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Esteban Gutierrez to make IndyCar debut with Coyne in Detroit

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Mexican driver, and another ex-Formula 1 driver in Esteban Gutierrez, will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend as the next in the line of drivers aboard Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix dual races.

Gutierrez will race at Detroit for Coyne as the first Mexican driver to race the series since Michel Jourdain Jr. at the Indianapolis 500 in 2012. Gutierrez told NBC Sports’ Luke Smith at the Monaco ePrix “IndyCar is more attractive” for jumping into at some point.

The series hasn’t had a Mexican driver run full-time since 2008, when Mario Dominguez raced with Pacific Coast Motorsports. In CART and Champ Car’s peak, six Mexicans – Jourdain, Dominguez, Adrian Fernandez, Rodolfo Lavin, Roberto Gonzalez and Luis Diaz – raced at Mexico City in 2003.

“I’m very grateful to join Dale Coyne Racing, a highly competitive team,” said Gutierrez. “When Dale Coyne called me, I had no doubt that this would be a great opportunity for me to get experience in the Verizon IndyCar Series. My target is to learn as quickly as possible. IndyCar is a very challenging series for drivers, but I feel ready to take this chance.

“I’m excited about my debut races at the Detroit Grand Prix and I cannot wait to start working with the team, engineers and Honda, as well as driving a Dallara car again. I have very good memories of my successful GP3 and GP2 Series seasons with the Dallara cars and I worked very well with them at Haas F1 Team. I will do my best for Dale Coyne Racing, Honda and all the Mexican fans.”

Gutierrez steps into the car which had been driven by Sebastien Bourdais through qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, before Bourdais was injured with multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip. The Frenchman, though, is well on his way to recovery and rather quickly judging by his social media posts, and even visited IMS on Sunday morning to check back in with the Coyne crew and the media.

While James Davison filled in at Indianapolis and acquitted himself well to drive from 33rd on the grid up to the lead for two laps, he was part of a five-car accident in the race’s final 20 laps that left him in an unrepresentative 20th place at the checkered flag.

Gutierrez will be an interesting case study to watch as an ex-F1 driver making his IndyCar debut. He won’t have had a test day and will be jumping in at the deep end of the 22-car field, and will be matched up against rookie Ed Jones, who it could be argued would have been a worthy rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500.

But at 25, he’s incredibly experienced both in open-wheel and on street courses. He did three full seasons in Formula 1 with Sauber and Haas, and won the GP3 Series title in his first attempt in 2010 – a year that featured future IndyCar drivers Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Mikhail Aleshin, James Jakes and Stefano Coletti and other notables such as Robert Wickens, Daniel Morad, Rio Haryanto, Jean-Eric Vergne, Renger van der Zande, Antonio Felix da Costa and Michael Christensen. He also has finished third in GP2 and has been competing in Formula E this season, having started at Mexico City with the Techeetah team, where incidentally he’s now Vergne’s teammate.

All three remaining Formula E doubleheader weekends run on IndyCar weekends. FE is in Berlin next weekend while IndyCar is at Texas. In July, FE’s North American swing hits New York City (July 15-16) and Montreal (July 29-30) while IndyCar runs at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, respectively.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.