Iowa Corn Indy 300 - Day 1

IndyCar: Scott Dixon leads Ganassi front row sweep in Iowa qualifying

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As we mentioned earlier this week, Andretti Autosport has won five of the seven Verizon IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway. But the only other IndyCar team that’s won at Iowa will lead the field to green tomorrow night in the Iowa Corn Indy 300 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Chip Ganassi Racing, which won back-to-back Iowa races in 2008 (Dan Wheldon) and 2009 (Dario Franchitti), swept the front row in tonight’s qualifying session on the 7/8-mile oval.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon’s two-lap average of 186.256 miles per hour was enough to knock off Target teammate Tony Kanaan’s average of 185.891 mph.

Dixon was able to take advantage of some advice from Kanaan and mutual teammate Ryan Briscoe, who both took their own qualifying runs before him.

“Both TK and Ryan went before us out there, and they thought the track had a bit of understeer,” Dixon said to NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “So we were able to make some wing changes on the car – obviously, to get it to turn a little bit better. And it worked out perfectly for us.

“But you never really know sometimes how your car’s gonna be compared to theirs, and putting more front wing in – sitting in a qualifying line, it’s not always something you want to hear because it just makes the car looser. But it was definitely the right call.”

As for Kanaan, he hopes to rebound from a bitter disappointment one week ago at Pocono. The Brazilian led a race-high 78 laps, but was unable to make late fuel strategy work for him.

“We haven’t delivered yet, so tomorrow will be the opportunity to redeem what happened last week,” said Kanaan, who continues to search for his first win as a member of the Ganassi camp.

Current series championship co-leader Helio Castroneves will start on the inside of Row 2 thanks to his average of 185.789 mph.

His second lap of 186.809 mph was fast enough to set a single-lap qualifying record for Iowa, but his first lap of 184.575 mph was what kept him from the pole.

Briscoe posted an average of 185.339 mph and will start to Castroneves’ outside on Row 2. Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (185.027) and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (184.968) make up Row 3, while Charlie Kimball (Ganassi; 184.743) and Marco Andretti (Andretti; 184.726) will be in Row 4.

Will Power, who shares the championship lead with Penske teammate Castroneves, was first to take a qualifying run and he settled for ninth on the grid (184.683). He’ll be in Row 5 along with Ed Carpenter (184.589).

Other notables include: Simon Pagenaud in 11th, Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in 13th, defending Iowa champion James Hinchcliffe in 14th, and last week’s winner at Pocono, Juan Pablo Montoya, in 19th.

Rookie driver Jack Hawksworth, returning to action after not racing at Pocono due to a myocardial contusion sustained in a practice crash, qualified 20th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES AT IOWA – IOWA CORN INDY 300
Qualifying Results

1. Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 186.256 mph
2. Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 185.891
3. Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 185.685
4. Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 185.339
5. Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 185.027
6. Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 184.968
7. Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 184.743
8. Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 184.726
9. Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 184.683
10. Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 184.589
11. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 184.380
12. Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 184.316
13. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 183.747
14. James Hinchcliffe, Andreti-Honda, 183.348
15. Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 183.201
16. Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 183.089
17. Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 183.083
18. Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 182.455
19. Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 182.317
20. Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 181.243
21. Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 180.987
22. Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 177.849

McLaren GT captures major endurance win at Bathurst 12 Hour

BATHURST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: Race winner Shane van Gisbergen driver of the #59 Tekno Autosport McLaren 650S crosses the finish line to win the Bathurst 12 Hour Race at Mount Panorama on February 7, 2016 in Bathurst, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
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There’s nothing to prove that Shane van Gisbergen isn’t actually a freak of nature with a big beard and a bigger right foot.

The man known as “The Giz” – the Australian V8 Supercars ace and McLaren GT factory driver – played an integral role in McLaren GT capturing a major endurance victory for the first time in more than 20 years, as he co-drove with Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb to secure the win in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race in the No. 59 Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S GT3.

Van Gisbergen stole the headlines and the track record with a best time of 2:01.286 around Mount Panorama on Friday to capture the Allan Simonsen Pole Trophy.

“SVG” then walked the field in the early hours of Saturday’s (Sunday in Australia) race before electrical gremlins ground Parente to a halt after he got in, and cost them about 45 seconds.

Nevertheless, a near faultless drive from there – plus an abnormal strategy the rest of the way that eventually led to needing less time in the pits for the final stop – helped deliver the victory. For good measure, van Gisbergen added a 2:01.567 lap in the race itself.

Nissan, which won the race last year, finished second with a lineup of Katsumasa Chiyo, Florian Strauss and Rick Kelly in their Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. The “Bentley Boys” made it on the podium with Guy Smith, Steven Kane and (British) Matt Bell in their Bentley Continental GT3.

The win is the first marquee endurance race victory for McLaren since its 1995 overall triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the McLaren F1 GTR.

Sauber’s C35 chassis passes crash test

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber has confirmed its new nose and chassis of the C35 has passed the mandatory FIA crash test, in both static and dynamic settings.

