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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.

Steiner: Haas being 11th ‘starting to get old’

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Haas Formula 1 chief Guenther Steiner joked that being 11th is “starting to get old” after seeing Romain Grosjean narrowly miss out on the team’s first Q3 appearance in Hungary.

Grosjean and teammate Esteban Gutierrez were well inside the top 10 after completing their final lap times, only for a flurry of improvements on a rapidly-drying track to bump them down to 11th and 15th respectively.

Grosjean believed that Q3 was within Haas’ reach in Hungary, but instead suffered his ninth straight Q2 exit.

“It was close. We were only one-tenth off of Lewis [Hamilton’s] P10 time,” Grosjean said.

“All things considered, to be that close, it’s a good thing. We successfully made all the right decisions at the right time in qualifying, including tire choices.

“It was a very difficult qualifying session, but we showed how much we’ve improved as a team from day one through today. We were perfect today in our execution. We were fast on both the extreme wet and intermediate tires. We weren’t too bad on slicks.

“I know that tenth-of-a-second that denied us today is somewhere in there. I’m pretty happy with everything.

“If it doesn’t rain tomorrow it’s going to be boiling hot, and that always makes for a good race.”

Like Grosjean, Steiner looked on the bright side of the result, but joked he was tired of Haas narrowly missing out on the top 10.

“It was quite an exciting qualifying session with a lot of action out there,” Steiner said.

“To keep cool in this situation is very difficult, but I think the team did a good job. We managed everything very well, so we’ve no regrets.

“We ended up 11th and 15th. Being 11th is starting to get old, but at least by being there Romain can start on new tires, so that will be an advantage.

“Esteban can make his way up. He’s in good company, with Kimi [Raikkonen] just ahead. We’re almost there, but still not in Q3, which is where we want to be.

“But 11th is a good starting position. Tomorrow we’re confident we can move up. We’ll be trying hard to get points.”

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

Pierre Gasly takes second GP2 win in Hungary feature race

Pierre Gasly (FRA, PREMA, Racing) leads the field.
2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary
Saturday 23 July 2016

Photo: /GP2 Series Media Service
ref: Digital Image _ONY3476
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Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly swept to his second GP2 Series victory in the space of two weeks with a dominant display at the Hungaroring on Saturday afternoon.

Victory in the feature race at Silverstone saw Gasly end a win drought dating back almost three years to his Formula Renault 2.0 days and move back into contention for the championship.

The Frenchman would have to wait just 14 days for his second GP2 win to come about as he fended off charges from Antonio Giovinazzi, Sergey Sirotkin and Raffaele Marciello to win in Budapest.

A good start allowed Gasly to control the early part of the race before pitting to the hard tire, at which point he was left to battle with cars running an alternate strategy.

Ex-Ferrari academy member Marciello looked to extend his prime stint before making the switch to the soft compound late on. The Italian put his fresh rubber to good use, cutting the gap to Gasly, Giovinazzi and Sirotkin after emerging from the pits behind the trio.

Arden’s Jimmy Eriksson rolled the dice on an ambitious strategy, pitting from the lead with just two laps remaining. The Swede came back out in eighth place, but retired after running out of fuel just half a lap from the finish.

Gasly had kept his cool, regaining the lead when Eriksson finally pitted with Giovinazzi and Sirotkin two seconds further back before crossing the line to claim his second victory in the space of two weeks.

Giovinazzi held Sirotkin off to complete a one-two finish for Prema, leaving the Russian to settle for P3. Marciello finished fourth ahead of Arthur Pic and Nobuharu Matsushita, while Norman Nato was seventh. Jordan King finished eighth for the third feature race in a row, giving him pole for Sunday’s sprint race in Hungary.

Victory gives Gasly a seven-point lead in the drivers’ standings ahead of Giovinazzi, with Marciello a further 12 points behind.

Audi locks out front row for WEC 6 Hours of Nurburgring

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Audi made the most of damp conditions in qualifying to lock out the front row for Sunday’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nurburgring.

Running with its new high downforce aero kit for this weekend’s race, Audi ran 2015 Nurburgring winners Porsche close in practice on Friday.

A damp but drying track left Audi and Porsche to scrap for pole with Toyota lurking just behind, making the timing of laps and tire strategy crucial.

The no. 7 Audi R18 may be a man light this weekend after Benoit Treluyer was ruled out through injury, but Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer were still able to produce two emphatic laps to clinch pole on home soil for the German marque.

A two-lap average of 1:39.444 between the pair was enough to secure their second pole of the season, heading up a one-two finish for Audi.

Lucas di Grassi posted the fastest time of the session in the no. 8 Audi R18, going half a second quicker than Lotterer’s best lap, but a slower effort from Oliver Jarvis meant they fell two-tenths of a second shy of pole.

Porsche was left to settle for P3 and P4 on the grid, the no. 1 919 Hybrid shared by Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard in qualifying finishing four-tenths off Audi’s pole time. The sister no. 2 car was just three-hundredths of a second further back in P4.

Toyota ailed to fifth and sixth in LMP1, finishing over a second behind Audi at the top, but as witnessed at Le Mans, the race pace of the TS050 Hybrid car is to be reckoned with.

LMP2 qualifying followed the form from practice as G-Drive Racing continued its perfect pole record in 2016. A rapid final lap from Rene Rast was almost a second quicker than any other driver in class, giving G-Drive a buffer of 0.7 seconds over the no. 36 Signatech Alpine crew in second place. British squad Strakka Racing qualified third, less than a tenth away from a place on the front row.

Aston Martin Racing picked up its maiden GTE Pro pole as Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen set the pace, recording a two-lap average of 2:01.712 in the Vantage V8. The no. 66 Ford GT shared by Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla finished two-tenths further back in P2, with the second AMR entry qualifying third in class.

It proved to be a good day for Porsche entries in GTE Am was Abu Dhabi Proton Racing and KCMG locked out the front row in class, both running Porsche 911 RSRs. The former took pole by less than two-tenths of a second, with a rapidly drying track handing the initiative to those running later in the session.

The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nurburgring kicks off at 1pm local time in Germany on Sunday.

Late yellow in Hungary Q3 leaves Ricciardo ‘pretty angry’

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing in the post qualifying press conference during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo felt “pretty angry” after his final lap in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix was ruined by a yellow flag.

Ricciardo spent the entirety of qualifying running towards the top of the timesheets as wet conditions prompted drivers to think on their feet with tire choice and the risks they took.

The track was dry enough for slicks by Q3, where Ricciardo sat third after his first run despite running wide at the final corner and nearly spinning.

The Australian geared up for a final run just before the checkered flag fell, only for a yellow flag shown following a spin for Fernando Alonso to force him to back off.

Ricciardo was left to settle for third on the grid, but thinks he could have been in the mix on the front row had he been able to finish his lap.

“I don’t know. We got hurt by the yellow as well,” Ricciardo said.

“I was pretty angry on that last lap because I was up a bit and I think it would have put me closer to pole.

“It would have been interesting without the yellow. I’m a little disappointed because it’s a ‘what could have been’.

“But at the same time I think the session went really well. I think in all conditions we were competitive.”

Qualifying ran for twice its usual length due to a mix of rain and red flags, with parts of the track remaining damp in Q3.

“It was crazy, you had to adapt quickly, when to go on to slicks in Q2,” Ricciardo said.

“Even just the little things like getting out of pit lane in Q2 on slick tires when it was so wet, sideways coming into Trun 1. It was fun. It was challenging.

“On the last corner in Q3, there was still a wet patch just next to the curb, it sort of sucked me in as I opened DRS as well.

“I was in for a little bit of a ride, but in the end, survived.”

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