Photo: IndyCar

Thursday, Friday Detroit weekend notebook

Leave a comment

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 ShopAndretti.com 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 ShopAndretti.com 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/TurnForTroops.com 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.

IMSA

  • 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.

Hulkenberg: Singapore DNF ‘tough to take’ after strong start

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nico Hulkenberg has admitted his retirement from last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was “tough to take” after being in contention to end his long-running Formula 1 podium drought.

Hulkenberg entered the Singapore weekend ready to break the record for making the most F1 starts without recording a top-three finish, having tied Adrian Sutil’s tally of 128 races at Monza.

Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Renault and dodged the start-line chaos to rise to third, and even ran second for one lap before switching tires.

Hulkenberg settled into fourth place when the switch to dry tires was complete, only for an oil leak on his car to force him to make an unscheduled pit stop and ultimately retire from the race.

“Sunday was tough to take and left me feeling disappointed. We lost a good result, and it was a case of not having a good enough reliability; that’s the way this sport goes sometimes,” Hulkenberg said.

“We lost our fourth position which is a pity especially after all the hard work from the whole team. It would have been a nice bunch of points but that’s racing and it happens!

“The car is looking fast and we have to build on the positives and take it forward now to Malaysia.”

IndyCar points by circuit type: 2017

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After separate reviews of the street and oval portions of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – led by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, respectively – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale was of course, the final road course race of the year as well.

And a third different driver topped the charts in those six permanent road course races this year, in the form of Scott Dixon.

Dixon had one win (Road America) and three runners-up finishes in the six races, with other finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and ninth (Mid-Ohio) which brought him 261 points in these races. That was two points clear of Newgarden, who won at Barber and Mid-Ohio and finished second at both Road America and Sonoma, while losing points at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen.

The top six drivers in permanent road course points – Dixon, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – were also the top six drivers in the overall points, albeit not in that order.

For the year, it was interesting to note how being consistent across all three phases of circuit netted the best results.

The two biggest outliers were Power – who was only 14th in street course points but second in oval and fourth in road course points – who ended fifth in points overall and Kanaan, who overcame 16th (street course) and 18th (road course) points positions with third place in oval points, trailing only Castroneves and Power.

That oval haul brought Kanaan up to 10th in points in a year where several others – notably James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton and Ed Jones – all occasionally staked their claim to the final spot in the top-10.

Otherwise, consistency across all circuits was key to securing your overall points position for the year.

The breakdown of points per driver by circuit type is below.

P # Driver Street Road Oval Total
1 2 Josef Newgarden 185 259 198 642
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 147 256 226 629
3 9 Scott Dixon 159 261 201 621
4 3 Helio Castroneves 126 220 252 598
5 12 Will Power 86 244 232 562
6 15 Graham Rahal 162 191 169 522
7 98 Alexander Rossi 126 171 197 494
8 26 Takuma Sato 115 112 214 441
9 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 105 178 138 421
10 10 Tony Kanaan 79 97 227 403
11 8 Max Chilton 91 141 164 396
12 27 Marco Andretti 103 119 166 388
13 5 James Hinchcliffe 155 99 122 376
14 19 Ed Jones 88 99 167 354
15 21 JR Hildebrand 78 90 179 347
16 14 Carlos Munoz 85 109 134 328
17 83 Charlie Kimball 72 135 120 327
18 4 Conor Daly 68 120 117 305
19 7 Mikhail Aleshin 77 68 92 237
20 20 Spencer Pigot 75 114 29 218
21 18 Sebastien Bourdais 93 89 32 214
22 20 Ed Carpenter 169 169
23 88 Gabby Chaves 98 98
24 22 Juan Pablo Montoya 20 73 93
25 18 Esteban Gutierrez 43 23 25 91
26 7 Sebastian Saavedra 19 61 80
27 16 Oriol Servia 21 40 61
28 7 Jack Harvey 40 17 57
29 29 Fernando Alonso 47 47
30 63 Pippa Mann 32 32
31 13 Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
32 77 Jay Howard 24 24
33 24 Sage Karam 23 23
34 40 Zach Veach 11 12 23
35 18 James Davison 21 21
36 18 Tristan Vautier 15 15
37 44 Buddy Lazier 14 14
38 7 Robert Wickens 0 0

Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

Photo: IndyCar

McLaren ‘very close’ to agreeing new F1 deal with Alonso

Getty Images
Leave a comment

McLaren is “very close” to agreeing a new Formula 1 contract with Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2017 season, according to team racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last week in Singapore it would be splitting with struggling engine supplier Honda at the end of the season, linking up with Renault from 2018.

The decision was made in a bid to lift the team to the front of the field, having struggled for much of the past three years while working with Honda.

Alonso has made no secret of his frustration throughout the three-year stint, prompting the Spaniard to consider his future with McLaren upon the expiration of his contract at the end of the year.

With the driver market closing up, Alonso looks poised to remain with McLaren for 2018, but said in Singapore he is considering options in many series.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Boullier expressed his confidence in Alonso staying for 2018, saying a deal was “very close”.

“Fernando wants to stay. You can see it in his body language and the way he speaks,” Boullier added.

“There are marketing details that have to be sorted out, and that Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director] is working on.”

Despite suggestions of an ultimatum regarding its Honda partnership being issued to McLaren by Alonso, Boullier stressed that the team made the decision to switch to Renault by its own accord, with the drivers then fitting in afterwards for its 2018 plans.

“McLaren’s DNA is to be competitive. The team has always been in the top three and we belong there again,” Boullier said.

“Today we know that we have a decent chassis, which would allow us to be in the top three again with an equal level engine.

“So for us as a business it is important to be competitive, no matter what role Fernando plays. We had to make a decision for us.

“But if you want to be competitive you not only need an engine, you also need a driver. That is when Fernando comes into the picture.

“We did what we did for McLaren first, but the package includes also the driver.”