Grand Prix Of Baltimore - Day 3

Baltimore year three was wild, wacky, and yet again memorable


In only three years, the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT has established itself on the best place on the IndyCar calendar to enjoy a healthy helping of contact, controversy, and crab cakes.

Its place is not yet secured for 2014 despite all indications from the series and race promoters Andretti Sports Marketing, that they’re working to find a suitable date (early to mid-August seems the likely landing point).

Baltimore feels a bit like the red-headed step child among IndyCar street circuits. It doesn’t have Long Beach’s legacy, St. Petersburg’s opening-event buzz, Detroit’s Roger Penske backing, or Toronto’s Canadian selling point.

What it does have, in spurts, is talking and selling points. From the infamous Pratt Street chicane, to the train tracks, to a gorgeous backdrop at Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor, and the nature of the track itself, the passing – and crashing – opportunities are endless. It’s also in a good market for sponsors, as there aren’t a ton of races on the East Coast.

Contrast Sunday’s race with the one at Mid-Ohio about a month ago. The 90 laps on the permanent road course there went caution-free and featured relatively minimal passing, and came down largely to pit strategies and ultimately a late move by Charlie Kimball over Simon Pagenaud.

Sunday at Baltimore was a wrecking free-for-all that ignited tempers, stirred rivalries and created controversies. And has got people talking.

Mid-Ohio was a purer race, while Baltimore was certainly entertaining when it was green. And to be fair to Baltimore, it wasn’t the race with the most cautions this year (7 occurred at Brazil and Sonoma) and was also down from 9 last year to 6 this Sunday, even if it at times it seemed like the cautions wouldn’t stop. The one thing that goes against it was the stretch from Laps 40 to 65, the near constant string of cautions that dropped the average speed below 68 mph.

Which race will you remember more? For me, I’d amend the line from “Wedding Crashers” to “Crab cakes and contact – that’s what Maryland does!”

Baltimore almost seems IndyCar’s street circuit version of a cage match. You have enough evidence now to know that this race is going to be a crash-fest. You know you’ll get some good views of the city and skyline. You know you’ll get a surprise podium – Sam Schmidt’s, Sarah Fisher’s and Jay Penske’s teams finished in the top three spots on Sunday – and that variety is invariably more interesting than yet another Penske-Ganassi podium sweep.

But it’s not like the Penske-Ganassi subplot wasn’t evident either. It was big. It was controversial. It was the rivalry back on the front burner with the latest Scott Dixon-Will Power dust-up. It was probably the biggest talking point coming out of the weekend.

It’s for all those reasons I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Grand Prix of Baltimore. The hate is only for all the contact – if the race could have been just a little cleaner, not had that second Turn 1 pileup and a third one in Turn 3, for instance – I think it would have been an even better race.

But man there’s a lot to love, if you actually make the effort to go. You can tell the effort the ASM team puts into the event. Last year they needed to resuscitate the race from a shoddy first-year promoter, but this year they made some improvements. On the corporate side, adding the “Chicane Suites” at the track’s most notorious corner was a great way to show the partners of the event the most discussed part of the track.

As for the paddock layout, it was much improved this year with a Family Fun Zone – a la its sister event in Milwaukee – put in immediately east of the IndyCar paddock and in the air-conditioned Baltimore Convention Center, was a great thing to attract the next generation of IndyCar fans. Speaking as the youngest full-time member of the IndyCar media corps, I can’t express how pivotal it is to get the younger crowd, especially those who live outside of Indianapolis, interested in IndyCar racing.

A race like Baltimore may not have the cache, the cleanliness or the glory of some of the other events on the calendar. But damn if this isn’t IndyCar’s version of the crazy uncle you can’t wait to see every year just to see what unexpected thing will happen next.

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Report: Harvey seeking to get IndyCar program sorted by Christmas

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As noted on Monday, there hasn’t been much movement in the Verizon IndyCar Series driver market for 2016, and the available seats left out there are exactly the same ones (in theory, anyway) as they were this time 12 months ago.

And if Jack Harvey can get his program sorted, arguably the most intriguing of those remaining seats – the second seat alongside James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – could go away itself.

Harvey, who has been working to gather the necessary budget since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September to graduate into IndyCar, has said he’s close for the better part of a month.

In early November, Harvey told The Linc in the U.K. there was an 80 percent chance he’d be in IndyCar next season.

He’s now expanded on those hopes in an interview with Autosport’s Marcus Simmons, renowned in U.K. circles as one of the leading journalists in discovering young open-wheel talent.

“The sooner the better,” Harvey told Simmons. “If we could be in before Christmas it would be better for me and the team, so we’re trying to work towards that.

“But we want to make the best deal, not just rush one – our foot’s in the door and it’s time to push the whole body through.”

He “graduates” from the Racing Steps Foundation this year; the RSF has been an instrumental part of Harvey’s upbringing.

Realistically, SPM makes the most sense for Harvey to graduate with. He’s been with SPM’s Indy Lights program the last two years, where he bagged seven wins, finished on the podium in 60 percent of his starts and finished second each of the last two years.

And frankly, he’s due for the opportunity. You can say “oh, he didn’t win a title” – but consider the list of Indy Lights non-champions in the current IndyCar field, a list that includes race winners Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz among others – and he’d be more than fine to fit in.

Plus, with Spencer Pigot already confirmed for at least a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with hopes of more, it would be nice to see the two protagonists from this year’s Indy Lights battle continue their rivalry at the next level.

