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Ganassi confirms Tagliani in Franchitti’s car at Fontana

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Alex Tagliani will fill Dario Franchitti’s seat in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Tagliani takes over the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, one of the prime seats in IndyCar.

Tagliani was the likeliest candidate from the outset, and a veteran of four prior starts in Fontana (2000-2002, and 2012). He nearly won last year’s race before an engine failure.

Tagliani has already written on Twitter that he has “mixed feelings” about sharing Franchitti’s seat, and that the opportunity is “surreal,” but make no mistake, this is one of the best opportunities he will have in IndyCar.

Tagliani’s opening three seasons in what was then CART came with the Player’s/Forsythe Racing squad from 2000 to 2002, where his potential was obvious but luck more often than not plagued his victory chances.

Two seasons with Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports team followed, including his first career win at Road America in 2004. Tagliani spent 2005 and 2006 with Derrick Walker’s Team Australia squad, and went back to Gentilozzi’s team for the final Champ Car season in 2007.

In 2008, Tagliani starred in qualifying at Long Beach, back in Walker’s entry for the Champ Car series finale. He deputized at the tail end of the year for Conquest Racing, which led to further part-time opportunities there in 2009.

Starting his own FAZZT team in 2010, Tagliani was often a thorn in the sides of the bigger teams’ drivers. He scored a popular pole for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 but once again was the victim of poor luck when he lost his seat before the end of the year at the renamed Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Tagliani drove better than ever in 2012 – I would have rated him sixth or seventh in a season-long top 10 after his qualifying prowess – with Bryan Herta and Barracuda Racing. But a mixed bag of luck has occurred again in 2013 and he and Herta went their separate ways after Toronto.

Now, Tagliani is back in IndyCar after a three-race trial run in sports cars with Ferrari, and with his best opportunity in years. Winning would be great, but mainly his goal is to help Scott Dixon secure the championship.

Report: No Mexico, 16 races expected on 2016 IndyCar schedule

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IndyCar chairman Mark Miles doesn’t expect the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season to begin in Mexico in February next year, according to a report by USA Today.

Though Miles said the Mexico race was “unlikely,” he believes the final schedule will 16 races at 15 venues over the course of seven months.

Miles said the series is waiting for a “highly, highly likely” event to be approved by a board around Oct. 13, going on to say it wasn’t Pocono Raceway.

“If we had to, we probably could put this out, in theory, sooner, but we want to go through the formality and respect the process of a formal approval from one of the promoters,” Miles said.

Miles said the Mexico City race has been put on hold due to concerns for proper promotion for the event, which would be the series’ first outside the United States since racing in Brazil in 2013.

“The process they needed to go through to get everything lined up has not really left a lot of time to be confident that everything can be done to properly promote the first race,” Miles told USA Today. “So I think the conversation is very much about ‘17. We just kind of ran out of time for ‘16.”

This is what is know about the 2016 IndyCar schedule so far.

Either the track, IndyCar, or an IndyCar support series (Pirelli World Challenge) have announced these dates for 2016:

March 13: St. Petersburg, Fla.
April 17: Long Beach, Calif.
April 24: Birmingham, Ala.
May 14: Indianapolis, In. (Indy GP)
May 29: Indianapolis, In. (100th Indy 500)
June 4-5: Detroit, Mich.
June 11: Fort Worth, Texas
June 26: Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July 31: Lexington, Ohio
Sept. 4: Boston, Mass.
Sept. 18: Sonoma, Calif.

These dates are not formal but are highly likely for 2016, per media reports:

April 2: Phoenix, AZ
July 17: Toronto, Ontario

These tracks have been rumored, but are yet to announce the status of IndyCar races for 2016:

Iowa Speedway
Pocono Raceway
The Milwaukee Mile
Gateway International Raceway

Williams hopes to improve on 2014 performance in Russian GP

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At this weekend’s Russian GP, Williams Martini Racing is looking for more of the same from Valtteri Bottas and a little improvement from Felipe Massa.

Last year, Bottas started and finished third while Lewis Hamilton ran away with the win, finishing 13 seconds over Nico Rosberg and 17 over Bottas in the inaugural race at the Sochi Autodrom.

Meanwhile, Massa started 18th after a fuel flow issue knocked him out of the first round of qualifying and managed an 11th-place finish.

Bottas and Massa enter the Sochi race fifth and sixth in the driver standings.

“We had a good result last year in Russia so we’re expecting another strong weekend and a good collection of points,” said Bottas in a release. “We all know the track now and it has a really good flow, with the long straights a good fit for our car.”

Bottas has finished in the top five in each of the last three races, two of which were won by Hamilton.

“Pace-wise we were close to Mercedes in Japan and I think we can be close again in Sochi, just like we were in 2014,” Bottas said, who also noted after Japan the team is set to turn its focus to its 2016 car.

Massa, who has two podium finishes this year, will try to bounce back from a DNF at Marina Bay and a 17th-place finish in Japan.

“I hope to make amends for qualifying last year and I’m confident we can have a competitive race,” Massa said in a team release.

“Russia is a very nice track with a few long straights which makes it interesting for overtaking,” Massa said of the 18-turn track. “The circuit has almost everything, starting with a straight and then moving into high-speed corners and then very slow corners in the middle sector. This makes setting up the car really important and the importance of downforce evident.”

The Russian Grand Prix can been seen on NBCSN on Sunday at 7 am ET.