Vickers: On-track cooldown laps “most dangerous thing I’ve ever done”

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Last week at Phoenix, multiple drivers such as Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano lobbied NASCAR to allow teams to use cool-down units for their cars on pit road during qualifying instead of having to run slow laps on the track to cool the engines.

NASCAR has maintained that the cool-down units are not allowed in the pits because they didn’t want teams to make illegal adjustments after they popped the hoods of their cars.

Brian Vickers, who was the fastest in today’s first round of qualifying before going on to a ninth-place starting position for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was particularly worried after having to run slow laps in Round 1 to cool the motor on his No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

“Riding around the bottom – and we have to do it, it’s the only way we can keep the engine cool without a cool-down unit – but that has got to be the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in racing,” Vickers told Fox Sports leading into Round 2.

“The 36 [Reed Sorenson] went by me at 170 miles per hour faster that I was going. Had he slipped or hit me – I mean, I’d be done. It’d be so bad.

“I know we’re working on it together. I think it’s a really exciting qualifying for the fans and I’m pumped about that, but we really shouldn’t be riding around at 20 miles per hour with [other] cars going 190.”

After claiming the pole for Sunday’s main event, Logano again talked about the situation with an added emphasis on next week’s race on the high-banked half-mile of Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Next weekend is going to be crazy,” Logano said. “This weekend, at least we have the apron so we can run the apron all the way around to cool off so that’s good. But next weekend, we really don’t.

“You have a half-mile race track and you’re gonna have all these cars out there at the same time. You’re gonna have 50 cars out there next week. On a half-mile race track, that’s going to be tight.”

He then made another push for teams to use the cool-down units.

“…What we’ve suggested is maybe running the cool-down hookups to the hood flap so we can plug it in right there,” he said. “They don’t want us to lift up the hood obviously, so if we can just cool them down like that, then everyone could make more runs.

“That would obviously give the fans more time to watch cars making their speed laps and not cooldown laps trying to cool your motor down.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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The Monaco Grand Prix is in the books for the 2017 season, as Scuderia Ferrari has returned to the top after a 16-year hiatus at the principality with Sebastian Vettel leading Kimi Raikkonen in a 1-2 finish, and Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium.

Check out the recap of the race in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton on site in Monaco.

This week’s post-race edition is below.

McLaren’s best chance yet of F1 points ends in double DNF

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McLaren saw its best chance yet of scoring some Formula 1 points in 2017 end in disappointment as both Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne crashed out late in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Button was never in contention for a top-10 finish after a grid penalty left him last at the start, with the one-off returnee retiring following a bizarre clash with Pascal Wehrlein with 20 laps to go.

Vandoorne had made a longer first stint work well to sit 10th behind the safety car, but immediately came under fire from Sergio Perez on the restart.

Struggling to defend with cold tires and cold brakes, Vandoorne failed to turn in at Sainte Devote and instead went straight on into the barrier, ending his race.

“It’s a shame we haven’t come away with any points this weekend. I think we’d all hoped to get a little bit more out of the weekend,” Vandoorne said.

“Towards the end of the race, I knew it would be difficult at the restart. It’s always difficult to heat up the super-softs, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to cover Sergio and Felipe [Massa], who’d switched to the option behind the Safety Car.

“That wasn’t an option for us – when you’re in the top 10, you’ve got to keep your position. It was hard to get the tires and brakes up to temperature, and I just had nowhere to go at Turn 1, unfortunately.

“So, this isn’t the result we wanted this weekend, but there are still positives to take away from Monaco: we may still be lacking overall performance, but we’ve made some useful steps forward this weekend.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I remain optimistic.”

Amid continued struggles with engine partner Honda, Monaco marked McLaren’s most realistic chance of points so far given the tight and twisting nature of the circuit that places a greater onus on the chassis.

The strength of the MCL32 was proven in qualifying as both Button and Vandoorne made the top 10, marking McLaren’s first double Q3 appearance of the year.

Once again though, the race ended in disappointment, leaving McLaren at the foot of the constructors’ championship after six rounds without a point to its name.

The experience, not the result, defines Alonso’s Indy 500 odyssey

The result was similar, but the experience was not for Alonso at Indy. Photo: Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS – It almost had to end the way it did on Sunday.

