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F2 Open Wheel

Leclerc Soars to F2 Pole

Monegasque takes first top spot

Charles Leclerc grabbed the first pole position of the FIA Formula 2 Championship by running opposite to his rivals with a bold strategy, coming out early on his second set of tyres to steal a march on the field and claim the top spot this evening ahead of PREMA Racing teammate Antonio Fuoco and Nyck De Vries.

The Monegasque driver was already on provisional pole on his first set, but by just 0.067s: he rolled the dice by returning early to the circuit, running alone to set a time of 1:38.907, putting a huge chunk of time into his rivals and setting a target that was not to be challenged.

With the night dropping the temperature from this morning’s free practice of 45˚C to a more manageable 29˚ the field was released in a torrent as the lights went green, albeit with De Vries slightly delayed after stopping in the fast lane of the pits before eventually restarting. Oliver Rowland was the first man on track and the first to set a competitive time 6 minutes in, with Leclerc stealing the spot from him on the same lap, followed by Norman Nato and Artem Markelov.

At the 10 minute mark Fuoco joined his teammate on the provisional front row, missing the top spot by less than a tenth, with the whole field returning to the pits at the end of that lap. It looked as though we were set to wait for more action on track as no one appeared to be ready to go out, but Leclerc was rolling down the pitlane within two minutes to take advantage of an empty track as his rivals sat impassively and watched him.

The Ferrari Driver Academy alumni calmly circulated, getting his tyres ready for his one shot: when he was released the timesheets showed Leclerc to be purple in all 3 sectors before returning to the pits as the rest of the field scrambled out to try and cut into the lead, now stretched to almost seven tenths. As the clock rolled down the others could do nothing about his time, although De Vries made the best attempt at it by pushing Nato out of the top three with 3 minutes remaining: when Nabil Jeffri and Gustav Malja came together and the VSC came out the session was over, with Leclerc untouchable on top.

Behind Nato was Luca Ghiotto, a late improver to P5 ahead of Nobuharu Matsushita, Markelov, Rowland, Alexander Alban and Sergio Sette Camara filling the top ten, all of whom will be looking for improvements overnight if they want to challenge Leclerc in tomorrow afternoon’s feature race.

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News Open Wheel

Hinchcliffe Completes Comeback with Long Beach Victory

LONG BEACH, California (Sunday, April 9, 2017) – James Hinchcliffe is all the way back now.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, seriously injured in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash nearly two years ago, recorded his first Verizon IndyCar Series win since the incident by taking the checkered flag at the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Driving the No. 5 Arrow Honda, Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line 1.4940 seconds ahead of Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, the winner of last month’s season opener.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Box score

Hinchcliffe’s last win came at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015, a month before the crash caused when a suspension piece on the car broke at 220-plus mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Hinchcliffe returned to racing last season and captured the Indianapolis 500 pole position, but had yet to win another race until today.

“To finally do what was goal No. 1 when we set out at the start of the season, to get back into winner’s circle, to do so as early in the season as we have, as convincingly as we did, was great,” said Hinchcliffe, who recorded the fifth victory of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.

The Canadian and “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23 runner-up took the lead for good on the 63rd of 85 laps around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit that hosted Indy cars for the 34th consecutive year. A full-course caution on the same lap to tow in the disabled car of Alexander Rossi helped Hinchcliffe save enough Sunoco E85R fuel to make it to the end and he held off Bourdais in a three-lap dash to the finish following another yellow when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been running second, stopped on course with an electrical issue.

“After Indy and personally me for Toronto, this is the biggest one to win,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve had a lot of luck here. We’ve been really quick here in the past and to finally get to victory lane here is more than I can put into words.

“This place has a lot of history, that’s what drivers really care about. The greatest of the greats have won here. Toronto, Indy and this place were on my bucket list to win before I die, and it’s nice to check one off.”

Bourdais, driving the No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda, recovered from rear wing damage sustained from debris when the cars of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball made contact on Lap 1. Coupled with his win March 12 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it gave Bourdais a 19-point lead over Hinchcliffe in the championship after two of 17 races.

“The fuel saving we could achieve today with the performance we had on the Honda was amazing,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who won three straight Long Beach races from 2005-07. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one sort of came to us today.”

Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, earning his best Long Beach result and first top-three finish since joining Team Penske this season.

“It’s always good to get the first podium out of the way for the Captain,” Newgarden said of team owner Roger Penske. “It was a pleasure to drive this weekend. Verizon gives us great tools at Team Penske. It’s nice to get this one out of the way. Hopefully now we can hunt down some wins.”

Last year’s Long Beach winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, charged from last on the 21-car starting grid to finish fifth. Bourdais’ teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Jones, placed sixth to notch his second straight top-10 finish to start his rookie season.

Last-lap contact between Mikhail Aleshin and JR Hildebrand sent Hildebrand’s No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet into the Turn 1 tire barrier. According to INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver sustained a broken bone in his left hand, was not cleared to drive and will be re-evaluated later this week. Aleshin was penalized by INDYCAR for blocking and moved back one position in the final results to 12th place.

