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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.

Oddsmaker picks Will Power to win 100th Indianapolis 500

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Will Power is the man to beat in Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

So says online site Bovada.lv.

The online casino and odds-setting site has made Power an 11/2 favorite to win the milestone edition of the 500.

Power, who will start from the outside of Row 2 (sixth position) in Sunday’s race will be making his ninth start in the 500. He finished a career-best second place in last year’s race, runner-up to Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya is tied with yet another Team Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, with the second-best odds to win the 500 at 6/1. Pagenaud has been on a tear of late, having won the last three IndyCar races leading up to the 500: Long Beach, Birmingham and the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Helio Castroneves, who is seeking a fourth Indy 500 victory – which would tie him with AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most in the history of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing – is tied with defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon with the fourth-best odds to win Sunday at 13/2 each.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe has the seventh-best odds to win at 12/1.

Here’s the overall odds for each driver in the 33-driver field for the Indy 500:

Driver – Odds to Win

Will Power                          11/2
Juan Pablo Montoya          6/1
Simon Pagenaud                 6/1
Helio Castroneves             13/2
Scott Dixon                         13/2
Tony Kanaan                        9/1
James Hinchcliffe              12/1
Josef Newgarden                14/1
Sebastien Bourdais             16/1
Ryan Hunter-Reay             20/1
Townsend Bell                     22/1
Marco Andretti                    25/1
Graham Rahal                     25/1
JR Hildebrand                    33/1
Takuma Sato                       33/1
Mikhail Aleshin                  40/1
Charlie Kimball                  40/1
Carlos Munoz                     40/1
Ed Carpenter                      50/1
Oriol Servia                         50/1
Max Chilton                        66/1
Sage Karam                        66/1
Alex Tagliani                      66/1
Conor Daly                         75/1
Jack Hawksworth             75/1
Alexander Rossi                75/1
Stefan Wilson                    75/1
Matthew Brabham         100/1
Gabby Chaves                  100/1
Bryan Clauson                 100/1
Buddy Lazier                    100/1
Spencer Pigot                   100/1
Pippa Mann                      150/1

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Hawksworth’s luck goes from bad to worse leading into Indy 500

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After a rough start to the 2016 season, Jack Hawksworth was hoping for some good luck and better performances when he got to Indianapolis earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it’s been more of the same.

Entering the Indianapolis 500, the Bradford, England native sits 20th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with just 60 points, a whopping 182-point deficit behind points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Hawksworth’s best finish to date in the first five races of 2016 has been 11th in the season-opening event at St. Petersburg.

Since then, it has all been downhill, as he’s finished 19th (Phoenix), 21st (Long Beach), 19th again (Birmingham) and then a 20th place finish (in a 25-driver field) two weeks ago in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – despite qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six for the last event.

Hawksworth continued to endure niggling engine issues during the first week of practice and qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.

That included qualifying a disappointing 31st in the 33-car field, his worst effort in three tries to make the Indy 500 (Hawksworth qualified 31st in 2015 but moved forward three spots as the last row changed).

Luckily for Hawksworth, only 33 cars were entered for the historic running of the 500, so he was assured a spot in the field either way.

But bad luck reared its ugly head once again in Monday’s practice session at the 2.5-mile Brickyard when Hawksworth felt the engine go in his No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda.

“We’ve had our fair share of setbacks these past two weeks (but) this is the cherry on top of the cake,” a dejected Hawksworth said. “We’ll obviously have to change the engine.

“I was pretty happy with the car today. Now we need to get miles on the new engine on Carb Day. That’s important to break it in before Sunday. Then we reset and go to the Indy 500.”

Given all the bad luck Hawksworth has endured, there is one bright spot: the only direction he can go from here is up.

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Andersen working to ensure value for MRTI schedule selections

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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One of the key goals for Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, which runs and operates the Mazda Road to Indy, is to ensure when a race is added or dropped to the schedule, it’s done with the right business reasons in mind.

Looking first at the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the schedule grew from 16 to a planned 18 races for the 2016 season. Phoenix and Boston single races were added with Road America also added as a doubleheader; Long Beach and Milwaukee fell off compared to 2015.

However, in looking at three of those events – Long Beach, Phoenix, and Boston – things have quickly evolved just in the opening months of the year.

Phoenix ran at an admittedly odd 1:30 p.m. MT and local start time, nearly five full hours ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series race with nothing on-track in-between.

Long Beach’s absence made for a topic of discussion in the paddock.

Perhaps in an unfortunate coincidence, the magnitude of North America’s marquee street race was put into direct comparison to the challenge of launching a first-year street race, when Boston’s cancellation came out late last week.

