Kyle Lavigne

Pagenaud leads Penske 1-2-3-4 in Practice 3 at Road America

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Team Penske continued its domination this weekend at Road America, with Simon Pagenaud leading third practice for the Kohler Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Pagenaud pipped teammate Will Power in the final seconds to take fast lap honors in third practice, with Pagenaud’s 1:42.0439 edging Power’s 1:42.0698.

Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden ended third and fourth, making it a Penske 1-2-3-4 for the second consecutive session this weekend (they did the same in second practice on Friday). Scott Dixon ended the session fifth, the best of the Honda runners.

Several drivers had off-course excursions during practice as they pushed the limits ahead of qualifying this afternoon. Most notably, Newgarden brought out a brief red flag when he spun into the gravel in Turn 14, the third spin in turn 14 this weekend. Newgarden did not have any contact with the tire barriers, but the No. 2 Devilbiss Chevrolet was beached in the gravel and needed a tow. He suffered no damage, however, and rejoined the session after it resumed.

Of note, Marco Andretti and Spencer Pigot enjoyed strong sessions to end up sixth and seventh, while Mikhail Aleshin was 20th after arriving at the track earlier in the morning, with immigration issues delaying his travel.

Times are below. Qualifying begins at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local time), and airs on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. ET.

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Newgarden, Penske top second practice at Road America

Photo: IndyCar
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Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden topped second practice in a 1-2-3-4 sweep for the Team Penske outfit, driving the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s best lap of a 1:42.8229 was about five hundredths of a second quicker than teammate and defending race winner Will Power, who was second with a 1:42.8229. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves completed the Penske top four sweep, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe the best of the Honda drivers in fifth.

The session was only briefly interrupted early on when Alexander Rossi went off the track in Turn 14 and gently slid into the tire barrier. The red flag was flown to remove the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda from the barrier, but Rossi was able to continue, ending the session in 11th after leading the morning practice.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones enjoyed a strong session to end up sixth, while teammate Esteban Gutierrez was 17th on his return to Coyne.

Also, Robert Wickens continued to fill in for Mikhail Aleshin, ending Practice 2 in 20th. While Aleshin is reportedly en route to Road America, it is unknown if Wickens will continue his fill in role through the weekend.

Times are below. Practice 3 rolls of at 12:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. local) on Saturday.

Indy Lights: Leist rides wave of momentum heading to Road America

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires resumes action at Road America this weekend, perhaps its hottest driver is 19-year-old Brazilian native Matheus Leist.

The Carlin driver enters Road America off a strong month of May, in which he captured both his first podium finish (third, Race 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course) and his first career pole and win (Freedom 100) in Indy Lights.

“I think we are working very hard this year, so the hard work’s paying off,” Leist told NBC Sports following his Freedom 100 triumph. “We did a great race at the (Grand Prix), I managed to finish third: my first podium. And now, I did my first pole position, with a track record, and won my first race, and the most important race in the championship. It was definitely a great month for me.”

Despite his youth and lack of experience, Leist managed to keep all challengers at bay in what was a dominating victory. And the race became all the more challenging when he faced an early restart after contact between Colton Herta, Dalton Kellett, and Ryan Norman, and a full slate of challengers were ready to slipstream by Leist if he made even the smallest of mistakes on the subsequent restart.

However, as he detailed, thwarting off challengers was made possible because the team prepared a car with a lot of speed in it, which allowed them to trim a little more downforce off the car to help with straight line speed, especially useful on restarts.

“I knew we had a great car, so we went in the race with less downforce than the other guys, which helped me to stay in front. After like 10 laps, I was thinking ‘I can definitely win this race from here,’” he asserted.

The success has seen those in the IndyCar ranks take notice of the 19-year-old. He was acknowledged during the public driver’s meeting for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and was featured in the parade held the day before the 500-mile classic. The success and acknowledgment from those at the highest level is somewhat overwhelming for the 19-year-old.

“Very grateful for everything that’s happening with me. I think this is one of the most important moments of my life. I just won a race in Indianapolis, such a big and great place, and important place. It’s been an amazing time with the drivers (congratulating me). I had a great time at the parade as well, so it was very nice,” he added.

Even better, he had his first test day in an IndyCar last week at Road America, taking over the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda usually driven by Alexander Rossi.

“The braking point here is crazy. It’s the fastest car that I’ve ever driven. The high speed corners, there’s a few corners where it’s almost flat in Indy Lights and here with more power, more downforce, it’s easy flat!” he said.

A champion of the 2016 BRDC British F3 Championship, Leist remains new to the American racing scene. But, as he explained, the influence of a couple heroes, chiefly Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan, has helped him transition.

“I have quite a bit of contact with Rubens. I used to have dinner with him. He’s a very nice guy with me, he’s always helping me. I know Tony as well, we raced in Brazil last year together in a go-kart race. He’s a guy, as well, who said whenever I want, I can ask him to help.”

