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IndyCar: Pagenaud has to weigh his options carefully for 2015 and beyond

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As the marquee free agent in the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2015, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud has to weigh his options carefully for next year, all while maintaining focus on his current championship charge in 2014.

Pagenaud will be at the end of his three-year contract with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the end of the year. The team has improved by leaps and bounds over this period.

Led by team manager Rob Edwards, with engineer Ben Bretzman, Pagenaud has thrived first as a rookie-in-name-only during the 2012 season as the only car on a single car team. There were several podiums, season rookie-of-the-year honors and fifth place in the points.

Come 2013, Pagenaud made it up to third in points and bagged his first two wins and the team expanded to two cars with Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier advancing. But Vautier, despite occasional flashes of promise, generally struggled and the chemistry with Pagenaud was nearly nonexistent as the year went on.

The call to bring in Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin alongside for 2014 came slightly out of left field, but Aleshin has been one of the pleasant surprises of the year thus far. According to Edwards, in a blog written by veteran motorsports journalist Gordon Kirby, the chemistry is much improved this year as Pagenaud and Aleshin have clicked much better.

“This year Mikhail is on the same learning curve on ovals,” Edwards said. “But the chemistry between Simon and him is really strong and Simon has helped him with that as someone who’s been through it recently. Also, I think we understand how to bring someone through that in an Indy car on an oval having gone through that learning curve recently with Simon. Mikhail has showed he’s a fast driver. His goal this year is to show consistency and to learn ovals.”

Edwards praises Pagenaud’s leadership.

“Simon does a very good job of getting the team around him. When we do well, we do well together, and when we struggle, we struggle together. He’s in the middle of it, working to figure out how to sort it out. He’s very meticulous, very detail-oriented.”

And leadership is a word that should not be taken lightly when it comes to Pagenaud’s future beyond this year.

If Pagenaud was to shift to Andretti Autosport – as is possible given certain rumors – he’d be at direct loggerheads with Andretti’s generally accepted team leader, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Generally, a team can only have one alpha dog, and the thing that has brought Andretti Autosport back from the doldrums of 2008 through 2010 more than anything has been the chemistry between drivers Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe and their respective crews.

As a fifth entry, Pagenaud would enhance what’s already a quality operation, but he’d definitely upset the status quo. As a fourth – possibly replacing Hinchcliffe, who’s only on a one-year deal for 2014 with a team option for 2015 – he’d be an upgrade over the popular, quick but inconsistent “Hinch.”

The decision could also come down to which team Honda prefers Pagenaud race with. Pagenaud’s history with Honda/Acura is well documented and with Chip Ganassi Racing having switched from Honda to Chevrolet this year, Andretti Autosport has become the “de facto” lead Honda squad. Meanwhile Pagenaud is viewed by many in the IndyCar paddock as Honda’s lead driver.

For competitive balance in the series, Pagenaud at SPM is better than one of the three established “power teams” gaining another superstar. And while Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz are all very, very good shoes, Pagenaud is a cut above all three of them at the moment. He’s not quite on par with Hunter-Reay, but he’s damn close.

That said, a Pagenaud switch could open the door at SPM for another talented veteran currently stuck in the midpack – think a Justin Wilson type if he was to become available.

As it is, Pagenaud will have to strike the delicate balance for the rest of 2014 between figuring out his own future and trying to hunt down the Team Penske trio – and Hunter-Reay – for the IndyCar title. He currently sits fourth in points, 50 behind points leader Helio Castroneves, heading to Toronto next weekend.

Folger to make MotoGP debut with Tech3 in 2017

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - APRIL 22: Jonas Folger of Germany and Dynavolt Intact GP  rounds the bend during the MotoGp of Spain - Free Practice at Circuito de Jerez on April 22, 2016 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Yamaha Tech3 has confirmed that rising German talent Jonas Folger will make his MotoGP debut with the team in 2017, stepping up from Moto2.

Folger, 22, finished sixth in last year’s Moto2 riders’ championship, and already has one pole position and two podiums to his name after four races in 2016.

The Kalex rider will make the jump up to MotoGP for 2017, joining the Yamaha satellite team on a one-year deal with an option for a second.

“I am super excited about the news and I still can’t believe this is happening,” Folger said.

“I have been racing for years in the motorcycling world championship and to make the move up to the premier class is a dream come true plus I’d like to thank all my sponsors that have stuck by me all these years.

“Furthermore, it’s an honor to make this step with Yamaha, Hervé Poncharal and Tech3 team who have such a long and deep history in the paddock. I will try my absolute best to repay the faith the team has put in me, and I’m really looking forward to the new adventure.

“However, I will remain completely focused for the rest of the year in the intermediate class but I can’t wait for Valencia where I will sample the Yamaha YZR-M1 for the first time.”

Folger will get his first taste of the Tech3-run Yamaha bike at the traditional end of season MotoGP test in Spain this November.

Hamilton asks fans to trust and respect Mercedes team

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leaves the paddock after the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has called on his fans to trust and respect the Mercedes team amid unfounded allegations of sabotage in the past two races.

Hamilton suffered an issue on his power unit in qualifying for both the Chinese and Russian Grands Prix, helping teammate Nico Rosberg on his way to a streak of four successive victories to start the season.

Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff responded to claims on social media that the team was deliberately hindering Hamilton’s efforts by calling the accusers “lunatics”, before Mercedes itself wrote an open letter to its fans in response to the claims.

Hamilton has now issued a message of his own via his Facebook page on Friday:

Dear All,

I want you to know how grateful I am for all of your support. I’d like to ask that you please trust in my team, as I do. This is my family. These guys have been the greatest, hardest working people for me, and that is why I am now 3x World Champion.

Please don’t put any more thought into my team doing anything unjust towards me, and understand that it would be in no ones best interest for that to be the case. We’ve had the best 3 years together, and whilst it’s not going to plan right now, all will unfold in its own time.

I trust these guys 1000% and my mechanics are incredible, the best in the business. I respect them so please do the same. They are the guys that are going to make winning this championship possible.

Thank you once again.

Hamilton will bid to end Rosberg’s winning streak and get back into the title hunt when F1 arrives in Europe next weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Button confused by Red Bull’s decision to drop Kvyat

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda in the garage during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button questioned Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat for Max Verstappen as of the Spanish Grand Prix, saying the team has “short memories”.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that Kvyat would be returning to Toro Rosso, its B-team, as of the next race in Barcelona, with Verstappen moving in the opposite direction.

The decision sparked mixed reactions on social media, with many pointing out that Kvyat had been on the podium just three weeks ago in China.

Button made the exact same point in a couple of tweets sent from his Twitter account on Thursday.

IMS confirms 100th Indy 500 reserved seats are sold out

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have confirmed Friday that the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a sellout crowd, with confirmation all reserved seats have been sold.

“Every Indianapolis 500 is special, but the buzz surrounding the 100th Running has been building for nearly a year, ever since the checkered flag fell on the 99th,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a release. “Our fans are the best in sports and their incredible support of this year’s race will make it a truly historic day for ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’”

Further information is linked here, via the IMS website.