Firestone 550 - Practice

Pressure increases for drivers in new Indy 500 qualifying

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A new qualifying format has emerged at the Indianapolis 500. And the pressure of one of motorsport’s greatest challenges has increased to go along with it.

As part of the new rules, every car in the field will now have to undergo the four-lap, 10-mile blitz around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at least twice.

And Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 National Guard Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, has acknowledged that the stress for drivers and teams is certain to rise.

“I can tell you the biggest sigh of a relief as a driver is when you got in on Saturday, and on Sunday you didn’t have to think about doing four more laps,” Rahal said during an INDYCAR teleconference today that featured Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and INDYCAR president of competition Derrick Walker.

“Now we have to think about that all the time. I’m sure there’s going to be more tension, a bit more nerve-wracking for everybody involved. But that’s what it’s all about. That’s why these drivers and teams are the best in the world.”

Saturday, May 17 will see the fastest 33 entries qualify for the race, with the fastest nine advancing to the next day’s Fast Nine shootout for the pole position.

However, those Saturday times will be erased and entries in positions 10-33 will re-qualify on Sunday in order of the slowest to fastest Saturday times to determine their official starting positions.

The Fast Nine will then take place, with each entry in that shootout getting one qualifying attempt.

While Rahal says it’ll lead to more tension among the competitors, he is also cognizant of the ultimate goal that INDYCAR hopes to achieve with the new format: Bigger TV numbers and attendance at the Brickyard.

Bump Day activity on Sunday has been a lowlight of the Month of May in recent times, with no bumping achieved at all in the 2012 and 2013 qualifying sessions. The new format should, at the least, put some more excitement into Sunday.

“I think everybody [in the paddock] is going to be very supportive,” Rahal said. “Of course, there are traditionalists out there that believe we didn’t need to change anything.

“The one thing I do know about IndyCar drivers and the teams alike is everybody is supportive and behind Mark and Derrick, everybody making these decisions because we all want to grow the sport. We all want to see the fan base increase.”

As for giving teams enough time to practice on their set-ups for Race Day itself, Walker said that INDYCAR is working to ensure that teams will have time available for that purpose – adding that the series hoped to get a final schedule out to teams sometime next week.

“In terms of allowing or helping any teams that are trying to get in the show, we’re going to do our best to make sure there’s always available time for every competitor, and every competitor gets an equal attempt to get in the race,” he said.

Even with that assurance, the margin of error has now thinned even further with this new format. With Sunday no longer there as a safety net, drivers and teams must be quick from the get-go.

“I would say what they’ve done here has added a lot of pressure to everybody involved to make sure you’re on top of your game on both days,” Rahal said. “So there’s no fall-back plan on a Sunday anymore. You have to make sure you get it done right away.”

Hulkenberg gets one-place grid penalty for tire mix-up

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany drives the 7 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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Nico Hulkenberg has been given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday’s German Grand Prix after a tire mix-up during qualifying at Hockenheim.

Hulkenberg qualified seventh for Force India, but used a set of super-soft tires in Q1 that should have been returned to Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli ahead of the session.

“The team returned electronically the wrong set of tires and used these during Q1,” a short statement from the FIA stewards in Germany read, confirming Hulkenberg’s one-place grid drop.

With the penalty, Hulkenberg will now start eighth in Germany behind Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who finished narrowly behind.

“I’m feeling pretty happy to qualify in seventh for my home race – it’s best of the rest behind the top three teams and a good effort by the whole team,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying.

“Our objective is always to maximize our potential and it feels like we achieved that today. Most of my laps in the session came together nicely and my final effort in Q3 was spot on.

“We can expect a tough fight for good points tomorrow, but we are in a good starting position and we’ve looked strong here in all the sessions. The long run pace is competitive, too, so we’ve got every chance of getting a great result this weekend.

“There is talk of some rain tomorrow and to be honest I would not mind a shower during the race, but let’s wait and see what happens.”

Teammate Sergio Perez qualified ninth on Saturday, reaching Q3 for the first time at Hockenheim.

“It was a fun and very intense fight with Nico and the two Williams cars throughout qualifying, and in the end it was really close between the four of us,” Perez said.

“It was crucial to get through Q1 on one set of tires because some other teams had to use two sets and this gave us a small advantage in Q2, which helped us make the top ten.

“On my last lap of Q3 I struggled a bit through some of the right-hand corners; I think I may have picked something up on my front wing – maybe some debris – and that cost me some time, but it’s something I will analyze with the team.

“In the end, it was so close and just a few hundredths of a second made the difference. Tomorrow is going to be interesting.

