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At just 16 years old, is Max Verstappen simply too young for F1?

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When news broke of Max Verstappen’s promotion to a full-time seat with Toro Rosso earlier this week, it was met with a great deal of surprise by the Formula 1 community.

Although he was always known to be in the running for some sort of role with Red Bull (which owns Toro Rosso) in the future, few would have predicted that we would already be talking about his full F1 debut in 2015, when he will be just 17 years old.

His birthday is in September, but even at 17, he’ll still be too young to get a road driver’s license in his native Netherlands. Nevertheless, he’ll be piloting a multi-million dollar F1 car next season after just one season in single seaters. Is this really too soon for a driver to be making their debut?

Firstly, let’s talk about Verstappen himself. The son of former F1 driver Jos, the Dutch youngster made his name in go-karts, winning the world karting championship last year. He then moved into single seaters, with the natural option being Formula Renault. However, he instead moved straight into the FIA F3 European Championship, one of the most competitive junior series around.

This year, he has flourished in F3, currently ranking second in the standings behind Ferrari junior Antonio Fuoco. He won six races on the bounce at Spa and at the Norisring, and is certainly one of the breakout drivers in the current field.

Despite his success, many expected him to move into either GP2, GP3 or Formula Renault 3.5 for 2015. It was known that both Mercedes and Red Bull were chasing his services as a junior driver, and the drinks giant won – obviously, the promise of a race seat was going to outweigh any other offer.

Red Bull confirmed earlier this month that it had secured Verstappen’s services, and he raced at the Nurburgring with his car donned in its livery. Few would have predicted that he would have been confirmed just a few days later at Toro Rosso, though. The natural successor to Jean-Eric Vergne appeared to be Carlos Sainz Jr., but like many before him at Red Bull, he will now be asking just where he can go next.

Is Verstappen talented enough? Most definitely. Is he experienced enough? No, but, it is worth noting that Kimi Raikkonen had just one season in Formula Renault under his belt before he made his debut back in 2001 for Sauber. Nowadays, the cars are much easier to drive, and Toro Rosso has confirmed that it will be putting Verstappen through his paces in a Formula Renault 3.5 car and an old F1 car to ensure that he is ready for his debut in Melbourne next March. He will also be taking part in practice for the races in the USA, Brazil and Abu Dhabi later this year.

So is his debut something that concerns the current crop of drivers? Not particularly.

“I think it’s great that teams are still interested in the talent of the driver and not the money,” said Felipe Massa in yesterday’s press conference. “I think that’s really positive, it’s good for the sport in general.

“I think the most important thing is that he has the talent. I hope he can be clever as well to learn everything from Formula 1.”

Massa did also say that “seventeen is a little bit young,” whilst Daniel Ricciardo said it made him feel old – old being 25.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that he has and it’s something quite special to come to Formula 1,” noted Lotus driver Romain Grosjean. “As everyone says, he has shown great talent early in his career, but he will have a lot of homework to do to learn everything about racing in higher categories.

“It’s good to see fresh blood, but a bit sad for JEV.”

Indeed, Jean-Eric Vergne is the big loser in all of this. At just 24, he is already facing the end of his F1 career, with the seats on the grid for 2015 being very hotly contested. He needs a great run in the final eight races to prove that he is worthy of a place for next season.

“I understand the decision,” the Frenchman said. “I’m not pissed off. I’m a little bit sad obviously because I like the team and believe it is a good one.

“It’s always in difficult moments that you can show your best potential, and that’s what I’m going to do in the next eight races.”

Fighting words from a man who was in the running for a Red Bull drive this time last year. Oh how quickly things can change in this sport…

As for Verstappen himself, he has few concerns about how ready he will be for Formula 1 in 2015, even if the news hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” he told NBCSN’s Will Buxton in this week’s Paddock Pass. “I still can’t believe it really. First time when I get in the car, that’s when I’ll feel like ‘this is it’.

“I think at the end of the day, age doesn’t make a difference. As long as you can drive a car fast and you’re consistent without mistakes, there’s no issue about age.”

