James Hinchcliffe

The most memorable moments of IndyCar 2014 (so far)

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Every race has that one moment that people remember. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it isn’t. But it sticks with you.

This year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season is coming to a close on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway (9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), and while there’s still 500 miles to go, now’s an opportune time to revisit 2014’s most memorable moments – so far.

You’ll notice in the collection of videos below that for the doubleheader weekends at Detroit, Houston, and Toronto, we’ve opted to go with the best moment from the entire weekend itself. Rest assured that this is only meant for the sake of brevity.

And now, away we go…

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG

Will Power’s season-opening victory at St. Petersburg wasn’t altogether smooth. Coming to a restart with 28 laps to go as the leader, Power appeared to slow down instead of accelerate (skip to 1:55 in the video above).

That caused the field to stack up, and in the process, Jack Hawksworth hit another car from behind before collecting Marco Andretti.

Power held the lead on the subsequent restart with 23 laps left and went on to win. But the earlier incident led to divided opinions among drivers and team owners on whether Power deserved blame for it.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

Ryan Hunter-Reay was contending for victory in the streets of Long Beach, but with 25 laps to go, he pretty much threw the afternoon away for himself and several others.

A quick pit stop for Josef Newgarden enabled him to come out with the race lead ahead of Hunter-Reay. But instead of biding his time, Hunter-Reay made a risky passing attempt on Newgarden at Turn 4 – and mayhem ensued.

Not one of the 2012 IndyCar champion’s finer moments.

BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK

Hunter-Reay was able to bounce back from that lowlight with a victory in the next race at Barber Motorsports Park. But the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama may have gone Power’s way, if not for an early error at the track’s “Charlotte’s Web” hairpin at Turn 5.

Power was holding a comfortable lead at Lap 15, when he locked up going into T5 and went into the gravel trap (skip to :18 in the video above). He swiped a tire barrier on his way out, but while he was able to get back on course, he’d lost the lead to Hunter-Reay in the meantime. RHR scored the win, while Power finished fifth.

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS

A solid crowd and beautiful weather greeted the drivers as they made their way to the grid for the standing start. But pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled (skip to :25 of the video above), causing a mad scramble behind him to get away from his No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet.

Unfortunately, both Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin got into Saavedra, spraying debris everywhere along the front-stretch. It wasn’t the only wild crash of the afternoon, which eventually ended with Simon Pagenaud atop the podium.

INDIANAPOLIS 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay vs. Helio Castroneves for racing’s biggest prize. Nothing more needs to be said. Skip to 7:20 for the good stuff.

Honorable mention to Kurt Busch.

CHEVROLET INDY DUAL IN DETROIT

Power won Race 1 of the Detroit doubleheader at Belle Isle Park, but it was his drive in Race 2 that may be equally memorable. On the first lap of that race, Power attempted to get past Newgarden on the inside but instead made contact that led Newgarden into collecting two other drivers.

Race Control tagged Power for avoidable contact. The Twittersphere cheered. And the Aussie was chastened. Actually, no, the last part didn’t occur. If anything, it just seemed to fire him up as Power roared all the way from the back of the field after the penalty to finish second behind Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Oh, what the reaction would have been if Power ended up one spot higher…

FIRESTONE 600 AT TEXAS

Ed Carpenter and Power appeared set to have an old-fashioned Texas duel for the win when the two made their final pit stops together with 36 laps left. But Power was hit with a drive-through penalty for speeding (penalties were a recurring theme for him until just recently).

Smooth sailing then for Carpenter, right? Wrong. A caution with less than 10 laps left gave Power the chance to go in for new tires before a restart with two laps to go.

But while Power rocketed to second with the fresh rubber, he ran out of time to catch Carpenter. With that, the IndyCars’ sole owner/driver joined his road and street course racer, Mike Conway, as a 2014 race winner.

SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON

Who had Carlos Huertas as the first of this year’s crop of IndyCar rookies to win a race? Be honest, we don’t like liars here.

The result that no one saw coming went down in the first race of the Houston weekend. Huertas stayed out during a caution with less than half an hour to go in the race, and he eventually took control of the lead. The Colombian was able to hold off Juan Pablo Montoya until another caution came out with four minutes left.

