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He’s baaaack: Juan Pablo Montoya has high hopes for NASCAR race at Michigan

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Juan Pablo Montoya racing in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan likely boils down to one of two things:

1) He has some unfinished business from his previous seven-year stint in NASCAR, or,

2) Old habits are hard to break.

Whatever the case, while Montoya has returned to a full-time open-wheel ride in IndyCar this season, he just can’t fully quit stock-car racing.

Especially when he thinks he has a chance to win in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Absolutely, our goal is to win the race,” Montoya said. “Michigan is a huge race for Roger (Penske) and for the manufacturers. It would be an honor for me to be able to do that for them.

“We tested the No.12 Ford several weeks ago at Nashville and it was really quick. I felt like I got up to speed in no time. That said, we realize that it’s going to be difficult. The Cup Series is always evolving so when you aren’t in the car every week you can get behind easily. But I have two teammates that are among the fastest drivers every race (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano), so I know the speed will be there to contend.”

Sunday will be the first of two Sprint Cup races Montoya will compete in this season, the other being the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis next month.

Montoya is enjoying the challenge of returning to IndyCar, currently seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, with three top-five finishes, including a season-best third-place showing last Saturday at Texas.

But don’t expect Montoya to make a full-time return to NASCAR anytime soon.

“For me it’s more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here,” Montoya said in a media session Friday at MIS. “This year we’ve got two really good shots. This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords.

“They always excel here and have a car that can win, and the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, and we hope it does, we might have a shot at winning this.”

Montoya was twice in contention to win the Brickyard but ultimately came up short each time. In the past, he’s called failing to win there as one of the most frustrating defeats that continues to gnaw at him to this day.

“Going to the Brickyard is a place that I run really well,” Montoya said. “When we ran bad we were always in the top 10, so going there in a car like this you’re definitely looking at a shot at a win as well.”

Montoya hasn’t exactly had the greatest history at Michigan – with just three top-10 finishes in 14 starts – but he feels confident that Team Penske equipment will make up for his past shortcomings there, as well as serve as a tune-up for Indy.

“To be honest with you, with the way Team Penske is running here it’s a hell of a chance,” said Montoya, who will start 28th in Sunday’s race. “You see Joey’s (Logano) comments sometimes and he says it was a terrible day and he finished fifth or sixth, so from my history here I would have killed to have a car that would do that.

“Our goal here, I think, is we’ll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way really look at it is it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard.

“The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning, so if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we’ll easily get a top 10 and if I’m really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win.

“I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is gonna play into my hands a little bit because it’s a really fast track. It’s a track you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in Indy Car.

“Roger gave me the opportunity to come here and we want to make SKF (race sponsor) and the Ford group proud of what we can do.”

Added crew chief Greg Erwin, “Juan Montoya is a world-class driver. Any crew chief would want to work with a driver with that kind of experience. … It’s going to be a fun weekend. Obviously we aren’t worrying about points, so we are able to lay it on the line.”

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Button ‘lucky’ to escape injury after drain cover damages car (VIDEO)

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Jenson Button was fortunate not to be harmed after a drain cover came loose during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday and caused a significant amount of damage to his McLaren Formula 1 car.

With the streets of Monaco forming the racetrack for the grand prix weekend, efforts are made to ensure that parts of the road such as drain covers are either removed or welded down to prevent them from damaging the cars.

Towards the end of FP1, Nico Rosberg sustained a puncture after running wide at Sainte Devote and hitting the drain cover, which then came loose and struck Button’s car.

The McLaren MP4-31 was left with significant damage to its front wing, with Button explaining that it had also affected a number of other parts in the process.

“The day was made tougher for my side of garage by the drain cover, which came loose and broke through my front wing, front suspension, brake duct and floor,” Button said.

“The mechanics did a great job to get the car ready for FP2, but we’ve still got a long way to go until we’re happy with our competitiveness.”

Button said he felt fortunate that the drain cover had remained at a low level and not come up near his cockpit.

“A racetrack is a controlled environment, and we take enough risks as racing drivers,” Button said.

“Normally, the safety standards here are very good, but that incident is something we don’t want to see again.

“It was lucky that the drain cover stayed quite low on the ground.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier added: “Jenson was fortunate to emerge unscathed from an incident in this morning’s session when a drain cover smashed into his car.

“The organizers work very hard to ensure this circuit is as safe as possible, but we need to look into exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ricciardo targets Monaco pole, victory after strong practice showing

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has set his sights on winning the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time this weekend after dominating practice on Thursday for Red Bull.

Ricciardo arrived in Monaco with an updated power unit, which combined with the aerodynamic strength of the RB12 car allowed the Australian to finish six-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

The result came as a surprise given Mercedes’ recent dominance and pace in first practice, but Ricciardo is confident that he can carry this form through the rest of the weekend.

