Shell And Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston

Pagenaud primed for full title challenge in year three at SPM

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Simon Pagenaud and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team have already nailed a few items on their to-do list over the last two years in the IndyCar Series.

Rookie-of-the-year, check. First win, check.

Series title? Could well be a check at the end of August.

The first two years of the Pagenaud and SPM narrative have centered on two things: his return to open-wheel racing after a successful four-year sports car sojourn, and the team as the “plucky underdog” punching above its weight, challenging the established Ganassi/Penske/Andretti “big dogs” with higher budgets.

There’s elements of those two that will probably carry over into 2014, notably on the commercial side without a sponsor for departing primary backer HP yet to be determined. There is interest, though, from multiple companies.

But clearly, Pagenaud and SPM have proven enough on the competition side over the last two years to where it’s not a question of if they’ll be challenging for wins. It’s more a question now of how many wins, and whether Pagenaud will advance those last two positions in the standings to win the 2014 crown.

“That’s the goal, for sure,” Pagenaud said in a phone interview on Monday. “We’ve done so well in the last two years. I think the team has done a tremendous job. We have extracted almost the best of everything we can.”

Pagenaud and the technical team, led by his longtime engineer Ben Bretzman, still acknowledge they have more work to do to continue to improve. The team seeks to understand the tires better and Pagenaud, who is widely acknowledged as one of the best racers in the series, could do better in qualifying. The Frenchman made only one Firestone Fast Six appearance in 2013, although he had three other top-six starts on road and street courses in abnormal qualifying formats.

Then there’s the wild card that Pagenaud and SPM should be able to handle better, at least initially, than the other Honda teams: the manufacturer’s switch to a twin-turbo format. The IndyCar Series mandated the switch for 2014 but Honda planned to make the move anyway. Pagenaud already has had three tests with the new powerplant and is encouraged with the progress.

“The starting point was very exciting, promising; Honda has been tremendous to work on the driveability side,” he explained. “We know the tools we’ll need to use to make the twin turbo easier to drive. The baseline is very competitive.

“The single didn’t have any turbo lag … it behaved like a normally aspirated engine,” he added. “Now, with the twin-turbo, the power comes in differently. We’re just trying to understand how to make it smoother. That’s what we’re working on. Once the engine is fully turned up, we’ll see how it is.”

This year Honda loses Chip Ganassi Racing and gains Andretti Autosport, but SPM was the first team to confirm its plans to return with Honda for 2014. Sam Schmidt and team co-owner Ric Peterson announced that news at Sonoma last August.

There’s another wild card too, in the form of Pagenaud’s second straight rookie teammate, Russian Mikhail Aleshin, who replaces Tristan Vautier. Aleshin was a surprise pick in November after one test, but already has a working relationship with Pagenaud from when they raced together in Europe. As Pagenaud describes, the 26-year-old is a no-nonsense, down-to-business driver.

“He’ll fit in well,” Pagenaud said. “He’s got a lot of experience from Formula Renault and GP2, and he got down to business straightaway. He’s very focused. He doesn’t seem to be very emotional – maybe because of his nationality – but he’s a very cool guy. He’ll be pushing me.”

Pagenaud’s next on-track action will be at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 25-26, in an Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b. Pagenaud missed the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test earlier this month but, given his history of racing HPD prototypes, will be up to speed in no time.

His next IndyCar test is an aerodynamic test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Jan. 30. Aleshin will have his first oval test at Homestead-Miami Speedway Jan. 28.

Their collective process of continuing the title push – even this early in the calendar year – builds.

Here are your Abu Dhabi GP TV Times on NBCSN, CNBC, Live Extra

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It’s the final Grand Prix of the year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the Yas Marina Circuit.

Here’s the TV times and game plan for the weekend across NBCSN, CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra:

NBC Sports Group presents the season finale of the 2015 Formula One season this weekend with live coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – F1’s only twilight race – from Yas Marina Circuit this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Group is on pace to deliver its most-watched Formula One season to date, with just Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi remaining on the schedule. Through 18 races, NBC Sports Group’s F1 coverage has averaged 533,000 viewers, up 17% vs. the same point of the 2014 F1 season. Last week, NBCSN delivered the most-watched live cable telecast of the Brazilian Grand Prix since 2010, averaging 493,000 viewers.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) is looking to close out the 2015 campaign with a third consecutive victory, following wins in Mexico and Brazil. Rosberg has also earned the pole position in five consecutive races. Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton clinched his second consecutive Drivers’ Championship with a victory at the United States Grand Prix in October. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has won the race in Abu Dhabi three times (2009, 2010 & 2013), followed by Hamilton’s two victories (2011 & 2014). The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix debuted in 2009 and holds the distinction as F1’s only twilight race, beginning in the sun of the afternoon and concluding after dusk under the lights.

