Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 3

IndyCar: 2014 sees mix of old guard, future generation set for battle

1 Comment

As the days begin to count down for IndyCar before its season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30, most of the field is set and most will have gotten in anywhere from two to three offseason tests – some more so, depending on available budget.

What sets up is a fascinating battle between three distinct generations: the older guard, closer to the end of their careers than the beginnings, the veterans who all have substantial experience and are in the middle of their careers, and the younger generation, who have shown glimpses of brilliance but not contended for wins and championships on a weekly basis. Yet.

THE VETERAN TRIO: TONY KANAAN, HELIO CASTRONEVES, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA

The two Brazilians have been inextricably linked since they moved to America in the mid-1990s, coming up through Indy Lights and then into CART in 1998. Then in 1999, a then-unheralded Colombian named JPM stormed ashore and swept to the CART title as a rookie.

In 2014, their goals are different. “TK,” who at present would take over the series’ unofficial elder statesman role at 39, has a long-awaited chance with one of the best seats in IndyCar, taking over the No. 10 Target car from Dario Franchitti. He’s got a great chance to win his second championship, 10 years after his first.

For Penske’s pair of Castroneves and Montoya, both 38, the stories are different. Helio seeks that elusive first championship in what, like Kanaan, will be his 17th season of racing, and his now proving-to-be-elusive fourth Indianapolis 500. For Montoya? It’ll be about getting reacclimated to open-wheel after an eight-year layoff, and showcasing the sublime driving ability he showed from his two CART years in 1999 and 2000.

THE MID-CAREER VETERANS: TAKUMA SATO, JUSTIN WILSON, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, SCOTT DIXON, RYAN HUNTER-REAY, RYAN BRISCOE, WILL POWER, ED CARPENTER, MIKE CONWAY

This group all ranges from age 30 (Conway) up to 36 (Sato), and you figure they have anywhere from maybe four to up to 10 years still to go. And all still have something to prove after their careers in top-level American open-wheel have stretched back as far as 2001 (Dixon’s rookie year in CART).

Dixon, 33, and the defending series champion, is undoubtedly at the peak of his powers … but so too is Power, also 33, who came on like wildfire at the tail end of the 2013 season. A proper Dixon vs. Power title battle would be the treat IndyCar fans have waited to see for years.

But don’t discount the Ryans. Hunter-Reay, 33, is keen to rebound from a 2013 mired with bad luck and recapture the title-winning form of 2012; Briscoe, 32, could stealthily slide under the radar, pick up a win or two and play himself into title contention in Ganassi’s fourth car.

Wilson, 35, remains criminally underrated, and will have to perform miracles once again to threaten the establishment with Dale Coyne Racing. But he should work well with new engineer Michael Cannon. Bourdais, also 35 and now at KV, is a championship dark horse. If he wins a race early in the year, he could play spoiler.

For Sato, it’s about establishing further consistency and building on the success of his first year at A.J. Foyt Racing, that included the popular Long Beach win and Houston Race 1 pole. Carpenter, 31 today, has established a team now that can contend for wins at every race, with his oval expertise in those six races and Conway’s road and street course prowess in the other 12.

THE NEW WAVE: SIMON PAGENAUD, CHARLIE KIMBALL, JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, MARCO ANDRETTI, MIKHAIL ALESHIN, GRAHAM RAHAL, SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA, JOSEF NEWGARDEN, CARLOS MUNOZ

The youngsters, all under 30. At 29, Pagenaud is just entering the peak of his powers and at 22, Munoz is the youngest current driver in the field. Between this group of 9 drivers, there are only 9 career victories (Pagenaud 2, Kimball 1, Hinchcliffe 3, Andretti 2, Rahal 1). But it feels like that number could grow substantially this year.

Pagenaud’s technical ability is renowned and after two years of consistent growth with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, nothing less than a championship challenge will suffice. For Aleshin, 26, proving better than Tristan Vautier over the course of the season should be his goal.

Andretti’s trio of Marco, 26, “Hinch,” 27, and Munoz set that team up best for long-term potential growth as a collective unit, while the Ganassi and Penske teams have opted more for veteran, sage experience (Kimball is the only one of their seven combined drivers under 30, and he’s 29). This is a big year for Marco in particular, who made a big step forward in 2013 with fifth in points, but needs to be winning races – plural – something he’s not done in his career dating to 2006.

Same story for Rahal, 25, who should finally have the necessary ingredients to put it all together and recapture the heights he achieved at times in 2008 and 2009. He has the engineering depth, the primary sponsor of the National Guard, and for now at least doesn’t have the distraction or burden of a second car. He’s the sole focus for RLL’s 2014 full-season effort.

Newgarden and Saavedra, both 23, will likely find the road toughest in 2014, primarily because of extenuating circumstances more than their own ability levels. Newgarden’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team will need to dig deep and emerge stronger from offseason personnel shakeups, but in year three, he should make a leap close to the one Hinchcliffe and Kimball did a year ago.

As for Saavedra, the KV equipment at his disposal should provide an increase over where he was with Dragon Racing last year, but the field is so deep and tight that it will take some phenomenal efforts to emerge even in the top-10 on a regular basis.

THE WILD CARDS: THE TBAS

Dale Coyne’s second car and Bryan Herta Autosport’s sole entry are yet to be confirmed. At least initially, the drivers of these two will probably find the road toughest because of the lack of testing time by comparison to the field this winter.

But as the field sets out in St. Petersburg later this month, the generation battle on display will be as interesting to watch as the battle between the teams. Last year, it was Hinchcliffe taking one from Castroneves. We’ll see who breaks through in only a few more weeks.

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

unnamed (9)
(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
Leave a comment

Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

PWC: Mid-Ohio set to be another pivotal weekend for title battles

Bowmanville, Ontario - May 19, 2016:  The g  teams take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Presented by Audi at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
With EFFORT/Dalziel out, Long is Porsche's best hope to extend Mid-Ohio win streak. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

At a racetrack where the seismic forces of a title battle have swung in the past, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be poised to provide another pivotal weekend for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge title races.

The series’ marquee GT class is a two or potentially four-driver race. Alvaro Parente, one of three K-PAX Racing drivers in the Flying Lizard Motorsports’ supported McLaren 650S GT3s, leads the standings with 1143 points to Patrick Long’s 1095 in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Porsche has dominated Mid-Ohio in the past with Ryan Dalziel, who’s swept each of the last two years for EFFORT Racing and has a four-race win streak.

But Long or his former EFFORT teammate Michael Lewis (Calvert Dynamics) will look to continue the manufacturer’s run of form at the sinewy 2.258-mile road course.

Cadillac Racing also looks to get back in the title fight, with Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell at 1025 and 957 points, respectively. If either Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R sweeps the weekend, they’ll undoubtedly move forward in the title battle.

The one question I have beyond points is whether anyone will be able to not sweep, in what’s been a year of sweeps.

The last race weekend World Challenge did not have a sweep in the GT class was Barber Motorsports Park back in April. Long (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Parente (Lime Rock Park) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT, Road America) have each gone two-for-two at the respective last three weekends.

For the sake of variety and spicing things up, it’d be nice to see two winners in a weekend. But as noted above, that hasn’t happened at Mid-Ohio since 2011! Alex Figge (K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and O’Connell (then a Cadillac CTS-V.R) split in 2011.

Before Dalziel swept the last two years, Figge and Randy Pobst swept in 2013 and 2012 in the Volvos.

It’s not just GT where the sweeps have been coming at Mid-Ohio, but also in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach pulled it off in 2014 in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, a year after winning the second race in 2013. Then Cooper won the first 2015 race, to make it four races in a row for the No. 10/1 Blackdog Camaro.

Aschenbach actually trails the GTS points leader, Brett Sandberg in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, by 35 points (995-960). Series rookie Parker Chase in his Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 is third in points with 917, and fellow teenager Nate Stacy in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 fourth on 863 points.

Martin Fuentes enters with a commanding lead in GTA (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia) while Alec Udell (GMG) has a 38-point lead on Sloan Urry (TruSpeed) in GT Cup.

World Challenge races Friday and Saturday (GTS) and Saturday and Sunday (GT/GTA/GT Cup).

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

CT2
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”