Vettel beats the weather to secure pole for Brazilian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has scored his ninth pole position of the season at the Brazilian Grand Prix after a great display of wet weather driving to get the best out of his Red Bull car despite the tricky conditions.

Vettel’s final time of 1:26.479 saw him finish well ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso who finished in second and third place respectively, and the quadruple world champion looked at ease in the rain that caused the final stage of qualifying to be delayed by forty minutes.

Qualifying got underway with light rain falling and more due, but with a drier outlook for the race on Sunday, the teams had to set up their cars anticipating a dry race. With conditions thought to be worsening in Q1, a number of drivers went out early to post a time on the intermediate tire. Lewis Hamilton was the first to get out and post a time, and it immediately paid off as he went to the top of the timesheets ahead of Vettel and teammate Nico Rosberg. With the rain growing heavier, many drivers opted to pit and hope that conditions improved, but Mark Webber had to produce a good lap to get himself out of danger after lingering near the dropzone. Conditions soon meant that it was difficult to go quicker, leaving Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez at risk of elimination. When conditions did begin to improve, only the drivers at risk ventured out in the final few minutes, and it soon became a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Vergne was able to improve to make it through to Q2, but Pastor Maldonado was less fortunate and was eliminated alongside Gutierrez and both Caterham and Marussia drivers.

Mercedes were quick out of the blocks once again in Q2 as Hamilton and Rosberg led the drivers away, but the rain made it hard to judge just when would be the best time to go out on track. Rosberg’s first time was four-tenths quicker than his teammate’s, but compatriot Sebastian Vettel soon resumed normal service to move up to top spot. Mark Webber went third-fastest with his first time only for Hamilton to take his place, and it soon became all about timing. With five minutes to go, some of the drivers pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tires and plotted their final assault. The track began to dry slightly and allowed for improvements as Romain Grosjean went fastest of all and Fernando Alonso moved up into third place. The battle to make it through to Q3 hotted up as both Toro Rossos improved but the rain of Interlagos got heavier once again to scupper any hopes those in the dropzone had of making it through to the top ten. As a result, Heikki Kovalainen and Valtteri Bottas joined both McLarens and both Force Indias in the dropzone, with Sergio Perez’s session ending in the wall after making a mistake at turn five.

Due to the conditions, Q3 was delayed by forty minutes before it was deemed safe to get the final part of qualifying underway. Once the drivers were able to get out, the wet tire was used by all initially and Mark Webber was the first to tackle the damp circuit. After the first set of times, Vettel led from Rosberg and Webber, but many of the drivers opted to head straight for the pits to take on intermediate tires. Romain Grosjean bailed from his wet lap to take on intermediates, and it paid off as he immediately went fastest with three minutes remaining. Mark Webber soon displaced the Frenchman, but Vettel charged through the spray to go over one second faster. Rosberg and Alonso exchanged times for P2, but ultimately the German driver came out on top. However, not even the weather could stop Sebastian Vettel who scored his ninth pole position of the season in Brazil, finishing a full six-tenths clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel will now be looking to continue this form on Sunday to clinch a record-equalling ninth consecutive win, but with Rosberg and Alonso – both of whom have proven themselves as adept wet weather drivers – looming large in his mirrors and the rain also set to interfere, the German driver may be forced to fight for the victory.

Harding Racing shines among new teams at Indy 500

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A trio of new teams (Harding Racing, Juncos Racing, and Michael Shank Racing, in a joint effort with Andretti Autosport) debuted at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Expectations for such outfits are usually humble and rarely do outsiders, or even insiders, predict such efforts to run up front.

And yet, at the checkered flag, one of those teams emerged in ninth place, a top-10 finish in its IndyCar debut.

Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet, in the hands of Gabby Chaves, had never run a race before, let alone an IndyCar race, and let alone an Indianapolis 500. However, they survived the carnage and chaos that defined the day to finish in the top-10, dramatically exceeding expectations.

Chaves was competing in his third “500,” two years after winning rookie-of-the-year honors with a 16th place for Bryan Herta Autosport. He labeled this race as mission: accomplished.

“I think we did our job. We took the race one lap at a time. We let the track and the conditions come to us and we dialed in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet car every stop,” Chaves said. “We had a heck of a stint there. I think we were one of the only cars being able to make moves out there and got into a solid top ten for our first go as a team.”