Vandoorne, McLaren lead Abu Dhabi’s single day of Pirelli tire testing

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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It was only a test, two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, but it’s still nice to write as the 2015 Formula 1 season officially draws to a close: A McLaren Honda was fastest.

GP2 Series champion Stoffel Vandoorne resumed aboard the McLaren MP4-30 Honda chassis and compared to a year ago, when he barely made more than an installation lap in the post-Abu Dhabi test, ended 2015 on top of the timesheets – albeit with times not really the focus in what was a Pirelli tire test of various configurations for the new “ultrasoft” compound.

“We had one shot when it came to testing tires for next season, and we can be satisfied by what we’ve achieved in this test, even if we have to fully analyze the data,” Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said, via Autosport.

The “ultrasoft” compound, marked with a purple stripe, could further the delta between Pirelli’s prime and option tires in 2016. There’s only been a step of one compound between primes and options between the four 2015 compounds: supersoft, soft, medium and hard.

As it was, Vandoorne’s best time of 1:44.103 was 0.353 clear of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, who ended his season on the podium with third place on Sunday.

American Alexander Rossi, who finished second to Vandoorne in GP2 this season, poked fun at Vandoorne ending P1 on Twitter.

Other 2015 regular season drivers who tested included Raikkonen’s teammate Sebastian Vettel, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat (although Kvyat didn’t turn a lap), Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fellow young guns – Mercedes’ Pascal Wehrlein, Lotus’ Jolyon Palmer, Sauber’s Adderly Fong, Force India’s Alfonso Celis Jr. and Manor’s Jordan King and Rio Haryanto – also ran during the private test session.

Here are the unofficial times below, via McLaren’s Twitter account:

Detroit Grand Prix names new General Manager, Michael Montri

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Michael Montri has been named the new General Manager of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which runs next June 3-5, 2016.

Montri replaces Charles Burns, the former director of INDYCAR security who ran the event from the end of 2012 through the end of November, this year.

Since its return to the calendar in 2012, the Penske-run event has established itself as one of the best-run events on the INDYCAR calendar from an operational and organizational standpoint.

It’s also asserting itself as the lone doubleheader weekend on the INDYCAR calendar, following Toronto’s reduction to one race and the absence of Houston on the schedule.

Montri, as it is, has been within the Penske organization for more than a decade in a variety of roles, starting as a marketing and public relations intern when Penske still ran Michigan International Speedway.

From the Detroit Grand Prix release:

“Since 2002, Montri has worked with Penske Automotive Group (PAG), serving most recently as Vice President of Fleet Operations for Penske Car Rental and as Vice President of Procurement for PAG. For the last several years, Montri has also worked with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix team, providing support leading up to and during race weekend.”

“We are excited to welcome Michael Montri as the General Manager for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix,” said Bud Denker, Chairman of the Grand Prix. “Michael has a strong background in motorsports and he brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and leadership from his time in Detroit with the Penske Corporation companies. He has also worked closely with our Grand Prix staff over the last few events so he is a great fit to lead the team into 2016 and beyond.”

“The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is such a positive and important event for our region and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of leading our Grand Prix team,” said Montri. “I’ve always had a passion for motorsports so this new challenge really represents a return to my roots. Most importantly, the Grand Prix is about giving back to Detroit and, specifically, to Belle Isle. I look forward to working with all the stakeholders involved with the Grand Prix and continuing its mission of revitalizing the jewel within our city – Belle Isle Park.”

As King, Haryanto test, Manor’s venerable chassis MR03B retires at last

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Will Stevens of Great Britain and Manor Marussia drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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The period of transition continues for Manor Marussia F1 Team, as today two of its young potential future stars tested, while its own venerable, workhorse chassis MR03B took its last scheduled laps.

GP2 drivers Jordan King and Rio Haryanto were behind the wheel for today’s running at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Neither was really in it for lap times – best times were only 1:49.593 (Haryanto) and 1:49.661 (King) respectively – but more a chance to go through Pirelli’s designated program and gain further experience in a Formula 1 car.

English driver King completed 59 laps in his first ever outing in a Formula 1 car, while Haryanto, the young Indonesian driver, made 56 laps in his first bit of F1 running since 2012. So this marked his first running in the current generation of machinery, which debuted ahead of the 2014 season.

“It has been quite a while since I last tested a Formula 1 car, with Manor, in fact, in 2012,” Haryanto said. “The cars of today though are quite a lot different, especially in respect of the new engine developments, so it took some time to get used to the changes, especially the engine management. As the morning progressed though I was improving all the time and with no issues I could really get into the program.”

King added of his day, “My first time at the wheel of an F1 car has been an incredible experience and I can’t thank Manor enough for providing me with this opportunity. Today’s Pirelli tire test had a very specific focus and I was determined to make the most of this chance to show my development capability as well as my potential for the future. We had a trouble-free day, so I could really get stuck into the plan, and this enabled me to build my confidence as the afternoon progressed.”

As for the chassis, which was Will Stevens’ race chassis this year, Manor confirmed it has completed more than 20,000 km over its two-year lifespan.

A calculation from veteran F1 journalist Adam Cooper puts that at some 65 race distances!

Manor Marussia F1 Team heads into the winter with former team chiefs Graeme Lowdon (sporting director) and John Booth (team principal) leaving and perhaps pursuing a new adventure, Dave Ryan (racing director) now entering and as the only team on the grid yet to confirm its driver lineup.

American Alexander Rossi is known to be among the contenders for a full-season seat, while Stevens, Haryanto and Mercedes reserve Pascal Wehrlein’s names have also been mentioned as possibilities.