Turn 1 mess. Photo: IndyCar

Quartet of IndyCar rookies banked top-10s at Watkins Glen

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The man at the top of the results chart for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi was a familiar figure who’s won 40 races and is arguably the driver of his generation, in Scott Dixon, who’s only 36 yet still seems to have an incredible future ahead of him even after 16 full-time years in the championship.

Several of the other slightly younger drivers in the top 10 though might be the drivers of IndyCar’s future.

In second, 25-year-old Josef Newgarden banked his first runner-up finish of the season and fourth overall podium in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.

And then there was the quartet of first-year IndyCar drivers who made it four rookies in the top-10, on a day when fuel saving and smart, mature beyond their years driving paid dividends.

Conor Daly, 24, brought the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda home in fourth, just missing the podium after needing to save fuel through to the finish. He started 17th. Engineer Michael Cannon breathed a heavy sigh of relief afterwards on pit road as both driver and team were amazed at how they pulled it off.

In eighth after starting 15th was Alexander Rossi, also 24, in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, thus securing a season-best result on a road or street course for him this season. Knowing Rossi though, that’s a stat he would not want to repeat in 2017, wherever he suits up.

Ninth, meanwhile, over the moon after his first top-10 finish in only his second IndyCar start was RC Enerson, the 19-year-old in Dale Coyne Racing’s second car, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. He’d started 11th and if anything, was unlucky to end ninth – his start was simply phenomenal as he was up to sixth place by the end of the opening lap.

Completing the top-10 was 25-year-old Max Chilton in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who like Enerson could could have counted himself unlucky to have not finished higher after rolling off from sixth and his first career Firestone Fast Six. The Englishman, who wore a James Hunt tribute helmet, got hit at the first corner which compromised his steering, but he held on for the rest of the race. He ran as high as second but slipped back late owing to a final splash of fuel.

Daly, Rossi and Chilton are the three full-season Sunoco Rookie of the Year entrants and this marked the first time all three of them have been in the top-10 in the same race.

Said Daly afterwards, “I really just can’t believe that we ended up fourth! It was a back and forth race with all kinds of stuff going on. But our car was fast, we knew it all weekend. We just had horrible luck. At the end they said we were making the right fuel number and I was making up positions and then I was told we could go a little bit quicker, so one lap we used a bit more fuel and then they came on the radio and said ‘code red’. If we would’ve saved a little bit more on that one lap we maybe could have held off Helio. I had no idea where we were, third or fourth or fifth, but at the end of the day, I’ll take fourth!”

Rossi said of his day, “I think it was a decent race. We had to save a lot of fuel there at the end, so I think a potential top five slipped through our hands because of that. But generally I think with a disappointing qualifying, that is the best that we could come up with. We’ll have to take this result and move on to Sonoma.”

Lastly, Chilton said of his, “It was a day that could have been fantastic but ended up slightly disappointing after running P2. I got damage on lap 1 turn 1 with the steering and then for the rest of the race my pace was pretty decent considering I was held back by the issue.”

With this result, Rossi is 11th in points (370) and leads Daly (295, 16th) by 75 points heading to the double points season finale for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award. That’s a perhaps misleading stat because Rossi gained 104 points more than Daly at the Indianapolis 500 with his win while Daly ended 29th in the other double points race; excluding that, Daly’s outscored his countryman this season. Chilton sits 19th with 239 points and cannot win the award.

Then we get to the two drivers who have been on partial campaigns but are impressing at times – Enerson and Spencer Pigot.

Enerson was amazed at where he ended up in the first corner after starting 11th.

“I knew everyone would barrel down in there,” he told NBC Sports post-race. “I tried to break a little bit early to get the run out. But then I shot a gap, and I was out in sixth, and then I was like, ‘There’s only five cars in front of me!'”

He fell back after the timing of the first yellow but recovered the rest of the way on strategy owing to the fuel saving. By finishing ninth with Daly’s fourth, it marked the first double Coyne top-10 finish in a race since Houston race one, June 2014… a race won by Carlos Huertas with the late Justin Wilson in 10th.

Pigot, who was in the newly reliveried Samsung colors of his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, ended 15th after starting 21st. He was on the wrong side of fuel saving, though, and fell back towards the end as a result.

“We were looking good to get a top-10 finish but after we had to start saving fuel we fell back,” said the 2015 Indy Lights and 2014 Pro Mazda champion. “It was a bit of a shame we had to start saving so much. We couldn’t keep the pace up and save fuel, so we fell back to 15th.

“But It was a lot of fun, I had some great battles out there. The car was really good and the guys gave me excellent pit stops. It was great to have Samsung come on board this weekend and also thanks to Fuzzy’s Vodka, Rising Star Racing, Mockett and everyone else that makes this happen.”

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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