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.

Hulkenberg gets one-place grid penalty for tire mix-up

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany drives the 7 Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 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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Nico Hulkenberg has been given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday’s German Grand Prix after a tire mix-up during qualifying at Hockenheim.

Hulkenberg qualified seventh for Force India, but used a set of super-soft tires in Q1 that should have been returned to Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli ahead of the session.

“The team returned electronically the wrong set of tires and used these during Q1,” a short statement from the FIA stewards in Germany read, confirming Hulkenberg’s one-place grid drop.

With the penalty, Hulkenberg will now start eighth in Germany behind Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who finished narrowly behind.

“I’m feeling pretty happy to qualify in seventh for my home race – it’s best of the rest behind the top three teams and a good effort by the whole team,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying.

“Our objective is always to maximize our potential and it feels like we achieved that today. Most of my laps in the session came together nicely and my final effort in Q3 was spot on.

“We can expect a tough fight for good points tomorrow, but we are in a good starting position and we’ve looked strong here in all the sessions. The long run pace is competitive, too, so we’ve got every chance of getting a great result this weekend.

“There is talk of some rain tomorrow and to be honest I would not mind a shower during the race, but let’s wait and see what happens.”

Teammate Sergio Perez qualified ninth on Saturday, reaching Q3 for the first time at Hockenheim.

“It was a fun and very intense fight with Nico and the two Williams cars throughout qualifying, and in the end it was really close between the four of us,” Perez said.

“It was crucial to get through Q1 on one set of tires because some other teams had to use two sets and this gave us a small advantage in Q2, which helped us make the top ten.

“On my last lap of Q3 I struggled a bit through some of the right-hand corners; I think I may have picked something up on my front wing – maybe some debris – and that cost me some time, but it’s something I will analyze with the team.

“In the end, it was so close and just a few hundredths of a second made the difference. Tomorrow is going to be interesting.

“We are starting on the super-softs on which we qualified and we will need to work well as a team to make the strategy work and score some important points.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton: Nothing particularly wrong with Hockenheim qualifying display

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes there was “nothing particularly wrong” with his display during qualifying for the German Grand Prix despite losing out on pole to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at Hockenheim.

Hamilton entered qualifying chasing his seventh pole position of the season, but fell 0.107 seconds shy of Rosberg despite his teammate running with heavier fuel in Q3 after being forced to abort an earlier run.

Hamilton was faster than Rosberg through the first sector on his final effort, but a slow second half of the lap meant he was unable to beat his teammate.

“There was nothing particularly wrong today. My final lap just didn’t work out,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“It was pretty close out there and sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. The car was feeling great. The team did a great job to get it where I needed it to be and it was definitely on for pole.

“I was two tenths up coming out of T2 – but from T8 onwards it started to deteriorate and I couldn’t maintain the gap. I’ve missed out on pole, so I didn’t do what I was supposed to do – but it’s in the past now, so you just let it go and look forwards.

“It doesn’t mean the race isn’t there to win tomorrow. I’ll try to get a good start and see how it goes from there. I don’t know what the strategy will be – we’ll look through that tonight. But this is a track where you can overtake, so I don’t have to go for it at the first corner. It can be somewhere else.

“The pace is clearly there, so it’s still been a good day and I’m generally pretty happy. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to do something from where I am.

“I’m just focused on trying to move forward and if I can drive like I have done in the past few races then anything can happen.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Sirotkin recovers from penalty to win Hockenheim GP2 thriller

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) crosses the line to take the victory.
2016 GP2 Series Round 7
Hockenheim, Germany
Saturday 30 July 2016

Photo: /GP2 Series Media Service
ref: Digital Image _V2I4334
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Sergey Sirotkin recovered from a penalty for pitting under the Virtual Safety Car to claim his second GP2 Series victory in a row in a thrilling feature race on Saturday at Hockenheim.

Starting from pole, Sirotkin made a clean getaway to ease into an early lead as championship leader Pierre Gasly bogged down from second on the grid, causing him to drop outside of the top 10.

Sirotkin led from Raffaele Marciello early on before the Italian driver made a brave pass for the lead down the inside of Turn 8 on lap four.

The Virtual Safety Car was called after contact between Artem Markelov and Jordan King three laps later, prompting ART to react immediately. The team called Sirotkin in to make his mandatory pit stop, ensuring that he would not lose much time while the field was circulating slowly.

However, Sirotkin failed to enter the pit lane before the VSC was called, resulting in a stewards investigation as drivers are not permitted to stop under the VSC in GP2.

After a lengthy discussion, the GP2 stewards opted to scratch Sirotkin’s first stop, meaning he still had to make his mandatory visit to the pit lane.

Sirotkin pitted from the lead with 11 laps remaining, emerging in fourth place before scything his way up to second place behind Marciello once again.

Further VSC periods were kind to Sirotkin, allowing him to put his fresher soft tires to good use and catch Marciello before passing with five laps remaining.

Sirotkin did not look back, charging to his second win of the season and capping off one of the all-time great fightbacks in GP2.

Luca Ghiotto finished second for Trident after passing Marciello on the final lap, with Gasly completing the podium after also getting past the ailing Italian on the final corner. Marciello was left to settle for fourth, his GP2 win drought now set to reach two years in Belgium.

Arthur Pic finished fifth for Rapax ahead of Oliver Rowland and Gustav Malja, while Alex Lynn secured reverse grid pole for Sunday’s sprint race by finishing eighth despite a time penalty.

Sunday’s GP2 sprint race from Hockenheim is live on the NBC Sports app and at f1stream.nbcsports.com from 4:25am ET.

Dixon fast once again as times keep falling in Mid-Ohio third practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Scott Dixon being fast at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is not new.

But Scott Dixon dropping a lap of 1:03.7244 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is new.

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and leader of first practice, lowered the mark to that aforementioned time in this morning’s 45-minute third practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200.

And mind you, this time is done on Firestone’s primary black sidewall tires on a track that grips up and gets faster as a session goes on.

Dixon’s official track record is 1:04.5814, set last year in qualifying. But if it’s dry (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), and the Firestone red alternates come out to play, there’s not just a chance that track record will be beat – it could be obliterated.

In the non-Dixon class, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all also made it into the 1:03 bracket. Max Chilton was an impressive sixth.

Top Honda in this practice was Graham Rahal, as he was on Friday. Except that position is seventh.

The one red flag flew when Spencer Pigot ran in deep at Turn 4 and beached his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver resumed and returned to the pits with no damage.

Times are below.

MidOFP3