Red Bull GRC: Patrik Sandell holds off Nelson Piquet Jr. in D.C.

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Patrik Sandell didn’t buckle under the pressure put on him by Nelson Piquet Jr. throughout much of the Volkswagen Rallycross DC final and picked up his first career Red Bull Global Rallycross win today at RFK Stadium in Washington.

Piquet’s No. 75 WIX Filters/SH Racing Rallycross Ford Fiesta ST remained within a couple of car lengths of Sandell’s No. 18 Kobalt Tools/Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST in the final laps, but Sandell was able to put together a mistake-free run.

“I was trying to do every lap, just try to focus, go on the same lines, and not do any mistakes,” Sandell told NBC after his victory. “And then when I crossed the finish line, I was so extremely happy. It’s unbelievable. The team has done a perfect job, and my Kobalt Fiesta was insanely good.

“My spotter, Andreas, did a really good job. He helped me to push when I should push and go steady when I should go steady. I thank the team, they did a fantastic job.”

Piquet was unable to reel in Sandell, but his runner-up effort enabled him to pull within one point of championship leader Scott Speed, 135-134, heading into next month’s race in New York.

Speed had opened the year with two straight wins, but finished sixth in today’s final. Both he and Andretti Autosport teammate Tanner Foust (who finished fifth) had to overcome mechanical problems yesterday with their respective Volkswagens.

Completing a Ford lockout of the podium was one of Sandell’s teammates, 2013 GRC Lites champion Joni Wiman, in his No. 31 Red Bull/Bluebeam Fiesta ST. Another Ford racer, Steve Arpin (No. 00 Royal Purple/OMSE2 Fiesta ST), finished fourth.

Today’s final was a historic one for the series, as an 11th car was added to the main event.

In the first semifinal heat, Wiman jumped the start and was hit with a stop-and-go in the penalty box. However, he was supposed to be released from the box when the main line of cars had gone past.

Instead, he was released almost immediately after stopping, and slipped into the third and final transfer position on the track ahead of Ken Block.

Block couldn’t get past Wiman, and it appeared that the Gymkhana star would have to compete for a spot in the final by running the Last Chance Qualifier.

But Red Bull GRC officials caught the release error on the Wiman penalty and put Block directly into the final, where he would finish seventh.

Red Bull GRC will return to action on July 19-20 with their New York round at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. NBC will carry the final LIVE on July 20 at 2 p.m. ET.

VOLKSWAGEN RALLYCROSS DC – FINAL
Unofficial Results

1. 18-Patrik Sandell
2. 75-Nelson Piquet Jr.
3. 31-Joni Wiman
4. 00-Steve Arpin
5. 34-Tanner Foust
6. 77-Scott Speed
7. 43-Ken Block
8. 14-Austin Dyne
9. 67-Rhys Millen
10. 11-Sverre Isachsen
11. 81-Bucky Lasek

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.