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2014 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I break down the 33 drivers in this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500, hopefully as quickly as possible. For a comparison to last year’s, have a look at what we thought ahead of 2013.

Much of Sunday’s race, the fifth of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, will be determined by temperature, fuel mileage and tire wear as well as how good each car “sucks up” in the tow effect.

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: Indiana’s native son and the back-to-back polesitter is smart enough to know what didn’t work last year, and what he and his team can change this year to keep it P1 on race day. I don’t think he takes it, but a top-3 or top-5 is a good projection.

Chris Estrada: One of the top oval racers in the entire series, Carpenter is capable of an upset if he can keep his nose clean going into the final quarter of the race.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the series’ most popular drivers would make a popular winner, especially after suffering his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hasn’t yet had a truly great Indy 500, though.

CE: Hinch’s luck at the ‘500’ has been mixed, but considering the equipment at his disposal, a Top-5 finish is not out of the question.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: His Fontana win exorcised demons but I’m not convinced – yet, anyway – Power has enough to make it back-to-back 500-mile wins. Racing at Indy and racing at Fontana are two completely different animals.

CE: Power was victorious the last time IndyCars raced on an oval, and he can definitely have a say in the outcome starting from the front row.

Row 2

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close. Everything about the Pennzoil throwback livery, Rick Mears helmet and overcoming the struggles of the last several years points to him saying, “Hey, I’m freaking due for No. 4.”

CE: After leading just four laps in the last four Indy 500s, three-time winner Castroneves needs to summon his past magic.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Put him in the top tier of win contenders. In year three of his oval development, with a rocket of a car and a Senna tribute helmet, could well make it a month of May double at IMS.

CE: If GP of Indy winner Pagenaud takes the ‘500,’ you’d hope that IMS quietly wires him a bit of bonus money for sweeping the New Month of May.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: A popular pick; he always runs well at Indy and just needs that final bit of luck to match his consistent race craft.

CE: Marco’s been a threat in recent years, and a win from sixth on the grid would trigger some of the loudest cheers ever heard at 16th and Georgetown.

Row 3

34-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: Perhaps it was because he was such a revelation last year, but I don’t think the sequel’s gonna be as good as the original for Munoz.

CE: After his explosive charge to second last year, Munoz cannot be counted out. But it just feels like a replication of that feat is a tick too much to ask.

67-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: The rising American star needs a good ‘500 after two trying ones, and has the pace to contend. A solid top-10 would be a good result for him.

CE: What an arrival on the national stage it would be for the gregarious American if he can come through for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

21-JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The 2011 “he walled it on the last turn” narrative is tired. He needs a new chapter of his career, and is the best one-off challenger with Ed Carpenter Racing.

CE: One driver with a big chip on his shoulder + one team that’s proven itself on speedways = legitimate dark horse.

Row 4

2-Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The Penske “wild card.” He’s either going to be mixing it with the leaders or falling back due to the lack of balance, but I think he’ll stay within the top five most of the day.

CE: Montoya will be a force to be reckoned with once he fully comes to grips with the DW12, but right now, a Top-10 would be a solid day’s work.

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Dixon’s race pace is better than we all thought (myself included). He knows how to handle this race, save fuel and will contend for his second win.

CE: The Target cars should be a threat in race trim, and after several near-misses, it feels like Dixon’s due to get his mug on the Borg-Warner for a second time.

26-Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the race’s biggest stories, but it would be a better story for IndyCar if he only ends top-five at best, and not in victory lane.

CE: You have to admire the former NASCAR champion for being a quick study with the IndyCar, but it seems that a Top-10/Top-15 showing is the ceiling for him.

Row 5

98-Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian/Honda)

TDZ: Admitted to me he has no idea where he’ll end up, but his street course pace from earlier this year has translated nicely to IMS. Must be considered a rookie-of-the-year contender.

CE: The Hawk has shown that he’s a gasser, but it will be interesting to see if he can play things steady in his first ‘500.’

