Rossi caps dream weekend in Watkins Glen with first win of the year (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Alexander Rossi took the biggest bite possible out of the Big Apple this weekend in the picturesque, Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, at Watkins Glen International.

On Friday, he announced a new contract with Andretti Autosport.

On Saturday, he scored his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole.

On Sunday, he led the most laps, controlled the pace of the race, rebounded from a changed fuel hose, saved fuel, yet still pushed hard, and defended against Scott Dixon to win his first race of the season. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third.

The driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda continued his late-season surge – he’s now finished between first and sixth in each of the last five races – as he rolled to a key victory.

Meanwhile the IndyCar championship has turned on its head, following contact leaving pit road between Josef Newgarden and Sebastien Bourdais. Newgarden locked up the brakes exiting pit road and bounced of the armco, with Bourdais hitting the back of Newgarden’s car and leaving the championship leader in big trouble in the final 20 laps of the race.

Newgarden struggled to even make the flag, following repairs exerted by the Team Penske team get his No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet to the finish. He finished 18th, off the lead lap, for his worst finish since Texas (13th after an accident), and snapped a streak of finishing first, second or sixth in each of the last six races.

Although Newgarden still leads the championship, this now gives teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud a realistic shot, along with Dixon, who now trails Newgarden unofficially by three points, in pursuit of his fifth title. The four drivers are unofficially covered by less than 40 points, Castroneves 22 back and Pagenaud 34 back, heading to the double points season finale in Sonoma in two weeks.

The race started with the field on Firestone’s wet weather tires but the threat of rain, which came earlier for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race, never materialized. Instead it featured a mad dash of drivers peeling into the pits after the race start to change onto dry weather slicks, most of whom went onto Firestone’s red alternate tires but with Rossi and Hunter-Reay going onto the black primary tires.

Castroneves emerged at the head of the queue after those pit stops, but Rossi got back in front after the next round, caused when teammate Takuma Sato slowed entering the Boot. Five drivers (Spencer Pigot, JR Hildebrand, Max Chilton, Marco Andretti and Jack Harvey) had pitted prior to the caution so moved forward to the front.

In this stanza, Rossi’s team encountered an issue as it needed to change its fuel probe, which was malfunctioning. And because Rossi hadn’t got all the fuel on board on his last stop, it forced him into an earlier next stop, which occurred on Lap 24.

This forced Rossi off sequence and dropped him down the order, but a minor miracle occurred a couple laps later thanks to his soon-to-be-departed teammate, Sato, again. Sato spun and resumed but INDYCAR called a full-course caution on Lap 27, which then forced the rest of the field back into the pits and helped Rossi, Chilton, and the Ed Carpenter Racing pair of Pigot and Hildebrand, who were also off sequence.

Rossi and Chilton were able to push deep enough into this stint to where they could make it home on one final stop while the Carpenter twins could not, both pitting before the scheduled “get home” lap of Lap 42.

The Newgarden incident then followed which put the race under another full course caution, and set up a final dash to the finish.

But Rossi beat Dixon in a straight fight to secure the victory.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Rossi’s win is the obvious, and along with Ryan Hunter-Reay it put two Andretti Autosport cars on the podium – a first for the team since the 2016 Indianapolis 500, also won by Rossi. … Graham Rahal and Will Power recovered from 10th and eighth starting spots to end fifth and sixth. … After tough seasons, two more Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton banked top-10s in seventh and eighth, Chilton having defended well against Simon Pagenaud for eighth. … Carlos Munoz completed the top-10 for Foyt. … Jack Harvey finished 14th for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in his first road course race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Newgarden leads this group, and 18th is his second worst finish of the year aside of 19th in the Indianapolis 500. … Sato brought out two cautions in a tough afternoon, with wastegate issues and a spin. … James Hinchcliffe brought out the first caution of the race with major gearbox issues, and ended 21st and last behind Tony Kanaan, caught up in the Newgarden/Bourdais contact.

NOTABLE: This win by Rossi snapped Team Penske and Chevrolet’s five-race win streak, in Chevrolet’s 100th race. … This was Honda’s first win since Road America (Dixon) and its first podium sweep since Detroit race one, when Rahal beat home Dixon and Hinchcliffe. … Dixon banks his sixth podium at Watkins Glen.

QUOTABLE: Rossi, on the win: “We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked about so much how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.”

RESULTS

WATKINS GLEN, New York – Results Sunday of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 60, Running
3. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 60, Running
4. (6) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 60, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 60, Running
6. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 60, Running
7. (5) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 60, Running
8. (19) Max Chilton, Honda, 60, Running
9. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 60, Running
10. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 60, Running
11. (14) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 60, Running
12. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 60, Running
13. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 60, Running
14. (18) Jack Harvey, Honda, 60, Running
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 60, Running
16. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 60, Running
17. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 60, Running
18. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 58, Running
19. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 56, Running
20. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 46, Contact
21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 5, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 118.865 mph
Time of Race: 1:42:03.9024
Margin of victory: 0.9514 of a second
Cautions: 4 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rossi 1
Castroneves 2-14
Pigot 15-22
Rossi 23
Hunter-Reay 24-27
Rossi 28-42
Dixon 43-44
Newgarden 45
Rossi 46-60

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 560, Dixon 557, Castroneves 538, Pagenaud 526, Power 492, Rossi 476, Rahal 466, Sato 421, Kanaan 375, Hunter-Reay 373.

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

Getty Images
2 Comments

One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

Getty Images
2 Comments

SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.