Everything was set for a restart with one lap to go, but Graham Rahal got into the back of Tony Kanaan as the field headed for what would have been the green flag. Race Control waved off the restart, giving the upset win to the previously unheralded Huertas.

POCONO INDYCAR 500

The first 158 laps at Pocono went by under green – and with minimal drama. But that changed following the race’s lone restart.

Under attack from teammate (and eventual race winner) Montoya, Power went to defend his lead and knocked Montoya’s front wing end plate off. Montoya was still able to take the lead shortly afterwards, leaving Power to deal with Castroneves.

But when Castroneves went for an inside pass on Power with 28 laps left, Power tacked to the inside twice and forced Castroneves to back off. Race Control told Power to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking, which helped send him to a 10th-place finish.

IOWA CORN INDY 300

You saw it. Yet you couldn’t quite believe it.

During the final caution of the Iowa Corn Indy 300, both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden rolled the dice, went to the pits, and got new tires ahead of a restart with nine laps to go.

The decision paid off handsomely as the two Americans went through the field like a hungry kid going through an Iowa corn on the cob. And with three laps left, Hunter-Reay caught Tony Kanaan before making the race-winning pass in Turn 1. Newgarden also got past Kanaan in the waning moments for a runner-up.

HONDA INDY TORONTO

Sebastien Bourdais, the four-time king of Champ Car, had not won an American open-wheel race since 2007.

But in the first race of a same-day doubleheader in Toronto, the Frenchman led most of the proceedings from pole before claiming a long-awaited victory for himself and for KV Racing Technology (which had not won themselves since the 2013 Indy 500 with Tony Kanaan).

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO

Scott Dixon winning at Mid-Ohio after qualifying 22nd? That couldn’t possibly happen, we thought.

But a brilliant all-around performance that featured stellar driving from the New Zealand native and impeccable strategy from his Chip Ganassi Racing team enabled Dixon to earn one of the greatest victories of his career.

Meanwhile, Newgarden had to see a potential first IndyCar win go by the boards thanks to numerous errors on a Lap 65 pit stop. Those problems led to a devastating drive-through penalty that ruined his race.

But instead of frustration, Newgarden showed remarkable poise. There’s a reason why this guy is a fan favorite.

ABC SUPPLY WISCONSIN 250

Nobody had really taken control of the IndyCar championship when the series visited the Milwaukee Mile with three races left in the season.

But Power finally stepped up, and he made his biggest statement of the year. Despite having to save fuel late, Power was still able to leave second-place Montoya stuck in lapped traffic before taking the checkered flag.

And as a driver that was once pegged as a non-factor on ovals, Power relished the moment: “Yes! Man, I love winning on ovals,” he yelled with delight.

GoPro GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA

Last weekend’s race at Sonoma had been owned lock, stock, and barrel by Power until he lost the race off pit road to Dixon under a caution. Then, after restarting seventh on Lap 40 behind Dixon and a group of drivers that had stayed on track, Power spun in Turn 7.

The incident forced Power to rally for a 10th-place finish after falling back as far as 20th. It was a great recovery for sure, and instead of his points lead over Castroneves shrinking, it increased to the current 51-point margin.

But on the other hand, had Power not spun and went on to win instead of Dixon, would we even have a championship battle to talk about right now?

Hawksworth’s team’s labor hasn’t yet borne fruit of better results

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What do Jack Hawksworth and Allen Iverson have in common?

Practice, man.

“The Answer’s” famous – or perhaps infamous – “We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man” riff a number of years ago remains the go-to line whenever practice comes up in conversation.

It’s practice where the seeds of success are sown for a team when it comes to game day.

And for Hawksworth and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, it’s been practice where the team has starred in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.

But thus far, following practice, it’s been a case where the rest of the weekend has gone downhill for a variety of small but niggling reasons.

“If it was based off practice one I’d be leading the points!” Hawksworth told NBC Sports Thursday, and the thing is, he’s not joking.

In the three road or street course races this season, Hawksworth has ended second (St. Petersburg), third (Long Beach) and second (Barber) in first practice.

He’s followed it up with fellow top-10 runs in second practice of eighth, ninth and second again, respectively.

