Simon Pagenaud

With nothing to lose, IndyCar title contender Pagenaud charges into Fontana

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Pre-season, I wrote this was the year Simon Pagenaud was meant to establish himself as a Verizon IndyCar Series title contender from start-to-finish in the 2014 season.

It’s not that his third place in 2013 was unexpected, but it owed more to a second half surge than a consistent run from start-to-finish.

You could say it’s almost mission accomplished for the Frenchman thus far as the driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda still has a shot at the title Saturday night in the MAVTV 500, while driving the MAVTV-backed car.

Still, it’s a long shot.

Pagenaud enters the weekend 81 points behind Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and he’d need something close to a miracle to keep Team Penske from claiming its first title in eight years.

A win is his only option, and even then he’d need Power to finish 21st or 22nd in the 22-car field, and Castroneves a more achievable fourth or worse.

But a win on ovals would be the next logical step in Pagenaud’s career, as he’s ascended rapidly in his third season back in the sport since 2012. He was high on confidence after a seventh-place finish, after starting 16th, in Milwaukee two weeks ago.

“When people talk about ovals, they tell you it’s all about momentum and timing,” Pagenaud said at the time. “But until you really get it for yourself, those are just words.

“In sports car racing, you learn all about fighting against other types of cars that are slower than you in various corners. Learning how to navigate around those cars is all about timing and momentum, too.

“Today, I finally made the connection between the two. It was a big step forward for me personally as a driver on ovals.”

It’s not the only step forward he has made in 2014.

His qualifying has been better – an 8.3 average is a three-plus spot gain on his 11.6 mark of a year ago – and he has a 7.2 average finish with only one DNF (Detroit race one).

He’s finished in the top-12 on each of the five oval races so far, so he’s getting there in terms of his oval development. He still has two wins, same as he did a year ago.

And lastly, he hasn’t, outwardly anyway, allowed his free agent status to negatively affect his driving. He remains as committed and focused to the current task at hand as the rest of us ponder what his next move will be.

Pagenaud is in IndyCar’s top tier, no question, and while a championship is still a long shot, he’s done enough this year to give himself a chance going into the finale.

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F1 Paddock Pass: Force India VJM10 Launch (VIDEO)

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In the second edition of this week’s F1 on NBC Sports original digital series Paddock Pass, the Sahara Force India team reveals the VJM10 at the Silverstone Circuit in England, not far from the team’s headquarters.

Force India’s steady climb up the ladder has seen them rise to fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, achieved last year.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton checks in with drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, the latter of whom shifts to Force India after an impressive half season with Manor last year.

“It just looks amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been so excited looking at the car,” Perez told Buxton. “We have to adapt to a new driving style and see how physically demanding it is. It will be a big challenge for us.”

Otmar Szafnauer, COO of Sahara Force India, also offered his thoughts and expectations:

“The only way to hope to keep (the momentum) was to develop the 2017 car early. We don’t have the resources for parallel development,” Szafnauer told Buxton.

Stay tuned to the end of the video for a potential nugget about the testing lineup.

A link to Renault’s Paddock Pass from yesterday is here.

Further preseason content will come this week and into next on NBCSports.com.

New Sauber C36 chassis hits the track (VIDEO)

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Although Formula 1 testing doesn’t begin until Monday, several teams have filming days in advance at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona to gather preliminary material ahead of the new year.

The first up of those is Sauber F1 Team, which premiered its new C36 chassis on Monday and has now hit the Barcelona track for filming sessions. The Ferrari-powered car is the 25th in Sauber’s F1 history.

Marcus Ericsson took the initial shakedown with Pascal Wehrlein sidelined owing to his injuries sustained at the Race of Champions. Antonio Giovinazzi is set to fill in at the first test.

Sauber’s released a quick video of the test on its social channels and website, and is linked above.

Williams confirms running order for Barcelona tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 25:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during day four of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 25, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Martini Racing has confirmed who’s running when ahead of the two Barcelona tests, starting next week.

At the first test, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll will alternate days, with Massa running days one and three and Stroll getting in for days two and four.

The second test will see the Canadian in the first two days before the Brazilian takes over the last two.

Stroll’s had testing in older Williams chassis, but this will mark his first running in the new FW40 chassis. Williams released renderings of the chassis last week.

Williams Martini Racing – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Felipe Massa
February 28 – Lance Stroll
March 1 – Felipe Massa
March 2 – Lance Stroll

Test 2
March 7 – Lance Stroll
March 8 – Lance Stroll
March 9 – Felipe Massa
March 10 – Felipe Massa

KV Racing’s auction set for March 27

NEWTON, IA - JULY 11: Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #11 Mistic KVSH Racing Dallara Chevrolet, leads Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the #17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Dallara Chevrolet, during practice for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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The remaining assets from KV Racing Technology will be auctioned off on March 27 in a live and online auction put on by Key Auctioneers in Indianapolis.

Much of KV’s inventory has been sold to new Verizon IndyCar Series entrant Juncos Racing, which formally announced its arrival into the series on Tuesday. That includes three chassis, two full sets of pit equipment and one transporter, among other items per Trackside Online.

What’s left for KV of current equipment includes one of the Dallara DW12 chassis – it appears to be the chassis used by Stefan Wilson in last year’s Indianapolis 500 – dampers, drives, gears, lay shafts and more.

There’s also a bit of rolling stock, hospitality and other memorabilia available.

A full page of what’s available is linked here.

KV Racing was born out of the assets of the former PacWest Racing team (PWR Championship Racing in its final year of 2002), and launched as PK Racing in 2003.

Despite going through myriad name changes in the 14 years since, KV was still a fun part of the IndyCar fabric and thanks to Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, a staple in the paddock. They never fully evolved into a championship-contending team but were an Indianapolis 500-winning entry.

With their demise, it left Dale Coyne Racing as the last of the Champ Car racing teams that switched over to IndyCar in 2008 still standing. But Juncos’ arrival as the ninth team gives new life to a new breed of team owners coming into the series and hopefully opens the door for more from here.

In the meantime, if you’re in Indianapolis and have the means or desire to get a piece of the KV history, March 27 represents that chance.