2014 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula 1’s main European season comes to an end this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at ‘la pista magica’, Monza.

The clichés used to describe this circuit have long been exhausted, with phrases such as “temple of speed” the norm in these preview articles. Frankly, it doesn’t even come close. If any single circuit can claim to bear the spirit of Formula 1, it is this one.

Since the beginning of the world championship in 1950, Monza has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix (1980’s race was held at Imola), and the circuit has earned itself a place at the very heart of the sport. Much like Spa, it truly is an “old circuit” with just eleven corners and the fastest lap on the F1 calendar. With the new cars, don’t be surprised to see speeds get close and maybe even eclipse 350km/h.

With the beginning of fall, we must look towards the end of the F1 championship. After this weekend’s race, just six races will remain in 2014; by the end of November, we will have a champion.

This weekend’s race could prove to be pivotal in the title race. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s battle turned into civil war at the last race in Belgium, and we have since had apologies from all parties. Will these words mean much when the two Silver Arrows head into the first chicane side-by-side on Sunday afternoon?

For the locals, there is only one team that is worth their attention: Ferrari. The loyal Tifosi comes out in its droves, turning the grandstands red in support of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. The team may struggle to win at Monza this weekend, but a good haul of points – at least one that’s bigger than Williams – must be the goal.

2014 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Friends, Enemies, Teammates?

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s intra-team battle boiled over at the Belgian Grand Prix last time out, resulting in a public rebuttal for Rosberg and a two-week spell that left us all pondering what will happen at Monza. Mercedes has made perfectly clear that it will not tolerate any more contact between its drivers, but if they go side-by-side into the first chicane, will we see a repeat? Having both drivers in the press conference on Thursday should make for an interesting start to the weekend.

Williams sets its sights on Ferrari

After losing some ground to Ferrari at Spa, Williams will be hoping to make up for it on the prancing horse’s home turf this weekend at Monza. The British team has a package that is well-suited to the circuit on the outskirts of Milan, and should excel. However, Ferrari has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat at Monza; you can expect the home fans to lift both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday, even if battling for a position any higher than P5 may prove difficult.

Merhi, Merhi, quite contrary

Roberto Merhi will get his first taste of an F1 car on Friday at Monza when he replaces Kamui Kobayashi for the first free practice session. The Spaniard has been plying his trade in Formula Renault 3.5 so far this year, and currently ranks second behind Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr. in the championship. He will complete some running that will go towards him obtaining a superlicense in the next few weeks, at which point he’ll most probably replace Kobayashi.

Alonso’s contract conundrum

Speculation about Fernando Alonso’s future has been rife for a good while, but we do appear to be getting a clear picture that he will now be staying at Ferrari for 2015. In an interview with Sky Sports, the Spaniard insisted that he is happy with the team, and said that he wants to “finish the job that we started some years ago”. So, at Monza, in front of the home press, he will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. Quite what the future holds remains unclear, but the Spaniard is certainly the man being spoken about at this weekend’s race.

The Italian Job

For all of the history that Monza may boast, the here and now is a little less impressive. Currently, there are no Italian drivers racing in Formula 1, nor has there been since the end of 2011. The track is also at risk of being cut from Formula 1’s schedule, with races in Rome or Mugello being mooted. However, this race simply must remain a part of the sport, and we can only hope that Monza gets the required investment and work to secure its place on the calendar for many years to come.

As for the drivers? Keep an eye out for Raffaele Marciello, a Ferrari junior driver currently racing in GP2. He has the makings of something very special indeed.

Italy – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Laps: 53
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:23.755
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8

TV Times

Free Practice 1 – 5/9 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 5/9 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 6/9 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 6/9 8am ET NBCSN
Race – 7/9 7.30am ET NBCSN

Comedian Adam Carolla makes pro racing debut in Trans Am

Adam Carolla pilots the No. 33 GoShare Corvette at Willow Springs International Raceway. Photo: Burtin Racing
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As the host of such shows as CarCast, Ace on the House, and Adam Carolla and Friends Build Stuff Live, and with a massive classic car collection to boot, funnyman Adam Carolla is an unapologetic gearhead who is well-versed in the car industry. He even made a documentary honoring Paul Newman in recent years. However, he recently took his love of all things automotive one step further: he contested his first professional car race.

He joined the Burtin Racing team, which fields Corvette C7.Rs in the Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship, at California’s Willow Springs International Raceway for the High Desert Challenge, the season opener for Trans Am’s 2017 season. He piloted their No. 33 GoShare entry as a teammate to Richard Wall, who signed as a last-minute entrant for team’s the No. 7 machine.

Carolla was not daunted by the challenge. He quickly came to grips with the 850-horsepower beast and qualified a solid fifth for the 100-mile feature. In the race itself, he worked his way up to third before facing a tough challenge from Trans Am veteran and former champion Greg Pickett, who previously ran the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing effort in the American Le Mans Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Photo: Burtin Racing

However, Carolla was unfazed by Pickett’s advance and he held off the former champion to claim third, not far behind teammate Wall, who crossed the line in second. Tomy Drissi won the event in the No. 8 Ghost in The Shell Chevrolet Corvette.

For Carolla, simply contesting the Trans Am event was an honor. “For me, Trans Am has always been huge,” said Carolla, who earned the COOLSHIRT Systems “Cool Move of the Race” award for his performance.

“I have old Trans Am cars from the 70’s and 80’s. I have some 2.5 (liter) Trans Am cars from the 70’s and I have Paul Newman cars that were raced in Trans Am. So just the idea of being asked to race in the modern Trans Am was a huge honor. Just being able to hold my own in modern Trans Am was exciting to me.”

Team owner Claudio Burtin was ecstatic with Carolla’s performance. “I think we all have to take our hat off to Adam Carolla on his debut in Trans Am,” he said of Carolla. “This is a fast and difficult track at Willow Springs, and the team is ecstatic with Adam’s podium finish. GoShare is thrilled with the results and we will work to improve one step higher on the podium next time.”

The Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Championships resume action on April 29-30 at Auto Club Speedway.

Preferred Freezer Services expands partnership with Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing

Mike Finnegan/Ed Carpenter Racing
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Preferred Freezer Services, which has been a sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing and driver J.R. Hildebrand since 2014, is set to expand its partnership with both driver and team. Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet with sport the white and blue Preferred Freezer Services livery at four races during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the first being at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 7-9. The expansion also includes the entire month of May, which will see the brand on the No. 21 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. They will return as a primary sponsor for the Honda Indy Toronto in July and will be an associate sponsor throughout the season.

“Preferred Freezer Services was a big part of helping me get to running just the Indy 500 with ECR the first year in 2014. We’ve been fortunate to see the program grow and help it expand over the last few years,” Hildebrand said of the relationship. “I’m really excited to be able to continue that partnership and have them on board for a few more races this year! It is great to work with these guys again and I can’t wait to kick it off at such an awesome event as Long Beach.”

As Hildebrand explained, the partnership between sponsor, driver and team dates back to 2014, when Preferred Freezer Services adorned a then one-off No. 21 entry for Hildebrand, incidentally his first start for Ed Carpenter Racing. They expanded their partnership in 2015, adorning Hildebrand’s entry at that year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indy 500. Their presence grew even more last year, when they appeared on the cars of Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hildebrand has finished in top ten in the last three Indianapolis 500 mile races. However, his best finish remains his infamous second place at the 2011 race, in which he crashed in the final corner while leading, which yielded victory to Dan Wheldon.

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for fifth straight Indy 500

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Dale Coyne Racing has confirmed Pippa Mann will be back in the team’s third car for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which will mark her fifth consecutive year with the team and sixth start in the race overall.

She joins Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Ed Jones as Coyne’s three drivers in for the race, as the Coyne team is expected to focus just on these three after running four cars last year.

