Chris Estrada

Happy Birthday to reigning IndyCar champion Will Power

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A day after one of IndyCar’s greatest champions, Mario Andretti, celebrated his birthday, IndyCar’s current champion, Will Power, is doing the same this Sunday.

The pride of Toowoomba, Australia is now 34 years old and also less than a month away from starting his title defense after finally breaking through last Labor Day weekend at Auto Club Speedway in California.

Perseverance is the word that comes to mind to describe Power’s career so far. He was one of many drivers with uncertain futures following the North American open-wheel merger of 2008, but while his Champ Car team did not make the jump to IndyCar (Indy Racing League), Power himself did.

Despite having to get used to new equipment and tracks, Power did enough in 2008 (including a win in Champ Car’s finale at Long Beach) to earn an opportunity from Team Penske the next year to fill-in for Helio Castroneves while the latter dealt with federal tax evasion charges.

Power finished sixth in the 2009 opener at St. Petersburg in Castroneves’ No. 3 car. Castroneves came back for the next race in Long Beach after being acquitted, but Power was not pushed aside. He would make six starts for Penske that season, and rewarded Roger Penske’s faith in him with a win in Edmonton.

His 2009 campaign ended prematurely with a nasty practice crash at Sonoma that fractured two vertebrae and concussed him. But that did not keep Penske from awarding him a full-time program from 2010 onward.

You probably know the rest of the story from here. Power endured three consecutive championship near-misses from 2010-2012, but established himself as part of IndyCar’s core group of drivers. And in 2014, Power at last achieved his dream of becoming a champion, earning three wins and seven podiums along the way.

This year, Power takes the champion’s No. 1 with him into a season where his biggest competition could come from his own team. In addition to the aforementioned Castroneves, there’s a resurgent Juan Pablo Montoya and now, a stellar newcomer to the Penske stable in Simon Pagenaud.

But Power is ready for the challenge, wherever and whoever it comes from.

“[The championship was] something I worked really hard for the last 15 years,” Power said recently at IndyCar Media Day. “To finally get it, get the monkey off the back, yeah, it’s given me more motivation this year. I don’t have to worry about that. I know I can do it.”

We wish Power a Happy Birthday today.

James Courtney wins season-opening V8 Supercars feature in Adelaide; ex-NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose 12th

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Following sprint race wins from defending series champion Jamie Whincup and Fabian Coulthard, James Courtney scored the feature win earlier this morning at the V8 Supercars’ season-opening event in Adelaide, Australia.

Courtney repelled a hard charge from Shane van Gisbergen in the final laps to win by three-quarters of a second. Courtney’s teammate, Garth Tander, rounded out the feature podium.

Thanks to his feature win and runner-up finish behind Coulthard in Race 2, Courtney took an early lead in the Supercars championship over Coulthard by a 17-point margin. Reigning V8 king Whincup leaves Adelaide fifth in the standings (42 points behind Courtney) after a win, a 21st in Race 2, and then a fourth in the feature.

As for ex-NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose, he finished 12th in the feature after cracking the Top-10 on the grid. He finished 16th in each of the preceding two races in Adelaide.

Ambrose steadily made up ground throughout the 250km feature, but a fuel strategy did not work out as well as he and his DJR Team Penske squad had hoped.

“We really did have a Top 10 car today, but our fuel strategy did not work as we put in more than we needed to and it tumbled us down the order a bit too far,” said Ambrose, who returns to V8 racing this season after a nine-year run in NASCAR. “The qualifying this morning was a big lift to me and the team. The DJR Team Penske boys were working hard and I felt the car was a better race car today, for sure.”

The V8s return to action in an non-points event during the March 13-15 Australian Grand Prix weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne. The next championship event is March 27-29 in Ambrose’s home state of Tasmania.

F1: NBCSN’s Will Buxton recaps Day 1 of Barcelona test (VIDEO)

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NBCSN Formula One insider Will Buxton is on the ground at Circuit de Catalunya for the second F1 preseason test of 2015. Here’s his recap of Day 1 of the four-day session in Barcelona, featuring interviews with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Williams tester Susie Wolff (who was involved in a crash today with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr).

Max Chilton paces Indy Lights’ two-day test at NOLA

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A two-day Indy Lights test session at NOLA Motorsports Park outside New Orleans has ended with ex-Formula One pilot Max Chilton atop the overall times for Carlin Racing.

Chilton set the best time of the entire test today with a 1 minute, 24.120 second blitz around the 2.75-mile, 16-turn road course. Following the Brit was Juncos Racing’s Californian, Kyle Kaiser, with a 1:24.6047, and in third was Puerto Rico’s Felix Serrales from Belardi Auto Racing with a 1:24.6562.

Serrales led Wednesday’s first day of testing at NOLA with a 1:25.0687, just ahead of Chilton’s 1:25.3107 and 2014 title runner-up Jack Harvey’s 1:25.4608.

Chilton said today that he felt a bit more at home at NOLA than he did in the recent test on the Homestead road course.

“It’s been nice to get our Carlin car built up,” said Chilton in a release. “I’m more comfortable here than I was at Homestead. It has challenging corners, high speed and slow speed, and it’s all coming together nicely.

“But for me, all the circuits are new. It’s taken a bit of time to get used to the car but at the end of these two days, the [Dallara IL-15] has really grown on me. It’s a fun car to drive.”

Meanwhile, Kaiser’s ready to really get after it next Tuesday and Wednesday during the series’ final preseason test at Barber Motorsports Park.

“It’s about learning here but going into Barber, it will be a different game plan, to really attack the track and get some data we can use in April,” he said. “The team did a good job. I’m happy with the amount of progress we’ve made over the last couple of tests.”

IndyCar: Gabby Chaves’ hopes are high for solid rookie season

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The hard work has paid off for Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves with a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But more hard work awaits for the Colombian as he seeks to fully establish himself in North America’s top open-wheel league with Bryan Herta Autosport.

He’s the latest young lion to step up from Lights in recent years, joining the likes of Jack Hawksworth (A.J. Foyt Racing), Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing), and Sage Karam (Chip Ganassi Racing).

So what can help him stand out? Carrying over the consistency from his 2014 Lights title run would be a start. He claimed four victories and closed the year with eight consecutive podium finishes. Furthermore, it was his five second-place runs that enabled him to be crowned champion over Jack Harvey on a second tie-breaker (both Chaves and Harvey had four wins apiece, but Chaves’ five runner-ups beat Harvey’s one).

Still, Chaves recognizes that you need the total package to succeed in the ultra-competitive IndyCar.

“You got to look at everything,” Chaves said recently during IndyCar Media Day activities. “You have to look at raw speed. You have to look at consistency. You have to look at your technical feedback. There’s a lot of things that make a driver as a whole.  You can’t just look at one thing.

“[But] definitely, consistency is up there [in importance].  It just really separates the great from the greatest, the good from the best. When a driver has all these attributes, these qualities, it makes them a better driver overall.”

Last year in Lights, Chaves was a constant force in the championship, at first battling Zach Veach for supremacy (the two drivers traded wins in the first four races) and then surviving a late-season push from Harvey. This year, he isn’t expected to be a title threat as an IndyCar rookie.

But although expectations are a bit lower at this point, Chaves obviously still wants to show that he belongs.

“No one is expecting you to go out there and win three races in a row,” he said. “But definitely I think, as racing drivers … The mentality is always to go out there and drive as hard as you can. If you get to the race weekend and you don’t believe within yourself that you can win this race, that moment, your professional career is over.

“That’s my mentality. I have to go out every weekend and I have to think I have a chance, a shot at winning this one.  Once we get going, we’ll see where we’re at. We’ll just keep working away. Hopefully, at some point or another, we’ll be able to show our potential.”

It would appear Chaves will have his chances to do just that. His new boss, Herta, has said that he’d like to hang on to him for a few years and have both team and driver grow together.

A big part of that will depend on how Chaves jells with his No. 98 team, which will be led by veteran engineer John Dick. Chaves knows that good chemistry can go a long way, particularly for a single-car team like his.

“I think that’s going to be the most important factor in my success for 2015 is how well can I connect with my engineers, how well can I connect with my mechanics, with everyone around me,” he said. “If I have a high level of chemistry with them, if we have a good atmosphere in the team, if there’s good energy flowing through our tent.

“I’m not saying we’re going to go out and win the first race, by any means. We want to go out there and race as hard as we can, compete with the fastest cars. I believe we can do it. I believe with the right work ethic, you can make it happen, even in a one-car team, being a rookie.”