Pro Mazda start at NOLA. Photo: Pro Mazda Championship

IndyCar confirms it’s exploring New Orleans as potential event (VIDEO)

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire when it comes to the prospect of the Verizon IndyCar Series racing in New Orleans in 2015, which was initially reported on Sunday by the Associated Press.

The official release from INDYCAR had this opening line: “INDYCAR announced today it is exploring a prospective Verizon IndyCar Series race at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La.”

This is code for, if the dollars are there and a time in the schedule is right, the event is likely to happen.

The series’ newest race – this weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – was first announced as “being explored,” then featured a compatibility test and then, lo and behold, the trigger was pulled on the road course race.

As for this potential one, further details are set to be revealed as of noon CT on Monday. Here’s what we know now:

  • It would be known as the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Louisiana.
  • It would be organized and promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing, who continue to expand their footprint in the motorsports arena.
  • The announcement of today’s press conference was made jointly today with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Laney Chouest, owner of NOLA Motorsports Park.
  • The state of Louisiana, upon approval by its Legislature, would commit $4.5 million to make necessary enhancements to the racetrack in support of the potential event. This investment, combined with private funding from NOLA Motorsports Park, will help facilitate track and facility improvements as required by INDYCAR.

“We’re delighted by this broad show of support and encouraged by the prospect of a Verizon IndyCar Series race in New Orleans,” Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of INDYCAR and IMS, said in a release. “We greatly appreciate Laney Chouest, his associates at NOLA, and the state of Louisiana for their efforts to make enhancements to NOLA Motorsports Park. With these improvements we’re confident that NOLA can meet our standards for safety, fan experience and quality of racing. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in hopes of making New Orleans a destination that may soon host a Verizon IndyCar Series event.”

Added Gov. Jindal, via the release: “This is great news for our entire state. A three-day event would allow us to show off the excitement of an IndyCar Series race right here in Louisiana, as well as our state’s culture, entertainment and food. This event would be a great economic driver for our state and a great weekend for the whole family. Verizon IndyCar Series events serve as the gathering point for automotive industry leaders and INDYCAR sponsors, most of which are Fortune 500 companies. As a result, NOLA Motorsports expects several businesses to locate to Louisiana once the race is scheduled, which will create more great jobs and economic momentum for Jefferson Parish and our state.”

INDYCAR, by way of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, has already had experience at NOLA Motorsports Park with rounds of the 2014 Cooper Tires Winterfest held there. Here’s an on-board camera from Belardi Auto Racing’s Florian Latorre in USF2000. Latorre now drives for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Additionally, here is some older footage of Gustavo Yacaman in one of Michael Shank Racing’s Daytona Prototypes.

We’ll see if this comes together and if today’s announcement is the first step towards the first new permanent, purpose-built road course race joining the IndyCar calendar since Barber Motorsports Park in 2010.

Grosjean after Abu Dhabi qualifying gearbox failure: “S*** happens”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean will start his final race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox issue brought an early end to his qualifying session in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Grosjean makes his last Formula 1 start for Lotus this weekend ahead of his move to Haas F1 Team for 2016, and had hoped to add to his haul of 49 points so far this season.

However, the Frenchman will face an uphill struggle in Sunday’s race after a gearbox issue forced him to park his car at the side of the track during qualifying.

Grosjean had aborted his first run in Q2 after Lotus identified the issue on his car and told him to pit, but opted to send him back out with two minutes remaining.

It proved to be a vain attempt to get Grosjean through to Q3, though, as the problem reared its head once again and forced him to stop on the run down to turn eight at the Yas Marina Circuit.

After the session, Grosjean was disappointed that his final qualifying with Lotus had ended in such fashion, but remains hopeful of an improved performance in Sunday’s race.

In the second Lotus car, Pastor Maldonado outqualified Grosjean for just the second time in 2015 after finishing 13th in Q2.

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

Rosberg takes sixth straight pole position in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP 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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Nico Rosberg will start the final race of the 2015 Formula 1 season from pole position after setting the pace during Saturday’s qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:40.237 under the lights in Q3 to secure pole by three-tenths of a second, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of qualifying.

After trailing Rosberg in FP2 and FP3, Hamilton bounced back in the first two stages of qualifying by beating the German driver, but was unable to carry this form over into the final shoot-out for pole.

Hamilton managed to wrestle provisional pole back by going one-tenth of a second quicker than Rosberg with his final Q3 lap, only for his teammate to respond and take pole by three-tenths.

