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Thursday, Friday Detroit weekend notebook

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DETROIT – Here’s some notes gathered from the paddock ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear doubleheader this weekend. The second IndyCar practice session follows this afternoon.

The joy of being the Indianapolis 500 champion does come with the side effect of the work required to go on the media tour in the two days that follow.

Takuma Sato has kept his seemingly eternal effervescent smile throughout the tour of New York and Texas, although he admitted to NBC Sports how happy he was to be back in his No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda for Andretti Autosport in first practice this morning.

By contrast, Alexander Rossi was very laid back when we caught up with him this morning ahead of his second Detroit weekend in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport. Rossi came to Detroit this time last year after winning last year’s 100th running, and was so relieved to be back in the car.

“There’s some things you miss about not winning… and some things you don’t,” Rossi laughed on Friday. “This year, I got sleep this week.”

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports he estimated it took more than 350 combined man hours to build up a new car for Scott Dixon this weekend, the No. 9 Camping World Honda appearing for the first time in road course trim with the new signage. The new tub was built up after the previous car was, obviously, written off in Dixon’s savage looking accident last week in the Indianapolis 500.

On another Ganassi note, Tony Kanaan will to have a busy couple weeks after being confirmed Wednesday as Sebastien Bourdais’ injury replacement at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the no. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT.

After he races at Detroit this weekend, Kanaan said he’ll head to Charlotte early next week for Ford simulator work, then to Texas for the next IndyCar race next weekend (Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and then straight to France for his ACO simulator work. His first time in the Ford GT on the Circuit de la Sarthe will be Wednesday, June 14.

After missing out at the Indianapolis 500 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors last week, Dale Coyne Racing had a fun make-up prize for Ed Jones, who lost the honor to Fernando Alonso.

Engineer Craig Hampson then created an in-joke “you did well!” piece, or trophy, and presented it to him on Thursday.

On another Coyne note, the No. 18 Honda chassis that Esteban Gutierrez is racing this weekend was Pippa Mann’s oval chassis last weekend at the Indianapolis 500. The No. 18 Honda chassis run by James Davison at the ‘500 is repairable, but the team’s backup car this weekend.

Gutierrez is set to continue with Coyne for further races this year, although the formal details of which haven’t been finalized yet.

Jimmy Vasser is again here this weekend, with a GEICO hat on. Vasser, unfortunately, joins Sebastien Bourdais in not being able to defend his victories of the last two years here. Bourdais, driving for the Vasser co-owned KVSH Racing, won the 2015 second race and 2016 first race at Detroit.

There have been a couple livery changes this week. Magneti Marelli returns to Andretti Autosport – it was on Carlos Munoz’s car here last year and it will be on Marco Andretti’s this weekend.

Ruoff Home Mortgage has continued as primary sponsor aboard Indianapolis 500 champion Sato’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Mark Music, President & CEO of Ruoff Home Mortgage stated, “What you can definitely feel is the excitement that has been built around Takuma’s win at the Indianapolis 500 and we wanted to continue that partnership with Sato and Andretti Autosport for this race. Our 450+ employees, in particular, are extremely excited with the incredible performance of Takuma Sato and are happy to continue our relationship into Detroit.”

The Alexander Rossi car features signage on his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda, and is back in the red and blue colors last seen at Barber Motorsports Park.

DXC Technology takes over as primary sponsor for Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet, now white, black with chrome accents. Helio Castroneves is in the white and black colors of Hitachi on his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Dixon’s No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing continues with Camping World signage.

Graham Rahal is back in the No. 15 SoldierStrong/ colors as he ran at the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Rahal led first practice.

At Ed Carpenter Racing, JR Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet is in the green Fuzzy’s Vodka colors. Spencer Pigot returns to the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet after his time with Juncos Racing.

From the “things that make you go hmm…” department, we spotted two Honda Performance Development senior officials outside the Team Penske transporter in the paddock this afternoon.

HPD is strongly hinted but not formally confirmed to be part of Penske’s strongly hinted but not formally confirmed upcoming sports car prototype program set to debut in 2018.

Tire management this weekend is crucial, because of limited sets for the two races. From Firestone, each entrant gets eight sets primary, and four sets alternate for the weekend. Teams must use one new set of primary and alternate tires in each race.

The qualifying format is also different with two groups for both days, rather than the traditional Firestone Fast Six format as is used on all other road and street courses. Today, IndyCar just had two practice sessions and no qualifying sessions.


  • A number of drivers will be en route to France for the Le Mans Test Day, which takes place Sunday, following the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA race on Saturday afternoon. Some of them will be on Cooper MacNeil’s private jet that will transport them to Le Mans from Detroit.
  • Among those drivers planned to go to Le Mans, it includes Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, Cooper MacNeil, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan.
  • CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun and a handful of crew, including Jeff Braun, will depart Detroit for Thompson, Ct. after Saturday’s race for GRC Lites duty.
  • This is the second street race hometown race for 3GT Racing and its Lexus RC F GT3 this year. While at Long Beach, the Lexus cars ran in the shadow of Toyota on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, and here, the 3GT team runs not far from its Lansing, Mich. headquarters (about 100 miles away). The team visited the HARMAN North American Automotive Headquarters in Novi, Michigan earlier this week.
  • Don’t expect the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson to run much if at all this weekend. Kenton Koch and Ryan Lewis’ names were listed on the car on Friday as Jose Gutierrez is in Le Mans preparing for his first test in the No. 22 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson (run by DragonSpeed).
  • Lewis had an incident in the morning’s first practice while in his No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, one of the three PC cars entered this weekend. The car was repaired in time for second practice.
  • Not as fortunate was Ozz Negri, who sustained an impact in first practice as well in his No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, and the car was being repaired during second practice after Negri contacted the Turn 1 wall with both the left front and left rear of his car.
  • The PC class hits the halfway point of its final season, and both active team owners here this weekend, Brent O’Neill (Performance Tech Motorsports) and Brian Alder (BAR1 Motorsports) are beginning their respective processes of determining their next steps as a team with the Orecas being retired at the end of this season.

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.”