Barber-Preview

IndyCar: Will high grip and high tempers equal high drama at Barber?

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Barber Motorsports Park for Round 3 of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, could be a humdinger based on the two past years’ races at the circuit or the two opening races to this season.

What had been something of a processional race the first two times has suddenly blossomed into one that’s featured some sensational and frequent passing. In part, that’s been due to the high grip nature of the track surface and what’s been a big difference between the primary black and alternate red compounds of Firestone tires during the race.

Last year alone, there were two very memorable passes. Ryan Hunter-Reay made the move on Helio Castroneves for the lead – ultimately the win – into the best passing corner on the circuit, the Turn 5 hairpin. Meanwhile Charlie Kimball snookered Will Power with a move to the outside, then inside, on the left-right switchback Turns 11 and 12for fourth place.

This year, the hot tempers from Long Beach plus the high grip level of the track and likely high temperatures could all boil to the surface in the 90-lap race.

Hunter-Reay, the defending race winner, has extra motivation to bounce back after an ambitious maneuver at Turn 4 last race at Long Beach took he and Josef Newgarden out as the pair were battling for the lead. Five other cars were caught up in the contretemps.

Castroneves enters the weekend needing to be on his best behavior after a tweet – allegedly sent out by his sister Kati from Helio’s account – earned him probation from INDYCAR for violation of the sanctioning body’s social media policy. He’s also keen to regain the upper hand within Team Penske after finishing a frustrated third at St. Petersburg, and pitting late and falling to 12th in Long Beach.

Power, the series points leader, a two-time Barber winner (2011-’12) and fastest driver in preseason testing at Barber, also has drama following him heading into the weekend when he nudged Simon Pagenaud at Turn 6 and took the Frenchman out of contention. With first and second thus far this year, Power enters the weekend with a 27-point lead on Long Beach winner Mike Conway and 33 on Pagenaud.

Kimball, the fourth member of that above-mentioned quartet, could well be a top sleeper and could also use a drama-free weekend. Mechanical gremlins have struck his No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet each of the first two races, and the likeable Californian is stone last in points.

But there’s plenty of upside for Kimball entering the weekend. He’s a traditionally strong permanent road course qualifier, the Mid-Ohio race winner a year ago and has the potential to match former teammate Dario Franchitti in terms of turning his season around starting at the third race. Franchitti was 26th and last after two races last year, but cracked off four poles, four podiums and 11 top-10 finishes in the next 13 races. It began with a fourth place finish in Race 3.

Heck, Pagenaud could be the biggest threat to the establishment after three excellent weekends at Barber the last three years. The Schmidt Peterson driver finished eighth in a fill-in role for Ana Beatriz at Dreyer & Reinbold in 2011 – his first open-wheel start in 3.5 years. The last two years he’s ended fifth and sixth. If all goes to plan, it would not surprise to see him on the podium for the first time in 2014.

Then there is Scott Dixon. The defending series champion has the best total record in the four past starts, yet he’d probably call it awful.

He’s finished runner-up in all four races.

Dixon, who’s not been spell-bindingly quick the first two races of the year, should be back to pole and win contention this weekend. Given his run of seconds, nothing short of a win will do for the driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

The drama storyline doesn’t end with Dixon, though. It extends to the guy he hit in Long Beach – Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing – who may well have won two weeks ago had there not been the contact at Turn 8. This is a track where Wilson hasn’t had the best of results thus far, but you could see him punching through.

What of Juan Pablo Montoya? He’s gotten a bunch of testing in at this track, both in private and the official preseason test. This could be the place where JPM makes the Firestone Fast Six for the first time, as the Team Penske driver now has two weekends under his belt with the reds. He was fourth more on tenacity and grit than outright pace in Long Beach; this could be the weekend where pace gets him the result instead.

We’ve barely even mentioned Conway to this point – and he’s a former Firestone Fast Six participant here, having done the business for A.J. Foyt’s team in 2012. A second straight podium for the quiet, stealthy Englishman wouldn’t surprise either.

Foyt’s current driver, Takuma Sato, was of course the St. Petersburg polesitter and won Round 3 last year (albeit at Long Beach instead of Barber). Could he pull another one off?

But this is the beauty of this year’s IndyCar field. That’s 11 possible winners right there.

