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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Toro Rosso

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Scuderia Toro Rosso continued to battle away in Formula 1’s midfield last year and offered glimpses of a team that could move up the pecking order – but once again ailed to P7 in the standings.

Carlos Sainz Jr. remains one of F1’s brightest young talents, while Daniil Kvyat managed to recover from his Red Bull demotion and mid-season plight to bounce back later in the year.

With a young, dynamic driver pairing and a car with noted similarities to the offering from defending champion team Mercedes, can Toro Rosso move up the field this year?

DRIVERS

26. Daniil Kvyat (Russia)
55. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spain)

CAR

Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

ENGINE

Renault R.E.17 (may be rebadged)

TEAM CHIEFS

Franz Tost (team principal)
James Key (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost, Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso and James Key, Technical Director of Scuderia Toro Rosso unveil the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 in the pitlane during previews to F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Despite winding up seventh in the constructors’ championship and missing out on the elusive top-five dream, Toro Rosso had a pretty decent 2016 by most accounts. Following the decision to switch to year-old Ferrari power units, (wrongly) believing them to be better than current-year Renault offerings, to only score four less points than 2015 was good going. Carlos Sainz Jr. was a shining star yet again, and was unlucky not to hit the podium. Daniil Kvyat bounced back after his mid-season demotion and looked more collected come the end of the year, back to his former self.

What went wrong in 2016: Yet again, Toro Rosso failed to break into the upper end of the grid. The team seems to head into every year targeting a top five finish, and always falls short. It was the third year in a row the team had finished seventh, despite having a solid design team and two quick, young drivers. It was a good effort from what is a B-team, yet still some way off what is really possible.

What’s changed for 2017: The most noticeable change for Toro Rosso is the livery. Gone are the traditional dark blue and burgundy colors that made it a challenge at times to tell the cars apart from the Red Bulls. Instead, a slick blue, silver and red livery has been introduced, which has proven to be a real hit. Toro Rosso has kept a hold of technical guru James Key, who noted that his STR12 design was similar to that of Mercedes’ W08 car, while Sainz and Kvyat return once again.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: The same thing the team looked to accomplish last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year befo- you get the idea. Yes, a top-five finish will be the target this season. The return of on-year power units from Renault means that Toro Rosso will no longer fall far behind in the later stages of the season, so this should give Sainz and Kvyat more of a chance to fight at the front. For Sainz, the battle will be to impress the top teams so he can get a bigger seat; for Kvyat, his mind will probably be on survival once again with Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: If the mantra of a pretty car being a fast car is true, then Toro Rosso should sweep to both titles this year. Somehow, I think that won’t be the case. Toro Rosso can definitely get in the mix in the midfield, perhaps even with the likes of Force India and Williams. The STR12 looks good, and the comparison to Mercedes of massive interest to the paddock. With the right car, Sainz has a chance to make his name this year much as Sebastian Vettel did with Toro Rosso in 2008 – and maybe Kvyat can remind the world that he has the makings of a very competent grand prix racer.

Tony DiZinno: The livery’s flashy, the lineup’s solid, and the James Key-penned car looks sorted for most everyone’s favorite B-team in Scuderia Toro Rosso. With the livery shift and the retention of the ridiculously good Carlos Sainz Jr. along with the experience of Daniil Kvyat, there’s a festive flair around Toro Rosso that they’re finally poised to emerge from Red Bull’s shadow. I could see an outside shot of a podium happening at least once, with a handful of top-fives and consistent top-seven or eighth-place finishes helping propel the team into the top six, potentially top five, on the grid.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Toro Rosso appear to have a solid chassis, though reliability with Renault’s power unit is a big question mark. Still, one the big storylines with this team is its driver lienup, as Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat retain their seats, but both could be on thin ice. Toro Rosso has a history of moving on from young drivers who are underperforming. While Sainz Jr. did well to finish 12th in the 2016 driver’s championship, buoyed by two sixth-place finishes in the final four races, he would do well to consistently challenge to be in Q3 of qualifying along with being a regular points scorer. For Kvyat, he’ll need to rebound from a terrible 2016 season that saw him demoted from the Red Bull ‘A team’ to its ‘B team’ five races in. If he struggles in the same he way he did in the second half of 2016, Kvyat’s days as a Formula 1 driver could be numbered.

Road America weekend, Friday notes

Abnormal USF2000 podium of Malukas, VeeKay, Kohl. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series had two practice sessions today (you can see linkouts to practice one, and practice two, here). But it was far from the only action at Road America.

With seven sessions from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and three sports car sessions, two Pirelli World Challenge and the first Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires race, it was a very busy day of action.

Notes from all of those sessions are below.

MRTI

  • In USF2000, a rare occasion happened. Oliver Askew not only didn’t win the first race of the weekend, but had a mechanical issue that sent him to pit road. It opened the door for Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay (full surname of Van Kalmthout) to capture his first series win in a banner day for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Pabst Racing finished first (VeeKay), third (Lucas Kohl, in his first podium) and fourth (Calvin Ming, after starting 15th). Splitting them up was BN Racing’s David Malukas, the young Chicago native having scored a surprise pole position in the morning, finishing an impressive second place.
  • The first Pro Mazda race of the weekend saw Victor Franzoni on top over Anthony Martin, as the two championship combatants this season continued their bout. Martin (Cape Motorsports) and Franzoni (Juncos Racing) exchanged the lead early before Franzoni got past, then waltzed away. Team Pelfrey’s Nikita Lastochkin finished third for his first podium finish of his Mazda Road to Indy career, after two years in USF2000 and now into his first Pro Mazda season.
  • An intriguing Indy Lights qualifying session for race one saw Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist continue his recent form. The Brazilian rookie edged Carlin teammate Neil Alberico for the top spot, with Ryan Norman best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet in third. Points leader Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) starts fourth while Nico Jamin (Andretti) is fifth, Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz (Belardi) 11th and Colton Herta (Andretti/Steinbrenner) 13th. Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) did not qualify due to a mechanical issue. Kaiser led practice earlier in the day.
  • The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires held three other sessions on Friday. As noted, Malukas won the pole for the first USF2000 race held earlier Friday. Qualifying for the second race took place after IndyCar second practice, and saw VeeKay on pole. In qualifying for Pro Mazda race two, the grid is jumbled after an apparent strategic error cost Franzoni a proper lap time. A red flag meant he wasn’t able to set a realistic time and he will start from 15th and last on Saturday. Meanwhile Martin will be on the pole for Saturday’s race.

RESULTS

Indy Lights: Weekend Results
Pro Mazda: Weekend Results
USF2000: Weekend Results

SPORTS CARS

Photo: Global MX-5 Cup
  • Patrick Gallagher edged Bryan Ortiz by just 0.0263 of a second in a new record closest finish in Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, which breaks the record for the second time in three races. After Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 at Indianapolis, Gallagher turned the tables with his win today, moving his McCumbee McAleer Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup car to the outside of Ortiz exiting Turn 14.
  • Pirelli World Challenge had only two sessions total today, one practice apiece for GT and GTS/TC.

RESULTS

MX-5 Cup: Weekend Results
PWC: Weekend Results

Tony Stewart to race in Rico Abreu fundraiser at Calistoga

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) NASCAR is back at Sonoma Raceway and the defending race winner won’t be part of the field on Sunday.

Tony Stewart, who scored the last of his 49 career victories here, is retired now and watches the Cup races as a team owner. He still plans to race this weekend.

Stewart will run at Calistoga Speedway in an event that is being largely promoted by Rico Abreu and his father, local businessman David Abreu.

The race used to be called the Wine Country Classic, but has been renamed the Boys and Girls Club Dirt Track Classic. David Abreu designed the event as a fundraiser for a facility to house after-school programs for local children in Calistoga.

“My dad and I have always wanted to promote a race to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club,” Rico Abreu said. “There is a need for it with our demographics and it accommodates hundreds of kids in our valley. It provides them a safe place to learn and grow.”

Rico Abreu, one of the nation’s top dirt track drivers, benefited from the program along with his two siblings in St. Helena.

