Mike Conway

Lineup set for today’s Shell/Pennzoil GP of Houston Race 1 (SPOILER)

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this morning’s qualifying for Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

NBCSN will air the qualifying rounds today at 2 p.m. ET, followed by LIVE coverage of Race 1 at 3 p.m. ET.

If you don’t want to know who won the pole until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud’s lap of 59.3716 seconds was enough to earn the pole position for today’s first race of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Carrying over his strong speed from yesterday’s practice sessions (second in Practice 1, first in Practice 2), Pagenaud was able to out-hustle Helio Castroneves in the final moments of qualifying for his first career Verizon IndyCar Series pole.

“The car is awesome. Since yesterday, we’ve been top two in every session and now, pole position,” Pagenaud told IndyCar Radio. “My first pole position in IndyCar – we’ve been close but now it feels like the car is the fastest in the field today.

“[Today’s race is] going to be physical. It’s not as hot as yesterday right now, so it’s OK. But it’s certainly going to be a long race. You’ll have to keep your mind really clear and focused. But we have a great car, so that should make it easier on me.”

As for Castroneves, he’ll have clean track ahead of him to start as he seeks to erase the disastrous Houston weekend from last October that effectively cost him the 2013 series title.

“The Shell/Pennzoil car looks really strong right now,” said Castroneves, who split wins with Team Penske teammate Will Power in IndyCar’s most recent doubleheader at Detroit.

“It’s a shame we just missed [pole] by a bit, but it’s the way it is. It’s a great starting position for sure, and we’re looking forward.”

Scott Dixon will start on the inside of Row 2, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Luca Filippi alongside him after a stellar qualifying run in the No. 16 Honda. James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato will line up in Row 3.

In regards to the championship, Power – the current points leader – could be in for a tough afternoon. One of the top road/street course racers in the paddock, Power was unable to get out of the first round and will start 18th on the grid for today’s race.

Power currently leads the standings by 39 points over Castroneves and 60 points over Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay, trying to break a string of bad results following his Indianapolis 500 win last month, will start eighth today with Justin Wilson in Row 4.

SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON – RACE 1
Starting Grid
Row 1
1. 77-Simon Pagenaud
2. 3-Helio Castroneves
Row 2
3. 9-Scott Dixon
4. 16-Luca Filippi
Row 3
5. 27-James Hinchcliffe
6. 14-Takuma Sato
Row 4
7. 19-Justin Wilson
8. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay
Row 5
9. 11-Sebastien Bourdais
10. 7-Mikhail Aleshin
Row 6
11. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya
12. 67-Josef Newgarden
Row 7
13. 83-Charlie Kimball
14. 15-Graham Rahal
Row 8
15. 8-Ryan Briscoe
16. 25-Marco Andretti
Row 9
17. 20-Mike Conway
18. 12-Will Power
Row 10
19. 18-Carlos Huertas
20. 17-Sebastian Saavedra
Row 11
21. 98-Jack Hawksworth
22. 10-Tony Kanaan
Row 12
23. 34-Carlos Munoz

NOTE: All drivers starting today’s race on alternate “red” Firestone tires except Saavedra.

Hill expects Rosberg to be ‘more formidable’ in 2016

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez  on November 1, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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1996 Formula 1 world champion Damon Hill believes that Nico Rosberg will be “more formidable” in 2016 following his back-to-back title defeats to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg took the title race down to the final race of the year in 2014 before losing to Hamilton, and proved to be the Briton’s closest rival again in 2015, albeit losing the championship with three rounds remaining.

Rosberg endured a five-month winless streak last season that led many to question his ability to battle with Hamilton for a championship, only for the German to answer by winning the final three races of the year.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hill said that Rosberg showed his true strength with this trio of victories, signalling that he could put up a greater fight to Hamilton for the title in 2016.

“I think he is a little bit more formidable now,” Hill said. “I think after the Austin defeat, that day when he lost the championship and Lewis infamously tossed the cap and he tossed it straight back, there was a moment where Nico said ‘OK, I am not going to take this anymore’ and he did go ahead and win all the remaining races.

“He can go on ahead and become the other world champion’s son [Keke Rosberg won the F1 title in 1982] to become a world champion himself.

