Nico Rosberg sits in his car during the third practice session of the German F1 Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring racing circuit

Shakedown runs for new Mercedes, Toro Rosso cars

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The official start of Formula One testing in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain isn’t until Tuesday, but Mercedes and Scuderia Toro Rosso have taken their respective 2014 cars out for short shakedown runs.

According to a tweet from Mercedes, their new W05 machine ran 40 kilometers today at the Silverstone circuit in England. At the controls was Nico Rosberg (pictured), who said on Twitter: “Such a great feeling. Just drove my new silver arrow for the first time. It looks quick, but I don’t know if it is quick yet!”

Per Mercedes, Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton will alternate each day of testing in Jerez, with Hamilton testing the W05 on Days 1 and 3 and Rosberg in for Days 2 and 4.

Meanwhile, Toro Rosso confirmed that they got in a filming day with both of their drivers, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat, driving the new Renault-powered STR9 at the Misano circuit in Italy.

Both squads are set to officially launch their new challengers in Jerez – Toro Rosso going on Monday, Mercedes following on Tuesday.

Lest anyone think the two sides have somehow committed a violation of the F1 rule book by running early laps with their 2014 cars, this year’s Sporting Regulations state that each team can complete two promotional events outside of official testing during the year; those particular events cannot go over 100 kilometers in length and only Pirelli demo tires can be used in them.

Rosberg quickest in Belgium FP1 as Halo gets further tests

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo fitted with the halo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg marked Formula 1’s return from its summer break by topping the opening practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday morning.

Rosberg spent the first part of the session testing the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device, which is going through further evaluation ahead of a possible introduction for 2018.

The Halo has previously been used only on one-lap runs, but Rosberg completed an extended stretch to aid in giving feedback. Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo also lapped using the Halo in the early part of the session.

With the Halo fitted and super-soft tires on the car, Rosberg recorded a fastest lap time of 1:48.348 during the 90-minute session to finish three-quarters of a second clear at the top of the timesheets, heading up a Mercedes one-two.

Lewis Hamilton finished second in the sister W07 Hybrid, but is already on the back foot after Mercedes confirmed that he will take a 15-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Kimi Raikkonen was the best of the rest for Ferrari, finishing third ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez. Sebastian Vettel was fifth in the second Ferrari ahead of the Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who is set to enjoy a sizeable amount of support this weekend thanks to the large number of fans making the trip from his native Netherlands to Belgium.

Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth in the second Force India ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, while Esteban Gutierrez made a strong start to the weekend to finish P10.

Ocon hopes to emulate Verstappen as he prepares for F1 debut

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 25: Esteban Ocon of France and Manor Racing talks to the media during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 25, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) A month before his 20th birthday, Frenchman Esteban Ocon will make his Formula One debut for the Manor team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The 18-year-old Dutch driver Max Verstappen – his former rival – will be competing in his 32nd GP, already has four podiums to his name and is the youngest driver to win an F1 race.

That makes him an easy person for Ocon to look up to as he looks to make his own mark in F1.

“Age is just a number at the end. You have to show you are capable of driving in F1 and show it to the right people,” Ocon said Thursday. “I think that’s the most important thing. You have to deliver like Max did and that’s the target for me as well.”

When Ocon won the European Formula 3 championship in 2014, Verstappen finished behind him in third place.

Their paths then split.

Verstappen was fast-tracked to F1 last year with Toro Rosso before replacing Russian Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull after four races this season.

Verstappen paid back that faith with a brilliant drive to win the Spanish GP in May in his first race for Red Bull, and then finished second in Austria and Britain before taking third place at the German GP in the last race before the summer break.

His advice for Ocon is pretty simple.

“Just jump in the car and go out and drive as fast as you can,” Verstappen said.

Easier said than done, because few drivers have Verstappen’s level of confidence, even given his young age.

Ocon began this year racing for Mercedes in Germany’s DTM touring car championship and was a reserve driver for the Renault F1 team.

Things quickly changed two weeks ago, when Manor terminated Rio Haryanto’s contract – having run out of patience with his sponsors – and replaced the Indonesian driver with Ocon for the remainder of the season.

Ocon fully intends to take his chance.

“I had the best preparation I could have got,” he said. “It’s great to start in Spa. It’s a track that I know, so it will help me get up to speed.”

