Marco Andretti

Dixon on pole for Grand Prix of Baltimore (VIDEO)

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Scott Dixon scored his second Verizon P1 Award of the season and 20th pole position of his IZOD IndyCar Series career Saturday in qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT.

Dixon only barely made it into the Firestone Fast Six when Graham Rahal, who had been quicker, lost his two fastest laps for causing a red flag in the second qualifying session comprising the top 12 cars from Q1. Once into the Fast Six, the New Zealander lapped the 2.04-mile, 12-turn circuit in 1:18.0838 on his final lap in the Fast Six.

“Q1 went pretty smooth, tried to get quite tricky in Q2 and run the same set of tires but unfortunately we had a censor go on the engine, so I had no straight line speed in 2,” Dixon said. “Luckily we were able to fix the censor come Q3, and the car was pretty decent. I made a mistake, actually, on my quick lap. I lost a couple of tenths on the hairpin, so the car seems to be racked in pretty well here.”

Dixon’s time edged Will Power’s best lap of 1:18.1171; Power had the pole but did not improve on his final attempt to retake the point. Power estimated he lost five tenths of a second on the lap before locking his brakes at the Turn 3 chicane, removing any chance he had to score his third Baltimore pole in as many years.

“Yeah, still pretty happy to be on the front row, it seems like the Honda guys have got it,” Power said. “I’m the only Chevy guy here, so waving the flag for them. Hopefully, we can wave it real high tomorrow.”

Behind them it was a bit of an odd Fast Six with three drivers making their first appearance in the final portion of road or street course qualifying this season.

Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden all have their best starts of the season. For Newgarden, it’s his first ever Firestone Fast Six appearance and his best career qualifying effort (seventh on three different occasions was his prior best). Newgarden started second at Long Beach a year ago, and was promoted to the position thanks to five Chevrolets with engine change grid penalties ahead of him.

Tristan Vautier rounded out the Fast Six but it was an odd qualifying session for the Frenchman from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

In Q2, Vautier hit Graham Rahal’s crashed car at the Turn 8 barriers – Rahal had nosed in moments earlier – but Rahal was docked his two fastest laps for causing a red flag during the session. Vautier’s times held up even though he hit Rahal’s rear. The session was not immediately red flagged when Rahal hit the barriers.

Also knocked out in Q2 were championship contenders Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mid-Ohio winner Charlie Kimball, Long Beach winner Takuma Sato and three-time 2013 winner James Hinchcliffe. Rahal will start 12th.

Rahal’s teammate, James Jakes, led those knocked out in Q1 in 13th but will take a 10-spot grid penalty for switching to his sixth engine of the season, one over the maximum five allotted. It’s an unfortunate situation because Jakes had an engine issue the previous round, which would ordinarily allow for a change without a grid penalty.

Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti were the bigger names that also failed to advance from Q1.

The final three qualifiers were E.J. Viso, who only completed one lap before pancaking the wall on exit to the Pratt Street chicane; series debutante Stefan Wilson, who continued to find time in the second Dale Coyne car; and Sebastien Bourdais, who also crashed over the same chicane and didn’t complete a single lap.

Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT
Unofficial Qualifying Results

BALTIMORE – Qualifying Saturday for the Grand Prix of Baltimore IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.04 mile(s) Baltimore Street Circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.0838 (94.053)
2. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.1171 (94.013)
3. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.4307 (93.637)
4. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.8698 (93.115)
5. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.9022 (93.077)
6. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0380 (92.917)
7. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.0288 (92.928)
8. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.0367 (92.919)
9. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0523 (92.901)
10. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.2216 (92.702)
11. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.3182 (92.589)
12. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:22.2045 (89.338)
13. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.6398 (93.388)
14. (98) Luca Filippi, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1242 (92.816)
15. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.6694 (93.353)
16. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.3051 (92.604)
17. (4) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.8075 (93.189)
18. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.4738 (92.408)
19. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.9829 (92.982)
20. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:20.5694 (91.151)
21. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.2440 (92.676)
22. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 02:16.3120 (53.876)
23. (18) Stefan Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:20.1871 (91.586)
24. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, No Time (No Speed)

Despite late start, CGR Rallycross started first Red Bull GRC season strong

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MotorSportsTalk takes a look back at Chip Ganassi Racing Rallycross’ first season in the Red Bull Global Rallycross. First up is a look at how the season started, and how late things came together for the two-car effort, with a further look at the season after the first couple races coming in part two.

At the start of the season, Chip Ganassi said of his latest new racing project, a two-car Ford Fiesta effort in Red Bull Global Rallycross, “I’m the person that likes to come in and under promise and over deliver.”

Mission almost accomplished.

About the only thing the new CGR Rallycross program didn’t achieve in 2015 was a final round victory in its first year.

