PT and Dario

Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Long Beach Friday

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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
QUALIFYING GROUPS

Vettel, Raikkonen complete hot laps in Ferrari F1 cars at Daytona

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed their final Formula 1 run-outs of 2016 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, taking part in a special demonstration for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The Finali Mondiali acts as the world final for the continental Ferrari Challenge series, bringing together competitors from the North America, Europe and Asia Pacific championships.

As part of the weekend’s running, Vettel and Raikkonen were on hand to complete demonstration laps behind the wheel of recent Ferrari F1 cars, with Vettel also completing some donuts in front of the main granstand at Daytona.

Here are some of the videos and pictures from the event.

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.

Hamilton not chasing number one status at Mercedes after Rosberg exit

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he is not chasing number one driver status at Mercedes as the team begins its search for a replacement for Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg edged out Hamilton for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi last Sunday before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from the sport five days later.

Mercedes has said it will take its time when looking for a replacement for Rosberg, with the majority of the F1 grid tied up contractually for 2017.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been linked with the Mercedes drive in the wake of Rosberg’s departure, leading to questions about whether Hamilton would want another big-name star alongside him.

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not have a number one driver, and Hamilton said that he would not insist on that changing when his new teammate arrives.

“I’ve never been a driver to ever request that,” Hamilton said when asked about number one status.

“I know a lot of the other drivers Sebastian, Fernando make sure that’s in their contract.

“I’ve just always asked to have equal rights. As long as we’re treated fairly, it doesn’t really matter who’s alongside you.

“But of course, we’ve got great team bosses, who I’m sure will choose the right people to be representing the brand.”

Whoever replaces Rosberg will become Hamilton’s fifth teammate in F1, the Briton having previously worked with Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button during his time at McLaren before joining Mercedes in 2013.

Rosberg: Hamilton’s late-season form ‘the best Lewis I’ve ever seen’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo neads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg believes that Lewis Hamilton produced some of the best performances of his career towards the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season when the Briton had nothing to lose in the championship fight.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ championship by five points in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, defeating Hamilton for the first time during their time as teammates.

Rosberg closed out the season with four straight second place finishes, with Hamilton’s run of victories in the same period not being enough to catch up in the standings.

Speaking in a video produced by Mercedes after his championship win, Rosberg said that he felt the most pressure after his final win of the season in Japan, the result that meant he could wrap up the title without taking another victory.

“The changing moment was Suzuka for me, when all of a sudden I had the 33-point lead and that meant it was in my hands, and it’s mine to lose, because it was enough to do second-second-second and third,” Rosberg said.

“That’s when really the pressure started for me because it became real, the chance to win the championship and to beat Lewis. It was real.”

Rosberg was only assured of the title when he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton going deliberately slow in a bid to back the German into the chasing pack.

“Abu Dhabi was intense. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a race car,” Rosberg said.

“Even qualifying, the laps in qualifying, not easy really. And for sure it has an impact on your performance. It’s not possible that you do the same performance as if you’re in Lewis’ position where he has nothing to lose.”

Rosberg believes that the lack of pressure brought the very best out of Hamilton, as he closed out the campaign with four consecutive victories from pole position.

“That’s why he got the pole positions and why I was second in the last couple of races because he’s free, has no weight and nothing to lose,” Rosberg said.

“It was the best Lewis I’ve ever seen, the last few races, because not only was he completely free, but also the most determined and motivated ever, working as hard as ever.

“[It was] massively difficult to beat him in those circumstances.”

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, meaning we have likely seen the last of his rivalry with Hamilton in F1.