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PREVIEW: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear

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DETROIT – And so, the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins this weekend. With the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear offering a chance at two races – it’s double the chance for success or failure in the frame of the rest of 2017.

Here’s some of the things to look for this weekend:

2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear – Talking Points

Avoiding the “Detroit results hangover”

Takuma Sato is next up among those who head to Detroit after the whirlwind week of media since winning the Indianapolis 500. And since Detroit became a doubleheader weekend in 2013, it’s not gone well.

At the doubleheader weekends, these have been the results for the ‘500 champion:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan, Race 1 Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2 19th/12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Race 1 21st/16th; Race 2 21st/19th
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya, Race 1 3rd/10th; Race 2 1st/10th
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1 17th/10th; Race 2 18th/12th

Sato is now part of a three-way tie for second in points with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 behind new points leader Helio Castroneves, who moved into the spot after the race.

If Sato can survive Detroit without losing too much ground, that’ll determine where he lands in the overall championship and whether he can fight for anything the rest of the way.

Seven for seven?

Sato’s win at Indianapolis also made him the sixth winner in as many races to kick off the year. A seventh winner this weekend would match the 2000 CART and IRL seasons.

Consider Scott Dixon is not among those six who have won, and there’s others such as Castroneves – winless since race two here in 2014 and who won his first race ever in that seventh race of the 2000 CART season – among others who are yet to win this year.

Even if a repeat winner of the five drivers who have won this year repeats this weekend, there’s still a chance for seven of eight, as the series looks to tie or eclipse the record mark of 11 winners in a year.

Championship shakeup

The top 14 drivers are within 100 points heading into this weekend, with 98 points separating Castroneves in the lead from Marco Andretti in 14th. Again, a strong two or bad two races this weekend could jumble that order.

Chevy vs. Honda in Chevy’s backyard

The wins are split this year, three each between Chevrolet and Honda. Honda currently leads the Manufacturer’s Championship, 480-471.

The breakdown of winners in the Chevrolet sponsored race, since it’s been a doubleheader, are broken down this way, with Chevrolet holding a 5-3 lead.

  • 2013: Mike Conway (Coyne Honda), Simon Pagenaud (SPHM Honda)
  • 2014: Will Power (Penske Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevrolet)
  • 2015: Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda), Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet)
  • 2016: Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet), Will Power (Penske Chevrolet)

Gutierrez’s debut; Jones’ beginning of rest of year one

Dale Coyne Racing is in the spotlight this weekend, as ever. Esteban Gutierrez makes a perhaps surprise debut in the team’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, the Mexican driver making at least a one-weekend appearance as the latest new driver in the series.

Meanwhile for Ed Jones, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, the weekend presents a fascinating case study into how his psyche will affect the rest of his year. Both in 2015 and 2016, Jones had a midsummer slump that hindered his eventual points total in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, although last year he made up for it when he won by the end.

Jones has never raced at Detroit and with Sebastien Bourdais absent for the foreseeable future, the Dubai-based Brit now faces an interesting opportunity where he’ll assert the team leader role. Will he rise up to the challenge and continue his success of the opening six races of the year, as he currently sits ninth in points, just five behind fifth place? Or will hit the perhaps inevitable rookie year speed bumps?

The final words

Switching it up and going with two drivers this weekend, in both A.J. Foyt Racing drivers of the ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets. Why, you ask? Carlos Munoz explained the challenge of what it takes to prep for Detroit, while teammate Conor Daly has had his best IndyCar success at this track – he’s come sixth, second and sixth in his last three starts here.

Munoz, who won his first and thus far only race of his career thus far on these streets in 2015:  “Moving on from Indy to road courses makes for a really challenging week, because everyone is really tired — the mechanics, engineers and the drivers. And Detroit is a two-race event which makes it tough. Still, Detroit is where we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve qualified good, run good and I got my first win there in 2015. They’ve ground down the bumps on the backstretch, which will be nicer, but it’s still a challenging track. I’m looking forward to it.”

And from Daly: “I love Detroit. It’s always where I get my best finish. I was second last year, and I want to win this year. This track is a lot of fun for me and having a doubleheader is great. Two races are always better than one! Should be fun!”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 2
10:20-11:05 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1
3:30-4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2
4:20-4:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice

Saturday, June 3
10:05-10:35 a.m. – Race 1 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
3:03 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 1 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Sunday, June 5
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Race 2 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), IndyCar.com (live)
2:59 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 2 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

Race 1

1. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Conor Daly
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Graham Rahal
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Charlie Kimball
9. Tony Kanaan
10. Alexander Rossi

Race 2

1. Will Power
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. Josef Newgarden
5. Scott Dixon
6. Conor Daly
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Marco Andretti
10. Takuma Sato

Andretti Autosport endures tough Road America outing

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All four of the Andretti Autosport drivers encountered significant problems during the Kohler Grand Prix, and none of them were able to salvage finishes inside the top ten as a result.

Most notably, Takuma Sato endured the most difficult weekend of the four-car armada after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck on Saturday, which forced him to miss the morning warmup.

And things didn’t get any better during the race, as a lap 28 spin exiting the Kink saw him lose a lap and forced him to play catchup even more than he already was. Although Sato managed to finish the race, hardly insignificant given his neck injury, he did so in 19th after starting 20th in what proved to be his worst race since winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“It was a tough weekend and tough race,” lamented Sato. “I injured my neck during practice Saturday morning. We started in the back row, tried to make a push up, but I caught an accident. The engine was stalled and I wasn’t sure if we could continue, but the safety crew came and fired up the engine, so I came back to the pit, buckled again and I was able to keep going. In the end we made the finish, but we need a better weekend.”

His teammates did not fair much better. Alexander Rossi, who qualified a disappointing 15th, ran a four-stop pit strategy, and while he cycled into the top five at one point, an issue with the front wing saw him fall to 13th at the finish.

Alexander Rossi was fast Road America, but an issue with the front wing dropped him back in the field at the end. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we started with a good strategy, going for a four-stop race after starting 15th, but it all caught up to us on that first yellow,” Rossi explained. “Luckily, we had already gained track position and speed running on open track. We had an issue with our front wing, which ironically or not, is the same issue we finished the race with here last year, so we definitely need to figure out exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, too, had strong pace, even leading the Sunday morning warmup and running inside the top ten late in the race. But, contact with Charlie Kimball while battling for sixth broke the front wing on the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Hunter-Reay languished in 14th at the checkered flag.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was was 14th at the checkered flag after battling inside the top ten late in the race. Photo: IndyCar

“Charlie (Kimball) made a late block and took off my front wing. I had a good race going until Charlie moved out late like that, it’s just really unfortunate,” Hunter-Reay said of the incident.

Meanwhile, Marco Andretti battled a litany of problems, ranging from throttle issues to a broken pit speed limiter, which resulted in a drive-penalty for speeding during a round of pit stops. Andretti was a lowly 18th at the finish.

Marco Andretti battled a host of problems during the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“We started eighth, but ran into throttle problems. We went off track on the first stint because the throttle stuck wide open. We came into the pits to try to fix it and got hit with a pit lane speed violation because my pit lane limiter wasn’t working. We still weren’t getting full throttle – I was barely hitting sixth gear,” he lamented afterward.

Sato remains in the top five in the championship, now sitting fourth, 56 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Rossi sits ninth, with Andretti and Hunter-Reay 13th and 15th respectively.

 

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Kimball, Chilton quiet but solid at Road America

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While Scott Dixon scored victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of the team’s other drivers enjoyed quietly solid days at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Charlie Kimball, in need of a strong finish after being stricken with bad luck so far in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, scored his best finish of the year with a fine run to sixth place. While he was never a part of the battle for victory, he was “best of the rest” for most of the day and enjoyed a solid, mistake-free run.

