MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Australian GP

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The 2014 Formula 1 season gets underway this weekend in Australia, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of the sport. Gone are the old V8 engines, and in come turbocharged V6 power units, whilst a number of other technical and sporting changes are set to shake up the pecking order. However, this means that the predictions for this weekend’s race are perhaps the hardest the team at MotorSportsTalk has ever had to make…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Judging by testing, it has to be a Mercedes, doesn’t it? Lewis Hamilton will storm to pole on Saturday, but I can’t see him continuing this into Sunday. 2014 suits the ‘thinking’ driver: this is Rosberg’s race for the taking.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. After a few bad years with Ferrari, Felipe Massa looks like a changed man at Williams. Once again, the team was quick in testing, and he’s my pick to push the Mercedes drivers hard in Australia. He’ll reach the podium.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. I can’t believe I’m actually putting this… but Seb has a lot to prove this weekend. The Red Bull RB10 has been blighted with problems throughout the winter. All of the sport’s greats have proven themselves in a rubbish car – maybe it’s finally Vettel’s turn to do so?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Translate the Mercedes’ reliability with Hamilton’s raw pace and record in Melbourne, and you have the ingredients for the guy who was the last non-Sebastian Vettel winner last July to break the four-time world champion’s streak.

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. A sneaky podium contender if the McLaren is there. Has been seriously impressive in preseason testing and could well back it up on debut.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. With Red Bull’s miserable preseason and the pressure of his home race facing him in his Red Bull debut, “Aussie Dan’s” smile may not make too many appearances this weekend. But if he and the team make a leap this weekend, good on them.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. A lot of people are making his teammate the favorite, which is understandable. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosberg seizes the opportunity and makes them go: “Oh yeah, Nico’s pretty decent, too…”

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. McLaren appears to have picked up a decent young colt in Magnussen to pair up with their ex-World Champion, Jenson Button. It won’t be easy but I think the son of sports car ace Jan will turn in a solid result in his inaugural GP.

Most to prove: Every team with a Renault engine! Single out four-time world champions Red Bull (Sebastian Vettel/Daniel Ricciardo) if you want, but Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham are behind the 8-Ball on reliability as well. 

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. After winning the last nine races of the 2013 season, and 13 overall, how can you pick against Vettel. If anything, he’s gotten stronger. The key is to get a big jump at the start of the race. If he does that, Vettel takes this one with ease.

Surprising finish: Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. The Lotus drivers enter this season like the Rodney Dangerfields of F1, getting very little respect. Now is their time to show that they’re not going to be also-rans in 2014. 

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Most oddsmakers are picking Hamilton to win this race, not Vettel, who is around an 18-1 longshot (Hamilton is around 5-2). Does Hamilton deserve to be ranked that high coming into the season opener? We’ll find out Sunday.

Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.