Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain arrives for a news conference ahead of the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit

Alonso fastest in first practice for Chinese GP

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Fernando Alonso finished fastest in today’s first practice session for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix as Ferrari began life after Stefano Domenicali in good fashion.

The Spanish driver finished over three-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg as the Silver Arrows opted to limit their running in order to save some tires. Daniel Ricciardo was the leading Red Bull in third place, whilst Lewis Hamilton suffered a problem on his car late on that meant he could only finish down in eighth place.

Practice began in cool and dry conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit on Friday morning, but the heat was immediately on at Ferrari as the team had to repair the steering rack on Kimi Raikkonen’s car, costing him precious track time. The arrival of new team principal Marco Mattiacci in the garage also turned a few heads as the Italian remained behind his dark sunglasses, but it did not have an immediate impact as the Finn was unable to post a time during the session.

Out on track, Pastor Maldonado spun his Lotus early on after taking his eyes off the road mid-corner to make an adjustment on his steering wheel. However, the Venezuelan was able to recover and get his car going again.

With the new rules giving teams a free set of tires to use during the first 30 minutes of FP1, most of the teams got their drivers out early to post a lap time during this part of the session. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes once again set the pace as Nico Rosberg was the quickest driver in the first set of runs, but the team’s one-two streak from Bahrain was interrupted to begin with by Fernando Alonso, who sat in second place ahead of Lewis Hamilton after the first runs.

A low track temperature forced most teams to sit in the pits for some time after the first 30 minutes of the session. Lotus did send out Romain Grosjean for a long run in order to gather some data given the teams problematic start to the season. Daniil Kvyat’s inexperience showed when he ran wide at the tricky first corner and spun his rear wheels into the gravel. However, he managed to keep the engine running and get the car going again, although another spin late on would have given the Russian driver some food for thought.

With 40 minutes to go, most of the teams headed back out on track to complete some more running. Fernando Alonso was able to top Rosberg’s time and moved into P1 by over one second, and Daniel Ricciardo followed suit to go P2. The Mercedes drivers opted not to head out for another run alongside the other teams, with Hamilton instead completing an outlap before heading back to the pits.

In the final 20 minutes, the focus shifted to race simulations and long runs, meaning that the times remained largely unchanged. Rosberg did wind up his Mercedes to post a quick lap and jump up into second place, but he could not continue the team’s series of first place finishes from Bahrain. This meant that Alonso – who won last year’s race in Shanghai – began his weekend in the best possible fashion, and gave Mattiacci something to smile about on his first day on the job.

Be sure to tune into second practice live on on NBCSN from 2am ET.

Zach Veach confirmed with Belardi to start 2016 Indy Lights season

Photo: Belardi Auto Racing
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Two-year Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series veteran Zach Veach will return to the series in 2016 following a year’s hiatus. At the moment, it’s for the start of the season only but with the intended plan of making it a full-season effort.

The young American joins the Belardi Auto Racing team, which he narrowly lost out to in his last full-time campaign in 2014 when he finished third in the points.

Veach, who turns 21 next month, is Brian Belardi’s first confirmed driver for the 2016 season. Perhaps one of the single most experienced drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy, Veach has been on all three rungs (Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000) since 2010 and spent 2015 as a color commentator for the IndyCar Radio Network.

He tested for the team last month at Sebring, and will have several other tests before the St. Petersburg season opening weekend March 11-13.

“I’m very thankful for this opportunity that Brian Belardi has given me,” Veach said. “After racing against his team for so many years, I’ve always had a ton of respect for him, his crew, and of course, his cars. Belardi Auto Racing competes to win championships and I would love to give them their second Indy Lights title.

“Right now, we only have a partial program in place, but with a great amount of effort on both sides. We will be doing everything possible to try to get funding together for an entire season, so we can put a championship fight in place. I look towards winter testing, and 2016, with a lot of hope and excitement.”

“We’re really happy to have Zach confirmed with us for next year, and we’ll work closely with him to make sure that we can get the funding we need to run him all season,” Belardi added.

