Looking ahead to Indy Lights’ next race, and new future with new chassis

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The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season resumes next weekend at Pocono Raceway, marking the series’ first race since the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of May.

We’re a month removed from the series’ unveil of its new car, the Dallara IL-15, at IMS, and also one month away from the car’s official on-track debut in Mid-Ohio. A shakedown in Italy is scheduled for two weeks from today, on July 15.

It’s a little early to say yet what the demand and interest level in the new chassis will be. But initial discussions from key players set to be involved with the car after the unveil were positive.

Start first with project leader Tony Cotman, who had previously been instrumental in the creation of Champ Car’s new Panoz DP-01 chassis in 2007. While visually there are some similar lines to the DP-01 – including just a roll hoop with no airbox – Cotman called this a “clean slate” project.

“There were not too many parameters from Dan (Andersen) that tied your hands,” Cotman told MotorSportsTalk. “I didn’t walk in with any preconceived notions. We formed it as we went along. Any new car is exciting, and to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had on one.”

He added about the decision to avoid the airbox, “It’s one of those things where this particular vehicle didn’t need it. There’s many that like the no airbox look – me included – so we took that opportunity.”

Andersen, whose Andersen Promotions organization runs and operates the top three rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, said details were important for the first new Indy Lights chassis since the series was reincarnated in 2002.

“There were so many big and little decisions to do, from the wiring, the water pumps, the fuel systems and on down the line,” he said. “We brought the car weight down 160 pounds, added more horsepower and created a better layout overall.”

Lower costs are a goal with this new chassis, but crucially, Andersen wants this chassis to serve as a selling point more for the opportunity and clarity the Mazda Road to Indy ladder creates.

“Cost is important, critical in fact. But I don’t know that current problems (with the series) have to do with budget. It’s about perception of what the series has,” Andersen explained. “Drivers pay double in Europe compare to a current Lights budget, with no guarantee of advancement, with no prize money, no exposure. We have to do a better job of selling what our championship is.”

Andersen said as a promoter and entrepreneur he’s “nervous” until he gets results, but did say there was good interest. Several team principals from other Road to Indy series – Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – were on hand at the chassis unveil at IMS.

One big racing name who is involved in this project is that of Dyson – their Advanced Engine Research company, AER for short – is tasked with being the engine for the new car. Rob Dyson, and later son Chris, were on hand at Indy for the unveil.

“I think it’s an evolution that was necessary,” Rob Dyson said of the new car. “It needed a freshening in every respect. I’m proud they’ve done not only the chassis but the engine combination with our technology. I’m elated we’re part of it.”

Driver-wise? Quick chats with Tristan Vautier, who will handle most of the car’s testing, and Spencer Pigot, the Pro Mazda points leader who’s poised to advance into Indy Lights next year, brought rave reviews for the car’s look.

“I really like the design – it’s got that Italian class, I guess,” Vautier said. “It’s a good mix of the American race car style, and Indy style, with modern European style as well. It’s a good blend. It looks beautiful and should be quick.”

Added Pigot, “It’s a very cool looking car; it’s a big improvement from the current model and the performance should be better. It’s very modern looking. It looks like a fast race car.”

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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Newgarden finishes ninth after two wing changes in Phoenix

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The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix had a promising beginning for Josef Newgarden, who rocketed up to second on the opening lap after starting fourth. However, a pair of front wing changes put paid to any chances of a win, and the Barber Motorsports Park winner was relegated to ninth at race’s end.

“It was a rough night, pretty much as rough as it can be for the No. 2 car,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller after the race. “The good news is I think we had speed, I think all the Penske cars did. Simon (Pagenaud) was awesome tonight so congrats to him for getting the win. It’s a victory for all of us at Team Penske, so I’m happy to see that. Will (Power) was good too, and obviously Helio (Castroneves) starting the race up front.”

It was unclear what caused the initial damage, which was on the left-front end plate and happened in the early laps. But, a lap 138 caution when Takuma Sato crashed allowed the team a chance to replace the wing.

From there, Newgarden charged back toward the front and was battling for a podium finish when contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay damaged the new wing, this time on the right-front end plate.

Newgarden described the incident and revealed that there was nothing he could do to avoid contact. “I was following Scott (Dixon), and I had Helio breathing down my neck. We were just trying to ride and catch a podium to recover for the day, essentially. Scott got on the inside of Ryan into (turn 3), they went two-by-two and so I followed Scott through. But as soon as Scott got clear, Ryan wanted to get back down immediately. And I just had a head of steam coming with Scott. I didn’t have any time to check up, I tried to check up and hit the brakes, but I’m in the middle of the corner, so I couldn’t really do much to miss him.”

Hunter-Reay described the view from his vantage point to NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “It’s just very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all night, because I love short ovals. Survived the start. Then we get a puncture or whatever. Dixon came up behind me, stuck his nose in, I was worried I might have turned across him. I went into the gray and two guys got by me. The car wouldn’t turn at all. Bent the right rear toe link. It was a really tough ride today. It was way too complicated.”

Newgarden pitted a second time for a new wing and ended up finishing ninth. He now sits third in the championship, 26 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

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Hamilton struggles to fourth in Sochi after ‘very tough weekend’

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Lewis Hamilton endured one of his toughest Formula 1 races in recent memory in Russia on Sunday, finishing fourth at the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took his maiden grand prix win.

Hamilton qualified fourth on Saturday, almost half a second back from Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row of the grid.

Bottas was able to pass both Ferrari drivers on the first lap en route to victory, but Hamilton struggled to keep up with their pace, finishing some 36 seconds behind his teammate.

“It’s been a very, very tough weekend. I can’t remember having as difficult a weekend,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“Probably the last time I remember is Baku or something like that. Just ultimately not quick enough, not got the car where I was comfortable, and then in the race I was overheating so just had to settle for fourth.”

Bottas’ success came in just his fourth race for Mercedes, having replaced F1 world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017 following the German’s shock retirement.

Hamilton has spoken warmly of Bottas on a number of occasions, and was full of praise for the Finn after his success in Sochi.

“Big congratulations to him. He’s done such a great job,” Hamilton said.

“Fantastic teammate to work with. It’s an amazing feeling to win your first grand prix. It will mean a lot to him and his family.”

With title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing second, Hamilton is now 13 points adrift of the championship lead ahead of the fifth race of the year in Spain on May 14.