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Indy 500 qualifying update, through two runs: Frantic hour sees several 230-plus runs (UPDATED)

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UPDATED, 3:10 P.M. ET: A frantic hour of action has seen a bunch of drivers go ahead and attempt a second Indianapolis 500 qualification attempt to see if they could improve their speeds, before a slight drizzle has hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If a driver improved, so too would their position. But they would not lose their original speed and time.

Will Power has now jumped to the top of the time sheets with a four-lap average of 230.323 mph.

Power told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network: “We found more in the car and the conditions are different. We had the right gear and downforce level for this run. I think a lot of people are gonna go quicker now. But that should be at least for the next couple hours. I have to look at the points. OK, yeah, that’s something to consider, since you don’t lose your best speed if you get out.

The top nine at 3:10 p.m. ET: Power 230.323, Ed Carpenter 230.114, Simon Pagenaud 230.070, JR Hildebrand 230.027, Ryan Hunter-Reay 230.011, Kurt Busch 229.960, Marco Andretti 229.836, Helio Castroneves 229.788, and Jack Hawksworth 229.732.

Here’s a rundown of the attempts in this stint, with the driver’s first run on the left and second on the right. Note Pagenaud is the only driver thus far to make three attempts, and he went to P3 on his third.

ROUND 2+ OF ATTEMPTS
                      First run		    Next run
77 Pagenaud		228.749/P15		229.193/P13
3  Castroneves	        229.456/P10		229.788/P3
22 Karam		-			228.650/P18
26 Busch		229.256/P12		229.960/P3
2  Montoya		229.594/P9		229.727/P6
7  Aleshin		228.385/P22		229.091/P14
10 Kanaan		228.064/P25		Waved off
63 Mann		        227.721/P30		No improvement
34 Munoz		229.590/P10		No improvement
12 Power		229.649/P9		230.323/P1
21 Hildebrand	        229.453/P12		230.027/P3
25 Andretti		229.663/P10		229.836/P6
15 Rahal		228.664/P18		No improvement 
67 Newgarden	        229.471/P11		229.637/P11
77 Pagenaud  	        229.193/P13		230.070/P3
16 Servia		228.034/P26		No improvement 
83 Kimball		228.710/P17		Rain

ORIGINAL, 1:35 P.M. ET: The first runs of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 are in the books. Here’s where we stand:

  • Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay are over 230 mph with their four-lap runs.
  • Kurt Busch has qualified at 229.256 mph. Of his lap, Busch told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network: “It went by so fast. I wasn’t as focused as what I was this morning. You’re so busy, trusting the car, knowing the corners. Here you take downforce off, and it makes it exciting. Not just one lap, it’s four. It keeps you busy. I did four laps but it felt like one. I wasn’t in the zone and might have left something. It’s a big challenge to qualify the car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
  • James Hinchcliffe slotted into third with his run, eventually bumped back to fourth by teammate Hunter-Reay. “It was a week of uncertainlty. They took good care of me to come back. I’m just so happy to have not missed this. Pole weekend is second only to the race. To miss that, I would have been bummed. The car was a big part of that. We have to find a little bit more speed.”
  • Jacques Villeneuve, 1995 Indianapolis 500 champion, made his first qualifying run in 19 years: “It was nice and easy. We didn’t have that much time. We don’t need the qualifying points. The top 9 is pointless for us. We’re actually really happy. In ’95, it was edgy; I wasn’t flat on the four laps. More power. Now it’s a question of momentum. The speed’s similar, but it drives differently.”
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, in P2 thus far: “It was for sure a good run. We’re fighting a championship as well. But I’m fully expecting the track to go quicker.”
  • The top nine right now: Carpenter, Hunter-Reay, rookie Jack Hawksworth, Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden.
  • The rest of the runners, 10-32: Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand, Kurt Busch, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal, Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Mikhail Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Carlos Huertas, Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Ryan Briscoe, James Davison and Buddy Lazier.
  • So far rookie Sage Karam has not gone out.
QUALIFYING PROGRESSION
91 Lazier, Did Not Run
34 Munoz, 229.590
21 Hildebrand, 229.453
2  Montoya, 229.594
9  Dixon, 228.501
20 Carpenter, 230.114
98 Hawksworth, 229.732
18 Huertas, 227.904
8  Briscoe, 227.201
3  Castroneves, 229.456
19 Wilson, 228.947
63 Mann, 227.721
41 Plowman, 227.774
25 Andretti, 229.663
26 Busch, 229.256
7  Aleshin, 228.385
15 Rahal, 228.664
27 Hinchcliffe, 229.672
5  Villeneuve, 228.171
12 Power, 229.649
17 Saavedra, Did Not Run
33 Davison, Did Not Run
77 Pagenaud, 228.749
83 Kimball, 228.710
10 Kanaan, 228.064
67 Newgarden, Did Not Run
6  Bell, 228.508
68 Tagliani, 227.813
22 Karam, Did Not Run
14 Sato, 228.786
28 Hunter-Reay, Did Not Run
16 Servia, 228.034
11 Bourdais, 228.388

AFTER INITIAL PROGRESSION
17 Saavedra, 228.294
67 Newgarden, 229.471
33 Davison, 226.761
28 Hunter-Reay, 230.011
91 Lazier, 226.543

Flavio Briatore: Fernando Alonso won’t take vacant Mercedes F1 seat

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Flavio Briatore, his wife Elisabetta Gregoraci and their son Falco Nathan attend the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Flavio Briatore has dismissed speculation suggesting that Fernando Alonso could replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Briatore previously managed Alonso and remains a close friend of the Spaniard, who currently races for McLaren.

Rosberg announced just five days after winning his maiden F1 title that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up the most coveted seat on the grid.

Alonso is known to be desperate for a third world championship, having not claimed a title since 2006, leading to speculation that he could push for a move to Mercedes for 2017.

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff said that Alonso was a driver that officials at the German marque “have to consider”, but was quick to acknowledge the contract in place with McLaren.

Briatore has become the latest figure to dismiss the idea, also making light of the fact that Alonso is linked to every free seat of note in F1.

“How is it that whenever there is a seat, you always think of Fernando?” Briatore told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But there is a contract and we respect it.”

Alonso broke out of his Ferrari deal early at the end of 2014 to move to McLaren, but Briatore insisted that this was due to an escape clause in his contract.

“The situation was different. We had a pact with [Ferrari president Luca] di Montezemolo,” Briatore said.

“If we didn’t win the championship in 2014, we would be free, and Luca kept that promise.

“[Ferrari team principal Marco] Mattiacci offered a three-year renewal, but we refused.”

F1 2016 Review: Stories of the season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16- Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Formula 1 season may have ended a little under two weeks ago now, but it was perhaps right that we let the dust settle before kicking off our series of year reviews on MotorSportsTalk.

Last Friday saw Nico Rosberg perform the ultimate mic drop by announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days after winning his first F1 World Championship.

We’ll get to that in a bit when looking back on the stories of the season – but through the rest of the year, F1 offered a number of intriguing and notable moments.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the 2016 F1 season.

MERCEDES MAKES IT THREE

Mercedes winning a third straight championship double may not seem like a big story at face value, but it really, really is. Given we are now three years in to the V6 turbo era of F1 and the field has noticeable converged, for Mercedes to have racked up a record number of wins, points and poles is an astonishing achievement.

Very rarely have we seen a true threat to Mercedes’ surpremacy, either. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel’s three victories came on weekends where Mercedes was simply second best. This time around? The two blots on Mercedes’ record book – Spain and Malaysia – were due to mitigating circumstances.

Red Bull and Ferrari may have lurked at times, but in reality, the gap at the front only grew bigger in 2016.

HAMILTON/ROSBERG RIVALRY GETS ANOTHER (FINAL) CHAPTER

The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg reached a fiery crescendo in 2016. On-track clashes in Spain and Austria stoked the fire nicely, forcing Mercedes to revise its “terms of engagement” with both drivers to prevent recurrences.

While we failed to see any titanic on-track battles between the duo, this was certainly the bitterest year yet in Hamilton/Rosberg relations. The lengths that Hamilton went to in the title decider to stop his teammate winning was evidence of how sour relations had become, yet he was gracious in defeat once Rosberg had clinched the title.

Following Rosberg’s retirement, it looks like we’ve seen the last chapter of one of F1’s most intense rivalries. While it may have been messy at times, it has at least ensured that Mercedes’ spell of dominance was not a complete procession.

ROSBERG DROPS THE MIC

The last F1 story of the year was the biggest. Nico Rosberg’s sensational decision to retire from racing just five days after winning his maiden world championship shocked the entire F1 paddock (well, except Lewis Hamilton) and the sporting world in general.

Everything about the story was a surprise: the decision itself; the nature in which it happened; the ‘OK-ness’ about it all, as well. F1 will be without its champion next year despite him being perfectly fit and well, young, and coming off the best season of his career. It’s a weird situation…

It also brings into question the legacy that Rosberg will leave behind. Will he be remembered as the driver who defeated one of F1’s all-time greats in Hamilton? Or as the man who was ‘one and done’? Time will tell.

HAAS HITS THE GRID

The star-spangled banner returned to the F1 grid full-time in 2016 as NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous operation make its debut. Most were unsure what to expect from Haas F1 Team during its debut season, making Romain Grosjean’s charge to sixth on debut in Australia a surprise for most.

Grosjean went one better at the next race in Bahrain, finishing fifth, but it proved to be the high point of the season. The strategic mastery we saw early on disappeared, and the teething problems that come with any new project began to crop up time and time again. The team scored just one point in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, it was a strong start to life in F1 from Haas. Let’s see what more it can do in 2017.

FERRARI STRUGGLES, RED BULL EXCELS

When Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen vaulted to the front of the pack on the opening lap of the season in Australia, it seemed our prayers had been answered: finally, there would be some resistance to Mercedes’ steam-roller act we’d seen for the previous two years in F1.

It was about as good as things got for the Scuderia though. Come the end of the year, both Vettel and Raikkonen ended up winless, with Ferrari slipping behind Red Bull to third in the constructors’ championship. It was a big come-down after the hope that ran through the 2015 campaign and off-season.

As for Red Bull? 2016’s success was a big surprise. Renault finally got its act together on the engine side of things, giving Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo the tools with which to win one race each, and even light the fire under the Mercedes boys later in the year.

VERSTAPPEN STEPS UP, STEALS THE SHOW

Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat just four races in to the new season was a major story, with the crest-fallen Daniil Kvyat moving back down to Toro Rosso. We knew this teen protege was going to be special, but few could have predicted just how special he would be through 2016.

From victory on debut (albeit a fortunate one) to his defence of Hamilton in Japan, and, most impressive of all, his magic in the rain at Interlagos, this was a memorable year for Verstappen.

Don’t go thinking this is the finished product yet. Verstappen’s qualifying form remains a bit patchy, lacking the ouright pace over one lap of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and there were costly errors through the year (the start at Spa being one).

But boy, if this is Verstappen as a sophomore, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in his twenties.

TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION

2016 was a year for the next generation of F1 to come to the fore. Besides Verstappen’s growing stardom, we saw his ex-teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., lead Toro Rosso and mark himself as one of the best up-and-comers on the grid.

Mercedes youngsters Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon both enjoyed impressive campaigns, the latter making his debut at Spa, with both now being linked to the vacant Mercedes seat.

We also saw Stoffel Vandoorne make his race debut, replacing the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain ahead of his full-time bow with McLaren next year, and had GP3 champion Charles Leclerc run in practice for Haas.

With Lance Stroll also poised to join the grid next year, we’re talking more and more about a younger generation in F1.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Tying in with that theme, 2016 saw the last hurrahs in F1 for Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, two of the sport’s veterans. Although Button could yet return in 2018, it’s highly unlikely.

