Pagenaud leaves no doubt about IndyCar title challenge with GP of Indy dominance

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To some gathered in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway press room on Saturday following the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud’s victory was viewed as a surprise or his championship challenge was viewed as… well… a surprise.

Neither should be. If anything, the only surprise is that Pagenaud hasn’t won more. Or that it took saving fuel to do it, rather than the outright pace he showed all weekend.

He was only outside the top three in qualifying, and there he slotted in fourth after the session ended due to Hunter-Reay’s accident. It was one of the team’s best weekends yet in IndyCar

Overall, the soon-to-be 30-year-old (May 18) has been nothing short of a stud since he entered North America in 2006, winning the Atlantic Championship as a then-unheralded rookie, starring on occasion in Champ Car in 2007 and then making a triumphant return to open-wheel after a sports car dovetail (where he won races and a championship).

As he now sits third in the championship – same as where he finished in 2013 – Pagenaud is only six points out of the series lead and poised to make that next breakthrough to jump ahead of Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 title protagonists widely viewed as two of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ best.

If he isn’t already, Pagenaud must be mentioned in the same breath. The Frenchman boasts the rare combination of a cool confidence, excellent setup feedback, detailed technical development, and quick wits and insights that make him a great quote in the media center. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t make mistakes either, so he’s seemingly always in contention on race day.

“I think we are a championship contender,” Pagenaud said post-race. “It’s fair to say that we are where we want to be, fighting for wins. Being consistent in the championship is what gives you championship wins.

“What the team does really well is the people working in the team are very dedicated and very smart,” he added, of his Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team. “I think the group on the 77 car is very strong. We’re extracting 100% of what we have.”

And that collective unit is into Year 3, as the evolution has come from rookie with no oval experience that still finished top-five in points to his first two wins last year and third in the points.

“We obviously don’t have the high resources of Ganassi and Andretti and Penske, but we’re a very good group of people that have really open communication,” Pagenaud said. “I think it helps a lot in racing.

“We’re just doing everything we can to check off the bad stuff every weekend. This weekend was pretty much a flawless weekend, a perfect weekend for us.”

Nicer still is the fact that for the first time in several years, Pagenaud has a sense of job security within IndyCar. Although this year is the last of his contract with SPM, he’s done enough to where he could stay on beyond 2014 or move onto one of the so-called big three teams.

It says something after the roughly four-year abyss between his open-wheel stints, where despite starring in sports cars and winning the 2010 American Le Mans Series Prototype class championship, he didn’t know if he’d return.

“I used to stress a lot about my racing career. It’s difficult to make it as a race driver,” Pagenaud admitted. “I’ve been stressing up until last year about my job, security. I’m turning 30, so I’ve got another 12 years hopefully in IndyCar, 10 or 12 years.

“I think I’ve shown speed. I’ve shown consistency. Now I have decided this year to relax and just let my driving do the rest. So I enjoy it.”

And as a Frenchman winning at Indianapolis, there’s a nice symbolism to that, as well. Jules Goux and Rene Thomas won back-to-back Indianapolis 500s in 1913 and 1914, so Pagenaud would love to match the latter a century later.

“I’m very proud to be the [third] Frenchman to win in Indianapolis in history and the first to win the Indy Grand Prix,” he said. “It’s incredible to be near the pagoda. I can’t even think what it could be with the Indy 500.”

He’ll get the chance starting today with practice beginning in the No. 77 white and red Lucas Oil car, which shifts liveries after his Charter Communications/Oculus colors depart after the GP of Indy.

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)
© 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
© Porsche
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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: