Ten with Townsend: Long Beach Debrief

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After NBCSN’s first Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season, we checked in once again with our NBC Sports Group IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for MotorSportsTalk’s first 2014 installment of “Ten with Townsend.” Look for more of these to come over the course of the year. For a 2013 archive, check this link.

Without further adieu, thoughts from our ace expert on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

-With St. Petersburg a relatively mild race until the one restart, were you surprised by the level of aggression we saw at Long Beach?
 
Not really.  I would say that’s the norm these days.   For good reason too, because it’s so tough to win now.  I fully expect a multitude of winners this season.  So much quality, parity etc.
 
-Mike Conway’s win owed a bit to luck, but clearly he’s had the performance on street courses to help Ed Carpenter Racing. Where do you rate him in the field in terms of how talented he is on the road and street circuits?
 
Top 5 without question.  To come in like he does part-time, bouncing between WEC commitments is hard enough already.  Detroit last year was flat out breathtaking.  I can still remember the first time he showed up for Panther Racing at a Sonoma test in 2008 (I think it was).  Straight away- stunning speed.
 
-With Will Power’s St. Pete restart and now contact with Simon Pagenaud at Long Beach, were you surprised at all by either of those? Or was it more surprising there were no penalties assessed to him? 
 
I didn’t see anything wrong with his St Pete restart.  In fact I think it was text book to what was requested by race control.  The Long Beach contact was certainly open for review but we are seeing the new ‘hands off’ stance that IndyCar announced previously – let the drivers sort it out. The flip side is the carnage the ensued after Hunter Reay’s similar move on Newgarden.  So I’m not sure what the position will be now going forward with respect to ‘avoidable contact’. (BTW I never liked that term)  I wouldn’t want that job in race control, so we’re lucky to have people who step up for the abuse!!  In the end, life without fenders is complicated but so fantastic at the same time.
 
-Also Power-related, do you think his momentum was properly able to carry over from late last year into the first two races of the year? Or just more a case of starting strong without regard to 2013 finish? 
 
I’d say St. Pete was expected and Long Beach was a disaster (by his standards) blessed with good fortune.  His race pace was no better or worse than the top 10 cars, but circumstances fell his way for sure.   The competition didn’t need that!
 
-Most impressive rookie thus far: Hawksworth, Munoz, Aleshin or Huertas?
 
Man that’s tough.  Have to pull out Munoz because he had some races last season, not a pure rookie in my book.  If you analyze their circumstances, the other 3 can all make strong cases.  Hawksworth on pace, Aleshin on consistency, Huertas on the last second nature of his program.  Flip a coin but all these guys are solid and going to cause headaches (strong competition) for the establishment for the rest of the season.
 
-Two races in – biggest surprise and biggest disappointment.
 
Surprise-  Rookies are super strong and mistake free.
Disappointment-  Seems like Rahal just can’t find the sweet spot to start the season these last few years..they certainly are putting forth the effort and resources.  But hiring Servia was a smart move.   He will help them tune things in, but he only can if he’s there full-time.
 
-Thoughts on JPM’s first two races back? 
 
Methodically coming back to old form but not there yet…
 
-How was PT to work with in the booth? From a viewer’s standpoint he really helped add to yours and Leigh’s insights. Even on the course preview lap, too.
 
He was my IndyCar idol as a teenager so I’m biased.  But the fans loved him and I certainly enjoyed the perspective and candor.  He’s one of the most successful IndyCar drivers of all time, so when he speaks, we should listen.  But with the Blue Demon mask on…his lips don’t quite work the same.
 
-You’ve seen how competitive this field is. Having the opportunity with KV for the 500 now confirmed, how much confidence does that give you to be in your usual one-off role but now with the defending champion team? 
 
I sit there in the booth, looking at the depth of talent and competition, and think ‘oh boy, I’m about to jump in this tornado.’  But I think that every year and just go for it.  Kind of like sitting at the bar, watching a mosh pit in full glory, pounding a shot and then getting it on.  Insert Miles’ advice from Risky Business here..
 
-Besides IndyCar, a very busy year planned for you with the TUDOR Championship, Red Bull GRC broadcasts and additional TV work. What challenge are you looking most forward to this year? 
The Indy 500 stands alone for me… always will.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.

Hamilton endures ‘difficult’ Russia F1 practice, impressed by Ferrari

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Lewis Hamilton was left disappointed by a “difficult” day of Formula 1 practice in Russia on Friday for Mercedes as Ferrari stole a march on the field.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi looking to take his third win in Russia and claw back the championship lead after falling seven points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the standings.

The Briton was left to settle for fourth place in the final timesheets in FP2 as Mercedes struggled to match Ferrari’s one-lap pace, finishing over half a second back from Vettel in P1.

“Bit of a difficult day for us,” Hamilton admitted. “We managed to complete everything that we needed to do on our runs, but in terms of the balance of the car, the Ferrari seemed very, very fast on the long runs.

“So we need to work out how we can improve our pace. But there’s still everything to play for. The tires feel very peaky, so it’s easy to drop out of the window of performance, but when they’re working they seem to be good.”

Teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third-fastest in FP2 for Mercedes, and said the team had work to do overnight to ensure it could get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire for qualifying.

“It’s been an interesting day. It’s a very different situation here with the asphalt and the temperatures compared to what we experienced in Bahrain,” Bottas said.

“We were learning about the tires on long runs and short runs and it seems like over one lap we still have work to do to get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire – that’s our focus tonight. But we can’t forget how important the race is.

“We have started the weekend in the right way. The car feels good and the balance is there. A good start but we definitely need to work hard to find some lap time for qualifying.”

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

Stoffel Vandoorne set for 15-place F1 grid drop in Sochi

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Stoffel Vandoorne is set to receive a 15-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix after exceeding the number of permitted power units components for the season.

McLaren’s problems with engine supplier Honda have been well-documented, with a revision of the design of the power unit by the Japanese manufacturer backfiring to create further reliability and performance issues.

Vandoorne has taken the brunt of the issues in 2017, failing to score a point and recording just one classified finish – P13 in Australia, two laps down on the lead car – as well as being forced to change a number of components on his power unit.

Drivers are only permitted to use four of each power unit component across the course of the season before triggering a penalty, but Vandoorne’s usage has been so high that he is set to receive a grid drop for the Russian Grand Prix – only the fourth round of the season.

By taking an all-new power unit for the event in Sochi, Vandoorne has moved onto his fifth MGU-H and fifth turbocharger of the year, combining for a 15-place grid penalty on Sunday.

For every other ‘fifth’ component Vandoorne takes this season, he will receive another five-place grid drop. His first ‘sixth’ component will be worth 10 places; every remaining ‘sixth’ is five places; his first ‘seventh’ is 10 places and so on.

Ferrari dominates Russian GP second free practice

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Once Pirelli’s softest compound, the ultrasoft tires, came out to play in second free practice for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, Scuderia Ferrari dropped the hammer compared to Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen ran at 1:34.120 and 1:34.383, respectively, in the pair of SF70H chassis – which easily eclipsed the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. This followed Raikkonen’s leading FP1 this morning.

It’s only practice but the thinking going into the race weekend was with a couple long straights, it would play to Mercedes’ strengths and its top-end speed. But Ferrari’s fired a warning salvo into that thinking in this session.

Bottas and Hamilton were six and seven tenths adrift on the same ultrasoft tires, before long runs commenced for the final 35 to 40 or so minutes of the 90-minute free practice. The Russian Grand Prix is expected to be a one-stop race.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were next, far off the top four and far ahead of the midfield. Verstappen’s session ended early inside of 20 minutes, as he parked his car with an apparent loss of power just before pit lane.

Williams’ Felipe Massa, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Force India’s Sergio Perez – making it four teams in as many positions from seventh through 10th in the crowded midfield. In fact while 1.790 seconds covered first to sixth, just 1.18 seconds covered seventh to 18th, covering all remaining teams!

Romain Grosjean, who tries new Carbon Industrie brakes this week, made several radio transmissions noting he wasn’t yet satisfied with the new supplier. There’s still been a lot of brake dust released from the fronts on both his and Magnussen’s car.

Meanwhile further down the grid, McLaren Honda has made yet another power unit change to Stoffel Vandoorne’s car, which cost him the opening minutes of the session. This will resign the Belgian to his fifth turbocharger and MGU-H of the season, and see him saddled with a grid penalty.

FP3 is next up, streaming online live on Saturday morning from 5 a.m. ET. Qualifying commences at 8 a.m. ET live on CNBC.