“He’s a supreme talent both in and out of the car, and his initial test outings in the car were just as we expected.  Zach was on-pace very early in Sebring after familiarizing himself with the new Indy Lights car, and I know that we’ll challenge for race wins and the championship next year.”

ARCA releases 2016 schedule; Mobile out, Madison (Wisc.) returns

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The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will have only minor changes to the 2016 season, the sanctioning body said Wednesday after revealing next season’s schedule.

The biggest change is Mobile, Alabama is off the schedule, to be replaced by a return to Madison, Wisconsin.

As ARCA enters its 64th consecutive year of racing, the schedule will once again feature 20 races for the third consecutive year, starting at Daytona International Speedway on February 13 and ending on Oct. 14 at Kansas Speedway.

ARCA 2016 sked



All told, there will be nine races on short tracks, eight on superspeedways, two on dirt and one on a road course.

“We are pleased to announce our full and complete schedule,” ARCA President Ron Drager said. “We feel we have once again put together a schedule that highlights the diversity of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. We are excited for the start of the new season.”

Other changes include:

* The annual Chicagoland Speedway race will be moved to Thursday night, Sept. 15, kicking off the opening weekend of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

* The road course race at New Jersey will be moved to Saturday, May 28, rather than its previous Sunday afternoon date.

* The annual dirt race at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Illinois will shift from an afternoon to an evening race.

* The series will mark milestone events with the 75th series event at Toledo Speedway and the 99th and 100th races at southern Indiana’s Salem Speedway.

* The series will have companion races with all three of NASCAR’s pro touring series, as well as one weekend as the undercard for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway in July.

* As for the return to Madison, Drager said, “It was important for us to schedule a race in the Menards market. Last year, we did not have a race in either Minnesota or Wisconsin and this year, we decided to go back. We are definitely looking forward to racing again at Madison and the upper Midwest.”

* The annual awards banquet takes place Dec. 12 in Indianapolis.

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Ecclestone has ‘no doubts’ Monza will remain on F1 calendar

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MILAN (AP) Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is confident the Italian Grand Prix in Monza can find the needed cash to stay on the calendar.

Ecclestone tells the Gazzetta dello Sport, “We will find the right solution – I no longer have doubts – to provide a future for the Italian GP.”

No circuit has hosted more F1 racing than Monza, but officials at the track outside Milan have had trouble producing the estimated 25 million euros ($26.6 million) per year that Ecclestone seeks to keep the race in place after the current contract expires next year.

Ecclstone says, “Things have been cleared up and there is only one go between, (Angelo) Sticchi Damiani, the president of the Italian Automobile Club.”

The Italian GP next year is scheduled for Sept. 4.

Alternative engine solution rejected by F1 Commission

Nico Rosberg

Plans to introduce a new alternative, cheaper engine into Formula 1 for 2017 – hypothetically a 2.2-liter V6 similar to what is seen in IndyCar – will at least temporarily go on the backburner.

The F1 Commission has rejected the so called “alternative engine solution,” where several companies submitted proposals to be that alternative supplier.

“The F1 Commission voted not to pursue this option at this stage — however, it may be reassessed after the Power Unit manufacturers have presented their proposal to the Strategy Group,” the FIA said on Wednesday.

“The parties involved have agreed on a course to address several key areas relating to Power Unit supply in Formula One,” the statement added.

Meanwhile the statement outlined four things the current manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda – would be tasked with improving on the current 1.6-liter formula:

Those are:

  • a guarantee of supply to teams
  • the need to reduce the engines’ cost
  • simplification of the specification
  • “improved noise”

Further meetings between the manufacturers and the governing body are scheduled, including one this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale.

As F1 heads into the final weekend of the season, political/paddock items such as Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s respective power unit futures, whether Renault’s takeover of Lotus will finally become official and what will happen with Manor’s team leadership stake – this marks Graeme Lowdon and John Booth’s final weekends although ex-McLaren man Dave Ryan has been hired as the team’s new racing director – are among the talking points.