Fellow debutante Juncos Racing, too, excelled in their own right. While their runs to 15th (Sebastian Saavedra) and 18th (Spencer Pigot) were unspectacular, the reality is that both cars made it to the finish, with Saavedra finishing on the lead lap, a noteworthy performance for a team making its first IndyCar start.

Sebastian Saavedra brought home a lead lap finish for Indy 500 debutantes Juncos Racing. Photo: IndyCar

Saavedra, like Chaves, said the team accomplished everything it wanted to. “We accomplished the mission we started less than two months ago,” he asserted. “To finish this first Indy 500 with both cars intact is a victory of its own. I’m very proud of the whole organization for putting in such a professional effort. It was rough out there. We were not as competitive as we wanted, but hey, that’s something that is expected your first time out.”

Teammate Spencer Pigot endured a more difficult race in his No. 11 Chevrolet, which the team scrambled to repair ahead of qualifying after a practice crash. As Pigot described, something was still off with the car (he was nearly lapped at the end of the opening stint) and he and the team were fighting it the entire day.

“I think there’s still something I’m missing or something’s gone away with the car since the (practice) crash. It never really felt right and it was just very difficult to drive, but we fought through a tough day. We didn’t give up. The guys kept working hard and I can’t thank them enough for the recovery and for putting this all together,” Pigot detailed.

Michael Shank Racing, the third team making its Verizon IndyCar Series debut, endured the most challenging race of the three new teams. For them, it was a race that concluded a difficult month riddled with problems, which began with a foreboding and bizarre steering failure that resulted in wall contact during opening day practice for driver Jack Harvey.

Harvey and Michael Shank’s No. 50 Honda team were enjoying a solid race until Conor Daly’s lap 65 crash in Turn 3. Harvey hit debris from the accident and spun into the inside wall between Turns 3 and 4. It ended a difficult month for a driver and team who truly made a herculean effort to field an entry.

Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing endured a month filled with challenges. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s a super disappointing day because we worked so hard to get here so to have the day end like this is heartbreaking,” Harvey lamented afterward. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Still, Harvey was enthusiastic to simply have a chance to compete. “This was still the best experience I’ve ever had,” he asserted. “The Indianapolis 500 represents so much in the state of Indiana and to the racing world, but it just didn’t go the right way for us today.”

Of those three, Harding Racing is the only one scheduled to run more IndyCar races this year. They will return for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10 and the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway on August 20.

Juncos Racing will continue with its efforts in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, where it has drivers currently atop the championships in both Indy Lights (Kyle Kaiser) and Pro Mazda (Victor Franzoni).

Michael Shank Racing will continue its Acura NSX GT3 program in the GTD class of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, resuming next weekend at Detroit.

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Karam: ‘Tough luck stops a great month for DRR, Mecum Chevy’

Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here).

Here’s his fifth and final entry, as he recaps Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, where an alternator problem forced him into an early retirement.

You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 

Hi again, it’s Sage Karam after the running of the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Well, the race didn’t go as we wanted Sunday at the greatest race track in the world.

I was hoping to get to the finish but our No. 24 Mecum Auctions DRR Chevy had an alternator let go and the engine just stopped on lap 125. Not much I or the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team can do much about that. Just some tough luck.

This was my fourth Indy 500 and I was still the youngest driver in the field at age 22. But I felt so much calmer and not as anxious as in previous years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the biggest race in the world and every driver is anxious for the start.

Karam with Jake Gyllenhaal (to his right). Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

But I felt we would be more calculated with our strategy and my decision-making early in the race. And that is what happened for me. I wasn’t going to put myself in a bad spot in the early portions of the race. I was more conservative than I had ever been in the 500.

Unfortunately, things started off a little rough for us when we had a radio problem. I could hear the pit box and the spotters in the corners but they couldn’t hear me. So, we had to work on a code to communicate with each other on the fly. Just keying up the radio for yes or no and turning fuel mixture switch for more wing, less wing, rear wing and front wing. It was kind of sketchy out there but we were doing okay. We were running inside the top 15 and the top 10 shortly but something was killing the battery in the car and killed the radio.

So, an electrical gremlin put us out of this one. The car was really good all month. It’s a shame – the DRR boys, Mecum Auto Auctions put together a great car this month. It’s tough to see it go down like that. But that’s racing. The beauty of this place is it makes you want to come back more and more because you go through all these hard times. You just want to win. So, after I get back to the DRR garage, I was cheering on Fernando Alonso because I’m a big fan of his. But he had trouble too.

