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


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.

Raikkonen: No secret to qualifying charge in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.

After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.

“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.

“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.

“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.

“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.

“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Porsche confirms unchanged line-up for 2016 WEC season

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
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Following Audi’s press conference earlier today confirming its plans for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche has followed suit by announcing it will be retaining all six of its existing LMP1 drivers for the new campaign.

Porsche enjoyed immense success in 2015 as Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ championship in dramatic fashion at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, adding to the manufacturers’ title the marque had won three weeks earlier in Shanghai.

The 919 Hybrid LMP1 car took pole position for every race in 2015, and also won Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998 with the third entry of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

However, Porsche confirmed that it will be only racing with its two regular WEC entries at Le Mans next June, reflecting Audi’s move to help cut costs.

Porsche will once again run the same two line-ups, with Webber, Hartley and Bernhard set to defend their championship together with the no. 1 car. Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas will team up for a third successive year in the second 919 Hybrid.

“The advice of ‘never change a winning team’ is spot on,” LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger said.

“Both our driver trios didn’t only perform brilliantly on track, but have also been with us since the beginning of the programme and have significantly contributed to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s development.

“We are very proud of these six top drivers, and very pleased all of them are on board for the 2016 world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The decision to not run a third car at Le Mans not only ends Hulkenberg’s already-faint hopes of defending his title, but also will leave Tandy and Bamber looking for drives elsewhere.

It also puts an end to speculation that Juan Pablo Montoya could be set to bid for the Triple Crown and race at Le Mans, having tested with Porsche in Bahrain last week.

GP2: Vandoorne breaks win record, Rossi secures P2 in championship

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9548
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Stoffel Vandoorne claimed a record-breaking 11th GP2 Series victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after seeing off challenges from Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Starting second, Vandoorne made a good start but was unable to pass Gasly on the first lap, forcing him to settle down in P2 for the opening stages of the race.

Vandoorne made his move for the lead on lap four, diving down the inside of Gasly at the turn seven hairpin before establishing an advantage over the field.

Gasly dropped down the order as the option tire runners began to lose grip, prompting an early round of pit stops and allowing Raffaele Marciello to hit the front as the lead driver on primes.

Marciello retained this advantage until stopping at the end of lap 26, but emerged from the pits behind Vandoorne. The Italian was just ahead of Mitch Evans, leaving him to battle for second place in the closing stages against the prime-shod Russian Time racer.

Vandoorne was able to ease home at the front to record his seventh win of the year and 11th in GP2, beating Pastor Maldonado’s existing record of ten to become the most successful driver in the history of the series.

Marciello fended off Evans to finish second by less than one second, while American driver Alexander Rossi closely followed them home in fourth.

The result ensures that Rossi will finish the year as GP2’s vice-champion behind Vandoorne in the final standings.

Tomorrow’s sprint race will see Alex Lynn start from pole position for DAMS after finishing eighth on Saturday. Rio Haryanto will start from P2 by virtue of his seventh-place finish, with Jordan King and Gasly filling the second row of the grid.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro unveiled; two cars only for Le Mans

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.

The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.

Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.

However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.

It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.

“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”

Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below: