MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Spanish GP

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MONTMELO – After a three-week break, the Formula 1 paddock reconvenes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the outskirts on the city this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, marking the start of the European season.

With the first four flyaways now in the books and the early pecking order shaping up, the teams will be looking to take a stride forwards with the first raft of updates on the 2015 cars this weekend, serving to spice up the battles up and down the grid.

As a result, the predictions have become slightly more difficult to make for the Spanish Grand Prix, given that the teams may be further forward or back from where they were last time out in Bahrain.

Nevertheless, here’s the verdict that the MST team is delivering ahead of the race weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s impressive start to the season could well continue in Spain, given that a number of updates are due on the SF15-T car. That said, there appears to be little that can stop Lewis Hamilton at the moment. A fourth win in five races would make for even more ominous reading.

Surprising FinishDaniel Ricciardo. Red Bull has endured a thoroughly miserable start to the 2015 season, but this could be set to change. A raft of updates on the RB11 could allow Ricciardo and his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, to work their way further up the order and perhaps on to a level playing field with Williams.

Most to ProveMcLaren. McLaren may have a fierce new livery, but the real focus will be on the performance of the MP4-30 with its first major upgrade package. Despite making great strides so far this year, the team needs to end the rut and get on the scoreboard.

Additional Storyline to WatchForce India’s form. Given that the team enjoyed just two days of running with the new car ahead of the new season, Force India’s early season form has been mightily impressive. However, with the rest of the field now introducing a raft of updates, the team may be hit hard as it waits until Austria before making real changes to the VJM08, suggesting a backslide could be on the cards.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Mercedes dominated on the long runs here in winter testing and there’s no reason to think the domination won’t continue here in the regular season. Rosberg still hasn’t shown he can beat Hamilton in a session that counts yet this year; I don’t think that changes this weekend.

Surprising FinishFernando Alonso. McLaren Honda is certainly talking of big gains heading into the weekend and Alonso was mightily impressive getting as close as he did to points and Q3 in Bahrain. It would be both a popular and improved result if Alonso cracks the top 10 and delivers the team’s first points of the season.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. I’ll say Rosberg here more than others due to the fact this is the European season and a good spot for him to hit his stride and take the fight to his teammate. He’s won in Monaco before and a win here in Spain would do wonders for his confidence, psyche and the championship battle if he can put one over on Hamilton. I don’t see it happening, as mentioned above, but it would be good to see him exceed the expectations placed on him at the moment.

Additional Storyline to WatchBattle of the upgrades. The European season traditionally marks the start of upgrade season for all teams and manufacturers. Will any one team make a major performance jump or suffer a setback as a result?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

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For full broadcast information on the Spanish Grand Prix, click here.

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.