Kimi Raikkonen

Canadian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Friday practice for the Canadian Grand Prix was business as usual for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finishing first and second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in FP2. His Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso, had finished fastest in the first session this morning, and the Italian team appears to be leading the race to be ‘best of the rest’ in Montreal this weekend.

As well as the on-track formalities, there were a number of stories breaking off-track, so here’s today’s paddock notebook from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

SESSION REPORTS

  • Fernando Alonso drew first blood in Montreal by finishing fastest in FP1 on Friday morning. He was closely followed by the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
  • Hamilton managed to redress the balance in FP2, though, finishing in first place ahead of Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen. Once again, the advantage appears to lie with Mercedes in Montreal.

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Despite a few drops of rain threatening to spoil the first session in Montreal, it actually turned out to be a hot and sunny day on the Île Notre Dame, perfect for practice. We’re expecting another hot day tomorrow, and it could aid the likes of Lotus and McLaren who have struggled in the cooler conditions so far this season.

During both practice sessions, I took some time to head out of the media centre and watch part of the session trackside. During FP1, I went down to the first complex of corners (T1/T2) to see how the cars were going through there. Surprisingly, Mercedes appeared to be struggling a bit, with Rosberg locking up three times at the first corner. Lewis Hamilton also made an uncharacteristic error, and had to take to the run-off area at one point. Maybe that car is just too fast!

Red Bull has been better through the corners than most so far this season, and it was clear here as Vettel and Ricciardo easily negotiated the difficult left-right complex. The same can also be said of Williams, with Valtteri Bottas looking particularly aggressive and happy to take a big chunk of the kerb. Caterham, on the other hand, looked very uncomfortable. Alexander Rossi’s first few laps were tentative, and even regular driver Marcus Ericsson was struggling to tame the CT-05 car.

On the whole, though, Alexander did a great job. He was upbeat when we spoke to him after the session, and is now ready to turn his attention back to his GP2 campaign with Caterham Racing.

For FP2, I headed on down to the final chicane on the track (T12/T13), and once again Bottas was not afraid to attack the corner. Hamilton and Rosberg both had different approaches, with Nico’s appearing to be a little more ragged. It is here where you can make or break a lap time, so it was good to see the drivers pushing hard and trying to be as brave as possible without binning the car in the notorious Wall of Champions.

Looking at the lap times, it is quite clear that the advantage once again lies with Mercedes. However, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be closely matched in the race to complete the podium. We could see quite an interesting battle between Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Alonso unfold on Sunday.

Today also marked my first encounter with the 2014-spec cars – or, more importantly, the 2014-spec engines. Having only listened to the sound of the power units on TV, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The uproar about the sound has been one of the big talking points so far this season, but I tried to avoid getting drawn into the debate without having listened to them first hand.

I must say, standing at turn one and at the end of the back straight, I was still very impressed by them. These engines are still loud and impressive, and the technology behind them is sensational. Sure, they don’t sound like V8 engines, but that’s because they are not V8 engines! When you go to Le Mans, the Audi sounds very different to the Porsche and the Toyota because it is different. I find it hard to see why this perceived lack of noise is a reason not to buy a ticket to see a grand prix. It’s a very subjective topic, though.

The news about the possible scrapping of one of the Friday practice sessions came as a bit of a surprise. F1 has been pushing to cut costs for so long, but the power of the big manufacturers and teams has ended all hopes of a cost cap for now. This is the alternative, but I’m not entirely sure that it will have the desired effect. Drivers want running, so to essentially cut it by a third may not go down too well. A possible remedy to this situation is extending the two practice sessions, but quite how this pans out remains to be seen. It does look very likely, though, even if it lacks formal approval for 2015 at this stage.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for final practice at 10am ET online, followed by qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix which is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1pm ET.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway