Photo: Tony DiZinno

Francesco Dracone set for Dale Coyne test at Sebring

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Francesco Dracone is testing for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring on December 3-4, which is reason number 723 why I love Dale Coyne.

Coyne hasn’t made a living in 30-plus years as an IndyCar driver, then team owner, by making foolish business decisions. The oft-heard knock on Dale – or “bad rap” as it is – has always been that he will look to take a driver who brings money in exchange for a chance to drive.

But in reality, it’s actually a smart business move that pays dividends for all parties. It gives said driver a chance to live their dream, to prove his or herself in an IndyCar, and it provides Coyne’s team the necessary budget to hire a top-tier driver and/or engineer (as he has done every year since 2006, in Champ Car).

Some of the most ardent IndyCar observers will remember Dracone from his two-race cameo with Conquest Racing in the previous generation Dallara-Honda at two road course races, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, in 2010.

Dracone, 30, is an Italian with a less than distinguished career in European junior formulas. He was realistically only quicker than Milka Duno – also a member of the Coyne honor roll – in those two starts.

He was slated to drive a P2 class Morgan Judd for Conquest at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2012, but couldn’t get up to speed and was replaced race morning by Jan Heylen, who, you guessed it, is also a graduate of the Coyne School of American Open-Wheel Racing.

And while I highly doubt this is anything more than a chance for Dracone to pay a little bit in exchange for two days at Sebring, it’s always fun to see an obscure blast from the past back in an IndyCar.

The “surprise drivers” who’ve tested an IndyCar this offseason, once Dracone does his laps, include Arie Luyendyk Jr. (also for Coyne), Mikael Grenier (KV) and Mikhail Aleshin (SMP Racing via Schmidt Peterson Motorsports). The latter in that quartet is a Russian former World Series by Renault champ, and the story of his test was reported by RACER earlier this week.

Meanwhile the current IndyCar fan base – at least the relative few who pay attention to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder – await the first IndyCar tests for Indy Lights top five finishers Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves and Peter Dempsey. Carlos Munoz has already been announced for Andretti Autosport, and Jack Hawksworth has tested for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Rainguard Water Sealers signs on as Texas IndyCar title sponsor

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: Alexander Rossi driver of the #98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda leads Helio Castroneves driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Cue the jokes about how Texas Motor Speedway’s new Verizon IndyCar Series race title sponsor, Rainguard Water Sealers, was a year late, as track drying delays from rain helped postpone this year’s race from June to August.

But the new title sponsor is on board for the next three years, through whatever weather exists at TMS. Which is a good thing, because it confirms both the race and the sponsor through 2019.

“We extremely pleased to have Texas Motor Speedway and ‘America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race’ serve as the initial sponsorship venture into motorsports and sports in general for Rainguard Water Sealers,” Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president, said in a release. “We look forward to providing Rainguard with an exceptional first experience as an entitlement sponsor and help the company attain their goals through this sponsorship agreement.”

Firestone has been the race’s title sponsor of what is now the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 since 2010. Prior to that, Bombardier Learjet sponsored the race from 2005 to 2009, when Texas dropped from having two races on the annual IndyCar calendar down to one.

Rainguard was founded in 1969 as a manufacturer of architectural grade coatings used in the construction industry, and developed speciality sealer products starting in 2010.

French Grand Prix return made official for 2018

Ivan Capelli driver of the #16 Leyton House Racing Leyton House CG901 Judd celebrates his and the teams second place finish at the French Grand Prix on 8 July 1990 at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
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After a decade off the Formula 1 calendar, the French Grand Prix has been formally confirmed to return in 2018. The race was confirmed at a press conference in France on Monday, after reports emerged late last week it was coming back.

The race, which was at Circuit de Nevers in Magny-Cours from the 1990s through to the most recent race there in 2008, will be held at Circuit Paul Ricard (Le Castellet) instead. Paul Ricard though was the site host for 14 races between 1971 and 1990.

Christian Estrosi, the president of the regional authority of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, announced the deal for the race which is likely to be held in late July. That time frame had featured the German Grand Prix along withe Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 2017 calendar was only just confirmed following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council last week, with a drop to 20 races following the German race’s departure.

With the French Grand Prix back on, that would kick the number of races back up to 21 for 2018 unless another shoe drops and another race falls back off the calendar instead.

More to follow…

Vettel, Raikkonen complete hot laps in Ferrari F1 cars at Daytona

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed their final Formula 1 run-outs of 2016 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, taking part in a special demonstration for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The Finali Mondiali acts as the world final for the continental Ferrari Challenge series, bringing together competitors from the North America, Europe and Asia Pacific championships.

As part of the weekend’s running, Vettel and Raikkonen were on hand to complete demonstration laps behind the wheel of recent Ferrari F1 cars, with Vettel also completing some donuts in front of the main granstand at Daytona.

Here are some of the videos and pictures from the event.

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.