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Estrada: Top 10 IndyCar Drivers of 2013

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Alright, boys and girls, it’s my turn now. The 2013 IndyCar season has been complete for about a month, so it’s a good time to get my Top 10 drivers’ list for 2013 out in the open. Feel free to check out my colleague Tony DiZinno’s list as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Scott Dixon

Determination and doubleheaders were the important elements in Dixon’s 2013 title run. The three twinbill events carried the unknown factor going into this season for everybody in the series, but the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver took to them as he needed to: A pair of fourths at Belle Isle, two wins at Toronto, and a win and a second at Houston. Toronto and Houston were critical in particular – the former helped Dixon get back into the title race and the latter helped him take control of the championship after potentially devastating setbacks at Sonoma and Baltimore.

Dixon and TCGR had their backs against the wall at several points this season but they always managed to fight their way out. Truly, they deserve this championship.

2. Simon Pagenaud

If not for that exhaust problem in the season opener at St. Petersburg, we likely would have seen Pagenaud be in contention for the championship all the way to Fontana. Still, he was competitive throughout the year, claiming two wins and 13 Top-10 finishes along the way. Not to say he was perfect: In a field this tight, he’ll need to have more of those Top-10s turn into at least Top-5s, and as Mr. DiZinno has written, he can’t afford to have down days in qualifying (first 5 starts of 2013: 19th, 13th, 17th, 23rd, 21st).

But if he can work on those, I can see him kissing the Astor Cup next fall as champion. He and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports are a great combination.

3. Will Power

For a while this year, it seemed all the bizarre stuff had to happen to Power: How would the championship had been different if J.R. Hildebrand hadn’t ran over the top of his car at St. Pete or if Tristan Vautier had run into him in the pits at Long Beach? He had several more incidents like this during the year, and it cost him dearly in the points.

But a strong second-half surge reminded us that we can never discard him as one of the most formidable competitors in the paddock. And with signs of him shedding his reputation as a non-factor on ovals, he’s getting closer to becoming the kind of all-around driver that his rivals could lose some sleep over. Watch out for “Willy P” in 2014.

4. Helio Castroneves

Getting the most out of his equipment served Castroneves well in 2013 – until his equipment gave out on him in both Houston races. As a result, he once again lost out on that elusive series championship. It’s the down side of taking what I call “the Matt Kenseth route” to a title (said with respect, of course, to the former Sprint Cup champion). Consistency can put you ahead of the pack but if your rivals are finding ways to win as you keep banking just decent results, you’re in trouble when something bad finally happens to you.

Castroneves had some truly impressive moments, chief among them being his runaway win at Texas Motor Speedway. He just needed a few more of those.

5. Justin Wilson

Take his crash in the season finale at Fontana out of the equation, and the British driver could have wound up in the Top 5 of the standings. Like Pagenaud, qualifying wasn’t exactly Wilson’s strongest suit (10 starts outside the Top-10 in 2013) but when race day rolled around, he was solid more often than not. And also like Pagenaud, he did it for a team that doesn’t have the resources of a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti squad.

Wilson had good runs at every discipline of track, but as you’d expect, he really shined on road and street circuits with a season-best finish of second coming on the road course at Sonoma. I think he could be up for one or two wins next year upon recovering from his injuries in the aforementioned accident. Get well soon, Justin.

6. Marco Andretti

This could be your dark horse next year. After a brutal 2012 season on road and street circuits, Andretti knew that couldn’t happen again. A re-calibration of his driving style on the twisty tracks proved successful (four Top-5s, 10 Top-10s on RC/SCs) and that was the catalyst for his best overall season in the IndyCar Series.

But I have to assume he’s still thinking over potential wins that went by the boards at Milwaukee (electrical problems) and Pocono (poor fuel mileage) – and if that happened to be a correct assumption, I certainly couldn’t blame him for remaining sour over those instances.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay

A solid first half had Hunter-Reay in position to successfully defend his 2012 crown, but after finishing runner-up at Iowa, everything fell apart for him. In the final nine races, he never finished higher than fifth (Mid-Ohio). Takuma Sato tagged him from behind on pit road at Pocono, and then came a never-ending stream of bad luck in the remaining street circuits that included pit stalls and a crash in the Toronto weekend, as well as battery problems in Baltimore and mechanical woes in Houston.

When he stayed out of trouble, he was often a force to be reckoned with, as his victories at Barber and Milwaukee showed. But six DNFs were too much to overcome in the end.

