St. Petersburg weekend, Friday notes

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Here’s more notes and nuggets from the ground at the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for Friday practice and qualifying (and one GTS race).

EVENT

Today marked the debut of additional safety enhancements taken at the race, with walk-thru magnetometers, wanding, enhanced vehicle inspection and increased Public Safety presence for the event.

Per a memo distributed to competitors, the event organizers note this is no different than any other major sporting event in the U.S.

Veteran security man Charles Burns, formerly INDYCAR’s head of security and most recently the head of safety for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, is on site this weekend.

The safety enhancements were part of the story but so too was a solid Friday crowd – even if it didn’t appear as such in the grandstands – on the grounds. Gorgeous weather and a packed day of track activity, which ran from just after 7:30 a.m. through to 5 p.m., helped bring the people to the track.

INDYCAR 

  • The Andretti Autosport quartet of drivers didn’t have a ton to note in their media availability, although Marco Andretti did say the characteristics of his No. 27 Snapple Honda are better on the street course this year. “The characteristics of the car, the behavior, it’s better this year. Is it a ton more grip? Not really. But I think it’s a little bit more straightforward package this year.” Rossi was in team kit, while the other three were in their firesuits.
  • By contrast, both of Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot were loquacious in their media availability (1,700-plus words on the transcript for the two RLL drivers; 1,500-plus for the four Andretti drivers). Rahal discussed Honda’s improvements, his own championship hopes, the pressure he feels to succeed and Pigot’s enhancement for the team. Rahal fought major understeer issues in the first session but the team made a big stab at it, and ended fourth both in the second session and combined for the day.
  • Honda’s media availability brought a number of nuggets, primarily related to when various updates will come in over the course of the year. HPD’s Art St. Cyr noted that the company is prepared to supply “at least” 17 cars for the Indianapolis 500, same as what his colleague Steve Eriksen told me at Daytona, and is prepared to do more if the right opportunity presents itself.
  • Very good to see both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth end fifth and eighth. On the first day with the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s engineering strength adjusted and bolstered, with Raul Prados on Sato’s car and Dan Hobbs on Hawksworth’s, the Foyt team was a welcome surprise with two cars in the top 10.
  • Dixon aside, it wasn’t the best of Fridays for St. Petersburg at what has not been Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ best track. Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were 15th, 18th, and 19th.
  • In a typically tight field, just 0.9167 of a second covered first to 20th.

MRTI

  • Two intense Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires sessions occurred, with Belardi Auto Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist leading both sessions. That being said, very little covered the 16-car field. Results are linked here.
  • Watch for fuel to be an issue this weekend; Carlin’s Neil Alberico was apparently suffering from fuel pickup problems and had a fraught day at the office.
  • There was also a practice sweep in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks, with Team Pelfrey’s Aaron Telitz on top in both sessions.
  • Jordan Lloyd of Pabst Racing snatched the pole for the opening round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the final lap, ahead of Parker Thompson in a repaired Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car and Pabst teammates Yufeng Luo and Garth Rickards.

PWC

  • Big day for EFFORT Racing. First, courtesy of a bang-up, incredible repair job from the team with assistance from Porsche and Alex Job Racing – based in nearby, Taveres, Fla. – the team’s No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 R arrived back in the paddock earlier than anticipated.
  • It was the second bit of good news on the day for EFFORT, as Californian Michael Lewis scored his first career pole in the No. 41 Porsche. Here’s your starting grid, with Long set to start at the back after his car came back.
  • Jack Roush Jr. also scored a career first today, the series veteran capturing his first win in the series in PWC GTS class in his No. 60 Ford Mustang Boss 302. Said Roush Jr. afterwards, after beating Brett Sandberg and Nate Stacy, “Street courses are treacherous. I have the advantage of being not that smart.”

SOCIAL

IndyCar brought back visor cam. It is awesome. Here is Ryan Hunter-Reay at speed in his No. 28 DHL Honda:

Decals are being handed out this weekend to honor the wife and life of HPD PR ace and veteran T.E. McHale. Such an example is modeled by James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Autographs from Mazda Road to Indy stars of the future, here today.

More to come tomorrow.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”