Whose strategy paid off in Korea? Kimi Raikkonen

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The Korean Grand Prix provided another race full of entertainment and tactical battles, but it wasn’t always looking like shaping up that way.

The predicted wet weather never arrived on Sunday and with one pretty clear favorite in terms of race strategy for the teams, it could have easily turned into a somewhat processional event.

As it happened, higher than expected front right tire wear and two safety car periods forced the race into a very close and strategic affair.

The sums done by the teams on Saturday night had a two-stop race being the fastest way to the checkered flag, but it looked like the first stint on the supersoft, option tire needed to run for around 19 or 20 laps to be able to get the best out of the medium, primes, for the two remaining spells to the end of the race. In reality, a forced early stop for Jenson Button’s McLaren saw him change his front wing, but also discard the supersoft tires and move onto the medium.

His pace was so good on the prime tire that it triggered a flurry of early stops to do the same and everyone reacted to each other, with even race leader, Sebastian Vettel, stopping to make the switch on lap 11.

The circuit in Korea is a front limited one, meaning the pace and stint length are determined by the car and driver’s ability to look after the front tires. Wear, as well as degradation, were the limiting factors around this track and so it was important for teams to set the cars up in a way that controls understeer and drivers to manage their own pace, using the guidance of their teams, to make them last. The work put in during Friday’s free practice sessions is all about trying to understand the wear rates and generate the ideal laptimes to keep pace, but ensure the right front isn’t destroyed in the process, forcing an early, or extra, pitstop in the race.

Sunday, the two safety car periods closed the field up, meaning some great, close racing, but also and crucially for some, increased understeer from following in the aerodynamic wake of the cars in front. Fernando Alonso and then Lewis Hamilton both noticeably looked to struggle with the loss of front downforce when trying to follow Nico Hulkenburg and the reduced front grip meant more sliding and consequently hurt the fragile right front tires. Being in front after each safety car spell today was a big advantage and one that Sebastian Vettel used flawlessly once again.

Once again the Lotus, particularly in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, used its tires well and managed to exploit that advantage over the others in a brave, but inspired strategy call and a bit of good luck with the safety car.

Kimi stopped earlier than most for his second set of new medium tires on lap 25 and managed to undercut some of the cars around him with some very fast early laps in clean air. When the safety car was deployed on lap 31, he stayed out, while many made their stops and found himself catapulted up the field. The fact that the Lotus E21 and Kimi are so good at looking after the tires, meant that, despite finishing the race on a set that had run for 30 laps, he still had pace to challenge, pounce on, and then hold off teammate, Romain Grosjean for a brilliant second place finish, having started the Grand Prix ninth on the grid.

Strategy was a mixture of meticulous team preparation, as always, but perhaps more than at some other events, the patience, intelligence and skill of the drivers played a big role in coping with a difficult tire challenge in Korea.

“Fast Ed” Carpenter takes 3rd career pole for Indy 500; Danica to start 7th

Pole winner Ed Carpenter is hugged by teammate Danica Patrick. Photo:IndyCar
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Ed Carpenter, the king of the front row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reigned supreme again Sunday, taking the pole for next Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the third time Carpenter — nicknamed “Fast Ed” — has started the 500 from the top spot, having also done so in 2013 and 2014, along with starting second in last year’s race.

Carpenter led off with the fastest one-lap speed of the day at 230.088 mph – the only driver over 230 mph – and continued on to accumulate a four-lap average speed of 229.618 mph, nearly a full mph faster than Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph), who will start second and in the middle of the front row.

Will Power (228.607 mph) will start on the outside of the front row. Team Penske grabbed second through fourth and also the eighth position.

Chevrolets make up four of the top five and seven of the top nine. The only Honda driver in the top five is Sebastien Bourdais in fifth.

The first driver of the Fast Nine to take the track, Danica Patrick – who will make the final start of her multi-faceted racing career in the 500 – qualified seventh with a four-lap average of 228.584 mph.

Here’s how the first three rows stack up (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 1: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power

Row 2: Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot

Row 3: Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon

Here’s comments from the Fast Nine:

Ed Carpenter (229.618 mph, 1st): “I’m the 11th to get three (poles), but I want to add my name to the list of winners here. I can’t wait for Sunday. The car was perfect. It was awesome to drive that car. Hopefully, we’ll be able to close the deal this year.”

Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph, 2nd): “We have good cars, fast cars and I’m just super proud. Obviously, I wanted to get the pole, but it’s racing. Luck is on my side today. We’re in a very good position and I’m thinking positive today.”

