Szafnauer: First test focused on tires, Wehrlein evaluation


Even though Force India was testing its 2014 chassis last week at Barcelona, there was still plenty for the team to learn.

The focus primarily centered on dialing in Pirelli’s 2015 tires, said Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s COO.

“It was a straightforward and productive week, with the primary focus to learn about the 2015 tires,” he said in a team release.

“Because we know the 2014 car so well, we could focus purely on tire evaluation on a range of different fuel loads. We used every dry compound that was available last week and all of that information will be transferrable to our 2015 program.”

The team has officially taken the wraps off its new VJM08 chassis Wednesday morning and preps to run it for the first time on Friday.

Last week’s test also allowed the team a look at Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein for two days.

Wehrlein’s first day was interrupted when Mercedes called him up to fill in for an ill Lewis Hamilton on Thursday, but he had a full day in the car Saturday to provide the team an evaluation.

“Everyone was impressed with Pascal,” Szafnauer said. “He took a very mature approach to the test and didn’t put a foot wrong.

“It’s always interesting to receive feedback from a new driver and Pascal was very detailed and accurate with his feedback. Running him alongside our race drivers provided a nice yardstick for data comparisons.”

It’s only February so it’s a bit too early to think ahead to the 2016 silly season, but depending on how Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg either get on or advance in 2015, Wehrlein will probably be a name we’ll hear in the silly season talks later this year.

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)