LONG BEACH, Calif. – Here are some of the notes and quotes from Friday at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:
- Like old times: A host of open-wheel veterans/legends, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran and Al Unser Jr. among them, are all in the spotlight this weekend even though none is in the marquee race. De Ferran’s open-wheel luck eluded him at the circuit although he won the 2009 American Le Mans Series race, co-driving with Simon Pagenaud in the team’s Acura ARX-02a, the same year Franchitti won his first IndyCar race back after a one-year NASCAR sojourn. Franchitti was given a medallion as part of the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame; de Ferran was named to a new consulting role with Honda Performance Development. Both drivers had huge success with the manufacturer. Meanwhile Unser Jr., the “King of the Beach” with six races wins on these streets, will compete in the Pro category in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on Saturday.
- On another Dario note… The four-time series champion was named as an ambassador for the SAFEisFAST.com initiative, part of the Road Racing Driver’s Club program. Bobby Rahal, who heads the RRDC and was Master of Ceremonies at Thursday night’s dinner honoring Mario Andretti, made the announcement in a press conference on Friday. Additionally, Honda has formed a partnership with SAFEisFAST.com as well.
- And a third Dario note… You’ve gotta love this picture of old Team KOOL Green teammates Dario and Paul Tracy chilling on pit road. “PT” is calling this weekend’s IndyCar action on NBCSN alongside Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will be in the pits.
- Hawksworth’s stout effort: English rookie Jack Hawksworth continues to surprise/impress/pick your other superlative in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport. He ended third on Friday. Said the Bradford native of the Long Beach street circuit, “It’s a little bit more of a generic street circuit compared to St. Pete – I’ve always thought St. Pete was very tricky to get the balance right. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great location and a great event and it should be a good weekend.”
- More Sato progression: It’s good for Takuma Sato and the A.J. Foyt Racing team to have come out of St. Petersburg, where they won the pole position, frustrated with a seventh place finish. The team/driver combination is bordering on making that next step to the top tier of teams on a consistent basis. The driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda ended Friday in fourth.
- Newgarden’s roller-coaster 24-plus hours: During Thursday’s media lunch, Josef Newgarden wasn’t introduced due to his past racing accolades, instead by more of a joke describing his personality. The Tennessee native let his driving do the talking on Friday, ending sixth overall, despite a brief incident at Turn 8 in first practice. “We had a moment in the first practice that set us back a bit, but not a huge upset. I got into the wall, but we were able to recover. We are pretty comfortably in the top 10, but it’s easy to slip outside of the top 10 if you don’t watch carefully,” said the driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, which is also sporting Rising Star Racing signage this weekend. Friday night, he took a drift ride in a two-seater too.
- Servia getting acclimated: Oriol Servia’s first day of official race weekend on-track action ended P18 in the black-and-red primered No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The day was difficult to define. We are working on the car. We’re still not really comfortable yet. Both Graham and I have had exactly the same comments from both sessions so that will definitely help our engineers go in one direction that we both feel we need to go. The other good thing is that although we aren’t happy, we’re still not that far off on the lap time, especially on old tires,” said the Catalan.
- Huertas continues to surprise: I wrote this at St. Pete as well, but I’m seriously impressed by Colombian Carlos Huertas in Dale Coyne’s second car. Today was his first day at Long Beach and by the end of second practice, he was within half a second of his significantly more heralded teammate Justin Wilson. Granted, that 0.5377 gap was 12 positions (eighth to 20th), but he is seriously punching above his weight considering his lack of comparable seat time to the other 22 drivers in the field, and to the three other rookies.
Saturday, it’s practice three and qualifying. Qualifying airs at 6 p.m. EDT on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
COMBINED PRACTICE TIMES
Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.
After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.
“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.
“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.
“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.
“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.
“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.
Following Audi’s press conference earlier today confirming its plans for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche has followed suit by announcing it will be retaining all six of its existing LMP1 drivers for the new campaign.
Porsche enjoyed immense success in 2015 as Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ championship in dramatic fashion at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, adding to the manufacturers’ title the marque had won three weeks earlier in Shanghai.
The 919 Hybrid LMP1 car took pole position for every race in 2015, and also won Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998 with the third entry of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.
However, Porsche confirmed that it will be only racing with its two regular WEC entries at Le Mans next June, reflecting Audi’s move to help cut costs.
Porsche will once again run the same two line-ups, with Webber, Hartley and Bernhard set to defend their championship together with the no. 1 car. Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas will team up for a third successive year in the second 919 Hybrid.
“The advice of ‘never change a winning team’ is spot on,” LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger said.
“Both our driver trios didn’t only perform brilliantly on track, but have also been with us since the beginning of the programme and have significantly contributed to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s development.
“We are very proud of these six top drivers, and very pleased all of them are on board for the 2016 world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
The decision to not run a third car at Le Mans not only ends Hulkenberg’s already-faint hopes of defending his title, but also will leave Tandy and Bamber looking for drives elsewhere.
It also puts an end to speculation that Juan Pablo Montoya could be set to bid for the Triple Crown and race at Le Mans, having tested with Porsche in Bahrain last week.
Stoffel Vandoorne claimed a record-breaking 11th GP2 Series victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after seeing off challenges from Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Starting second, Vandoorne made a good start but was unable to pass Gasly on the first lap, forcing him to settle down in P2 for the opening stages of the race.
Vandoorne made his move for the lead on lap four, diving down the inside of Gasly at the turn seven hairpin before establishing an advantage over the field.
Gasly dropped down the order as the option tire runners began to lose grip, prompting an early round of pit stops and allowing Raffaele Marciello to hit the front as the lead driver on primes.
Marciello retained this advantage until stopping at the end of lap 26, but emerged from the pits behind Vandoorne. The Italian was just ahead of Mitch Evans, leaving him to battle for second place in the closing stages against the prime-shod Russian Time racer.
Vandoorne was able to ease home at the front to record his seventh win of the year and 11th in GP2, beating Pastor Maldonado’s existing record of ten to become the most successful driver in the history of the series.
Marciello fended off Evans to finish second by less than one second, while American driver Alexander Rossi closely followed them home in fourth.
The result ensures that Rossi will finish the year as GP2’s vice-champion behind Vandoorne in the final standings.
Tomorrow’s sprint race will see Alex Lynn start from pole position for DAMS after finishing eighth on Saturday. Rio Haryanto will start from P2 by virtue of his seventh-place finish, with Jordan King and Gasly filling the second row of the grid.
Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.
The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.
Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.
However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.
It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.
“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”
Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below: