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IndyCar: 2014 midterm progress report

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Technically, the Verizon IndyCar Series won’t reach the halfway point of the season until after the first race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend on Saturday. That will mark 9 of 18 races complete, and signal just two months left in the season.

But, with this having been a two-week break, the longest the series will have at any point this year, we take a look back at the stunners, spoilers and stragglers thus far in 2014:

BEST DRIVER: HELIO CASTRONEVES

So why am I picking the 39-year-old Brazilian over his Team Penske teammate and series points leader, Will Power, or the guy he lost out to for the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay? Castroneves has shown the resilience and determination I didn’t think was possible after his near-title miss in 2013. His Detroit weekend was one of his out-and-out fastest weekends in years; he was revitalized at Indianapolis, just missing the 500 win to Hunter-Reay, and was frustrated with thirds at both St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis Grand Prix. If he holds it together in the second half, he may well finally put together that elusive first series championship. Power and  Hunter-Reay, for as much as they’ve been the two drivers with the highest ceilings this year, have been in the headlines for controversy or mistakes as much as their highlights. And being the best driver on IndyCar’s biggest day does not necessarily mean he/she has been the best driver over the course of the season.

BEST ROOKIE: JACK HAWKSWORTH

It all comes down to circumstances, and Hawksworth is excelling most in his. A rookie on in the single-car No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry should not have three top-five starts and 32 laps led this year, but indeed he does. I was surprised when Bryan Herta brought him in instead of offseason favorite Luca Filippi, but Hawksworth has been nothing short of impressive this year. This is not to sell the other rookies short, but all of Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing) have excellent teammates at their disposal to learn from; Hawksworth does not.

NEED A REBOUND IN SECOND HALF: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, GRAHAM RAHAL

I don’t want to call either of the former Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing Champ Car teammates “disappointing,” but thus far these two have been below my expectations. Bourdais has made way too many mistakes, especially for someone of his experience level, and incurred the wrath of several penalties. For whatever reason, despite having all the resources at his disposal at RLL, Rahal has struggled in qualifying and has had to rely on great starts and restarts to make up positions this year.

HARD-LUCK AWARD: JOSEF NEWGARDEN

I gave Josef my “most improved” driver award last year and his qualifying has been significantly better in 2014, especially impressive considering a change in engineers preseason and working as a single-car entry for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. But man he can’t buy a break. Speared by RHR in Long Beach, Martin Plowman at the Indy 500 and Power at Detroit Race 2, plus a rare unforced error in Detroit Race 1, have left Newgarden’s results not at the level of his qualifying performances.

BEST FIRST-HALF RACE: INDY 500

Hard not to give it to the race where Hunter-Reay and Castroneves staged a thrilling six-lap bout for the win after the red flag, and the field kept it clean and green for the first 149 laps. It had just the right amount of passing, pacing and fuel strategy for my liking, with an excellent finish to boot.

FIVE STORIES TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF

  • Power vs. the world: Points leader Will Power has made himself no friends with some of his on-track moves this season, but, as he said post-Texas, he’s still been earning a lot of penalties. How he handles himself and the pressure in the hunt for his first title will be fascinating over the coming weeks.
  • Pagenaud, RHR, Castroneves in with a shot? Figure these three – RHR, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud – have the best shot to overtake Power for the championship. The top four are within 91 points heading into the final 10-race stretch. Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda team needs just slightly better qualifying efforts (no top-three starts this year… RHR has four), but otherwise is a title contender.
  • Can Ganassi pull second-half comeback encore? The pre-Pocono test at Sebring last year has entered the annals in recent IndyCar history for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But at 156 points back in eighth place, Scott Dixon has a higher mountain to climb if he wants to repeat his 2013 series championship. Teammates Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball seek the glory of wins, and not also-ran performances.
  • The double points lottery: Pocono and Fontana offer double points on their own, and with doubleheaders at Houston and Toronto, those four weekends of the remaining eight on the calendar have a greater determination towards the championship than the four other, standard points weekends of Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma. A driver like a Marco Andretti or Tony Kanaan, for instance, could bag the Pocono win and if the leaders hit problems, suddenly vault himself back into title contention as well.
  • Fatigue: There’s 10 races in the next 10 weekends… there’s six races in the next four. How drivers and crews hold up over what’s going to be a physically demanding and at times, exhausting schedule, will determine much of the championship chase.

See the rest of the season on NBCSN, and both of this weekend’s races from Houston at 3 p.m. ET each of Saturday and Sunday on NBCSN and Live Extra.

Relive championship battle tonight at 7 pm ET on NBCSN — IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud

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If you want to relive the excitement of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle between Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, make sure to tune in tonight at 7 p.m. ET to IndyCar Chronicles on NBCSN.

“IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud” is the final episode of this year’s show and features interviews with the two Team Penske teammates as they break down before, during and after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Pagenaud dominated the season, winning five of the series’ 16 races, and put a bow on his first-ever IndyCar championship by winning the season finale at the picturesque road course north of San Francisco.

Power, who was seeking his second IndyCar championship (in three seasons), missed the first race of the season due to a health issue, but still bounced back to win four races in the season and was Pagenaud’s primary challenger heading to Sonoma.

Unfortunately for Power, a mechanical issue that his car suffered in the race paved the way for Pagenaud to win both the event and the championship.