Ocon is considered a strong candidate for a race seat at Renault next year, particularly with speculation surrounding the future of Danish driver Kevin Magnussen.

Before that, however, he hopes to pick up some tips from his Manor teammate Pascal Wehrlein, a 21-year-old German who will be racing in only his 13th GP.

“He’s a great driver and he has been quick throughout the whole season,” Ocon said.

IndyCar: Delayed Texas race leaves Gabby Chaves in a good position

Gabby Chaves is ready to go in the resumption of the IndyCar race at Texas this Saturday.
(Photo: IndyCar/Joe Skibinski)
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Some people look at the glass half-empty, others look at it half-full.

And then there’s Verizon IndyCar Series driver Gabby Chaves – he’s looking at the glass totally full, as he’s back in action for the first time since Iowa on July 10.

As IndyCar returns to Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday to complete the race that was suspended June 12 due to weather, Chaves put the 2 ½ month delay in one of the best perspectives we’ve seen or heard this week.

While some drivers aren’t necessarily happy that the series had to go back to TMS for a re-do of sorts – picking up on Lap 72 when the scheduled 248-lap race restarts – it feels a lot longer to Chaves.

“I went into this race at 22 years old and I’ll finish it at 23, so hopefully that will be some good luck,” Chaves said.

So, the driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda of Dale Coyne Racing will make his seventh start of the season. His two best showings thus far have been close to top-10s: 12th and 13th in both Belle Isle races.

In his most recent race, at Iowa, he finished 17th.

But Chaves has high hopes for the return to Texas – even if he’s a year older since the last time he was there (birthday was July 7). If you see him licking his lips, it’s because he’s thirsty for a win and if things go the way he hopes, that’s a definite possibility.

When the race was red-flagged after 71 laps on June 12 (after the original scheduled race on June 11 was, alas, rained out), Chaves was running sixth in the 22-car field.

So, that’s where he’ll start when the race resumes this Saturday. And even though he’s endured a lengthy hiatus, just like every one of the other 21 drivers in the race, Chaves is ready to potentially save his best for last – the last oval race of the season, that is.

“We’re definitely in a position where we can actually go for the win,” Chaves said. “So, I’m very excited and very much looking forward to finishing out the oval calendar on a very high note for the team and myself.

“It’s always tricky to get back in the car, especially that we will only have 10 minutes to get sorted and get running before going straight into the race.

“You have to be committed and trust in the abilities that you have and trust in what the team gives you and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

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Mark Miles checks in after IndyCar’s 2017 schedule release

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, checked in with reporters during a teleconference to discuss the release of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He also checked in on NASCAR AMERICA this evening on NBCSN with Krista Voda (video above).

Here’s some of the highlights:

On getting the schedule out so soon

“Well, we thought it was important. You know, if you’re committed to making the foundation of a current year the bulk of the schedule the next year, then we didn’t see any reason we couldn’t do it, and I think it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule. But also for the tracks; here happily we are in August, and we’re announcing a schedule, and they have a year to prepare.

“We kind of put the stake in the ground that we’d get this out in August, and I think we’re still in August, so we’re delighted to have met the goal.”

On further schedule growth

“Some of you are aware of and have written about it, and there were options to be sure, lots at the start, narrowed to some finalists, and we think there will be even more for next year.

“Our philosophy about growth is careful, managed growth where we add to fill in gaps on the schedule, and those to me looking at next year, we still believe there may be an international opportunity at the very beginning of the year to be abroad, and that will do lots of things for us if we can find a great opportunity for ’18 in February. And then there may be one more opportunity to add during what we currently have kind of staked out as the heart of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in North America.

“We think about all the factors from the balance we want to try to keep in terms of the type of racing, which we’ve already talked about, in terms of urban versus more park-like as we have now in so many of our races, Midwest versus other regions of the country. We’re pretty Midwest based, and I think there’s an appetite west, northwest, east or southeast in this country, urban versus more rural.

“So all those things go into it, and I think we just look at the options on a case-by-case basis and try to make the best calls.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing, irrespective of what kind of track and where it is in the country or the world, we want races like we have for the most part where the race is an event that captures the imagination of the community.”