Coverage of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi begins Friday at 4 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s live coverage of Practice 2 at 8 a.m. ET. Live Extra will carry Practice 3 on Saturday at 5 a.m. ET, and CNBC will present live qualifying on Saturday at 8 a.m. ET.

NBCSN’s race day coverage begins Sunday at 7 a.m. ET with F1 Countdown, followed by NBCSN’s live presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at 7:30 a.m. ET. F1 Extra will provide post-race analysis at 10 a.m. ET, and NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. NBCSN will also air coverage of the GP2 race in Abu Dhabion Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, with Alex Jacques calling the action.

Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBCSN, CNBC & NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., November 27 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. Live Extra
Off The Grid – Talladega (Encore) 7 a.m. NBCSN
Off The Grid – Austin (Encore) 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
“1” – F1 Documentary 9:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., November 28 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 (Encore) 1:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. Live Extra
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. CNBC
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore) 12:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., November 29 F1 Countdown 7 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Encore) 4:30 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Abu Dhabi 10 p.m. NBCSN

Haas F1 Team finishes its first pit wall gantry

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Haas F1 Team logos during the press conference for their driver announcement on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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As Haas F1 Team continues to prepare for its debut season in the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship, it’s putting together all the pieces it needs to compete.

It’s got a driver lineup – Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez have now finally, formally been confirmed within the last month – and now it has the pit wall equipment complete for the strategists to call their respective drivers’ races.

Here’s a video of how the team’s first pit wall gantry was assembled, and finished today:

And here’s some still shots:

INDYCAR confirms additional car tethers among other 2016 safety enhancements

Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud
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INDYCAR has outlined the formal safety enhancements it plans to do to the base Dallara DW12 chassis for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The full release from INDYCAR is below:

Tethering aerodynamic components of the Dallara IR-12 chassis is among safety enhancements announced by INDYCAR that will be implemented for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The high-tensile Zylon tethers minimize the possibility of components becoming detached from the race cars during accidents.

The rear beam wing and rear wheel guards will be tethered for all Verizon IndyCar Series events and the car’s nose will be tethered on superspeedway ovals (1.5 miles or longer). Dallara also has designed a tethering system for the front wing main plane for the three superspeedways on the 2016 schedule – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

Since 1999, Verizon IndyCar Series cars have employed wheel restraints attached to the chassis and suspension. The Suspension Wheel/Wing Energy Management System (SWEMS) also includes one or two restraints attached from the rear wing main plane to a secure location on the transmission.

“It is a continual goal to improve safety for all the participants, fans and drivers alike,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR Vice President of Technology. “We also need to do this in a fashion that does not create more yellow-flag racing and try to prevent as much debris as possible. We have great support from our partners to improve safety and wish to thank Chevrolet, Honda and Dallara for their participation and efforts in working together to implement change.”

Other changes for the 2016 season as part of INDYCAR’s ongoing research and development to improve the on-track product and safety include:

  • A domed skid plate on the underside of the chassis, which improves its yaw/spin characteristics, will complement rear wing flaps that deploy at 90 degrees if a car spins and travels backward on a superspeedway. The package will minimize the incidence of the car becoming airborne. The rear wing flaps have been tested in wind tunnels at General Motors and Texas A&M University. Components are scheduled to be available for the April 6 test on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
  • An update to the Engine Control Unit (ECU) prevents a car from moving forward during a pit stop if the gearbox is not in neutral while the fuel hose is attached. Through the ECU, the fuel probe activation sensor can stop the car from moving forward by returning the engine to idle and engaging the clutch if the car is not in neutral when the fuel probe is plugged in.
  • Another ECU update puts the engine in idle faster if too much pressure is applied to the throttle or brake pedal. The throttle pedal failsafe will engage and idle the engine when pressure applied to either the throttle or brake pedal exceeds a calibrated threshold.

Next round of “Dinner with Racers” podcasts come out today

Photo: DWR pres. by Continental Tire
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Last week, we were introduced to the “Dinner with Racers” podcasts, presented by Continental Tire, where Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman toured the country in an Acura MDX fitted with Continental Tires to have lunch or dinner with various people in racing.

These could be drivers, team owners, media members, track officials, or other athletes/individuals who are racing fans.

You wouldn’t think of Erik Valdez or Sean Johnson necessarily in racing terms, but Valdez is an actor who has made a handful of Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race starts, and MLS star Johnson was a guest of Continental Tire at the Road America IMSA round this year, where he saw the cars first hand and was involved in the pre-race ceremonies.

The episode guide is linked here, via, or all can be downloaded on iTunes. More will come up likely throughout the next couple days to hit the planned 27 number of episodes.

Stuff your face full of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and listen to some good interviews and insights along the way.