IndyCar: Notes and numbers for St. Petersburg

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We’re four days away from the start of the new Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.).

With that in mind, here are some important notes and numbers to keep in mind going into Round 1 of the 2014 IndyCar championship, courtesy of the series…

Race Notes

  • The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the 11th Indy car race conducted on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Previous race winners entered are James Hinchcliffe (2013), Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007 and 2012), Will Power (2010), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Graham Rahal (2008).
  • Previous pole winners entered are Will Power (2010-13), Graham Rahal (2009), Tony Kanaan (2008), Helio Castroneves (2007) and Sebastien Bourdais (2003).
  • At least 17 drivers entered in the event have competed in previous Indy car races at St. Pete. Twelve (12) of those drivers have led laps: (Helio Castroneves 205, Ryan Briscoe 117, Scott Dixon 94, Will Power 93, Justin Wilson 70, Sebastien Bourdais 30, James Hinchcliffe 26, Graham Rahal 19, Tony Kanaan 15, Takuma Sato 11, Marco Andretti 5 and Ryan Hunter-Reay 4.)
  • Mikhail Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth, Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz will compete in their first Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg. Hawksworth won his Indy Lights debut on the track last season and won the Pro Mazda race in 2012.

Milestones And Records

  • With his next victory, defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon will tie Al Unser Jr., for sixth on the all-time wins list. Dixon, the active leader for wins, won his 33rd race at Houston’s Reliant Park in October 2013.
  • With a victory in 2014, Scott Dixon will extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 10.
  • With his next victory, Sebastien Bourdais will move into sole possession of eighth place on the all-time wins list. Bourdais is tied with Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy with 31 wins.
  • With his next victory, Helio Castroneves will tie Rick Mears for 11th place on the all-time wins list. Castroneves won his 28th race at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2013.
  • Helio Castroneves needs two earned poles to reach 40 career poles in his Indy car career. Castroneves is the active leader with 38 pole positions.
  • With one pole in 2014, Scott Dixon will extend his Verizon IndyCar Series streak to eight consecutive seasons.
  • Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 216th consecutive start, which would extend his all-time record (set last year in Baltimore). Scott Dixon with 157 straight starts (sixth all time), Marco Andretti with 133 straight starts (13th all time) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (tied for 19th) with 107 straight starts are the only active drivers with a streak of more than 100 consecutive starts.
  • Helio Castroneves is the active leader in starts with 277, which is eighth on the all-time list.
  • Tony Kanaan has 276 starts, which is ninth on the all-time list.
  • Tony Kanaan is the active leader in top-five finishes with 112, which is one behind Bobby Unser for eighth on the all-time list.
  • Helio Castroneves is tied with Rick Mears for 10th on the all-time list with 111 top-five finishes in his Indy car career.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.