It sounds bad on the surface, but consider the competition level and the fact Ganassi didn’t win its first IndyCar race until its fifth season in 1994, and you get the sense CGR Rallycross is closer to a breakthrough than its IndyCar program was at the same time in its lifespan.

The fact the team even ran two cars this season was testament to an incredible last-minute effort of preparation, as the cars were received mere weeks before the season-opening round at Fort Lauderdale, May 31.

Team manager Carl Goodman explained how close it came to missing the planned debut.

“We only just got the first one just a couple weeks before,” Goodman told MotorSportsTalk. “We had three days of testing this year; a three-day test in Florida before season started. And the drivers had to share that car… it was only one car!

“We didn’t even know if we’d have a second car in moving from Ft. Lauderdale to Texas (for X Games). So every race weekend has been a test for us.”

The team’s lineup of Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan didn’t actually debut in full until X Games, and Jeff Ward filled in for Deegan at Daytona and Washington D.C. due to conflicts.

Arpin, who was the team’s only entry at Ft. Lauderdale, added more to how tight the timeline was.

“Honestly if stuff got pushed back one week, it would have been trouble,” said Arpin, driver of the team’s No. 00 Loenbro entry. “Once we got the cars, we were lucky because they were good off the boat.

“We just dove in. All these guys, except for Carl, it was their first time seeing and working on a rallycross car. We did some simulation stuff here at the stop. So we got acclimated, quickly.”

Speaking even more to the newness of the program, Goodman, Arpin and Deegan were the only team members who had any sort of past rally experience.

Goodman, an M-Sport veteran, was re-entering the rally world after eight years in NASCAR with Michael Waltrip Racing. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, given the Charlotte CGR team base and MWR’s own dwindling efforts in NASCAR.

“I was with M-Sport for about a month or two short of 10 years. But I left them at the end of 2006, just as they won a rally World Championship, the manufacturer’s championship,” he said.

“I moved to the U.S. and had my time with was MWR until about a year ago. So eight years of Cup years. When this opportunity came up, and with an M-Sport car, it just made it easier. I knew the car, how it’s built, all the parts fell together. It was a big professional team in CGR. All the parts came together at the right time. I’d had quite a break between M-Sport and rallycross.”

Goodman noted there were four full-time crewmembers, three with NASCAR experience, one with road racing and one with a dirt track background, with four others drawn from the workshop for race weekends.

“I think some of the guys were a bit daunted at first, but they’re all professional racers,” Goodman explained. “They all have that solid background of being at a track, so they’re not overwhelmed or awed by being there.

“They expected to know what to do, maybe not on this type of car, but they’re all very well versed in racing. It sounds on the face of it to be a completely different things, these cars blasting and jumping on the dirt, but they’re professionals and they adapted.”

Red Bull GRC courses, by their nature, are very different than any normal type of circuit racing. Some are more dirt-heavy, some more pavement-heavy but all have a dirt component, a jump and the Kobalt Tools Joker Lap.

Preparing the cars for these circuits helped take the crew out of their comfort zone, Goodman said.

“The main tools are there, with the springs, dampers and just your normal suspension tuning… the added tool is the differentials,” he said.

“In general the cars are quite soft. Everything is a compromise about them. Even if you have fast sections, you have tight and dirt sections. That can stop you from going too extreme, either direction.

“Barbados or even Daytona, they’re race tracks. You could turn up with a classic touring car. But with dirt and a jump, you can’t do that. You’re always governed by the fact that they have to get through the dirt. That’s the level of all the tracks.”

Things started well enough. Arpin was seventh at Ft. Lauderdale but a charge to second, a Silver medal, in only the team’s second ever start at the X Games at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, was one of the season highlights.

“X Games… Steve just raced great and drove through the field. That certainly showed the potential of the car,” Goodman said.

Arpin added, “For the rewards, the X Games was the standout, but the final race in Vegas was the best for us.”

In part two of our look at CGR Rallycross, we’ll look at the remainder of their season after those opening two rounds that laid the groundwork for a successful first campaign in the championship.

Mercedes AMG Petronas tops its 2014 point total, despite fewer points available

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The end of the Formula 1 season just completed means a chance to compare stats and points standings year-on-year. So forgive the dive into nerddom, but it’s the most wonderful time of year to bust out the calculators.

We’ll start first with the double World Champions, Mercedes AMG Petronas, who have managed to top their tally in the Constructor’s Championship from 2014.

For the second consecutive year, Mercedes has won 16 of 19 races and gone 1-2 in the driver’s championship.

Where they’ve improved: they set the record for 15 front row lockouts, they took 12 1-2 race finishes after taking “only” 11 in 2014, and, perhaps most impressively, topped its overall points total despite having fewer points on offer.

The double points finale last year meant a maximum of 86 points was possible (50 and 36 for first and second rather than the 25 and 18).