The result marked Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position and sets him up perfectly for Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen finished as the best-of-the-rest for Ferrari, edging out Force India’s Sergio Perez for third place on the grid with an impressive last lap. Perez will start from P4 on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas led Williams’ charge in sixth place ahead of teammate Felipe Massa in eighth, as they were split by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top ten in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen was unfortunate to miss out on a place in Q3 after being edged out by Sainz in the sister Toro Rosso by just four-hundredths of a second, leaving him 11th ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button. Pastor Maldonado finished 13th for Lotus ahead of Felipe Nasr as both struggled for pace to get close to a Q3 berth.

Romain Grosjean will start his last race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox problem cut his qualifying short. The team told Grosjean to abort his first flying lap because of the issue, and a vain effort to get him out late on ended with the Frenchman parking up at the side of the track.

The biggest shock in qualifying came in Sebastian Vettel’s exit after the German driver backed off on his final lap, mistakenly believing that he had already done enough to make it through to Q2. A quick last effort from Grosjean dumped the German out in Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid for the start of Sunday’s race.

Vettel was joined in the dropzone by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso after his final run in qualifying was ended by a puncture on his rear-left tire. The Spaniard finished 17th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who also had an issue on his car, while Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the timesheets for Manor.

The result gives Rosberg a golden opportunity to round off a difficult 2015 season with a third straight win, and also means he will start 2016 with Ayrton Senna’s record of eight pole positions in a row within reach.

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

Mercedes pushes for technical regulation clarification from FIA stewards

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Mercedes has requested clarification of a number of technical rules from the FIA stewards in Abu Dhabi after flagging up possible ambiguities in the current regulations.

In a letter written by Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe to FIA race director Charlie Whiting last month, clarification is sought over restrictions on aerodynamic testing and wind tunnel usage in Formula 1.

Whiting responded to Lowe by saying: “I am unable to respond to your questionnaire, the questions of which do not fall within my remit but that of the competent bodies for binding interpretations (stewards)” and also refused the request for confidentiality.

Mercedes has therefore taken the matter to the stewards in Abu Dhabi, with a meeting planned after qualifying on Saturday. The stewards said that they will endeavor to deliver a decision ahead of Sunday’s race.

It is thought that Mercedes’ request for clarification relates to Ferrari’s relationship with the new Haas F1 Team that may have allowed the Italian marque to exploit existing loopholes in the regulations to aid the development of its own car.

Part of the document released by the FIA reads: “Mercedes considers there to be a number of existing ambiguities in Appendices 6 and 8 to the Regulations. It is possible that such ambiguity may be exploited by a team to give it a competitive advantage at any event, including at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2015, prior to the points being clarified by the stewards.”

It continues: “Resolution of the ambiguities is of the utmost importance to Mercedes as it is currently considering the possibility of collaborating with third parties on its testing programme, including the sharing of staff and knowledge, which it believes could be permitted under the current Regulations as drafted.

“It is understood by Mercedes that other Formula 1 teams may also be considering operating in a similar manner.”

The stewards will be able to offer a binding interpretation of the regulations to all teams racing in F1, and have invited all competitors to make their own submissions should they so wish.

You can read the FIA document in full here.

Mercedes takes up option on Ocon for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C7600
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Mercedes has taken up its option on GP3 driver Esteban Ocon ahead of the 2016 season to make him a full member of its junior programme.

Ocon, 19, won last year’s FIA F3 European Championship ahead of current Toro Rosso driver and Formula 1’s unofficial rookie of the year Max Verstappen.

Having previously been on Lotus’ junior programme, Ocon was expected to move into GP2 for 2015, but his deal with the team fell through and prompted him to race for ART Grand Prix in GP3.

Mercedes announced back in May that it would be supporting Ocon for this season, with an option to make him a fully-fledged member of its junior programme at the end of the year.

In Friday’s FIA press conference, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff confirmed that this option had been taken up, but that plans for Ocon and its other junior talent, Pascal Wehrlein, in 2016 are still to be finalized.

“We’ve taken up the option on him because he has been with us now, or has been following the DTM team for a while, has been the test driver in DTM and integrated well and he’s doing a very good job in GP3 as well and he’s somebody we’d very much like to have in the family,” Wolff said.

“This is why we’ve exercised the option. It doesn’t mean that we’ve found a solution for Pascal.

“The current driver market is a bit difficult because most of the teams have already announced their drivers and it need to be the right deal – but having taken up Esteban we are conscious that we need to find a suitable programme for both of them.

“It could well mean that it could eventually end up for both of them in a testing role, in a reserve driver role and in a DTM role – so it’s not done yet.”

Ocon enters the final race of the GP3 season on Sunday with a six-point advantage over Luca Ghiotto.