Mark Webber has sent out a warning shot to his rivals at Suzuka this weekend by finishing fastest in the final free practice session ahead of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix later today.
The Australian driver posted a fastest time of 1:32.053 in the final few minutes of practice on Saturday morning to finish ahead of the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who appear to be shadowing Red Bull’s every move on the timesheets.
As per usual, the final practice session saw teams undertake a variety of different simulations in order to prepare for qualifying and the race. From the early low-fuel runs on the prime tire, Lotus were the front runners as Romain Grosjean edged ahead of Webber and teammate Kimi Raikkonen before the final laps on the option tire. The Frenchman did not post a faster time on the medium compound, yet he still finished fourth behind the Mercedes drivers.
Ferrari hit back after a difficult start to the weekend in Japan as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa finished fifth and sixth respectively, albeit three-quarters of a second down on Webber at the front. Again, it was largely down to the pace of the softer tire that Ferrari were able to finish so high up the order, suggesting that the Italian team could be fourth-fastest this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of clinching his fourth world title in Japan took a blow after he was forced to miss the second half of the session because of a KERS problem. Having completed just eight laps, the German driver finished down in ninth, although he is still poised to be a front-runner this weekend after running well on Friday.
After an incident-filled second practice on Friday, there was only one victim of Suzuka’s close walls on Saturday morning: Adrian Sutil paid the price for a mistake on the exit of the Spoon curve, damaging the front end of his Force India and losing the majority of the session. As a result, the German driver finished down in eighteenth place.
Webber’s pace suggests that the Australian driver could be set to bid farewell to Suzuka in the best-possible fashion, but with Mercedes and Lotus also looking quick and the perpetual threat of his teammate, we could be in line for a six-way fight for the win on Sunday.
LEXINGTON, Ohio – There are a lot of things to like about combined Verizon IndyCar Series/Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires/Pirelli World Challenge weekends, primarily the variety of content on track and the flurry of non-stop action from dawn to dusk.
One of the things not to like, though, is the sheer volume of things that come out of each of the three – and when you cover each of the three regularly, it’s easy to get behind.
That being said, here’s an attempt to recap all that’s taken place here today:
- There were two practice sessions as noted (Scott Dixon led first practice, Will Power second), although the second one ended early due to rain (I blame myself following my run back from the IndyCar Radio booth…).
- Have to give a shoutout to rookie RC Enerson, who was seriously impressive in his first full official day at the office. Enerson took what he learned from the test day last week with Dale Coyne Racing and was even more comfortable. He’ll have to adapt to the Firestone red alternate tires in qualifying tomorrow – it’s something that challenges even veterans – but he’s impressing the team with how much he’s taken in that’s getting thrown at him. Seventh in practice is remarkable; we’ll see how well it translates tomorrow.
- There were also a couple media availabilities during the day. The first was Graham Rahal, defending race winner, for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. We’ll have more on this in the coming weeks, but Rahal made a couple interesting points. One, he addressed the Target departure – he had a sense this day would come even going back to when he was a member of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in 2011 and 2012 – but said partners are out there, they just need to be found. He also noted how having only one car has hurt RLL this year, given the volume of in-season testing, and the relative lack of data gathered compared to four-car mights from Team Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport. Last year, without that same amount of in-season testing,
- The Target bit dovetails nicely, perhaps, into Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi’s media availability – the first for the two since the announcement earlier this week that Target would end its IndyCar relationship with Ganassi after 27 years. Ganassi, who did most of the talking in the 20-plus minute gathering, dismissed the idea that this was an IndyCar-related decision or a TV-related decision. He said it was a pure business decision and that he has nothing but praise for Target for all they’ve done for his team, and by default, the sport of IndyCar racing on the whole. More to follow from this availability in the coming days.
- We mentioned Honda’s “Christmas in July” camping theme earlier? Now, there’s Santa hats to match…
- Our social team was busy; Conor Daly did a Twitter takeover on the @IndyCaronNBCSN feed (you can view that here; here’s Daly saying thanks), and Rahal also did a Facebook Live video (available to view here).
- Two memorials were held to celebrate the lives of two amazing women. The first was for NBCSN pit producer Jenny Nickell this morning at the IndyCar Paddock Club (watch video produced by Taylor Rollins, narrated by Bob Jenkins here). The second was at Honda hospitality for Brenda McHale, wife of veteran Honda PR man T.E. McHale, who died earlier this year. T.E. is one of the true gems in the IndyCar paddock and it was great to see the outpouring of support from the community at both events, which were overflowing despite the small tent sizes.
MAZDA ROAD TO INDY PRESENTED BY COOPER TIRES
- The busiest series of the three today was the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which held both qualifying and its first race of the weekend. Australian Anthony Martin won both sessions for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, the latter coming with a pivotal swing in the championship – a cut tire resigned his teammate and prior points leader Parker Thompson to 17th. Martin went from 20 down to nine up going into Saturday’s race two of three this weekend. Victor Franzoni (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports) completed the top three finishers, ahead of Jordan Lloyd and Dakota Dickerson.
- Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires also got in two sessions, practice and qualifying. Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) has the pole for the first of two races this weekend, courtesy of a new track record (1:18.138) that beats a 10-year-old mark of 1:18.300 set by Ryan Justice in 2006! Aaron Telitz qualified second with Pato O’Ward, his Team Pelfrey teammate, only fifth.
- The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires only got one practice in with its second session scrubbed due to rain. In the first and only session, Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports led from Shelby Blackstock, with Ed Jones and Dean Stoneman only sixth and eighth. They qualify and have their first race tomorrow.
PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE
- Owing to the rain and the fact they were scheduled when they were, the only session of the day was GTS qualifying from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. ET. Both GT practice and the GTS first race were scrubbed due to the rain; they were set to run from 4:15 to 4:45 and 5 to 6 p.m. ET, respectively.
- Here’s how GTS will work: Saturday’s now considered second race of the weekend will be run using today’s GTS qualifying times and be a standing start. The postponed race will be a makeup round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and feature a fresh qualifying, making that finale now a tripleheader.
- The other big news of the day? The provisional 2017 schedule is out, and the word “provisional” cannot be stressed enough. The determination of which classes have which drivers, which races fall under Sprint versus Sprint X designation, and which races are standalones versus on IndyCar weekends will all be further explained in the days to come. This release comes on the heels of the SRO announcing its 2017 schedules at the Total 24 Hours of Spa weekend (release here, calendars here).
- With GT practice scrubbed, so too is the opportunity for fans and onlookers here to see the new Acura NSX GT3 – tested by Peter Kox this weekend – on track in practice. The car remains on display throughout the weekend and a photo opportunity will come on Saturday morning.
Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi will enjoy his first Formula 1 test in over two years next week when he represents Red Bull in the latest Pirelli tire evaluation runs ahead of the 2017 season.
Buemi raced for Red Bull’s junior team, Toro Rosso, between 2009 and 2011 before being dropped to make way for Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Red Bull kept ties with Buemi, hiring him as the team’s test and reserve driver, a role he continues to enjoy in tandem with commitments in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula E.
His last F1 test came with Red Bull following the Spanish Grand Prix in 2014, and also completed a filming day for the team in Barcelona last year.
The Swiss driver won the second Formula E title in London at the beginning of the month with Renault e.dams, and is now set to get back behind the wheel of an F1 car as part of the ongoing evaluation of Pirelli’s new tires for 2017.
Buemi will get behind the wheel of a ‘mule’ car – a modified RB11 used in the 2015 season – and try out the wider tires on Wednesday and Thursday at Mugello, as confirmed by Red Bull’s chief engineer Paul Monaghan on Friday.
Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes have already conducted testing to evaluate the new compounds for 2017, but the wider treads will first hit the track on Monday.
Sebastian Vettel will complete the first day of testing with Ferrari at Fiorano, followed by Esteban Gutierrez on Tuesday before Buemi’s stint at Mugello.
Mercedes Formula 1 technical chief Paddy Lowe believes that Lewis Hamilton’s reaction to the yellow flag saga in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix was “regrettable”.
Hamilton was denied pole in Hungary after Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg beat his time with the final lap of Q3, despite completing part of it under yellow flags.
Hamilton told NBCSN on Thursday in Germany that the saga had set a precedent for drivers to follow in the future, and believes it could cause safety issues in the future.
Reports over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend claimed that Hamilton went to FIA race director Charlie Whiting and asked him to investigate Rosberg’s lap.
On Friday, Lowe said he believes Hamilton did go and see Whiting after qualifying to seek clarity regarding yellow flag rules, not to try and get his teammate stripped of pole.
“It’s my understanding that Lewis did go and see Charlie but it wasn’t in any way to seek a review of Nico’s lap,” Lowe said.
“It was for his own understanding of what should be done in the future, how that should work for him in the future.
“I think that was regrettable. Personally, he should have kept to advice from the team and we can obtain that from Charlie as necessary.
“But I don’t think there was any harm done. It was just a misjudgement from that point of view.”
Whiting confirmed on Friday that if double waved yellow flags are shown during qualifying from now on, the session will be red flagged immediately to prevent a repeat of the saga from Hungary.
LEXINGTON, Ohio – Will Power topped the timesheets before the rains hit the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the second 75-minute Verizon IndyCar Series practice of the day – albeit only 45 of which was run before the Mid-Ohio circuit turned into a water park.
Times descended a bit from the morning’s 1:04.4 best lap achieved by Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Power clocked in a 1:04.1962 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet this session at the 2.258-mile road course.
Power was one of 16 drivers in the 1:04 bracket, an improvement upon the morning session when only the top 11 were in the 1:04 range.
There were no incidents of note other than a couple off course excursions before the rains hit.
Videos of the session are below:
Team Penske waits out the rain
Josef Newgarden and his recovery from his hand injury
Alexander Rossi returns to another familiar track
Times are below.