F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Previews

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Italian GP

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Formula 1 ventures to the spiritual home of motorsport in Italy this weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, based on the outskirts of Milan.

This race is one of the most famous in the history of the sport, having appeared on all but one of the F1 schedules since 1950. It will also see the loyal Tifosi come through its gates to cheer on the Ferrari team, even if its hopes of claiming the race win on Sunday may be shot down by two Silver Arrows.

Following their public fall-out at Monza, will Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Nico Rosberg patch things up? Or could it get out of hand on track for the second weekend in a row? Here’s what the MotorSportsTalk writing team had to say on the matter ahead of F1’s return to ‘la pista magica’ – ‘the magic track’, Monza.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. It’s a toss of a coin picking between Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg once again. Both will be charged up to hit back following a nightmarish weekend at Spa, but you can expect Hamilton to dial his car in and gun for a second victory at Monza.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. As we saw at Spa, Kimi’s still got it. He may not say much, but the flying Finn still has the same fire and pace that won him the title back in 2007. Ferrari must impress at its home race, but it isn’t all about Fernando Alonso, you know…

Most to prove: Mercedes. Quite simply: “Did you drivers listen to you when you said ‘no more contact’?” If the answer is no, we will find out at the first chicane on Sunday at Monza. The battle of Spa may be over, but the war has only just begun.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Mercedes has lost two in a row and it’s not going to be three at a track where power is everything. Rosberg puts the drama of the last two weeks since Spa behind him and returns to the top.

Surprising finish: Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s giant-killing ability with the Ferrari chassis continues to be a storyline, and what better way for him to continue his season than with a podium at the spiritual home of the Scuderia. A win would rank up with Ferrari’s 1988 Monza triumph in the pantheon of upsets… it also has about as much chance happening as that 1988 race. And Jean-Louis Schlesser isn’t making a comeback…

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. If for no other reason than you seem to read about him crashing at least once every race weekend. Yes, points are unlikely for Lotus this weekend, but a simple, trouble-free weekend would be nice to see.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. The Brit won’t be lacking motivation this weekend at Monza, that’s for sure. And having not won since Silverstone, he’s due as well. The World Championship battle between he and Rosberg will tighten up a bit again.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. A fourth place result at Belgium was promising, but now Raikkonen must make the tifosi happy at Ferrari’s spiritual home. Many expect teammate Fernando Alonso to lead the Scuderia’s charge here, but I have a feeling that Raikkonen will finally earn his first podium of 2014.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes dominated the headlines even though they didn’t win. And the guy that did win was Vettel’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo – who’s now up 3-0 on victories this season. The German’s been missing from the podium since Canada – he needs to get back on it this weekend and reclaim some of the spotlight for himself.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard could finally break through with his first win of the season this week. He’ll have a tough battle with points leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, but this one goes to Alonso. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in a Ferrari and in the red horse’s home country, either.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. JB has had an uncharacteristically and surprisingly dismal campaign in 2014. At this point, we would thought he’d have had a better year than he has had. He’s due for a decent finish, and this weekend could finally give him that. It may not be a podium finish, but it’ll be close.

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Being ranked second in the standings, you’d think Lewis Hamilton would have very little to prove. But if has hopes of still winning the F1 title, he has to overtake Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by season’s end. To do that, Hamilton has to get moving – and moving fast.

NHRA: Leah Pritchett sets new quickest national elapsed time record

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Photo: Don Schumacher Racing
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Pomona Winternationals winner Leah Pritchett added to her incredible start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, one she came in with high hopes with anyway, with a slightly bigger accomplishment:

She set a new national elapsed time record for a 1,000-foot distance in NHRA history.

Pritchett, who drives the Don Schumacher Racing-entered, Todd Okuhara-tuned Papa John’s Top Fuel dragster, ran a 3.658-second pass at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Friday outside Phoenix during the first day of qualifying for this weekend’s Arizona Nationals. The speed was 329.34 mph.

Incidentally, both Pritchett and Courtney Force set unofficial best times in Top Fuel and Funny Car testing, also at Wild Horse Pass, earlier this month.

You could barely put a piece of cheese between Pritchett’s two times; her time at the test was 3.654 seconds, but because that’s a test it is not an official mark.

The previous official record in competition was a 3.671-second pass, which Steve Torrence set July 31, 2016 at Sonoma.

“To be behind the wheel of this machine that is constantly putting out time and time again fast numbers and quick numbers is, to be honest, a little bit difficult to comprehend,” Pritchett said, via NHRA.com. “It’s everything that dreams are made of. It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s not.”

For good measure, Pritchett’s teammate Tony Schumacher also eclipsed Torrence’s old mark with a side-by-side run to second at 3.667 seconds, and 323 mph and change in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.

Force led the Funny Car charts on the first day of qualifying, while Jason Line led Pro Stock. Both drivers drive Chevrolets.

