Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Long Beach Friday

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Here are some of the notes and quotes from Friday at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

  • Like old times: A host of open-wheel veterans/legends, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran and Al Unser Jr. among them, are all in the spotlight this weekend even though none is in the marquee race. De Ferran’s open-wheel luck eluded him at the circuit although he won the 2009 American Le Mans Series race, co-driving with Simon Pagenaud in the team’s Acura ARX-02a, the same year Franchitti won his first IndyCar race back after a one-year NASCAR sojourn. Franchitti was given a medallion as part of the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame; de Ferran was named to a new consulting role with Honda Performance Development. Both drivers had huge success with the manufacturer. Meanwhile Unser Jr., the “King of the Beach” with six races wins on these streets, will compete in the Pro category in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on Saturday.
  • On another Dario note… The four-time series champion was named as an ambassador for the SAFEisFAST.com initiative, part of the Road Racing Driver’s Club program. Bobby Rahal, who heads the RRDC and was Master of Ceremonies at Thursday night’s dinner honoring Mario Andretti, made the announcement in a press conference on Friday. Additionally, Honda has formed a partnership with SAFEisFAST.com as well.
  • And a third Dario note… You’ve gotta love this picture of old Team KOOL Green teammates Dario and Paul Tracy chilling on pit road. “PT” is calling this weekend’s IndyCar action on NBCSN alongside Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will be in the pits.
  • Hawksworth’s stout effort: English rookie Jack Hawksworth continues to surprise/impress/pick your other superlative in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport. He ended third on Friday. Said the Bradford native of the Long Beach street circuit, “It’s a little bit more of a generic street circuit compared to St. Pete – I’ve always thought St. Pete was very tricky to get the balance right. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great location and a great event and it should be a good weekend.”
  • More Sato progression: It’s good for Takuma Sato and the A.J. Foyt Racing team to have come out of St. Petersburg, where they won the pole position, frustrated with a seventh place finish. The team/driver combination is bordering on making that next step to the top tier of teams on a consistent basis. The driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda ended Friday in fourth.
  • Newgarden’s roller-coaster 24-plus hours: During Thursday’s media lunch, Josef Newgarden wasn’t introduced due to his past racing accolades, instead by more of a joke describing his personality. The Tennessee native let his driving do the talking on Friday, ending sixth overall, despite a brief incident at Turn 8 in first practice. “We had a moment in the first practice that set us back a bit, but not a huge upset. I got into the wall, but we were able to recover. We are pretty comfortably in the top 10, but it’s easy to slip outside of the top 10 if you don’t watch carefully,” said the driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, which is also sporting Rising Star Racing signage this weekend. Friday night, he took a drift ride in a two-seater too. 
  • Servia getting acclimated: Oriol Servia’s first day of official race weekend on-track action ended P18 in the black-and-red primered No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The day was difficult to define. We are working on the car. We’re still not really comfortable yet. Both Graham and I have had exactly the same comments from both sessions so that will definitely help our engineers go in one direction that we both feel we need to go. The other good thing is that although we aren’t happy, we’re still not that far off on the lap time, especially on old tires,” said the Catalan.
  • Huertas continues to surprise: I wrote this at St. Pete as well, but I’m seriously impressed by Colombian Carlos Huertas in Dale Coyne’s second car. Today was his first day at Long Beach and by the end of second practice, he was within half a second of his significantly more heralded teammate Justin Wilson. Granted, that 0.5377 gap was 12 positions (eighth to 20th), but he is seriously punching above his weight considering his lack of comparable seat time to the other 22 drivers in the field, and to the three other rookies.

Saturday, it’s practice three and qualifying. Qualifying airs at 6 p.m. EDT on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

COMBINED PRACTICE TIMES
QUALIFYING GROUPS

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.