Brian France, Mike Helton

NASCAR holds closed-door meeting; officiating revisions made for tomorrow’s Chase opener

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NASCAR, along with drivers, team owners, and assorted team personnel, held a mandatory closed-door meeting inside the garages this afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway. According to multiple Twitter reports from Chicagoland, security guards were posted outside to prevent fan and media access.

But afterwards, three of NASCAR’s top executives – CEO Brian France, president Mike Helton (both pictured, yesterday), and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton – did visit with the press to discuss the meeting. Additionally, NASCAR announced a series of officiating revisions, which will take effect tomorrow for the Chase-opening GEICO 400.

Those provisions will primarily impact the spotters. The spotters’ stand will now be spotters-only, with one for each team. Each spotter will be equipped with two analog radios, scanners and FanViews, but will not be permitted to use digital radios. Also, a video camera will now be installed to monitor activity in that area.

Going back to the meeting, France said it was meant to define what NASCAR expected of its teams going forward after last Saturday’s controversial finish to the Chase-deciding race at Richmond International Raceway.

“Those expectations are that a driver and team give 100 percent effort – their best effort – to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can,” France said. “We issued a variety of things, some clarifications and some adjustments, to our ability to officiate that.

“We addressed team rules, and as I said, a variety of other things all designed to do what our fans expect and that means that their driver and their team give 100 percent to finish as high up in a given race as possible.”

Helton then said that a new rule will go out to the teams in a technical bulletin later this afternoon:

“It reads: ‘NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving the best possible finishing position in an event. Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event, or encourages, persuades, or induces others to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event, will be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.

“Such penalties may include, but are not limited to, disqualification and/or loss of finishing points, and/or fines, and/or loss of points, and/or suspension, and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibitive actions. ‘Artificially altered’ shall be defined as actions by any competitor that shows or suggests that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR’s sole discretion.'”

Helton would go on to reveal what he stressed as a “working list” of acceptable and unacceptable examples in regards to the new rule.

On the acceptable list were matters such as contact while racing for position, performance issues, and yielding to a faster car, while the unacceptable list had examples like offering positions in exchange for favor or material benefit, directing a driver to give up a position to benefit another driver, intentionally causing a caution, and intentionally causing a caution for the benefit of another driver.

According to Helton, the meeting was an “open dialogue” in which France addressed a “very attentive” assembled group on the character of the sport and how important it was to protect it.

The conclusion of the Richmond race has caused many media outlets to bring NASCAR’s credibility into question. When asked about the topic, France indicated that it was important that NASCAR get back to what it does best.

“It’s like anything else – circumstances happen that are unhelpful in the credibility category,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. And you go back to what you’re about and what we’re about is the best racing in the world with the best drivers giving 100 percent of their ability.

“And to the extent that we got off of that for any reason, then it’s our job to have the rules of the road – the rules of the race – such that it achieves that every day. If it’s not this, it might be something else. You just deal with it, we’ve dealt with it as best we can, and we move on.”

In the last week, NASCAR has delivered major penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing for their role in manipulating the finish last Saturday night and has twice altered its post-season field.

Martin Truex Jr. was taken out of the Chase thanks to those penalties, with Ryan Newman moving into his spot as the second Wild Card. But yesterday, citing in France’s words, “an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances” at Richmond, NASCAR announced that Jeff Gordon would go into the post-season as the Chase’s 13th driver.

Friday’s decision has been met with mixed reactions from fans and media, with Truex himself declaring that the situation was unfair but that he was powerless to do anything about it.

WATCH LIVE: Indy Carb Day on NBCSN at 11 a.m. ET

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INDIANAPOLIS – Five and a half hours of live coverage await today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBCSN, with Carb Day coverage. It’s also live streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra for participating providers at this link.

It starts live at 11 a.m. ET and goes through to 3:30 p.m. ET, prior to the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special. The latter show also has the same stream link via Live Extra.

The coverage includes the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Carb Day practice in advance of the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, leading straight into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 after noon (12:30 p.m. green flag), and the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m.

Kevin Lee will lead NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, filling in for Leigh Diffey who will be in Monaco, with Paul Bell and Robin Miller in the pits. Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Katie Hargitt will handle the pits.

Townsend Bell will also be on and available intermittently following his practice in the morning, driving his No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda for Andretti Autosport. He starts fourth for Sunday’s race.

Following the five and a half hours of Carb Day coverage, NBCSN will also have the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special, featuring live updates on site from Monaco (F1), Indianapolis (IndyCar) and Charlotte (NASCAR).

From Indianapolis, Marty Snider, Townsend Bell, and Ray Evernham co-host coverage.

New Tatuus USF-17 chassis revealed

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Photo: Andersen Promotions
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INDIANAPOLIS – More to follow but the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the Mazda Road to Indy, was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The full release is below:

The latest generation of chassis that will form the basis for the first two steps on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel racing development ladder – which offers Mazda scholarships to allow racers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series – was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway during the lead up to the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.

The new Tatuus USF-17 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years, and features a state-of-the-art carbon fiber monocoque chassis to meet the latest FIA safety standards as well as the proven 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine and Cooper racing tires. It will replace the stalwart Van Diemen/Elan tube-frame car which has provided the backbone of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda since 1999.

