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

IMSA: Dramatic finishes, popular winners at Mazda Raceway

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The penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featured three first-time winners this year in the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes – all of whom boast fascinating stories.

In Prototype and overall, Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens delivered the first overall win of the year for an LMP2-spec car versus a Daytona Prototype international (DPi), and after a dramatic week for the Troy Flis-led VISIT FLORIDA Racing team.

Van der Zande and Goossens were only in their second race start with the team’s new No. 90 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which replaced the troublesome Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 chassis run through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Running second into the final few minutes of the two-hour, 40-minute race, van der Zande unleashed his inner Alex Zanardi at Mazda Raceway’s iconic corner, the Corkscrew, going down the inside of Penske Acura-bound Dane Cameron in his second-to-last race with Action Express Racing aboard its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron left the door open just enough for van der Zande to slide through, with his momentum carrying through the inside of the left-handed downhill apex and then back onto the right-handed second portion of the corner in line.

He pulled away from there en route to the team’s first victory of the year at a track where it had won before, as recently as two years ago with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

The win comes after a week when the Florida-based team, with the likelihood of change to its partner portfolio if VISIT FLORIDA support doesn’t continue into 2018, incurred damage at its shop from Hurricane Irma. Van der Zande joked on the FOX Sports broadcast after the race he might get a tattoo of the Corkscrew after the win.

With third place in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Jordan and Ricky Taylor built their points lead to an unofficial gap of 29 points over Cameron and Eric Curran, the defending champions, with one race remaining. The Taylors will be set to clinch the Prototype title at Motul Petit Le Mans by starting the race, on October 7.

The GT classes featured two other cool stories and maiden 2017 winners.

In GT Le Mans, John Edwards broke a long winless drought sharing his No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM with Martin Tomczyk, in the revised black livery for the BMW Team RLL car. Edwards held off Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at the flag, on a fuel save run.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen set to carry a 19-point lead over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in their No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT heading to Motul Petit Le Mans.

GT Daytona points leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen, in their anticipated second-to-last race together in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 this year (Nielsen told RACER over the weekend she’ll leave the team at year’s end, following the end of her two-year contract), finally got on the board this year after a wealth of podiums but no wins.

Balzan moved into the lead following Colin Braun’s late splash for fuel, which denied the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R lineup of Braun and Jon Bennett a potential first win in class.

Balzan and Nielsen have a 25-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen in GTD – Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished eighth today in their No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 – and are poised to wrap their second straight class title at Motul Petit Le Mans.

RESULTS

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.