Yes, Mercedes scored fewer points this year at Abu Dhabi than last… but still scored the maximum achievable (43 of 43 versus 50 of 86).

It meant Mercedes ended 2015 with two more points than it did in 2014 – 703 to 701. Lewis Hamilton’s own tally went down by three, from 384 to 381, but teammate Nico Rosberg made up the difference with a five-point gain from 317 to 322.

Percentage-wise, Mercedes scored 703 of a maximum possible 817 points – or 86.07 percent of the potential maximum number (43 points, times 19 races).

It’s an uptick from the still remarkable 81.51 percent of the potential maximum last year (701 of 860).

To put in perspective how dominant that number is by contrast to the rest of the field, Mercedes scored 703 of 1,919 total points (101 total points per race, times 19 races) on offer in 2015.

That meant as one team, Mercedes brought home 36.63 percent of all points available in 2015, which is up from 34.7 percent last year (701 of 2,020 points).

The remaining eight teams that scored were left to divide up the remaining 63 and change percent… or an average of 7.92 percent, per team, or so.

So for 2016, on top of wishing Ferrari and the rest of the field can up their game to match, one of the early story lines to watch will be whether Mercedes can sustain this incredible amount of statistical dominance from its on-track success.

Audi to test six young guns in its DTM car

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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It’s not just Mercedes (and Kevin Magnussen) that’s testing young guns in one of its DTM cars this week at Jerez.

Audi announced that it would give a six-pack of youngsters a shot to test as well, from Tuesday to Thursday, at the same place in the Audi RS 5 DTM.

Those six include:

  • Matthew Brabham (21/USA)
  • Mitch Evans (21/New Zealand)
  • Antonio Giovinazzi (21/Italy)
  • Ben Hanley (30/Great Britain)
  • Alex Palou (18/Spain)
  • Arthur Pic (24/France)

Note most of these six have or had some level of open-wheel experience, with Evans having tried his hand successfully in a couple different sports cars this year. The young Kiwi finished second in his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after winning at Spa in his sports car debut, driving Jota Sport’s Gibson 015S Nissan.

Brabham comes over to test the DTM car after racing primarily in the Mazda Road to Indy the last four years. He won the 2012 USF2000 and 2013 Pro Mazda titles, then raced the full 2014 and partial 2015 seasons in Indy Lights; he’s also driven in Formula E for Andretti Autosport and in the Stadium Super Trucks.

Kevin Hart, Ludacris, Marco Andretti head to Abu Dhabi for F1 finale

Marco Andretti
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Marco Andretti has had a good run of attending season finale events.

Obviously, the 28-year-old grandson of Mario Andretti rounded out his 10th season in the Verizon IndyCar Series at its own season finale at Sonoma, finishing 11th and then ending the year ninth in points.

But Andretti told NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan, among other reporters, at Phoenix International Raceway where he’d tested his IndyCar and then made the promotional rounds that he’d have a busy next couple weeks ahead.

“I’m watching too many races. I need to be in them!” Andretti said. “(Homestead), I’m going as Jeff Gordon’s guest. Then going to Abu Dhabi Formula 1. (Our season) needs to be longer.”

Last week, he and fellow IndyCar stars Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe made the trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway – incidentally, as did Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton – to witness Jeff Gordon’s final drive before hanging up his helmet after 23 incredible years at NASCAR’s top level.

This week, it was Marco’s turn to hit Hamilton’s usual turf, as he and his friends Ludacris and Kevin Hart made the trip to Abu Dhabi to witness the F1 finale.

Marco, who had a Honda Racing F1 test in the late 2000s but never was able to make the move to emulate both Mario and Michael, each of whom raced in F1, appeared wowed by the Yas Marina Circuit once he arrived from Chicago.

Abu Dhabi F1 quals!! @kevinhart4real @ludacris

A photo posted by Marco Andretti (@marcoandretti) on

Yas is hands down the most insane facility ! #AbuDhabi. Wish I was driving !!

A photo posted by Marco Andretti (@marcoandretti) on

Andretti, Luda, Hart and crew met up with Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo at the weekend.

Andretti is continuing the trip into this week, with further posts via his Instagram page.

Hart – one of this country’s most talented and recognizable comedians at the moment – also appeared to enjoy the atmosphere.

As did Ludacris, who posted this view from a yacht.

The only way to watch the F1 Race in Abu Dhabi. #yachtlife

A photo posted by @ludacris on

The vacation crew found Hamilton after the race on Sunday night.

Hamilton’s friend, another artist in Big Sean, who’d performed the halftime show at the Philadelphia Eagles-Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, also made the flight out to Abu Dhabi.

Complete with other more obscure, random celebrities like Rick Astley – who apparently “Rick-rolled” free practice two coverage on the world feed – Edgar Davids and Dwight Yorke, it was a weekend of interesting folks hitting Abu Dhabi. My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted those three, below, in various tweets over the weekend.