Davison, with KVRT driver coach Al Unser Jr. Photo: INDYCAR

Patience, perseverance pays off for KVRT’s James Davison ahead of Indy 500 debut

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You don’t hear too often anymore of the rookie at Indianapolis who’s been out of the game full-time for four or five years, who plied their trade seemingly in another era but has fought tooth and nail to stay in the game in any way possible to make it back to a present day opportunity.

That makes James Davison’s story for this year’s Indianapolis 500 all the more appealing, because that’s his narrative.

A talented 27-year-old Australian, rated highly by his countryman Will Power, never quite seemed in the right place at the right time from his move to America in the mid-2000s. He raced in Formula BMW in 2005, Formula Atlantics in 2006 – then as teammate to Simon Pagenaud – driving for Derrick Walker, and Star Mazda in 2007. That last year he finished second to rising sports car star Dane Cameron in the points standings.

In 2008 and 2009 he raced in Indy Lights, the first year with the powerhouse Sam Schmidt Motorsports operation and the second with Vision Racing. That latter year, Davison was best of the rest behind series champion JR Hildebrand in what was Lights’ deepest field in the last 10 years, with car counts 27 or more at most races.

“Runner-up was our best possible result that year, and we achieved it,” Davison said, noting several of the 13 other drivers from that 2009 season who had previously or eventually would race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But since 2010, it’s been a struggle. Without sponsorship, Davison has not had a full-time ride since, and has largely stayed in the game with coaching opportunities and a handful of one-off races in sports cars.

His star was back on the rise in 2013 when Dale Coyne Racing provided him his first two IndyCar starts, where he overachieved despite limited testing time at the Mid-Ohio and Sonoma road races.

Now, timing and opportunity added up to become the 33rd entry for this year’s race, in a KV Racing Technology Chevrolet with support from Always Evolving Racing.

“It won’t 100 percent set in until I’m out on track and the actual operation begins,” he admitted in an interview with MotorSportsTalk. “I worked from a very young age to get to this point and had to work a lot harder than some of my colleagues due to circumstances outside of my control with the financial side. But it’s better late than never. Hopefully those five years from my early to mid-to-late 20s pay off in terms of using my head, with the many tricky situations the race no doubt will present.”

Compared to some of his rookie counterparts, Davison can at least say he’s somewhat experienced on ovals.

Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas will be making their first oval starts; Kurt Busch is adapting from NASCAR to race here in an IndyCar.

Meanwhile Davison is part of a quartet of he, Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth and Martin Plowman who all have experience from ovals in Indy Lights. But for Davison, it’s been five years since his last oval race, and he doesn’t think that knowledge will be all that transferrable.

“My experience on ovals will certainly count for something, but this will be a larger step,” he explained. “Indy Lights around here is pretty straightforward and an IndyCar is so much more on edge. The elements of the track and the marbles are something the Freedom (100) just doesn’t throw out. Perfect example is that the last lap of the Freedom last year had cars go 4-wide, and Hildebrand went 2-wide (in 2011) and ends up in the wall.”

Davison’s run this year is with the defending Indianapolis 500 champion team of KVRT, albeit on a short engine program that he begins today with his Rookie Orientation Program. It’s an open-wheel dovetail to his full-season commitments in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with TRG-AMR North America and its Aston Martin Vantage.

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Photo: TRG-AMR

He’ll also introduce the Pirelli World Challenge Always Evolving Racing team into IndyCar, as the No. 33 Chevrolet takes on that brand’s unique corporate colors of teal, black and white.

“They were the biggest element of sponsorship and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Davison aid. “It’s fantastic to see them moving up in their marketing programs, from the World Challenge series, which I have tremendous amount of respect for and would certainly like to be a part of at some point, to see them here at the Indy 500 reflects the naming of their brand.”

But ultimately, the story of perseverance of Davison’s career matches that of his branding – it’s been “always evolving” and is now the culmination of years of hard work to get to this stage.

“Regardless of how positive you can be, after four years, you worry it’s fading away,” he admitted. “You feel so helpless because you’re always trying, but often restricted financially in motorsport. By persevering and turning stones over, I finally found some gold, then combined with being in the right place, right time as ever that’s required to succeed, I found myself in an IndyCar last year. And now, this at the Indianapolis 500.”