And, while he admits Formula 1 was his original focus, Leist is happy to pursue a career in the United States with the Verizon IndyCar Series. “My first goal was Formula 1, but now I’m thinking more about becoming a professional driver than a Formula 1 driver, that’s why I came to IndyCar,” he finished.

Leist sits sixth in the Indy Lights championship, but only trails points leader Kyle Kaiser by 30 points as the series heads to Road America.

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report

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Bell podiums, Ford Ganassi IndyCar stars end midpack at Le Mans

Photo: Scuderia Corsa
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The 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be a challenging race for representatives from the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, one did finish on the podium in his class, while all four of them saw the checkered flag at the end.

The best finishing in class was NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who finished on the podium in the GTE Am class in the No. 62 WeatherTech-backed Ferrari 488 GTE for Scuderia Corsa.

With co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Bill Sweedler, the trio managed to avoid a lot of the chaos that surrounded this year’s Le Mans to emerge third in class (30th overall), with the car never having significant issues at any point during the 24-hour endurance race.

Of note: this marks the third consecutive class podium for Bell and Sweedler, who also won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Am class, while MacNeil scored his first ever podium at the endurance classic.

“Wow, what a race,” Bell said. “I spent a lot of time in the car over the 24 hours. The car was nearly as good at the end as it was when I started it. Thanks to WeatherTech for being with us this weekend and to the whole Scuderia Corsa crew and the team from Kessel. We had a great combination of drivers and support here all week.”

Sweedler added, “It is magical to get here again and do well. Three runs here and three podiums, two third place finishes and a win is incredible. The WeatherTech Racing Ferrari was incredible. The Scuderia Corsa team did a great job. Townsend did monster stints and Cooper did a great job as well. What a day!”

Of his maiden Le Mans podium, MacNeil said, “We ran a really clean race. We only had a couple of minor issues all race. I ran clean and didn’t put a wheel wrong all and that is how you have to run here at Le Mans. We gave it all we had. We ran to plan, did the stops and driver changes and ran our race. We kept it clean and the great work from the Scuderia Corsa and Kessel guys got us up on the podium. The WeatherTech Racing Ferrari ran great the entire 24 hours.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw two of its IndyCar stars make the trip over, with Tony Kanaan taking Sebastien Bourdais’ place in the No. 68 driver lineup, joining defending GTE Pro winners Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, while Scott Dixon partnered Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 69.

Photo: Ford Performance

With GTE Pro proving the most intense of the four classes, the Ford GTs stayed in contention for much of the race, but ultimately faded at the end despite finishing on the same lap as the winning No. 97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8.

Kanaan managed to finish sixth in class (23rd overall), with Dixon right behind him (seventh in class, 24th overall).

Photo: Ford Performance

Mueller described the race, and Kanaan’s debut, for the No. 68 entry: “Congratulations to the No. 67 crew for a fantastic second-place finish,” Müller said. “We know how it feels to make it on to the podium. It’s a good feeling. We were hit with so many things during the race. Joey did a good job and definitely Tony Kanaan. (Adding him to the lineup) was such a rush. We arrived here on Tuesday morning and from that moment on it all went so fast. He gave everything for us and we made a good team.”

In the prototype ranks, Mikhail Aleshin joined Sergey Sirotkin and Viktor Shaytar in the No. 37 Dallara P217 Gibson for SMP Racing. After suffering mechanical problems, the no. 37 car could do no better than 17th in class (34th overall) after falling 36 laps behind the winning No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibson. However, Aleshin, Sirotkin, and Shaytar did complete the 24-hour distance, despite their problems.

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Le Mans: No. 7 Toyota drops out with clutch problems

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The No. 7 Toyota TS050, in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, and Stéphane Sarrazin, and the dominant overall race leader through the first ten hours of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, has fallen out of the race following apparent mechanical troubles.

Shortly after a safety car period for a spinning Olivier Pla in the No. 66 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK, the No. 7 machine, with Kobayashi at the wheel, was unable to accelerate back to race speed, suffering a clutch failure that became immediately apparent when green flag racing resumed.

Kobayashi was heard on the radio saying repeatedly “I cannot move” as he attempted to nurse the car around the 8.469-mile circuit on hybrid power, only for it to coast to a halt shortly before the Porsche curves.

A dejected Kobayashi exited the car and returned to the pits, where shortly thereafter the garage door was shut, signifying a retirement.

The Nos. 8 and 9 have also encountered problems of their own. The No. 8 went to the garage with mechanical problems a couple hours earlier, specifically with the front motor, but return to the race and currently runs third in the LMP1 class, 27 laps off the lead.

Meanwhile, the No. 9 fell out shortly thereafter following contact with the No. 25 CEFC Manor TRS Team China Oreca 07 Gibson. The contact punctured the No. 9’s left-rear tire and sent it into a spin, and while driver Nicolas Lapierre tried to nurse the machine back to the pits, the car suffered irreparable damage, highlighted by a small fire at the rear of the machine, which forced Lapierre to use hybrid power only to try and limp back around.

However, Lapierre eventually stopped on track, unable to return to the pits. The garage of the No. 9 entry then shuttered, signaling a second retirement for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

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