Photo: IndyCar

Iowa weekend IndyCar, MRTI notes

Leave a comment

Notes from this weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 for the Verizon IndyCar Series, and the pair of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires races (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) are below.

Coverage for Indy Lights and IndyCar run back to back today, at 4 and 5 p.m. ET, on NBCSN.

DIXON PENALIZED FOR ROAD AMERICA WARMUP INFRACTION

Missing warmup at Road America came with a cost for Scott Dixon, with penalties formally announced Saturday morning. Per INDYCAR:

INDYCAR has imposed penalties against Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 9 entry for violations of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Rule Book during the KOHLER Grand Prix race weekend June 23-25 at Road America.

The No. 9 entry driven by Scott Dixon was cited for three violations:

  • The No. 9 car entered the track 56 seconds after the checkered flag had waved concluding the race morning warmup practice on June 25, a violation of Rule 7.2.9.1;
  • At the same time, the No. 9 car entered the pit lane from the paddock area under its own power instead of being pushed or towed to pit lane, a violation of Rule 7.9.1;
  • The No. 9 car failed to obey the direction of INDYCAR, a violation of Rule 9.3.1.7.

INDYCAR, the sanctioning body for the Verizon IndyCar Series, has imposed a monetary fine against the team and ordered that the No. 9 entry serve a time penalty of 20 minutes at the conclusion of the first practice session today at Iowa Speedway.

XTRAC RENEWS WITH INDYCAR

There’s been a number of partnership extensions announced between INDYCAR and its key stakeholders this year. Xtrac joins that list, having been announced on Friday. INDYCAR’s release is below:

INDYCAR announced a multiyear extension today with Xtrac, Inc. that continues the brand’s longtime position as the official supplier of transmissions for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Xtrac is one of INDYCAR’s longest-tenured partners and its parts are utilized across the motorsports landscape in disciplines such as Formula One, sports cars – including IMSA, GT and touring cars – and rally competition. Xtrac began supplying transmissions for several Indy car teams in the 1990s and became the exclusive supplier to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2000.

“Working with INDYCAR since the 2000 season, when Xtrac were first awarded the sole gearbox supply contract, has been an extremely rewarding time for us,” said Andrew Heard, Xtrac vice president. “We are now on the third design of gearbox and each one has been developed to help increase reliability and safety. Having the contract extended gives us the confidence to keep investing in our support of this fantastic open-wheel race series.

“In May of this year, we increased the size of our support facility in Indianapolis by nearly 100 percent, which will allow us to help the Verizon IndyCar Series to continue to flourish in the coming years.”

As part of the agreement, Xtrac will continue to provide a championship award at the season-ending Verizon IndyCar Series championship celebration and an award to the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“INDYCAR appreciates the contribution Xtrac has made to the sport and looks forward to this extended partnership,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “Commitments from companies like Xtrac are crucial to the fabric of the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Xtrac was established in 1984 and has locations in England, Mooresville, North Carolina, and the renovated space in Indianapolis.

“I’m honored on behalf of everyone at Xtrac for INDYCAR to have recognized our longstanding partnership with this contract extension,” said Adrian Moore, Xtrac managing director. “Such is the importance to Xtrac of our presence in Indianapolis, I was proud to open our expanded facility during the month of May. We’ve had fantastic support from both INDYCAR and the city of Indianapolis itself. It’s the perfect location for our U.S. facility and I look forward to us growing further with the city and INDYCAR.”

GUTIERREZ’S NEW LIVERY

To go along with his oval debut, the sign of Esteban Gutierrez’s confirmation throughout the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season until Sebastien Bourdais’ return came with a new livery to his No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

The more predominately blue and white colors add yet another blue and white car to the field.

HINCH’S CAREER TURNS 100

James Hinchcliffe, the 2013 Iowa winner, will make his 100th Verizon IndyCar Series race start on Sunday in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“We had a successful test at Iowa this week, so I’m looking forward to getting back on track for the race weekend. I’ve had some not so great results in the past couple of weeks, but I won in Iowa in 2013 so hopefully we can come away with another win and turn around our luck for the rest of the season,” Hinchcliffe said going into the weekend.

Hinchcliffe was part of an impressive rookie class in 2011, along with Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand who are both still in this year’s field. Ana Beatriz, James Jakes and Sebastian Saavedra also enjoyed multiyear careers after having their first full season that year.

Kimball had his 100th start at Sonoma last year while Hildebrand, after missing several years, is set to make his 56th start this weekend.

PAGENAUD’S VOTING BLOC

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud has been nominated for an ESPY award as best driver, and has had his dog Norman leading his campaign.

HERTA, ASKEW SCORE INDY LIGHTS, USF2000 POLES

A pair of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires races are on tap for today with a 100-lap Indy Lights race (airs 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream link here) and a 60-lap USF2000 race.

Young American stars Colton Herta (Indy Lights) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) have the pole positions. Grids are here (Indy Lights, USF2000).

BARON, AGREN BACK IN USF2000

A pair of welcome names are back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda this weekend.

Ayla Agren returns to Team Pelfrey’s third car after missing Road America. Agren told NBC Sports at Road America, as she was there driving Chevrolet event cars and supporting the Pelfrey team, she felt confident of a return for the 0.894-mile oval.

