19 car/driver combos expected at IndyCar test in Texas

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A two-day IndyCar test session that begins tomorrow at Texas Motor Speedway will help set the aerodynamic options available to teams when the series returns to the 1.5-mile oval for the Firestone 600 in June.

19 different car and driver combinations are expected to take part in the test.

The track has reported tomorrow’s session will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET) and will be open to the public, albeit without access to the infield and garage areas.

Before last year’s IndyCar race at Texas, the low-downforce aero package was tweaked slightly to take away drag from the cars.

That increased the pressure on drivers to hang on and conserve their tires, and made for a race that was clean but somewhat lacking in excitement compared to past Texas races.

After that race, Ryan Hunter-Reay noted the series’ difficult job of getting the package correct with the downforce levels and the tires’ rate of falling off. We’ll see if this upcoming test will help in that regard.

The test could also be an eye-opening experience for some of the series’ rookies, like Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz (who finished third last weekend at Long Beach), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin, and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth.

Hawksworth has a solid run going at the Beach until he was collected in the Lap 54 crash triggered by Hunter-Reay’s contact with Josef Newgarden in Turn 4.

But now he’ll have to shift focus toward navigating Texas’ high banks. While the British racer has handled other high-speed ovals such as Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana, he did so in the markedly slower Indy Lights cars.

“I am looking forward to the test at Texas to see what one of these [IndyCars] is like on an oval,” he said recently. “I’ve never been to Texas before, so it will be interesting to see the layout. It looks unique for an oval, especially the ones I’ve been on.”

While he’s learned the proper line through video, Hawksworth still plans to lean on the advice of his team owner, Bryan Herta, and his other crewmates.

“There’s a really good bunch of guys on the team,” he said. “Bryan has a bunch of experience as a driver, and he’s available to give me advice about all kinds of circuits.

“The engineers and everybody are really helpful in getting me up to speed and help me as much as they can. The other part is just me getting on with it myself.”

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.