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IndyCar 2014 Primer: The Drivers

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All drivers in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series have been written about in detail already this month. But if you need a one or two-sentence breakdown of each, we’ve got that too.

Here’s a quick look through the projected field of full-season drivers (Note: the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing has not been confirmed yet, and Oriol Servia in the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda is only for Rounds 2-5).

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada hit the Chevrolet drivers, and I hit the Honda drivers in this piece.

CHEVROLET TEAMS

TEAM PENSKE 

#2 – Juan Pablo Montoya: It’s not a matter of if the former Indy 500/CART champ can find his open-wheel stride again after seven years in NASCAR, but a matter of when.

#3 – Helio Castroneves: Last year was his best chance yet to win a series title. But was it his last? The Brazilian will do all he can to earn another shot at the crown.

#12 – Will Power: Three wins in the last five races of 2013 have made him a chic pick to be the 2014 champ. We’re not going to change their minds about that: He’s a legit threat.

CHIP GANASSI RACING

#8 – Ryan Briscoe: Steady veteran should be good for at least one trip to Victory Lane this year, but you have to think that he wants so much more in his second go-round with Ganassi.

#9 – Scott Dixon: The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion has done almost everything in his career – except pull off a successful title defense. The third time could be the charm for him.

#10 – Tony Kanaan: After finally capturing the Indy 500, TK seeks to re-establish himself as a threat on road/street courses in the car that used to belong to friend Dario Franchitti.

#83 – Charlie Kimball: For three years, he’s flown under the radar and shown step-by-step improvement. Mid-Ohio last year was a breakthrough, but can he become a week-in, week-out presence among the leaders in Year 4?

KVSH RACING/ KV/AFS RACING

#11 – Sebastien Bourdais: The four-time Champ Car titleholder showed to be as tough as he’s ever been on street circuits last year. The KV camp, hoping to prove its mettle outside the ovals, surely hopes he’ll be the same in 2014.

#17 – Sebastian Saavedra: The Colombian driver should improve upon his body of work with decent equipment at his disposal. First priority: Start further up the grid (2013 average start: 17.7).

ED CARPENTER RACING

#20 – Mike Conway (road/street): One of the most potent road racing talents in the series, he can certainly put the No. 20 car toward the front on the twisty tracks.

#20 – Ed Carpenter (ovals): Falling back to the ovals for the greater good of his team, Carpenter should still contend for solid results in his speedway appearances as he normally does.

HONDA TEAMS

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

#25 – Marco Andretti – Good, not great 2013 will improve to a great 2014 with a win or two and an improved qualifying effort.

#27 – James Hinchcliffe – More changes with new engineer, sponsor and engine manufacturer, but he should handle it well.

#28 – Ryan Hunter-Reay – It feels like a comeback year for RHR after snakebit 2013.

#34 – Carlos Munoz – Early rookie-of-the-year pick looks to build on impressive 2013 cameos.

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING

#15 – Graham Rahal – Ingredients there for his best season since 2009; like Marco Andretti, must qualify better because the racing chops are there.

#16 – Oriol Servia – A welcome addition for at least four races, and he’ll probably overachieve.

DALE COYNE RACING

#18 – Carlos Huertas – Limited testing plus the small resources of DCR’s second car equal a likely uphill struggle for the Colombian rookie, assuming he will be in this seat.

#19 – Justin Wilson – A likely race winner at some point assuming he overachieves at the same level he consistently has throughout his career.

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS

#7 – Mikhail Aleshin – Has surprise potential but may take a few races to gel with the series and team.

#77 – Simon Pagenaud – Undoubtedly the biggest threat to the established “power teams” after finishing third in 2013.

A.J. FOYT RACING

#14 – Takuma Sato – Good at times in 2013, and will be better with more race finishes.

SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING

#67 – Josef Newgarden – Year three could see the young American sink or swim depending on how well he adjusts to team changes.

BRYAN HERTA AUTOSPORT

#98 – Jack Hawksworth – Late add to the field, but the rookie could surprise on road and street courses. Needs more polish on ovals.

Pla powers to unofficial lap record at Petit Le Mans night practice

imsa_28967013
Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Cooler conditions produced the fastest lap times yet this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale in night practice, and Olivier Pla kept the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda at the top of the charts.

A 1:13.541 is an unofficial lap record for IMSA (note times were quicker in the American Le Mans Series, but we’re talking post-mergification in 2014 when ALMS and GRAND-AM came under one roof) as Pla dropped the hammer Thursday night in the car he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew, in Shank’s 250th and last scheduled prototype start. It also gave Shank a Thursday three-practice sweep of the top of the timesheets.