That’s without even mentioning half of CGR (Ryan Briscoe, Tony Kanaan), Andretti Autosport’s other veterans besides RHR (Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, the former of whom has always done well at Barber), the KV (Sebastians Bourdais and Saavedra) and RLL (Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia) pairs and the quick quartet of rookies (Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Munoz/Huertas).

Makes picking a winner a challenge. But I’m expecting some three-driver combination out of Dixon, Pagenaud, Power, Hunter-Reay and Wilson on the podium, with Montoya, Kimball and Sato to surprise in qualifying.

At least until first practice, and it goes off script. You can see all of it Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

FIA confirms remaining dates on 2017 WRC calendar, adds Poland

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 23:  Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of France compete in their Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen Polo R WRC during Day Three of the WRC Monte Carlo on January 23, 2016 in Gap, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the full calendar for the 2017 World Rally Championship season following the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Vienna this week.

The WMSC had previously approved a 12-round calendar for the 2017 season, but only confirmed the dates for the opening six rounds of the year.

In a statement issued by the FIA on Wednesday, the dates were firmed up for the entire calendar, as well as adding a 13th round in Poland.

FIA World Rally Championship – 2017 Calendar

1. Monte Carlo – 20-22 January
2. Sweden – 10-12 February
3. Mexico – 10-12 March
4. France – April 7-9
5. Argentina – April 28-30
6. Portugal – 19-21 May
7. Italy – 9-11 June
8. Poland – 30 June – 2 July
9. Finland – 28-30 July
10. Germany – 19-20 August
11. Spain – 6-8 October
12. Great Britain – 27-29 October
13. Australia – 17-19 November

In its statement, the FIA also confirmed the following regarding WRC in 2017:

  • The start order for World Championship rallies from 2017 has been amended and is now based purely on performance:
    • Day 1: All cars start according to the actual Championship classification
    • Day 2: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 1. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • Day 3: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 2. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • P1 drivers re-starting in Rally 2 will start at the end of the P1 group.
    • The start order of the first rally of the Championship will be based on the Championship classification of the previous year.
  • A WRC Trophy has been created for drivers and co-drivers participating in pre-2017 specification WRC cars. The maximum number of qualifying rallies is seven and the driver and co-driver who have scored the highest total of points in six of the qualifying rallies will win the titles. If less than five competitors register, no titles will be awarded.
  • M-Sport has been awarded the contract to supply R2 cars for the FIA Junior WRC Championship for 2017 and 2018.
  • Michelin Competition and DMACK Tyres are the registered tire companies for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship.

Following Volkswagen’s shock withdrawal from the WRC, defending champion Sebastien Ogier is currently without a seat, but is known to be in the running for drives with both Citroen and the Ford M-Sport team in 2017.

Porsche confirms Lotterer, Tandy, Bamber in LMP1 seats for 2017

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Porsche has confirmed its line-up for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season, welcoming Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber into its LMP1 ranks at its Night of Champions event.

Following Mark Webber’s retirement from racing at the end of the 2016, and the decision to relocate world champions Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, Porsche had three free seats for next year between its two LMP1 cars.

Audi’s decision to end its LMP1 program following the 2016 season left Lotterer without a drive, with the three-time Le Mans winner being picked up by Porsche.

The German marque has also promoted 2015 Le Mans winners Bamber and Tandy up into full-time LMP1 seats, the pair having raced in GTs for Porsche over the past 12 months after no third car was run last year at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“Lotterer and Tandy will share driving duties in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid with the reigning World Endurance Champion Neel Jani,” a statement from Porsche reads.

“Joining the two New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley in the cockpit of the #2 vehicle is Timo Bernhard from Germany.

“Thanks to continuing development, next year’s 919 represents another step in its technological evolution, featuring a completely new colour design, an optimised aerokit, and the complete overhaul of almost all components.

“The vehicle will be officially unveiled on 23 March at the WEC prologue, which is held for the first time in Monza, Italy.”

Porsche also confirmed its plans for its expanded GT program in 2017, when it will enter a pair of new 911 RSRs to the GTE Pro class of the WEC and aim for the championship.

“In addition to its LMP1 commitments, Porsche will also send a factory squad to the 2017 FIA WEC rounds to tackle the GT world championship titles for the best driver and the most successful manufacturer, which will be awarded for the first time,” the statement adds.