There was Fernando Alonso, doing what he’d set out to do in this six-week odyssey since stunning the motorsports world on April 12 with the announcement he’d be in a McLaren Honda of an IndyCar kind at the Indianapolis 500, with Andretti Autosport, reminding everyone he’s still one of the best drivers in the world after a month where he never looked a rookie in his first oval race, his first IndyCar race.

And yet there was the plume of smoke, just short of the finish, billowing out the rear of the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry that ended his day before he got the result.

The combination of mid-2010s Alonso, McLaren and Honda joined with the legacy of the words “Andretti is slowing” at Indianapolis to produce Alonso, in a McLaren, Honda, Andretti entry slowing and stopping just shy of that ever elusive checkered flag.

It mattered not. Alonso still lived up to all the hype placed on him this month, if not exceeded it.

From the moment Alonso made his first visit to Birmingham, Ala. of all places – as far away by mileage and culture from the Bahrain Grand Prix he had failed to finish a week earlier – Alonso was the focus of attention, even as his primary goal was to integrate into the team and begin the learning process.

The simulator work followed in Indianapolis shortly thereafter, following his seat fit and meeting the crew who’d be on his No. 29 car, in the right shade of papaya orange, not the F1 version that slightly missed the mark.

He met the Borg-Warner Trophy, a trophy he was keen to see his face placed on.

And then, he hit the Speedway for the first time on May 3, in a made-for-digital event that was the test heard ’round the Internet. Going 222-plus mph for an average on his first day in the car, as he joked at the time his right foot and brain weren’t in sync, still showcased his innate talent.

Alonso never looked uncomfortable, out of place or – importantly – annoyed with the process that came with coming to Indianapolis.

At every opportunity, he embraced the challenge, the fans and the odyssey that came with it.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, races during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

If there were autographs to be signed – and judging by the throngs of fans surrounding his garage area or his daily walk to Gasoline Alley – he’d do as best he could to get them all before being whisked away to whatever came next. Or, alternatively, he got on his skateboard and rolled off.

If there were media obligations to be had – and as some drivers casually threw some snark, as Conor Daly and Graham Rahal joked “Alonso was about the only driver in the race” – Alonso fulfilled them. A bevy of reporters were consistently around his No. 29 pit stall all month. More still sat and waited in the media center for his press conferences, and where Alonso starred there was that he never appeared he was mailing it in. The banter between he and Alexander Rossi – when Rossi noted Alonso needed to be awake at 6 a.m. – was perhaps the funniest moment of the month.

He sat for an hour on media day with hundreds gathered around his space as poor Sebastian Saavedra sitting next to him had but one reporter – me – asking him questions ahead of another debut, Saavedra’s Juncos Racing team.

And most importantly, if there was a desire to be the best on track he could be, he fulfilled it.

Alonso learned the elements of single-car runs in practice, race running in practice, drafting with his Andretti Autosport teammates in the “mini packs,” the pressure that comes with four-lap qualifying runs and averaging more than 230 mph, the drama that comes with engine changes in IndyCar, and then the ability to push as hard as possible against other drivers on track.

He made some daring and some would probably say questionable chops and passing maneuvers throughout the month, but wasn’t that part of the plan to begin with? Seeing Alonso back in a car that could win and knowing he had the ability to pull it off made the whole experience worth it.

He made it to the lead by Lap 37 of Sunday’s race, for the first of 27 laps led, third most among the 15 drivers who did. After starting fifth and taking it easy on the start to drop to ninth, Alonso was a top-five regular the rest of the race (more than 100 laps to be more precise), before he was running in seventh on Lap 179 and there, the smoke erupted. He was classified 24th.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, races during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

He exited the car to cheers from the Indianapolis faithful, who are not easy to please at your first attempt. But the cheers that echoed around these hallowed grounds welcomed a driver who’d starred himself, for McLaren, and for the Indianapolis 500 – even if the result was a similar one he’s been used to this year.

“Anyway, (it) was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar,” Alonso reflected Sunday.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I want that picture at home.

“Thanks to IndyCar, amazing experience. Thanks to Indianapolis. Thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here.”

Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group and the man who was integral in bringing Alonso and McLaren to Indianapolis, could only echo those thoughts.

