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IndyCar’s winter hibernation coming to an end with plenty to come

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The Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off its promotional efforts for 2017 with its “NEXT” video that launched just after the new year, while more concrete “next” items will come here over the coming weeks.

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams got the 2017 testing underway with all four of its cars running on the Sebring International Raceway short course. From what’s been gathered, the test went very well for the quartet of drivers, now running the Honda aero kit and power unit for the first time in road or street course configuration. It remains to be seen what Scott Dixon’s car will look like commercially speaking following Target’s departure, and whether the No. 9 Honda will have a primary partner by the Feb. 10-11 open test in Phoenix is up for debate.

This was Ganassi’s makeup test at Sebring for its lost day on December 9. Dale Coyne Racing will test on January 24-25 for its makeup days, and that test will provide Coyne rookie Ed Jones his first running with the team in a rookie day on the 24th before his formal first test on the 25th.

Silly season has all but come to an end. Spencer Pigot is all-but-formally-confirmed as the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is yet to formally confirm Mikhail Aleshin as its second driver, even though this has been a widely assumed continuation throughout the winter. Meanwhile with staff reductions having occurred at what was KVSH Racing, whether that team makes the grid in any capacity in just over two months at St. Petersburg is now doubtful.

From an INDYCAR future car standpoint, it looks likely that the process of revealing the 2018 common aero kit will begin this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As with most new car rollouts, you’ll generally see a rendering or renderings before the car itself. Forecasting further, from a buzz standpoint, you figure INDYCAR would want to have the kit itself revealed in the month of May when there’s generally the most media attention around the Indianapolis 500. And then the kit’s public track testing would figure to come in the fall.

Speaking of media, an informal media day takes place January 18-19 in Indianapolis for INDYCAR winter meetings. It won’t be a formal media day as it has been the last two years.

IndyCar drivers will be omnipresent at two of January’s bigger race events. At the Race of Champions event in Miami from Jan. 21-22, confirmed drivers include 2017 full-timers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves, along with fellow veterans Juan Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves.

Conor Daly has been nominated as a finalist for ROC Factor North America to be Hinchcliffe’s teammate, and has worked to achieve votes to make the race as well. The talented young American’s been locked in a fierce battle with underrated Edmonton native Stefan Rzadzinski, who has raced in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires before shifting into the Nissan Micra Cup ranks.

“RHR,” “TK” and “Hinch” are then three of 11 IndyCar drivers who competed at some point in 2016 who will be a part of the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. The other eight include Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot, RC Enerson, Townsend Bell, Sage Karam and Jack Hawksworth.

Then the calendar kicks into February, more testing occurs and the countdown to St. Petersburg March 12 really kicks into high gear.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.