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IndyCar 2014 Primer: The Tracks

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Rewind to Labor Day Weekend 2013. Simon Pagenaud had emerged victorious after a wild and wooly Baltimore Grand Prix that also saw Helio Castroneves increase his Verizon IndyCar Series points lead on Scott Dixon, who came out badly after being involved in a restart incident with Will Power.

We were left with questions: Had Castroneves effectively captured the series title that he’d been missing for so long? Could Pagenaud, now with momentum, mount a last-ditch charge in the remaining three races? And how would Dixon possibly be able to regroup from another disaster?

The answers didn’t come until five weeks later – yes, five weeks later – at the revived Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston on Oct. 5-6. Dixon exited the doubleheader with a points lead over Castroneves that he would not relinquish, while Pagenaud was eliminated from contention.

Such a long gap isn’t conducive to building championship buzz, so Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has responded by condensing this year’s 18-race calendar into a five-month span, which begins this weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The new calendar retains the same three doubleheader weekends as last year, with two-steps in Detroit, Houston, and Toronto. One new race, the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the reconfigured Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, now serves as a kick-off to the Month of May. Gone from the docket, sadly, are a pair of street course gems in Baltimore and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

March 30 – Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (1.8 miles, 14 turns)
Blessed with waterfront scenery, this street circuit provides a picturesque backdrop to begin the IndyCar season. A critical part of the course is the left hand Turn 10/Dan Wheldon Way, which comes after a full-on blitz down the dog-legged Bayshore Drive.

April 13 – Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (1.968 miles, 12 turns)
North America’s most important street race celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and it’s a race that every driver wants to win. The land rush from Shoreline Drive into Turn 1 is always a highlight, and so’s the treacherous right-hand hairpin that sets it all up.

April 27 – Barber Motorsports Park (2.38 miles, 17 turns)
One of IndyCar’s most challenging circuits, this track features a narrow ribbon and multiple elevation changes to test the drivers. Surrounding the course is a beautifully maintained landscape dotted by whimsical sculptures. All you need to do to find the hot spot at Barber is to look for the spider near left hand Turn 5, aptly named ‘Charlotte’s Web.’

May 10 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (2.434 miles, 14 turns)
A new chapter in the legendary history of IMS will be written this May as the IndyCars attack the Speedway’s revamped road circuit. The course utilizes parts of Turns 1 and 2 of the hallowed Brickyard oval, but the infield section has seen several modifications leading up to what should be a fascinating watch.

May 25 – Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5 miles, banking of 9 degrees, 12 minutes)
Relatively flat turns and a different profile for each corner ensure that drivers are constantly running on a knife’s edge during the ‘500.’ The long straightaways (5/8-mile) would appear to provide a momentary respite, but considering the amount of passing we’ve seen in the last couple of years with the Dallara DW12, that may no longer be true. In short, this track separates the good from the great and provides one of the greatest mental tests a driver can ever face.

May 31-June 1 – Belle Isle Park, Detroit (2.34-mile, 13 turns)
The battle for the championship truly begins with a punishing doubleheader on Belle Isle, where drivers have to deal with numerous surface changes and park roads that are even more narrow than what you usually find on a typical street course. But the 90-degree Turn 3 provides a great spot for passing opportunities, as it comes at the end of a half-mile straight.

June 7 – Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles, banking of 24 degrees)
Seeing the IndyCars battle under the lights on the Texas high banks remains a thrilling sight to see. And with an extra 50 kilometers being added to the distance this year, there will be more excitement to behold. But with lower downforce now the norm on big ovals such as TMS, tire management can be just as important as pure horsepower.

June 28-29 – Reliant Park, Houston, Texas (1.7 miles, 10 turns)
The compact and largely concrete Houston circuit takes drivers on a quick trip through several of the city’s most important sporting landmarks, including the fabled Astrodome. Getting the hairpin at Turn 4 right is critical for drivers to accelerate through Turn 5 (the same corner that proved disastrous last fall) around the ‘Dome and stage a passing attempt going into the lefty at Turn 6.

July 6 – Pocono Raceway (2.5 miles; banking of 14 (Turn 1), 9 (Turn 2), and 6 (Turn 3) degrees)
There’s a reason why this place is called the ‘Tricky Triangle.’ Pocono’s three distinct turns are modeled after some of open-wheel racing’s most important tracks, with Turn 1 mimicking the long-gone Trenton, Turn 2 being similar to Indy, and Turn 3 taking on the feel of Milwaukee.