“This is a significant boost for our motorsport involvement and underlines that we have chosen the right platform with the WEC,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG.

“The Porsche Motorsport GT team will campaign a pair of new 911 RSR in the GTE-Pro class. The drivers confirmed so far for these seats are Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz.”

Porsche will also continue with its factory entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017, once again fielding the new 911 RSR car.

“For the fourth season, Porsche will take on the competition with a factory entry in America’s most important sports car series, the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship.

“As in the FIA WEC, Porsche Motorsport GT fields two brand-new 911 RSR. Sharing the cockpit of the #911 vehicle are Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner. At the particularly long events such as the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans, the duo will receive support from Frédéric Makowiecki.

“The regular drivers in the number 912 vehicle are Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor, with Richard Lietz joining them for the four long-distance classics. The season-opening race is the 24 Hours of Daytona on 28 January.”

Montoya sympathizes with Verstappen over mixed response to driving style

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks with ex racer Juan Pablo Montoya on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Juan Pablo Montoya believes that he faced a similar criticism during his time in Formula 1 to what Max Verstappen is currently receiving for his on-track driving style.

Montoya raced in F1 between 2001 and 2006, with his aggressive approach winning him both admirers and critics in the paddock.

Verstappen’s antics on-track have incurred the wrath of a number of drivers in 2016, and even resulted in the clarification of a rule regarding moving under braking.

However, his overtaking masterclass in Brazil has been talked up as one of the greatest drives in F1 history, with many praising the excitement that his approach brings to the grid.

Montoya sympathized with the Dutchman over such double standards when reflecting on his F1 career in a special feature for McLaren’s website.

“The way Verstappen’s been treated, I got treated like that a lot,” Montoya said.

“I would pass people. I left and then people realized two years later: ‘We’re missing that.’

“I got an award for overtaking move of the year, and I thought that’s my job, that’s what we’re all supposed to do!”

Montoya famously walked out of McLaren midway through the 2006 season before moving into NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing, and explained that the team’s reluctance to take up its option on him prompted the decision.

“The team had an option on me in December 2005, for 2007, and they didn’t take it. They said they wanted to wait a little bit more,” Montoya explained.

“We knew Fernando [Alonso] was coming, and we knew Kimi [Raikkonen] was going. You have an option on me, and you’re saying you want to take a little bit more time?

“I was more of the theory you either want me, or you don’t. If I’m not worth enough to be there, then I might as well do something else.

“In my mind from that point on it didn’t really matter. You’re already looking into the future, where are you going to go, what are you going to do?

“Ron [Dennis] still wanted to delay the decision about 2007, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay there as well. A lot of things came together, and the opportunity to race with Chip Ganassi in America came on board.

“I wanted to be in F1 for winning, I didn’t want to just fill the grid. There were no really good opportunities.”

Rio Haryanto ‘working hard’ to make F1 comeback in 2017

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Rio Haryanto of Indonesia drives the 8 Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Rio Haryanto says he is “working hard” to secure a seat on the Formula 1 grid for the 2017 season after losing his drive with Manor mid-way through 2016.

Haryanto made his F1 debut in Australia and enjoyed a solid half-season before being dropped after failing to secure enough financial backing to see out the campaign.

The Indonesian driver is thought to have secured more funding ahead of a possible return in 2017, potentially with Manor once again or with the Sauber team.

“Of course there is a chance to get back again,” Haryanto told Reuters.

“We are working hard to get the seat back. It has to be next year.”

Haryanto’s manager Piers Hunnisett added: “There are three places left now. Once one gets done, everything else can go very quickly. We are just watching everybody.

“I’m quite positive we can do something. But things change very quickly in Formula 1. I know we’ve still got huge support from Indonesia, the media and the fans. Sponsorship is ongoing.”

Haryanto was replaced by Esteban Ocon at Manor from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards, but the Frenchman will race for Force India next year, freeing up a seat.

Outgoing Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez is rumored to be in the mix for a seat at Manor should Mexican-American businessman Tavo Hellmund become an investor in the team, while Mercedes is in talks with both Manor and Sauber about a seat for junior driver Pascal Wehrlein.