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Indy’s best “under the radar” driver in recent years is a potential win contender if the balance is right, but the pit stops must be spot-on throughout the day. One last year cost him dearly.

CE: Be prepared to say ‘Where’d Wilson come from?’ again; he’s pretty good at making people do that.

7-Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Fast and fearless is a dangerous combo at Indy. The Russian rookie could run the gamut from a top-five or crashing for the first time this month in a blaze of glory.

CE: The pedal-to-the-metal Aleshin will either stun the heck out of everyone like Munoz did last year or be one of the first in the fence; a “tweener,” he isn’t.

Row 6

10-Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The car’s good. The team’s good. He’s the defending champ and has nothing to lose. Watch his restarts and expect him in the top-five late battling for his second straight win.

CE: A Top-5 is doable for the defending ‘500’ champion, but I’m not sure he can be the first repeat Indy winner in over a decade.

11-Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Erratic form this month in vacillating between quick and nowhere. Hasn’t found the balance or ultimate pace; I don’t think he’ll be a major contender.

CE: Running with the team that brought Kanaan his ‘500’ win could give Bourdais an opportunity, but IMS hasn’t been one of his better tracks (2 DNFs in 3 starts, average finish of 20.3).

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Not especially quick this month but I’d be surprised if he and the RLL crew aren’t in the top half dozen or so the last 20 laps.

CE: Like Wilson, Servia has the tendency to quietly put together good drives. How far his car will let him sneak up the pylon is the question.

Row 7

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the best cars in race trim, RHR is a definite win contender, probably Andretti’s most complete driver.

CE: A tough qualifying session has Hunter-Reay right in the middle of the pack. One wonders if that will mean an aggressive approach from him at the start…

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has all the elements to succeed, but other than a third place in 2011 hasn’t really put it all together at Indy.

CE: Rahal seems to be perpetually under the radar at the Brickyard, but a strong performance on Sunday would mean a lot for his team and the National Guard this Memorial Day weekend.

18-Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Relatively quiet rookie who doesn’t make mistakes and seeks a trouble-free 500 miles.

CE: Huertas has one job: Get the car home in one piece. Consider the usual attrition factor at Indy, and a Top-15 would be a nice effort.

Row 8

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good cause, good car, good crew and improved confidence. If the balance is right, a top-15 is more than possible.

CE: Here’s hoping that Mann can run the full distance and raise more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. That said, she’s probably heading for a mid-pack run.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: He nearly won 2012 and entered 2013 as points leader, but has been under the radar this year. Still seeks first ‘500 top-10.

CE: Sato was a non-descript 13th in last year’s race, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be anything else but non-descript in the 98th Running.

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has been all but anonymous this month, but I’d expect that to end on race day… either with a big result or a big moment.

CE: With solid pit work, Tagliani’s veteran savvy could have that second Sarah Fisher Hartman car sniffing a Top-10.

Row 9

6-Townsend Bell (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Our NBCSN analyst ended Carb Day practice P3 and is with defending champion KV Racing Technology; his third career ‘500 top-10 is more than possible.

CE: Third-fastest in Friday’s final practice, Bell may turn some heads on Sunday – and not just because of that vivid color splash on his Robert Graham car.

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: One of three or four “sneaky good” guys here at the Speedway, and he seeks his third straight top-10 finish in the ‘500.

CE: Kimball has turned mid-pack starts into Top-10 finishes the last two years, but he’s got a long road ahead of him coming from 26th on the grid.

5-Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: The legend is back, having a great time, but he likely won’t factor into the lead pack.

CE: Villeneuve’s return after a 19-year absence is perhaps a little odd, but it’s always good to have another ‘500’ champ on the grid.

Row 10

33-James Davison (KVRT/Always Evolving Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has quietly impressed on a short engine program for KV Racing Technology, and his vibrant teal and white car has top-15 potential.

CE: A full 200 laps will feel like a win for Davo no matter where he ends up on the pylon.

