Aleshin and Huertas in action.

Standard six first-timers plus Kurt Busch to fight for Indy 500 rookie glory

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Essentially, there are six traditional rookies, and one rookie in name only for a total of seven first-timers in the 98th Indianapolis 500.

The six, you’d say, standard rookies are Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Huertas, Sage Karam, Martin Plowman and James Davison.

The seventh is 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, whose attempt at the 1,100-mile double is a feat unto itself.

But for the “standard six,” it’s a mix of Indy Lights graduates and European ladder formula drivers who’ve made the move stateside. For both Aleshin and Huertas, Sunday marks their first ever oval race.

The natural transition for the other four exists as all four have past Freedom 100 experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indy Lights. Karam’s third place in 2013 was the best finish by that quartet.

Discovering the speed and tow differential, as well as making their first oval pit stops in the Verizon IndyCar Series, are key adjustments for Lights graduates.

“I felt like I had to learn all over again,” said Karam, who starts 31st. “I transferred the place, and reference points, but that was it.”

Added Hawksworth, who starts 13th, “In Lights it was much easier to follow and you could keep it flat. You get a better draft in Lights. But the draft in IndyCar is much bigger, because there’s a bigger hole punched in the air.”

Busch and Hawksworth, the two highest starting rookies in 12th and 13th, have each had their first unscheduled appointment with the wall this month. Busch admitted for his accident he made a mistake; Hawksworth shook his off rather quickly, and was more concerned about his limited track time (he missed several days of practice).

“You can’t linger on it,” Hawksworth said. “You have to move on and the guys did great to build it back up. It’s been tough more because of the weather, the accident, and the fact we didn’t run on Sunday.”

“You never fully get comfortable,” added Plowman, who rolls off 29th. “The second you do, and you saw what happened with Kurt Busch, and you see his experience level, and you let your guard down and it bites you in the backside. It was a reminder, that although there haven’t been many crashes, bad things can happen to anyone.”

If Busch and Hawksworth have crashed, and Karam nearly crashed despite a ridiculously good save during Carb Day practice, that might leave the other four as those who eventually will crash at IMS… or so goes the saying, anyway.

Aleshin, the Russian rookie, seems to be flirting dangerously with that line of ridiculously fast and ridiculously close to hitting the wall. Huertas is more methodical in his development, but the Colombian rookie has expressed that Turn 1 has been the toughest for him thus far.

Aleshin described that the schedule this month for drivers, especially ones who have never been through the process of the month of May before, is absolutely draining – but worth it.

“If you were to see my schedule, I promise you that you wouldn’t want to be a racing driver,” he opined. “It’s been tough. I have no time to myself at all, but this is good. It shows how important this race is, how much press attention it has, how many spectators are coming. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Davison, the Australian, described that as rookies, while they are here to learn and develop, they’re not here to simply ride around and fill the field of 33.

“Initially in the ROP, the speed and the G’s felt a little foreign,” he said. “But I quickly got used to it. Then, you’re almost to the point where doing 230+ mph feels slow. We’re not here to circulate. We’re here to get a result in an ideal world.”

Here’s a quick bullet point primer on all seven, as they seek the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in IndyCar’s most prestigious race.

  • Kurt Busch, Las Vegas, Nev., No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. Starts 12th; 2013: NASCAR
  • Jack Hawksworth, Bradford, England, No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Starts 13th; 2013: Indy Lights
  • Mikhail Aleshin, Moscow, Russia, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Starts 15th; 2013: Formula Renault 3.5 Series
  • Carlos Huertas, Bogota, Colombia, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Starts 21st; 2013: Formula Renault 3.5 Series
  • James Davison, Melbourne, Australia. No. 33 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet. Starts 28th; 2013: IndyCar (two starts)
  • Martin Plowman, Tamworth, England. No. 41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda. Starts 29th; 2013: FIA World Endurance Championship
  • Sage Karam, Nazareth, Pa. No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Starts 31st; 2013: Indy Lights

Lance Stroll joins Williams F1 development programme

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Williams has confirmed the signing of Lance Stroll to its development programme ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Stroll, 17, raced in the FIA F3 European Championship throughout 2015 after winning the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand over the winter and has enjoyed backing from Ferrari as a member of its driver academy.

However, the Canadian has now moved to Williams to take up a development role similar to that enjoyed by Valtteri Bottas in 2011.

“The programme includes extensive simulator time, work placements in several departments throughout the factory, as well as specific training in the fields of race engineering and marketing,” the team said via a press release on Thursday.

Williams also confirmed that Stroll will continue to race in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2016, ending suggestions of a possible move into GP3 or GP2.

“I’m really honored to be part of such a great team and one with so much history and success,” Stroll said. “I cannot wait to start working with Williams and very much hope we can achieve great things together in the coming years.

“It’s a very exciting and crucial time in my short motor racing career. Reaching F1 was always the ultimate goal, I suppose ever since driving a go-kart my father had bought me for my fifth birthday.

“Williams has a long history of nurturing young drivers at the start of their F1 careers. David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hülkenberg and most recently Valtteri [Bottas]. This element was something that was important to me in making the decision to join Williams.

“I won the Italian Formula 4 Championship last season in my first year of car racing after karts, won the Toyota Racing Series at the beginning of 2015 and finished fifth in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship in my first year which, having also won a race, hit my pre-season target. My future is now with Williams, which I’m very excited about.”

Deputy team principal Claire Williams was pleased to welcome Stroll to the team: “At Williams, we are committed to using our resource and expertise to help talented young drivers to reach their potential.

“We have a track record of success in this area, having supported Valtteri Bottas in his growth from a development driver role to a race driver and one of the most respected talents in Formula One.

