IndyCar’s new points structure worth a shot

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If we didn’t know motorsport is in a battle for relevancy, we certainly do now.

Arguably the three biggest racing organizations on Earth – NASCAR, Formula One, and now IndyCar – have altered their points structures in attempts to produce more compelling products that can’t be ignored.

NASCAR is now on its fourth version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which virtually ensures race winners a spot in the post-season and features eliminations after every third Chase race.

Formula One, dealing with a fan base sick and tired of Sebastian Vettel winning everything, chose to go ahead with making the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a double points event.

And just yesterday, IndyCar revealed double points for their 500-mile events and a new points-paying system for Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

Never mind the hardcore fans well-versed in the nuances of the sport. Brian France, the FIA, and Mark Miles need to build their respective series’ presence and from their perspectives, they need the casual fan to do it.

Unfortunately, the casual fans can be quite fickle – they may clamor for one thing, but once they get it, they decide they don’t like it and clamor for something else.

Thus, we don’t know where this ongoing situation of series overhauling their championships, all in a bid to make their “show” a can’t-miss event, is going to lead.

In a time where there’s more entertainment options that continuously fragment an average person’s attention span, that “can’t-miss” status  has become the Holy Grail. And the hardcore fans of the sport are going to have to deal with that.

Pertaining to IndyCar, its great racing product has been no-sold for years by the general public, so one can argue they don’t really have a choice but to find ways to get attention, artificially or otherwise.

While fans enjoyed the fact that IndyCar’s original (and, for non 500-mile events, still intact) points format allowed for what they believed was a purer way to settle a championship compared to the Chase, did the subsequent title battles become national stories? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

And so, Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and the rest have come up with their plan to build buzz: Double points at Indianapolis, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, plus an Indy 500 qualifying structure that will dole out points in descending order for all Saturday qualifiers (33 points for first place, one point for 33rd place) before the pole is settled Sunday among the Fast Nine drivers (nine points for pole, on down to one point for ninth position).

The good news in IndyCar’s case is that we can see a method to the madness. Unlike Formula One’s version of double points that simply sticks the idea at the season finale, IndyCar’s version saves it for their longest races of the season.

It also balances the importance between the ovals and the road/street courses in regards to the championship, especially those road/street doubleheader weekends that Scott Dixon used brilliantly on the way to his third IndyCar title last year.

Points still skew toward the twisty tracks (600 points up for grabs on non-ovals, 492 on ovals) but with just six ovals on the schedule, that breakdown is tolerable.

Of course, you wish it wouldn’t have had to come to this and that the series’ on-track magic would speak for itself. But that’s just not going to happen.

With that in mind, the new structure is worth a shot on IndyCar’s end and a “wait and see” approach on ours.

Massa brushes off Vettel’s blocking complaint at end of Russian GP

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Felipe Massa brushed off Sebastian Vettel’s blocking complaint at the end of Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Russia, saying the Ferrari driver stood no chance of catching race winner Valtteri Bottas at the front of the pack.

Vettel closed up on Bottas in the final few laps of the race, getting a boost from DRS on the penultimate tour of the Sochi Autodrom as he ran less than a second behind.

Massa – Bottas’ former teammate at Williams – inadvertently gave the Finn a boost by also offering him DRS despite being a lap down, letting the Finn past into Turn 2.

Vettel was next up to try and lap Massa, expecting the Brazilian to lift through Turn 3, only for him to keep his foot in and make it difficult to overtake.

Vettel immediately complained over the radio to his Ferrari team, but it was to no avail as Bottas crossed the line 0.6 seconds clear to record his first grand prix victory. Massa finished the race ninth for Williams.

When asked about Vettel’s complaint after the race, Massa dismissed it, believing the German would not have caught Bottas anyway.

“To be honest, so many races he was not happy,” Massa told NBCSN.

“I left the right side for him. I slowed before corner four and he didn’t want to go.

“He wasn’t going to pass Valtteri in the last lap anyway, for sure.”

Massa was quick to congratulate Bottas after the race, the pair having spent three years together as teammates at Williams ahead of the latter’s move up to Mercedes for 2017.

“To be honest he deserves the win. He was a driver that showed he is at this level in the right way,” Massa said.

“People didn’t see the level he was [at Williams], but I said straight away he’d do a good job for Mercedes. He is.

“This is his track, and I’m so happy for him. He’ll get more than just the one he did today.”

Bottas joins F1’s Finnish stars with Russian GP win

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One has a new Finnish iceman on top of the podium.

