Hulkenberg seeks to fight through weather issues in prepping for USGP

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AUSTIN, Texas – Wet weather is bound to dominate Friday’s two free practice sessions and Saturday’s FP3 and qualifying ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, NBC).

So while the rain is due to pose a threat, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg is at least hoping the team gets enough running in to prep for qualifying, while avoiding going too far on wet weather setup to compromise the team’s race on Sunday.

“Running in the wet is always fun. I personally like driving in the wet. You have to take it as it comes,” Hulkenberg told assembled reporters Thursday at Circuit of The Americas.

“It will have an impact if you don’t get much dry running. I think we’ve had this previously as well. You have to manage it, and it mixes things up.”

The Russian Grand Prix two weeks ago stood out for its lack of running on Friday, due to a slippery track surface, a session delay due to a diesel spill, and some other rain.

There’s 180 minutes worth of running on a Friday, between the two 90-minute free practice sessions. Sometimes the sessions aren’t that heavy on running.

But Hulkenberg said he prefers it where you’re not fighting for track time and struggling to get clear laps.

“I think I like it,” he said. “Coming up to Formula 1, in junior series, you have 30-minute cracks in GP2 and GP3.

“It’s cold water and you have to learn to swim, more or less. That puts more emphasis on the driver. You don’t have much time to work on your game.”

Hulkenberg also said that while he was happy for Sergio Perez to pick up a podium last time out in Sochi, he said had his first lap coming together with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, the race could have played out entirely different.

“Yeah (it’s bittersweet), but although my accident not happened and no safety car it could have been a completely different race,” he said. “Very positive for the team though to get a podium ahead of Mexico. Four races to the end of the season and I’m looking for a successful weekend.”

Hulkenberg also addressed the Baku/Le Mans date clash set for 2016, which will all but certainly rule out one of the three overall 24 Hours of Le Mans race winners from a chance to repeat.

He said interest between he and Porsche Team continues and they hope to continue together in the future.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500