For IndyCar drivers, the history, challenge of Milwaukee endures

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It’s a legendary but rare, still living, enduring, and breathing organism.

“It” is The Milwaukee Mile – the lone remaining one-mile oval on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar – and a track whose history dates back to 1903, the oldest operating auto race track in North America.

Despite appearing similar in view, the two high-speed corners of Turns 1-2 and 3-4 pose a pair of separate and distinct challenges.

And then there’s traffic. For the 250 laps that make up the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the 22 drivers are weaving, slicing and dicing amongst themselves in a battle for position.

How your car is setup and how well you handle the traffic determine how well your day goes. And a tour through the paddock of drivers reveals how important both of those things are.

“Everything’s tough here. It’s a very challenging track to drive,” says Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. “It looks to be very similar at both ends, but in reality they are very different. The line’s a little different. The racing surface is a little different on each end. And being a flat (track) makes it so challenging.”

While Iowa Speedway is both shorter (0.875 of a mile) and faster (pole speed average over 185 mph), Milwaukee is longer and flatter in terms of short oval races.

Considering his mastery of both tracks over the last three years (he’s won five of the last six short oval races dating to 2011), Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport made a key point that the short ovals aren’t getting their just desserts in terms of points being awarded.

“The short oval is the only discipline of racetrack that we don’t pay double points. We pay double points on the road and streets and on the superspeedways,” Hunter-Reay explained during an INDYCAR conference call last month.

“We don’t pay double points on the short ovals at all. Short ovals is what IndyCar is all about. That’s kind of where it all started. It started obviously at the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Milwaukee Mile is the oldest racetrack in the world. It’s deep in IndyCar heritage.”

Another driver who knows and appreciates the heritage of the race is Ryan Briscoe, who won at Milwaukee in 2008 in what was a banner day for him and his then team, Team Penske.

The win was the first of seven thus far his IndyCar career, and the 300th overall for Penske in racing. Now, six years later, Briscoe’s trying to beat the Penske trio as part of the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet.

“It’s a really tough track, and it’s tough to get consistency over the long run,” Briscoe said. “There’s different handling from one end of the track to the other. I’ve had some really good races with (Scott) Dixon, often I’ve better in 1-2, and he’s better in 3-4. It’s a compromise of setup and the racing line.”

A driver looking to break through this weekend is Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing, who like Briscoe, if either won would tie the mark of different winners in a season with 11.

Wilson made his oval debut at the track 10 years ago, in 2004 in Champ Car, and has had two near misses on potential wins. He finished second in 2006, and was charging through the field in 2012 before an engine failure.

“It was pretty intense. I remember it being a very long night,” Wilson recalled of his 2004 rookie start, with Conquest Racing. “I was loose on turn in to 1 and 3. And this was back in the Champ Car days when we used to have 750 horsepower! So it was really fast. My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is hard.’ We missed the setup… it wasn’t a lot of fun.

“But then we came back the next year (with RuSPORT) and it was much better. We qualified fourth and things were a lot easier, a lot smoother. It was two extremes within one 12-month period.”

Of his 2006 battle with Nelson Philippe for second, Wilson said he had to have a good car to be able to run side-by-side for 20-lap segments.

In 2012, with Coyne, Wilson qualified second, had an engine change penalty that dropped him to 12thh on the grid, came from there to fifth or sixth twice before the engine blew. It was frustrating, he said, because he knew they had a race-winning car.

A win in 2014 though, 10 years after his oval debut, would be special.

“It’d mean a lot to win here… it’s such a historical track,” Wilson said. “It’s the first oval I raced at, so to come full circle and to get a win would be pretty cool.”

We’ll see whether it’ll be either of the above four or the other 18 entered will break through this weekend.

Mercedes’ Suzuka protest over Verstappen down to ‘miscommunication’

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking as he tries to overtake Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has revealed that the team’s brief protest over Max Verstappen’s second-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix was the result of a “miscommunication”.

Mercedes contacted the FIA following the race at Suzuka on October 9 to lodge a protest against Verstappen, believing his on-track defence from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to have breached the sporting regulations.

Verstappen finished less than a second clear at the checkered flag, meaning a time penalty would gain Hamilton a position and three extra points in his bid for the drivers’ championship.

The FIA stewards informed Mercedes that a decision could not be made at Suzuka as both Hamilton and Verstappen had already left the track, postponing a hearing to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin.

Mercedes withdrew its protest not long after, making the result of the race official and leaving Verstappen in second place with Hamilton third.

Ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Wolff explained what caused the mix-up over the protest, saying that Mercedes had to make a split decision before leaving Japan.

“It was a miscommunication,” Wolff said.

“When we left the circuit, I said that the Verstappen manoeuvre was a hard manoeuvre but probably what we want to see in Formula 1. He’s refreshing and I think that the drivers need to sort that out among themselves on track.

“And we decided not to step in and then it was an unfortunate coincidence that we took off, we left. The team had a minute to decide whether to protest or not and that’s what they did.

“Once we were able to communicate again, which was 30 minutes after take-off, we decided to withdraw the protest.”

WATCH LIVE: FP3 into USGP qualifying, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The third and final free practice session and qualifying for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix are on tap from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can watch coverage of both on NBCSN and streaming via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.

A mega-show will run on NBCSN covering both sessions, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Coverage of FP3 can be seen live online at NBCSports.com (f1stream.nbcsports.com) and the NBC Sports App for participating cable providers at 11 a.m. ET, and will run until 12 p.m. ET.

That FP3 coverage will then lead off the NBCSN show at 12:30 p.m. ET, and run for an hour. A half-hour pre-qualifying show then runs from 1:30 p.m. ET into the start of LIVE qualifying at 2 p.m. ET. Qualifying runs for an hour until 3 p.m. ET.

From 3 to 4 p.m. ET, there will be a post-qualifying show from Austin.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET for the live stream of FP3, then 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN for TV coverage of FP3, and LIVE qualifying from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Ecclestone: ‘Difficult’ to get more F1 races in the United States

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the Paddock  during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes it will be “difficult” to get more races in the United States despite a renewed drive to grow the sport in the American market.

The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas plays host to the United States Grand Prix for the fifth time this weekend, with track chairman Bobby Epstein predicting its second-highest attendance.

Following a recent takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media, a renewed drive on developing the sport’s presence in the USA is expected.

New F1 chairman Chase Carey has expressed a desire to grow the American fanbase, leading to questions about holding multiple races in the United States.

However, Ecclestone is unsure that getting another race in the USA would be possible, having tried to get the Grand Prix of the America in New Jersey off the ground in recent years.

“I think it will be difficult to get more races [in the U.S.]” Ecclestone told Reuters.

“I tried in New York. The trouble with the Americans is you want to do a deal with them and they want guaranteed profit before they start.

“I said if I knew that was going to happen, I wouldn’t need you.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff would like to see more American races added to the calendar, believing it to be an important market for the German manufacturer.

“It’s great to be in such a great place like Austin. Every year we are coming here, it’s really a fantastic venue,” Wolff said.

“Having more grands prix in such an important market for Mercedes, it would be good and wherever we can help, we will do that.”

However, Epstein expressed caution when talking to NBC Sports earlier this month about adding more U.S. races to the calendar, with the cost of hosting a grand prix being a huge stumbling block.

“The ability to support a number of multiple races in the U.S. is going to depend largely on the size of the fanbase,” Epstein said.

“It’s kind of a chicken and the egg equation. If you put on more races, it will create more fans, not just in the first year but over time hopefully it does.

“As much as anything, promoting the sport on TV and having races on our timezone over five to 10 years will build more fans.”

Kvyat retained alongside Sainz at Toro Rosso in 2017

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AUSTIN, Texas – Scuderia Toro Rosso have confirmed on Saturday Russian Daniil Kvyat will continue with the team into 2017, alongside Carlos Sainz Jr.

This gives the team the same pairing as they’ve had since this year’s Spanish Grand Prix. Sainz will be into his third season with the team, having been confirmed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Kvyat, who premiered with Toro Rosso in 2014 before moving up to Red Bull Racing in 2015 and then switched back to Toro Rosso this year, will now be set for his fourth overall season, third with Toro Rosso.

“It makes a change to announce our driver lineup relatively early,” said Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost in the team release. “There are so many new elements coming to Formula 1 in general and to our team specifically, in terms of the change of power unit supplier, that having the same two drivers gives us stability and a benchmark to work from.

“For Carlos, it will be his third year with us, which speaks volumes when it comes to how highly we rate him. In recent races, it has been clear that Daniil is back on top form. I always told him that his future with us was in his hands and he has stepped up to the mark and delivered the sort of performances that have ensured his 2017 seat in the STR 12. We now have a very talented and strong driver pairing to tackle a season in which we expect to be very competitive.”

“Great news! I’d like to thank Red Bull, Dr. Marko and all the team for their support and the faith they have shown in me since I returned to the team earlier this year,” Kvyat said in the release.

“I’m very happy to stay with a team that feels like home to me. I’m really looking forward to continuing the hard work together in 2017 and I’m really aiming high. I will always be fully dedicated, giving my 200%, and I will be pushing as hard as I usually do, that’s for sure. I’m delighted!”

Sainz hailed the continuity the team will have going into 2017, citing the upcoming regulation changes to come.

“Considering how many changes there are in the Formula 1 pipeline for 2017, it’s good to know that Daniil and I will continue to be teammates here in Toro Rosso next year,” he said. “We know each other very well, as we’ve been racing together since 2010, and we work well together. I know that this season isn’t over yet, but I’m already looking forward to next year!”

This comes as a perhaps surprising move with Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings and looking a good candidate for Kvyat’s spot, and being present here this weekend following his recent Pirelli 2017 tire test at Abu Dhabi for Red Bull Racing.

Kvyat had said earlier this weekend he was keen on continuing within the Red Bull framework, despite rumors of a move to Force India.