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Mario Andretti: Nearly 20 years later, IndyCar Series still suffering effects of CART-IRL split in attracting fans

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The fallout from the 1996 split between the now-defunct CART open-wheel series and the then-upstart Indy Racing League continues to hamper IndyCar’s efforts to further build the sport, according to legendary driver Mario Andretti.

Even though the two series reunited in 2008, IndyCar still struggles when it comes to attracting new fans, Andretti told John Bombatch of FairbornDailyHerald.com.

“I was hoping that by now, since it’s one series again, it would have regained more popularity,” Andretti said. “But I think the split was for too long, and we lost a lot of our fan base. We almost have another generation coming now.

“Sure, we have hardcore fans. But even still, the newer fan base has to be re-educated to appreciate what the IndyCar Series is all about. Right now, I think the product is really good. I think the races are the best I’ve ever seen, with the nature the cars are and the way it is regulated.”

With eight different winners in the series’ first 11 races of this season coming into Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway, parity has become synonymous with IndyCar – and the sanctioning body has to promote that type of close racing, said Andretti, a four-time open-wheel champ and winner of the 1969 Indianapolis 500.

“Once you’ve got the product, you’ve got to feel pretty positive about the series,” Andretti, 74, told Bombatch. “It’s just good racing, that’s all there is to it. The talent in the field is deep, it’s good. There’s a strong international contingent, which is fine. Golf has that. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve gotta keep hammering, that’s all.”

Even though Andretti has technically been retired from IndyCar racing for 20 years now, he’s still behind the wheel at most events, driving a specially-built two-seat race car in which he gives fans rides in during race weekends.

Andretti, the only driver to have ever won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, as well as USAC, CART and Formula One championships, is still mischievous in his new role as he was when he was a full-time racer.

“We’ve had a few people who just lose it,” Andretti told Bombatch with a laugh. “I’ve had a half dozen or so of those over the years, which makes it a special day. A bit embarrassing for them, but fun for me.

“There’s a panic button for the passenger to hit, which shows a red light on my steering wheel to tell me that they’re worried … and I ignore it. Once you’re in the cockpit, you’ve gotta go with me. Sometimes people get a little nervous, which is good. I like that actually. That’s the whole idea.”

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Grosjean: Aggressive tire strategy could give Haas points at Spa

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean believes that an aggressive strategy could see the Haas Formula 1 Team score points in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix after qualifying 11th at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Grosjean struggled with the setup on his car throughout practice, venting his frustration over the radio on a number of occasions, but managed to rein the VF-16 car in during qualifying to get into Q2.

Although the Frenchman was unable to secure Haas’ first Q3 appearance since entering F1 at the beginning of the season, he was pleased with the result and the progress made by the team.

“The car was fine in qualifying. We made a good step before the summer break, so I’m more happy with the car,” Grosjean said.

“There are still a few things we can improve but, generally, it’s not a bad place to be after qualifying.

“For the race, I don’t think we’ll be as challenged as some of the other teams. Hopefully, we can have a good, aggressive strategy and try to make it work to get some points.”

Grosjean has scored all 28 of Haas’ points so far this season, with his P6 and P5 finishes in Australia and Bahrain respectively coming in part thanks to canny strategy calls by the pit wall.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg wary of Verstappen, Hamilton threats in Belgium

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany drives the  Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg may have swept to his sixth pole position of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Belgium on Saturday, but the German remains wary of the threats posed from either end of the grid by Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes opted to curtail Hamilton’s qualifying program early due to the array of penalties he has picked up for engine changes that meant he would start last regardless of where he finished in qualifying.

This left Rosberg to go relatively unchallenged to pole, making it through Q2 on the soft tire before seeing off late charges from Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen to top the timesheets in Q3.

However, Rosberg felt the result was never secure, particularly after struggling in final practice just three hours earlier.

“We had a difficult weekend until qualifying, especially this morning we were thinking that we were off the pace a bit,” Rosberg said.