“Overall a really solid day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Kimball said afterward. Though he admitted tire management in the race’s third stint hampered his efforts, he was more than pleased with the end result.

“That third stint, I don’t think I managed the Firestone alternates as well as some of the guys around me,” Kimball revealed. “You saw that with (Will Power) with a better in and out lap. That was disappointing, because I think we could have maybe had a shot at a top five. Overall though, to fight off some competitors for that last stint after the final yellow felt good and it felt good to bring it home in sixth for the guys. Kind of a semi-trouble free weekend and pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Max Chilton, too, scored a solid ten finish, the Briton finishing ninth. However, unlike Kimball, Chilton lamented not being able to finish higher on a circuit where he feels very comfortable.

Max Chilton during qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not how we wanted it, especially after how quick we were (in the morning warmup),” said Chilton, who started seventh and was second fastest in the morning warmup. Like Kimball, he struggled with tire management, and an untimely caution when he was on the primary black tires put paid to his chances of a better finish.

“Something just wasn’t working for us. On a set of reds, we were struggling massively and then we went to the blacks, which would’ve been alright, but then the safety car came out and everyone else had longer life on the reds and I was struggling again.”

With the Kohler Grand Prix in the books, Chilton currently sits 11th in the championship, three points behind tenth-place Ed Jones, while Kimball remains 18th, 72 points outside the top ten.

Mahindra to give M4Electro Formula E car public debut at Goodwood

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Mahindra Racing will debut its new car for the fourth Formula E season, the M4Electro, at the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed later this week as part of a bid to beat the existing open-wheel electric record for the hillclimb.

As part of its preparations for season four of Formula E, set to start in Hong Kong at the beginning of December, Mahindra has already hit the track with the M4Electro in private testing.

Full-season drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld have both completed running in the car, while Indian actress Gul Panag has also taken part in a test.

Heidfeld will give the M4Electro its first public outing at Goodwood and look to become the first driver to hold two records at the hillclimb.

The German driver holds the overall hillclimb record of 41.6 seconds at Goodwood, set back in 1999 in a McLaren MP4/13 Formula 1 car.

“We’re excited to bring Nick and the M4Electro to Goodwood in a bid to set the fastest open-wheel electric record on the hillclimb,” Mahindra team boss Dilbagh Gill said.

“We are always looking to push the boundaries as a team and we couldn’t think of a better way to introduce the season four challenger to fans and automotive enthusiasts alike than at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.”

Qualcomm named title partner for New York Formula E race

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FIA Formula E has announced that technology company Qualcomm will be the title partner for the upcoming New York City ePrix as the all-electric series gears up to hit the United States in three weeks’ time.

New York City will play host to its first motorsport event in Red Hook on July 15-16, acting as the penultimate round of Formula E’s third season.

Qualcomm has been a key partner for Formula E since the series’ inception in 2014, and will now act as the New York race’s title partner after acquiring the naming rights, as announced on Monday. The event will be formally called the ‘Qualcomm New York City ePrix’.

“As one of our founding partners – and now for the first time a race title partner for one of the most anticipated races of the season – Qualcomm Technologies’ continued support and commitment to Formula E has been instrumental,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“We share many of the same values in the field of innovation and technology transfer, which we’ve already seen with unique wireless charging concepts.

“I’m looking forward to making history in New York by bringing Formula E to the Big Apple for the first time – it’s going to be an unmissable event.”

Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm Incorporated, added: “Qualcomm inventions enable widespread innovation, just as motorsport fuels the evolution of the automotive industry.

“Formula E, including this Qualcomm ePrix race in New York City, is a great testbed for our automotive breakthroughs such as wireless electric vehicle charging.

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Formula E to promote the benefits of the latest vehicle technologies as cars become more connected, autonomous and electric.”