NHRA Auto Racing

Daytona, Pomona kick off two more racing seasons this February

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American football season is officially over with the Seattle Seahawks’ smackdown of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII last night.

Which means that next up in the sporting calendar is the start of two racing seasons, NASCAR’s and the NHRA’s.

Daytona Speedweeks and the Circle K Pomona Winternationals are February’s racing highlights, although testing for other series is still ongoing this month.

Here’s what’s on tap for the racing month of February (see January’s “on tap” here):

  • Daytona Speedweeks: From Feb. 14 through Feb. 23, 10 days of practice, qualifying and racing culminating with the Daytona 500 on the 23rd. NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, the ARCA opener and the preseason Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel Sprint Cup events will take place. For the Daytona 500, there will be several new team/driver combination debuts, and also the much-heralded return of the No. 3 to a Sprint Cup race with rookie Austin Dillon.
  • NHRA’s West Coast doubleheader: The traditional first two weekends of the drag racing season commence at Pomona (Feb. 6-9) and Phoenix (Feb. 21-23). At the season opener, Courtney Force seeks to defend her Funny Car race win and father John begins another season long title defense. It’s a big year for JFR as a whole; the team enters its last year with Fords and Castrol, two flagship brands associated with the Force family for nearly 30 years.
  • F1’s Bahrain testing double: There wasn’t a ton of running for the contingent of Formula One teams at their first test in Jerez last week; teams spent time sorting out some initial mechanical issues with their new chassis and new powerplants. Heavier running should occur at both February tests in Bahrain; the first is from Feb. 19-22, with the second Feb. 27-March 2. Lotus, which missed the Jerez test, is the only team yet to run its new chassis.
  • More IndyCar testing: A mix of Florida and California tests for the IndyCar Series are on tap. Additionally, the series will hold its preseason Media Day in Orlando on Feb. 18. The series still has a handful of full-season seats to fill as we enter the final two months before its season opener in St. Petersburg at the end of March – there was little movement on the driver front in January.
  • Winter Series: There’s two “winter series” of note. The new four-race Florida Winter Series runs from Feb. 3-5 at Palm Beach, Feb. 12-14 and Feb. 17-19 at Homestead. Meanwhile the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship takes place for all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Doubleheader Pro Mazda races and tripleheader USF2000 races will occur Feb. 21-22 at NOLA Motorsports Park and Feb. 25-26 at Barber Motorsports Park, respectively; Indy Lights will have testing all four days as well.
  • Elsewhere: The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship tests at Sebring Feb. 20-21, in what will be another test of Balance of Performance for DP and P2 cars … FIA World Rally Championship has its second event of the season this weekend, Rally Sweden in the snow Feb. 5-8 … one endurance race of note is on tap, with the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race for production and GT cars Feb. 7-9 … we figure there will be more Pirelli World Challenge team and driver announcements across its field.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.