Lest Force’s day be overshadowed, she set a record of her own. Force broke the track’s elapsed time and speed records during the opening session of qualifying for Sunday’s NHRA Arizona Nationals with a pass of 3.838 seconds at 332.67 mph.

Force lost to Matt Hagan in the Pomona finals while Line beat his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson, for the Pomona win.

Butterball, Andretti Autosport extension is all gravy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Andretti Autosport and Butterball, a U.S.-based provider of turkey and poultry products, announced a new expansion of their partnership. The newly revamped agreement will see Butterball branding on all four Andretti Autosport entries in 2017.

“Butterball has been a great partner since 2014 and I’m really excited to have them on board again this year,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay. “They were with me when I won the Indianapolis 500 which was a really special moment for everyone involved. Hopefully we can bring them back into victory lane this year, not only at Indy, but throughout the season as well.”

The machines of Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato will feature branding just below the front suspension components. Per the announcement, the placement has created a new nickname for the assembly: “the Butterball Wishbone.”

“Butterball is extremely excited about our sponsorship with Andretti Autosport in 2017,” said Butterball CEO and President Kerry Doughty. “With the addition of the new Butterball Wishbone Sponsorship on all Andretti Autosport Indy cars for the 2017 season, we are expanding the tremendously successful relationship that began with Michael and Ryan in 2014 when we won the Indianapolis 500 in our first season.”

Butterball’s tenure with Andretti Autosport dates back to May 2014, shortly before Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed victory at the Indianapolis 500. Branding has been featured on Hunter-Reay No. 28 entry ever since.

Newgarden completes busy day in Detroit

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Photo: IndyCar
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Josef Newgarden’s media prowess and charisma was again in full display on Thursday during a series promotional efforts for June’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

Specifically, Newgarden was in town for Detroit Grand Prix night at that night’s Pistons-Hornets NBA game.

The day began with Newgarden visiting a handful of Detroit news media outlets, where his most notable venture involved duking it out with Pistons mascot Hooper.

The day continued with Newgarden exploring more of the city, and getting in touch with its rock ‘n roll history.

That, Newgarden ventured to The Palace of Auburn Hills to the big promotional event of day, Detroit Grand Prix night. There, Newgarden was greeted with his own Detroit Pistons jersey and even tried a couple of half-court shots at halftime. However, he did not make any, making it less likely he’ll pursue a basketball career when he decides to hang up his helmet.

For an additional recap Detroit Grand Prix night, visit The Chevrolet’s Detroit Grand Prix twitter @detroitgp.

Entry lists revealed for MRTI Spring Training in Miami

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Kyle Kaiser in Miami, 2015. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The first real good, if not final, looks at the season to come in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires come with next week’s Spring Training, which sees four total days of action at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for all three rungs of the ladder.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will run February 27 on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval and March 2 on the 2.21-mile road course. Meanwhile the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will run solely on the road course over two back-to-back days, February 28 and March 1.

Indy Lights’ field seems closest to being finalized from this group, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 still have some gaps to fill.

In one other bit, Mazda will announce the teams of competition for its Soul Red-liveried drivers this year, all of whom won Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships for their next step up this year. That’s why Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights), Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) teams are listed as TBAs.

Anyway, quick notes:

Indy Lights (14 cars

All drivers on the Indy Lights entry list have been officially announced, and as noted, Telitz’s team is the only significant TBA of note. Car numbers are revealed for Zachary Claman De Melo and Matheus Leist at Carlin of 13 and 26 respectively, with the known in advance.

In terms of team breakdown, it’s four each at Carlin and Andretti Autosport (with Colton Herta’s No. 98 car an Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry), Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing each with two official cars and Team Pelfrey the lone one-car entry.

Of the 14 drivers, the field is split exactly in half between seven veterans and seven rookies.

Questions from here are whether one or two more cars not at this test will join the grid at St. Petersburg and push the number back up. Since the debut of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the St. Pete weekend has had 13 cars in 2015 and 16 cars last year, with this one falling in the middle.

Pro Mazda (6 cars)

In what’s very much a survive-and-advance season for Pro Mazda in the final year with its existing car, a small batch of cars come from Team Pelfrey, World Speed Motorsports and the team TBA for Anthony Martin for this test.

Within a 20-to-30-plus, multiple-class series of racing, six cars for one class wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But six on their own for an independent series is certainly an issue. The number simply has to grow by St. Petersburg to at least eight at a bare minimum, the low-water mark last year, with 10 a significant step forward at this rate (the series had 12 cars at St. Petersburg last year).

USF2000 (22 cars)

Quite by contrast, the new Tatuus USF-17 premieres in USF2000 with 22 cars at this test and the potential of more cars by St. Petersburg (the series had 26 starters last year with two additional withdrawals).

Six returning drivers join 12 rookies and four TBAs on this list, all split among 10 teams. Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, initially announced as driving for Benik in 2017, is listed in a third Newman Wachs Racing entry for this test.