Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Barber Friday (VIDEO)

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After two street course races to open the season, the Verizon IndyCar Series is back to the flowing terrain of a permanent road course, at the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham.

A few notes and quotes throughout the 23-car field for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama to follow from this Friday:

  • Second on the day, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais described how radically different the track is now compared to the test last month. “We know how slick this place can be when it gets hot and how much tire degradation can be a factor. We come here (in March) and test for two days and it’s drizzling and it’s British weather in the 50s, no wind, and the track is awesome – and the car feels great and it’s super fast. And then we come back and the track is 125 degrees, and it’s gusty, and you’re like, ‘Is this the same car?’ You’re two seconds slower and you’re P1. And that’s interesting,” said the Frenchman.
  • Although he was only P6 in second practice, Josef Newgarden’s time from the morning put the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver third on the day. The Tennessee native described the physicality of the joint: “I think now that we’ve had Long Beach as well and we actually all have pretty much had a Texas test, I think everyone is conditioned enough for getting into it, but it is one of the tougher races of the year. This is probably the most physically demanding course if it goes green all the way through, which is nearly what happened last year. So yea, you got to be hydrated and you know, you really got to man up in this type of race. Even if you get worn out, you got to fight through all the way to the end.”
  • Long Beach winner Mike Conway struggled for pace on day one in the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, but isn’t terribly worried after ending the day 16th on the combined timesheets. “We didn’t have the grip level in the practice sessions that we wanted. This place is challenging and tough to get everything just right. But we’ll work overnight and be ready for Saturday’s practice and qualifying.”
  • Team Penske: P4, 6 and 8. Chip Ganassi Racing: P9, 11, 14 and 21. Make of that what you will. Said Tony Kanaan, who is running a blue GE Reveal livery this week in the No. 10 Chevrolet and ended today P21, “Well we really didn’t know what we had to start with in the GE Reveal car because of all the problems in the first session with cars going off and causing red flags. It was frustrating to say the least. Every time you thought you were able to get something going, the red flag would come out again and stop the session. We struggled today with the setup and will go back to see what the rest of the team is doing and be ready for tomorrow.”
  • Scott Dixon missed all the morning session and then only turned 14 laps in the afternoon, least in the field, but still ended P9. “We had a very slow start to the weekend after not even getting to turn a lap in the morning session due to an electrical issue. It was frustrating for the Target guys to say the least, but we made good progress in the second session,” said the defending series champion.
  • Marco Andretti was frustrated with seventh, but still in range of teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay in first and James Hinchcliffe fifth. “We weren’t as high on the charts as we wanted to be today and still have a few things to dial in on the Snapple car. But our teammates were quick and we are headed in the right direction,” he said.
  • Neither Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda had much of a day. Graham Rahal ended P19, Oriol Servia P21 after the two sessions. “There are still some things we have to figure out and some time to be found but at the end of the day, we aren’t that far off time-wise. You look at the time sheets and it looks like both of our cars are struggling but when you are only eight-tenths (of a second) off (fast time), yet you’re 19th, it’s a difficult thing. If you find less than one-tenth (of a second) a corner, you are right up there with those guys,” said Rahal.
  • Difficult day for the four rookies: Carlos Munoz ended P12, Mikhail Aleshin P17, Carlos Huertas P20 and Jack Hawksworth, the revelation of the first two weekends, P23 and last.

Here’s the video highlight package from INDYCAR of the day on track.

More tomorrow with Practice 3 at 10 a.m. CDT and qualifying at 2 p.m. CDT (delayed on NBCSN at 1 a.m. EDT).

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

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There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.

Kimi Raikkonen confirmed at Ferrari for 2018 F1 season

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Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen will remain with the team for the 2018 Formula 1 season after being given a new one-year contract.

Raikkonen, 37, has raced with Ferrari since 2014, and has been on a one-year rolling contract since the end of 2015.

The Finn has been a regular focus for the F1 driver market’s ‘silly season’ given his age and struggle for form compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who currently leads the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen has scored 86 less points than Vettel through the opening 11 races of the 2017 season, but has nevertheless done enough to secure a new contract, confirmed by Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” a brief statement from Ferrari reads.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

Raikkonen is the first of the big-name free agents to have his plans for 2018 confirmed, with Vettel, ex-Ferrari racer Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas yet to announce a drive for next year.

Raikkonen first joined Ferrari in 2007, winning the F1 drivers’ championship in his first season, but left at the end of 2009 to take some time out from the sport.

A return in 2012 with Lotus saw Raikkonen display plenty of his old spark, taking two wins for the financially-hamstrung team before leaving at the end of 2013 over a pay row.

Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari for 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso, with Vettel arriving the following year.

Questions over Raikkonen’s motivation and ability have been rife for some time, but without any outstanding candidates for a seat available as things stand, the news is not overly surprising.

Nevertheless, it does defuse some of the silliness of ‘silly season’, with Vettel’s confirmation at Ferrari seemingly set to follow.

Verstappen hoping for unofficial ‘home GP’ boost at Spa

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Max Verstappen’s 2017 Formula 1 season has been blighted by unreliability and inconsistency, but the 19-year-old Dutchman will be hoping the closest thing to a home race for him – this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – can provide a boost to kickstart his season.

While he’s often been quicker than Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying this year, races have often gone begging for Verstappen as he only has a single podium finish, third in China in April.

Verstappen’s Belgian record isn’t ideal with an eighth place in 2015 at Toro Rosso and a ragged 11th last year in his first Spa drive with Red Bull. But as the unofficial “home favorite” this weekend, the track not far from his home country of the Netherlands, Verstappen is optimistic for a big race.

“I can’t wait to get to Spa this year. I just love the track and it’ll be nice seeing so many orange fans in the grandstands,” he said ahead of the weekend in the team’s pre-race advance.

“Spa is my favorite track of the year. You have to get everything right but when you get a good lap it’s very rewarding. There is a good flow with the fast corners and of course the best moment is Eau Rouge where you go up the hill, even though it’s easy full throttle in modern F1 cars it’s still very nice when the underneath of the car touches the tarmac and then gets very light at the top of the hill. This year it’s going to be a bit faster everywhere with the new cars which will be more challenging and more fun for sure.

“It definitely feels like a home Grand Prix for me because it’s so close to the border and as there isn’t a Dutch race at the moment a lot of Dutch fans are coming over. Already last year there were a lot of orange T-shirts and flags around the track which was very cool to see and makes it even more special.”

Teammate Ricciardo won his third Grand Prix here in 2014 and rallied to second place last year.

Times for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix across the NBC Sports Group networks are linked here.