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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Friday at the United States Grand Prix, edition 2015, is in the books.  Unfortunately the fans who were dedicated and hearty enough to come out to the track only got one session’s worth of running, with some decent action in free practice one occurring before a deluge occurred to wash out free practice two.

As such, it’s hard to glean too much from today’s times this morning, but it is important to note how long some of the runs were on Pirelli’s intermediate tire.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was what was unexpected, when Lotus F1 Team CEO Matthew Carter said during the FIA Friday Press Conference that the team’s second driver would be named within the hour. Soon enough, there was confirmation of Jolyon Palmer alongside Pastor Maldonado for 2016.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Eeny, meeny, miny, Renault?

Just as the old children’s song had four possible choices, so too does Red Bull in regards to its 2016 engine situation. Excuse the creative liberty as I opted to swap “Renault” in for “moe” – it rhymes and it also seems to be the most realistic option as it stands. Except if it isn’t.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made the media rounds today, first telling Sky Sports tongue-in-cheek that there was a 25 percent chance of choosing Honda next year. Then he spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton during the rain-canceled FP2, saying, “Of course there’s a lot of speculation. This week it’s Honda. It was Ferrari last week. Renault before that. There’s a lot of conversation in the background.”

Finally in the FIA Friday Press Conference, Horner reiterated his goal is to keep Red Bull not just afloat but competitive in the future – that is his clear objective – but whether that is with or without the blessing of his ultimate boss, Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, still remains to be seen.

The saga that seems to have no end date in sight needs a resolution soon, as several in the room noted the urgency of getting something sorted sooner rather than later.

Another engine option for 2017? 

Late word came in Friday night, via Auto Motor und Sport and Motorsport.com, that the FIA may push a concept of a low-budget power unit, rumored to be a 2.2L twin-turbo V6 engine – the same engines you see in IndyCar – for 2017. Watch this space to see if or how it develops.

Palmer’s graduation after grad school

Lotus reserve and third driver Jolyon Palmer has made it to Formula 1 after winning the GP2 Series championship after all – just a year late. The Englishman was confirmed late Friday afternoon to join the team for 2016, replacing Haas-bound Romain Grosjean.

Palmer’s appointment isn’t necessarily a surprise – he’s driven or been scheduled to drive in 11 free practice sessions this season – but the timing is. Earlier this month, Pastor Maldonado said he had no preference over a a teammate, but just in the last week or so, said he’d prefer a teammate with experience. Now, he doesn’t have one, as Palmer will find his footing in his maiden Grand Prix season.

Interestingly, poor Palmer has had a rough go of things in his most recent practice sessions. After banking a wealth of laps in seven of his first eight outings, he’s only had nine total laps in his last three, in the Russian Grand Prix FP1 session that barely had any running. At both Suzuka and now today in Austin, Palmer’s been nominated to drive but hasn’t completed any laps.

Rain reigns, part one, with Saturday timetable TBD

The expectation was that FP1 wouldn’t see much running, but it did. Meanwhile FP2 was entirely washed out, with torrential rain then sweeping through the paddock only about five minutes after 2 p.m. CT and local time, when the session was scheduled to start. It marks yet another Friday where there hasn’t been proper running in at least one of the two sessions for the field.

The question, of course is how whatever rain is leftover and hits central Texas stemming from Hurricane Patricia – the Category 5 hurricane which is well on its way to Mexico – will affect the timetable for Saturday’s running. It may be a case where Saturday becomes a complete washout.

The thoughts, prayers and concerns are with those neighbors to the south first, given what by all accounts is shaping up to be a monster of a storm.

“How you doin’?”

On a much lighter note, I don’t know if he got TV time today, but I managed to spot Matt LeBlanc at the Lotus F1 Team garage just before FP2. The former Friends and current Episodes star has been to each of the three previous USGPs at Austin, and kept his streak alive by showing up today – we can only assume he took shelter shortly after this shot.

Lotus paid tribute to LeBlanc’s appearance with an excellent play-on-words of Friends episode titles. Each Friends episode begins with the words, “The one where…,” and so Lotus rather astutely called its social media recap of free practice two, “The one where we didn’t actually have FP2…”. Top job, lads.

***

Join us tomorrow for all of the action from Austin on NBC Sports Live Extra (FP3 at 11 a.m. ET), with NBCSN coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. FP3 will be shown, and will lead straight into LIVE qualifying, projected to start at 2 p.m. ET. For more information on the broadcasting options for the United States GP, click here.

More tomorrow from what is bound to be another abnormal day at the office.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race IndyCar stars in iRacing at Michigan

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).