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.”

Tire woes leave Haas down the grid in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo comes back onto the track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Tire woes throughout practice and qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix left Haas Formula 1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez down the grid ahead of Sunday’s race in Sochi.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous F1 operation come back down to earth in China two weeks ago when its run of points finishes since debut came to an end.

Grosjean and Gutierrez arrived in Russia hopeful of getting back into the top 10, but both struggled to get temperature into their tires throughout qualifying.

Low temperatures and a green track surface hit all of the teams hard in Sochi, yet Haas seemed more affected than others as Grosjean and Gutierrez qualified 15th and 16th respectively.

“It’s been a complicated weekend so far for us,” Grosjean said. “We’ve been struggling with the grip and the car. It’s difficult to get the tire to work on such a smooth asphalt. We’re progressing, we’re learning and doing the most we can do.

“I still don’t have the feeling I used to have earlier in the season with the car. We really need to analyze that. Then tomorrow’s going to be a long race with a lot of fuel saving. The tires are hard to keep in the window, so it’s going to be challenging for everyone.

“Maybe we can try to be a bit more clever. Let’s do our best, let’s analyse and let’s keep having some interesting data. We’ll see where we are after the race.”

Gutierrez enters Sunday’s race still chasing his first F1 points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix, and admitted that Haas needs a few surprises to be in with a chance of reaching the top 10.

“Qualifying was pretty hard. It was difficult to get the tires to work here so it’s been a bit of a challenge,” Gutierrez said.

“I was doing my best, with all the options we have available, to maximize everything but I’m not really satisfied with the result.

“However, we still have a race to do tomorrow. Hopefully a few surprises may come our way that will give us a chance to be up in the points.

“It’s probably not going to be very straightforward, as the pace is not as good as we want it to be, but we will definitely push hard and do our best to get there.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Lowe: Mercedes let Hamilton down

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the garage during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 technical chief Paddy Lowe says that the team let Lewis Hamilton down after he suffered a power unit failure for the second race weekend in a row during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton was forced to start last in China two weeks ago after an issue on his power unit prevented him from posting a time during qualifying.

Although he did take part in both Q1 and Q2 on Saturday in Russia, a repeat of the issue on the same power unit meant that Hamilton could not run in Q3.

As a result, Hamilton will start 10th on the grid for the start in Sochi – and only if Mercedes makes no changes to his car.

While teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg was able to sweep to pole position, Hamilton was left to prepare for yet another fightback drive on Sunday.

“Our day has been tainted by a failure which deprived Lewis of a shot at pole – and deprived the fans of what would surely have been a thrilling climax to an immensely close battle between our two drivers,” Lowe said after the session.

“We’ve let Lewis down for the second weekend in a row, so our apologies go to him once again. It’s a cruel twist of fate that, out of eight Mercedes-Benz Power Units on the grid, the problem should befall the same driver twice.

“We’ve been working very hard over the past couple of weeks to understand what happened in China – but unfortunately there is clearly still more work to be done.

“Our focus for the immediate future, however, is on making sure Lewis’ car is in the best possible condition for tomorrow’s race to give him the best chance of making the kind of strong recovery we’ve seen him pull off so many times in the past.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton reprimanded for Russia qualifying misdemeanor

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the Paddock during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has been given a reprimand by the FIA stewards for failing to follow the race director’s instructions during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ahead of the weekend at the Sochi Autodrom, FIA race director Charlie Whiting had a white bollard placed in the run-off area at Turn 2 to guide drivers where to go if they ran wide at the corner.

The idea was used successfully in Canada last year, and forces drivers to pass through the ‘penalty zone’ that ensures they do not gain an advantage by running wide.

During Q1, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 2 but failed to pass to the left of the bollard. Although he did not gain an advantage or improve his lap time, the stewards still opted to look into his misdemeanor after qualifying.

Late on Saturday, they confirmed that Hamilton had been handed a reprimand for the incident, marking his second of the season. If he racks up one more, he will receive a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton ultimately finished 10th in qualifying after an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in Q3.

“It’s obviously not a great feeling to be on the sidelines again – but that’s life,” Hamilton said. “I knew there was a problem and that it was probably the same failure that I had in China pretty much straight away. I went out for a second run in Q2 to get a feeler lap and felt the same power loss as last time.

“When it happened in Shanghai it was something we hadn’t seen before and now unfortunately it’s happened again, so we need to understand it. I’ve never been superstitious about these things, though, and I never will be. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll move on and look ahead to the race.”

Hamilton said that Mercedes was yet to decide whether or not it would make any changes to his power unit overnight that may result in him receiving another penalty.

“I don’t know where I’m going to start yet – we’ll wait to see how that unfolds,” Hamilton said.

“But I never give up and I’ll give it all I’ve got to recover whatever I can in the race, like always. It’s not an easy track for overtaking. With the levels of tire degradation and it being so tough to follow here, it’s not going to be easy to make my way forward.

“But there are long straights and we’ve got good pace, so if I can keep the car in one piece I’ll be fighting for decent points I’m sure.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Raikkonen: P4 in Russian GP qualifying ‘better than nothing’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that qualifying fourth for the Russian Grand Prix is “better than nothing” after struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari SF16-H car at the Sochi Autodrom.

Raikkonen finished fourth in Saturday’s Q3 session, and will move up to third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race thanks to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

Despite being in a position to lead the Italian marque’s charge against Mercedes and make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty, Raikkonen was far from jubilant after qualifying.

The Finn had been set to take third in Q3, only to make a mistake on his final qualifying lap that meant he was unable to improve his time, leaving him P4 at the checkered flag.

“The whole weekend has been tricky: for whatever reason, I struggled all the time to put one decent lap together,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying it was a bit better, but I was still fighting with the front end in a few places. It could have been good enough for a second or a third place on the grid, but on my last lap I completely missed the last corner and slid away.

“Obviously I’m a disappointed with what happened, but considering how difficult it has been, this result it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

“At least we are in third place at the start, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think in the race it’s going to be better.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.