Shell And Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston

Sato provides Foyt a home pole for Houston Indy race 1

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After a brutal stretch of races, A.J. Foyt Enterprises has a bit of home luck on what’s been a challenging weekend for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Takuma Sato scored his third career pole (2 in 2011 with KV Racing Technology) and first for Foyt’s team since 1999 at an Indy Racing League event in Atlanta with driver Billy Boat, in qualifying for the first race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Sato had the advantage of going in the second group – the first was shortened due to an accident by rookie Tristan Vautier – and laid down a flier of 1:00.4535 to capture the spot.

“It’s a great achievement for the team. The team has made huge strides. A.J. had to miss Long Beach where we got the first win. It’s been difficult of late. Team did a tremendous job and I was able to push,” Sato said.

Team director Larry Foyt added, “I think we won ‘happiest team winning a pole award.'”

And from A.J. Foyt: “It’s great to be in your hometown and win the pole, so I’m real happy and real thrilled. Just as long as we finish up first.”

Will Power led the first group, shortened by the incident, and will start second for Race 1.

“We literally had one lap on blacks and one lap on reds,” Power said.

“You’re running to the very left. I think they need to do a bit more grinding honestly. But we can race,” he added, regarding the new surface on the front straight and how to handle the “jump.”

The qualifying for Race 1 shifted from the Firestone Fast Six format to one that mirrored qualifying for Race 2 at the Detroit and Toronto doubleheaders. The field of 24 cars were split into two groups of 12, each getting 12 minutes of track time to set laps.

The rest of the grid was set by group order, with those in Sato’s group to start on the inside and Power’s on the outside.

Scott Dixon will start third in his quest to close the championship gap to Helio Castroneves. Sebastien Bourdais qualified fourth in pursuit of his third straight Houston race win.

Fifth through 10th in qualifying order are Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro, James Hinchcliffe, Luca Filippi, E.J. Viso and Dario Franchitti. Castroneves starts 22nd after a troubled session.

In Group 1, Vautier walled it exiting the left-handed Turn 10, which cost him his two fastest laps for causing a red flag. His fastest of 1:01.7544 had been second before the incident.

Group 1 ended, as it turned out, with only 5 minutes of green flag time. Group 2 had a full session with no major incidents. Ed Carpenter lost a piece of bodywork but other than that, nothing affected the session.

Bourdais, Franchitti and Rahal have 10-spot grid penalties coming for unapproved engine changes.

Both races will feature a standing start. It has not yet been determined whether races will have single file restarts, but it is under consideration.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Race 1
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
14-Takuma Sato
12-Will Power

Row 2
9-Scott Dixon
77-Simon Pagenaud

Row 3
78-Simona de Silvestro
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 4
98-Luca Filippi
5-E.J. Viso

Row 5
16-James Jakes
25-Marco Andretti

Row 6
18-Mike Conway
19-Justin Wilson

Row 7
11-Tony Kanaan
7-Sebastien Bourdais*

Row 8
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 9
67-Josef Newgarden
3-Helio Castroneves

Row 10
6-Sebastian Saavedra
10-Dario Franchitti*

Row 11
4-Oriol Servia
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 12
55-Tristan Vautier (R)
15-Graham Rahal*

*Denotes 10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine change

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway