Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth

Chase duel between Johnson, Kenseth continues at Phoenix

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Today, the weekend at Phoenix International Raceway begins for the Sprint Cup contingent, and that means the resumption of what has been a superb championship battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth (pictured).

As I’ve mentioned this week, unless something completely out of the norm occurs, the Cup is coming down to these two men. And while anything can happen in racing, Johnson and Kenseth have been so consistent during this year’s Chase that it’s hard to imagine seeing one or both of them find trouble this Sunday at PIR.

But again, anything can happen. Just ask Johnson, who saw his seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski disappear last fall at PIR when he blew a tire and hit the wall with 77 laps remaining. Keselowski finished sixth, took a 20-point edge over Johnson, and went on to his first Cup championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This weekend, Johnson holds, again, a seven-point lead over Kenseth after winning at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday. But while Johnson has had success at PIR (four wins, 13 Top-5s in 20 starts), Kenseth has risen to the challenge time and again this post-season, putting up great results at places you wouldn’t expect like New Hampshire (win) and Martinsville (second).

With that in mind, the fact that Kenseth hasn’t won at PIR since 2002 means nothing. It would be no surprise to see him break that drought this weekend and set up a dramatic conclusion to the Chase in South Florida.

“Phoenix was my first down force race with this group and I thought we ran really well earlier this season,” he said this week, referring to a seventh-place finish he had at PIR in the spring. “…I’m really looking forward to getting back to Phoenix, especially after our success and Loudon and Martinsville this season, and I think that hopefully it will be a good track for us.

“The short flat tracks have been good to us this year and I’m hoping that they continue to be as we look ahead to this weekend.”

As for the potential spoilers outside Johnson and Kenseth, that list has to be topped by Kevin Harvick, who can definitely be in the mix for a win this Sunday; he’s triumphed three times at PIR, including last fall, an accomplishment overshadowed by the post-race antics between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon.

Harvick is still alive in the championship, sitting third at 40 points behind Johnson. But at this point, it goes without saying that he’s going to need to win and also have Johnson and Kenseth falter somehow.

Don’t forget about Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Denny Hamlin, either. Edwards held off Johnson to win at PIR this past spring so he should be up for a good run. Earnhardt logged a Top-5 at PIR in March, and has been getting very close to a win lately. As for Hamlin, he has notched a win, a second, and a third in his last three PIR starts.

Today will see the Cup teams do a sole practice session (1:35-3:30 p.m. ET) before going into qualifying at 5:40 p.m. ET. Saturday will feature two practice sessions before Sunday’s Advocare 500 (312 laps, 312 miles), which should take the green flag around 3 p.m. ET that day.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”

‘Very possible’ Frijns will make IndyCar debut with Andretti

PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY - DECEMBER 19:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Robin Frijns (NLD), Andretti - Spark SRT_01E during the Julius Baer Punta del Este Formula E race at Playa Brava Beach street circuit on December 19, 2015 in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. (Photo by Adam Warner/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES – Michael Andretti has said that it is “possible” Formula E driver Robin Frijns will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport in 2016.

Frijns enjoyed a successful junior career in Europe, beating Jules Bianchi to the Formula Renault 3.5 title in 2012, but was never able to make the step up to Formula 1.

Frijns joined Andretti’s Formula E team for the 2015-2016 season, and scored its first podium of the campaign in Putrajaya.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in Buenos Aires, Andretti confirmed that the team was still considering its options for a fourth car in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“Right now we’re still a three car team. There are still a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car,” Andretti said.

“We also have a couple of irons in the fire for the fourth car for maybe doing certain races, not the whole season. So we’re still trying.”

When asked if either of his Formula E drivers could possible fill this seat, Andretti said that it was possible Frijns could step up for a few races.

“It’s very possible that he could, one or two races, but we’ll see,” Andretti said. “It’s possible, yeah.”

