Marco Andretti

Luck, qualifying gains could fuel a Marco Andretti title challenge

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Like Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti is nearly a decade into his top-level open-wheel career, yet has not entered the prime of it.

To chronicle Andretti’s, now 27, career arc, it goes a little something like this:

A breakout rookie campaign at 19 in 2006 features the near-win on debut at the Indianapolis 500 and his first actual win at Sonoma. In 2007, it was a pair of flips (Indy and Mid-Ohio), occasional highlights but frequent frustration. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, same story, but he axed the flips.

The 2011 season was a comeback, with an authoritative drive to his second career win in Iowa. But in 2012 it was a trying, forgettable campaign featuring only three top-10 finishes from 15 starts, and a career-low 16th in points.

In 2013, the comeback, part two. A career-high fifth in points, best of Andretti Autosport’s four cars, with results consistency and a renewed focus after an offseason soul search that saw him transform his game following work with a driver coach.

So which Marco Andretti shows up in 2014? It stands a good chance of being the close-to-finished article.

Save for the last two years, Andretti finished seventh or eighth in points five of his first six seasons. He knows how bad the low can be, after the disaster of 2012. And while there were highs in 2013, the misses – the losses at Milwaukee and Pocono – stick out like a sore thumb.

Andretti made huge gains in 2013, and is primed to make even more in 2014.

“I think ’13 was a good start to the direction I wanted to go,” he said during IndyCar media day in Orlando. “We confirmed a lot of my work is in the right direction anyway. We just need to keep plugging away with that, and we have.

“I think I made gains since. I’m more confident going into ’14 than I was ’13. I was pleased with my consistency. But some of my best results of last year were on the street courses, which is where I was struggling.

“But I think this year the goal has to be to capitalize where we’re dominant, because I think that’s what really took us out of the championship the second half of the year last year.

“I think the races we know we can win we just have to win.  If we’re able to do that, string a few together, I think we can be champions.”

These are perhaps bold words from a driver who, as mentioned above, has only two career wins. But here’s why they’re not as far-fetched as you think.

Andretti is coming into 2014 with the team consistency needed to make an impression. He’s into his second year with engineer Blair Perschbacher, while teammate James Hinchcliffe has a new engineer in Nathan O’Rourke, and rookie Carlos Munoz is just new to a full-season ride.

Andretti has the confidence from his near-breakout 2013 to know he can in fact mix it in a deep field that has so many talented drivers.

And Andretti has now shown a marked improvement at the street circuits, the ones that were his downfall in years previous. As street circuits make up a type-of-circuit high eight of 18 races this year, it’s imperative to capture as many points as possible from those weekends.

He knows the next step in that street circuit development is improving his qualifying. He made only one Firestone Fast Six – qualifying fourth at Mid-Ohio – in 2013.

“I’m still not where I want to be on the road and street courses,” he admitted. “I think what’s really been hurting me, what I’ve really been working on is qualifying, making Sundays easier on myself.

“There were a lot of races last year we had to come from the middle through the back of the pack. Nowadays it’s how we’re measured, is qualifying.”

He makes an interesting and key point about how with the spec-Dallara DW12 chassis, it’s harder to take advantage of a bad qualifying day, and that makes Andretti’s results from poor grid spots in the past all the more impressive.

“Back in the day, dad used to not even focus on qualifying, hardly even care about it,” he explained. “Everybody in the field knew he was coming halfway through the race.

“But it’s a lot harder to achieve that nowadays with the competition, the spec cars.  Everything is so close. I need to start further forward.

“My race craft is there, stuff like that.  It’s been more difficult coming from the back.  I want to be in the Fast Sixes all year.”

It’s not that Andretti was the only one left out of frequent Fast Six appearances – Hinchcliffe and their other 2013 teammate, E.J. Viso only made it to the Fast Six two times apiece.

But Ryan Hunter-Reay, established team leader at Andretti and the 2012 series champion, made it six of a possible nine attempts. That tied for second-best in the series, trailing only Will Power’s seven.

For Marco Andretti in 2014, he’s got the name, the renewed confidence and the determination to want to be the best.

If he gets the qualifying down and adds one or more victories, look out as it may finally be his time.

Formula 1 gets colorful: Here are all 10 liveries for 2017

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Following Scuderia Toro Rosso’s launch of the new STR12 car on Sunday night, the Formula 1 grid is now set ahead of the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Monday.

All 10 teams have sported cars that are quite the deviation from their predecessors, as forced by the overhaul of the technical regulations for the new season.

While the changes are mainly in place to make the cars quicker on-track, they also look more visually appealing than the 2016 grid – even if the debate over the ‘shark fin’ is set to rage on.

