Andretti Autosport driver Munoz of Colombia stands next to his race car during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis

IndyCar’s rookie trio bullish for St. Pete debuts

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At least three and potentially a fourth rookie driver will be part of the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year class in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, and could play spoilers in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

For Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth, this will be their first opportunities to race the Dallara DW12-Honda on a road and street circuit in a normal weekend.

Munoz, who will drive the No. 34 Cinsay Inc./AndrettiTV.com Honda for Andretti Autosport, made a last-minute substitute appearance for Ryan Briscoe at Panther Racing in the second Toronto race a year ago. But that marked his first time ever in one of these cars on a road or street circuit, and to jump in and finish the race was all that could have realistically been achieved.

Now, though, he wants to live up to the high standards set by his trio of teammates – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and defending St. Pete winner James Hinchcliffe.

“St. Pete is one of the tracks I like a lot. I’ve been really fast in the past (in an Indy Lights car), but I’ve never finished in the past two years I’ve raced there. My main goal is to finish the race, take all the experience, to learn a lot,” said Munoz.

While he failed to finish last year, Hawksworth won in his Indy Lights debut with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He was a late add to Bryan Herta Autosport’s lineup, but impressed in the Barber preseason test. He’ll drive the No. 98 BHA/BBM Honda with sponsorship from Charter Media.

“I’m really looking forward to getting the season started this weekend in St. Pete,” said Hawksworth. “It’s a track I’ve been successful at in the lower racing categories and I also lived there during the 2012 season. It’s certainly an event that I enjoy a lot.

“Coming into the race weekend, we have had a couple of solid tests and I think we should be in pretty good shape to start the season. The track is quite short – low grip but still technical. We’ll have to work hard and execute a clean weekend but if we can do this, then we’ll be in with a shout.”

Team owner Bryan Herta added, “The season is finally here and the hard work from the guys in the shop, our partners at Honda, and our driver Jack Hawksworth are ready to be put to the test. With substantial support from Charter, we are looking forward to a strong weekend.”

Schmidt has a rookie of his own in one of his IndyCars – Russian Mikhail Aleshin makes his series debut in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda. Accomplishing what Tristan Vautier did last year – making the Firestone Fast Six on debut – is not an easy ask, but Aleshin already knows what he wants to get out of the weekend.

“Before we even get there, we want to know what changes we are going to make in the car,” Aleshin said. “I’ve been practicing in the simulator at our shop and watching lots of tape. Everyone else will have more experience than me at this track, so I need to do my best to create less opportunity for error.”

He also joked on the irony of being a Russian to make his debut in St. Petersburg.

“It’s very exciting to have our country represented in IndyCar for the first time ever,” Aleshin said. “The name St. Petersburg will also be very recognizable to Russian fans since it’s also the name of one of our most famous cities. It’s funny that they’ll be tuning in to watch me race at a different St. Petersburg in the U.S. It all fits together very well!”

A fourth rookie – Carlos Huertas in the second Dale Coyne Racing entry – has not been officially confirmed by the team. But it’s expected the Colombian rookie will be in the No. 18 Honda this weekend.

Rosberg eases to Russian GP pole as Hamilton hits trouble

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg will start Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix from pole position after easing to P1 in the final stage of qualifying at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg arrived in Russia 36 points clear of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, and is chasing a seventh consecutive grand prix victory on Sunday.

The two Mercedes drivers exchanged fast times in both Q1 and Q2, with Rosberg finishing half a second clear heading into the final fight for pole in Q3.

However, there was no battle as had been anticipated after a power unit issue arose on Hamilton’s car, meaning that he could take no part in Q3.

Using the same unit that had caused trouble in China two weeks ago, Hamilton reported a loss of power at the end of Q2, forcing him to sit out of the final session.

As a result, Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season by posting a fastest lap of 1:35.417 in the final stage of qualifying.

The German went eight-tenths of a second faster than nearest rival Sebastian Vettel with his first lap in Q3, but an error on a later lap meant he could not improve on his time.

Nevertheless, it was more than enough for pole, with Vettel finishing seven-tenths of a second back for Ferrari in P2. However, he will drop to seventh for the start of Sunday’s race due to a grid penalty.

Valtteri Bottas enjoyed his best qualifying of the season to date to finish third ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, while Williams teammate Felipe Massa qualified fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge in P6 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, with home favorite Daniil Kvyat finishing eighth. Max Verstappen finished ninth ahead of the luckless Hamilton in P10.

McLaren’s hopes of scoring a first Q3 berth since the end of 2014 were dashed late on in Q2 as Jenson Button missed by just one-tenth of a second. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished just ahead of the Briton in P11, while Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg followed in 13th ahead of Fernando Alonso in the second McLaren in P14.

Haas’ recent difficulties continued in qualifying in Sochi as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez could only finish the session 15th and 16th. Grosjean struggled with the balance on his VF-16 car, sliding off the track late in the session, but managed to outqualify his teammate once again by six-hundredths of a second.

Renault once again struggled for pace in qualifying as Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer failed to make it out of Q1 once again, finishing 17th and 18th. Felipe Nasr’s new Sauber chassis did not give him the boost required to make it into Q2 as he ended up 19th. Manor drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto impressed by outqualifying Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber, who propped up the timesheets.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday, with lights out at 8am.

Sauber financial difficulties ‘not a secret’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder says that the financial difficulties currently facing the Swiss outfit are “not a secret”, but that it is now in a more comfortable position.

Sauber has faced a great deal of uncertainty in the past three years, but the ship appeared to have been steadied in 2015 after the arrival of drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, both of whom brought sizeable backing.