Prior to today, Sauber was one of two teams – McLaren the other one – that had yet to confirm it had passed the crash test. The McLaren, in theory, should come in due course.

A good summary by F1 technical analyst Craig Scarborough is linked in the below tweet:

While the new chassis is good to go for Sauber, it won’t be running yet at the first test at Barcelona from February 22 to 25.

The team confirmed, via its website, that the 2015 C34 chassis will run for the first four-day test before the C35 makes its maiden run from March 1 through 4 at the second Barcelona test.

The team’s 2016 livery, however, will be revealed at the first test.

Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are set to return for their second season as teammates; for Ericsson, it’s his third season in the sport while Nasr prepares for his sophomore campaign.

Busy week of testing ahead for IndyCar teams out West

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 15:  Ccars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The old saying “Go West, young man” is apropos for the Verizon IndyCar Series this week, ahead of a busy week of testing for teams and drivers at three key tracks on the left coast.

The action starts today with seven drivers from three teams out at Phoenix International Raceway.

Team Penske’s fearless foursome of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will join now Ed Carpenter Racing’s Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais for a Chevrolet manufacturer test.

Others such as Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have been out in Phoenix already this offseason. “TK” and Rahal tested for Firestone, with “Hinch,” “RHR” and Andretti out there in a Honda test in November.

Here’s some buildup to the test on social media:

On the team plane to Phoenix… First time in car for 16

A photo posted by Will Power (@12willpower) on

The latter post appears to be a teaser of Newgarden’s temporary Fuzzy’s Vodka colors on what will be his No. 21 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the other four-car powerhouse in the series – Chip Ganassi Racing – will have a four-car test of its own.

New signing Max Chilton is set to join the usual trio of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, with the Englishman set for his first test in an IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway.

Chilton, who’s been in the U.S. for media day and then stayed in the run up to Sonoma as he prepares for his debut, has been taking in the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

Honda won’t be devoid of testing this week as down the road in Fontana, Calif., at Auto Club Speedway, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz will be doing a Honda manufacturer test day on the 2.0-mile oval. While the track won’t see an IndyCar race this year, it remains a good testing location.

Chilton will also have his oval rookie test later this week at the same track, on Saturday. The Englishman failed to start at Indianapolis due to a fuel cell issue, but then promptly won his second oval start at Iowa within the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Sonoma was one of the few tracks Chilton didn’t learn from his training within the Mazda Road to Indy, but he should pick it up pretty easily.

Munoz explored other options before re-signing with Andretti

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With Ryan Hunter-Reay still under a multi-year contract and Marco Andretti confirming a one-year extension into 2016, their status of driving with Andretti Autosport for the Verizon IndyCar Series season wasn’t really in question.

Carlos Munoz’s, however, sort of was. But the Colombian has re-signed with the team for at least one more season in its third car.

Munoz captured his first career victory at the first of two races at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, in an admittedly strategy-aided and weather-shortened race. Nonetheless, it was just rewards for a driver who had shown plenty of glimpses of potential in a handful of 2013 starts and his first full season in 2014.

But as the year went on there weren’t really too many other drives that stood out and Munoz tested the free agent waters before re-signing with Andretti Autosport.

As Munoz related during IndyCar media day last week, staying with Andretti was always the goal, but wasn’t guaranteed until his signing was confirmed in November.

“We had the contract for this year, but I had been talking to other teams,” Munoz told NBC Sports during the media day.

“The situation was that my first priority was to stay with Andretti, but they were looking for sponsorships and everything. They found one. (Grupo) Exito signed with them for one year, one extra year, knowing it’s the 100th running, and they want to be competitive in 500. I’m happy to be back for a third year.”

Munoz was a revelation in his first two Indianapolis 500 attempts in 2013 and 2014. He finished second and fourth those two years, and his fearless, low line route through Turn 1 in particular raised eyebrows around the paddock.

But with the deficiencies that affected Honda’s aero kit last year at Indianapolis, a third straight standout drive simply wasn’t on the cards.

Munoz and the late Justin Wilson nearly snatched top-five results on fuel strategy, before late-race splashes for fuel dropped them to 20th and 21st, respectively.

“My race last year was (just) to be the first Honda,” Munoz said. “I was achieving that; I was the quickest Honda the whole race, but my mistake going in the pits cost me a drive-through.

“We knew we didn’t have a chance against the Chevys. We were more than 2 mph slower. You can’t do anything with that. We cannot change much stuff now this year. But we’re fighting there, and we’ll see if we can change the package.”

Munoz debuted a new red and white firesuit at media day, which would seem to indicate a change in livery for his No. 26 Honda when it’s revealed.

Munoz and Hunter-Reay will be testing this week at Auto Club Speedway, on Wednesday, in a Honda manufacturer test day.

The three drivers are the lone three confirmed for the full-season. Team principal Michael Andretti admitted to my colleague Luke Smith over the weekend in Buenos Aires that there is a chance Robin Frijns may run selected races in a fourth car, while Simona de Silvestro told Smith her FIA Formula E commitments may prevent her from an Indianapolis 500 bow.