It’s with that as context that we sought out some insight from Andersen about how the schedule came together – why Phoenix and Boston were the new adds and why Long Beach was dropped.

First up, looking at Phoenix, Andersen was equally as perplexed by the mid-afternoon start time as many were, this writer included.

“We tried to move our race slot, and IndyCar did as well. That was a track decision,” Andersen told NBC Sports.

“I believe it had to do with the concert in-between and maybe they didn’t want to have anything going on to detract from the concert. That will be a topic to discuss for next year.”

Andersen noted Phoenix International Speedway track president Bryan Sperber was influential in getting the track back on the calendar to some acclaim, but prefers a closer gap to the Indycar race in 2017.

“That event, I didn’t actually make our deal with the track – that was done by INDYCAR directly,” he said. “The track was very good to us, and Bryan Sperber was super nice, but next year we’ve got to try be closer to IndyCar.

“Bryan didn’t explain the time slot directly to me, but Phoenix was apparently pretty inflexible on what is was going to be. As that was a co-promoted event between Phoenix and INDYCAR, we and INDYCAR didn’t have the same situation that normally exists.”

Shifting to Long Beach, the vibe was weird with Indy Lights not on the schedule. Indy Lights had run at Long Beach in its earlier iteration from 1989 through 2001, and again in the reincarnated version from 2009 to 2015.

It’s understood that Andersen would have needed to pay a considerable amount in order to remain on the Long Beach weekend bill for 2016, and with that in mind, Andersen was conscientious that teams couldn’t afford the extra hit in budget that would come along with it.

“We absolutely wanted to go back to Long Beach,” Andersen explained. “When I took the series over, Long Beach was part of the INDYCAR sanction, and when INDYCAR renewed their agreement, Lights wasn’t included.

“INDYCAR basically said to me, ‘what do you want to do?’ and I replied ‘We want to go there, but if you can’t make that happen, you can’t make it happen’. Then Long Beach came to me and said ‘we’d be glad to have you back, and this is the number.’

“I’m able to commit to spending a stipulated amount on suites, hospitality, signage, and ticket buys, but this was a straight fee, and I just don’t have the budget for that. I would have had to add significant cost to every car for their entry fees.”

So why add Phoenix, Road America and (in theory) Boston, then?

“We were disappointed in losing Long Beach, but delighted that we could add Road America, Phoenix and Boston – and now, Watkins Glen.”

The Boston fallout meant there was a temporary drop off to 17 Indy Lights races, but with Watkins Glen being added it’s back to 18.

Fortunately, the Boston cancellation didn’t affect the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires or Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda schedules.

To get all three series on the same weekend, Andersen and series partners often are willing to commit a certain amount in purchases from the promoter to showcase the entire Mazda Road to Indy.

“Certain tracks, we are able to commit our partners to spend a certain amount of money,” he said. “Here (Barber), for instance, I have agreed to spend a certain amount of money to have all three of my series on this venue, and to cover that, Allied Building products stepped up, Cooper stepped up, and Mazda stepped up.”

May is both busy and important for the Mazda Road to Indy from both a current schedule and future planning standpoint.

The new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which will premiere in USF2000 next season, will be revealed later this week at IMS – at 9 a.m. ET on Carb Day.

Meanwhile on-track this month, there’s been the usual six races at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend – arguably the standout weekend for the full Mazda Road to Indy of the season.

Then you get to Friday, May 27 – which is going to be “Fully Jam-Packed Friday” for the Mazda Road to Indy – with Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its usual Carb Day slot and then Pro Mazda and USF2000 having their third time and date in as many years at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Clermont.

The race was the “Night Before the 500” for years and ran late Saturday night, but shifted last year to an early afternoon race during the day. Now, it’ll be a Friday night affair, the “Carb Night Classic”.

And with other race events ongoing in the area, it might be a tough draw at the series’ shortest track. That being said, Andersen is bullish the Friday night opportunity might work better than what’s been done in the past.

“Last year, (USAC) realized they were losing a lot of teams to the Little 500 so they decided to go to a daytime race on Saturday instead of a nighttime race so that teams could exit Lucas Oil Raceway and run to Anderson, Indiana and do the Little 500,” Andersen explained. “That sort of worked, they had a little bit better car count then the year before

“So, this year they’ve decided that we are going to move it to Friday night, because I guess the Hulman 100 moved to Thursday night, so there’s no real conflicts with Friday night.

“I’m actually happy with that because Saturday, Legends Day at the Speedway, is an off day for us. It’s a little busy for us with Carb Day being Friday, but it works because we do Carb Day with the Indy Lights and then we go over to Lucas Oil Raceway and we run a traditional nighttime race there. I think it will work.”

