MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Austrian GP

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003, and the stage is set for another great battle at the front between the two Mercedes drivers just south of the team’s homeland.

Nico Rosberg took advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s DNF in Canada to move into a 22 point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, but he missed out on victory after developing a similar problem on his car. The Briton has vowed to strike back, and this weekend could see him cut the gap with his first win since the beginning of May.

With this circuit being new to the current era of F1, our writing team’s predictions are a little harder to make this weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Toss of a coin between Lewis and Nico once again this weekend, but my money is on the Briton to fight back in Austria. It’ll be another close run thing though, that’s for sure.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. By surprising, I mean something in the top five. As one of just four drivers on the grid to have raced an F1 car around this track before, he might be well placed. In Monaco, he showed signs of improvement, but Canada was nothing but disastrous.

Most to prove: Ferrari… and Sauber. Ferrari was awful in Canada, and Fernando Alonso will need to run well if he is to regain third place in the drivers’ championship from Daniel Ricciardo. And Sauber? Well, I always say Sauber, and I’ll continue to do so until the team bucks its ideas up and scores some points.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel is a tempting pick, but after his near-miss in Montreal, I like Rosberg to get the Silver Arrows back on the board at Red Bull’s home race.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Experience should pay dividends for the veteran Brazilian, who took a mid-pack Sauber to P7 on the grid here in his only prior start (2002). At another track heavy on straights, perhaps this is Massa and Williams-Mercedes’ elusive breakthrough weekend.

Most to prove: Ferrari. At both Bahrain and Canada Ferrari has pulled off the rare “both cars in the points, but neither one of them anywhere near close to earning them on merit” distinction. They’re in the news more for di Montezemolo’s comments and possible sports car program instead of their actual F1 team’s efforts. Here’s hoping they’ve made strides upon the return to Europe following an anonymous Canadian Grand Prix.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. A win at the Red Bull Ring will help Hamilton take back the momentum his teammate Nico Rosberg has gained in the last two Grand Prix – and even more important, he’ll take it back before heading into his home race at Silverstone.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Perez has Force India’s lone podium of 2014, but his overall form has paled compared to his steady teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. But with this track appearing to favor Mercedes power, Perez should capitalize and get a good result on the board after back-to-back DNFs.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. So it would appear that the defending World Champion has finally come around after a podium finish in Canada. Now comes the tough part: Bringing the fight to Montreal winner Daniel Ricciardo, who has been leading the way at Red Bull this year.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Jenson Button. The return of F1 to Austria for the first time in over a decade makes this a wild, wide-open affair. It’s the perfect track for drivers who have gotten off to rough or winless starts to take chances they normally might not. Button certainly falls into that category. He’s long overdue for a podium finish.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Along the same lines of Jenson Button having nothing to lose in a race like this, Massa is also in a similar position. He needs a big boost that comes with a big finish, and Sunday’s race may very well prove him that chance.

Most to prove: Austria. We’re going to take a different tact here and not focus on a driver, but rather on the country of Austria. F1 fans there have fought hard to bring the series back to within their borders and Sunday’s sanctioned race will be the culmination of their efforts. But all the hard work to date doesn’t end now. If anything, it’s just getting started. Austrian F1 fans (and those from surrounding countries) need to turn out en masse to prove to F1 officials that they made the right decision bringing the race back to their homeland. It will be especially heartening to see Austrian native Niki Lauda there.

Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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