Pocono INDYCAR 400

IndyCar: Ganassi seeks first win, or Pocono encore this weekend

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Considering its success in the Verizon IndyCar Series for most of the last two decades, to see Chip Ganassi Racing winless through 10 races for the second straight season is as surprising as it is frustrating for the team that has achieved so much.

Last year though, the tides turned with a crushing, seemingly out of nowhere podium sweep at the Pocono 400. Scott Dixon went from having no wins to having three in eight days, as he led the Pocono podium and then won both races in Toronto.

This year, through the change in driver and engineering lineup and change in engine from Honda to Chevrolet, Ganassi hasn’t fully extracted the maximum performance on a consistent basis. There have been plenty of flashes but not enough luck or results to show for it.

After 10 races this season, Dixon ranks ninth and Tony Kanaan 11th in the two Target-backed cars, while Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Levemir® FlexTouch® Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet sit 13th and 15th in the championships standings. All bar Briscoe have a single podium finish, but none has finished better than third.

Kanaan has seven top-10 finishes this year, with Kimball on six, Briscoe on five and Dixon on four. All of Dixon’s top-10s were top-fives, though.

Briscoe will no doubt have an easier weekend this year than last in terms of logistics. Last year, he didn’t qualify as he was racing the American Le Mans Series event at Lime Rock Park on the Saturday, then flew back to Pocono to compete in the National Guard Panther Racing entry on Sunday.

For Kimball, who still looked fresh as a daisy after his fourth-place finish in Houston Race 2 last Sunday, he’s already bagged three top-five finishes this year. A fourth would set a new career high. He’s a good sleeper pick this weekend considering he finished second to Dixon last year and had arguably his best ever oval race last fall at Fontana, where he led late before an engine failure.

As for the Target pair, Dixon and Kanaan have several 500-mile race wins already under their belt, and shouldn’t be ruled out this weekend. Last year Dixon parlayed better fuel mileage – then with a Honda – to his advantage while Kanaan had pace but burned fuel faster when leading in his Chevrolet.

We’ll see if the team can pull an encore of its Pocono performance this weekend (Sunday, noon ET, NBCSN). If any of the drivers win, they’ll be the eighth different driver from the sixth different team this year. If Briscoe podiums, he’ll be the 17th different driver to do so in 2014.

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

Rosberg doubles up in second Friday practice for German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg made it two-for-two in practice for the German Grand Prix by topping the timesheets at Hockenheim for Mercedes on Friday afternoon.

2014 winner Rosberg topped the opening practice session on Friday morning at Hockenheim before underpinning Mercedes’ impressive pace by leading FP2, beating teammate Lewis Hamilton once again.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:15.614 to beat Hamilton by almost four-tenths of a second on the super-soft tire, sending out a firm warning to his title rival ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton had a scare after coming across Daniel Ricciardo while exiting the pits late on, but escaped unscathed, although not without telling his team and FIA race director Charlie Whiting over the radio that he felt the Red Bull driver had got too close for comfort.

Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest once again for Ferrari, reducing the one second gap to Rosberg from P1 down to just six-tenths of a second.

Max Verstappen followed in P4 for Red Bull ahead of Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. Nico Hulkenberg survived an early run over the curb at Turn 1 that sent him airborne to finish seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Force India teammate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 in the second McLaren.

Button’s session came to an early end after he reported an “irritation” while in the car, resulting in a visit to the medical centre for a check-up.

The session also saw a clamp down on track limits at Turn 1 after race control reported 93 incidents of running wide in FP1, prompting a resumption of the three-strike system seen in Hungary.

The on-track action at Hockenheim resumes on Saturday morning with FP3 on the NBC Sports app from 5am ET ahead of qualifying on NBCSN at 8am.

Hamilton expects to start last at either Spa or Monza

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of exceeding the number of permitted power unit components for the first time in 2016.

Hamilton took the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary last weekend, moving six points clear of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

However, Hamilton has long expected to take penalties later in the year after failures in China and Russia earlier this season forced him to use additional power unit components.

Drivers are limited to five usages of six power unit components throughout the season, with a 10-place penalty applied for those using a sixth.

A further five-place grid drop is applied for all the other components used for a sixth time, followed by a 10-place drop for a seventh, and so on.

Hamilton is on the limit for two of his power unit components (turbo charger and MGU-H), but would take a complete new unit to gain additional components for the rest of the season, resulting in a drop to the back of the grid.

Hamilton hopes that he can get through this weekend’s German Grand Prix without any setbacks, and anticipates he will take a new power unit at either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix after the summer break.

“Hopefully I get through this weekend at least and then it takes hopefully the weight off, and [I’ll] know that either in Spa or Monza we’re going to be starting last,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“But then after that hopefully I’ll be able to get to the end of the year with whatever I have in the pool.

“I’ve dealt with it, I’ve accepted it, it is what it is and I’m gonna try and do the best job that I can.”

Hamilton enters this weekend’s German Grand Prix on a roll after winning five of the last six races, and put his upturn in fortunes down to a lack of issues on the car that blighted his start to the year.

“I’ve been fighting the whole year, particularly with the failures on the car, and me and my engineers, we’ve been fighting as hard as we can,” Hamilton said.

“It’s just that we’ve had no issues since Monaco with the car. Since qualifying in Monaco we’ve had few issues apart from Baku with me in qualifying and then the car on the Sunday.

“Otherwise the car has really been performing well and I think I’ve utilized that in the last six races.”

Renault won’t rush decision on 2017 F1 line-up

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says a decision on the French marque’s driver line-up for the 2017 season will not be rushed as ‘silly season’ begins to ramp up.

Renault returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 after five years away after taking over the financially-ailing Lotus operation at Enstone.

Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were signed as drivers for 2016, but both have struggled for form with the R.S.16 car.

Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia remains Renault’s only points finish of the season so far.

Speculation has been growing about the future of both Magnussen and Palmer at Renault, with a number of drivers out of contract and available for next season.

Renault also has an extensive junior program featuring drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland, all of whom are vying for their F1 debuts next year.

With so many options and many drivers to consider, Vasseur is keen to take some time before making any call on Renault’s line-up for 2017.

“We are at that time of year when we are asked these questions, but the questions and the speculation often happen before any decision is made,” Vasseur said.

“What I can say is we have two good drivers, who are improving weekend after weekend. Let’s not forget that Jolyon is a rookie and that Kevin only had one year driving full-time at McLaren then a year not racing.

“They are both doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team. I have a strong relationship with them both and they know what is expected of them.

“Within the team we are very happy together. We will make our decisions for 2017 in our own time.”