Scheduling is one of the areas that Andersen can control, and doing so to make things as cost effective as possible for all three rungs on the ladder is key to success.

As Andersen made the important note, he’s in this for passion and to help promote the next generation of open-wheel talent – not to make money on this personally.

PWC weekend wrap: Long leads winners at CTMP

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Photo: Wright Motorsports
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This past weekend, the Pirelli World Challenge headed north to Canada at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – the track formerly known as Mosport – for an incredibly busy weekend featuring no less than eight races among the full complement of seven classes, plus the debut of the new Sprint-X series.

There wasn’t much in the way of passing though in the GT ranks, following the round of Balance of Performance adjustments determined prior to the weekend. In race one, each of the top 12 starters finished in the top 12, with only minor changes. Race two was similar, with the order shifted only by a first green flag lap accident on a damp track.

Nonetheless, in his first weekend with a new team, albeit one he’s worked with in other categories, Patrick Long dominated proceedings in his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Long swept the pair of GT races and for good measure, so did his teammate, Michael Schein, in his No. 16 Wright Porsche in the GTA ranks.

“It was an iconic weekend from Wright Motorsports,” Long said. “They hit the ground running. We were able to put together a strong car for qualifying, and we continued to dial the car in all weekend.

“They were two very different races. The first one was a hot and long race where we had to manage traffic.

“On Sunday half of the track was wet, and it was a cut-throat sprint. The top three cars traded qualifying laps during the course of the race. We had the car to beat, and it was a storybook debut for us. John Wright and Bob Viglione [engineer] put their heads down and turned out two terrific cars for Michael and I.”

Saturday’s race one saw Andrew Palmer in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and Ryan Eversley in the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT complete the podium.

On Sunday, James Davison finished second on the road in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, following a determined and aggressive start to get himself into podium position, past Eversley and the two Bentleys of Palmer and Adderly Fong. Unfortunately the maneuver would halt Eversley’s momentum, knocking him back into Fong, who proceeded to pitch the Acura into a spin that caused a heavy accident. Per a Nissan release, Davison was later assessed a post-race penalty for the incident, although the team has appealed the decision from PWC officials.

With Davison demoted to 11th for the time being, it promoted Palmer back to second and Kyle Marcelli up to third in the No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra, thus securing his first podium of the year and in World Challenge.

Schein, as noted, won both GTA races – thus halting Martin Fuentes’ season-long win-streak of the first seven races – while Alec Udell and local driver Chris Green split the GT Cup wins.

Lawson Aschenbach took his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R to the win in the first of two GTS races on Saturday, but contact between he and Brett Sandberg’s No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 on Sunday at the first turn and first lap opened the door for Max Riddle to score a win on home soil on Sunday in his No. 07 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

There were four additional races on the weekend, including the debut of the new Sprint-X championship, which premiered to mixed reviews.

All classes except the Sprint-X ranks head to Lime Rock Park this weekend for track activity on Friday and Saturday.

RESULTS

GT

  • Race 1: 1. 58-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 87-Andrew Palmer (Bentley), 3. 43-Ryan Eversley (Acura), Pole. 58-Long
  • Race 2: 1. 58-Long, 2. 87-Palmer, 3. 2-Kyle Marcelli (Audi), Pole. 58-Long

GTA

  • Race 1: 1. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche), 2. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 3. 96-Bret Curtis (BMW)
  • Race 2: 1. 16-Schein, 2. 07-Fuentes, 3. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes)

GTC (all Porsche Cup)

  • Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 00-Corey Fergus (MP), Pole. 09-Chris Green (Pfaff)
  • Race 2: 1. 09-Green, 2. 17-Udell, 3-20-Urry, Pole. 09-Green

GTS

  • Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 3. 07-Max Riddle (Aston Martin), Pole. 10-Aschenbach
  • Race 2: 1. 07-Riddle, 2. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), 3. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), Pole. 13-Sandberg

TC

  • Race 1: 1. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 4-Dennis Hanratty (Lotus), Pole. 33-Adam Poland (Mazda)
  • Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 54-Patrick Gallagher (Mazda), Pole. 33-Poland

TCA

  • Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 74-Matthew Fassnacht (Mazda), 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 70-Goulart
  • Race 2: 1. 70-Goulart, 2. 49-Bickers, 3. 73-Daniel Moen (Mazda) Pole. 49-Bickers

TCB

  • Race 1: 1. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda), Pole. 65-Rodgers
  • Race 2: 3. 65-Rodgers, 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 25-P.J. Groenke (Chevrolet), Pole. 65-Rodgers

Sprint-X

  • Race 1: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi), 3. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)
  • Race 2: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche), 3. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)