Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Takuma Sato wins pole for IndyCar at St. Petersburg

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After starting on the front row in last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Takuma Sato has gone one spot better this year to win the pole for tomorrow’s Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.

Sato, driving the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing, turned in a lap of 1:01.8686 on the last of his seven laps during the Firestone Fast Six to win the fourth IndyCar pole of his career and his first since last fall’s Houston doubleheader.

However, winning the pole hasn’t meant success for Sato on race day.

When he won his first IndyCar pole in 2009 at Iowa Speedway, he crashed and finished 19th in the race. Following his second IndyCar pole in 2011 at Edmonton, he finished 21st in the race after being hit by Ryan Hunter-Reay while running in second.

And in Houston last October, he won pole for Race 1 only to finish 17th after finding the tire barrier late; he would keep going until Lap 82, when he exited with handling issues.

Needless to say, the ex-Formula One pilot would like something much different tomorrow.

Tony Kanaan will start alongside Sato on the front row for his first race as a member of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The Indianapolis 500 champion’s best time in the FF6 was almost three-tenths of a second off of Sato’s.

But considering that Kanaan didn’t have a great qualifying record last season on road/street courses for KV Racing Technology last year (four Top-10 starts in 13 road races), he’ll certainly take P2.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third on the grid for tomorrow’s race, joined in Row 2 by Team Penske’s Will Power, who had won the pole at St. Petersburg in each of the last four years.

Kanaan’s TCGR teammate and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon will line up on the inside of Row 3 in fifth position. Next to him will be another Andretti driver, Marco Andretti.

With a field this stacked, you had to figure that some big names would be having to start from the back tomorrow and that’s proven to be the case.

Among those that missed advancing out of the first round included Penske newcomer Juan Pablo Montoya, who is making his return to open-wheel racing this weekend; four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais; and Simon Pagenaud, regarded by many as the biggest threat to win the title this year that isn’t with Penske, Ganassi, or Andretti.

Also failing to advance from Round 1 was defending St. Pete champion James Hinchcliffe, who spun in his group session and made contact with the Turn 4 wall. That triggered a red flag, costing him his two fastest laps, and he’ll have to rally from way back.

On the other hand, a pair of rookies made some noise today. While Andretti’s Carlos Munoz and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth narrowly missed out on the FF6 thanks to a last-lap run by Dixon in Round 2, they’ll still roll off a solid seventh and eighth respectively on the grid.

Qualification Results – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Pos./Car-Driver/ Time/Speed

FIRESTONE FAST SIX
1. 14-Takuma Sato, 1:01.8686, 104.738 miles per hour
2. 10-Tony Kanaan, 1:02.1637, 104.241
3. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 1:02.2167, 104.152
4. 12-Will Power, 1:02.3955, 103.854
5. 9-Scott Dixon, 1:02.4454, 103.771
6. 25-Marco Andretti, 1:02.9595, 102.923
ELIMINATED IN ROUND TWO
7. 34-Carlos Munoz (R), 1:03.3955, 102.214
8. 98-Jack Hawksworth (R), 1:03.5738, 101.929
9. 8-Ryan Briscoe, 1:03.6206, 101.854
10. 3-Helio Castroneves, 1:03.6635, 101.785
11. 17-Sebastian Saavedra, 1:03.8374, 101.508
12. 20-Mike Conway, 1:03.9618, 101.310
ELIMINATED IN ROUND ONE
13. 11-Sebastien Bourdais, 1:15.8337, 85.450 (Group 1)
14. 77-Simon Pagenaud, 1:12.3741, 89.535 (Group 2)
15. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (R), 1:15.9111, 85.363 (Group 1)
16. 19-Justin Wilson, 1:12.5890, 89.270 (Group 2)
17. 18-Carlos Huertas (R), 1:16.8105, 84.363 (Group 1)
18. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya, 1:12.6994, 89.134 (Group 2)
19. 27-James Hinchcliffe, 2.34.4862, 41.945 (Group 1)
20. 83-Charlie Kimball, 1:13.0048, 88.761 (Group 2)
21. 15-Graham Rahal, No Time, No Speed (Group 1)
22. 67-Josef Newgarden, 1:13.1170, 88.625 (Group 2)

