Honda releases first image of F1 2015 engine, no driver announcement due at Suzuka

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Honda has released the first image of its 2015 Formula 1 power unit ahead of its home grand prix at Suzuka this weekend.

The Japanese manufacturer confirmed last year that it would be returning to the sport after six years away as an engine supplier with McLaren, rekindling the famed McLaren-Honda partnership of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Although details since then have been drip-fed through, Honda has today released the first image of the power unit it has produced to race next season, and confirmed that more will be revealed across the course of this weekend’s race at Suzuka.

The firm’s head of motorsport, Yasuhisa Arai, confirmed that operations are now up and running at the engine powerplant in England, which works in tandem with the base in Japan.

“Working toward Honda’s F1 participation starting in the 2015 season, development of the power unit is entering its prime phase at our research and development facility in Sakura where we transferred our automobile motorsports development earlier this year,” he said.

“In addition to conducting simulations, we have moved onto the next stage where we conduct full-fledged bench tests of the engine while connecting the turbocharger and energy recovery systems. In the meantime, our racing operation base in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, has become fully operational.

“At this time, we are unveiling an image of our power unit that is under development. The whole team is concentrating on this development, getting ready for the forthcoming start of F1 participation in six months. Please stay tuned for further updates.”

Arai confirmed to British broadcaster Sky that, contrary to speculation, Honda is not looking to make any announcement regarding McLaren’s driver line-up at Suzuka this weekend.

“We are constantly talking about which drivers we would like to see and whilst McLaren is here in Japan it is only natural that we organize some meetings with McLaren, but I don’t think we will be discussing the topic of drivers given that nothing is decided,” he said.

Honda’s return and promise of exclusivity at McLaren for 2015 is proving to be a big point of interest for many in Formula 1 as the driver market begins to fall into place. Both of McLaren’s current drivers – Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen – are out of contract at the end of this season, sparking rumors that Fernando Alonso could be set to walk away from Ferrari one year early and return to the British team.

McLaren is yet to confirm when it will first test a car using the Honda power unit, but it could be as early as the final 2014 test in Abu Dhabi following the final grand prix of the season.

NHRA to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

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Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

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