With the alternator letting go, there is nothing we can do. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens here. These times are tough, but it’ll make the triumph much better in the future. I thought we ran a smart race.

A lot of people were doing risky things out there. I backed out of about four or five situations that could have caused a big crash. My plan was to get into the top-10 by lap 150 or so. We were moving up the field and the race car was good.

To be honest, we didn’t have the straightaway speed. I used hand signals during the yellow flag period to try to explain to the crew what I needed. I pointed to the back of the car to adjust the rear wing for my straight-line speed. I thought the race car was pretty good overall though. I could pass in several areas. But some of the guys were doing some wild moves.

I played it conservative around many of them. I’m not going to point out some of the them by name, but it was downright scary in certain places. I thought there were going to a bunch of big wrecks if that stuff continued.

Speaking of wrecks, I was so thrilled to see my friend Scott Dixon jump out his race car after that wild crash. Scott is one of the best drivers in IndyCar history and truly one of the nicest guys too. That was a scary wild for Dixey. I will be so glad to talk with him at the Indy 500 Awards banquet. And was so happy that Sebastian Bourdais was back at the track for the race too. His crash was so nasty and it could have been a lot worse.

As a racing driver, you know you have risks. And then you see those crashes and how the safety equipment on the cars and at the tracks save people. I’m proud of the safety developments which have been made in our sport. And you see crashes like Scott and Seb’s and know those safety developments have made a big difference.

Well, I enjoyed this year’s Indy 500 experience and just wish it could have finished up better. But that’s racing. I’ll plan to be back again in 2018. Now, it’s off to the streets of Belle Isle for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race, I’ll be racing in the Lexus sports car for 3GT Racing.

Thanks for reading my thoughts this month and we’ll plan to do it again next May.



Sainz hails ‘perfect weekend’ after finishing sixth in Monaco

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Carlos Sainz Jr. paid tribute to his Toro Rosso Formula 1 team after enjoying a “perfect weekend” in Monaco that ended with a sixth-place finish on Sunday.

Toro Rosso displayed good pace throughout practice in Monaco, with Sainz continuing this form into qualifying as he qualified P6.

The Spaniard held position through the early part of the race, keeping the chasing pack back before coming under pressure from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton late in the race.

Sainz defended well to fend Hamilton off and take sixth at the line, matching his best finish in F1.

“What a result, what a perfect weekend! We need to enjoy this moment, because it’s not usual to achieve a faultless grand prix on the streets of Monaco, and this time we did,” Sainz said.

“We put in good laps in practice, in yesterday’s qualifying session and, in today’s race, we were able to keep a world champion in a faster car behind and finish P6. It definitely feels so good!

“We’ve also been quicker than the rest of the midfield throughout the whole weekend and I’d like to thank the whole team for this, they gave me a very good car to drive.

“I really enjoyed today’s race. Now it’s time to celebrate this well-deserved result with the team before starting to think about the Canadian GP, which is up next!”

Fuel issues hamper Alexander Rossi’s Indy 500 title defense

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Alexander Rossi spent much of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil battling amongst the leaders. However, for the second consecutive year, the efforts from him and Andretti-Herta Autosport team were hampered by fuel issues.

During a pit for the lap 134 engine failure of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi’s No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda team had trouble engaging the fuel nozzle, resulting in a longer pit stop that dropped him to the middle of the field.

While he and the team used strategy to rebound from such an incident during last year’s race to take victory, circumstances did not play out in his favor this year. Rossi spent the rest of the race mired in traffic and was not in position to take advantage of alternate strategies.

Rossi rebounded to finish seventh, but he and the team know they missed an opportunity to contend for victory.

“Two years in a row to have fuel problems is pretty tough to swallow,” he lamented. “Obviously, it worked last year. You can’t rely on not fueling the car every year and getting results; it’s difficult. The NAPA Auto Parts Honda was awesome from the get-go. Then we didn’t have the downforce to be that far back.”

Rossi has shown an uptick in speed this year and has been a frontrunner at most events, but bad luck has kept he and the No. 98 team from contending for victory. Nonetheless, he now sits fifth in the championship following their performances at Indianapolis.

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