“The engine has helped a little bit but obviously we have a good car around here as well, I think it’s down to a little bit of both,” Ricciardo said.

“Let’s see how we go in qualifying on Saturday. We are in a good position, depending on what the track is going to do on Sunday. I have good confidence with the car which is very important around here.

“Come qualifying and race day Mercedes will turn it up but hopefully I can stay in front. I’ll be surprised if we can keep the gap we have today in qualifying but we will see how we go.

“If the weather stays the same for the race and qualifying we won’t change too many things.

“The goal here is pole and win.”

Ricciardo’s best result in Monaco came in 2014, when he finished third behind Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in his first season with Red Bull.

Team Pelfrey restructures its operations, leadership structure

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Photo: Team Pelfrey
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You might remember earlier this year that Team Pelfrey acquired what had been 8Star Motorsports, for a two-car Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program. The team is now outright owned by Dale Pelfrey.

While Pelfrey’s name was still on the team’s respective Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and F16000 programs, the team actually had a different team principal in Nigel Tuckey.

On Thursday afternoon, that’s now changed. Pelfrey himself is now back in charge of all Team Pelfrey programs.

The Team Pelfrey teams in the Mazda Road to Indy this year have had a mixed bag.

The Indy Lights team with Juan Piedrahita and Scott Hargrove has one podium (Hargrove second at St. Petersburg), but struggled with a lack of testing and several other issues.

Pato O’Ward meanwhile has won five of the first six Pro Mazda races and is dominating that series title ahead of Aaron Telitz. Weiron Tan ran the opening two weekends at St. Petersburg and Barber but was sidelined at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend, doubtful for a further return.

Things are more fluid in USF2000. Robert Megennis is the team’s lone driver standing with Jordan Cane and James Munro both understood to be out, and T.J. Fischer’s status yet to be determined as Fischer was not on the entry list for this weekend’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway. Cane may reappear with another team later this year.

Here is the team release for more information.

One of the largest teams in the Mazda Road to Indy paddock, Team Pelfrey, is pushing into one of the most important race weekends of the year with a revised team structure, and ready to continue the great on track results.

Dale Pelfrey,founder and owner of Team Pelfrey, has re-acquired control of the team with the focus of bringing all of his teams under the same roof, providing a direct line from entry level open wheel racing all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“I am extremely appreciative of everything Nigel [Tuckey] has achieved with the team for the past few years.” Commented Pelfrey. “He’s helped build the team into a real powerhouse, and while I’m sad to see him go, what we have done is secure a stronger future for our team. I’m confident we’ve got the best crew and drivers around to keep winning races and championships, and I can’t wait to see what the second half of 2016 has in store.”

While Dale Pelfrey will oversee the outfit that competes in the Formula F1600 Championship Series, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Jonny Baker will continue in an expanded fashion as Director of Team Operations.

Team Pelfrey will be competing with their star USF2000 driver Robert Megennis and Pro Mazda drivers Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz at Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend as a part of the Carb Night Classic event. Team Pelfrey currently lead the Driver and Team championships in Pro Mazda and have also scored two podium finishes with rookie Megennis in USF2000.

Vettel unconcerned despite ‘scrappy’ Thursday in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel remains upbeat heading into the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend despite enduring a “scrappy” practice on Thursday.

Ferrari once again failed to match the pace of both Mercedes and Red Bull in practice in Monaco, suggesting that its struggles in Spain may continue this weekend.

Vettel had a difficult second practice that saw him hit the wall twice, albeit without sustaining any major damage.

“It was not a ‘clean’ day in the office today,” Vettel conceded after finishing ninth in FP2.

“Our session was a bit scrappy: I touched the wall, damaged the rear wing, but luckily we were able to fix it and carry on.

“I just didn’t get everything out of the car, couldn’t find the rhythm and didn’t do good laps on the ultra-soft tires. If you look at the standings, we don’t belong where we scored today.”

Vettel believes that the Ferrari SF16-H car remains competitive, and is sure that Thursday’s struggles are not a sign of things to come in qualifying and the race.

“Overall the car is good and has the pace, so I am not worried for Saturday,” Vettel said.

“Today our focus was not towards ranking high up, we tried a couple of things and it is fair to say that some of them didn’t work.

“Being the first practice day, it is also difficult to see what other people did.”

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen fared marginally better than Vettel, finishing seventh in FP2 as he struggled to get to grips with the new Pirelli ultra-soft tires.

“It was not an ideal day, but it is still the first day of practice,” Raikkonen said.

“In the morning I was not very happy with the car but in the afternoon we were able to improve the behavior. There’s a lot of work to do but of course this is not the easiest place when things are not running exactly as you want.

“It’s the first time we use the ultra-soft compound in the race weekend, the feeling is that it’s the best fitting tire of all of those we have here, but we still need to find a way to make them work slightly better.”