IMSAatIMS

IMSA: Indianapolis thoughts and observations

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Just four weekends remain in the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season following this weekend’s Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis. A few weekend thoughts and observations:

  • Party like it’s 1995: Nearly 20 years after the 1995 Indianapolis 500, that race was discussed when referring to the top two finishers in the race on Friday. Christian Fittipaldi, who co-drove the winning No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, finished second in that race – what was the Brazilian’s only ‘500 start. Meanwhile the car that finished second, the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley, featured a driver who crashed out of the lead in that 1995 Indianapolis 500, Scott Pruett, and a co-driver who was all of three months old at the time of the race: Sage Karam. It’s funny how relevant that race has been in 2014, with Jacques Villeneuve having returned to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time this year since winning that day in May, some 19 years ago…
  • Perfect pole parity: In the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes, there has not been a single repeat pole winner this year. The P class is eight-for-eight in different polesitters, with four Daytona Prototype car poles and four P2 car poles. GTLM is seven-for-seven, split among five different manufacturers (Dodge Viper SRT, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Ferrari). IMSA really couldn’t have done much better than that in terms of outright lap time balance.
  • IMS circuit still favored DPs over a race distance: Like the series’ street races, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is more of a point-and-shoot track where torque and horsepower play dividends. So over a race distance, the DPs had the edge over the P2s, which had good single lap speed thanks to their pace in the infield section. Longer fuel stints also aided the DPs. The scorecard reads 6 DP wins to only 2 P2s… however this makes it seem more lopsided than it is. The lap time achievement balance is close, given the aforementioned balance in qualifying results. But given the nature of most circuits over a race distance, it takes a near perfect effort for a P2 to get and stay ahead given the car’s disadvantages.
  • The kids are alright: IndyCar rookie Jack Hawksworth and Indianapolis 500 near rookie-of-the-year Karam put in star turns Friday at IMS. Karam started the No. 01 car, survived a first corner fracas where prototypes were making contact around him, led during a portion of his stint and handed over the car to Scott Pruett all good to go. Hawksworth closed the race in the No. 08 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 in Prototype Challenge, and hunted down and passed teammate Bruno Junqueira. Not bad at all for the young Englishman in his sports car, multi-class debut, going against one of racing’s most underrated drivers.
  • The paddock/schedule was not alright: There were some frustrating reports I received from those on the ground at IMS, given the paddock layout for the TUDOR Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The TUDOR paddock was split behind the NASCAR/F1 garages and on the East side of the IMS museum – near Turn 2 – while the CTSC paddock was housed behind the suites at pit in. Some 0.8 of a mile each way was the walking distance as measured, and made it something of a headache for anyone needing to spent considerable time in both paddocks. While racing on the track’s “Super Weekend” holds some appeal in terms of a cohesive, unified, NASCAR-owned front, it’s hard not to feel that it could be better for the TUDOR Championship to race as the lead series at IMS in the future – a.k.a. not at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night.
  • Risi’s big improvement: Behind the race-winning Dodge Viper SRT squad, Risi Ferrari turned the corner with pole from Giancarlo Fisichella and a runner-up finish for he and co-driver Pierre Kaffer in the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia. Aided in part by Adjustment of Performance updates, the Ferrari excelled on the twisty IMS circuit and had a rare trouble-free weekend, despite a couple offs in the race.
  • Hard luck for Porsche: The factory Porsche North America squad turned in by far its best effort since the opening two races in Florida on Friday with the Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche 911 RSRs, but engine-related issues forced the leading No. 911 into retirement following a great drive from Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy. The No. 912, driven by Patrick Long and Michael Christensen, made it onto the podium in third. With AoP updates coming for Porsches at Road America including a bigger air restrictor, larger splitter and rear wing, they could well be the favorites there.
  • Audi on the doorstep: With Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Dodge Viper SRT having scored wins in the GT Daytona class, only Audi and Aston Martin are yet to break through. But Audi is very close. The Paul Miller Racing team has three podiums – including second at Indy with Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller in the team’s No. 48 Audi R8 LMS ultra. Meanwhile the Flying Lizard squad has had a host of near misses and poor luck has struck the Fall-Line Motorsports effort more often than not. PMR posted its best 2013 race at Road America a year ago, finishing fourth in the American Le Mans Series GT class with what had been an older spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and should be better positioned for success this time around.

