Italian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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When it comes to the classic circuits in Formula 1, few are as famous as Monza. The track has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and has a firm place in the heart of the sport.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a favorite for the drivers and teams, making this weekend’s race a hotly-anticipated one. Throw in some tension at Mercedes at the height of the championship battle, and you have the ingredients for a superb F1 weekend.

The on-track action got underway today with the first two practice sessions. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes dominated proceedings once again, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton each topping one session. However, Hamilton did come unstuck in FP2 when an electrical problem sidelined him for over an hour. He eventually rallied to finish second to his teammate at the top of the timesheets.

Away from the track, it was a busy day. The F1 Strategy Group team principals met with Bernie Ecclestone for a meeting, the FIA press conference saw hot topics such as Russia and fan engagement come up, and IndyCar racer Juan Pablo Montoya even made an appearance.

Montoya, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella all at Monza? Is it 2001 again?

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Practice is always something of a double-edged sword. Teams can be encouraged by the pace that they show, but it is of course not entirely representative.

Take Ferrari’s pace today. The Italian team went into this weekend fearing the worst, but practice has been more encouraging today as both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen flirted with the top five positions. However, just as the team has done on many occasions this year, this pace could yet fade away when it matters in qualifying. Nevertheless, the Tifosi was happy; the grandstands always go crazy when the red cars tear past.

Mercedes is once again the team to beat, and after the spat in Spa, all eyes will be on Lewis and Nico to keep it clean. Both drivers will know that anything other than a one-two finish will be a disappointing result, given that the circuit is perfectly suited to the W05 car. However, if Hamilton hits more trouble like he did during practice today, the team could be left ruing its luck yet again.

As for the other pretenders? It’s a very fine battle. Williams, Red Bull, McLaren and Force India should all be in the mix on Sunday for some good points, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa the favorites to trail the Silver Arrows home. It could be a big weekend for Williams in the race for third place in the constructors’.

We must also give a big pat on the back to Caterham’s Roberto Merhi, who enjoyed his first outing in an F1 car today. Despite having never driven one before, he still managed to finish ahead of Marcus Ericsson in FP1. Surely the Swede’s days are number at the end of the season? For the second weekend in a row, someone who has never driven the car before has immediately bested him.

The team principals’ press conference was an interesting affair. Despite the apathy that questions about the Russian Grand Prix met last time they were asked in Hungary, there were more questions today. One about the possibility of sporting sanctions from the EU and NATO left them stumped, but the group line remains the same: if F1 goes to Russia, we go to Russia.

Sitting in the media centre, you cannot help but marvel at the passionate Ferrari fans sitting in the stands. However, among the flags cheering on Kimi and Fernando (and even Stefano Domenicali!), there was one that really stood out.

The irony is that this was put up in the best seats in the house; they were angry enough to give the sport they appear to hate money so they could moan about it.

Pirelli’s Paul Hembery made a very good point in the press conference, scoffing at the fact that the banner moaned about “ugly new circuits” at Monza of all places.

General consensus is that Formula 1 is putting on one hell of a show this year. Long may that continue.

Join us tomorrow for final practice (Live Extra, 5am ET) and qualifying (NBCSN, 8am) for the Italian Grand Prix.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.