When asked by MotorSportsTalk if an opportunity to race in IndyCar with Andretti was on the cards, Frijns remained coy, saying: “That’s not a question I have to answer.”

However, he did admit that he would jump at the chance to do race if offered: “Oh yeah definitely!”

Honda has hinted it could supply a 12th engine at multiple races this year, not necessarily for the same team. Spencer Pigot is already confirmed to a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and the month of May.

Sam Bird flies to maiden Formula E pole in Buenos Aires

FIA Formula E Championship 2015/16.
Beijing ePrix, Beijing, China.
Race.
Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 
Beijing, China, Asia.
Saturday 24 October 2015
Photo: Adam Warner / LAT / FE
ref: Digital Image _A8C5210
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird stormed to his first pole position in Formula E in qualifying for the Buenos Aires ePrix on Saturday at Puerto Madero.

Bird had finished fourth in the initial qualifying standings, securing himself a place in the Super Pole shootout alongside Stephane Sarrazin, Nicolas Prost, Mike Conway and Antonio Felix da Costa.

Despite expressing concerns about the extra weight of the DS Virgin Racing car earlier in the weekend, Bird squeezed every tenth out of it to post a fastest time of 1:09.420 and shoot to the top of the timesheets.

Neither da Costa or Sarrazin were able to better Bird’s time despite beating him in the first stage of qualifying and heading out on track after him, handing the Briton his first pole in Formula E.

Prost led Renault e.dams’ charge by qualifying second as teammate and championship leader Sebastien Buemi spun on his fast lap, leaving him at the very back of the grid for the race in Buenos Aires.

Despite running with a season one car, da Costa managed to qualify an excellent third ahead of the Venturi duo of Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway – the latter reaching the Super Pole shootout on debut.

Robin Frijns was unfortunate not to make the top five, finishing sixth ahead of championship contender Lucas di Grassi. The ABT Schaeffler driver will be disappointed not to have qualified higher, but still has a golden opportunity to capitalize on Buemi’s mistake.

Daniel Abt will start the race alongside his teammate on the grid after qualifying eighth ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. and Jerome d’Ambrosio. Oliver Turvey and Loic Duval follow their teammates in 11th and 12th.

Nick Heidfeld qualified 13th on his return from injury ahead of Simona de Silvestro, while Jean-Eric Vergne completed – in his words “mission impossible” – to get out on track and finish 15th after his health scare this morning.

Bruno Senna and Salvador Duran both shunted their cars on their quick laps, leaving them 16th and 17th respectively ahead only of Buemi in the e.dams.

Buemi streets ahead in second Buenos Aires FE practice

2015 Formula E  Buenos Aires e-Prix, Argentina
Friday 5 February 2016.
Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 & Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
ref: Digital Image _SBL9537
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi lived up to his billing as championship favorite by storming to the top of the timesheets in second practice for the Buenos Aires ePrix.

Buemi was unable to complete a full power 200kW lap in FP1 on Saturday, limiting him to just fifth place in the final standings.

However, the Swiss driver rallied in FP2 and utilized all of the power in his Renault e.dams to produce as fastest lap time of 1:08.771, leaving him over half a second clear at the top of the timesheets.

“Yeah I think it was a good session for me because I was able to exerpience wht the 200kw lap can do,” Buemi said after the session.

“It’s not too bad but the track is very ricky. There’s a lot of sand still on the track. Otherwise it’s quite fun to drive the track.”

Buemi was followed home by title rival Lucas di Grassi, but the ABT Schaeffler driver was unable to match the pace laid down at the very top.

Nicolas Prost will be looking to get into the fight for the race win with teammate Buemi this weekend, having finished third in FP2, just 0.001 seconds shy of di Grassi.

Sam Bird continued DS Virgin Racing’s strong start to the weekend by finishing fourth, but the involvement of teammate Jean-Eric Vergne remains unclear. The Frenchman was ruled out by the team, only to turn up at the track and claim he is fit to race. However, he took no part in practice.