Alexandre Baron, meanwhile, is back in the Mazda Road to Indy for the first time in three years. The Frenchman won races in USF2000 with Afterburner Autosport in 2013, then won a race with Belardi in 2014 in Indy Lights, both in partial seasons. The talented young driver will be in ArmsUp Motorsports’ second car, replacing Bruna Tomaselli, this weekend at Iowa and next weekend in Toronto.

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.

Drivers divided over F1 halo cockpit device

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) The “halo” cockpit head protection system that will be mandatory on Formula One cars next season protects drivers from the potentially fatal impact of objects like a loose wheel traveling at up to 225 kph (140 mph).

Motor sport’s governing body, FIA, has been looking at ways to improve cockpit protection and limit the risk of head injuries, after French F1 driver Jules Bianchi died in July 2015 and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died a month later.

“The halo will become the strongest part of the car, a secondary wall structure (along with the helmet) and can take about 15 times the car’s weight,” FIA safety director Laurent Mekies said at a news conference Thursday. “We know that our resistance against small objects has stepped up.”

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – JULY 27: FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting and Laurent Mekies, FIA Deputy Race Director and Safety Director talk in a press conference regarding the halo device during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 27, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Drivers remain divided over the move.

The halo design forms a semi-circular barrier around the driver’s helmet in the front half of the cockpit, protecting against debris without completely closing the cockpit. When first tested ahead of 2016, drivers were split as to whether they liked it with some – such as three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton – criticizing it on aesthetic grounds.

Tests were done from the front and side of the car with a loose wheel weighing 20 kilograms. Researchers took in various factors: car-to-car contact, car-to-environment contact and external objects, such as a wheel. They also analyzed real-life accidents, including those with fatalities.

In terms of manufacturing design, FIA race director Charlie Whiting said “it’s going to be a one-part (piece) made by one company, so they all have to fit the same one.”

The device is expected to weigh about 8 kilograms, Whiting said. The manufacturer has yet to be decided, although several companies have been contacted. Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas both expressed concern that the extra weight will impact driving, particularly on cornering speeds.

Other safety devices were considered before the halo was approved by the FIA last week.

At the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, a transparent open canopy system constructed using polycarbonate, and known as the “shield,” was tested at Silverstone by four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari driver was critical.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the shield,” Vettel said. “For sure you need to get used to the halo, but at least it didn’t impact on the vision.”

Bianchi died at the age of 25, several months after massive head injuries sustained at the Japanese GP in October 2014.

Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka occurred at the end of the race in rainy, gloomy conditions, when his Marussia team car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who had crashed at the same spot one lap earlier.

Wilson died in August 2015, a day after being hit on the helmet by debris from another car at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

“We believe (the halo) would have changed dramatically the outcome of the accident,” Mekies said.

Vettel, who emotionally dedicated his 2015 win at Hungary to Bianchi, said the change was justified.

“We would all take it, to help save his life. We can’t turn back the clock,” the German driver said. “But knowing something is there that would help us is stupid to ignore. Overall it’s supposed to help us, so that’s what we should remember.”

While Hamilton and others have been critical of the halo’s appearance, Vettel championed it.

“Times are changing and moving forward,” Vettel said. “It helps us in the car in case something goes very wrong.”

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso is also in favor.

“If we could go back in time and save lives we would all be happy,” the Spanish driver said. “That’s the first and only thing we should talk about. The aesthetics I don’t care too much (about).”

Several drivers disagree.

“Doesn’t look too good,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “Not sure that this additional protection is necessary because all the other areas (of safety) are improving.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are also against it.

“I didn’t like the visibility and the thing in front of you, it’s not great,” the 19-year-old Verstappen said. “I don’t think you will lose the wheel very easily (anyway) and when there are parts flying around the car it’s not going to protect you. So I don’t know why we need it.”

Magnussen took a sarcastic tone.

“F1 cars aren’t meant to be ugly. That is the reason that a Ferrari is more exciting than a Mazda,” the Danish driver said. “I think there is a limit where it becomes too safe to be exciting. We could make the cars go 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour and it would be boring.”

Grosjean said “it was a sad day for Formula 1 when it was announced, and I am still against it.”

Sergio Perez wants 2018 F1 contract secured by Spa

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sergio Perez is keen to swiftly define his Formula 1 future and secure a contract for next season by the time the paddock reconvenes in Belgium at the end of August after the summer break.

Perez has been one of the stand-out drivers in F1 this year, sitting seventh in the drivers’ championship as the leading midfielder behind those racing for Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

The Mexican’s future has become a regular talking point during F1’s ‘silly season’, with links to Ferrari being thrown about for 2018 as it mulls over Kimi Raikkonen’s position.

Force India has been punching well above its weight in F1 this year, much to Perez’s delight, and he hopes to have a new contract with the team sorted for next year within the next month.

“I think the team has been moving forwards every year. Although last year we achieved the same position which we have now which is fourth, I think we have consolidated that fourth place,” Perez said.

“I think the team is moving forwards; there is a lot more interest in terms of sponsorship into the team, more investment but it’s not easy to make the next step with the big boys, with the big teams, it’s not easy.

“In terms of my future, I just hope that once I come back to the next race, after the summer break, I can have a new contract.”

When asked if he meant a new contract with Force India, Perez said: “That would be good you know, but you never know what will happen.”