Donny Schatz, Clauson-Marshall Racing enter 2017 Chili Bowl

CONCORD, NC - MAY 22:  Team owner Tony Stewart (R) jokes with Donny Schatz, driver of the #15 ArmorAll Chevrolet, in the team hauler prior to the World Of Outlaws - Sprint Car Series on May 22, 2009 at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Motorsports Management International)
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Cool story here as the legacy of Bryan Clauson will be honored with the Clauson-Marshall Racing team and seven-time and defending World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz at next year’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. Schatz will make his Chili Bowl debut.

A full release and further details are below:

Seven-time and defending World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion, Donny Schatz, announced today he will compete in the 2017 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing (CMR). Schatz will be making his Chili Bowl debut and the entry is the first for the multicar CMR team in the 31st running of the event held Jan. 9 to 14 at the River Spirit Expo Center.

“I’m looking forward to having the chance to compete in next year’s Chili Bowl and drive for Clauson-Marshall Racing,” Schatz said. “We’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a while. It all came together earlier this year when Tony (Stewart) and I were talking about the Chili Bowl and what it’s like to be part of it. With how things worked out with my Australia schedule in January, the opportunity to get to Tulsa this time became an option and everything fell into place. I was looking forward to working with and learning from Bryan. He set the standard pretty high there and we’re going to do everything we can to continue adding to that legacy. I’ve been fortunate to compete in some of the biggest dirt track events in the world during my career and I’m excited to add the Chili Bowl to the list.”

Schatz, a teammate with the late Bryan Clauson at Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) for five seasons from 2010 to 2014, is looking forward to making his Chili Bowl debut in January with the CMR team. Both won championships for TSR and their similar driving style and respect for other competitors, along with a clean racing history, helped forge a bond between to the two.

As Clauson made his way into Winged Sprint car competition, Schatz served as a role model both on and off the track. Clauson was a student of whatever motorsports discipline he participated in and, when transitioning to Winged Sprint car competition, he felt that Schatz was the only driver to learn from. There wasn’t a driver Clauson respected more than Schatz, and he was his first choice when putting together a team.

After the 2016 Chili Bowl, Clauson and his father Tim discussed bringing a “Dream Team” to the 2017 event. The idea was to bring a team of drivers who were at the top of their game, not only competitively in their respective series but also professionally. The duo wanted to bring a team that was a threat to win every night of the Chili Bowl and carry themselves as professionals outside the car, as well. The Clauson family felt Schatz fit the bill and was thrilled its 2017 team would include the reigning WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion.

“Before Bryan passed, we had confirmed that Donny (Schatz) was going to be part of our 2017 Chili Bowl team,” Tim Clauson said. “He (Bryan) was pretty excited to get to work with a driver like Donny and share his Midget car racing expertise. Being able to announce Donny as our first driver for the 2017 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is both humbling and exciting for the Clauson-Marshall Racing team, and we know Bryan is thrilled that we’re able to do so.”

More information regarding Schatz’s 2017 Chili Bowl entry with Clauson-Marshall Racing will be announced in the coming months.

Schatz is in the midst of his 20th season of WoO competition and is chasing his eighth championship. With nine of 83 events remaining, his 23 victories are among 55 top-five finishes and 70 top-10s. He leads the WoO Craftsman Sprint Car Series standings with 10,317 points, with a 284-point lead over second place.

IMSA: Shank tops both Thursday afternoon practice sessions

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Olivier Pla and Ozz Negri split being the fastest driver, but both share the same fastest car, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda, after the first two of three practice sessions for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, the season finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Pla topped the morning session with a best time of 1:14.157 around the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course, while Negri went quicker in the warmer afternoon conditions at 1:13.923.