Will Power (228.607 mph, 3rd): “Just a couple little bad shifts and little less downforce and it would have been a little closer. It all makes a difference, it all adds up, but that’s Indy for you. You can’t second guess.”

Josef Newgarden (228.405 mph, 4th): “We’re competitive. We want all four of these cars to be up-front. It’s good to be with Chevrolet, they do a lot here at Indianapolis. It was an overall good run, so I’m satisfied. You always feel like you had something to do different after you did it. Hindsight is always 20-20, right?”

Sebastien Bourdais (228.142 mph, 5th): “It was pretty stressful. The car was very much on top of the track, very little downforce conditions. The guys did a good job, gave me a fast car and I really had to wheel it.”

Spencer Pigot (228.107 mph, 6th): “Starting inside the top 9 is a big achievement for us. For me, it’s at least 20 positions better than I’ve ever started here. Now that qualifying is over, we’ll focus on the race. … It’s a massive improvement for me. I like our chances.”

Danica Patrick (228.090 mph, 7th): “It was fairly consistent. All in all, a good feeling. It’s good to have that part done. I was pretty nervous. … Now it’s time for 500 fun miles.”

Helio Castroneves (227.859 mph, 8th): “I was praying for rain but it didn’t happen (he said with a laugh). Congrats to Ed (Carpenter). We took a gamble, had nothing to lose here and that’s what we did. It is what it is. Eighth position, we can win the race from there. Now, I’ve got to think about the big number.”

Scott Dixon (227.262 mph, 9th): “We didn’t run this morning so it was following the conditions. We struggled a little and maybe had a couple things that didn’t pay off. We’ll keep trucking on and see ourselves move up next weekend.”

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As for qualifying for positions 10th through 33rd:

* Defending 500 winner Takuma Sato qualified 16th.

* 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi qualified a disappointing 32nd. Rossi had a strong run in the first of his four laps at 227.454 mph, and then suddenly dropped off to 224.152 on the third lap and a very disappointing 221.619 mph on his final lap, plunging him from potentially starting on the fourth row to the last row.

* Another disappointing effort came from Graham Rahal, who will start 30th, on the outside of the 10th row.

* Also, Matheus Leist, driving for Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt, qualified 11th, making him the highest-qualifying rookie.

Here’s how Rows 4 through 11 lineup look (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 4: Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist, Marco Andretti

Row 5: Zachary Claman Demelo, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball

Row 6: Takuma Sato, Kyle Kaiser, Robert Wickens

Row 7: James Davison, Max Chilton, Carlos Munoz

Row 8: Gabby Chaves, Stefan Wilson, Sage Karam

Row 9: Zack Veach, Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand

Row 10: Jay Howard, Ed Jones, Graham Rahal

Row 11: Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly

Here’s some driver comments on their qualifying efforts:

* Tony Kanaan (10th): “What a great effort as a team. A.J. and Larry (Foyt) put so much effort into this over the winter and gave us everything I’ve asked. They’ve spent every single dime to give us a great car. I told them today our pole was 10, so we’re sitting on the pole.”

* Matheus Leist (11th): “The car was pretty good since the beginning of the week. I’m so happy for the whole team. I love this place. Last year I won my first race in Indy Lights here, so let’s see what I can do in my first Indy 500 here.”

* Marco Andretti (12th): “I thought it was alright. I was chasing balance end to end. It kind of caught me out. … I’m excited about the race, that’s for sure. Yesterday, we wouldn’t have made the Fast Nine, so I just want to go forward and get it done.”

* Ryan Hunter-Reay (14th): “I was hoping for more but I think that’s the speed the car has in it. I had a good balance in the car. I’m looking forward to focusing on the race car tomorrow, and if you have a good race car, none of this qualifying matters.”

* Robert Wickens (18th): “We were able to do a 228 this morning comfortably, and then I go out and do a 226 (in qualifying) and didn’t change a thing. … It’s still cool to start it.”

* Carlos Munoz (21st): “I want this race, I’ve been so close for so many years. I love this race, everything about the 500. I think the most important thing is to have a good car for the race.”

* Jay Howard (28th): “Obviously, I’m just real happy to have the opportunity to go out there to give the car a good qualification effort. The pace is not there, we’re a little disappointed with the speed, but we’re in the race, that’s the most important thing and we’ll see what (the race) brings us.”

* Alexander Rossi (32nd): “It’s the mystery about this place, we don’t know yet. Certainly, that hasn’t been our performance here. We should have been 10th through 12th, but that’s what makes this place what it is. It’s a new challenge and new opportunity to show what we can do.”

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