualify to be downgraded to a Silver per that age change. That said, when I asked him directly about the change, he was unsure whether his birthday meant he would have a different driver classification to meet the requirement.

VIDEO: Recapping Formula E’s electric second season

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With the new Formula E campaign just two weeks away, the series has released a video recapping its electric second season as Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi battled for top honors.

Traveling all over the world from Beijing to London via Long Beach and Mexico (among others), Formula E continued to go to strength-to-strength in its second season.

The title fight is documented in this video, featuring interviews with the protagonists and many of the other drivers on the grid through last season.

The new Formula E season starts on October 9 in Hong Kong before finishing next summer in New York City, the latter’s race being launched earlier this week in Brooklyn.

Heineken would like to see Formula 1 race in Vietnam

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 09:  Heineken announces global partnership with Formula One Management. Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director Global Heineken Brand talks in the press conference during previews to the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Heineken senior global brand director Gianluca di Tondo would like to see Formula 1 stage a race in Vietnam as part of its expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dutch beer company Heineken was announced as a new global partner for F1 over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, with its branding being visible in Montreal and at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

Heineken is looking to emulate its relationship with Europe’s premier soccer competition, the UEFA Champions League, in F1 through greater interaction with fans and special events.

One such event took place at Monza when a group of F1 drivers took on a Heineken all-star team in a game of soccer on the main straight of the track.

Following the takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media Corporation, many believe an expansion of the calendar to include new markets is on the cards in the future.

“This is really touching on an important issue for us,” di Tondo said of the F1 calendar in an interview with the official F1 website.

“Heineken is super-strong in Europe – we were ‘born’ in Europe and are a European brand – but the playground for the future is Asia Pacific.

“Asia Pacific is a strategic area for us and having seven races around this area is fantastic, and the passion for Formula 1 in Asia is tangible.

“If there is program to double up in the US that, of course, is very interesting for us as the US is our biggest market. If you take it as a single market, it is still our biggest one.

“In the US it is easier to activate things that become popular – and we are open for discussions to make Formula 1 even more popular together.”

Di Tondo was asked which race he would add to the calendar if he had the choice.

“That is very simple – it is again in Asia: Vietnam,” he said.

“We are very present in Vietnam through a local partner and they were our guests in Monza and they were over the moon.

“So why not have a race in Ho Chi Minh City?”

Vandoorne: No extra pressure at McLaren despite chance of Button comeback

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium driving the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 13, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Stoffel Vandoorne believes that he will face no extra pressure during his debut Formula 1 season despite there being a chance Jenson Button will return to a McLaren seat for 2018.

McLaren announced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend that Vandoorne would be stepping up to a full-time seat for the 2017 season after spending the past year in a reserve role.

The Belgian will partner Fernando Alonso following Jenson Button’s decision to take a year out from F1 in 2017.

However, should both the driver and team be willing, Button is able to return to a McLaren seat for 2018, appearing to put pressure on Vandoorne should he not perform. The 2015 GP2 Series champion does not see it this way, though.

“No, I don’t see that situation as extra pressure. I have a long-term deal with McLaren,” Vandoorne told the official F1 website.

“Hopefully we soon will be able to get back to the competitive level where McLaren used to be.

“In terms of next year, yes it is a special structure, but I think it is one of the best. Myself and Fernando are going to race, and then it is good to keep Jenson as well.

“He is the most experienced driver in F1 now and he will be involved with the team, be it in the simulator or coming to a few races.”

“I am fully thinking about the opportunity that I get – there is no room for non-issues. I want to succeed and am very much looking forward to that.”

Marquez fights back from poor start to win Aragon MotoGP race

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team rounds the bend during the qualifying practice during the MotoGP of Spain - Qualifying at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 24, 2016 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Honda rider Marc Marquez took a big step towards winning his third MotoGP world title in 2016 after fighting back from a poor start to win the Aragon Grand Prix on Sunday.

Marquez was expected to walk away with the race after dominating practice and qualifying, only for a mistake on lap three to cause the pole-sitter to drop to fifth place.

Suzuki rider Maverick Vinales took up the mantle at the head of the pack with future Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi in tow as Marquez began his fightback.

The Spaniard deposed Andrea Dovizioso on lap five before picking off title rival Jorge Lorenzo two laps later.

Vinales lost the lead to Rossi on lap nine before slipping past Marquez and Lorenzo one lap later, with the lead finally falling to Marquez on lap 12.

From there, Marquez controlled proceedings at the front of the pack, pulling out an advantage of 2.7 seconds come the checkered flag.

Lorenzo bounced back from a crash in Sunday morning warm-up to finish second, his best result since the Italian Grand Prix in May, while Rossi rounded out the podium positions.

Marquez’s fourth victory of the season sees his lead extend to 52 points over Rossi, meaning he could mathematically wrap up the title at the next race in Japan.

Vinales finished the race fourth for Suzuki ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa, while the Espargaro brothers crossed the line seventh and eighth, Aleix ahead of Pol. Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top 10.

Nicky Hayden’s one-off return to MotoGP with the Marc VDS team saw him pick up a solitary point for P15, the American rider standing in for the injured Jack Miller.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on October 16.