“I’m very happy with the performance today. I love this track, Road Atlanta, and the car has been great from the beginning. We just kept improving the car during each session. All of the changes we made were very positive so thank you to the team for that. I think it’s looking good for the race,” Pla told IMSA Radio.

Other class leaders at night included 2015 IndyCar driver Stefano Coletti, in the third Starworks Motorsport entry in Prototype Challenge, Dirk Mueller in GT Le Mans in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Marco Seefried in GT Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Night practice, like the two day sessions that preceded it, was largely uneventful – a welcome departure from last year’s nightmarish day of crashes and rain on Thursday.

A final pre-qualifying practice occurs on Friday before qualifying later Friday afternoon.

Session three times are linked here.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Rosberg’s ascendance, Pagenaud’s title

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with his team-mate Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP as he celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry previews the forthcoming Formula 1 title battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, recaps the IndyCar title just won by Simon Pagenaud, and addresses some other topics from both worlds as well.

Per usual, it’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

On the Rosberg vs. Hamilton title title, Johansson notes that the narratives around the two keep popping up depending on who’s winning and losing on-track.

“Nico really dominated this one, no doubt,” Johansson wrote of Rosberg’s peerless weekend in Singapore. “He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong.

“But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

“Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.”

Johansson also acutely notes how Sebastian Vettel has taken advantage of 2017 Pirelli tire testing to perhaps gain a leg up on the competition next year.

He writes of Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s test runs on the newer 2017 rubber, among other things, “What’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

“The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.”

On Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar title, Johansson praised the 32-year-old Frenchman who’s come into his own this year:

“Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.”

Johansson still said Scott Dixon, the 2015 and four-time champion, put together a barnstorming 2016 campaign – but it was one undone by horrific luck.

“As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Rosberg leads Mercedes 1-2 in shorter Malaysian first practice

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Despite a near-20-minute red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s fire in pit lane, the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair needed less time to retain their usual positions on the top of the scoreboard for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg, who regained the championship lead with his third win in a row two weeks ago in Singapore, topped the timesheets at 1:35.227 on Pirelli’s soft tires, which was 0.494 of a second clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The profile of the Sepang International Circuit has changed this year owing to a resurfacing and the angles and lines to some of the corners are different compared to years past. And the race shifts back to October for the first time since 2000.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s race lap record is 1:34.223 set with Williams in 2004 and pole times in the V10 era were in the 1:33s. On harder tires – Pirelli has brought the three hardest compounds on offer with the soft, medium and hard tires this weekend – and times aren’t far off.

In the 90-minute session, Rosberg did have an off with 15 minutes to go; Hamilton had a monster lockup with about 53 minutes to go and Carlos Sainz Jr. went off course just following the session restart.

Magnussen’s pit fire though was the story of the session. The Dane pitted, then scrambled to exit his Renault when smoke and flames emerged from both the airbox in the engine cowling and then from the engine bay. His crew worked wonders to extinguish the flames.

Behind the Mercedes teammates at the top of the charts, Ferrari’s pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next followed by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in fifth. Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were sixth and seventh, ahead of the Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Perez is hoping a resolution on his F1 future will be revealed sooner rather than later.

Romain Grosjean’s struggles with Haas F1 Team continued as he radioed that “something must not be right” with the car after a late off in the session. He was an unlucky 13th.

Further down the order neither Felipe Massa of Williams or Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault were able to eclipse the two Saubers, and languished in 18th and 19th.

Free practice two runs from 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App, via streaming at f1stream.nbcsports.com for participating providers. Leigh Diffey is back in the booth with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, with Townsend Bell in the pits. Set your DVRs, or brew some coffee.

Times from FP1 are below:

Renault crew fights, extinguishes Magnussen fire at Malaysia (VIDEO)

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There must be something about the Enstone team and scary pit fires, because Kevin Magnussen had his near-Jos Verstappen at Hockenheim 1994 moment during this morning’s first free practice from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The young Dane pitted his Renault RS16 just eight minutes into the session because it all went wrong from there. Smoke and flames emanated from out of the roll hoop and in the engine bay, and Magnussen frantically jumped out of the car from there.

He was OK, but in the subsequent minutes that followed, the car lit up several more times as it burned off fuel. The Renault Sport F1 Team crew then took to fighting and fanning the flames with fire extinguishers, and managed to douse it and put it out, in a valiant effort.

The car was wheeled back into the garage and Magnussen, most importantly, was unharmed.

The fire caused a 19-minute delay to the session.

Verstappen’s raging inferno came during a pit stop in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when the team now known as Renault was known as Benetton.

Tweets from the team are below and the video is above. FP2 runs on NBCSN from 2 a.m. ET.