As with any driver, it is impossible to really know how they will perform until they are actually out on track for the first time. However, Verstappen will indeed raise some concerns about the age of F1 drivers. 17 is very young, but he may just well prove us all wrong.

Ever since it entered F1 in 2005 as a team, Red Bull has bucked the trend and revolutionized much of the sport. It can indeed boast the records for the youngest driver (Jaime Alguersuari), youngest point scorer (Daniil Kvyat), youngest race winner and world champion (both Sebastian Vettel). Verstappen could yet top them all, given the sensational start that he has made to his career.

F1 at 17 is a big ask, but it had to happen one day. Max will be out to prove his critics wrong, and this could prove to be a decision that we look back on in years to come with praise, calling it a “masterstroke” – even if it does make us all feel pretty old.

Will third time be the charm for Newgarden at Mid-Ohio?

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Josef Newgarden has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the last two Verizon IndyCar Series races.

The 25-year-old Hendersonville, Tennessee native roared to his first win of the season at Iowa Speedway in dominating fashion (led 282 of 300 laps), only to crash and finish last in the next race on the schedule, at Toronto nearly two weeks ago.

That was a rough pill for Newgarden to swallow, as he wound up dropping from second to fifth in the series standings, as well.

He’s looking for a big rebound in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

In a sense, Mid-Ohio owes Newgarden a turn of good luck. In last year’s race there, Newgarden was on pace and strategy for a likely podium finish.

However, a late caution wrecked that gameplan and Newgarden finished 13th.

In 2014, he started on the front row and was in the lead when he ran over an air hose on the final pit stop, drawing a drive-through penalty and a disappointing 12th place outing.

Now it’s back to Mid-Ohio and payback time for the driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevy Dallara. And if Newgarden does well, he’ll have J.R. Hldebrand to once again thanks for being his lucky charm.

Let’s explain: Hildebrand tested for Newgarden at Road America, and the latter finished eighth.

Hildebrand tested for Newgarden again at Iowa, and the latter wound up winning.

Guess what? Hildebrand once again tested last week for Newgarden at Mid-Ohio with fellow Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Spencer Pigot.

Will that pattern of success continue Sunday? Newgarden certainly hopes so. While he’s fallen to fifth in the standings, he’s only 14 points out of third place.

In the bigger picture, Newgarden is 88 points behind series leader Simon Pagenaud with five races remaining.

“I can’t wait to get back to Mid-Ohio,” Newgarden said in a team media release. “It’s a great road course track, one of the best we have in North America.

“I’m excited to get back in the car and see what we can do points-wise. We’ve had good cars around Mid-Ohio the past couple of years, it’s a really good shot for the team to get a win there. I feel confident that we’ll have a good effort with the whole Fuzzy’s Vodka crew and we should be able to move up the board a little bit after the weekend and see where we’re at in the points heading into Pocono. I’m ready to get back in the car after a weekend off.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Fast Facts: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

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Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the 12th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:


The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, July 29 – Sunday, July 31

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course in Lexington, Ohio

Race distance: 90 laps / 203.22 miles

Entry List: The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (pdf)

Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for 20 seconds each

Firestone tire allotment: Eight sets primary, three sets alternate

Twitter: @Mid_Ohio @IndyCar, #Honda200, #IndyCar

Event website: www.midohio.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda)

2015 Verizon P1 Award winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet), 1:04.5814, 125.869 mph

Qualifying record: Scott Dixon, 1:04.5814, 125.869 mph, Aug. 1, 2015

NBCSN television broadcasts: Practice, 2 p.m. ET Friday, July 29 (live); Qualifying, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, July 30 (live); Race, 2 p.m. ET Sunday, July 31, CNBC (live); 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday, July 31, NBCSN (re-air); Brian Till is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcasts this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Dave Furst, Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.comindycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com,indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: All practice sessions for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season not covered by television will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, July 29
10 – 11:15 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 – 3:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, NBCSN (Live)

Saturday, July 30
9:45 – 10:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, July 31
10:15 – 10:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:58 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:45 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live); re-air at5:30 on NBCSN

Race notes:

  • There have been seven different winners in the 11 previous Verizon IndyCar Series completed races in 2016: Juan Pablo Montoya (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix International Raceway), Simon Pagenaud (Streets of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Raceway at Belle Isle-1), Will Power (Raceway at Belle Isle-2, Road America and Toronto) and Josef Newgarden (Iowa Speedway). Dixon’s win at Phoenix onApril 2 tied him for fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with Al Unser at 39. He is the active leader in wins. Bourdais’ win at Belle Isle on June 4 tied him with Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time list with 35 wins. Power’s win at Toronto on July 17 gave him sole possession of 13th all-time with 28.• The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be the 32nd Indy car race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Graham Rahal won the race in 2015. Johnny Rutherford won the first Indy car race at Mid-Ohio in 1980.• The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be the ninth race on a road/street course in 2016. The first eight races were won by Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Barber and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle-1) and Will Power (Belle Isle-2, Road America and Toronto).

    • Scott Dixon is the winningest Indy car driver at Mid-Ohio with five victories (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014). Emerson Fittipaldi won at Mid-Ohio three times, while Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Teo Fabi, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi have all won at Mid-Ohio twice. Past winners Dixon, Castroneves (2000 and 2001), Montoya (1999), Charlie Kimball (2013) and Graham Rahal (2015) are entered this year.

    • There have been five different pole winners since Helio Castroneves won back-to-back poles in 2007-08. Other Mid-Ohio pole winners entered in this year’s race are: Will Power (2010 and 2012), Scott Dixon (2011 and 2015), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2013) and Sebastien Bourdais (2014).

    • Ten drivers have won the race from the pole – Mario Andretti (1984), Bobby Rahal (1985), Roberto Guerrero (1987), Teo Fabi (1989), Michael Andretti (1990 and 1991), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Alex Zanardi (1996), Patrick Carpentier (2002), Paul Tracy (2003) and Scott Dixon (2011).

    • At least 17 drivers entered in the event have competed in past Indy car races at Mid-Ohio. Tony Kanaan (14) has the most starts at Mid-Ohio among the entered drivers. Twelve of those drivers have led laps at the track (Scott Dixon 223, Helio Castroneves 147, Will Power 87, Juan Pablo Montoya 49, Charlie Kimball 46, Sebastien Bourdais 38, Ryan Hunter-Reay 33, James Hinchcliffe 30, Graham Rahal 23, Simon Pagenaud 14, Kanaan 13 and Josef Newgarden 5).

    • Chip Ganassi Racing has won 10 times at Mid-Ohio, including six of the last seven races at the track. Ganassi’s winning drivers are: Alex Zanardi (1996-97), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Scott Dixon (2007, 2009, 2011-12 and 2014), Dario Franchitti (2010) and Charlie Kimball (2013).

    • Team Penske has seven wins at the track: Emerson Fittipaldi (1992-93), Al Unser Jr. (1994-95), Helio Castroneves (2000-01) and Ryan Briscoe (2008).

    • Scott Dixon has finished in the top five in nine of his 11 races at Mid-Ohio, including five wins between 2007 and 2014… Will Power has finished in the top five in four of his seven starts at Mid-Ohio…Simon Pagenaud has finished on the podium three times in his previous five starts. Sebastien Bourdais has three top-five finishes in six starts.

    • Four rookies – Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi – are expected to compete. Rossi leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 89 points over Daly, with Chilton 127 points behind.

    • Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 261st consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Teammate Scott Dixon has made 202 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the third-longest streak in Indy car racing.

    • Helio Castroneves will attempt to make his 323rd career Indy car start, which ranks fourth on the all-time list. Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 322nd Indy car start, which is fifth all-time.

    • The 2016 season is the second in which aerodynamic bodywork component kits are used. The aero kits, produced by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda for their respective supplied teams, are the latest technical innovation to enhance on-track performance through competitive aerodynamic development. Each manufacturer produces two kits for teams – one for short ovals/road courses/street courses and another for superspeedway ovals – but within each kit, teams have multiple component options available.

    • The second season of aero kit competition complements the fifth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. It will be another season testing speed and durability to determine the manufacturer champion.

Pigot confident heading to Mid-Ohio as rookie season rolls on

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(Photo courtesy Ed Carpenter Racing)
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Since joining Ed Carpenter Racing after the Indianapolis 500, rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot admittedly has had some ups and downs.