Check out the video above for a two-minute preview of tonight’s show.

Previous editions of IndyCar Chronicles can also be viewed on YouTube.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Simon Pagenaud had The Force with him in winning IndyCar championship

The Force was definitely with Simon Pagenaud when he won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sept. 18.
(Getty Images)
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So, Simon Pagenaud DID have an extra advantage when he won his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sept. 18.

Pagenaud had The Force with him – no, we’re not talking about NHRA legend John Force – but rather The Force from Star Wars.

Our friends at IndyCar.com revealed in a story Wednesday that Pagenaud was part of a Verizon-sponsored advertisement for the popular “The Star Wars Show” on YouTube.

Show hosts Andi Gutierrez and Peter Townley tried to draw a connection between IndyCar racing and the popular Star Wars movie franchise.

“Star Wars is all about things going fast, spaceships (and) pod racers,” Townley said.

Added Gutierrez, “Right, it’s a natural connection.”

They interviewed Pagenaud at Sonoma Raceway, where the French driver would go on to win the championship later that weekend.

“I love this racetrack because it’s very difficult to get right,” Pagenaud said. “It’s quite slippery. You might experience up to 4Gs. Unleash the beast inside of you – and use The Force.”

See, we told you Pagenaud had an extra advantage.

It’s not surprising that Sonoma Raceway caught the attention of the show, given that George Lucas’ famed Skywalker Ranch is only about 20 miles from the racetrack.

Speaking of which, in one of the strangest Star Wars trivia contests we’ve ever heard of, both Townley and Gutierrez were peppered with questions about the film series while they “toured” the 2.385-mile racetrack at speeds of around 110 mph.

In addition to giving the answers, there was quite a bit of screaming from the hosts during the ride, with IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves and Indy Lights pilot Zach Veach serving as chauffeurs in the two-seat INDYCAR Experience car.

Who knows, maybe the next Star Wars film may include Indy cars in it instead of pod racers or TIE fighters. And instead of a lightsaber, maybe they could use the buttons on an IndyCar steering wheel to shoot all the menaces of The Empire.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

New York, Montreal switch dates on revised Formula E calendar

Formula E New York Press Conference Event.
New York, New York, USA.
Tuesday 20 September 2016.
Photo:  / FE
ref: Digital Image _L5R5688
© Formula E
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The planned Formula E races in New York City and Montreal have swapped dates on a revised calendar for the all-electric series’ third season issued by the FIA on Wednesday.

On the first calendar issued by Formula E over the London ePrix weekend in July, Montreal was slated for July 15-16 with New York set on July 29-30.

The New York race was officially launched last week, but no date was set amid ongoing discussions regarding its best placement.

Following a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council this week, a revised calendar for season three has been revealed with New York moving to the July 15-16 weekend.

Montreal now becomes the season finale on July 29-30, with both races remaining double headers and subject to the track being homologated.

The calendar also sees the removal of the two ‘TBA’ rounds, understood to be Singapore and London, leaving a 12-race calendar set for season three.

The new campaign starts in Hong Kong on October 9.

2016/17 Formula E calendar

1. Hong Kong – October 9
2. Marrakesh – November 12
3. Buenos Aires – February 18
4. Mexico City – April 1
5. Monaco – May 13
6. Paris – May 20
7. Berlin – June 10
8. Brussels – July 1
9. New York – July 15
10. New York – July 16
11. Montreal – July 29
12. Montreal – July 30

FIA confirms new wet start procedure for Formula 1 in 2017

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29:  The safety car drives ahead of the field including Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and  Red Bull Racing, Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari  during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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The FIA has confirmed a new wet start procedure for Formula 1 from the 2017 season, as approved by the World Motor Sport Council at its meeting this week.

Following criticism of races starting behind the safety car in heavy rain that denied fans the chance to see a proper standing start, the FIA will tweak the sporting regulations accordingly.

“A new procedure regarding wet weather starts was accepted,” a statement from the FIA reads.

“From 2017, if a safety car is deemed to be required for the beginning of a race due to wet weather, a normal standing start will occur once the track is deemed safe to race.

“The process will see the safety car return to the pit lane and the cars assemble on the grid for the start.”

The change will be in force from next year’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 26, as confirmed on the provisional calendar also announced by the FIA on Wednesday.

Other changes approved by the WMSC at its meeting include a relaxing of the ban on helmet designs, an end to stockpiling of power unit components and a standard issue of tires for the early part of the season.

“Drivers must continue to present their helmets in substantially the same livery at every event of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship for easy recognition of the driver in the car,” the FIA statement reads.

“However a driver will now be allowed one event (such as a home race) for a special livery (at the driver’s choice). Drivers will also be allowed to change their helmet liveries if changing teams during the season.

“During any single event, if a driver introduces more than one of a power unit element that is subject to penalty, only the last element fitted may be used at subsequent events without further penalty. This is to prevent the stockpiling of spare power unit elements.

“For the first five events of the 2017 Championship season only, the normal team selection procedure for tires will not be used as the deadline occurs before pre-season testing.

“For these events the supplier will allocate two sets of the hardest compound specification, four sets of the medium compound specification and seven sets of the softest compound specification to each driver.”

You can read the full statement from the FIA here.