F1 has also got more colorful, with a number of teams sporting big livery changes that will make cars easier to pick out when you tune in across NBC Sports this season.

Here is what the grid will look like for F1 in 2017.

Mercedes W08 EQ Power+

2017 Silver Arrows Collateral Day Photography - Steve Etherington
© Mercedes AMG Petronas

Red Bull RB13

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© Red Bull Racing

Ferrari SF70H

© Scuderia Ferrari
© Scuderia Ferrari

Force India VJM10

© Sahara Force India
© Sahara Force India

Williams FW40

© Wil
© Williams Martini Racing

McLaren-Honda MCL32

 (Photo by McLaren F1 via Getty Images)
© McLaren F1 via Getty Images

Toro Rosso STR12

© Scuderia T
© Scuderia Toro Rosso

Haas VF-17

© Haas F1 Team
© Haas F1 Team

Renault R.S.17

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Sauber C36

© Sauber
© Sauber

Toro Rosso reveals STR12 F1 car with striking new livery

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Scuderia Toro Rosso has completed a busy launch week for Formula 1 by unveiling its new STR12 car that will race in 2017.

As rumored, Toro Rosso presented a car with a drastically different livery to the one that has been present for much of its time in F1, varying from the dark blue and red colors the Red Bull sister team has been known for.

Now a metallic blue becomes the primary color for the car, with silver and red highlights being used for the Red Bull branding.

Drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat were on-hand to unveil the STR12, which sported a radical new look to fall in line with the new technical regulations in F1 for 2017.

Most noticeable on the car is the addition of a ‘shark fin’ to the engine cover, something that the majority of teams have ran with for their launches so far.

The team also released a launch video showing the STR12 enjoying its first on-track test.

Toro Rosso ended last year seventh in the constructors’ championship, but suffered a dip in form towards the end of the season after sticking with 2016-spec Ferrari power units.

For 2017, the team will once again link up with Renault and use current-year engines, giving it the chance to compete throughout the campaign.

Sainz was one of F1’s unsung heroes through 2017, leading Toro Rosso’s charge following Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat four races into the year.

After spending the middle part of the season regaining his confidence after moving in the opposite direction to Verstappen, Kvyat looked much stronger in the final flyaways, doing enough to secure a seat with Toro Rosso f0r 2017 in the process.

The STR12 has already completed a filming run at Misano in Italy, but will hit the track publicly for the first time on Monday with the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Marc Marquez dislocates shoulder during private Honda MotoGP test

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Marc Marquez of Spain and the Repsol Honda Team rides during 2017 MotoGP pre-season testing at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on February 15, 2017 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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Reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez suffered a dislocated shoulder during a private test earlier this week, the Repsol Honda team has confirmed.

Marquez, 24, was testing with Honda at the Jerez circuit in Spain when he suffered a crash on the second day of running.

The Spaniard sustained a dislocated shoulder, but Honda confirmed that it does not expect him to miss the next private test in Qatar prior to the start of the season.

“Medical checks show neither further damage nor any other injuries, and the rider from Cervera should be fit to finish preseason testing ahead of the first race of the season,” a statement reads.

“Today was a productive day, as we were able to do many laps and to work on our bike well. We did most of the work we had planned, which is good,” Marquez said of his test day.

“I crashed in the afternoon and dislocated my shoulder, but luckily it was nothing serious. Now I’ll have some rest back at home and get ready for the next test, in Qatar.”

The new MotoGP season gets underway on March 26 with the Qatar Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso confirms contact from Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s retirement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda walks in the Paddock  during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso has confirmed that he was contacted by Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula 1 last December.

Just five days after winning his maiden F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg sent shockwaves through the driver market by announcing his immediate retirement from racing.

The majority of drivers racing in F1 were linked with the vacant Mercedes seat, including Alonso, who has not won a world title since 2006.

Alonso stressed at the time that he had no interest in leaving McLaren as he prepared to enter the third and final year of his contract with the British team.

Speaking earlier this week at the launch of McLaren’s new F1 car, the MCL32, Alonso confirmed that he was contacted by Mercedes, but that conversations never gained traction.

“Mercedes, after the surprise of Rosberg, had to check with everyone. It is understandable,” Alonso said.

“It was nothing really strange, nothing really deep to the conversations, but they did with everyone.

“They wanted to hear my situation, which was very clear. I had this year at McLaren and I was happy here.

“There was no point in talking anymore.”

Reflecting on Rosberg’s decision to retire, Alonso said that he would never be able to make a similar decision and would continue racing.

“In my case I cannot stop, [racing] is like a drug,” Alonso said.

“For Rosberg he was very brave to step away, I wish him the best.

“I will be 80 years old and I will be in a go-kart on a circuit racing and pushing the kids off the track in front of me.”