NASCAR VP: 2015 Sprint Cup engine package to be revealed before All-Star Race

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NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations has said that a formal announcement on engine changes for the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season will come before next month’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Today at a sponsor summit for Iowa Speedway (which had NASCAR become its new owner last fall), Steve O’Donnell said that the final overall racing package for 2015 would also see changes involving downforce, aerodynamics, and tires.

This comes weeks after NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a SiriusXM NASCAR Radio interview that significant changes, including a likely reduction in horsepower, would be made in the near-future.

In additional comments to The Des Moines Register, O’Donnell said that teams have already been notified of where NASCAR was going with the changes and that the process of finalizing the 2015 engine package was underway.

O’Donnell wouldn’t divulge exact details of the package, but did perhaps show a glimpse of how drivers would have to adapt to it.

“If you combine the aero package with that [reduction of] horsepower [and] allow some aero changes with the engines going into the corner, drivers have to get off the gas and they’re able to maneuver around a little bit more,” O’Donnell said according to the Register’s Chad Leistikow.

“Combine that with Goodyear and a little softer tire, now you’re able to move around a little bit more.”

And while the engine has been the most talked-about aspect of this new package, O’Donnell also emphasized the importance of the tires, calling them “a big part of this.”

As you’d figure by now, the final goal is to boost the product on the 1.5-mile ovals, which make up the majority of the Sprint Cup schedule.

NASCAR rolled out a new rules package on the Generation 6 cars for this season, and while O’Donnell believes it’s helped the show on the 1.5-milers, he also noted that there’s still work to do.

“Brian’s talked about more and more lead changes,” O’Donnell said. “That’s the end goal.”

While the Cup Series has only visited two 1.5-mile ovals so far this year (Las Vegas and Texas), the first eight races have seen an increase in several averages compared to last year, such as number of leaders per race, green flag passes, and, yes, lead changes.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.