“I’m very happy to be rejoining Dale Coyne Racing for my fifth consecutive year with the team at the 101st Indy 500,” Mann said in a release.

“Dale has invested heavily in the team over the winter, and it’s an exciting time to be part of his organization. I’m looking forward to working with the same familiar faces from my 2016 campaign, like my race engineer Rob Ridgely, as well as working with the new members of the team, including my new teammates Sebastien (Bourdais) and Ed (Jones). I’m thrilled to be getting back on the race track this May for my sixth Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Mann continues her relationship with Susan G. Komen, the supporters of the pink No. 63 Honda for the last three years in an effort which first began in 2014.

As she’s done for the past four consecutive years, Mann will continue to raise awareness for the Get Involved Campaign alongside her racing program. This year, the campaign that raises money for Susan G. Komen® is partnering with Auction Cause, a premier cause marketing agency, that will run the auction on eBay for Charity. The campaign will launch May 1 and close the week following the Indy 500. The funds raised will be used to support Komen’s global breast cancer research, and community based programs throughout the U.S.

Komen continues as a key partner and Mann has announced another partnership with OrthoIndy, with further partnerships to be released soon.

“I’m also excited about the link up with Auction Cause and eBay for Charity this May,” she added. “They have so much experience running online campaigns, I feel like it’s a huge step for me, and for the Get Involved Campaign to partner with them. This new format has allowed me to reach out to more drivers, get them involved with more signed items, and I’m hoping we’re able to reach more race fans, and raise even more money for Susan G. Komen than we have ever done before.”

“It’s always a pleasure to have Pippa on board for the Indy 500 and to help promote the Get Involved Campaign, raising funds for Susan G. Komen,” Coyne said. “Pippa works hard every year to put together this program and to race in the Indy 500. With her perseverance and enthusiasm for our sport, it’s only fitting that we continue this relationship that started five years ago.”

Newgarden hails ‘spectacular’ Montoya after JPM’s first 2017 test

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At 26 years old, Josef Newgarden was watching Juan Pablo Montoya win races in CART, then Formula 1, then NASCAR as his own career was starting out.

When Montoya returned to IndyCar in 2014 at age 38, Newgarden was just 23, and the two had the chance to share a race track together for the first time.

After Newgarden’s subsequent rise over the years, he was scouted by Team Penske, and eventually signed to replace Montoya in the team’s No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

But Montoya remains part of the Team Penske landscape in 2017, driving the team’s fifth car during the month of May at both the IndyCar Grand Prix in Indianapolis and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He’s also been mentioned as the leading candidate to drive with Penske’s highly likely but not officially confirmed future sports car program, which Penske discussed openly during a media roundtable at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.

At last week’s test at Barber Motorsports Park, Newgarden and Montoya had the chance to work together as teammates and as Newgarden explained, having the chance to study his predecessor’s data was something he relished.

“Juan’s fun to be around. He’s an interesting guy,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “He’s so competitive… and you can tell how competitive he is interacting with him. But it’s fun to look at his data, and have the privilege to look at that.

“I’m excited to see that at Indianapolis, because that’s the big race for all of us together at Team Penske.”

Montoya has mentioned his appreciation for Newgarden in the past, particularly after the two raced so closely for position at the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America last season.

Newgarden said he’s looked up to Montoya for years and seeing him in this element provided such a rare glimpse into his world.

“The level of respect I have for Juan is tremendous,” he said. “He’s been so spectacular, and is even more so on ovals. I’ll be so thankful to get the chance to look at his data.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Newgarden, who today is promoting the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 9, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and has that sandwiched in-between two tests at the Indianapolis oval. Team Penske used a team test last Friday and will be back in action as part of a Chevrolet manufacturer test on Saturday.

“It’s a great couple days to get my feet wet,” he said. “I hadn’t been around there with Team Penske yet. It’s good to get that type of knowledge early on.”