Valtteri Bottas kept his cool under pressure in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix to claim his first F1 victory, swooping past Sebastian Vettel for the lead on the first lap, and keeping the hard-charging German behind him on the final lap.

“When I drive, there’s not much emotion in there,” Bottas said after his win. “I’m just trying to get everything right and get every lap, every corner perfect.”

Bottas joins an illustrious list of Finnish winners, including Kimi Raikkonen who joined Bottas on the podium after finishing third. Raikkonen has long been nicknamed “The Iceman” for his cool demeanor, but Bottas showed he can be just as chilled. Long considered a potential winner, he’d made the podium 11 times before with Williams and Mercedes, but the top step was always just out of reach.

Bottas doesn’t go in for wild celebration, but he radiated calm satisfaction with a job well done.

“Hearing the Finnish national anthem is something quite special for me,” he said. “I always trust in my ability but it’s nice to get a confirmation.”

Just like Raikkonen, Bottas can occasionally get irritated by well-meaning advice from his team over the radio, and that happened Sunday.

“I had to ask for a bit more radio silence from the guys on the pit wall,” he said, “just for me to get on it and focus for it, and to feel a bit more like home. Nice and quiet, and that helped.”

A country of 5.5 million people, Finland has long punched far above its weight in international motorsport.

Just eight Finns have ever started a Formula One race. Of those, seven have made the podium at least once, five have won a race and three – Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Raikkonen – became world champions.

Last year’s champion, Nico Rosberg, raced as a German but is the son of 1982 champion Keke.

It was his decision to retire in the winter that opened the door for Bottas to move to Mercedes from Williams. In his fifth Formula One season, Bottas now has a car capable of fighting for regular wins and hopes Sunday will prove “the first of many.”

Sitting third in the standings after four races, could a world championship be within Bottas’ grasp?

As he said on the podium, “for me that’s the only goal in my career.”

Red Bull GRC: Speed leads VW, Andretti 1-2 in Memphis opener

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The new Red Bull Global Rallycross season is underway but it’s the same driver who has ended the last two years on top, Scott Speed, who kicks off 2017 in victory lane.

The two-time defending series champion, driving the No. 41 Oberto Volkswagen Beetle GRC for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, led home his teammate Tanner Foust in GRC’s trip to Memphis to kick off the new season. The win is also Speed’s 12th in the series, most in Global Rallycross history. Speed and Foust also won their respective semifinals.

“(Being the winningest GRC driver in history) is a great stat, but those wins are all part of having a great team – starting with Tanner Foust, I have an incredible teammate. The whole Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team just worked this offseason. We put in the work, and when we wanted to stop we worked some more. When you show up to the first race and you put this kind of performance down, it just makes all that work worthwhile. Big shout out to Circle K and Oberto for coming on this year, and obviously Rockstar – thanks so much, guys,” Speed said.

Foust was second in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle, starting his 2017 season one spot worse than he did last year. He swept the Phoenix doubleheader a year ago.

Steve Arpin, in his first race under the rebranded and phased Loenbro Motorsports effort, took the privateer No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST onto the podium in third place. Arpin was the most consistent threat to the Volkswagen pair last year and has done well to carry that momentum into the start of 2017.

Rookies Mitchell DeJong and Oliver Eriksson finished fourth and fifth in superb efforts for Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, taking their Nos. 24 and 16 Honda Civic Coupes to top-five finishes in their first weekend as teammates at the Supercars level for the Andreas Eriksson-led team.

Behind them, last year’s GRC Lites champion Cabot Bigham eighth in his first Supercars start for Bryan Herta Rallysport while Sebastian Eriksson limped to seventh in the third Honda with damage in the final. Chris Atkinson retired from the race with three laps to go in the first of two Subaru Rally Team USA WRX-STis, on what was a tough day for that team.

The final only saw eight cars take the start. Mechanical issues knocked Austin Dyne out of the weekend early in his first start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while damage on the initial start cost Patrik Sandell any hope of a result in his first final with Subaru.

In the 10-lap final around the 1.18-mile circuit which primarily utilized the Memphis International Raceway oval with a shorter dirt section, Speed and Foust both got the jump on a start, and were never headed the rest of the way.

The battle was for third between Arpin and DeJong, with Arpin taking the Joker on Lap 5 of 10 to move past the 2014 GRC Lites champion in his second Supercars weekend – DeJong debuted at Los Angeles last year.

GRC stays down south for its next race, Round 2 at Louisville, to be held on Sunday, May 21.

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso