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Marcos Ambrose: Not looking to leave U.S. or Richard Petty Motorsports

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Marcos Ambrose is denying persistent rumors he will leave Richard Petty Motorsports once his current contract expires after this season.

While meeting with reporters Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Ambrose was asked if he anticipates remaining in the U.S. and in NASCAR next season.

“Yeah, I do,” Ambrose said. “I do anticipate racing in the U.S. There are a lot of changes in the midst at RPM and I’m part of that. I have to renew my contract with them, but I’m gonna do whatever I can to get Richard Petty where he wants to go and his whole company.”

RPM has substantially reinvested into the organization in the last two-plus years, including starting its first-ever research and development program. It’s forward-thinking moves such as that which make Ambrose want to remain with the team going forward.

“I’ve been part of the Petty Motorsport family since they went through all the turmoil with the (George) Gillett crossover and they’ve gone through various stages,” Ambrose said. “Obviously, they had to really just get some stability and then now we’ve gotten past stability and we’re working toward the future and bringing new sponsors to NASCAR.

“We definitely have more funding, we have more infrastructure, we have better people around us, and I think you’re going to the next level for Richard Petty Motorsports. I have seen direct results of the extra money that’s gone into our company.

“I think we needed to keep up and we certainly have made up some ground since 2013, but we’ve got a ways to go. You’ve got to look at everything to get better and I know that everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports is doing that, they really are looking at it from the outside-in, seeing what they can do and where they need to go to be the best they can be.”

Richard Petty himself said during January’s NASCAR Media Tour that he wasn’t sure whether Ambrose wanted to stay in NASCAR, let alone with RPM after this season.

“I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S.,” Petty said at the time. “You know, (Ambrose has) come a long way. He’s sort of a hero in Australia just because he’s running Cup. His big deal is if he could win on a round and around racetrack, that would be the optimum for him. If he did do that, he’d probably just go home and say, ‘Thank you guys,’ but I don’t know.”

Ambrose did not specifically address whether contract negotiations are ongoing with RPM, nor did he discuss reports that he may return to his native Australia to compete in that country’s very popular V8 Supercars category in 2015 (potentially for a new team rumored to be owned by NASCAR and IndyCar team owner Roger Penske).

As for a number of recent reports that RPM may leave Ford at the end of this season, and jump to Toyota or Chevrolet in 2015, Ambrose was non-committal.

“I haven’t given them input, but we have a great opportunity at Richard Petty Motorsports to improve the situation,” Ambrose said. “Whenever you get a period of time like this where you can shuffle the cards and shuffle the deck, it allows your team to get better.

“So I think they’re in a great position. They’ve got choices, which is the most important thing, and I’m sure they’ll make the right choices for Richard Petty Motorsports and I fully support them whatever they choose to do.”

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Ricciardo: In-cockpit visibility ‘pretty good’ with aeroscreen

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has given a thumbs-up to the Red Bull-designed ‘aeroscreen’ cockpit protection device after giving it its first public trial in Russia on Friday.

Cockpit safety has been high on the FIA’s agenda following the deaths of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

There are two leading solutions to improving cockpit safety: the ‘Halo’, which made its public debut in F1 pre-season testing, and the ‘aeroscreen’ that broke cover on Friday.

Ricciardo completed an installation run with the aeroscreen attached to his car, leading to a mixed response from the paddock, but the Australian reported that visibility was still good in the cockpit.

“I think in terms of visibility it was pretty good,” Ricciardo said.

“The peripheral vision was fine. The structure is by the mirrors, so you’re not really hindered.

“It’s just a bit weird having a structure there. I had a Ferrari driving in front of me and the points on track seemed pretty much unaltered. For sure, it’s different, but the crux of it was pretty good.”

Ricciardo does not think that the height of the aeroscreen would change a driver’s view of the starting lights from the front row of the grid.

“I tried to have a look around and see. It seemed pretty high up,” Ricciardo said.

“If I was to stop on starting grid, I don’t think it would hinder vision.”

The aeroscreen and the Halo are both under consideration for possible implementation in 2017, with a decision set to be made in the near future regarding next season’s technical regulations.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On rules, regs and female race drivers

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battles for position with Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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With the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy now off until the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend May 12-14 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s a break for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.

Not so, a break for Stefan Johansson, the F1 veteran-turned their driver manager and also the sporting director for Scuderia Corsa.

The Los Angeles-based sports car team heads up the California coast to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Monterey, where once again the team’s Ferrari 488 GTE and GT3 variants will compete in separate GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class races.

Johansson has checked in with Jan Tegler for a catch-up following F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and the last two IndyCar races of the year in Long Beach and Barber.

While the racing is part of Johansson’s latest blog entry, the majority centers on rules, regulations and recent comments from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone about whether female drivers could make it in F1.

Although the first round of 2017 regulations have been confirmed with today’s earlier news that new engine regulations have been signed off on for a four-year period from 2017 to 2020, Johansson is skeptical that as long as the teams are involved, there won’t be a consensus when it comes to the new technical regulations.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance,” Johansson writes. “I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

“If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing.”

Johansson added that rules stability is needed more than a shakeup; inevitably the more rules change, the more costs increase to keep pace with the changes.

Officiating was in the crosshairs at Long Beach, when an official warning was assessed to Simon Pagenaud rather than any sort of official penalty – drive-through or otherwise – for when Pagenaud violated the Lane Usage rule in INDYCAR’s rulebook.

While Johansson disagreed with what Pagenaud was assessed, he also said INDYCAR Race Control was almost put into an untenable position anyway because of the way the rulebook – and INDYCAR’s new-for-2016 Penalty Guidelines sheet – is written.

“Long Beach was interesting and confusing,” Johansson admits. “I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision.

“As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce.”

Like others within the INDYCAR paddock, Johansson argues a clearer, more black-and-white form of rules will be a better way towards officiating in the future.

“I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand,” he writes.

He did give credit to Race Control for staying out of the way at Barber, as Pagenaud and Graham Rahal enjoyed a spirited battle for the win in the final 10 laps.

“The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes,” he writes.

When it comes to female drivers in racing, Johansson says it isn’t gender that’s holding them back: it’s pure numerology.

“I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it,” he notes.

Johansson writes that he thinks a woman driver could make it to F1 based on physical ability – he says the cars aren’t nearly as hard to drive as they used to be. But whether any female driver makes it, or similarly any males with similar record, comes down to results.

“I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it,” he says.

“My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.”

Those thoughts, as well as Johansson’s take on the Chinese Grand Prix, the crazy first lap there, Dixon’s own tough luck at both Long Beach and Barber, an update on how Rosenqvist did in his first U.S. road racing weekend (as opposed to ovals and street courses) and thoughts on the FIA WEC opener from Silverstone are also included in Johansson’s blog.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Sirotkin enjoys strong first Renault F1 practice outing

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS16 Test Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 29th April 2016. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
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Sergey Sirotkin’s first Formula 1 practice run-out for Renault on Friday in Sochi proved to be a successful one as he finished eight-tenths of a second quicker than full-time driver Jolyon Palmer.

It was announced earlier this week that GP2 race winner Sirotkin had joined Renault in the role of test driver for the 2016 season, and would take part in FP1 for his home race in Russia in place of Kevin Magnussen.

Sirotkin posted a quickest lap time of 1:40.898 around the Sochi Autodrom in his first run in the Renault R.S.16 car to finish the session 13th overall, eight-tenths clear of Palmer.

The Russian’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact he had a problem with his seat position in the car throughout the session.

“My target for today was to give the team exactly what they wanted from the session,” Sirotkin said.

“I tried to remain very calm even though it is, of course, very exciting to get to drive a Formula 1 car. Obviously, it’s always beneficial when your lap time looks good but I felt comfortable delivering at today’s level even if it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been with my seat.

“I am happy that I have started this long programme with Renault Sport Formula One Team in a positive manner.”

Renault trackside operations manager Alan Permane was happy with Sirotkin’s efforts, and felt that the team had made a fair start to the race weekend in Sochi.

“A productive first day for us. It was Sergey’s first time in the car and he did a very positive job for us,” Permane said.

“We weren’t able to get the seating position perfect for him yet despite this he delivered good pace and feedback.

“Jolyon had a straight-forward couple of sessions concentrating on aero development in the first session and a further front wing back-to-back comparison as well as tyre work in the afternoon.

“Kevin didn’t suffer from missing FP1 and was able to deliver everything required from FP2. We’ve still got some work to do, in particular with an oversteer balance.

“There are improvements possible, but it’s a reasonable start to the weekend.”

Luckless Bottas confident form will improve soon

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Valtteri Bottas is confident that he will bounce back from a luckless start to the 2016 Formula 1 season sooner rather than later.

Bottas entered 2016 hopeful of continuing Williams’ impressive recent form that saw the team finish third in the constructors’ championship for the past two years.

However, while teammate Felipe Massa has managed to battle up the order to sit sixth in the drivers’ championship with 22 points after three races, Bottas has finished no higher than eighth, picking up just seven points in the same period.

Bottas is confident that his luck will turn soon though, and believes that he is still driving well despite his disappointing start to the year.

“The first two races were really unlucky,” Bottas told the official F1 website. “I drove well but fortune wasn’t on my side. It is never a good feeling when you drive well but don’t get the results, but at least you know you’ve given your best.

“In Melbourne, I had the penalty for the gearbox and that ruined my race a bit. In Bahrain I had a collision with Lewis Hamilton and had damage on the car which affected the whole race. And in China again damage on the car before my last stint and cost me three tenths of a second per lap.

“So here we are! But believe me, luck will turn. I know myself: I am driving well, I know what I am capable of, so I will stay consistent and wait for my opportunity.”

Bottas was linked with a move to Ferrari for much of 2015, but talk of a move away from Williams has cooled in light of Max Verstappen’s impressive rookie season and Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas for 2016.

The Finn is not bothered about driver market speculation though, saying that it is normal for people in F1 to doubt ability in a tough patch of form.

“One day you’re hot, next day you’re not,” Bottas said.

“People do have very short memories here in terms of what happens, but I think there are also people who really do understand F1, who can look behind the scenes and understand why a driver hasn’t had the results they should.

“For me, yes it’s not been the best start to the season, but I know there will be enough chances to shine. I’m ready for that.”