Pocono INDYCAR 400

Houston Update: Helio battling Pagenaud and Power in Race 2

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After starting from pole position, Helio Castroneves has been able to stay up front in the first half of today’s Race 2 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Today’s 90-lap race began with a rolling start under dry conditions, and pole sitter Castroneves was able to keep the field behind him on the run into the Turn 1/2 chicane. However, Simon Pagenaud was able to take second spot behind the Brazilian from rookie Mikhail Aleshin.

Damage on Lap 1 forced Mike Conway to the pits to get a new nose, while two laps later, Josef Newgarden made a strategy call and flipped to primary “black” tires after starting on the alternate “reds.”

As Newgarden got his blacks, Saturday’s Race 1 winner Carlos Huertas slowly made his way off the course. Race strategist Darren Crouser told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast that Huertas’ No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda simply “shut off” and also confirmed that Huertas was done for the day. It’s the Colombian rookie’s first DNF of the season.

Around 10 or so laps later, more drivers began to trickle into the pits including Scott Dixon on Lap 21. But two laps later, Dixon came back to the pits with possible brake problems on the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

It bears noting that Pagenaud suffered brake issues in yesterday’s Race 1. In his case, they involved large temperature splits between the rotors keeping him from using the brakes effectively in the wet.

On Lap 29, Graham Rahal came out of the pits ahead of Mikhail Aleshin, who ended up going into the back of Rahal’s car as they headed for Turn 3. Aleshin sustained front wing damage and needed to pit, but a short time later, Rahal came in too – not for the contact, but because of shifting problems.

Meanwhile, Castroneves and Pagenaud pitted together on Lap 32 and maintained their top two positions. But running third after the cycle of stops was Will Power, who made steady progress from 18th on the grid in his opening stint before his stop at Lap 30.

The race finally saw its first yellow at Lap 42 when Carlos Munoz slid at Turn 10 and slapped the outside wall. Munoz, who finished third in yesterday’s Race 1, eventually came to a stop with apparent suspension damage to the right-rear of his car.

At the halfway point (Lap 45 of 90), your Top 5 is Castroneves, Pagenaud, Power, Sebastien Bourdais in fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya (second in Race 1) in fifth. Out of the Top 5 at this juncture of the race, only Bourdais is running with the softer “red” tires.

Al Unser to return to the cockpit at the SVRA Brickyard Invitational

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Photo: IMS Museum
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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser will return to the cockpit this summer to compete in the SVRA’s “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am, scheduled for June 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Big Al” will join son Al Unser Jr., which will be their first competitive race together since 1993. It will also be the first time any member of Unser family has raced at the Speedway since 2008, when Al Unser III contested the Indy Lights Freedom 100 for the now defunct Playa Del Racing.

“I guess I got tired of watching the kids have all the fun,” quipped the elder Unser, who previously served as the grand marshal of the 2015 event. He later explained that expressed gratitude toward organizer Tony Parella, president and CEO of the SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) for creating the event and extending an invitation to compete. “Seriously, Tony Parella and his SVRA team have created a first-class event and that’s why the entire Unser family has gotten behind it. We believe in what he is doing and I personally enjoy reconnecting with the great fans of the Indianapolis 500.”

Parella’s enthusiasm mirrored Unser’s.”There have been a lot of great legends in the history of auto racing, but in my book Big Al is right at the top of the mountain,” he asserted. “I am honored beyond words. This is such a validation of what all of us at the SVRA have been working so hard to build. To be able to say that this great champion believes in what we are doing enough to strap in and race with us means everything to me personally and professionally.”

The Unsers will join 31 other Indianapolis 500 veterans to compete in vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs, with model years of 1963 to 1972, in the SVRA’s “Group 6” A and B Production. Each veteran will be paired an amateur driver to split time behind the wheel. Other events slated to highlight the weekend include a Motostalgia car auction, the Hagerty Insurance “shine and show” car corral, vintage motorcycle racing and displays, and hundreds of vintage racers celebrating a century’s worth of auto racing.

Force India releases driver runout schedule for testing

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 11:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sahara Force India is next up to reveal its 2017 challenger – the VJM10 premieres tomorrow – but it has come out today and released its plans for who will run when in said challenger.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will have one full day apiece at the first test and then split the last day, with Alfonso Celis Jr. continuing his role with the team and set to run on day three of the opening test.

Ocon and Perez will then alternate for the second test, with Ocon on days one and three and Perez days two and four.

