Exclusive: Cosworth seeks return to IndyCar, possible one for F1

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Cosworth has built a long, established history across open-wheel racing for nearly a half century. But for 2014, a Cosworth engine isn’t on the Formula One grid, and for the seventh consecutive year isn’t in an IndyCar.

That could soon change.

In an exclusive interview with Cosworth Automotive CEO Hal Reisiger, an American who headed Cosworth’s U.S. companies and in the last year has advanced to be the head of the company in the U.K., plans are in the works for a return to at least one of the two championships – potentially both.

When asked by MotorSportsTalk whether IndyCar’s current  2.2L V6 turbocharged engine formula would portend a Cosworth return, Reisiger said it’s something they’re working on.

“We are committed to aligning ourselves with an OEM for an IndyCar engine program,” Reisiger said.

He confirmed he’ll have meetings next week on the possibility, and said it’s something they’re keenly interested in.

“I think that IndyCar wants it, the teams want it; they want another entrant other than the Chevy Illmor and the Honda and miss having the Lotus engine,” Reisiger said.

“We have set a target and a goal of finding an OEM engine partner for an IndyCar. It’s something that’s very high on the list of priorities, and we have the support of IndyCar ourselves in doing so.”

The Lotus engine wasn’t a popular choice in 2012, as it was initially fielded by four teams with five cars (HVM Racing, Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold, Dragon Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport). However, all bar HVM ended their association with Lotus by the month of May in Indianapolis, thus leaving Keith Wiggins’ team and Simona de Silvestro to see out the season with the lesser-rated engine.

While the Lotus wasn’t a popular choice, its presence meant that the manufacturers only needed to supply up to 40 percent of the IndyCar field. Once Lotus pulled out and left only Chevrolet and Honda in play, those two had to increase capacity to make up the field.

The 2014 IndyCar grid is likely to see a reduced number of full-time entrants compared to 2013, but that’s not down to the engine manufacturers. Dragon Racing’s departure reduces Chevrolet’s number by two; Panther Racing (Chevrolet) is yet to confirm its plans and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s second Honda is not confirmed for the full season. Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing add a Chevrolet apiece.

Cosworth last powered the Panoz DP01 Champ Car for the 2007 full season, and the engine last appeared in the series’ final race, the 2008 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

As for Formula One, Marussia was the last team to field the normally aspirated 2.4L V8 Cosworth at the end of the current development cycle there. But according to Reisiger, it wasn’t the new regulations that prevented Cosworth from building a new 1.6L V6 turbocharged engine. It was simply economics.

“There had been some design work, simulation and analysis done by our engineering staff and there had been some discussions, some of which were fairly recent, about whether there wasn’t a team or teams plural that were willing to sponsor the development,” Reisiger explained.

“But given the scope of the work and budget that’s required, it wasn’t something Cosworth was prepared to undertake independently. If one of those discussions came to fruition, and they still take place, it’s still something we’d be interested in that we’d need to be in collaboration and partnership with an OEM or team or teams.”

So would that leave the door open to an F1 return down the road? In a word, yes.

“Absolutely we would (want to),” Reisiger said. “I think that we provide a very cost-effective solution for people to be on the grid. We have the ability to excel from a performance standpoint. Decisions take place fairly frequently; it’s a matter of whether or not it makes sense for teams, OEMs and/or Cosworth. We’d look forward to the right opportunity if we could find the right collaboration.”

Potential Cosworth programs could also appear in sports car racing and/or another form of motorsport down the road. Further information from our conversation with Reisiger today will follow in a separate post.

Raikkonen leads topsy turvy first free practice session in Russia

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Kimi Raikkonen has topped the timesheets in the first 90-minute free practice session for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, although times are never entirely representative in this first running of the weekend on the notoriously low-grip to start Sochi Autodrom.

Naturally then it took longer for the fastest times to come in. Raikkonen posted a 1:36.074 on Pirelli’s supersoft tires, with just under half an hour remaining, which eclipsed the pair of Mercedes AMG Petronas entries of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, who were 0.045 of a second and 0.607 of a second behind, respectively.

Vettel was fifth without really getting a proper lap in – more than one second back of his not-under-fire but perhaps under-duress teammate – just behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in fourth.

This marks the last race that Verstappen will be racing as a member of Red Bull Racing for the first time, as it marks the one-year anniversary since local hero Daniil Kvyat’s first-lap nightmare here last year. The Toro Rosso driver in his special edition “torpedo” helmet he’s made this weekend clocked in 11th.

Raikkonen’s fastest time was more than two seconds up on FP1’s fastest time last year, and times will only get quicker the rest of the weekend.

Both Hamilton and Vettel got away with “moments” during the session. Early on, Hamilton had had a quick moment over the Turn 2 curbs but landed without damage. In the final 15 minutes Vettel spun as well at Turn 17, but again without hitting anything. Hamilton then ran wide at the exit of Turn 14, looping his car, but stopping it before it hit the barriers.

Meanwhile Ferrari stated both Vettel and Raikkonen are using new turbochargers this race, and didn’t cite any potential reliability concerns as a reason why.

Raikkonen’s overall best time looked set to be bettered before the first red and only flag of the session occurred in a fairly abnormal manner.

With less than 25 minutes to go in the session, a bizarre incident occurred as Esteban Ocon’s engine cover off the back of his Force India Mercedes popped off as he closed his DRS on the run to Turn 2. Ocon limped the wounded Force India back to the pit lane with no additional damage but it put the session under a red flag, which thus provided a green flag for Twitter snark.

Meanwhile the young Frenchman wasn’t the only driver with issues this session. Stoffel Vandoorne reported in a loss of power to his Honda-powered McLaren inside the final 10 minutes of the session; the Belgian has had woeful luck of late with power units, notably at Bahrain, and the team was hopeful it had made a step forward in the post-Grand Prix test there. A grid penalty would loom with another power unit change.

To start the session, Renault test driver Sergey Sirotkin, in a run-out in his home Grand Prix weekend, didn’t even get to complete a timed lap as he stopped on the backside of the circuit with a mechanical issue. Reboot attempts failed and left him without a lap, same as the driver he was filling in for in Nico Hulkenberg, who will be back in for FP2.

Speaking of, FP2 comes up live at 8 a.m. ET, 5 a.m. PT on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

Times are below:

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”