Faster cars set for track in Barcelona ahead of new season

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during the launch of the Mercedes formula one team's 2017 car, the W08, at Silverstone Circuit on February 23, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Formula One returns to action next week with a test session ahead of a highly anticipated season featuring wider and faster cars to make the series more exciting.

The revamped cars will be on the track in Barcelona on Monday when teams and drivers will get their first real look at what 2017 is going to be like.

“Next week is when we really get to unleash it,” Lewis Hamilton said after Mercedes unveiled its car on Friday.

A second four-day test session will take place in Barcelona from March 7-10.

The first race is the Australian GP on March 26.

The season arrives with regulation changes that significantly altered car design and performance in an attempt to attract more fans and increase track attendance and television audiences.

New aerodynamic and tire rules have given the 2017 cars a meaner look, making them wider and boosting downforce and grip. That translates into faster speeds and, hopefully, more overtaking maneuvers on the track. The rear wings are lower and many of the cars will use a “shark fin” wing on top of the engine.

“The car is wider, tires are bigger, we have a lot more downforce,” Hamilton said. “It’s like taking a small propeller plane and comparing it to a Boeing 737. It’s got so much more performance on it.”

The bigger and quicker cars are also likely to be harder to drive, putting more emphasis on the drivers’ skills and physical conditioning.

Teams are expecting lap times to be three to five seconds faster compared to last year.

“Let’s wait and see,” McLaren veteran Fernando Alonso said. “I think there is some hope that with these regulations we will improve the show. Next week we will have some answers in Barcelona. But definitely it’s a good change for Formula One, something that we probably needed, to have fast and good looking cars.”

The new season will begin without defending champion Nico Rosberg , who retired after winning his first title. Former champion Jenson Button also left, and the Manor team ended, leaving the grid with 20 cars.

Bernie Ecclestone is gone after nearly four decades as F1’s boss. In charge now is U.S. sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media, which took over to try to win back dissatisfied fans and make the series thrilling again.

Here are other things to watch for this season:

MERCEDES’ DOMINANCE

The changes in regulation could help teams cut the gap on Mercedes, which won both the driver and team championships the last three seasons.

The first test session could give an indication of whether teams such as Ferrari and Red Bull will be able to pose a bigger challenge than in 2016. Williams, McLaren and Force India will be hoping to take advantage of the new rules to challenge at the front. Toro Rosso, Renault, Hass and Sauber will try to be near the front more often.

“Maybe we are not going to win 50 races in three years. Maybe we are going to win a couple of races, hopefully a championship. Maybe not, maybe somebody else has done a better job,” Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said. “It’s all back to square one.”

DRIVER CHANGES

Red Bull, Ferrari and Toro Rosso are keeping the same driver lineup from last season. They’re very much the exception.

Valtteri Bottas got the grid’s most-desired seat at Mercedes, replacing the retiring Rosberg. Bottas’ departure from Williams prompted 35-year-old Felipe Massa to end his own retirement and return to the team.

Former Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein takes Felipe Nasr’s job at Sauber, while Kevin Magnussen left Renault to join American team Haas. Nico Hulkenberg replaced Magnussen at Renault after leaving Force India.

YOUNG TALENT

A few new drivers will be trying to emulate the success of Max Verstappen, who stunned F1 last season by becoming the youngest driver to win a race at age 18.

Lance Stroll, 18, will be replacing Bottas at Williams, while 24-year-old Stoffel Vandoorne comes in for Button at McLaren.

Esteban Ocon, 20, made nine starts with Manor last season and secured a ride with Force India for 2017.

The 22-year-old Wehrlein will not be able to test his new Sauber next week because he injured his back at a racing event last month.

MCLAREN DOUBTS

Going back to the orange livery from the 1960s, McLaren will be hoping to win its first race since 2012.

But there are doubts about whether the renewed partnership with Honda will finally start paying off after two disappointing seasons in which the team struggled to contend for victories or even podium finishes.

There was improvement a year ago, but the pressure for better results this season will increase.

Fresh reset on tap for Takuma Sato at Andretti Autosport

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For a driver you don’t think of as having been long a part of the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock, Takuma Sato is that and more as he prepares to enter his eighth full-time season in 2017.

Sato’s longevity is such that he did parts of seven years and 90 Grand Prix starts from 2002 through 2008, before a one-year gap prior to his arrival in IndyCar in 2010, where he’s now made 118 starts in seven years.

With KV Racing Technology, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Sato was very much enigmatic. His speed and determination was never in question and he produced a number of edge-of-your-seat highlight reel moments; few will forget his daring attempt on Dario Franchitti to win the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with RLL, for example, and a year later he finally secured his first win with Foyt at Long Beach on a track he’s long excelled at.

But despite his undoubted pace, his “no attack, no chance” style sometimes got him into more trouble than he desired.

Sato’s presence in the paddock is a good one because his attitude is forthright, he’s very good with the media (both the American and Japanese media) and he has a seemingly eternal, effervescent smile on his face.

He doesn’t look a day over 32 years old, even though he turned 40 in January.

And with Andretti Autosport, Sato has his best team dynamic available yet as he moves into one of the generally considered “big three” teams for the first time in his career.

He’s been on a single-car team at both RLL and Foyt, a two-car team at Foyt and a three-car team at KV, but has not yet been part of a four-car effort as he will have at Andretti. He’s in the No. 26 Honda with teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti.

“I’m very excited. Obviously you want to have more time in the car for the preseason. But there is a lot of progression to be done over the winter,” Sato told NBC Sports.

“I’m already having a good time together with the team.”

Sato will be reunited with engineer Garrett Mothershead, who he worked with at KV his first two years in the series. Together, Sato won his first two poles at Iowa and Edmonton.

Both Sato and Rossi suffered setbacks during the Phoenix test, both drivers losing the back end in Turn 2 and hitting the wall. Both were on qualifying simulations.

Despite that, Sato felt positive with the improvements made to the car on a short oval compared to last year. Foyt’s team struggled on the short ovals with the same Honda package, which is a bit down to Chevrolet on the short ovals, and Sato was able to denote the differences and enhancements Andretti’s team had made.

“In the end it was a qualifying simulation and balance was off. It was a shame and I hate it for the crew,” Sato said.

“Other than that, we made a car that was much better car. We made good progress with all four drivers working together, and our engineering is strong.”

One of the things Sato is renowned for is his ability on street courses. He’s been rather exciting to watch on those circuits over his career, and his setup and feedback work should help the team going forward on these tracks, starting with St. Petersburg.

One of Sato’s teammates, Hunter-Reay, called Sato “one of the fastest guys out there” and is “looking forward to hearing his perspective.”

Expectations aren’t the highest given the struggles of the Honda package compared to Chevrolet. And Sato’s career place in the standings hasn’t been higher than 13th in seven years – incidentally, in 2011 when he last worked with Mothershead.

Although the field is deep, Sato is hopeful of a couple steps forward results and points-wise this year. The Andretti Autosport team wants to be best in class among those with Hondas.

“I have good memories in St. Petersburg! So hopefully we’re competitive there,” Sato said.

“Hopefully we can win a race. Since it’s a frozen package this year, I don’t see a big difference compared to last year. But the personal situation is that I’m in a different team and environment, and that’s big. I’m looking forward to it.”

Renault F1 completes first running with R.S.17 in Barcelona

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Renault Sport Formula One team's 2017 car, the RS17, is unveiled on February 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault has completed its first on-track running with its 2017 Formula 1 car, the R.S.17, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain ahead of pre-season testing next week.

Renault unveiled its new car on Tuesday, with the R.S.17 sporting an aggressive new look and a revised color scheme that incorporates more black into its yellow look.

Like many of its rivals, Renault opted to make use of some of its filming day allowance this week to check all systems were running as expected prior to the start of testing.

Renault hit the track on Saturday with Jolyon Palmer receiving the honor of christening the R.S.17 on-track.

Renault will enjoy its first public run with the R.S.17 on Monday with the start of collective pre-season testing in Barcelona.

McLaren confirms F1 testing running schedule for Barcelona

Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 24 February 2017.
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McLaren has become the latest team to confirm its running schedule for the upcoming Formula 1 pre-season test days in Barcelona, Spain.

McLaren launched its new car, the MCL32, at its base in Woking, England on Friday, with drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne on-hand to unveil the team’s new orange look.

Alonso and Vandoorne will split testing duties next week with the start of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

Alonso will enjoy the first public run behind the wheel of the MCL32 on Monday before handing over to Vandoorne on Tuesday. Alonso returns on Wednesday, with Vandoorne then closing out the first test on Thursday.

McLaren is also set to complete a filming day in Barcelona on Sunday, which will represent the first on-track running for the MCL32 after an extensive development phase.