In two weeks’ time, the series heads to my home track – Elkhart Lake’s Road America – for the next round of the season.

Ricciardo fulfils potential with Monaco pole, has strategy options

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates getting pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo believes that his charge to pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday proves the potential that he and Red Bull have shown in recent races.

Ricciardo ended Mercedes’ perfect qualifying record in 2016 to take his first pole position in Formula 1, edging out Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in Q3.

The result marked Red Bull’s first pole since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix and comes just two weeks after Max Verstappen’s victory for the team in Spain.

Speaking after qualifying, Ricciardo said he was pleased to have delivered on the potential that he felt was there coming into the weekend.

“I knew coming into the weekend we’d have a shot at it. It looked good from Thursday,” Ricciardo said.

“I sort of had it in my mind the whole time coming into the weekend. I think also after Barcelona, the last few races, I felt like I’ve been driving well but haven’t quite got maximum rewards.

“I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and belief that I could be in this position now. I’m very happy to fulfil that. It feels good.

“I’ve always enjoyed this place. The car’s good, we’ve got a good package behind us now, it’s nice to make the most of it.”

Ricciardo will start Sunday’s race on the super-soft tire after completing his quickest lap in Q2 on the compound, while his rivals will be forced to use the less durable ultra-soft in the first stint.

The move means that Ricciardo can go far longer in the race before making his first pit stop, putting him in a strong position relying that the forecast rain does not hit Monaco tomorrow.

“We’ll see tomorrow if it works,” Ricciardo said.

“The plan was to go out on the ultra-soft for the first run in Q2 and at least try and do a good enough lap with that. We had the time on our side so we thought let’s try and see what the super-soft can do.

“We just feel maybe it opens up a few more options for the race tomorrow. We did a good lap on that. I think it set us up well for Q3 as well, knowing that I had the ultra-soft and that step in grip. I was able to maximize that and do the lap.

“I think today we’re sitting pretty. Hopefully it turns in our favor tomorrow.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Ricciardo takes maiden F1 pole position in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo will start Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from pole position after surprising the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in qualifying on Saturday.

Ricciardo displayed an impressive pace in practice, and was able to carry this form into Q3 to produce a stunning lap of 1:13.622 that was good enough for his first pole position in Formula 1.

Ricciardo came under intense pressure from Rosberg and Hamilton late in the session, the former finishing less than two-tenths of a second shy to end the day P2.

Hamilton’s luckless start to the season looked set to continue when he reported a loss of power on his car at the start of Q3. Mercedes was able to resolve the issue and send him out with five minutes remaining, but the Briton opted to bide his time before having one final push with just seconds remaining in the session.

However, Hamilton could only manage third with his final run, handing Ricciardo pole position for Red Bull, marking not only his first but also that of Red Bull in the V6 turbo era.

Ricciardo will also start the race on the super-soft tire after completing his quickest run on the compound in Q2, meaning he will be able to go longer in the race before pitting compared to his rivals.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Force India ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, the latter set to drop five places due to a grid penalty. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat, while Fernando Alonso reached Q3 once again for McLaren, ending the session 10th.

Williams’ poor qualifying form in Monaco continued as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished 11th and 14th respectively in Q2. The British team has not qualified inside the top 10 in Monaco since 2011.

Esteban Gutierrez outqualified Romain Grosjean for the first time this season, finishing 12th while his teammate lagged behind in P15. Jenson Button was unable to match Alonso’s pace, qualifying down in P13 for McLaren.

