Indiana 250 - Practice

Sam Hornish Jr. looks forward to new start with Joe Gibbs Racing

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After battling Austin Dillon for last season’s Nationwide Series championship, Sam Hornish Jr. ultimately fell short by a mere three points.

Dillon won the title and got a promotion to Sprint Cup for 2014.

Hornish, however, was essentially laid-off from Penske Racing when enough sponsorship dollars couldn’t be found to keep his NNS team going for 2014.

But rather than mope or throw a pity party, the 34-year-old Hornish will indeed be racing in 2014, driving in at least seven NNS races as he and Kyle Busch team up to share a ride in the Joe Gibbs Racing-owned No. 54 NNS Toyota.

It’s not a full-time ride, but Hornish feels fortunate he has another job and he’s still racing.

Even with the departure from the Penske organization after a decade-long association that included one of his three IndyCar championships and a victory in the 2006 Indianapolis 500, Hornish holds no grudges – even though some uninformed critics felt otherwise.

“Cleaning up my office (at Penske Racing) and packing up all the stuff, it felt weird,” Hornish told MotorSportsTalk. “There were some people that expressed a little bit of bitterness towards me about it, but I said, ‘Hey, I didn’t quit. I didn’t have a job anymore. What do you want me to do?’

“It’s just like anything else in life, you’re never going to make everybody happy. I’m proud of the decade-long relationship with Penske Racing and Roger, and I hope that no matter what happens throughout as the future goes, I can always say that not only was he my boss but he was my friend as well.”

While Hornish could have stayed on with Penske in a different capacity, perhaps as a test driver or another role, when the JGR offer came up, he had to take it.

“I told Roger from the get-go that I was going to do this,” Hornish said. “I told him, ‘I hope you understand where I’m at and all those things.’ After we had an opportunity to talk about it, I feel like he felt much better about it.”

While this will essentially put him back to square one by racing a part-time schedule, Hornish is okay with that. The key is just to be back behind the wheel.

He also hasn’t given up on his hopes to return to a full-time ride in Sprint Cup some day.

“I want to be successful and I want to run up towards the front of no matter what I do,” he said. “I’m really excited to get into a JGR car, starting out on the Nationwide side.

“I want to go Cup racing in the future, but I’m only going to do that if I think that it’s with an organization I can run in the top-15 regularly. That means I want to do it with someone I can hopefully get into the Chase with. There are a lot of things that can bias that, but I know that being with an organization like JGR that has great sponsors that tend to be on the car year in and year out, to be with a company like Monster Energy and what they’re brand is … this is the right place for me.”

Hornish will start with seven races in the No. 54 Toyota and see where things go. His first race tentatively isn’t until April 25 at Richmond.

Even though that may seem like a long time, Hornish looks on the bright side. When asked about how he thinks NASCAR’s new qualifying format will play out, Hornish said with a laugh, “The great part about my job is this year is I’ve got eight weeks to watch everybody else do it and screw it up, and hopefully I’ll get it right.”

Until then, he’ll continue to immerse himself in the JGR culture and way of doing things, while also enjoying the latest addition to his family. After two daughters, Hornish and wife Crystal welcomed son Samuel III into the world on Feb. 8.

With Juan Pablo Montoya’s decision to return to Indy cars after a seven-season stint in NASCAR, as well as Cup drivers Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger planning to compete in this year’s Indianapolis 500, Hornish was asked whether he’d ever consider going back to the open-wheel world.

After all, he experienced a much greater level of success in sleek Indy cars – three championships and a win in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 – than he has in NASCAR stock car racing.

Hornish quickly downplays the possibility.

“The last time I had serious thoughts about it was in 2011,” Hornish said. “That ended after about the fifth lap at the Las Vegas race (when his friend Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific wreck) and I haven’t thought much about it since then.”

Plus, there’d be very little to gain for Hornish to return to IndyCar.

“I feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to over there,” Hornish said. “There was a reason I left. The reason wasn’t monetary, it was a challenge (in NASCAR). Yeah, there might be more of a challenge going back there now because I’ve been out of it for seven years.

“I just feel like what would be the point to where you could possibly tarnish a career that you won in almost 20 percent of the events you ran and won half the full-time championships that you ran when you focused on it.

“And then you look at the safety fact of it, too. I got a lot of people that I need to take care of in my life, and racing in general for me is probably a little bit of a selfish thing because I probably don’t need to do it, but I want to. So, I have to sit back and think about as far as my family life goes, everything worked out exactly the way it needed to for this year.”

There’s one other thing, as well.

Even when he was tearing up the IndyCar circuit, Hornish admits he never felt he got the respect he deserved.

“When I started racing over there, (people said) ‘You’re not good enough.’ When I won the championship (people said), ‘You didn’t have any competition. Wait till Penske comes along.’ You went with Penske (and people said), ‘Well, that wasn’t enough competition, wait for Ganassi.’ Okay, you almost won again, now it’s about the road courses. Okay, you won a championship with the road courses and you won the Indy 500, now what’s the challenge anymore?”

In a sense, Hornish has found a sense of peace in NASCAR that he didn’t have in Indy cars. And now with the new opportunity with JGR, there’s no looking back or lamenting on what was or what might have been.

“After everything gets calmed down for a couple months, I’m going to go racing,” he said. “It’s a weird thing to say, but it’s all happening kind of for the right reason.