Stewart, Abreu and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are among those entered in the Saturday night dirt track event to help draw attendance.

David Abreu, founder of St. Helena’s Abreu Vineyards, is hoping to raise $250,000 for an equipped clubhouse at the Calistoga Boys and Club location. He will give a famous “Macho Magnums” – 40 magnums from his Napa Valley 2010 collection – to the first $100,000 donor.

It will be Stewart’s first Winged Sprint Car start at the Calistoga half-mile. He did win a USAC Western Midget Series race in 1994. He also set the midget track record that same weekend and held it until USAC made its return to the venue in 2008.

“I’m really looking forward to running the Calistoga Speedway since I haven’t raced there since 1994,” Stewart said. “I’m also excited to see all the improvements that have taken place at the track since the last time I’ve been there.”

Abreu is driving as well as promoting and fundraising. He’s competing Saturday night in the Sprint Car Challenge Tour 360’s and the King of the West-NARC 410’s.

“Having Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in competition will certainly be an exciting thing for all the fans in Nor-Cal,” said Rico Abreu.

More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

Newgarden, Penske top second practice at Road America

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Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden topped second practice in a 1-2-3-4 sweep for the Team Penske outfit, driving the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s best lap of a 1:42.8229 was about five hundredths of a second quicker than teammate and defending race winner Will Power, who was second with a 1:42.8229. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves completed the Penske top four sweep, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe the best of the Honda drivers in fifth.

The session was only briefly interrupted early on when Alexander Rossi went off the track in Turn 14 and gently slid into the tire barrier. The red flag was flown to remove the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda from the barrier, but Rossi was able to continue, ending the session in 11th after leading the morning practice.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones enjoyed a strong session to end up sixth, while teammate Esteban Gutierrez was 17th on his return to Coyne.

Also, Robert Wickens continued to fill in for Mikhail Aleshin, ending Practice 2 in 20th. While Aleshin is reportedly en route to Road America, it is unknown if Wickens will continue his fill in role through the weekend.

Times are below. Practice 3 rolls of at 12:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. local) on Saturday.

Sauber says it’s ‘soon’ to naming Kaltenborn’s successor

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Sauber F1 Team enters this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix without a team principal and trying to work ahead on its 2018 preparations, making it a tough weekend for one of Formula 1’s smallest teams.

Sauber team manager Beat Zahnder attempted to explain the team’s managerial structure this weekend in Kaltenborn’s absence and teased when he hoped a decision would be made regarding Kaltenborn’s successor.

“Jorg Zander, the technical director and myself, we’ve been entrusted to run the operation of the team this weekend but this is only temporary,” Zahnder explained during the FIA team principal press conference on Friday.

“It doesn’t change a lot for us because our job is to have two cars running as quickly as possible around the circuit and for me it’s a little bit more media work.”

Asked when he hoped to have a successor named, Zahnder replied, “I hope soon. We were talking to some candidates and I hope we can announce it sooner rather than later.”

Former Renault F1 chief Frederic Vasseur’s name has been floated this week, as have other former F1 team chiefs Dave Ryan and Jost Capito, after Colin Kolles’ name was floated earlier in the week.

Zahnder said he could not explain the insider workings of the team.

“I cannot, no. You’ve seen the official press statement from Mr Picci and it seems that Mr Picci and Mrs Kaltenborn had different views how to operate the company. We shouldn’t forget that it’s not only a race team, it’s a home team as well with 350 people or so, but I cannot give you more information because I’m not actively involved in that decision,” he said.

Sauber is still in the process of not only finishing this year but also preparing for its 2018 switch to Honda power. This is an important change and one that comes amidst the turmoil currently encapsulating McLaren and Honda’s turbulent relationship.

“We have started with the project and there is an exchange of information on the logistical side, on the set-up side and the garages,” Zahnder explained. “We have to organize computers and IT stuff and things like this so the work has started, yes.”

With the two McLaren Hondas set to start from the rear of the grid this weekend, Sauber can at least work to get into Q2 and get further up the order with its pair of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.