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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


  • 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.

Townsend Bell goes to Mexico, and duels with luchadors (VIDEO)

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This weekend at the Mexican Grand Prix, usual Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell is back in the F1 paddock, filling in for Will Buxton this weekend with Buxton tending to his family.

Bell’s IndyCar analyst colleague Paul Tracy famously donned a “luchador” mask in 2006 during the Champ Car race in Montreal, after he dueled with Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais in back-to-back races in San Jose and Denver.

But Thursday in Mexico City, it was Bell’s turn.

Bell teased it a bit on social media before a video was shown today during second free practice (and linked above) in Mexico City of his duel with a pair of luchadors Thursday evening in “Lucha Libre,” a form of professional wrestling in Mexico.

While he accepted the challenge to get into the ring with a pair of luchadors, he may regret this decision.

Most of the photos below were shot by Jamey Price, an ace photographer.

Inside the deep data dive at Red Bull Racing (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s Steve Matchett caught up with Red Bull Racing’s Paul Monaghan, Chief Engineer of Car Engineering, and Bill Moseley, Director of Marketing Communications at AT&T, for a deeper drive on data and sensors and how it’s all transmitted from Red Bull Racing at the track back to the team headquarters in Milton Keynes in England.

In the above video shot last week at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix, Matchett finds out about the sensors on a car, how the sensors transfer data to the team and the impact of their findings.

You can watch this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday; a full list of times for the weekend is linked here.

Vettel surprises Mercedes by leading second Mexican GP practice

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel sprung a surprise on Mercedes in the second Formula 1 practice session ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix by topping the timesheets for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led the way in opening practice, and was expected to run at the front once again with teammate Nico Rosberg when teams switched to qualifying simulations in FP2 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

However, it was Vettel who laid down the pace on the super-soft tire for Ferrari, setting a benchmark lap of 1:19.790 for Hamilton and Rosberg to follow mid-way through the session.

Neither Mercedes driver could get ahead, despite both attempting two flying laps on their super-softs, with Hamilton (below, talking to NBCSN’s Townsend Bell) getting within just 0.004 seconds.

Rosberg slotted into third place, almost half a second further back after struggling during his qualifying run.

Kimi Raikkonen followed in fourth place for Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter finishing an impressive sixth despite setting his fastest time on the slower soft tire.

Max Verstappen was seventh in the second Red Bull, bouncing back from his troublesome morning session, with Valtteri Bottas in eighth. The Spanish pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 places in FP2.

Mexican drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez ended 15th and 22nd, respectively. Perez caught up with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell on Thursday and that video is below.

The session was notable for the difficulty that drivers had making their super-soft tires last. Few drivers were able to keep on pace for more than a handful of laps before taking big chunks out of the tire, suggesting that the soft and medium compounds will be favored for the race.

Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 2pm ET on Saturday.

Flying Lizard double news: Porsches in PWC, Toyo Audi at Thunderhill

Photo: Porsche AG
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It’s been a busy week for Flying Lizard Motorsports, with a pair of program announcements. One venerable chassis and two new ones have been announced for the Sonoma, Calif.-based team.

Earlier this week, Flying Lizard confirmed the return of its Toyo Tires partnership in the Toyo-shod and liveried No. 45 Audi R8 LMS ultra at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Program manager Darren Law and team veteran Johannes van Overbeek are back, with past Lizard drivers Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund set to replace Guy Cosmo and Tomonobu Fujii as the other two drivers.

The Toyo Lizard Audi dominated last year’s race, winning overall by some 35 laps.

“We look forward to the challenges of this year’s 25-Hours, and are returning to prove once again that Toyo Proxes Slicks are the tires to have for drivers looking to dominate in any form of road racing,” said Marc Sanzenbacher, senior manager, motorsports, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“The race conditions at this event are notoriously unpredictable and we welcome the various technical challenges it presents our engineers. We have some new cool weather and intermediate rain tire options to evaluate for this event and we look forward to gathering important development data while pursuing another overall victory.”


Meanwhile on Friday, Flying Lizard has also confirmed a two-car GTS class entry in Pirelli World Challenge with longtime manufacturer Porsche.

As part of that class and series’ new GT4-spec wave in the category – it will be all GT4-spec in 2018 with a final one-year run for existing previous non-GT4 machinery – Flying Lizard will run two of the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR entries. Those cars debuted at the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year with GMG Racing.

Flying Lizard’s continued relationship with Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA) will strengthen the effort, becoming a part of the North American Young Driver Development program.

“This just feels right to see Flying Lizard Motorsports back again with a Porsche program,” said Program Manager Darren Law. “We have had so many successful and memorable races with Porsche. Much of my driving career has been with Flying Lizard Motorsports, so I am happy that we will have the opportunity to join forces with Porsche for the upcoming season.”