IMSA: Persistence pays off for Patron ESM, Brown and JVO

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Over the last five years as a driver, Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown has learned, developed and honed his craft. He’s come from helping to start Extreme Speed Motorsports with Scott Sharp in 2009, ahead of the team’s first full season in the 2010 American Le Mans Series season, to shifting from the team’s Ferrari GT cars to HPD prototypes.

On Sunday, Brown started the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from pole after co-driver Johannes van Overbeek laid down the late flier in qualifying to deliver the top spot. Brown’s sole task in his opening stint was to keep the car in one piece, and an early pit stop 22 minutes into the race ensured he had done his job to perfection.

“I had a good stint. We tried to analyze what I was going to do on the start,” Brown said. “I basically hit the throttle and go as hard as I could coming out of Turn 11. Whatever happened down in Turn 2, my instincts would kick in at that point.

“My confidence grows every time I get in the car and I start to prove to myself that I can run with these guys. When I settled in and a few of them got by me, then I decide no other cars will pass me. I felt comfortable. We had a great car; the crew did a terrific job all weekend. We were in really good position.”

From there, “JVO” did the rest after two excellent stints the remainder of the race. For those who had forgotten the Oakland native’s prowess and results record in GT cars with Flying Lizard Motorsports a number of years ago, it was a welcome reminder that his ability level is still on par with some of the best drivers in the TUDOR Championship.

For van Overbeek, though, Sunday’s win owed as much to Brown’s clean start and the Extreme Speed team’s pit work as it did his own comeback and eventual pass of Jordan Taylor for the win on Lap 76.

“From the outside, it probably looked pretty easy, but inside is another story,” he said. “I was more nervous when Ed was in the car. He did a great job and put us in a great spot, and then I got in.

“I could not be happier. This is my home race. I thought I was cursed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because I’ve come so close to winning so many times. To win with Ed, Tequila Patrón and ESM, it is just fantastic.

“I’m proud of Ed for starting from pole and fending off the field. He’s the one that put us in a position for the win. Thanks to the crew as well; our pit stop and driver change was flawless. All of our practice is paying off.”

Sharp, who along with Ryan Dalziel suffered gearbox issues on the sister No. 1 car, was thrilled about the team’s development. ESM won a pair of GT races in 2012, and took its most recent win prior to Sunday at Long Beach in 2013 (the team’s first LMP2 class win).

“This is tremendous. They did a great job and checked all the boxes,” Sharp said. “The crew did a great job preparing the car; pit stops and everything went to plan. Ed did the best driving stint he’s ever done in his career. Then Johannes made some great moves and brought the win home. Congratulations to them.

“As far as our car, I don’t know what to say. This is our third gearbox problem this year. It is putting a damper on our points totals. It would have been nice to be 1-2.”

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.