8. James Hinchcliffe

Up and down, feast or famine, roller-coaster, see-saw…Don’t worry about what phrase you want to use to describe the Canadian fan favorite’s season – it’ll fit. Highly memorable triumphs at St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo and Iowa were cancelled out by four DNFs and poor results at places like Indianapolis and Belle Isle. Those down days skewed his average finish (12.3) noticeably in the end, but as Mr. DiZinno mentioned, he did find a rhythm of sorts in the second half of the year.

Hinchcliffe’s stock is still rising overall, and now that he’s made his decision to re-up with Andretti Autosport, that’ll be one less thing for him to worry about in 2014 – although he’ll still have to figure out how to get some good fortune for once in his home race at Toronto…

9. Charlie Kimball

Also on the upward trend is Kimball, who cracked the Top 10 of the championship thanks to a steady year that saw him earn his first career win at Mid-Ohio and impress at several other points. Bit by bit, the young American has evolved into a driver that can carry his own weight at Ganassi, an environment that can be a little intimidating considering that he has to stack up against great veterans like Dixon and Dario Franchitti (and now, Tony Kanaan).

The pressure will be on him to raise his game even further next year, but Kimball has shown he can be a threat at nearly every stop. Outside of Mid-Ohio, I was particularly fascinated by his run at Fontana – a run that almost ended with him in Victory Lane until his Honda gave up the ghost.

10. Sebastien Bourdais

I tend to be a bit of an oval guy, but while I’m tempted to give Tony Kanaan the final spot in my Top-10 after winning Indianapolis, I must take the whole season into account. And when I do, I find that I must give No. 10 to Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car king that will be replacing Kanaan next year at KV-SH Racing. In what would be his final run with the Dragon Racing camp, “Seabass” was a true contender from Toronto onwards with three podium finishes and six Top-10s (plus one smashed-up trophy) in the final eight races. I also must mention the real jolt that the team got when it gave Tom Brown the nod at engineer.

Honorable Mention – Mike Conway

I’m keeping myself to one of these. And yes, I’m giving it to a part-time driver. But with Kanaan hindered by a poor road/street course campaign and Franchitti continuing to be uneven in the Dallara DW12, it’s down to Mike Conway, who delivered a tour-de-force weekend in Detroit with a crushing win in Race 1 and a third-place showing in Race 2.

He followed that up with three more Top-10s from Toronto (a pair of sevenths) and Houston (a ninth in Race 2), and all that chatter about how he’d effectively ended his IndyCar career when he gave up the ovals last year is nothing but a bad memory now. Any time Conway turns up for an IndyCar race, be glad – the show is going to be that much better.

No Haas F1 2017 driver talks until after Monza

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22:  Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 and Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 pose with the new car outside the garage during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Haas Formula 1 officials will not make any decision regarding the team’s 2017 driver line-up until after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid for the first time in 2016, his cars driven by Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.

Grosjean has led Haas’ charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its points. Gutierrez is yet to break his top-10 drought dating back to the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix.

Grosjean is expected to remain at Haas for 2017 after Ferrari opted to retain Kimi Raikkonen, blocking off a possible move up the field for the Frenchman.

Gutierrez said earlier this week he has a deal for 2017, but would not expand when asked if it was with Haas.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner confirmed that talks would he held off until after Monza.

“We decided to wait, to talk internally even about drivers until the European season is over so after Monza, because at the moment we are quite happy with what we are doing,” Steiner said.

“So we don’t want to get distracted or get the drivers distracted by talks, what will happen, what will not happen.

“We just wait until after Monza and then we sit down and try to make a decision as soon as possible so we keep that stability going.”

FIA to take ‘zero tolerance’ approach to track limits in Hungary qualifying

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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FIA race director Charlie Whiting has informed all Formula 1 teams that a “zero tolerance” approach will be taken to track limits during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Track limits proved to be a sticking point over the British Grand Prix weekend, with a number of drivers being accused of going off-track and gaining an advantage.

Lewis Hamilton had his initial pole position time deleted at Silverstone, only to respond and go faster with a clean lap.

The FIA announced heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that electronic sensors had been installed at Turn 4 and Turn 11 at the Hungaroring to catch drivers putting all four wheels over the white line defining the track limits.

A number of drivers were seen to be running wide during practice, prompting Whiting to issue a note to teams ahead of qualifying.

The note reads as follows:

Track Limits in turns 4 and 11

Further to the discussion in the drivers meeting yesterday evening I would like to confirm that:

a) We will be adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to cars leaving the track at turns 4 and 11 during qualifying. Please note that this will be judged by the use of timing loops in the kerbs and, to ensure that we see no false crossings, we would like to make it clear that the loops are set up to register a crossing when a car is approximately 20cm beyond the white line. Every lap time achieved by leaving the track will be deleted in accordance with Article 12.3.1.d of the Sporting Code.

b) During the race, and in accordance with Article 27.4 of the Sporting Regulations, any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at these corners (when counted cumulatively) will be shown a black and white flag, one further crossing will result in a report being made to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track. As discussed, this is likely to result in a drive-through penalty for any driver concerned.