On whether 2017 and 2018 schedules could have been released together

“I loved the idea of putting out the ’17 and ’18 calendars at the same time, and we were really close to doing it, and that’s exemplified by the fact that I’ve already told you that I expect everybody that’s on the calendar for ’17 to be on the calendar for ’18.  We do think there’s still some prospects that need a little more time to be fully developed for both international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. So we decided not to go.

“But saying all that, I don’t think we have to wait until August of ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I can’t give you the date on which we’ll do it, but I do expect that it’ll be even earlier before ’18 than it was before ’17.”

On why Phoenix shifted from the start of April to the end of April

“When Phoenix came on for this year, we knew that in ’17 Phoenix would host the NCAA Final Four, and we agreed with them that it’s better to avoid that in that community. That’s a lot of fan choice and a lot of focus from the local media.

“That’s the reason that it changed from ’16 to ’17. I think that makes sense. And I think the schedule still works fine for our competitors.

“We are looking at what that might look like in ’18, and whether it stays more or less where it is or whether it goes back to — I guess we can’t call it the traditional date since it’s been one year, but the ’16 date, and that’s a decision we’ll make obviously in the context of putting out the ’18 calendar.”

On Auto Club Speedway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Portland

“I think we talked a lot about Fontana about a year or so ago where their needs in terms of climate and time of day and even the sunset, which affects our drivers’ ability to be safe and run a great race, which affects the time of the race, which affects broadcasts in eastern time. It’s all related, so that one we just couldn’t sort out.

“[Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca, interesting track, race history. We are kind of in that part of the world if you consider Sonoma northern Cal along with Laguna. Sonoma seems to be kind of solidifying a place for us as the season finale, which we love, and I think our fans and our stakeholders appreciate.

“Portland has a great history and is a part of — further north. That’s not northern Cal, and is an interesting region for us. So I don’t know. I don’t know that you’ve heard the end of the possibilities for Portland.”

On the broadcast partners and start times components

“I think [releasing the calendar now] it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule.

“The other thing is the further out we get, the harder it is to really fine-tune the television broadcast schedule [for 2018], and that matters to us. As you know, we’ve made real progress with our broadcast partners in finding optimal broadcast times, which help us attract more viewers. We want to continue that focus. The further out you get, the harder it is to pick the exact date when you know a little less about their other programming, so we’ll take a little more time.

“Obviously as I think I may have mentioned before, we have to work with our broadcast partners to find the right balance between the show, the event on-site for the fans who buy tickets and come out, and the fans who will tune in on television. One of the things that we’ve found is that it’s better for race fans I think generally if we can minimize overlaps with NASCAR coverage. I’m not in any way defensive about saying that. We think there are a meaningful number of fans of both series, and we’d like for all of them to be able to watch both kinds of racing.

“It’s really helpful in the second half of the season that the same broadcasters [on NBC] are programming both NASCAR and IndyCar, so it’s in everybody’s interest to maximize the windows for both, and I think that’s happened, and you’ve probably seen kind of the add-up of that, the significant reduction in the number of races where there are overlapping telecasts and the number of hours. It’s much, much less than it was even three years ago. I think that helps all race fans.

“And ABC has worked with us, as well. You’re always trying to minimize key conflicts in the sports horizon. NBC’s objective or one of them is to be the motorsports platform, much as they’ve done in golf, and they have grown as a cable provider, and they’ve grown their audience for motorsports, and certainly they’ve been helpful in the growth of our television audience.”

On Stephen Starks’, VP of Promoter Relations, role in the process

“Stephen has brought great, fresh thinking about all this. You know, together we can focus on the few things we want to do better, and timeliness was part of it, the things we’ve been talking about, so he does deserve huge props for driving this process inside IndyCar, being I think a great resource to those who wanted to be considered to join the series and extending the agreements for those who have been on and now will be on with certainty longer. He spent a little bit of time with us and our legal department, so he understands that side of the business, and now he’s really gone to town, and I think the future is bright not just in terms of the schedule-making process, but our ambition is to add more value to the promoters that we have.

“When I look at other leagues, the NBA has a great team-services group, for example, and they’re able to share best practices in a serious way that adds to the value the league provides to their franchises.

“When one of them figures out something that helps them promote ticket sales and get ticket sales in earlier, they all know about it, and I think we can, under Stephen’s leadership, add that kind of value to our promoters, as well.

“I can see his head swelling. We may have a hard time getting him on the plane on the way back.”