2013 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

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Off the back of the Chinese Grand Prix, the teams have had little chance to catch their breath ahead of this weekend’s race in Bahrain. With Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus all impressing in China, will the four teams be vying for victory once again this weekend?

Bahrain Grand Prix Talking Points

Are Ferrari and Alonso pulling ahead?

Fernando Alonso perfected his strategy and pace in China to take a stunning victory, so Ferrari will be keen on continuing this form in Bahrain. Although rain is forecast across the weekend, a characteristically hot race could play into the Italian’s marque’s hands. After all, Alonso dominated in the heat in China after two damp races, so the F138 appears to be strong in the dry.

Red Bull look to bounce back

China was a difficult weekend for Red Bull, even with Sebastian Vettel finishing 4th after starting down in 9th. The world champion struggled for outright pace on the harder tire, getting stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg early on, whilst Mark Webber endured a nightmare weekend. Quite whether his fortune will change in Bahrain is impossible to predict, but starting three places back from his qualifying position is certainly a bad omen.

Can Mercedes finally win?

There appears to be four teams in the hunt for the 2013 constructors’ championship, and Mercedes is the only member of this group yet to win. Lewis Hamilton struggled from pole in China, whilst Nico Rosberg went backwards before finally retiring, making it a disappointing weekend for the German team after such a strong qualifying performance. Bahrain is where the team really has to prove its worth.

Further progress on McLaren’s agenda

McLaren was strong in China, with Jenson Button perfecting his strategy to finish in a best-case-scenario of 5th. However, Perez’s failure to score shows that the MP4-28 is still incapable of a podium finish, although the team has certainly come a long way since the opening race of the season.

Advantage Toro Rosso in the midfield battle?

China threw up some interesting midfield battles, with Daniel Ricciardo coming out on top in P6, and Toro Rosso appear to be in good shape for the rest of the season. For outright pace, the Faenza-based team was very strong, but Force India and Sauber also impressed (after they both lost one driver in the same incident), leaving us with a highly exciting battle for the small points in Bahrain.

Track: Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir (5.412km)
Laps: 57
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Hard)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:32.422s
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:36.379s
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/03:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/04:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 15:00pm local/08:00am ET

You can watch FP2, qualifying and the race on NBC this weekend via http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/, or on their phone or tablet by downloading the app http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25481063/.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”