Iowa Corn Indy 300 - Day 1

Scott Dixon, Bobby Unser two legends in different ways, now equal on wins

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One was – and still is – known for being one of the most candid, outspoken but iconic voices and drivers in North American open-wheel history.

The other is the “Iceman” – a guy who’s got it done, week-on-week, for 12 straight years, who’s a quiet, cerebral soul most of the time with a wicked and underrated sense of humor off-camera.

Now, they’re tied on career wins.

Sunday’s Sonoma triumph was Scott Dixon’s 35th of his career, dating to his first in the 2001 CART race at Nazareth. That ties him for fifth all-time with Bobby Unser, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and renowned commentator after his retirement from driving.

Unser, from his vacation home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, had this to say about Dixon:

“Scott Dixon is a very, very good driver and records are made to be broken,” he said. “I’ve been watching Scott race for years. I’ve been watching Scott since he started racing Indy cars when he was real young and he was successful almost immediately. He’s truly a great driver and drives with a lot of vigor.

“I am happy for Scott and at his young age I am sure he’ll get another win or lots to pass our 35 Indy car wins we now share together. Scott’s a racer, he truly knows how to drive a car, for sure. I just wish Chip would give him a stock car, sprinter or midget to race in, I am sure he’d win in those too. I am betting he’d win in anything he runs, if given the chance.”

Dixon, who’s told me in the past he’d be interested to try something on dirt, took an opportunity to reflect on being in the company of open-wheel’s Mount Rushmore of families: Foyt, Andretti, Unser and Mears.

“You know, as I’ve said before, I think stats are something you look back on when you are maybe leaving the car,” he said during the post-race press conference. “As I’ve said, hopefully you’re happy with them. To me it’s very eye-opening, pretty crazy to think that we’re on the short list last year with Unser, Andretti and Foyt ahead of us.

“But a lot of credit goes to the team I’ve been with. I’ve been with Ganassi for 13 years. To get all those victories, all but one of them have been with that team. With the longevity that I’ve had, it’s going to amount to hopefully something. Obviously respect those drivers from the past.  It’s something that I think I’ll reflect on probably when I’ve retired.”

Dixon’s deflecting the accolades for now, but we’re watching an all-time great who still has at least another four or five years in his prime.

Consider Unser was 34 when he won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1968… and that’s Dixon’s age now.

The difference in eras is that Unser raced until he was 47; today’s stars rarely race much past 38 or 40.

But Dixon has a realistic shot to climb to at least third on the all-time win list, a mark currently held by Michael Andretti with 42 wins. Dixon needs seven wins to achieve that mark.

His next win will be his 36th, and move him into the middle of an Unser sandwich. Al Unser ranks fourth on the all-time wins list with 39, and a 40th win for Dixon would move him into fourth.

AJ Foyt’s 67 wins and Mario Andretti’s 52 are, very likely, out of reach.

The only question about seven is that the level of domination by any one driver in IndyCar has gone down in recent years.

No single driver has won more than four races this season since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012; both times, that’s been the champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, Dixon last year).

So Dixon could well get those wins, but it may take him some time. Either way, it’s hard not to appreciate what we’re seeing.

Rosberg ready for close fight with Red Bull in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a close fight with Red Bull in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo dominated practice on Thursday.

Ricciardo finished six-tenths of a second clear of the field on the ultra-soft tire in FP2, making the most of the upgraded Renault power unit in his RB12 car.

Mercedes’ Rosberg arrived in Monaco as the championship leader and chasing a fourth straight win around the streets where he grew up.

“It’s great to be back on the streets of my home town here in Monaco, and also to see all the fans so close to us as we’re on track,” Rosberg said on Thursday after finishing third in FP2.

“It was a tricky start in to the weekend for us, though. The sessions were a bit messy, with quite a few Virtual Safety Car periods – but I was able to learn a lot on the longer runs we managed to do which was a positive. A big applause for all of the circuit marshals, who did a great job as always to clear the cars quickly.”

Rosberg was not surprised by Red Bull’s practice pace, believing it will create a close fight for pole position on Saturday before Sunday’s race.

“As expected, Red Bull look very strong here,” Rosberg said.

“We have some more homework to do during tonight and tomorrow to find some time – but I can’t wait for Saturday and the qualifying battle.

“It should be very close and very exciting, which is great for the sport.”

Indy Carb Day rolling notebook

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Rutherford's final laps. Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Ah, Carb Day. A busy and crazy day of action that is so much bigger than just the final hour of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

It’ll be easier to round up all that’s happened to this point in chronological order, so we’ll do that below:

PRE-PRACTICE

8:00 a.m. ET: Historic cars took the track for laps. Pictures are better than words here, so here’s a taste of what was out.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

9:00 a.m. ET: The new Tatuus USF-17 car, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017 and the base model for the eventual new Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires car, the PM-18 in 2018, was unveiled on the IMS Pagoda Plaza. A link to that release is here. More information will follow in the days to come. Additionally, the first race driver for that car has been confirmed in Dutchman Rinus VK.

9:30 a.m. ET: Honda has spoken. Sort of. After its particularly strong start to the month, Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr held court with the media at the HPD hospitality transporter. While St. Cyr noted the hard work that has gone into the month, nothing is satisfying unless Honda can actually win on Sunday.

Said St. Cyr, “I wouldn’t call it redemption. I would say we’ve had to work harder to catch up. To win the 100th is what we’re shooting for.”

