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Ten with Townsend: Fontana and 2014 IndyCar debrief

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After 500 miles of racing to cap off the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, we take a look back at the season finale and the season on the whole with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the final 2014 scheduled installment of “Ten with Townsend.” As always, we thank him for his time and insights. Here’s an archive.

-We know Will Power’s always battling his head, because his speed has never been in question. How do you measure his resolve and fortitude the second half of this season, to be able to get past the penalties, dominate Milwaukee, recover after Sonoma and finally capture this IndyCar championship?

I think the victory speech said it all and he readily admits there is a lot going on upstairs!  Luckily, when it comes to the driving part…he’s just that much better with raw speed.  And that helps balance the various issues.  I’m excited to see what he can accomplish the next several years with the championship box now ticked…  He could run up some even more impressive numbers with a clear head and some good sleep!

-How impressed were you with how Power ran his race Saturday night?

It was shockingly conservative at the start…became shockingly manic on that restart…. and ended about right.

-Was it refreshing to see Tony Kanaan finally break through given how strong he’s been both on ovals and the second half of the season?

It was a nice way to end the season.  There’s a nice 7 month glow in the offseason for that one.

-You noted it right towards the end of the race, but how surprising was it to see no crashes, and no reliability issues?

Never would have predicted that based on the 2013 race.  The drivers should be commended for handling a very challenging and intimidating set of conditions.

-We’ve had all three 500-mile races go 150+ laps this season before the first caution. Do you think that’s more down to the depth of talent throughout the field or are the cars fairly easy to drive? 

Well, having driven in 1 of the 3 I can say that it’s not that easy!  I just think the talent pool of drivers and teams is deeper than ever.  Reminds me of my rookie year in 2001 and 2002 CART.

-Looking back on the whole, who or what were your biggest surprises of the season?

I think Carlos Huertas.  He won a race but most impressive was that I can’t think of a single on-track driving error that sticks out.   Extremely rare for a rookie..  If not unheard of.

-JPM’s (Juan Pablo Montoya) first year back, from methodical at the start to P4 by the end, how do you rate his comeback?

JPM also exceeded expectations…  I think he’s very honest with himself and where he can focus this offseason, and that should lead to an even more impressive season in 2015.

-Where do you rate this year’s rookie class, with the year said and done?

I’d say the best I’ve ever seen. Hawksworth, Aleshin, Munoz were right there from the first session of the season.

-What were your favorite races to cover and favorite moments?

I really enjoyed Toronto because of all the chaos and unpredictability.  My favorite moment was when Will Power called me out from pit lane (Pocono).  Also when my 8 year old son asked Leigh Diffey, “Now what exactly do you do for my Dad?”

-Lastly, the schedule. Did you like the frenetic nature of the condensed schedule and what do you think IndyCar can do to enhance it for 2015? 

I liked it… Feels weird to be done so early but that’s what IndyCar used to do.  Laguna Seca was always early September as the season-ender.  Plus I love watching the NFL!

Al Unser to return to the cockpit at the SVRA Brickyard Invitational

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Photo: IMS Museum
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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser will return to the cockpit this summer to compete in the SVRA’s “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am, scheduled for June 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Big Al” will join son Al Unser Jr., which will be their first competitive race together since 1993. It will also be the first time any member of Unser family has raced at the Speedway since 2008, when Al Unser III contested the Indy Lights Freedom 100 for the now defunct Playa Del Racing.

“I guess I got tired of watching the kids have all the fun,” quipped the elder Unser, who previously served as the grand marshal of the 2015 event. He later explained that expressed gratitude toward organizer Tony Parella, president and CEO of the SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) for creating the event and extending an invitation to compete. “Seriously, Tony Parella and his SVRA team have created a first-class event and that’s why the entire Unser family has gotten behind it. We believe in what he is doing and I personally enjoy reconnecting with the great fans of the Indianapolis 500.”

Parella’s enthusiasm mirrored Unser’s.”There have been a lot of great legends in the history of auto racing, but in my book Big Al is right at the top of the mountain,” he asserted. “I am honored beyond words. This is such a validation of what all of us at the SVRA have been working so hard to build. To be able to say that this great champion believes in what we are doing enough to strap in and race with us means everything to me personally and professionally.”

The Unsers will join 31 other Indianapolis 500 veterans to compete in vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs, with model years of 1963 to 1972, in the SVRA’s “Group 6” A and B Production. Each veteran will be paired an amateur driver to split time behind the wheel. Other events slated to highlight the weekend include a Motostalgia car auction, the Hagerty Insurance “shine and show” car corral, vintage motorcycle racing and displays, and hundreds of vintage racers celebrating a century’s worth of auto racing.