Ocon’s tested for Force India before but this will mark his first running as an official Force India driver. The impressive French driver shifts to the Mercedes-powered Force India entry after a successful second half of the year with Manor.

Perez, meanwhile, helped spearhead Force India’s climb to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship last year, the team’s best result since its 2008 debut.

Sahara Force India – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Sergio Perez
February 28 – Esteban Ocon
March 1 – Alfonso Celis Jr.
March 2 – Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon

Test 2
March 7 – Esteban Ocon
March 8 – Sergio Perez
March 9 – Esteban Ocon
March 10 – Sergio Perez

Alain Prost: F1 ‘needs to have more of a human side’

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 2: In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Alain Prost with Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 during the Long Beach Formula E race at Long Beach Street Circuit on April 2, 2016 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was confirmed today as a special advisor to Renault Sport Racing, but his comments about the sport’s future were more important than his newly announced role with the team.

Prost, who’s spent a lot of time in the FIA Formula E world with the Renault e.dams team and son Nico, one of that team’s two drivers, said F1 has to work harder to attract younger fans as it heads into its new dawn under the new ownership group from Liberty Media Corporation.

“I think the vision is difficult to tell today,” Prost said during Renault’s launch today in London. “We have a new buyer. CVC isn’t there anymore; Liberty is. With the teams having Ross Brawn to work with, that’s a good asset.

“We need more than a vision. We need two goals. We need to bring spectators and young guys, and talking more about interactivity is more or less what we do in Formula E. That would be obvious.

“We need to have more of a human side. More people are interested in the drivers than the technology and performance.”

That dig comes a bit at F1’s hybrid technical regulations that have come into play the last few years, which has seen Mercedes AMG Petronas firmly at the head of the development curve and having won all but eight races since the start of 2014 (Red Bull with five wins, Ferrari with three).

Prost did say the reset for 2017, which features the new wider tires and wider bodies and wings, could help in that pursuit of bringing in new fans.

“I think it’s very positive for Formula 1. You needed a new cycle. These cars will be very impressive. I hope it brings new and young spectators,” he said.

Prost confirmed he won’t have a day-to-day role with Renault but will be part of the team’s executive committee.

“I must say what is important is that Renault is competitive and can win as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been involved! But I won’t have a day-to-day role. It will be a bit more from behind.

“Together with Jerome and Cyril, my role is to give the input to give the best strategy possible to be good for the future.”

Renault targeting step up to fifth place in standings

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Jolyon Palmer (C) of Great Britain and Renault Sport, Nico Hulkenberg (L) of Germany and Renault Sport and Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport pose with the Renault Sport Formula One team's 2017 car, the RS17, on February 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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At the launch of the new Renault R.S.17 today in London, Renault Sport F1 Team senior management expressed a goal of leaping to the top-five in the Constructor’s Championship for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Jerome Stoll, president of Renault Sport Racing and Cyril Abiteboul, the team’s managing director, said with the offseason reset and having had a proper amount of time to fully become Renault they can go from ninth up to fifth in this year’s standings.

“We have a car developed by us, and we expect to be fifth in the championship,” Stoll said during the team’s launch. “We have the team, we have the drivers, we have the partners. We are completely managed by Renault now.

Abiteboul added, “We’ve been investing more than any of the top teams. We lead everyone else in looking where the regulations are. Last year was about putting together the building blocks of the mid-term to the long-term in the back office. This year, I will be spending more time at the track.”

Abiteboul introduced the drivers who he hopes will do the task. He hailed Jolyon Palmer’s improvement in the latter stages of the season and said Nico Hulkenberg’s record speaks for itself.

“We’re happy to continue the journey with Jolyon,” Abiteboul said. “Like all rookies, he’s had difficult and challenging moments, but we stay together as a group and continue to perform.

“He’s been keeping his head down and got through the difficult part of the year. He had a remarkable last third of the year with great races in Malaysia and Japan.

“Nico, I’m not going to introduce him. You should know what he can do. He set a pole in his rookie season with Williams. He won Le Mans his first year with Porsche. He’s secured fourth in the standings with Force India last year. He will be an example for all of us.”

Team technical director Bob Bell said there “should be an overall significant improvement in car performance.” With the higher downforce though, he said whether there will be a lot of overtaking remains the biggest question mark going into the year.

“The truth is none of us will know until Melbourne. The jury’s still out, but we’re hopeful.”