But come qualifying, it’s gone awry.

Starts of ninth, 20th and 14th have followed and in the races, it’s gone even worse with results lower than his grid spot: 11th, 21st and 19th. Toss out the Phoenix oval, because that was a nightmare weekend for him.

If ever there was a case where stats are misleading, it’s here, because Hawksworth and the team are clearly better than what they’ve been able to produce results-wise this year, and also far more gelled as a unit now compared to where they were 12 months ago as a new collective group.

“Our team is full of good people; we really believe in the 41 garage,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We haven’t seen the fruits of it yet.

“It looks like we’re a long way away, but we’re incredibly close. It’s a few small details, little tweaks and we’ll be at the front. It’s imminent. We’ve not shown it yet but we know it’s coming.”

The big change occurred this weekend was seeing Daniele Cucchiaroni promoted to lead race engineer on the No. 41 car, replacing the departed Dan Hobbs.

Hawksworth and Cucchiaroni worked together at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and he joined the Foyt team last year with Takuma Sato’s effort. Hawksworth called him one of the brightest minds in the paddock.

He said it’s not the operating window of the Honda aero kit that the team has missed, but it has just missed getting the setup right for the qualifying and the race, where mere thousandths of a second make a difference.

“The cars are sensitive to track temperature… the conditions… it’s easy to get outside the window, but our problem hasn’t been balance or anything,” he said.

“You’re completely right in that we’ve had very quick cars at times. We haven’t understood the (Firestone) reds yet. Really, it’s just executing the qualifying and the race, with having a quick car and right car. It sounds crazy, but it’s worked out that way.

“There’s many reasons for that. We’re narrowing them down for the next couple races. It’s just small but vital things that have tripped us up. It’s been frustrating. Different at each race as well.”

Hawksworth also said he was doing everything possible to get out of the way at Barber when leaders Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were trying to overtake him in the final stages.

“What happened there was a funny deal. To be honest, with the day we were having, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of leaders,” he said.

“I really don’t care who wins if it’s not me. But for courtesy, you don’t want to wreck the leaders.

“So I ducked out of Turn 5 to go to the left, that was the only place I could go. I saw Graham and Simon were side-by-side. If I’d have gone to the outside or stayed in the middle I’d have caused a crash. The only place to go was the inside. Rahal tried to get a tow off of me but he misjudged it and clipped my rear pods. That’s just racing.”

Hawksworth’s race was compromised to begin with when Mikhail Aleshin on the start clipped him, after Carlos Munoz clipped Aleshin. All three had to restart at the back of the field.

“The problem is mate, when you qualify (poorly), you’re in the middle of the pack. So we were on the bad side of the 26 and the 7, then you go to the back and toss around all day… much the story of our season.

“I spoke to Brian (Barnhart, Race Director) about it. The rule is, if you don’t reclaim your position by start of the pace lap, you automatically start at the back. With me being at the back, but going onto the grass to avoid running into the side of Aleshin, they deemed that the pace lap. It was a rules thing.”

Hawksworth said he’d like to see the gray areas of the rulebook examined for future use to try to remove warnings and unclear calls as best as possible.

“I’d beat on the drum of making it as black and white as possible. If you cross a line, you cross a line. We need to simplify the rules as much as we can to where things are a straightforward decision. There still seems to be a bit of the gray area.

“Still, it’s up to the series. It’d be easier for them too (to go black and white).”

Heading into May, Hawksworth sits 20th in points (50 points) while Takuma Sato is 40 points ahead, but in ninth.

Hawksworth’s season to date:

	FP1	FP2	FP3	QUAL	WU	RACE
STP	2	8	2	9	21	11
PHX	22	21	-	17	-	19
LB	3	9	11	20	17	21
BAR	2	2	11	14	8	19

Hakkinen sure Rosberg is ready to become F1 world champion

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win with his team during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes that current series leader Nico Rosberg is now ready to follow in his footsteps and win his first title in 2016.

Rosberg has finished second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the past two seasons, taking the championship to the final round in 2014.

Having won the last six grands prix, Rosberg is in the form of his career and is the early leader in the 2016 championship, enjoying a 36-point advantage over Hamilton after three races.