“I can’t say enough about my Michael Shank Racing team, the crew, my engineer Dale (Wise), Gary (Karamikian) at Honda HPD, they’ve all been working flat out. I’m giddy about having this group of people including Olivier Pla on this team. We like the same thing in the car. Anything he asks for with the set up works for me, and whatever I ask for works for him. It’s just a great thing. We are here for one objective which is to be up front and win this race,” Negri told IMSA Radio.

The No. 60 Shank Ligier Honda is not in the championship battle in Prototype. Among the three title contenders, the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Simon Pagenaud) ended ahead of the sister No. 5 car (Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque) in both sessions. The No. 31 was third, the No. 5 fourth in the morning and then fourth and fifth, respectively in the afternoon.

In both instances, they trailed at least one of the two Mazda Prototypes.

Renger van der Zande (morning, No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09) and Johnny Mowlem (afternoon, No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09) were the two PC session leaders. Van der Zande’s time of 1:16.235 was best of the day to this point.

In the GT ranks, the guest entry from Scuderia Corsa was fastest. Daniel Serra, who won the pole position back at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this year, had the best GT Le Mans time of the day in the afternoon in the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE at 1:18.354. Antonio Garcia topped morning practice in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R at 1:18.840.

The Porsche 911 GT3 R led both sessions in GT Daytona. Alex Riberas topped the first session in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:21.788 before Jorg Bergmeister was quicker in the afternoon at 1:21.340 in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Session results are below. Night practice is scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m. ET and local time.

PRACTICE 1
PRACTICE 2

Perez wants F1 future resolved in next week as delays continues

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India in the Paddock during previews for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 29, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez wants to get his Formula 1 plans for 2017 firmed up in the next week after growing tired of continued delays in talks with Force India.

Perez had hoped to make an announcement regarding his future following the summer break at the Belgian Grand Prix, only for delays to postpone any confirmation.

The Mexican had been linked with moves to Williams and Renault, but his sponsors are understood to have settled on keeping him at Force India for another season.

Perez said in Singapore two weeks ago that he expected to make an announcement prior to this weekend’s race in Malaysia, but nothing has been confirmed.

Speaking to reporters in Sepang on Thursday, Perez expressed his frustration before saying he wanted his future resolved in the next week, or would begin to look elsewhere for a drive – potentially outside of F1.

“I believe that next week is crucial to sort out my future, so by next week I need to know if the option remains or if I have to look somewhere else,” Perez is quoted as saying by AFP.

“At the moment I hope it works out with one team, and if it doesn’t then by next week we will have to look at something else.

“Obviously I want to keep my career in Formula 1 going, but I cannot wait much longer.”

Perez joined Force India in 2014 after a one-year stint with McLaren, and has managed to revive his career with Vijay Mallya’s team, leading to speculation about a move up the grid.

Perez is thought to be in contention for a seat at Ferrari once Kimi Raikkonen calls time on his spell in F1, with a one-year extension with Force India a consideration if he is to make himself available to the Scuderia.

DiZinno: It’s time for Hildebrand to get 1 more full-time IndyCar shot

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The list of those drivers seeking to get into the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time, or find a new ride for the 2017 season, is long and mixed in terms of experience levels.

There’s that mix of young, hungry lions looking to make that step up from their time in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires or European ladder system. Then there’s the older veterans who are trying to make one more switch to get one or two more good years for them near the end of their career.

And then, in the middle, is a 28-year-old American badass driver who’s been out of the cockpit on a full-time basis for far too long, who is way too talented, and who can instantly fit in as a plug-and-play replacement for Josef Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing.

It’s long past time for “Captain America,” JR Hildebrand, to be back in a full-time effort in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And it would make the most sense for ECR to continue its trajectory towards the top of the grid after its growth and development over five years to promote Hildebrand to a full-time seat.

In the last five years, with the full-time disappearance of several smaller and/or midfield teams – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Panther Racing, HVM, Conquest Racing, Dragon Racing among others – so too have disappeared the opportunities for younger drivers to step up into IndyCar and progress further up the grid.