“So I was really happy to grab pole today. The Red Bulls were quickest on the long runs on Friday, so we need to be at our best to beat them.”

With Verstappen starting on the front row with the super-soft tire, Rosberg believes he could slip behind off the line with his soft compound Pirellis.

“The tires are a big challenge in the heat here this weekend. The degradation is very high,” Rosberg said.

“My disadvantage at the start is that I have a harder tire with lower grip, so Max should get off the line quicker on the super-soft.”

Rosberg will also be keeping an eye on Hamilton’s progress, believing he could come into contention despite being set to start from the back row.

“I reckon that with some luck and a maybe a safety car, Lewis can climb up to the top very quickly, so he can’t be ruled out either,” Rosberg said.

“In any case, I’m pleased with my qualifying and looking forward to tomorrow. It will be an exciting and intense race.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

IMSA: Magnussen leads Corvette Racing 1-2 in VIR qualifying

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Jan Magnussen has broken a personal drought to continue Corvette Racing’s weekend pace ahead of Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, the GT-only round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Magnussen hadn’t qualified on the pole since the Long Beach street race in 2014 in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R he shares with Antonio Garcia, but broke that duck today by edging teammate Tommy Milner by just 0.011 of a second. Garcia scored a pole at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the No. 3 car’s – and Corvette’s – first pole of the year.

Magnussen’s best lap was 1:41.557 to Milner’s 1:41.568; Milner and co-driver Oliver Gavin lead the points tables in GT Le Mans heading into Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race.

“I’m so happy. We’re here alone. Overall pole makes it even better!” Magnussen told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam. “It’s so close up front. I knew we had to get every hundredth to beat the 4 car! It was a fantastic effort from the whole team.”

The No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller) starts third ahead of the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE and No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. The top Porsche, the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR, starts seventh, a spot ahead of Gavin and Milner’s closest title rivals Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford.

Meanwhile, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 continued its pace this weekend with Madison Snow scoring his first, the car’s second (Bryan Sellers, Detroit) and the manufacturer’s third (Spencer Pumpelly, Change Racing, Lime Rock) pole of the year in GT Daytona.

Snow’s best time was 1:44.956, and that time led a top six sweep from brands under the VAG umbrella. The three Lamborghinis were first, third and fifth with the two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS cars in second and fourth and the lone Porsche in GTD, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, in sixth.

Those six were separated by 0.607 of a second, and Ben Keating was seventh in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R and the only other driver within a second at 0.724.

Christina Nielsen qualified the points leading No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 in eighth.

Tomorrow’s race rolls off at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

Qualifying results are linked here.

Raikkonen disappointed to miss out on Belgian GP pole

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen felt disappointed after missing out on pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix during qualifying on Saturday, believing it to have been within Ferrari’s reach.

Raikkonen’s last Formula 1 pole came back in 2008 at the French Grand Prix, but the four-time Spa winner looked to be in the mix at the front after leading final practice on Saturday morning.

With his sole flying lap in Q3, Raikkonen finished third, less than two-tenths of a second off the time set by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg on pole.

However, Raikkonen feels that those two-tenths were lost at the final corner, making P3 a disappointing result.

“Compared to my Q2 lap, [I lost] two-tenths in last chicane. Pole position was there,” Raikkonen said.

“Disappointing. Since we were close it would have been nice to get it.

“Tomorrow is the race. Compared to previous few races we have to be satisfied.

“But until we’re in the front, we can’t be too happy.”

Raikkonen will start alongside Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel on the second row of the grid, the German qualifying fourth in the second SF16-H car.

“Looking at the gaps, when it’s close, you think you could be a bit closer. But it’s an OK place to start,” Vettel told NBCSN.

“I think we’re fine. We’re happy with what we have. Nothing has changed. Quite a bit warmer than everyone expected. In the end, we’re in Spa so there’s always a likelihood of rain somewhere! Gaps were close between cars so it should be a close race.

“Mercedes wasn’t that far away. On super-softs we weren’t that far off. Difficult to predict their real pace in the race.

“If there’s a chance, we go for it.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.