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Kyle Novak eager to begin new season as IndyCar race director

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It may have come as a surprise to some that Kyle Novak was hired as race director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, replacing the outgoing Brian Barnhart, now the president of Harding Racing.

A fixture in the IMSA paddock with a history as race director for several series under IMSA sanction — such as the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA — Novak’s name may have been unfamiliar to those who follow IndyCar.

However, as INDYCAR president of competition and operations Jay Frye explained, the series couldn’t help but circle back to him as they sought a replacement for Barnhart.

“We looked far and wide and did a lot of research, did a lot of different things, and Kyle’s name just continued to come up, so at some point we figured his name has come up enough, so this must be a really good kid,” Frye quipped during a press conference at last weekend’s open test at ISM Raceway.

Though his most recent experience was found with sports cars in IMSA, Novak is very familiar with open wheel racing through previous exploits with CART and the Champ Car World Series.

“My first thrust really into the professional racing side was street course construction, street course design and construction during the Champ Car days,” Novak said of his time working with CART and Champ Car. “So I had the opportunity to build the Cleveland event, Houston, Denver, and consulted on several more design aspects for many more.

“And that’s really what gave me the first knowledge of the operational aspects of what it takes to put race control together, and really the nuts and bolts of what it takes to put these courses together and get them up and running and up and running efficiently, especially.”

Novak also noted that his time with IMSA has in no way negated any open wheel knowledge he accrued. In fact, he emphasized that the two disciplines are more similar than they are different and that the role of race director involves constant communication, no matter the discipline.

“The one thing about running a race, running every session, is the core people and the core roles and the core responsibilities are largely the same,” Novak explained. “I think one of the common misconceptions about being a race director is you’re up there by yourself with one radio, kind of running, pointing and being a dictator up there.

“It’s really just as much about almost a mission control type scenario where you’re managing the room, managing the information flow, just as much as you’re managing the particular sporting aspects of the series.”

He did acknowledge, though, that directing oval races will be a different animal, and that he’ll lean on the team around him to help adjust.

“The ovals will certainly be new to me,” Novak admitted. “I’ve never called a race on an oval before. But we have such a great support and great operational structure here at INDYCAR, and just hundreds of years and thousands of races of experience that will really help me through that transition.”

That core group, which includes Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis, was also instrumental in bringing Novak on board, as Frye detailed.

“There’s a really great group of people in race control that are around a long time, and when this all happened, they were the first people that I called, asking them the best race directors you’ve ever worked with,” Frye added. “They’ve worked with all kinds of different series. Who’s the best ones ever, not just current ones; just give me a list. So we come up with this list. And again, Kyle’s name was on everybody’s list.”

The overall look and process is expected to remain the same under Novak – he’ll be in charge of the event while the panel of race stewards will be in charge of reviewing incidents on track and recommending any penalties – though they will remain open to new ideas and technology that can help officiate events cleanly.

“The bottom line is we officiate just like any other sport. We’re no different,” Novak asserted. “We officiate with the resources we have and what we can see, and we’re always looking at ways to improve that, but I’m pretty sure we have as much covered as we really can at this time.”

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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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