Hildebrand was one of those drivers who premiered with a team that is no longer on the grid, and he often overachieved. His time with Panther Racing produced a driver excellent at nearly all the elements you need to do to be successful in this sport. Between his smarts, his feedback, his pace and his relationship with partners and the media, Hildebrand was destined to become a rising star in the sport.

His first two years saw him finish 14th and 11th in the points. In 2012, Hildebrand finished ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Oriol Servia, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani, Carpenter, E.J. Viso, Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro among full-season drivers.

The knock on Hildebrand was that he made a few too many mistakes. Obviously, there was Turn 4 at Indy in 2011… he’ll never get that moment back, but at the same point, he handled defeat in as classy a way as was possible, and rewarded by team boss John Barnes with a mint 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS for his efforts. Then there was St. Petersburg 2013, when he crashed into Will Power under yellow, and his early crash at the Indianapolis 500 the same year, which marked his last race with Panther.

Young drivers will always make mistakes in this business but few had Hildebrand’s pedigree coming into the sport, and so you could excuse them.

A past USF2000 champion and star in the Atlantic Championship, Hildebrand then delivered a beat down on the rest of one of the deepest Indy Lights fields on record in 2009. He won the title by nearly 100 points over a field that included 12 future IndyCar drivers, including 2016 competitors James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Stefan Wilson and Pippa Mann.

Since his time as a full-time driver ended midway through 2013, Hildebrand has only made seven more starts, but he’s made an impact in five of them – which is not easy to do as a part-time driver.

Hildebrand was in win contention in his second and last start with Bryan Herta Autosport at Fontana in 2013, before an engine failure ended his hopes there.

He’s banked three straight top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500 in an extra Ed Carpenter Racing entry, and this year marked his best win chance yet with his pace all month. He led four laps and finished sixth.

And then he’s been in contention for top-10s in both Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course races, which is particularly impressive when you consider he was making his first start of the year in both cases with a new crew and with one of the last two pit boxes. He’d also been out of the cockpit for nearly a calendar year on both occasions. Only mechanical gremlins and fuel issues have prevented solid results in those two races.

Where Hildebrand raised his stock even more this year was as Newgarden’s designated injury fill-in and test driver de jour throughout the year.

He tested at Road America, Iowa and Mid-Ohio and it was no coincidence that Newgarden delivered several of his best races – the Iowa win in particular – thanks to Hildebrand’s feedback and setup.

Newgarden in fact took extra time to thank Hildebrand after the Iowa win because his baseline information was what helped put the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on rails.

“I have to give a shout out to JR Hildebrand. He made it that much better,” Newgarden said at the time. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to test. But JR, I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to have someone like him at our disposal whenever we need it.

“We took a great car that we had last year that I think was a race-winning car, he made it better with his input.

“JR is so good. I mean, to me JR Hildebrand should be in a car right now. I think he should be driving full-time personally. That’s easier said than done. It takes a lot of money to put these cars on the track.

“The caliber of driver that he is, he should be driving already. He’s not a test driver. I think he’s just a great driver. So for us to have him available to us is pretty fortunate.”

It also spoke volumes of Hildebrand’s feedback that INDYCAR asked him to be one of two designated test drivers for new aero components at Mid-Ohio, because his input will help determine the next round of aero for the series.

Carpenter’s team has ascended through the IndyCar field the last few years with Newgarden at the helm and so when choosing its next driver from a full-time standpoint, there are options.

Bigger names – if available – would come in the form of joint Indianapolis 500 and series champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan. There’s also more experienced drivers such as Servia or Tagliani, but neither would move the needle among the fan base.

Could Carpenter opt to promote Spencer Pigot from the road course and street course races in the second car? It’s possible, but Pigot could benefit more from a more experienced teammate in a second car for his own growth or maturation. Other young guns like past Indy Lights champions Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam could work, as could Conor Daly, if he doesn’t return to Dale Coyne Racing.

But Carpenter has the perfect replacement sitting in his court already and the driver with which he could continue the team’s growth, and Hildebrand has unfinished business from his first go-’round in IndyCar with a team that didn’t provide the best working atmosphere.

It makes too much sense…