41-Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: Foyt’s second car has never been the best in the Indy 500 and the likeable English rookie just needs to bring it home in one piece, with somewhere between 16th and 20th a reasonable effort.

CE: Like Davison, Plowman needs to log as many laps as he can and keep it off the wall.

8-Ryan Briscoe (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seems decently happy with the car in race trim and is in a better spot now having had months with his crew, as opposed to being a one-off last year. Should end top-10 if he stays out of trouble.

CE: Briscoe converted an Indy pole into a Top-5 finish in 2012. Starting 30th this year, he’ll have to do a lot more work to get a similar result.

Row 11

22-Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A rookie with swagger, enough self-confidence and a good team to where he could steal top rookie honors from the last row. Must be patient, though.

CE: SK Money needs another year or two before he becomes “bankable” at the ‘500.’ See what I did there?

17-Sebastian Saavedra (KV/AFS Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seeks an uneventful race after a seriously eventful month, but has kept his emotions in check through it all.

CE: After his GP of Indy pole turned into disaster, it’ll be interesting to see how Saavedra responds on the oval.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With decent engineering and a solid Carb Day practice, could factor in for a top-15 if the temperature is right.

CE: The 1996 Indy champ probably isn’t a contender, but it’s not for a lack of trying from him or his family-run operation.

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

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PWC: Mid-Ohio set to be another pivotal weekend for title battles

Bowmanville, Ontario - May 19, 2016:  The g  teams take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Presented by Audi at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
With EFFORT/Dalziel out, Long is Porsche's best hope to extend Mid-Ohio win streak. Photo: PWC
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At a racetrack where the seismic forces of a title battle have swung in the past, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be poised to provide another pivotal weekend for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge title races.

The series’ marquee GT class is a two or potentially four-driver race. Alvaro Parente, one of three K-PAX Racing drivers in the Flying Lizard Motorsports’ supported McLaren 650S GT3s, leads the standings with 1143 points to Patrick Long’s 1095 in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Porsche has dominated Mid-Ohio in the past with Ryan Dalziel, who’s swept each of the last two years for EFFORT Racing and has a four-race win streak.

But Long or his former EFFORT teammate Michael Lewis (Calvert Dynamics) will look to continue the manufacturer’s run of form at the sinewy 2.258-mile road course.

Cadillac Racing also looks to get back in the title fight, with Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell at 1025 and 957 points, respectively. If either Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R sweeps the weekend, they’ll undoubtedly move forward in the title battle.

The one question I have beyond points is whether anyone will be able to not sweep, in what’s been a year of sweeps.

The last race weekend World Challenge did not have a sweep in the GT class was Barber Motorsports Park back in April. Long (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Parente (Lime Rock Park) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT, Road America) have each gone two-for-two at the respective last three weekends.

For the sake of variety and spicing things up, it’d be nice to see two winners in a weekend. But as noted above, that hasn’t happened at Mid-Ohio since 2011! Alex Figge (K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and O’Connell (then a Cadillac CTS-V.R) split in 2011.

Before Dalziel swept the last two years, Figge and Randy Pobst swept in 2013 and 2012 in the Volvos.

It’s not just GT where the sweeps have been coming at Mid-Ohio, but also in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach pulled it off in 2014 in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, a year after winning the second race in 2013. Then Cooper won the first 2015 race, to make it four races in a row for the No. 10/1 Blackdog Camaro.

Aschenbach actually trails the GTS points leader, Brett Sandberg in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, by 35 points (995-960). Series rookie Parker Chase in his Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 is third in points with 917, and fellow teenager Nate Stacy in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 fourth on 863 points.

Martin Fuentes enters with a commanding lead in GTA (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia) while Alec Udell (GMG) has a 38-point lead on Sloan Urry (TruSpeed) in GT Cup.

World Challenge races Friday and Saturday (GTS) and Saturday and Sunday (GT/GTA/GT Cup).

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”