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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Thursday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Pick your weather term de jour – rainy, cloudy, muggy or overcast – and you have Thursday from edition 4.0 of the United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas in a nutshell.

There haven’t been a ton of updates to note, but still enough to keep things interesting.

Here’s a roundup of news, features and other items from the paddock at COTA today (and some from Wednesday rolled into this post):

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

WEDNESDAY PRE-RACE ITEMS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

How wet will it get?

Preparations are in full force for rain this weekend, as evidenced by the frantic, furious and frequent mounting of Pirelli intermediates and full wet weather tires up and down the paddock. The question on most minds isn’t necessarily will it rain, but how much, for how long, and more.

I guess it’s fitting I’m here for this one – having been to two prior Circuit of The Americas events this year, the Pirelli World Challenge event back in March when it was absolutely freezing (ambient temperatures hovering in the 30s, Fahrenheit, then with rain on the Sunday) and then last month for the Lone Star Le Mans joint FIA World Endurance Championship/IMSA weekend (a scorcher with temps in the 90s), that the trilogy of less than ideal weather acts rolls on with a likely swampy deluge set to occur here this weekend.

There’s a long running joke about me and rainy weather, and combined with USA Today Sports’ Brant James, I think the two of us have locked down the title of “rain-meisters” in the media centre.

Hamilton enters with poise, confidence, swagger

Five of the six drivers in the FIA Press Conference held earlier today appeared in normal kit, with the lone exception perhaps Daniel Ricciardo of Infiniti Red Bull Racing in his “Wolverine 2.0” get up of intense side burns and a goatee. Then champion-elect Lewis Hamilton walked in, sunglasses on, gold chain present atop his black Mercedes AMG Petronas T-shirt, and it was though you needed an American wrestling type announcer or something to say “The champ is here!” upon entry.

A reporter asked a question you don’t ordinarily hear in these type press conferences – asking how to create more enthusiasm in urban black America for F1 – and Hamilton responded, “Don’t look at me, ask the others first… I’d love to see what others think!” When it did get around to Hamilton, he said it’s difficult for people to get attached, but he hopes one day F1 can engage with some of the stick-and-ball sports that are so popular in this country.

Frankly, F1 could do worse with an “F1 in America” ambassador; as my colleague Luke Smith touched on earlier today, this is Lewis’ de facto second “home grand prix” as it is, and he embraces it. NBC’s Leigh Diffey had an interview with Hamilton earlier today that will be part of our broadcast this weekend (TV times linked here). The early mood this weekend is already one of “this is Hammer Time,” as Hamilton stands on the precipice of clinching his third World Championship.

Rossi ready for racing

The build-up is obvious for American Alexander Rossi ahead of his home Grand Prix. But I have to imagine for as great as he’s been in all his pre-race media commitments, Rossi is keen to get behind the wheel and actually drive his Manor Marussia Ferrari in Friday’s sessions.

I asked him during today’s FIA Press Conference whether having done FP1 here two years ago, then in a Caterham, would be of any help to him. He said it was good to have the track experience, but the car difference night and day will make for an entirely different session.

“It gives you a baseline but at the same time the cars in ’13 were clearly very different to what they are now,” Rossi said. “I don’t know how much is applicable to be honest. I think it’s more of a bonus, the fact that I’ve actually driven the track, more than anything else.”

Fan events kick off tonight

Come rain or shine, tonight marks the true and proper kick off to the fan events taking place this weekend in Austin. I’ll be at Buxton’s Big Time Bash later this evening (details here), with a full report to come later in the weekend. Additional link outs to other fan events are featured in this post.

That’ll be it for today, with more to come on Friday and throughout the weekend on MotorSportsTalk. We appreciate your reading and support.

Rinus VeeKay to drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020

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Ed Carpenter Racing has signed 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay to drive the full 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, the team announced Wednesday.

VeeKay will drive the No. 21 Chevrolet previously occupied by Spencer Pigot.

“I’m so happy!” the 19-year-old driver from the Netherlands said in a press release. “It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years. To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special.”

In his maiden Indy Lights season this year, VeeKay collected six race victories and seven pole potions. VeeKay previously won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 championship, and finished second in the 2017 USF2000 standings.

VeeKay’s success in the ladder series caught the attention of Carpenter, who gave VeeKay the opportunity to first test for the team at Portland International Raceway in August.

“I have been following Rinus’s path through the Road to Indy, especially the past two years,” Carpenter said. “It was clear to me that he deserves to be in an Indy car. After his first day in a car at Portland this past season, that feeling became even more apparent. His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver.”

As a driver, Carpenter will be VeeKay’s teammate during the five oval races in 2020, once again returning to the team’s No. 20 entry. An announcement on which driver will pilot the No. 20 on the road and street circuits will be made at a later time.

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