Force India releases driver runout schedule for testing

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 11:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sahara Force India is next up to reveal its 2017 challenger – the VJM10 premieres tomorrow – but it has come out today and released its plans for who will run when in said challenger.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will have one full day apiece at the first test and then split the last day, with Alfonso Celis Jr. continuing his role with the team and set to run on day three of the opening test.

Ocon and Perez will then alternate for the second test, with Ocon on days one and three and Perez days two and four.

Ocon’s tested for Force India before but this will mark his first running as an official Force India driver. The impressive French driver shifts to the Mercedes-powered Force India entry after a successful second half of the year with Manor.

Perez, meanwhile, helped spearhead Force India’s climb to fourth in the Constructor’s Championship last year, the team’s best result since its 2008 debut.

Sahara Force India – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Sergio Perez
February 28 – Esteban Ocon
March 1 – Alfonso Celis Jr.
March 2 – Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon

Test 2
March 7 – Esteban Ocon
March 8 – Sergio Perez
March 9 – Esteban Ocon
March 10 – Sergio Perez

Alain Prost: F1 ‘needs to have more of a human side’

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 2: In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Alain Prost with Nicolas Prost (FRA), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 during the Long Beach Formula E race at Long Beach Street Circuit on April 2, 2016 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was confirmed today as a special advisor to Renault Sport Racing, but his comments about the sport’s future were more important than his newly announced role with the team.

Prost, who’s spent a lot of time in the FIA Formula E world with the Renault e.dams team and son Nico, one of that team’s two drivers, said F1 has to work harder to attract younger fans as it heads into its new dawn under the new ownership group from Liberty Media Corporation.

“I think the vision is difficult to tell today,” Prost said during Renault’s launch today in London. “We have a new buyer. CVC isn’t there anymore; Liberty is. With the teams having Ross Brawn to work with, that’s a good asset.

“We need more than a vision. We need two goals. We need to bring spectators and young guys, and talking more about interactivity is more or less what we do in Formula E. That would be obvious.

“We need to have more of a human side. More people are interested in the drivers than the technology and performance.”

That dig comes a bit at F1’s hybrid technical regulations that have come into play the last few years, which has seen Mercedes AMG Petronas firmly at the head of the development curve and having won all but eight races since the start of 2014 (Red Bull with five wins, Ferrari with three).

Prost did say the reset for 2017, which features the new wider tires and wider bodies and wings, could help in that pursuit of bringing in new fans.

“I think it’s very positive for Formula 1. You needed a new cycle. These cars will be very impressive. I hope it brings new and young spectators,” he said.

Prost confirmed he won’t have a day-to-day role with Renault but will be part of the team’s executive committee.

“I must say what is important is that Renault is competitive and can win as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been involved! But I won’t have a day-to-day role. It will be a bit more from behind.

“Together with Jerome and Cyril, my role is to give the input to give the best strategy possible to be good for the future.”

Renault targeting step up to fifth place in standings

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Jolyon Palmer (C) of Great Britain and Renault Sport, Nico Hulkenberg (L) of Germany and Renault Sport and Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport pose with the Renault Sport Formula One team's 2017 car, the RS17, on February 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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At the launch of the new Renault R.S.17 today in London, Renault Sport F1 Team senior management expressed a goal of leaping to the top-five in the Constructor’s Championship for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Jerome Stoll, president of Renault Sport Racing and Cyril Abiteboul, the team’s managing director, said with the offseason reset and having had a proper amount of time to fully become Renault they can go from ninth up to fifth in this year’s standings.

“We have a car developed by us, and we expect to be fifth in the championship,” Stoll said during the team’s launch. “We have the team, we have the drivers, we have the partners. We are completely managed by Renault now.

Abiteboul added, “We’ve been investing more than any of the top teams. We lead everyone else in looking where the regulations are. Last year was about putting together the building blocks of the mid-term to the long-term in the back office. This year, I will be spending more time at the track.”

Abiteboul introduced the drivers who he hopes will do the task. He hailed Jolyon Palmer’s improvement in the latter stages of the season and said Nico Hulkenberg’s record speaks for itself.

“We’re happy to continue the journey with Jolyon,” Abiteboul said. “Like all rookies, he’s had difficult and challenging moments, but we stay together as a group and continue to perform.

“He’s been keeping his head down and got through the difficult part of the year. He had a remarkable last third of the year with great races in Malaysia and Japan.

“Nico, I’m not going to introduce him. You should know what he can do. He set a pole in his rookie season with Williams. He won Le Mans his first year with Porsche. He’s secured fourth in the standings with Force India last year. He will be an example for all of us.”

Team technical director Bob Bell said there “should be an overall significant improvement in car performance.” With the higher downforce though, he said whether there will be a lot of overtaking remains the biggest question mark going into the year.

“The truth is none of us will know until Melbourne. The jury’s still out, but we’re hopeful.”