“If we put aside the last 20 laps, which is a massive disappointment, if we reflect back on the past month, it was outstanding. Fernando didn’t put a wheel wrong. He showed what a world class world champion he is today.

“When Fernando and I first spoke about the Indianapolis 500, I wasn’t sure what Fernando’s response would be because I think not many race car drivers in this world are brave enough to do what Fernando just did. Not just from a physical standpoint, but the whole world was watching Fernando race today. He put himself out there and exposed himself, delivered the goods, which isn’t a surprise to anyone that has watched Fernando race.”

Alonso has left the door open to a return, although that will likely depend on how his F1 future sorts itself out – he’s a free agent at year’s end. But he figures he’ll be better in a second go-’round.

“Obviously if I come back here, at least I know how it is (with) everything,” he said. “It will not be the first time I do restarts, pit stops, all these kind of things. So will be an easier, let’s say, adaptation. Let’s see what happen in the following years.

“Yeah, I need to keep pursuing this challenge because winning the Indy 500 is not completed. It holds a new challenge if I can find a car that slow me down somehow.”

Lastly, Alonso did have some milk – albeit in a slightly different type of container than the one teammate Takuma Sato had as he won the race.

“Thank you for all media. I didn’t won, but I will drink a little bit of milk,” he laughed, as he drank out of a tiny milk carton usually served in schools or lunch boxes.

“You followed me for two weeks every single minute, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the welcoming. See you in Austin.”

And with that, the odyssey of Alonso at Indianapolis has completed its first chapter.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, walks away from his car after his engine expired during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Tables turn for Red Bull drivers in Monaco as Ricciardo hits podium

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Red Bull Formula 1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen saw their emotions flip from post-qualifying to post-race in Monaco as the team picked up its third podium finish of the year.

Ricciardo’s usual smiley demeanor was absent after he qualified fifth on Saturday, having felt Red Bull was capable of more, while Verstappen – just one place ahead in P4 – said the result was the maximum the team could have hoped for.

In the race, though, the tables turned. Ricciardo crossed the line third, content to be best of the rest behind the dominant Ferraris, while Verstappen was left irked by Red Bull’s strategy call costing him position.

Verstappen had spent the early part of the race running fourth behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, prompting Red Bull to try and get the undercut by pitting the Dutchman early.

Mercedes reacted just one lap later and pitted Bottas, bringing the Finn back out ahead of Verstappen on-track.

Ricciardo, who had been fifth, was finding more and more time on his ultra-soft tires after being dropped into clear air, while Bottas and Verstappen were left to toil in traffic, losing chunks of time in the process.

Ricciardo came in six laps after his teammate and was able to get back out a comfortable third, gaining two places with the overcut, much to Verstappen’s frustration.

Despite a late-race brush with the barrier following the safety car restart, Ricciardo was able to hold on to third place ahead of Bottas and Verstappen, going some way to make up for his qualifying disappointment.

“I’m much happier today. I can’t obviously complain how it worked out and I have to thank the team. It was cool to show some pace today and we had that clear track,” Ricciardo said.

“I didn’t think the tires had that much more but I just got into that rhythm, was able to punch out some good times. I knew the pace was right, my engineer was encouraging me on the radio saying: ‘Pace is really good. Keep going, keep going!’ That was certainly motivating and my thanks to the homies.

“After the safety car it was pretty unexpected when I touched the wall as I didn’t brake late or anything, I felt I was quite cautious, but then when I turned I thought the car isn’t turning, I then hit the wall and thought I damaged the front wing or something.

“But in the end it was OK. I’m just happy to be back on the podium to be honest. That was definitely the icing on the cake and is a reward for myself and the team.”

Verstappen trotted back to his garage after the race with his helmet still on and delayed meeting the media after the race so he had time to calm down, having felt he had lost a sure-fire podium shot.

“It is very disappointing after such a clean weekend where everything has gone really well to then feel I lost out on a podium, but I guess that is racing,” Verstappen said.

“I tried everything I could to get close to Bottas, you can say we stopped too early or should have gone longer but that is always easy to think after the race.

“Even after the safety car, I was on fresh, softer rubber but with the wide cars and dirty air you can’t make a move and I had no real chance of overtaking here.

“I think I did 77 laps in traffic today, that isn’t much fun and I couldn’t push but at least we finished the race which is the biggest positive from the day.”