“We have identified Lance as a promising talent for the future and we are happy to provide our support to his development as a driver. We look forward to working with Lance in 2016 and to the success he can achieve in the future.”

Manor, Williams, Sauber announce new partners; Red Bull extends multiple deals

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 14, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may be the final hurrah for the 2015 Formula 1 season, but that has not stopped a number of teams from announcing new partnership deals in the days leading up to the race.

Manor, Williams and Sauber all revealed on Thursday the arrival of new partners for the final race of the year, while Red Bull confirmed the extension of three sponsorship deals.

Williams’ new partnership is with investment management company Winton, and will see its logos appear on the wing mirrors of the FW37 car and in the team’s garage over the Abu Dhabi weekend.

“There is a natural synergy between both organizations with a shared emphasis on using scientific data collection and analysis to improve performance,” a team release said, with deputy team boss Claire Williams adding: “Williams is pleased to welcome Winton as a partner. We will be working closely together at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to help Winton understand the power of Formula One to help it raise global awareness.”

Manor confirmed just five minutes after Williams’ announcement that it had signed a partnership with Shazam, a music identification app. Shazam will become the British team’s official music partner for the 2016 season.

“This partnership will form a key strand within the team’s enhanced fan engagement strategy, targeting Formula 1 fans and broader audiences,” a release said. “The companies will engage race fans and the general public, with the growing team, its drivers and its portfolio of challenger brands, all through the power of music.”

The team also said that it would mark “an exciting new collaboration at the intersection of sport and music”. Shazam will enjoy branding on the side of the Manor cars in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull has confirmed the extension of three partnerships with Siemens, Oz Racing and Sabelt, acting as further signals that the team will be racing in F1 next year.

Sauber has also announced the striking of a deal with CNBC, which has become a premium partner of the team ahead of the 2016 season.

According to the team release, “CNBC and the Sauber F1 Team will use the global Formula One media platform to maximize their potentials, as well as to reach a broader audience around the globe.

“The CNBC branding will appear on the rear wing end plates of the Sauber C35, on the drivers’ overalls of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, as well as on the team’s clothing.

“To launch the partnership with CNBC, the logo will be visible on the rear wing end plates of the Sauber C34-Ferrari during the 2015 Formula One season finale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.”

Merhi relishing F1 return in Abu Dhabi, but will it be his last?

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Roberto Merhi of Spain and Manor Marussia looks on at a press confernce during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Roberto Merhi is relishing his return to Formula 1 this weekend as he steps into the seat vacated by Alexander Rossi at Manor for the last race of the season.

Rossi joined Manor on a five-race deal in Singapore that would allow him to balance an F1 drive with commitments in GP2, where he looks set to finish the year as vice-champion.

Merhi was benched to allow Rossi to take the seat, but will return this weekend after missing the last three races due to the clash with GP2.

“I’m so excited to be back in the car this weekend for the season finale,” Merhi said. “As any reserve driver will tell you, I really missed the racing; it will be a long time yet before I’m ready to hang up my racing gloves for a full-time career in TV commentary!

“I’ve kept a close eye on everything the team has been doing over the past five races, so I don’t think it will be too difficult to get back up to speed on Friday and see how I stand versus Will [Stevens]. I’ve missed the competitive spirit between us.

“The most important thing is to do the best job possible for the team on Sunday, and ensure we have a result to celebrate.

“It has been a long, hard season, so I want to say thank you for this opportunity and I hope I can deliver another strong performance to reward the faith the team has shown in me.”

However, this looks set to be Merhi’s final F1 appearance for the time being at least. Just two seats remain on the grid for 2016 – both at Manor – but the Spaniard faces stiff competition from Rossi, Stevens and Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein for a role with the team.

Rossi and Stevens are both known to be better-funded than Merhi, while Wehrlein has been tipped for a seat thanks to Manor’s new technical partnership with Mercedes that comes into force for 2016.

Rosberg arriving in Abu Dhabi on “a massive high”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg has set his sights on rounding out the 2015 Formula 1 season with a third consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Despite failing to put up much of a challenge to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton for this year’s world championship, Rosberg has been the man to beat in recent races, claiming the last five pole positions and winning in Mexico and Brazil.

Rosberg saw his hopes of winning a maiden world championship end in Abu Dhabi last year after a mechanical failure on his car, but the German is hoping to make up for this by continuing his good form and taking a third straight win.

“I’ve had two really great weekends now in Mexico and Brazil, so I’m heading into the final race on a massive high,” Rosberg said.

“Abu Dhabi hasn’t always been an easy one for me. Of course, last year was probably my biggest disappointment – losing the title at the last moment with a mechanical problem.

“But I showed my speed there with pole position and I have good momentum behind me right now, so I’m aiming to end the season on a big positive this time around.”

This weekend’s race will mark the final outing for the Mercedes W06 Hybrid, which has claimed 15 wins and 17 pole positions so far this season.

Rosberg is keen to make the most of his final run with the car, but remains wary of the threat from Ferrari behind after the Italian marque ran Mercedes close in Brazil two weeks ago.

“Of course, it’s also the last race for this incredible Silver Arrow – and it deserves a spectacular send off,” Rosberg said. “Everyone at the factories has done such a fantastic job one again this year.

“A car like this is something every driver dreams of having in their hands, so I’ll be pushing hard to make the most of it for one last time as a tribute to all their hard work.

“Of course, it will be close as always with Lewis and we saw a big push from Ferrari in São Paulo, so it won’t be straightforward. But I’m up for a battle and hopefully we can put on a great show for the fans to end the year.”