Fan events to kick off United States GP weekend at COTA

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Fans heading to Austin, Texas, for the 2013 United States Grand Prix will be able to attend two events ahead of the race weekend that should perfectly prepare them for the Formula One action at the Circuit of the Americas.

The Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) is set to hold another of its highly successful and popular fan forums later this month ahead of the second grand prix to be held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

The forum sees a panel of Formula One drivers, team owners and legends face an audience of fans who can ask any burning questions, air any thoughts about the sport they may have and get a direct response. Following events in Montreal and London earlier this year, the forum will return to Austin on November 13, the Wednesday before the grand prix.

This year’s panel will be made up of Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil, Pastor Maldonado and Caterham’s American test driver, Alexander Rossi.

FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh expressed his happiness about returning to Austin, saying: “We are delighted to be returning to Austin again, and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the fans at last year’s fans’ forum and Grand Prix made it an easy decision to host another forum in Austin.

“Fan engagement is extremely important for all the Teams, and we have a great selection of participating drivers, and are excited to be utilising the venue of the fans’ fest which also gives us an opportunity to accommodate as many fans as possible.”

For more details about the Fans’ Forum and for details on how to register, click here.

One day later, NBCSN’s very own Will Buxton will be hosting his second annual Buxton’s Big Time Bash in Austin. Last year’s event was an unmitigated success, raising over $2,000 for charity and providing a great evening of entertainment for the fans.

For this year’s event, a donation of $5 will be made on the door but in return fans will receive a ticket for a draw to win some money-can’t-buy F1 prizes, as well as entry to a great evening featuring some special guests and plenty of F1 entertainment ahead of the race weekend. All funds raised on the night will go to Meals on Wheels charity. The event will take place on November 14 at Speakeasy on Congress Avenue, Austin, and there appears to be no better way of spending an evening ahead of the on-track action at the Circuit of the Americas on Friday.

For more details about Buxton’s Big Time Bash, click here.

If you are lucky enough to be heading to Austin for the race, get your weekend off to the best possible start by attending both events. Failing that, be sure to watch FP2, qualifying and the race live on NBC as Sebastian Vettel goes in search of an eighth consecutive victory.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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