“Call it divine intervention or just the way things worked out, or maybe in my mind I worked things to be able to get myself into this position. I want to be out there racing more, but I’m okay with where I’m at, too.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NextEV wraps up private testing ahead of third Formula E season

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The NextEV Formula E Team has completed its private testing program ahead of the collective sessions at Donington Park next month in the run-up to season three of the all-electric series.

NextEV endured a difficult second season that saw it lack the pace to allow Nelson Piquet Jr. to defend the inaugural Formula E title he won with the team in season one.

Despite making significant progress across the course of the season under the guidance of CEO Martin Leach, NextEV was unable to avoid finishing at the foot of the teams’ championship.

Plans for season three have been moving swiftly for many months, with Leach telling NBC Sports earlier this month that things were going the right way during testing.

“Everything is on plan,” Leach said.

“When you’re going through a whole new development as we are, you’re constantly trying to identify issues and resolve issues.

“Everything is on-track so far.”

On Friday, NextEV issued a statement announcing it had completed its private testing program ahead of the new season, with 11 days’ worth of running under its belt at Calafat in Spain.

“We have been working incredibly hard for some time now on our new car for the 2016/17 season and have our sights firmly set on arriving in Hong Kong very well prepared and with a well-tested car,” Leach said.

“There are some interesting developments for next season, one of which is the increased regeneration levels, and so these technical upgrades have been a part of the work.

“We have been encouraged by our reliability and our programme progress is exactly in line with our planning.

“We look forward to getting on track at Donington for some comparison work against the other teams and to further cementing our strong pre-season testing work and performance.”

NextEV is yet to confirm its line-up for season three, but Leach told NBC Sports that the team has agreements in principle with season two drivers Piquet and Oliver Turvey, both of whom have expressed a desire to remain with the team.

“We have an agreement in principle. The physical contracts are not signed yet, but I don’t anticipate that being a problem,” Leach said.

“So we’re just going through some of the minutiae at the moment. My plan is to stay with Nelson and Oliver if I can.”

The third Formula E season kicks off in Hong Kong on October 9, with collective testing starting at Donington Park at the end of August.

Sirotkin beats Gasly to GP2 pole in Germany

2016 GP2 Series Round 7
Hockenheimring, Hockenheim, Germany
Friday 29 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
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Sergey Sirotkin continued his mid-season revival by scoring pole position for Saturday’s GP2 Series feature race at Hockenheim.

Sirotkin picked up his first win of the season in Hungary last Sunday, rising to eighth place in the drivers’ championship in the process after a luckless start to the year.

Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly enjoyed the upper-hand for much of the qualifying session, setting two laps good enough for pole before returning to the pit lane and getting out of his car, believing he had done all he could.

As a result, the Frenchman was left unable to respond when Sirotkin put in a lap of 1:22.193, going one-hundredth of a second faster to snatch away pole for ART Grand Prix.

“It is the first time I’ve been to the track, so I didn’t have much expectation before we came here, and free practice didn’t go super good so you’re thinking more about getting a top three than getting a pole,” Sirotkin said.

“The first set of tires was pretty good but we were missing a bit of time to Pierre at that moment, but with every lap on the track I felt better and better, so we were quite confident for the second run.

“Unfortunately there was a bit of a mess on the warm up to the first push, so I just stopped pushing, did a cool lap, and the last lap I knew most of the people would not be as quick and I just pushed like crazy.

“I think I just squeezed everything I could from the situation. Probably we were not simply the quickest car, but we made it by putting it all together perfectly, every inch.”

Raffaele Marciello qualified third for Russian Time ahead of Prema’s Antonio Giovinazzi, while Oliver Rowland bounced back from a disastrous weekend in Hungary to qualify fifth.

Alex Lynn will start sixth for DAMS on Saturday ahead of Norman Nato and Nicholas Latifi. Jordan King and Marvin Kirchhofer rounded out the top 10 for Racing Engineering and Carlin respectively.

Saturday’s GP2 feature race is live on the NBC Sports app and online at f1stream.nbcsports.com from 9:40am ET on Saturday.

FIA to use three-strike rule for Turn 1 track limits at Hockenheim

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Sergio Perez of Mexico drives the 1 Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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FIA race director Charlie Whiting has informed all Formula 1 teams that a three-strike rule will be used when policing track limits at Turn 1 during this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

The FIA installed a timing loop at two corners for last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix to police track limits more effectively, giving drivers three warnings before being penalized for running wide and gaining an advantage.

A similar loop was put at Turn 1 during the build day at Hockenheim ahead of the German Grand Prix, but a request was made for greater leniency when it comes to track limits during the F1 Strategy Group meeting in Geneva on Thursday.

However, after track limits were deemed to have been exceeded 93 times during FP1 alone at Hockenheim – 14 of which Max Verstappen was responsible for – a note has been sent to teams saying that the three-strike rule will be re-introduced.

“During P1 many drivers appeared to make little or no effort to stay on the track on the exit of turn 1, in fact, one driver left the track 14 times,” Whiting’s note read.

“Therefore, for P2 and P3 any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at turn 1 will be reported to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track.

“However, if we are satisfied that a driver left the track at this point for reasons beyond his control such a crossing will not be counted towards his total in the session.”

The clampdown on track limits means that times may be deleted during qualifying on Saturday afternoon, as was seen at Silverstone when Lewis Hamilton ran wide on his first lap that was quick enough for pole.

F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”