Much like the up-and-down natural terrain of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which hosts Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (2 p.m. ET on CNBC), in fact.

Pigot has made four starts for ECR, finishing 17th and 18th in the two races at Belle Isle, along with a disappointing 19th place showing in the most recent race at Toronto.

But in-between, Pigot earned a season- and career-best ninth-place finish at Road America, which followed a test there earlier in June.

He’ll be hoping for a similar if not better result at Mid-Ohio this weekend, since he also tested there last week as part of an IndyCar team test.

Plus, Pigot, who has competed in seven of the first 11 races this season (the first three were with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis), has another ace up his sleeve, as well.

It was in back-to-back races on the same weekend at Mid-Ohio last year that he finished eighth and third, respectively, which played a big part in propelling him to victories in the final two races of the season that ultimately earned him the Indy Lights championship.

I’m very excited for the race this weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Pigot said in a media release. “We had a productive test (there) last week.

“It felt like the car is made for tracks like this. It was amazing to feel the cornering speeds the car is capable of. I think we will be able to build on what we learned and hopefully turn it into a strong weekend.”

This will mark the first time since Pigot took over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet at Detroit he’s been in for consecutive weekends.

With Carpenter still behind the wheel on ovals, he’ll drive at Pocono and the conclusion of the suspended race at Texas, while Pigot will handle driving chores in the final two races of 2016, both road courses, at Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma.

That could help build continuity for both drivers in the final races of the season.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

PWC: Mid-Ohio set to be another pivotal weekend for title battles

Bowmanville, Ontario - May 19, 2016:  The g  teams take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Presented by Audi at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
With EFFORT/Dalziel out, Long is Porsche's best hope to extend Mid-Ohio win streak. Photo: PWC
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At a racetrack where the seismic forces of a title battle have swung in the past, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could be poised to provide another pivotal weekend for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge title races.

The series’ marquee GT class is a two or potentially four-driver race. Alvaro Parente, one of three K-PAX Racing drivers in the Flying Lizard Motorsports’ supported McLaren 650S GT3s, leads the standings with 1143 points to Patrick Long’s 1095 in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Porsche has dominated Mid-Ohio in the past with Ryan Dalziel, who’s swept each of the last two years for EFFORT Racing and has a four-race win streak.

But Long or his former EFFORT teammate Michael Lewis (Calvert Dynamics) will look to continue the manufacturer’s run of form at the sinewy 2.258-mile road course.

Cadillac Racing also looks to get back in the title fight, with Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell at 1025 and 957 points, respectively. If either Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R sweeps the weekend, they’ll undoubtedly move forward in the title battle.

The one question I have beyond points is whether anyone will be able to not sweep, in what’s been a year of sweeps.

The last race weekend World Challenge did not have a sweep in the GT class was Barber Motorsports Park back in April. Long (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Parente (Lime Rock Park) and Ryan Eversley (RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT, Road America) have each gone two-for-two at the respective last three weekends.

For the sake of variety and spicing things up, it’d be nice to see two winners in a weekend. But as noted above, that hasn’t happened at Mid-Ohio since 2011! Alex Figge (K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and O’Connell (then a Cadillac CTS-V.R) split in 2011.

Before Dalziel swept the last two years, Figge and Randy Pobst swept in 2013 and 2012 in the Volvos.

It’s not just GT where the sweeps have been coming at Mid-Ohio, but also in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach pulled it off in 2014 in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, a year after winning the second race in 2013. Then Cooper won the first 2015 race, to make it four races in a row for the No. 10/1 Blackdog Camaro.

Aschenbach actually trails the GTS points leader, Brett Sandberg in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, by 35 points (995-960). Series rookie Parker Chase in his Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 is third in points with 917, and fellow teenager Nate Stacy in his Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 fourth on 863 points.

Martin Fuentes enters with a commanding lead in GTA (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia) while Alec Udell (GMG) has a 38-point lead on Sloan Urry (TruSpeed) in GT Cup.

World Challenge races Friday and Saturday (GTS) and Saturday and Sunday (GT/GTA/GT Cup).