PowerSimonDixon

IndyCar title chase may shape up as a battle of mental chess match

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Some years, luck determines the Verizon IndyCar Series championship outcome. Some years, it’s runs of success over a certain period.

This year, it might be who can keep their head in check best after overcoming adversity.

For all of the series top drivers and presumptive title contenders – Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud – managing both their own expectations and their view of their competitors could determine who emerges ahead once this season is over.

The Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans weekend kicked off a stretch of 13 races over three months, and begun the crucial “summer stretch” between now and the last doubleheader weekend, the Honda Indy Two in Toronto July 18-20, that will go a long way towards determining this year’s championship.

From Detroit to Toronto, the series will race nine times in eight weekends. There’s a two-week gap in-between Texas next Saturday night and the Houston doubleheader June 27-29, which is many weeks off as the series will have the rest of the season after Houston (the Sundays of July 27 and August 10 represent the remaining off weekends).

This stretch includes all three doubleheader weekends (Detroit, Houston, Toronto) plus Pocono, which is a double points, 500-mile race. Only Texas next weekend and Iowa the second weekend of July will be one qualifying, one race weekends with the standard points structure.

Just in the last month, we’ve seen how drivers are starting to handle themselves as we head into this mental stretch of races.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis to kick off the month of May saw Pagenaud and the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team at the forefront, quickest car on the weekend and smartest too, in terms of nailing their fuel strategy to make it home over Hunter-Reay and Castroneves.

Then RHR and Castroneves engaged in an epic scrap for the win at the Indianapolis 500… neither giving an inch and RHR ultimately making two brilliant passes for the win. He was elated; Castroneves did well to hide his frustration publicly, but you know he was gutted to finish second by that little a gap, and lose out on his fourth ‘500 win.

This weekend saw Power take on the role of the villain, the masked avenger who made contact with Pagenaud on Saturday (no penalty, just as he also did not receive one in Long Beach) but did make contact with Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal on Sunday (which did trigger a penalty).

Meanwhile Castroneves came out revitalized with arguably his best weekend in the series in years. He’s won races with the DW12 before, yes, but not with as much “he’s still got it” pace and gusto as he delivered both races this weekend, particularly Sunday. It was a seriously impressive mental bounce back after losing out in Indy.

Power’s mind has long been hard to decipher. He’s consistently been IndyCar’s out-and-out fastest driver since he joined Team Penske, but he’s never been fully able to keep it all together over the course of the season, and hasn’t yet captured an elusive championship. This year, he’s not making any friends, and he’s not focusing on points – only on driving the best he can every race. It remains to be seen whether that mindset will ultimately pay dividends.

Hunter-Reay is arguably IndyCar’s most versatile driver, as he excels on any of road courses, short ovals and big ovals. If he has even the tiniest of weak points, it’s on street courses, where he’s been plagued either by mechanical issues or slight mistakes the last year and a half. After Indy, RHR had a weekend nearly as bad as AJ Allmendinger’s last year in Detroit, and now must find a way to recover in Texas.

Pagenaud and Dixon are similar in that they both have a seriously steely resolve and exterior, and haven’t let issues get to them this year, at least publicly. Dixon’s Sunday drive from 22nd and last to fourth was one of those classic “don’t forget how good the Iceman/defending champion is” type-performances. Pagenaud, too, came back on Sunday following a rough Friday and Saturday.

What about Castroneves? He might have the best mindset going forward. At 39, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He nails the game outside of the cockpit; he’s still IndyCar’s most recognizable star on a national level and he’s won everything he’s ever needed to in IndyCar. Except, of course, that elusive first championship.

The Brazilian is basically IndyCar’s walking, talking version of Pharrell’s “Happy!” but there’s still a burning desire to be the best when he straps his helmet on. He’s driving so much calmer, cooler and consistently than he was three years ago.

If Power and/or Hunter-Reay self-destruct around him, Dixon can’t make up the 140-plus point deficit (he’s 142 back now, and we’ll know likely by Pocono whether he still has a shot) and Pagenaud isn’t consistent enough to match the “big teams,” Castroneves may well samba into this year’s title.

Marco Andretti’s the remaining driver in the top five still with a shot at the title, but he’s at the point where he has to win – particularly at Pocono, given double points there – before you can really begin to factor him into title contention. Given his results consistency level though, you can’t rule him out of it, either.

How drivers and teams manage this summer stretch, both on-track and in their heads, will be fascinating to watch.

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
© GP2 Series
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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.

Repsol extends MotoGP title sponsorship with Honda Racing Corporation

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 11:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Valencia - Free Practice at Ricardo Tormo Circuit on November 11, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Spanish energy company Repsol has extended its title sponsorship agreement with Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) in MotoGP, the premier class of motorcycle racing.