Rosberg has cooled talk of the championship with 18 races still to go in the season, but Hakkinen now believes the German is ready to win his first world title.

“I remember how he walked around as a four or five-year-old with a small helmet in his hand,” Hakkinen told Spox.

“When I see him now, I’m very proud of him. He has developed fantastically. He has became a man and a father with the responsibility of a family.

“What many people underestimate [is that] the path to being world class is incredibly long, arduous and painful. The emphasis is on pain. Since it does not matter if your own father himself was world champion or not.

“Although he has his friends and family on the side, at the end you are still alone, with an immense burden, especially mentally, to cope.

“The physique and talent were always there. Now he has the goal clearly in mind and says with conviction: ‘Yes, I want to become world champion!’ He has risen to the challenge.

“Therefore my answer is yes, he is ready for the world title.”

Alex Tagliani will make No. 35 lucky for five AJ Foyt fans

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Photo: Alfe Racing
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On May 10th, Alfe Heat Treating will unveil the No. 35 “Tribute to AJ Foyt” IndyCar at the Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway Ind.

It’s the formal reveal of the car that was announced when Alex Tagliani’s month of May program was announced in March.

“We want to honor the fans of IndyCar and AJ Foyt by inviting them to partake in a special event with us and share in the excitement surrounding the 100th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Ryan Westman, regional sales manager and director of motorsports for Fort Wayne-based Alfe Heat Treating, said in a release.

The event will be a private viewing of the tribute car along with the opportunity to meet and take photos with Tagliani, Takuma Sato, and Jack Hawksworth, all drivers for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

The tribute car will be driven by Tagliani in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. It bears the No. 35 for the number of consecutive starts Foyt made in the Indy 500 from 1958 through 1992. The number also has the added significance of being Foyt’s birth year, all of which the team hopes will be a lucky omen.

Before the racing begins, five race fans will have already experienced the luck by entering a Facebook contest one week prior to the special unveiling event. Alfe Heating is sponsoring a contest for which five winners will receive two tickets for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indy on May 14th.

Beginning at noon Eastern time through 4 pm ET on May 3, fans will have the opportunity to answer a question alternately on the Alfe Racing and AJ Foyt Racing Facebook page, with the first person answering each question correctly earning a ticket for two to the May 10th unveiling and May 14 race.

Winners must be 21 years or older, or if younger accompanied by an adult aged 21 or older.

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Gutierrez hoping for more in Russia after finally banking first finish

during practice ahead of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
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An accident in the Australian Grand Prix and brake issues in the Bahrain Grand Prix was not the kind of return to competition Esteban Gutierrez was expecting.

After a one-year hiatus and two failures to finish in 2016, the 24-year-old Mexican driver for Formula 1’s new American team was finally running at the end of a race.

As he heads into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Gutierrez is keen to start getting any sort of momentum going.

“For sure it was a relief to finish the race finally,” Gutierrez said in Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“It’s been a frustrating start for me, a lot of interruptions over the weekends, but I wasn’t satisfied completely just by finishing the race of course, I want much more than that.”

Gutierrez finished the Chinese Grand Prix 14th, as the first driver one lap down to the leaders in the No. 21 Haas VF-16 Ferrari.

Notably, that is precisely where he finished his most recent five races of 2014—one lap off the pace, but running at the end of the show. Gutierrez’s last complete race came in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix when he finished 15th.

“China overall wasn’t a great track for our car,” he admitted. “Hopefully we can recover from now on, in Russia, and that this track gives us better possibilities.

“Russia offers… yeah, let’s say a medium range of overtaking so it’s not very straightforward but hopefully the strategy can be a bit more viable, that we can have more pitstops. As you say, the prediction is not the case, but hopefully we have a fun race for the people outside to watch, and have fun.”

Last year, Gutierrez spent his year working on race simulations to stay sharp. It was no substitute for race experience, but it provided a different perspective he hopes will lead to eventually finishing in a points’ paying position.

Working on a simulator in 2015 “didn’t change the approach; it changed my knowledge,” Gutierrez added. “I basically experiment a lot.”

“I feel very confident and I feel very prepared right now and everything is in front of me.”

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