Vergne penalized for clash with Grosjean in Austin

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Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne has dropped to 10th place in the final classification for the United States Grand Prix after the stewards penalized him for a clash with Romain Grosjean.

During the final stages of the race in Austin on Sunday, Vergne made a very aggressive pass on Grosjean heading into turn one to move into the top 10, making contact with the Lotus driver. He went on to finish the race in ninth place ahead of Pastor Maldonado, whilst Grosjean limped home in 11th.

Lotus immediately appealed to the stewards, who subsequently confirmed that Vergne was under investigation for forcing another driver off-track when making the move.

Later on Sunday evening, they confirmed that Vergne had received a five second time penalty, thus dropping him down to 10th place behind Maldonado in the final classification.

“The driver of car #25 is considered to be predominantly at fault for the contact with car #8 at turn one and the consequent forcing of car #8 off the track,” the penalty notice reads.

Vergne was pleased to finish in the top 10 and enjoyed the final fight at COTA, but felt that Grosjean closed the door too sharply at turn one.

“In the final stages I absolutely wanted to gain positions,” Vergne said. “I saw the opportunity to overtake Romain and I decided to go for it. When he closed the door it was just too late.

“At the end, this is racing and you have to fight as much as you can. I like fighting, so it was good fun.”

Despite being the biggest loser from the incident, Grosjean did not gain any positions because of the penalty and remains 11th in the final order.

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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