Repsol and Honda have worked together since 1995, with the extended contract now set to run to the end of the 2018 season.

Repsol and Honda have won 12 rider world championships during their time together, the latest coming in 2016 courtesy of Marc Marquez.

“We are very proud to be part of this team and to renew an alliance that has borne so much fruit in the fields of sports and technology,” Repsol’s Begona Elices said.

“We have two exceptional riders in Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, who perfectly represent Repsol’s values such as teamwork and the spirit of improvement.

“High competition is the best incentive to improve as a global company, to research and develop state-of-the-art fuels and lubricants, and to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.”

Both Marquez and Pedrosa are contracted to race for Repsol Honda to the end of the 2018 season, matching the length of the sponsorship agreement.

They’re back for more: ‘Dinner with Racers’ 2 kicks off today

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Photo courtesy Dinner with Racers
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The second season of “Dinner with Racers,” presented by Continental Tire, drops its first batch of episodes today.

The 28-episode season follows the first 28 episodes released last year. This year, podcast hosts and sports car veterans Sean Heckman and Ryan Eversley saddled up in a Honda Odyssey minivan for the cross-country tour, while riding on Continental Tires.

There’s some great guests and details. Here’s the full breakdown, plus a video, below:

One year after the successful debut of the motorsport podcast series “Dinner with Racers,” the antics of Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman have returned for the binge release of “Season Two,” launching today. Following their 2015 debut that featured a month-long road trip recording 26 conversations “over dinner” with some of the most interesting characters in motorsports, the duo will launch another 28 recordings for their 2016 adventure. The second season will be released in two waves, with “Release One” launching the first 14 recordings immediately, and “Release Two” featuring an additional 14 recordings slated to release on December 16. All episodes can be found at www.dinnerwithracers.com or via iTunes.

Traveling for 40 days across 29 states, and covering 12,000 miles in 2016, the trip was made possible in part by the Honda Odyssey that was lent to the team by American Honda Motor Co., Inc, and most importantly thanks to a continuing title partnership with Continental Tire, who not only provided Cross Contact LX20 tires for the trip but covered the team’s expenses, as well as every meal.

Continuing the same theme from the debut season, #DWR2 follows a nearly identical format. A factory racing driver for Acura in the World Challenge series, Ryan Eversley makes up half of the hosting lineup, with motorsport marketing / creative content veteran Sean Heckman completing the duo. Using their unique blend of humor, insight, experience, as well as genuine love of the sport, Eversley and Heckman pick up right where they left off in Season One, exposing some of the most unique and entertaining stories from their variety of guests.

Meeting up with 28 different characters “over dinner,” listeners will exposed to a variety of personalities, everything from NASCAR and IndyCar star drivers, to some of the most respected engineers and mechanics, journalists, and broadcasters in the business. Stories cover everything from what it was like to be the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and then Daytona 500, to giving up a contract worth over $2mil just to be a “good guy,” to turning a satiric twitter account in to a full-time job, as well as enjoying life after nearly three decades in prison. Topics include everything from a transgender pig, to being given dead cat whiskers as a good luck charm, to having guns pulled in the middle of a race shop, and even buying a race track in the hopes of laundering money through it.

For Ryan Eversley, a chance to continue the series was a welcome one.

“I know it’s a cliché, but It truly is such an honor and a privilege to be able to do this,” stated Eversley. “Both Sean and I were truly blown away by the fan support from Season One, it’s honestly something we weren’t expecting. It really meant a lot to get so many nice comments, and that kept us very motivated for Season Two. I think our genuine love of the sport translates when people listen, because we really enjoy hearing the real back stories in what makes everyone so unique. This season did not disappoint us at all. This show lives and dies by its guests, and we couldn’t have been luckier to have such a great group who were not only engaging and interesting, but also incredibly gracious with their time. It’s an absolute blast doing this, and we really appreciate Continental for continuing their support, as well as Honda for giving us an incredibly comfortable car for such a long trip.”

For Sean Heckman, a similar sentiment is shared.

“What he said,” stated Heckman.

Additionally, the series will continue to support less exposed musical acts, with each episode promoting a variety of musicians and bands at the close of every episode.

THE FULL GUEST LIST

RELEASE ONE (available now):
Johnny O’Connell
John Eversley
Calvin Fish
Joey Hand
Janet Guthrie
Brad Kettler
Mike Shank
Marc Miller
Landon Cassill
Dan Binks
Kenny Wallace
Kevin “Rocket” Blanch
Mike Hull
Ed Carpenter

RELEASE TWO (coming soon):
NASCARCASM
Matt Hardigree
Justin Marks
Marty Smith
Max Jones
David Hobbs
Hurley Haywood
Don Whittington
Randy Lanier
Eddie Gossage
PD Cunningham
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney)
Brendan Gaughan
Alex Gurney