F1: McLaren, Toro Rosso look for fresh restart in second half of season

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With the start of the nine-race second half of the Formula One season at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, it’s time for teams such as McLaren and Toro Rosso to wipe the slate clean from their first half struggles and essentially start from scratch.

It was a difficult time for both teams in the first 10 races of the season. While Lewis Hamilton leads the series with 202 points, Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen is 11th (just 22 points) in the standings, while teammate Carlos Sainz is 16th (nine points).

Things are even worse for the once illustrious McLaren team, in its first year back with Honda power units. Fernando Alonso is mired in 15th place (11 points), while Jenson Button is two positions lower in 17th (just six points). On the bright side, both scored in Hungary.

But as bad as the first half was, drivers on both teams are looking forward with optimism to turning things around in the nine-race second half, starting with this weekend’s marquee event at Spa.

“The next few races will be important for us,” Alonso said in the team’s pre-race advance, via the official Formula 1 website. “We need to continue our forward momentum, and, with the addition of some tweaks to the car and power unit, we will be looking for more progress and good correlation between the simulator and our on-track performance.

“That might not necessarily appear above the surface in either Spa or Monza, but we’ll keep pushing development forward at each race.”

Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen is coming off a fourth-place finish in the last race at Hungary before the annual mid-season break.

“The Hungaroring was clearly a good track for us from a performance and point-scoring point of view,” Verstappen said.

Spa will be much harder as it doesn’t suit our car that well, but we will make sure we work hard to achieve the best result possible. The P4 in Hungary definitely gives us all extra motivation!

“I raced [at Spa] last year during my F3 season and we won all three races that weekend, it felt great! So hopefully we can score some more points and continue with our good performances in Spa! It’s such an amazing track to drive, it’s unique! It has some very challenging and fun corners, like Eau Rouge, and the home crowd just makes it even more special. I am really looking forward to the weekend ahead.”

Alonso had a strong run at Hungary as well, finishing right behind Verstappen in fifth position, and one spot ahead of Hamilton.

“After Hungary, we were all really encouraged by the outcome; although we were fortunate to have had some good luck, we still battled hard and finished the race with a positive result,” Alonso said. “Spa will be tricky for us, due to the configuration of a track that requires power, downforce and a big chunk of the lap spent at full throttle.

“But, from a driver’s perspective it’s a spectacular circuit and the fans there also make it a truly special place.”

Button, Alonso’s McLaren teammate, finished ninth at Hungary and is hoping to continue the momentum he gained.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back into the car and seeing where we stand among our nearest competitors,” Button said. “We can’t pretend that we’re expecting a huge jump forward in performance – especially at this circuit, as it doesn’t suit our car’s characteristics.

“But after the break, I’m feeling refreshed, positive, and ready to continue the solid progress we’ve made so far.

“What a place to resume the second half of the season! It’s such a great place to come to after the break. Spa is a circuit I’ve always loved (he won there in 2012) right from the start of my racing career, and every lap around this incredibly special circuit is still hugely exciting and puts a massive grin on my face. It’s genuinely a circuit like no other.”

As for Toro Rosso’s Sainz, he failed to finish at Hungary and is looking for a bounce back at Spa.

“After Hungary, we are one step closer to our target of finishing fifth in the championship. We are all working flat-out together and this is a very good sign! We will need a kind of race like the one we had in Hungary to be able to be competitive in Spa.

“In the Renault World Series last year in Spa I won back-to-back races in a very solid way and it really consolidated my championship chances as well as my position within the Red Bull Junior Team. It will be emotional to go back there. The good memories will definitely give us a lot of energy and I will try and perform at the same level as I did there last year.”

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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.