However, the team was late in paying its staff earlier this year, and is currently running short on spare parts according to Autosport.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Zehnder said that Sauber was already in a more comfortable situation than earlier in the year, but that regular income did not got far enough.

“We’ve been in a more comfortable situation already,” Zehnder said.

“We have financial difficulties, it’s not a secret, but I think the good thing is we are still around. We’re working hard to solve all the problems but it’s not easy.

“An annual budget this year is just a massive one and to just cover it by sponsors and the income from Bernie [Ecclestone] is just not sufficient at the moment.”

Zender also said that the loss in value of the Swiss franc in recent years has hit Sauber hard.

“In 2007, one dollar was 1.5 Swiss francs. Now we have parity. So what we had income in dollars is now worth 50 per cent less,” Zender said.

“Switzerland doesn’t make it really easy. The other thing is that obviously F1 personnel, technical, mechanics, you kind of have a pool in the UK, we don’t have it in Switzerland.

“So for motorsport, it’s maybe not the best place to be although we have wonderful living!”

Lewis Hamilton closes out Russian GP practice fastest

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for top spot in the final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix thanks to a late lap in the 60-minute session.

In a session that saw a number of drivers struggle with the low temperatures and low grip afforded by the Sochi Autodrom circuit, Mercedes once again dominated proceedings as its drivers swept to a one-two finish.

Rosberg and Hamilton exchanged blows throughout the session, having already split top spot in the two sessions on Friday, as Mercedes completed a significant amount of running on the super-soft tire.

Rosberg enjoyed the advantage heading into the final few minutes, running four-tenths of a second clear of Hamilton as the Briton struggled with traffic.

However, Hamilton was able to eke out another late lap with just seconds remaining on the clock, posting a time of 1:36.408 to finish just six-hundredths of a second clear of Rosberg in P1.

Rosberg was left to settle for P2, but Mercedes’ advantage was clear once again as nearest rival Sebastian Vettel finished six-tenths of a second down on Hamilton in P3.

Kimi Raikkonen followed just behind his Ferrari teammate, finishing fourth, while the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas ended the session fifth and sixth.

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. ran well for Toro Rosso to finish seventh and ninth respectively, with McLaren’s Jenson Button splitting the duo as he bids for the team’s first Q3 berth in over a year later in qualifying. Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 for Force India.

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 8am ET.

Boston race seemed to have a lot of corporate partners lined up

<> on January 5, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The thing that makes me think INDYCAR wanted to make Boston work is that the race – and the people who worked for it – appeared to have a lot of corporate partners lined up.

And to be honest, it takes a lot of corporate partners to get an event off the ground – particularly a first-year street race.

Start first with the Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn presenting sponsor – LogMeIn – which was announced last October.

Here’s what was said at the time, via a release:

LogMeIn has always been committed to investing in our Boston community and having a positive economic impact on the city and the Fort Point neighborhood.” said W. Sean Ford, LogMeIn’s CMO. “The Grand Prix represents an opportunity to continue to solidify Boston as the hub of innovation for the Internet of Things, and showcase Xively, our award-winning Internet of Things platform and application solution. We are extremely honored to be the presenting sponsor of the first ever INDYCAR race in Boston.”

“This is a great win for the City of Boston – we’re expecting an influx of tourism and support for local businesses, and residents will be able to see one of America’s greatest sports featured right here our City,” added Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “The Grand Prix of Boston represents the latest success on the South Boston waterfront, and we’re excited to work with IndyCar and companies like LogMeIn to give the best sports fans in the world one more thing to cheer about.”

And here’s what LogMeIn had to say late Friday, after news the plug was getting pulled on the event, via Bruce Martin for National Speed Sport News:

“We’re really disappointed,” LogMeIn CEO Bill Wagner told the Boston Globe, via National Speed Sport News.“The level of excitement among our employees [about the race] had exceeded my expectations. It had a much broader appeal than a lot of people expected.”

Coors Light came on board. One of the key brands in the MillerCoors portfolio was announced in February as Official Beer for the race. MillerCoors made a bigger investment in INDYCAR earlier this month.

As recently as last week, seven new partners were announced, which according to the event, brought the partner portfolio to more than 100.

Grand Prix of Boston CEO John Casey said in that release, which came out April 21, “An event of this magnitude isn’t possible without corporate partners and we continue to be amazed by the desire of so many Boston and regionally based companies who have joined us for the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn. Having more than one hundred sponsors for this year’s event is an amazing number for a long-standing event, let alone a first time event like the Grand Prix of Boston. We hope to continue to build on this momentum as we get closer to September.”

That release came out only a week after the Grand Prix of Boston announced a Signing of License Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding with City of Boston, State Agencies.

So with the news the race is off now, here’s all the corporate partners who are now wondering, “now what?” when it comes to their investment, listed in order from the event website (before it gets taken down):

  • LogMeIn
  • AllTown Market
  • ExxonMobil
  • Coors Light
  • Firestone
  • Safety 1st
  • Absolut
  • Ivora Ella
  • Verizon
  • Konica Minolta
  • WEEI 93.7 FM / WAAF 97.7/107.3
  • NewBalance
  • Polar
  • Herb Chambers
  • The Westin Boston Waterfront
  • MMB
  • Leader Bank
  • Delta
  • Compass Furnished Apartments
  • Roxbury Technology
  • Massachusetts Fallen Heroes
  • Veteran Homestead
  • The Play Brigade

Beyond that list, there’s more than 30 additional partners listed below those on the website in smaller scale.