Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Ryan Briscoe fastest in IndyCar Practice 3 at St. Pete

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Chip Ganassi Racing returnee Ryan Briscoe made a late charge to top the time sheets in this morning’s third and final practice before qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Briscoe threw down a lap of 1:02.4236 in the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet, enough to beat out former Team Penske teammate and fellow Chevy man Helio Castroneves (1:02.4730) for P1 in the session.

“It’s tough conditions out there with the wind,” Briscoe said. “The car feels not great, but everyone is struggling with the balance. We’ve made quite a few setup changes and nothing really made the improvement.”

Honda-powered Takuma Sato continued his steady weekend so far in St. Pete, logging the third fastest time this morning at 1:02.5243 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. entry. Sato was P3 in yesterday’s morning session and then topped the afternoon session later on.

After him came another pair of Chevy drivers – KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (1:02.5445) in fourth, and another Penske pilot, Will Power (1:02.5996), in fifth.

Simon Pagenaud, defending St. Pete champion James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, reigning series champion Scott Dixon, and rookie Jack Hawksworth rounded out the Top 10.

Qualifying is set to begin this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. In case you’ve forgotten or are new to the sport, IndyCar utilizes a form of the knockout-style format that begins with two groups of drivers (you can see today’s groups in Tony DiZinno’s notebook from last night).

Each group receives 10 minutes of track time to set their best lap, and the top six from each group will advance to the second round. The rest will make up the grid from 13th on back (Group 1 drivers make up the odd-numbered positions, Group 2 drivers make up the even-numbered positions).

In the second round, the 12 remaining drivers will get another 10 minutes of track time. At the end of that, the six fastest move on the final round – the “Firestone Fast Six.” Those unable to advance set positions 7-12 on the grid.

In the FF6, competitors will get 10 minutes of track time with a guarantee of five minutes’ worth of green-flag time. They also receive an additional set of tires to use in this segment. The fastest driver wins the pole, with the remainder setting positions 2-6.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.