The USF-17 is based upon the same FIA-approved Formula 4 T-014 design which is utilized in the Italian and North European Zone F4 series, as well as the new-for-2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship. Significant enhancements include the provision of a PFC four piston brake package, Cosworth Omega L2 Plus data system with Cosworth CFW 277 steering wheel (complete with integrated dash and gear change paddles) and a Magneti Marelli electronic gearshift system, forged aluminum American Racing Technomesh wheels and stainless steel exhaust headers.

Unique USF2000 sidepods, engine cover, front and rear wing end plates, nose cone and front cover combine to form an aero package that includes carbon composite wings with adjustable twin-element rear wing and a carbon composite diffuser. The rolling chassis is priced at $51,800, which is significantly less than the current USF2000 car.

“Today marks yet another great moment for the Mazda Road to Indy as we take another step forward into a bright future with the new Tatuus USF-17,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have watched Tatuus work with my staff and our partners on this project over the last six months, and I am convinced we made the right choice on this new car. They listened to what I wanted in a race car and delivered a beautiful, technologically advanced and, I believe, fast racecar. I have to thank Project Manager Scot Elkins, who has shepherded this project from its inception.”

The prototype USF-17 car will undergo a rigorous test and development program over the course of the next six weeks at four different race tracks in North America, after which the final specifications will be fixed. Mazda sports car talent and USF2000 steward/driver coach Joel Miller will handle the bulk of the testing duties.

Delivery of the first batch of 15 cars – all of which have already been sold – is set for September, with an initial two-day series test slated for late October. A second batch of 15 cars is scheduled for delivery in December. A second series open test will take place in January of 2017.

The winner of next year’s USF2000 championship – the first to be run with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17– will receive a Mazda scholarship to assist in graduation to the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, which will see the debut of another brand-new car featuring the same chassis along with an updated Mazda engine, enhanced aerodynamics and wider Cooper Tires.

“We talk a lot about the Mazda Road to Indy as the finest and most comprehensive driver development ladder in the world,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “The unveiling of the USF-17 today is the next step for Andersen Promotions to continue to improve the safety, performance and value of each series. We can’t wait to see the USF-17 racing next season and then the new Pro Mazda chassis to follow in 2018. To go along with the sleek Indy Lights IL-15 chassis, we will have the finest lineup of race cars anywhere.”

Interest in the USF-17 has been high. The September shipment of 15 cars has been sold as well as half of the second shipment in December. They will be delivered to 12 different teams, nine of which are new to the series.

“For me and for all of the people working at Tatuus, this is a fantastic day,” said Gianfranco De Bellis, Tatuus Race Cars Director. “I have great memories from my first experience with Dan Andersen 20 years ago in America. Our commitment and wish was to build the best car possible. I hope this will be appreciated by all the teams and something that we will all be proud of. I want to thank Scot and everyone involved in this project. We will look forward to seeing the car on track to be sure that it is not only a beautiful dream, but a reality.”

Testing will begin in June at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky., followed by dates at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Media are invited to attend the Road America test on June 27, which takes place the day after the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy race weekend.

Dennis: Michael Schumacher agreed to leave Ferrari for McLaren

2 Jul 2000:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari struggles to hold off David Coulthard of Great Britain and McLaren-Mercedes during the French Formula One Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in France.  Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport
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McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis has revealed that Michael Schumacher provisionally agreed to leave Ferrari for the British team in the late 1990s.

McLaren is celebrating 50 years of racing in Monaco this weekend, with Dennis having headed up its Formula 1 interests since 1981.

In an interview with the official F1 website, Dennis reflected on the drivers he had worked with at McLaren and those who he had missed out on signing.

Schumacher joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1996 after winning his first two world championships, and would go on to win five in a row between 2000 and 2004 with the Italian marque.

However, history could have been very different had he joined McLaren as he provisionally agreed to with Dennis at one point, setting up a partnership with fierce rival Mika Hakkinen.

“When he was already driving for Ferrari, Michael and I agreed for him to drive for McLaren,” Dennis said.

“Our meeting took place not during the grand prix weekend; no, we met secretly at a Monaco hotel at another time.

“But in the end it did not work out because his management insisted on controlling his image rights – they basically wanted to retain them all, plus get paid a lot of money of course.

“That was disappointing. I think Mika and Michael would have been a truly fabulous driver line-up.”

Schumacher remained with Ferrari until the end of 2006 when he announced his retirement from F1, only to return with Mercedes in 2010, racing for another three seasons.

Schumacher remains in rehabilitation after sustaining head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.

Lauda expects Rosberg to sign new Mercedes contract in next three weeks

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda expects Nico Rosberg to sign a new contract with the German marque in the next three weeks.

Rosberg currently leads the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by 39 points after winning four of the first five races of the 2016 season.

Rosberg’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of the season, having last signed a deal back in 2014, and is yet to agree to an extension.

Reports in Italy claimed that Rosberg could be an option for Ferrari for 2017 in place of Kimi Raikkonen, but Lauda fully expects the German to continue his relationship with Mercedes.

“I’m sure we want to keep Nico, and Nico wants to stay,” Lauda told Sky Sports.

“I don’t see any issues at all. This will be fixed very soon.

“We have to decide it in the next three weeks. This is my point of view, to let him know that we all stick together for the next couple of years.”

Teammate Lewis Hamilton is locked in with Mercedes for the foreseeable future after announcing a new contract at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Team boss Toto Wolff hinted over the off-season that a change in line-up may be required if tension between Hamilton and Rosberg boiled over.

However, with Rosberg in the form of his life, it seems unlikely that a switch will come in the near future – relying he wants to extend his seven-season stint with Mercedes.