July 12 – Iowa Speedway (.875 miles; banking of 12-14 degrees in turns, 10 degrees in frontstretch)
Scorching summers and brutal winters have given this bullring plenty of character over the years. The bumps are especially noticeable in Turns 1 and 2, and combined with the 18-second laps, Iowa makes for a long few hours of work in the cockpit.

July 19-20 – Streets of Toronto (1.75 miles, 11 turns)
The mayhem always seems to go up a notch every time the IndyCars take to this street course. There are multiple passing opportunities, but things can get very tight in a hurry and that often leads to chaos. The right-hand Turn 3, which comes after a long run down Lakeshore Boulevard, may very well be the ‘Calamity Corner’ of the series – although Turn 1 at the Princes Gate is also ripe for run-ins.

Aug. 3 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2.258 miles, 13 turns)
This venerable, natural-terrain circuit oozes a throwback vibe. Like Barber, it’s narrow, has elevation changes, and features a mix of high-speed and rhythm sections. The signature corner is the right-hand Keyhole at Turn 2, but watch for Turn 9, a blind corner that features an up-and-down elevation change. Qualifying up front and maintaining track position are very critical here.

Aug. 17 – Milwaukee Mile (one mile, banking of nine degrees)
The biggest part of success at Milwaukee is being able to navigate the flat, sweeping turns and accelerate out of them for good runs on the straights. The groove is a narrow one, making this matter all the more tricky to accomplish. But this is very much a driver’s track, which is much appreciated by those who wish to see great displays of talent.

Aug. 24 – Sonoma Raceway (2.385 miles, 12 turns)
Elevation changes abound on this highly technical Northern California road course, which can also prove slippery for drivers as the winds often throw sand and dirt in their path. Turn 7 represents a decent passing zone with a good run out of the track’s Carousel corner.

Aug. 30 – Auto Club Speedway (two miles, banking of 14 degrees in turns, 11 degrees on frontstretch)
Multiple grooves are present at this wide and fast Southern California oval, but a bumpy backstretch and treacherous seams in the racing surface can turn a good night into a bad one instantly.

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

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PWC: Mid-Ohio set to be another pivotal weekend for title battles

Bowmanville, Ontario - May 19, 2016:  The g  teams take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Presented by Audi at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
With EFFORT/Dalziel out, Long is Porsche's best hope to extend Mid-Ohio win streak. Photo: PWC
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At a racetrack where the seismic forces of a title battle have swung in the past, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be poised to provide another pivotal weekend for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge title races.

The series’ marquee GT class is a two or potentially four-driver race. Alvaro Parente, one of three K-PAX Racing drivers in the Flying Lizard Motorsports’ supported McLaren 650S GT3s, leads the standings with 1143 points to Patrick Long’s 1095 in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Porsche has dominated Mid-Ohio in the past with Ryan Dalziel, who’s swept each of the last two years for EFFORT Racing and has a four-race win streak.

But Long or his former EFFORT teammate Michael Lewis (Calvert Dynamics) will look to continue the manufacturer’s run of form at the sinewy 2.258-mile road course.

Cadillac Racing also looks to get back in the title fight, with Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell at 1025 and 957 points, respectively. If either Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R sweeps the weekend, they’ll undoubtedly move forward in the title battle.

The one question I have beyond points is whether anyone will be able to not sweep, in what’s been a year of sweeps.

The last race weekend World Challenge did not have a sweep in the GT class was Barber Motorsports Park back in April. Long (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Parente (Lime Rock Park) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT, Road America) have each gone two-for-two at the respective last three weekends.

For the sake of variety and spicing things up, it’d be nice to see two winners in a weekend. But as noted above, that hasn’t happened at Mid-Ohio since 2011! Alex Figge (K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and O’Connell (then a Cadillac CTS-V.R) split in 2011.

Before Dalziel swept the last two years, Figge and Randy Pobst swept in 2013 and 2012 in the Volvos.

It’s not just GT where the sweeps have been coming at Mid-Ohio, but also in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach pulled it off in 2014 in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, a year after winning the second race in 2013. Then Cooper won the first 2015 race, to make it four races in a row for the No. 10/1 Blackdog Camaro.

Aschenbach actually trails the GTS points leader, Brett Sandberg in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, by 35 points (995-960). Series rookie Parker Chase in his Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 is third in points with 917, and fellow teenager Nate Stacy in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 fourth on 863 points.

Martin Fuentes enters with a commanding lead in GTA (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia) while Alec Udell (GMG) has a 38-point lead on Sloan Urry (TruSpeed) in GT Cup.

World Challenge races Friday and Saturday (GTS) and Saturday and Sunday (GT/GTA/GT Cup).

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”