Both ended their careers gracefully, bowing out with class in Abu Dhabi, although it’s hard to play their seasons up as being overly impressive given their form compared to teammates Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso.

With Rosberg now also out of the picture, the F1 grid is becoming more and more unrecognizable to the one we had 10 years ago.

Some of the other big stories were:

  • Force India’s best-ever finish in the constructors’ championship, beating Williams to fourth.
  • Liberty Media’s plan to buy F1, announced back in September.
  • F1’s first race in Baku, Azerbaijan, which proved to be a pleasant surprise.
  • McLaren’s continued revival as Honda makes progress.
  • The reliability of Lewis Hamilton’s car (or lack of) through the season.
  • The power struggle at McLaren that led to Ron Dennis’ exit.
  • Continued efforts to improve safety in F1 with the Halo device.
  • After a damp 2015, the roaring, record-breaking USGP in Austin in October (with a hat-tip to Taylor Swift).

And it is with a T-Swift lyric we shall close things out in our stories of the season. 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year for the world, but the F1 season acted as a kind of escape; a way to shake it off.

John Force Racing will ‘Advance’ with new sponsorship for Courtney Force

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Photos provided by John Force Racing
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BROWNSBURG, Indiana — John Force likes to use the word “advance” in discussing the long-term future of his four-car race team.

Friday morning, Force literally put “advance” into action, as he announced daughter Courtney Force’s Funny Car will be sponsored during the 2017 24-race NHRA schedule by Advance Auto Parts stores, beginning with the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California. The deal is for multiple seasons.

“This is all about building John Force Racing for the future,” Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We had a great run with Traxxas, they’ll be staying in the sport, which is great. And now we’re partnering with Advance Auto Parts, which we’re very excited about.”

Advance Auto Parts replaces Traxxas, which produces radio-controlled race cars, and which had sponsored Courtney Force for the past five seasons. Traxxas will remain involved in the sport as sponsor of the Traxxas Shootout, a special race-within-a-race for both Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters contested during the annual U.S. Nationals in Brownsburg.

Advance Auto Parts, which has nearly 5,400 retail stores across the country, is no stranger to John Force Racing. The auto parts supplier sponsored John Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro at several events during the 2016 season, including a victory in the NHRA Carolina Nationals, which kicked off the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“The opportunity came to grow the deal and they were interested in Courtney so it was a perfect match,” John Force said. “I have done shows with Advance Auto Parts in the past and am looking forward to working with them again.”

Both John and Courtney Force will be featured in several upcoming advertising and marketing campaigns for the company.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Gustav Malja joins Racing Engineering for 2017 GP2 season

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Wednesday 30 November 2016.
Gustav Malja (SWE, Racing Engineering) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SLB2993_1
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Racing Engineering has announced the signing of Gustav Malja for the 2017 GP2 Series season following the Swede’s rookie campaign.

Malja, 21, made his GP2 debut in 2015 before embarking on his first full campaign in the Formula 1 support series with Rapax.

Malja scored points in the opening round of the year in Spain, finishing ninth, before highlighting his season with a run of top-10 finishes from Hockenheim to Sepang.

The run saw Malja finish second in the Spa sprint race and third at Monza in the feature event, enough to give him 13th in the final standings.

Malja will now move up to Racing Engineering for 2017, the team having worked with Norman Nato and Jordan King for the past season.

“I’m excited to join Racing Engineering for the 2017 GP2 season. We began getting to know each other in Abu Dhabi last week, and I immediately felt very much at home,” Malja said.

“It’s a team with a long and successful history in GP2, and I’m convinced it’s the ideal place for my continued development as a driver.

“I’m also very pleased to have everything in place at such an early stage. It will ease preparations this winter and give us all some peace of mind.”

Malja is the fourth driver to confirm his entry to GP2 for 2017, joining Sergio Sette Camara (MP Motorsport), Charles Leclerc and Antonio Fuoco (both Prema Racing) on the grid.