“We are starting on the super-softs on which we qualified and we will need to work well as a team to make the strategy work and score some important points.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton: Nothing particularly wrong with Hockenheim qualifying display

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes there was “nothing particularly wrong” with his display during qualifying for the German Grand Prix despite losing out on pole to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at Hockenheim.

Hamilton entered qualifying chasing his seventh pole position of the season, but fell 0.107 seconds shy of Rosberg despite his teammate running with heavier fuel in Q3 after being forced to abort an earlier run.

Hamilton was faster than Rosberg through the first sector on his final effort, but a slow second half of the lap meant he was unable to beat his teammate.

“There was nothing particularly wrong today. My final lap just didn’t work out,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“It was pretty close out there and sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. The car was feeling great. The team did a great job to get it where I needed it to be and it was definitely on for pole.

“I was two tenths up coming out of T2 – but from T8 onwards it started to deteriorate and I couldn’t maintain the gap. I’ve missed out on pole, so I didn’t do what I was supposed to do – but it’s in the past now, so you just let it go and look forwards.

“It doesn’t mean the race isn’t there to win tomorrow. I’ll try to get a good start and see how it goes from there. I don’t know what the strategy will be – we’ll look through that tonight. But this is a track where you can overtake, so I don’t have to go for it at the first corner. It can be somewhere else.

“The pace is clearly there, so it’s still been a good day and I’m generally pretty happy. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to do something from where I am.

“I’m just focused on trying to move forward and if I can drive like I have done in the past few races then anything can happen.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Sirotkin recovers from penalty to win Hockenheim GP2 thriller

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) crosses the line to take the victory.
2016 GP2 Series Round 7
Hockenheim, Germany
Saturday 30 July 2016

Photo: /GP2 Series Media Service
ref: Digital Image _V2I4334
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Sergey Sirotkin recovered from a penalty for pitting under the Virtual Safety Car to claim his second GP2 Series victory in a row in a thrilling feature race on Saturday at Hockenheim.

Starting from pole, Sirotkin made a clean getaway to ease into an early lead as championship leader Pierre Gasly bogged down from second on the grid, causing him to drop outside of the top 10.

Sirotkin led from Raffaele Marciello early on before the Italian driver made a brave pass for the lead down the inside of Turn 8 on lap four.

The Virtual Safety Car was called after contact between Artem Markelov and Jordan King three laps later, prompting ART to react immediately. The team called Sirotkin in to make his mandatory pit stop, ensuring that he would not lose much time while the field was circulating slowly.

However, Sirotkin failed to enter the pit lane before the VSC was called, resulting in a stewards investigation as drivers are not permitted to stop under the VSC in GP2.

After a lengthy discussion, the GP2 stewards opted to scratch Sirotkin’s first stop, meaning he still had to make his mandatory visit to the pit lane.

Sirotkin pitted from the lead with 11 laps remaining, emerging in fourth place before scything his way up to second place behind Marciello once again.

Further VSC periods were kind to Sirotkin, allowing him to put his fresher soft tires to good use and catch Marciello before passing with five laps remaining.

Sirotkin did not look back, charging to his second win of the season and capping off one of the all-time great fightbacks in GP2.

Luca Ghiotto finished second for Trident after passing Marciello on the final lap, with Gasly completing the podium after also getting past the ailing Italian on the final corner. Marciello was left to settle for fourth, his GP2 win drought now set to reach two years in Belgium.

Arthur Pic finished fifth for Rapax ahead of Oliver Rowland and Gustav Malja, while Alex Lynn secured reverse grid pole for Sunday’s sprint race by finishing eighth despite a time penalty.

Sunday’s GP2 sprint race from Hockenheim is live on the NBC Sports app and at f1stream.nbcsports.com from 4:25am ET.

Dixon fast once again as times keep falling in Mid-Ohio third practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Scott Dixon being fast at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is not new.

But Scott Dixon dropping a lap of 1:03.7244 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is new.

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and leader of first practice, lowered the mark to that aforementioned time in this morning’s 45-minute third practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200.

And mind you, this time is done on Firestone’s primary black sidewall tires on a track that grips up and gets faster as a session goes on.

Dixon’s official track record is 1:04.5814, set last year in qualifying. But if it’s dry (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), and the Firestone red alternates come out to play, there’s not just a chance that track record will be beat – it could be obliterated.

In the non-Dixon class, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all also made it into the 1:03 bracket. Max Chilton was an impressive sixth.

Top Honda in this practice was Graham Rahal, as he was on Friday. Except that position is seventh.

The one red flag flew when Spencer Pigot ran in deep at Turn 4 and beached his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver resumed and returned to the pits with no damage.

Times are below.

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