Renault endured another difficult qualifying session as Jolyon Palmer was once again eliminated in Q1, finishing 18th. Kevin Magnussen narrowly made it through to Q2 at the expense of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, but could only qualify 16th on the grid for tomorrow’s race. The Dane is also under investigation after appearing to leave the pit lane under a red light in Q1.

Manor had another fairly routine qualifying, gaining positions thanks to the mistakes of others. Rio Haryanto outqualified highly-rated teammate Pascal Wehrlein for the third time this season, finishing 19th in Q1.

Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen suffered a dramatic change in fortunes when he crashed out in Q1 before posting a lap time. The Red Bull driver clipped the wall on the inside of the Swimming Pool chicane, sending him into the barrier on exit and bringing out the red flag.

Verstappen walked away unharmed, but was classified 21st overall, only ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr who suffered an engine failure earlier in the session that also warranted a red flag stoppage.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

‘Halo’ F1 cockpit protection set for 2017 introduction

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MARCH 03:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari tests the new halo head protection system on track during day three of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 3, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 chiefs have agreed to introduce the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device for the 2017 season, according to reports.

Following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing, the FIA has placed improving cockpit safety high on its agenda.

The Halo was given its first public run-out during pre-season testing, the structure being attached to the cockpit at three points.

Reviews of Mercedes’ design were mixed, with concerns also being raised about the obstruction of the driver’s vision and the time it would take to leave the cockpit.

Red Bull offered its solution to improving head protection in practice for the Russian Grand Prix, debuting the ‘aeroscreen’ that acts more like a canopy in a fighter jet.

The aeroscreen again split opinion, but was deemed to be a viable option for possible implementation in 2017 by the FIA after significant progress had been made in its development.

However, multiple reports ahead of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix claim that a decision has now been taken to introduce a refined version of the Halo next season.

BBC Sport reported that the aeroscreen remains on the table and may be introduced in 2018, but has been shelved for next year after an “unexpectedly poor performance in a recent test”.

The Halo will undergo further testing before a final decision is taken over the summer, with approval from the F1 Strategy Group, the F1 Commission and the FIA World Motor Sport Council required.

Vettel quickest in closely-fought final practice in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel closed out practice for the Monaco Grand Prix with the fastest time after edging out his Mercedes and Red Bull rivals in a tight battle on Saturday morning.

Red Bull had led the way on Thursday as Daniel Ricciardo put the Pirelli ultra-soft tires and his upgraded Renault engine to good use, but it could not repeat this form ahead of qualifying.

The session offered a raging battle between Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari as all three teams enjoyed spells at the top of the timesheets. Ricciardo’s pace shone through once again early in the session, but it was Vettel who ultimately finished fastest.

A lap of 1:14.650 was enough to edge out Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just 0.018 seconds, with Nico Rosberg following in the sister Mercedes a further one-tenth of a second behind.

Ricciardo was forced to settle for P4 for Red Bull as traffic prevented him from completing a late qualifying simulation, while teammate Max Verstappen finished just behind in P5.

Verstappen was fortunate not to damage his Red Bull RB12 car when he locked up at Massenet and bumped into the wall. Remarkably, the glancing blow only damaged his front wing, leaving Verstappen’s team with a minimal repair job ahead of qualifying.

Toro Rosso continued its strong start to the weekend as Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished sixth and seventh respectively, finishing within striking distance of the leading three teams.

Sergio Perez ended the session eighth-fastest for Force India, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.

Final practice saw a number of drivers making use of the slip roads as they found the limit during their qualifying simulations.

Esteban Gutierrez, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all ran wide at points, while Renault had another miserable session after Jolyon Palmer spun at the Swimming Pool chicane and damaged the rear of his car.

Up front though, with just one second separating the top nine cars and less than two-tenths covering Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg and Ricciardo, the stage appears to be set for a close battle for pole position later today.

Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.