“He probably knows time is running out and when you get all those ingredients together you maybe get a little bit of a hardening of the determination. Maybe he will be more determined this year and harder to beat.”

MotoGP to introduce stewards’ panel for 2016 season

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team leads Valentino Rossi of Italy and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The FIM has confirmed that a new, dedicated stewards’ panel will be created for the 2016 MotoGP season following the controversy between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez at the end of last year.

Rossi and Marquez became embroiled in a tense rivalry that saw them clash in Malaysia, with Rossi appearing to raise his leg and cause his adversary to fall from his bike.

Rossi was handed a penalty that dropped him to the back of the grid for the championship decider in Valencia, where Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo clinched a third world title.

The incident did little good of the reputation of the drivers involved nor MotoGP as a whole, prompting officials to create a new stewards’ panel for 2016 that will deal with similar affairs.

Previously, race direction has also dealt with stewarding matters, but these responsibilities will now be split for 2016.

“We want to let race direction focus on managing the races because there are a lot of responsibilities and delicate matters to do,” FIM president Vito Ippolito said.

“We want to let them be free to manage the race but not to involve them anymore with the task of penalizing riders. It needs more time and special dedication.

“On the other side we will have the panel of three stewards. It will be the current race director who is Mike Webb and two more stewards from the FIM.

“One of them possibily also a permanent steward as we think with this structure, with this panel of stewards completely dedicated to judge the behaviour of riders during the races and practice, we can achieve a very high level of decisions.”

Vandoorne was considered for Renault Formula 1 seat

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JANUARY 25:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren Honda drives during wet weather tyre testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 25, 2016 in Le Castellet, France.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Newly-appointed Renault Sport racing director Frederic Vasseur claims that the French manufacturer considered signing GP2 champion and McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne for its comeback season in Formula 1.

Renault will return to F1 this year with a works team for the first time since 2010, and unveiled its driver line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer at an event in France on Wednesday.

Magnussen was drafted in to replace Pastor Maldonado after the Venezuelan driver’s financial backing fell through and negotiations with the team broke down.

Speaking to DH.be, Vasseur revealed that Vandoorne was considered for the seat before Renault ultimately signed Magnussen for 2016.

“We had to put a cross next to Stoffel. He is under contract with McLaren and the team did not want to part ways,” Vasseur said.

“So we needed someone who was available and our choice was therefore focused on Kevin.”

Vandoorne is set to race in the Japanese Super Formula series in 2016, having tested a car over the winter. Despite winning the 2015 GP2 title in record-breaking fashion, the Belgian is not yet able to make the step up to F1, but looks set to do so with McLaren when either Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso leave the team.

Buemi content with fightback to second in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 6:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 & Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01, during the Buenos Aires Formula E race at Puerto Madero Street Circuit on February 6, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi felt content with his performance in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix after bouncing back from a mistake in qualifying to finish second and extend his lead at the top of the Formula E drivers’ championship.

Buemi locked up during his 200kW lap in qualifying at Puerto Madero to resign himself to 18th position on the grid, handing his rivals an opportunity to overhaul him in the title race.

The Renault e.dams driver produced a spirited display to pick through the order during the race before coming into contention for the win late on after a safety car period.

Although Buemi could not overhaul DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird at the front of the pack, he remained happy with second place in light of his qualifying error.

“The mistake in qualifying was very annoying, because when you have such a good car and such a good team, you want to reward them with the best possible result,” Buemi told MotorSportsTalk.

“But in the end I did my best to come back. I think I did a good job. 18 points are better than zero so happy with that.”

Buemi is now targeting an error-free weekend at the next race in Mexico City as he looks to extend the four-point gap to Lucas di Grassi at the top of the standings.

“Clearly [the result] shows that we have a very strong car and we just need to make sure from now on we don’t miss any points,” Buemi said.

“Putrajaya, the team made a mistake, the car didn’t finish the race. But today obviously I made one [in qualifying] and I tried to work the car to catch it back.

“We’ve seen today that it’s easy to leave the weekend with zero points. I have only four points advantage in the championship, so I’m going to try to expand it as much as possible.”