Photo: Dan R. Boyd for BorgWarner

Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, 2016 PRI Show notebook

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Spent the tail end of last week in Indianapolis for the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show and the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, which saw Alexander Rossi’s face the latest one adorned on the trophy.

Notes from those two events are below:

-Wednesday’s Borg-Warner Trophy face revealing for Alexander Rossi was a particularly well-run event. Usually things of this nature are built up for quite a while before the actual unveil, but in this instance the program moved quickly and swiftly from its 5 p.m. start time to the face reveal at 5:10, which served as the formal end of the program before Rossi started making the rounds of interviews.

-One of the special moments after the unveil came when Holly Wheldon, sister of the late Dan Wheldon, and Rossi posed alongside Dan Wheldon’s winning No. 98 Honda from the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Rossi and Bryan Herta carried the tradition from 2011.

-To go along with the face reveal, the annual BorgWarner dinner followed later Wednesday night at Mo’s … A Place for Steaks in downtown Indianapolis, which brought together a number of assembled media and special guests to honor the new champion. Rossi and three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser were the featured attractions, while Jeff Gordon was a surprise visitor to the dinner to congratulate Rossi on his achievement. Gordon, now a FOX Sports NASCAR analyst, made an eight-race comeback to NASCAR’s top-level series this year as an injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and has just been confirmed to race next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac DPi-V.R.

-On Thursday morning, Rossi’s winning car itself was presented to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Prior to the presentation, Gordon came over for an encore to meet Rossi once again.

-Rossi is in a welcome position where it’s December, he knows what he’s doing next year, and has already had one test with two new additions to his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda. He seemed to be positively beaming about new engineer Jeremy Milless, and he’s also getting a great new strategist in Rob Edwards, as Bryan Herta is set to move to Marco Andretti’s car. Considering for the last several years, Rossi’s plans have come together late in the offseason, the fact he knows where everything is, will have year-to-year team and series continuity and also knows the tracks now, he should be poised for a better overall second season.

-Spoke to IMS President Doug Boles at the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal. Boles is bullish on 2017 Indianapolis 500 ticket renewals, as it’s higher than anticipated compared to projections and trending ahead of 2015, which is the realistic target to hit. Additionally, Boles said there are a couple potential sponsors that could take on the IndyCar Grand Prix title sponsor role. In terms of other IMS events, Boles has been thrilled with the turnout thus far at the Speedway’s Holiday Lights display, which is a 1.7-mile drive around the circuit that’s had tens of thousands of visitors thus far since opening, and he’s also expecting a large number of entries for the 2017 SCCA National Championship Runoffs to be held next September. North of 750 cars are possible for the 2017 Runoffs, Boles said.

-Thanks to IndyCar for a fun end-of-year media dinner gathering at Hibachi Japanese Steakhouse in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood. Good times and laughs were had by most, if not all, attendees.

-Saturday saw an on-site taping of James Hinchcliffe’s “The Mayor on Air” podcast he co-hosts with INDYCAR Digital Media Director Brian Simpson. Hinchcliffe had got Simpson in a prank for his birthday in August, while Simpson – and a number of others – got him back not long after Hinchcliffe turned 30 on December 5. Hinchcliffe said he’s happy to get back into his normal in-Indianapolis routine after several months away with his “Dancing with the Stars” commitments.

-Hinchcliffe and Rossi weren’t alone on site among the IndyCar contingent. Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal also made appearances.

-HP Composites, a premiere producer of carbon fiber and composite components for Motorsport, Series Production and the Industrial and Aerospace sectors, has established North American operations in Denver, N.C. HP Composites and Onroak Automotive are sister companies under the Everspeed group banner.

