IndyCar: Who needs to shine at the pair of hot, humid Houston races?

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This weekend is a pivotal weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, for the pair of races on the docket in the hot, humid but potentially rainy weekend.

Who needs to step up this weekend? We look through a few names to watch:

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 DHL Honda

The Indianapolis 500 champion has had a brutal three-race stretch since, including a doubleheader weekend to forget in Detroit and a mechanical issue pop up in Texas that dropped him to a 19th place finish. Hunter-Reay led the points standings by 40 coming out of the ‘500… he now sits 60 points behind new leader Will Power after a net 100-point loss over three races.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet

A former Houston winner, Bourdais hasn’t yet shown the race-winning form I expected coming into this year. He’s made several mistakes and also been penalized way too frequently. Last year the Toronto doubleheader – the second double-race weekend of the season – was his breakthrough, and ideally Houston fills that role for him this year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda

His starts on street courses this year read like a bad Bingo line: 21, 23, 9, 14. With Luca Filippi brought in the team’s second car this weekend, Rahal has to improve his qualifying game and nail the form that was so good at Detroit Race 1, where he finished second.

Chip Ganassi Racing – both Target Chevrolets, plus the NTT Data and Novo Nordisk Chevrolets

Yes, both Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball bagged podiums last street race at Detroit, but qualifying across the board for the quartet has been less than desirable. Averaging starting positions this year on road and street courses? It’s 9.1 for Scott Dixon, 11.8 for Ryan Briscoe, 12 for Kanaan and 19.8 for Kimball. Dixon won Race 1 here last year and here’s to hoping that the team’s two-day test at Sebring will have again paid dividends.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda

The opposite of the above drivers, Newgarden’s qualifying’s been great this year but through mostly no fault of his own, his results haven’t been. The talented young American either gets good results or good grid positions – rarely both in the same weekend. Driving what is arguably the sexiest looking car on the grid, in the chrome, blue and red Strike colors, it would be great to see Newgarden back on the podium – or at least in the top five – this weekend.

Sainz keen to race in Russia; decision to be made on Sunday

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been discharged from hospital in Sochi following his practice accident, and is now hoping to take part in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sainz crashed at turn 13 with considerable force during final practice on Saturday, pitching underneath the TecPro barrier that made extracting him from the car difficult.

After 20 minutes, the rescue staff on site were able to remove Sainz from the car before transporting him in an ambulance to the medical centre.

Sainz gave a thumbs up to fans on the way there, and tweeted from hospital that he was unharmed after undergoing a number of checks.

In a statement issued by Toro Rosso after qualifying on Saturday, it was confirmed that Sainz had been discharged from hospital. The Spaniard has now set his sights on starting tomorrow’s race.

“My back and my neck are just a bit sore from the accident, but I’m totally ready,” Sainz said. “Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up in a good shape and maybe I can try and race – this is definitely the intention!

“Obviously we need to be cautious. I’ve always been conscious. As soon as the accident happened I tried to talk to the team on the radio, but it wasn’t working and those must have been some scary moments.

“I’d like to thank everyone for their support, it’s really nice to receive all your messages at a moment like this one! I hope to see you all tomorrow out there!”

Team principal Franz Tost confirmed that a decision will be made on Sainz’s participation following further medical checks on Sunday before clarifying the suspected cause of the accident.

“I’m very happy that Carlos is okay and out of hospital, this is the most important thing for us,” Tost said. “I hope he will have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow morning he will have to go through the FIA medical checks to decide if he will be able to take part in tomorrow’s race.

“Now, just to clarify what happened. Prior to the accident, Carlos had completed a long-run on the option tire, before changing to the prime to do two further laps. On primes the grip level is lower.

“In addition he had changed the brake shape on the steering wheel, which meant he had more braking rearwards. A combination of these two factors might have been the cause of the rears locking, which made the car uncontrollable.”

Should Sainz be deemed fit by the FIA medical delegate, he will have to start the race from the pit lane.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton unsure about Mercedes’ race pace in Russia

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Lewis Hamilton remains unsure about Mercedes’ race pace after losing the majority of practice running to a number of incidents on Friday and Saturday.

The entire field was limited to just one hour of dry running on Friday when a diesel spillage caused the session to be shortened.

Heavy rain washed out FP2, and FP3 was red flagged after 35 minutes when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard at turn 13.

Mercedes showed few signs of weakness in qualifying, though, as it locked out the front row of the grid with Nico Rosberg scoring his third pole position of the season.

Hamilton admitted that he made a mistake on his final lap in Q3, but is unsure how Mercedes will shape up in the race compared to the rest of the field.

“Everyone was in the same position today with the limited practice,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t get a hooked-up lap together but Nico did, so well done to him.

“It’s going to be a long race tomorrow though, so hopefully I might have a chance. There’s a long run down to turn two, so we’ll both be studying the line to take tonight. Maybe I can get a good start, we’ll see.

“We haven’t done a lot of laps, so I’m not really sure what our pace is like compared to the others. Our goal in the race as always is to finish well for the team, so we’ll be trying to do that.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.