Grand Prix Of Baltimore - Day 3

Post-Baltimore, a look at Pagenaud’s win, second season, and title prospects

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I have to apologize in advance for the lateness of this post. There was so much controversy and drama in the aftermath of IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT, and so many other surprises in the top five, that I didn’t do a proper look at winner Simon Pagenaud’s race, and for that matter, a detailed look at his 2013 season.

That’s an oversight that needs to be corrected.

For years, Pagenaud has been IndyCar’s star-in-waiting, a driver destined for greatness and championship contention if he hit the right opportunity with the right team. He’s coming close, now, with HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports in the No. 77 Honda and engineer Ben Bretzman.

As his second full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series nears a close (third overall, counting his 2007 Champ Car rookie campaign), now’s a good time to do an analysis of how the Frenchman occasionally known as “Jean Girard” has emerged as a title sleeper for the last three races.

OVERALL

  • 2012: 15 starts, 4 podiums, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 63 laps led, 1 DNF, 11.2 qualifying average, 3 Firestone Fast Six appearances, 5th in points
  • 2013: 16 starts, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 4 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 39 laps led, 1 DNF, 12.5 qualifying average, 1 Firestone Fast Six appearance, 3rd in points

On a purely statistical breakdown, those numbers in year two fail to measure up to year one. But I’d expect with three races remaining he can eclipse his first-year stats because the Schmidt team appears to be hitting its stride from an engineering side in the last part of the season. Pagenaud called Baltimore the best combined weekend of the year between himself and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie teammate, Tristan Vautier.

“This weekend I think was probably our best weekend as a race team with two cars,” Pagenaud said right after Baltimore. “Allen (McDonald) was very experienced on Tristan’s car and Tristan was very fast straightaway here. So we started with same setup. We went different directions. One direction was better. We kept going in that direction and we improved both cars at the same time.”

More than outright pace, Pagenaud’s consistency and lack of mistakes has served him best in the first two years. Save for points leader Helio Castroneves, Pagenaud has secured the best finishing record with 15 of 16 races this year in the top-13; he’s always maximizing his result on days his car might not have the measure of a Ganassi, a Penske or an Andretti. And with two wins in the most chaotic races of the year, he’s seized the opportunity when it’s come to him.

Where they’re not quite there yet is qualifying. Entering Baltimore, Pagenaud, shockingly to my eyes, had not made a Fast Six appearance yet this year. He had only the 12th-best qualifying average of full-time drivers. With that now in the bank, and Pagenaud as one of only a handful of drivers with Houston experience (he raced there in both Formula Atlantic and Champ Car), I’d expect the No. 77 car in the top-five there all weekend.

OVALS

  • 2012: 5 starts, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 16.8 qualifying average
  • 2013: 5 starts, 3 top-10s, 13.8 qualifying average

Pagenaud ranks third in road and street course points (311 to Scott Dixon’s 326 and Helio Castroneves’ 315) and a respectable ninth in oval points with 120 in only his second year ever racing ovals. Come the 500-mile finale in Fontana, Pagenaud is a sleeper for success as he’ll now have three 500-mile races under his belt and knows how to pace himself from his endurance racing background.

Qualifying on ovals isn’t imperative, but Pagenaud has improved on these disciplines this year. He’s also one of six drivers getting some laps in at a Firestone tire test on Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; IMS and Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway are far from identical layouts but additional track time never hurts.

BALTIMORE

source: Getty Images
Simon Pagenaud leads Justin Wilson – Getty Images

Simply, Pagenaud kept his head while others around him wilted. It was a controlled race with opportunistic moves at the right time.

Pagenaud’s Lap 69 will go down in history as one of the race laps of the year, if not the last several years. It began with a perfectly-timed maneuver on Marco Andretti into Turn 1, followed by holding off Andretti’s repass attempt in Turn 3, and then an excellent level of gamesmanship in forcing countryman to Sebastien Bourdais at the outside of Turn 8.

“I’m not going to open the door. I’m going for a race win. I need this for the championship,” he said about the Bourdais battle. “But always clean; I want to always say, he’s a good friend, he’s very clean, and we both race and we both race for different teams and when it’s time to go for the win, you go for the win.”

CAN HE WIN THE TITLE?

Pagenaud is 70 points back of Castroneves and, like fellow Honda driver Dixon, in a spot where he has absolutely nothing to lose over the last three races. But like Dixon, he needs Castroneves to fail to finish one if not both races at Houston to have a realistic chance.

Closing that number of points can be done, though. Dixon’s three-race win streak earlier this year from Pocono to Toronto vaulted him from 92 back of Castroneves to just 29 back (332-240 after Iowa to 425-396 after Toronto 2), a gain of 63 points. And that was with Castroneves finishing in the top-10 in all three races.

Add a sprinkle of bad luck for the Team Penske driver and it could well be a three-horse race for the 2013 IndyCar title, yet.

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

Bird 62a
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”

‘Very possible’ Frijns will make IndyCar debut with Andretti

PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY - DECEMBER 19:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Robin Frijns (NLD), Andretti - Spark SRT_01E during the Julius Baer Punta del Este Formula E race at Playa Brava Beach street circuit on December 19, 2015 in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. (Photo by Adam Warner/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES – Michael Andretti has said that it is “possible” Formula E driver Robin Frijns will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport in 2016.

Frijns enjoyed a successful junior career in Europe, beating Jules Bianchi to the Formula Renault 3.5 title in 2012, but was never able to make the step up to Formula 1.

Frijns joined Andretti’s Formula E team for the 2015-2016 season, and scored its first podium of the campaign in Putrajaya.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in Buenos Aires, Andretti confirmed that the team was still considering its options for a fourth car in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“Right now we’re still a three car team. There are still a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car,” Andretti said.

“We also have a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car for maybe doing certain races, not the whole season. So we’re still trying.”

When asked if either of his Formula E drivers could possible fill this seat, Andretti said that it was possible Frijns could step up for a few races.

“It’s very possible that he could, one or two races, but we’ll see,” Andretti said. “It’s possible, yeah.”

When asked by MotorSportsTalk if an opportunity to race in IndyCar with Andretti was on the cards, Frijns remained coy, saying: “That’s not a question I have to answer.”

However, he did admit that he would jump at the chance to do race if offered: “Oh yeah definitely!”

Honda has hinted it could supply a 12th engine at multiple races this year, not necessarily for the same team. Spencer Pigot is already confirmed to a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and the month of May.

Sam Bird flies to maiden Formula E pole in Buenos Aires

FIA Formula E Championship 2015/16.
Beijing ePrix, Beijing, China.
Race.
Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 
Beijing, China, Asia.
Saturday 24 October 2015
Photo: Adam Warner / LAT / FE
ref: Digital Image _A8C5210
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird stormed to his first pole position in Formula E in qualifying for the Buenos Aires ePrix on Saturday at Puerto Madero.

Bird had finished fourth in the initial qualifying standings, securing himself a place in the Super Pole shootout alongside Stephane Sarrazin, Nicolas Prost, Mike Conway and Antonio Felix da Costa.

Despite expressing concerns about the extra weight of the DS Virgin Racing car earlier in the weekend, Bird squeezed every tenth out of it to post a fastest time of 1:09.420 and shoot to the top of the timesheets.

Neither da Costa or Sarrazin were able to better Bird’s time despite beating him in the first stage of qualifying and heading out on track after him, handing the Briton his first pole in Formula E.

Prost led Renault e.dams’ charge by qualifying second as teammate and championship leader Sebastien Buemi spun on his fast lap, leaving him at the very back of the grid for the race in Buenos Aires.

Despite running with a season one car, da Costa managed to qualify an excellent third ahead of the Venturi duo of Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway – the latter reaching the Super Pole shootout on debut.

Robin Frijns was unfortunate not to make the top five, finishing sixth ahead of championship contender Lucas di Grassi. The ABT Schaeffler driver will be disappointed not to have qualified higher, but still has a golden opportunity to capitalize on Buemi’s mistake.

Daniel Abt will start the race alongside his teammate on the grid after qualifying eighth ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Jerome d’Ambrosio. Oliver Turvey and Loic Duval follow their teammates in 11th and 12th.

Nick Heidfeld qualified 13th on his return from injury ahead of Simona de Silvestro, while Jean-Eric Vergne completed – in his words “mission impossible” – to get out on track and finish 15th after his health scare this morning.

Bruno Senna and Salvador Duran both shunted their cars on their quick laps, leaving them 16th and 17th respectively ahead only of Buemi in the e.dams.