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.

Pagenaud disappointed by Boston drop; would love Watkins Glen option

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17: Simon Pagenaud is the winner of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2016 in Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, Simon Pagenaud, was one of several drivers the series deployed to Boston (James Hinchcliffe was another) to promote what would have been the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston on Labor Day weekend.

“The underground aspect is very unique,” Pagenaud said in a series release in January. “I mainly look forward to hearing the sound of the car as I drive under it. The layout is very fun and the track itself is in a fast-growing area with a great dynamic. I should be able to get good speed because the wide track, fast corners and smooth roads after all of the work (is completed) will most likely make this track one of the fastest tracks there is.

“The Verizon IndyCar Series is very excited for the potential that Boston brings as a whole,” he added. “It is exciting to be able to reach out to another population in a great area and hopefully see its economy change for the better as a result of the race. I would really like to thank the city of Boston for this opportunity.”

But with news emerging late Friday that the race wouldn’t be on the 2016 schedule after all, Pagenaud reflected a bit of disappointment that people didn’t understand what the event could have provided.

“Yeah, I’m very disappointed,” Pagenaud told reporters Wednesday during a teleconference. “That was going to be a great event, perfect position in the city.

“I managed to see the excitement of I guess half of the population in Boston, because I know some of the population was not excited about it. There were a lot of people that were pulling for the race. I saw the excitement.

“The racetrack itself looked like it was going to be a beautiful layout. We were going to go through a tunnel, which would have been really cool.”

Naturally, the next follow-up question is where would Pagenaud like to race provided INDYCAR could fill the slot on the calendar.

A permanent road course in the vain of Road America – where Pagenaud’s had success in sports cars and clinched his Champ Car Atlantic crown in 2006 – immediately came to mind.

“I hope we can replace the race. For sure, I’m thinking of Watkins Glen. I’ve never been there, but it looks like a beautiful track. It’s been repaved, as well, recently. That would be a good market and really cool track to go to.

“There’s plenty of tracks in America that could be exciting to go to. I’d like to go back to Fontana personally. I love that oval. But I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

For what it’s worth, Watkins Glen has been discussed openly as an option although whether INDYCAR could make it happen and whether the track will be able to accommodate it remains to be seen.

Watkins Glen International Michael Printup told the Boston Herald that while the track would “be a great site for them,” it remains a long ways off and would require a minor miracle to do some schedule jostling.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but we’re not even there yet. It’s a huge challenge,” Printup told the Herald, with neither INDYCAR officials nor Grand Prix of Boston officials available for further comment.

I had to joke with Pagenaud, who’s now driving a Menards-backed entry with John Menard’s support for the full month of May and for IndyCar’s return to Road America in late June, whether he could persuade Menard to help IndyCar return – again – to the Milwaukee Mile.

“There you go,” Pagenaud laughed, although such an option doesn’t seem realistic at this juncture.

Space dreams occur for Hildebrand, Daly at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Hildebrand Daly
(Photo courtesy Conor Daly official Twitter page)
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To some awe-struck fans, their dreams of driving an Indy car are an out-of-this-world experience.

For Conor Daly and JR Hildebrand, driving an race car in the Verizon IndyCar Series is an orbital experience what they do for a living.

Earlier this week in Houston, on Tuesday, Daly and Hildebrand enjoyed a REAL out of this world experience as they visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The day-long visit was an exceptional trip for the two drivers, who hung out with robots, did a virtual tour of the International Space Station, saw mockups of the Space Shuttle and more.

But the best part for the duo was the opportunity to have a live 10-minute conversation with astronauts Tim Kopra, Jeff Williams and Tim Peake.

“Man, I wanna go to space,” Daly said, via IndyCar.com. Of note, the driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda also went to “Space Camp” prior to the series’ most recent round at Barber Motorsports Park.

Added Hildebrand, “Ultimately, you end the day feeling overwhelmed about how much amazing stuff you got to see.”

Later, as their trip came to an end, the drivers were more than just appreciative. They left the JSC in a kind of awe that they’ll likely feel for a long time to come.

“Right away we were able to find common ground on things that we do compared to things that they do,” Hildebrand said. “Coming from the motorsports community, there is so much crossover in terms of the way that things happen at NASA.”

Added Daly, “This is probably one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Check out some of the many tweets both drivers and their new friends, the astronauts in the ISS, posted, as well as tweets of others including Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles:

Follow @JerryBonkowski

PWC moves TC rounds from Mid-Ohio to Lime Rock

Grahovec. Photo: PWC
Photo: PWC
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The collateral effect of the Formula 4 U.S. Championship postponing its race debut from May 27-28 at Lime Rock Park until June is that the Pirelli World Challenge had an available slot alongside its GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS classes.

And what better way to plug that gap than to add the three TC classes?

The Touring Car, Touring Car A and Touring Car B classes will join the slate that weekend for a full complement of PWC classes at Lime Rock.

Their races move from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at the end of July, which was already a jam-packed weekend featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series, the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series with two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races apiece, three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda races and the two GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS races each.

With the limited time track originally scheduled for the TC cars at Mid-Ohio, series officials felt it was in the best interest of the three TC classes to move to the PWC headliner weekend at Lime Rock in the traditional Memorial Weekend classic.

In addition, the TC teams unable to attend the Lime Rock rounds will receive double points at the Pirelli World Challenge season finale set for Oct. 6-9 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

“We had always wanted to include our TC classes at Lime Rock Park, but, with our partnership with SCCA Pro Racing, we deferred to their schedule and the much anticipated debut of the F4 Series,” said Greg Gill, President and CEO of WC Vision.

“When the F4 debut delay was announced, it was simple and pleasant decision to be able to include our TC classes with us at our Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix presented by Bentley.”

SCCA postpones F4 U.S. Championship race debut

F4 Test Car
Photo: F4 U.S. Championship
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Citing a lack of time in manufacturing, SCCA Pro Racing announced the new Formula 4 U.S. Championship race debut will be delayed.

The first weekend had been scheduled May 27-28 at Lime Rock Park, along with the Pirelli World Challenge.

The full release is below:

SCCA Pro Racing announced its debut weekend of the Formula 4 United States Championship has been postponed due to delays in manufacturing of a sufficient number of cars to meet the team demand.

The first race weekend, scheduled for May 27-28 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, will be rescheduled at a track and date to be determined to maintain a five-event championship series. The F4 U.S. Championship will now make its debut June 10-12 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey.

“Regrettably, if the Lime Rock event were to go ahead as planned, we would be in jeopardy of leaving some drivers and teams who are committed to the series disenfranchised,” SCCA Pro Racing President and CEO Derrick Walker said. “We felt it was important that all drivers who want to participate in the F4 United States Championship be given a chance to do so. We appreciate the loyalty they have shown us.”

Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) regulations require a minimum of 12 cars for each championship event, which currently would not have been an issue for Lime Rock. However, delaying the start of the inaugural event of the F4 U.S. Championship provides the opportunity to fulfill all car orders exceeding the FIA requirement.

“We are very proud to be constructing the first FIA approved monocoque chassis in America,” said Crawford Composites President Max Crawford, whose company is producing the chassis. “We believe the F4 U.S. Championship is the start of something great for American motorsports. I fully endorse the decision to reschedule the first race, and we look forward to getting all the drivers in the lineup in New Jersey.”

Crawford is confident a sufficient quantity of cars can be produced for the current number of drivers committed to the F4 U.S. Championship to debut in New Jersey.