However, if we are satisfied that a driver left the track at these points for reasons beyond his control, having been forced off the track for example, laps times will not be deleted during qualifying nor will such a crossing be counted towards a drivers total in the race.

A similar approach was taken during qualifying for the GP3 support race in Hungary, resulting in a high number of lap times being deleted.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg edges out Verstappen to lead final Hungary practice

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg gave Mercedes a clean sweep of practice sessions in Hungary by topping FP3 on Saturday morning, edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by two-thousandths of a second.

Rosberg led second practice on Friday afternoon, and spent the majority of the final session at the top of the timesheets as drivers enjoyed the final runs ahead of qualifying later today.

A fastest lap of 1:20.261 on the super-soft tire gave Rosberg P1 at the checkered flag, but his advantage was far less comfortable than he would have liked.

Red Bull arrived in Hungary expected to run Mercedes close, but failed to match the German marque for pace on Friday.

However, Verstappen managed to turn up the wick and produce a stunning lap that was just 0.002 seconds slower than Rosberg’s, giving Red Bull hope of getting in the fight for victory this weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo followed teammate Verstappen in third place, four-tenths of a second further back, although he did not complete a qualifying simulation on the super-soft tire late on, instead preferring to focus on race runs.

Lewis Hamilton could only finish fourth-fastest in the second Mercedes, half a second shy of Rosberg, while Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel followed in P5 and P6.

McLaren’s strong start to the weekend continued as Fernando Alonso ended practice in seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez of Williams and Force India respectively.

Renault made a giant leap forward from Friday as Jolyon Palmer finished 10th and teammate Kevin Magnussen ended practice 12th-fastest, the pair split by Felipe Massa.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.

IMSA: Polesitters set at Lime Rock Park

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No. 67 Ford. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Polesitters have been set following qualifying for Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix, the next round on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It doesn’t feature the Prototype class but does have the other three classes (Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans, GT Daytona).

Colin Braun has the class pole in Prototype Challenge in the No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09, with Braun qualifying instead of teammate and co-driver Jon Bennett. The top four cars were only separated by 0.154 of a second.

Most PC teams opted to qualify their Silver-rated drivers instead for the two-hour, 40-minute race, which left Braun with a decided advantage going in over the lesser experienced pros or gentlemen drivers alongside.  But Braun only barely held on for the top spot.

Braun’s best time was a 48.824-second lap around the 1.53-mile Lime Rock Park bull ring.

Robert Alon edged into second at 48.840 in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he shares with Tom Kimber-Smith. “TKS” and Michael Guasch won this race overall last year.

James French posted a 48.930 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, good for third on the grid. That team seeks to atone for a near-miss here last year, when it was leading overall before Conor Daly collided with then-GTD class leader Christopher Haase at the downhill in his No. 48 Paul Miller Audi to open the door for PR1.

French was only just ahead of Jose Gutierrez in the third Starworks Motorsport entry, the No. 7 Aviation American Gin entry at 48.978 seconds that he’ll share with Sean Rayhall this weekend.

Richard Westbrook took another GT Le Mans class pole for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing outfit with its No. 67 Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe. Westbrook ran a 50.748 best time.

That No. 67 car has been on a roll, having won the last three races in class since the car’s first triumph at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

The No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, No. 4 Corvette C7.R and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE were second through fourth, thus making it four different manufacturers in the top four spots.

Spencer Pumpelly took the first GT Daytona class pole for Change Racing in its No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3, a car he shares with Corey Lewis.

Pumpelly edged fellow Georgia resident Andrew Davis in the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMSs, the No. 6 car, ahead of Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi. Davis shares with Robin Liddell, Bell with Lawson Aschenbach. Pumpelly’s best lap was 53.148 seconds to Davis’ 53.178.

Christina Nielsen was fourth (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) with Madison Snow (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completing the top five in the 14-car class.

The two-hour, 40-minute race begins Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, live there, and also live via IMSA Radio.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

Two cars that haven’t won yet this year are on the pole for Saturday’s two-hour, 30-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race from Lime Rock Park.

CJ Wilson Racing has the pole in GS with Danny Burkett, who co-drives the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport with Marc Miller, edged Canadian countryman Scott Maxwell in his No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C he shares with Billy Johnson.

Meanwhile in ST, the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer have that class pole over another Mazda from Riley Racing and the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si.