Photo: Sunday Group Management
Photo: Sunday Group Management

-The F4 U.S. Championship schedule was also revealed at the same time. The schedule for them is: April 8-9, Homestead (with Trans-Am), April 28-30, VIR (with PWC), June 8-11, Indianapolis (with SVRA), July 8-9, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (with IMSA), August 10-12, Mid-Ohio (with NASCAR Xfinity/Trans-Am), and Sept. 14-17, COTA (with FIA WEC). Note the Indianapolis date is part of the SVRA “Open Wheel World Challenge” weekend, while the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational is the following week, June 16-18.

pwcteaser

-Pirelli World Challenge held its ‘State of the Series’ presentation on Friday at the show. The biggest change comes with a move to USAC for sanctioning, although PWC is working through the next step of its relationship with longtime partner SCCA, per PWC president/CEO Greg Gill. The race formats, TV and streaming package, and other components were revealed, including a move to online registration systems and a new timing & scoring partner in Timing Solutions Ltd.

shea-holbrook-driving-2017-honda-civic-at-25-hours-of-thunderhill-race
Photo: Honda Racing/HPD

-A number of intriguing participants were in the room from a mix of manufacturers in teams that either are set to continue in PWC as have they have in the past, or could be poised to switch from IMSA.

-One of the key manufacturer/team announcements was Shea Racing’s confirmation of an extended relationship with Honda Racing/HPD. PWC B-Spec champion Tom O’Gorman steps up to a new Honda Civic Si in TCA, while Shea Holbrook and Jason Fichter will continue to run a pair of Touring Car-class Honda Accords. Spoke to both Holbrook and O’Gorman at PRI and will have follow-ups with them to come.

-More content from breakout interviews gathered at PRI will follow in the coming days.

Ricciardo downbeat after disaster Australian GP ends in retirement

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Daniel Ricciardo was left downbeat after a disastrous end to a difficult Australian Grand Prix weekend that saw the home Formula 1 favorite almost miss the race entirely.

Ricciardo was due to start the race 10th after crashing out of qualifying on Saturday, and was then handed a five-place grid penalty following a gearbox change overnight.

Ricciardo then suffered another setback when an electrical issue emerged during his reconnaissance lap to the grid, causing his car to get stuck in sixth gear.

After coming back to the pit lane in a truck, the RB13 car was revived by the Red Bull crew to allow Ricciardo to enter the race, albeit two laps down, making the event a glorified test session.

Ricciardo showed good pace, but was eventually forced to retire when an engine issue emerged on his car just after half distance, marking a sour end to his home race weekend.

“I’m just over it at the moment. It’s one of those days, tomorrow I’ll be fine,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the session.

“It snowballed from yesterday. The out lap had problems, then I thought the race was done. We got out a few laps down. Good to get out and learn more. Then I had another issue, fuel pressure or something. Let’s go to China and have a better one there.”

Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen ended up fifth, with Ricciardo taking some heart from the result despite his own setbacks.

“I learned quite a bit with the car,” Ricciardo said. “I was behind a few slower cars. There’s other strengths and weaknesses. Max’s pace looked good at the moment.

“I’ll be alright when I wake up tomorrow. It’s been a long week.

“I feel like crap, it’s not how we’d like the opener to go at home.”

Alonso: Poor Australia display ‘a problem for McLaren, not me’

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Fernando Alonso believes his performance in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia was one of the best of his career, despite only being in contention for 10th place when he was forced to retire.

Alonso and McLaren arrived in Melbourne off the back of a torrid pre-season that had seen the Honda power unit present a number of problems, limiting the team’s running.

McLaren’s expectations for the Australian Grand Prix were low, making Alonso’s charge to 13th in qualifying an impressive one.

The Spaniard made a good start to move into the top 10 early on, and was in the running for points until a suspension issued forced him to retire with six laps remaining.

“The race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race.

“The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. Good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to stay in the points. Suspension stopped us from getting this point.”

Alonso then delivered another scathing comment to McLaren, saying that his uncompetitive display was not his problem as he was driving at the peak of his powers.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating,” Alonso said.

“But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team, not me.”

Ferrari outplays Mercedes as Vettel takes Australian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel kick-started Ferrari’s 2017 Formula 1 season in style as a strategic stunner allowed him to jump Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and storm to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel and Ferrari arrived in Melbourne as favorites for victory following a hugely impressive pre-season, only for Hamilton to dominate practice and take pole, suggesting Mercedes’ recent pace advantage still remained.

Hamilton led the early part of the race, but was unable to shake off Vettel, with the German staying close enough to give Ferrari the chance to get ahead through a brilliant strategy call.

The decision to chase the ‘overcut’, combined with Hamilton hitting traffic, saw Vettel snatch the lead through the tire changes and then dominate proceedings accordingly.

It was a display reminiscent of Vettel’s Red Bull heyday, and marked his first win in Australia since 2011. It was Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since Kimi Raikkonen’s success in 2007. In both instances, the winner in Australia went on to win the world championship.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole and retain the lead at the first corner, with Vettel staying in close company through the early part of the race, immediately creating a strategy headache for the defending champion team. Hamilton managed to eke out a lead over Vettel, raising the gap to two seconds in the opening stint, but it was still nowhere near enough to give Mercedes any kind of comfort.

Vettel ramped up the pressure as the first round of pit stops neared, cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than one second. Hamilton reacted by diving into the pits, preventing Vettel from getting close, with his switch to the soft tire ensuring he didn’t need to make another stop. Ferrari didn’t bring Vettel in immediately, instead keeping the German out. With Valtteri Bottas 11 seconds behind in P2, Ferrari had the chance to roll the dice and keep Vettel out.

The race moved in the Scuderia’s favor when Hamilton came onto the back of Max Verstappen, who was running fourth, and found himself struggling to pass. Mercedes told Hamilton over the radio that it was “race critical” and he had to pass, yet with his tires already struggling, the three-time champion was haemorrhaging time to Vettel.

Ferrari brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 23, releasing him into clean air after coming across a number of backmarkers. A swift turnaround from the Italian marque’s pit crew allowed Vettel to emerge from the pits ahead of both Verstappen and Hamilton, handing him the net lead. Hamilton vented his frustration over the radio as he kept struggling behind Verstappen, with Vettel immediately breaking free. By the time Verstappen finally stopped at the end of Lap 25, Vettel was already six seconds clear of Hamilton.

Mercedes told Hamilton that it was considering a switch to ‘plan B’ on strategy, with the Briton still struggling to match Vettel’s pace at the front. To make matters worse, Bottas was beginning to close up behind, moving to within three seconds of his esteemed teammate in the race for second.

As Vettel extended his lead at the front, former teammate Daniel Ricciardo saw his weekend come to an unceremonious end as he retired a little over half distance. Having barely made the start following an electrical issue pre-race, the Australian’s home event became a glorified test session, but an engine problem meant it came to a premature end.

Hamilton looked to steady the ship in his No. 44 Mercedes, cutting the gap to Vettel to less than nine seconds, but it proved fruitless. Vettel was able to remain cool and keep up an impressive pace to the very end, crossing the line with an 9.9 second buffer to record victory in Australia for the second time.

Hamilton managed to keep ahead of Bottas in second, leaving the Finn to take a solid podium finish on his Mercedes debut. Kimi Raikkonen ended up fourth in the second Ferrari, finishing over 20 seconds adrift of his teammate, while Max Verstappen’s decision to change strategy mid-race failed to give him anything more than fifth.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ferrari’s pit wall perfected Vettel’s strategy, something it has failed to do in recent years. Bottas had a very strong Mercedes debut, finishing third. Felipe Massa came home sixth on his comeback race. Sergio Perez did well to take seventh for Force India, with teammate Esteban Ocon taking his first F1 point in P10. Toro Rosso pair Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat both ended in the points, P8 and P9 respectively. Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on debut to finish 12th for Sauber.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Mercedes looked unable to answer Ferrari’s pace, with Hamilton seeming uncomfortable in the Mercedes W08. Raikkonen and Verstappen both had quiet races, ending up P4 and P5. Renault missed out on points with Nico Hulkenberg finishing 11th, while Jolyon Palmer retired early after a miserable weekend. McLaren’s pre-season struggles continued as engine issues forced Fernando Alonso to retire and left Stoffel Vandoorne P13, two laps down. Romain Grosjean retired on Lap 15 with an engine issue, with smoke pouring out of the back of his car; the Frenchman had been running P7, marking a big opportunity missed for Haas. Ricciardo had a horrible home race with his engine failure.

NOTABLE: Vettel’s win over Hamilton could act as a nice foreshadowing for the title battle to come. We’re yet to see Vettel and Hamilton go head to head in a straight title battle, but this could be the year. Vettel now has four wins for Ferrari, but this could be the most significant: the last time both he (2011) and Ferrari (2007) won in Australia, they went on to win the title.

QUOTABLE: ” I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.” – Fernando Alonso to NBCSN after his retirement.

RESULTS

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.