10 a.m. ET: Chip was on the bricks. But on the infield side, not the track side. Chip Ganassi did his annual holding court with the media there.

10:15 a.m. ET: The field of 33 posed for their annual class photo. All but one was on time, with Alex Tagliani casually late to temporarily halt the proceedings. A round of applause and laughter occurred when Tagliani arrived. He’ll start 33rd and last on Sunday in the No. 35 Alfe Heat Treating Honda for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

10:35 a.m. ET: Sam Schmidt took laps in his modified ARROW Electronics Corvette, ahead of the Carb Day practice. It was cool to witness it again.

10:45 a.m. ET: Johnny Rutherford took laps in the 2017 Camaro SS 50th Anniversary Edition with a tribute lap ahead of the practice session. He’ll retire from being the pace car driver after this year’s Indianapolis 500.

10:50 a.m. ET: Two quick awards and other notes from pit lane before the session. The annual Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations went to Honda PR aces T.E. McHale and Dan Layton, while Dale Coyne Racing’s Tim Whiting won the Clint Brawner Award, an honor for chief mechanics.

Among those present on pit lane are a couple of Gateway Motorsports Park officials, who are exploring the weekend. The track has expressed interest in a potential return for a Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2017, and the track was rumored as a last-ditch, eleventh hour replacement for Boston.

FINAL PRACTICE

11:00 a.m.: Final practice began with ambient temperatures of 76 degrees and track temperatures of 92 degrees Fahrenheit, per Firestone Racing. Only a half hour earlier the temperatures were 73 and 84.

Oil on the track caused a delay in the session and an early yellow flag. INDYCAR officials would add 10 minutes to the session, originally scheduled to end at noon, to now end it at 12:10 p.m. ET.

Per NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis, Marco Andretti lost time as the team changed steering arms. Meanwhile fellow NBCSN reporter Katie Hargitt also reported Conor Daly was back on track Friday after gearbox issues earlier in the week.

Just at 11:45 a.m., Pippa Mann crashed out of Turn 4. The driver of the No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda lost control through Turn 4 and had a mix of right rear and left front damage. It will force the Dale Coyne Racing crew to scramble to make repairs. She was checked, cleared and released from the infield care center.

More to follow as the day progresses.

Kaltenborn confident of resolution to Sauber’s financial struggles

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Felipe Nasr of Brazil driving the (12) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber Formula 1 chief Monisha Kaltenborn is confident that the team’s ongoing financial struggles can be resolved in the near future.

The past couple of years have seen Sauber face an uncertain future due to its ongoing financial problems, with staff facing a delay in payment earlier this year.

The team failed to attend the recent test following the Spanish Grand Prix, sparking further concerns, but Kaltenborn is hopeful that a resolution can be found soon.

“Yes, we have certain challenges and we are working very hard to overcome the situation and I’m confident that we’ll resolve it shortly,” Kaltenborn said.

“We are working on that since a while now and we also know that we need that. If you look at today’s Formula 1 environment to be strong as an independent team you need to have a strong partners.

“So we have always been open to that and now we are pursuing our chances and we hope to resolve that soon.”

Kaltenborn elaborated on the challenge facing Sauber at the moment, saying how F1 has become more difficult for independent teams in recent years.

“I think Formula 1 has changed a lot,” she said.

“If you look at the times when Peter Sauber was team principal and I wouldn’t take the time when he returned as team principal in 2010 to the sport, but if I look at the time before, it was a very different sport and a very different kind of business with a very different financial set-up and sporting set-up.

“So I don’t think you can really compare the times. Challenges for private teams like ours have become bigger, year-by-year, particularly also due to the rule changes which have made things in the last few years far more expensive, if you look at the power train itself but also with regard to the distribution of income.

“There was a time when teams were not getting 50 per cent but even less, but yet the economic environment was much better, where you could get far more sponsors.

“So I don’t think it’s really that easy to compare the times, it doesn’t just have to do with people or the situation within the team, but the overall surroundings we were in.”

Dutchman Rinus VK is first confirmed driver for new USF-17

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Photo: Rinus VK Racing
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You saw the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis get unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now meet the first driver.

Dutchman Rinus VK (Van Kalmthout) will step into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series next year. He tested last November at Circuit of The Americas.

The full release is below:

Dutch karting sensation Rinus VK announced today that he will be making the move to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017. The 15-year old made the announcement at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in conjunction with the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which will be introduced for the 2017 USF2000 season.

IMG_0368_BLK“I am so excited about coming to the U.S. and racing in USF2000 next year,” commented the teenager, who is also on Holland’s premier driver development program called KNAF Talent First. “Every time I’ve come to the U.S., I love it more and more, and I think moving to the Mazda Road to Indy is the perfect step for me. The INDYCAR ladder is definitely the right place to be.”

2017 will not only be Rinus’ first season racing in the U.S., it will also be his first season of open-wheel racing. He does however have extensive karting experience competing in the North American based U.S. Rotax Max Challenge, and also sampled two USF2000 cars last year at the Circuit of the Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial test, where he posted the third fastest time overall.

Rinus will spend the next few months racing in the European Karting Championships, which will be followed by off-season testing in the new Tatuus USF-17, which he hopes to kick off in early October. Rinus plans to test with several teams to figure out where the best home for him will be for the 2017 season.

“I’m looking forward to starting testing,” said Rinus, who finished runner-up in both the European and U.S. Rotax Max Senior Championships last year. “I know the level next year will be very strong with the new car, so I want to test with as many teams as possible to learn about them and learn about the car.”