Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Driver Review: Remaining part-timers P28-39

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I looked at the 28 IndyCar drivers who raced in seven starts or more this year in detail. The remaining drivers in spots 28-39 all had their moments in their four starts or less (29th, Ana Beatriz, was covered in a separate post after running in seven races). My brief thoughts on each driver will follow:

28. Carlos Munoz

Stud, fearless, freak of nature; Munoz was the most exciting driver to enter into IndyCar since Tomas Scheckter in 2002, and Munoz’s countryman Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. In 2014, we’ll see both Colombians on the grid for full seasons.

30. Luca Filippi

He finally got his IndyCar chance after funding failed to develop for RLL in 2012. Naturally, Filippi capitalized for Bryan Herta, with a combo of pace, dedication and tenacity reminiscent of another Italian who took IndyCar by storm – Alex Zanardi.

31. Pippa Mann

The “social media people’s champion,” with a steely resolve and fierce determination to prove she belongs in a car. No one fought harder to make their dream come true in 2013, and Mann performed better than her final results will register in Dale Coyne’s “Cyclops Cyclone” in her four starts.

32. James Davison

Davison was a surprise choice for Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in Coyne’s second car but acquitted himself well given a long open-wheel layoff. Will Power rates his countryman highly and Davison’s two starts lived up nicely to that praise.

33. Stefan Wilson

Another in the round-robin of No. 18 Coyne drivers, Stefan Wilson made an overdue and popular debut at Baltimore with one of the year’s sharpest liveries, the white-and-green Nirvana Tea Honda, and with brother Justin as his teammate. Stefan essentially thrown in at the deep end but kept his head while most of the others found the wall, improving his lap times and gaining valuable experience.

34. Conor Daly

Few “get” Indy more than Daly and his ’500 debut, if rocky at times, was well-deserved. Seems keen to prove himself further in IndyCar and his dedication to the sport is unquestioned, as he was a frequent visitor at the IndyCar races that didn’t clash with GP3. Hell, he even got a podium in an Indy Lights cameo at Houston.

35. Townsend Bell

It’s been a pleasure for me to get to work with Townsend on our “Ten with Townsend” series of questions throughout the year. Our NBCSN analyst’s one start this year at Indy didn’t quite go to plan, but it was definitely memorable given his yellow-and-blue hat he rocked for the month of May.

36. Lucas Luhr

I’ll be honest; I was shocked when I heard Luhr – a sports car veteran of a dozen years – would be making his IndyCar debut for Sarah Fisher at Sonoma. Luhr didn’t make a huge first impression, but improved over the course of the weekend and would be welcomed back for future IndyCar starts.

37. Katherine Legge

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 qualifying effort leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, Katherine’s was the one. She hadn’t driven an IndyCar in eight months and had just come off racing the radical DeltaWing at Monterey when she arrived for a “Bump Day special” in Sam Schmidt’s third car. The qualifying run was perfect and her race would have ended in the top 15, possibly top 10, had she not made slight contact exiting Turn 2 early in the race.

38. Buddy Lazier

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 entry leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, seeing Buddy Lazier back in a car for the first time in four years was rather stunning. But hey, to his credit, the 45-year-old got on with the program without missing a step. It was good to have him back in the field even if it was mainly to help fill the field to 33.

39. Michel Jourdain Jr.

Including Michel as a cursory mention here because he was this year’s hard-luck qualifying driver at Indy. All month, RLL could not get the setup and pace right on this third car, and Jourdain failed to qualify for no fault of his own. There’s many in the paddock that wants the popular Mexican driver to get another chance.

Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”