IndyCar Fontana update: Ryan Hunter-Reay leads; title battle for Power, Helio continues

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Indianapolis 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series, leading the season-ending MAV TV 500 at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves continue to battle for the championship. Castroneves is doing all he can to track down Power by running in the Top 3, while Power has gradually moved into the Top 10 after starting from the back.

Power dropped back noticeably following the green flag, opting to race conservatively for the time being. But the Australian eventually started to make slow but steady progress, climbing up to 15th by Lap 20.

Meanwhile up front, pole sitter Castroneves – who entered tonight’s double-points finale down 50 points to Power in the championship – led the first five laps before Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead from him. A short time later, Sonoma winner Scott Dixon also passed the Brazilian, who settled early in third position.

But the third championship contender, Simon Pagenaud, suffered with poor handling on his car and was forced to pit under green at Lap 22 for tires, fuel, and needed chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, that knocked him two laps off the pace and potentially finished his admittedly dim title hopes; he was down 81 points to Power going into tonight.

Montoya pitted from the lead at Lap 35 to start the first wave of stops for the leaders. The Colombian, who won the most recent IndyCar 500-mile race in July at Pocono, cycled back to P1 at Lap 40 with Scott Dixon retaining second.

However, James Hinchcliffe was able to get ahead of Castroneves for third, while Power had continued his patient march up to 12th at this point.

Hinchcliffe was then able to dispatch Dixon for second, and shortly after Lap 50, he started to make life difficult for Montoya at the point before blowing by him on the inside to assume control at Lap 58.

The second wave of stops began around Lap 65, but the Mayor of Hinchtown would stretch his second stint out to Lap 73 before he gave up the lead for service.

That gave the lead back to Montoya, while Castroneves and Ed Carpenter moved up to second and third respectively after great pit stops. As for Power, he made another move forward, climbing up to 10th following this cycle.

At Lap 85, Carpenter – always a threat to win anytime he straps in for an oval race – went past Castroneves on the outside to claim second place. Over the course of the stint, Castroneves dropped back to fifth before Montoya chose to pit once more at Lap 100.

Carpenter gave up the lead to pit at Lap 103, but was called for speeding on pit road and was relegated to 13th after serving the drive-through penalty. With that, Montoya re-assumed control of the race until Lap 120, when Hunter-Reay jumped to the lead.

You can watch the MAVTV 500 NOW on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”

Dennis would not tolerate Hamilton’s behavior at McLaren

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis would not tolerate Lewis Hamilton’s behavior if he was still racing for the team, saying that he looks at his former driver with “mixed emotions”.

Hamilton was first signed by McLaren at the age of 13, and would go on to make his Formula 1 debut with the team in 2007 before winning his first world championship the following year.

The Briton walked away from McLaren at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes in a move that former team principal Martin Whitmarsh called “a mistake” at the time.

However, Hamilton has since gone on to enjoy unprecedented success with Mercedes, winning the world championship in 2014 and 2015 to firmly establish himself as one of F1’s all-time greats.

Hamilton has also enjoyed a celebrity status he lacked before, gracing red carpets all over the world and enjoying a party lifestyle that recently left him feeling a bit “run down”.

Speaking to British newspaper The Guardian, Dennis said that Hamilton’s currently lifestyle and behavior would not be tolerated if he were still with McLaren.

“If he was at McLaren he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to,” Dennis said. “He’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have.

“I look at him with mixed emotions. I don’t approve of everything he does or says, but nevertheless, great athletes are great because of the sacrifices they have to make.

“And sometimes sacrifices are in a very formative part of their childhood. They don’t always emerge with the all the right social process or behaviour or tendencies that you like.”

In contrast to Hamilton and Mercedes’ recent success, McLaren has entered a period of decline that will hit a new low this weekend in Abu Dhabi as it prepares to end the year last-but-one in the constructors’ championship.

McLaren has not won a race since Hamilton left, justifying his decision to walk away at the time. Not only did it allow him to shake off the chains he didn’t want, but it also paved the way for a success that he most likely would not have attained had he remained with at Woking.