“I was making a move on Mikhail Aleshin and I could tell he was struggling,” Hildebrand said. “I was out of push-to-pass so I was trying to make a proper, full-out pass down the front straightaway. He had been starting to move over, not a major blocking maneuver but enough to assert his line. He hit the brake a lot earlier than I was expecting and I ended up running into the back of him.

“In doing so, it ripped the steering wheel from my hand and I ended up tweaking (the hand). … Hopefully I can get back to it here before the next race.”

The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course in Birmingham, Alabama. The April 23 race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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News Open Wheel

Race – Hamilton Wins in China to Draw Level with Vettel

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel share the world championship points lead after a tense battle in Sunday’s 2017 Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix. It left both smiling broadly as they finished first and second, 6.2s apart, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third having fought his way up from 16th on the grid.

Hamilton’s 54th F1 triumph came as he led from pole position from start to finish – the third grand slam of his career – but it was no walkover.

The race began on a damp but rapidly drying track, with everyone bar Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz on intermediate tyres. Sainz quickly rued that gamble, spinning off on Lap 1 and then needlessly brushing the wall as he made his way back onto the circuit.

It quickly became clear though that slicks were in fact the right choice and others, including Vettel, pitted for dry rubber under a virtual safety car on the second lap, triggered when Force India’s Sergio Perez had collided with Williams’ Lance Stroll on the first, leaving the Canadian rookie beached in the gravel.

Leaders Hamilton, team mate Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen – already up to fifth – stayed out until the fourth lap, when a real safety car deployment came as Antonio Giovinazzi crashed his Sauber exiting the final corner, the Italian appearing to aquaplane off into the pit wall.

That enabled all five to keep their positions as they pitted, leaving Vettel to drop from an initial second to sixth, and set up the thriller.

Initially it was Verstappen who proved to be Hamilton’s main challenger. He and Ricciardo had gone for the supersoft Pirellis, as all the others went for softs in the hope of going all the way. But gradually, the Dutchman fell back, and after Vettel had finally passed team mate Raikkonen on the 20th lap, then Ricciardo in a bold and forceful move in Turn 6 on the 22nd, he closed in on the remaining Red Bull and overtook it when Verstappen had a big lock-up in the Turn 14 hairpin on the 28th.

From that half-distance point, Hamilton and Vettel were in a world of their own as they traded times and the gap between them ebbed and flowed. Both elected to take fresh soft tyres, Vettel before Hamilton this time.

Both thought the other had great pace and clearly loved their battle, but perhaps Vettel summarised things best when he suggested that, this year, whoever wins deserves it.

They have 43 points apiece in the drivers’ table as Mercedes eased ahead of Ferrari by one in the constructors’, and the prospects of a super-close title fight look very strong.

Verstappen, like Ricciardo, had to stop for more supersofts, but just kept ahead for the final podium slot after a superb drive from the back of the grid which earned him the Driver of the Day vote from fans. Raikkonen just held on to fifth as Bottas fought back after spinning from fifth place to 12th on the seventh lap whilst weaving in an attempt to keep temperatures up under the safety car.

Sainz made up for his first-lap off with an outstanding run to seventh as he made Toro Rosso the ‘best of the rest’, while Kevin Magnussen took a strong eighth for Haas after beating the Force Indias of Perez and Esteban Ocon. Team mate Romain Grosjean fought up from his penalised grid position for 11th as Nico Hulkenberg had an unhappy afternoon for Renault which included a five-second time penalty for overtaking under the virtual safety car, and a 10s penalty for doing likewise under the real one. Team mate Jolyon Palmer finished two seconds behind him.

It was a horrible afternoon for Williams, too, as they lost Stroll from 10th place on that first lap, and saw Felipe Massa slump from seventh then to 14th at the end.

Marcus Ericsson competed the finishers in 15th for Sauber, as Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat joined the retirements with a mechanical problem, and the McLarens of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso succumbed to technical issues. Alonso in particular had been mighty, running as high as sixth on the seventh lap, and in contention for points throughout.

The F1 paddock now moves rapidly onward to the 2017 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in just a week’s time.

RACE RESULTS

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME POINTS
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:37:36.158 25
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI +6.250s 18
3 MAX VERSTAPPEN RED BULL RACING +45.192s 15
4 DANIEL RICCIARDO RED BULL RACING +46.035s 12
5 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI +48.076s 10
6 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES +48.808s 8
7 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO +72.893s 6
8 KEVIN MAGNUSSEN HAAS +1 lap 4
9 SERGIO PEREZ FORCE INDIA +1 lap 2
10 ESTEBAN OCON FORCE INDIA +1 lap 1
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News Open Wheel

Castroneves Speeds to Track Record, 3rd Straight Long Beach Pole

LONG BEACH, California – On Sunday, Helio Castroneves will make his 12th start at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. For the third year in a row, the Brazilian will start from the pole position.

Castroneves’ track-record-breaking effort in the Firestone Fast Six today clocked him a lap of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph) and earned the Verizon P1 Award in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet for Team Penske. In his 20th Indy car season, Castroneves will lead Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field to the green flag.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Unofficial qualifying results

Five different teams were represented in the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three knockout qualifying rounds on the 1.968-mile temporary street course. Rounding out the top six starters were: Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian and Graham Rahal in the No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

After coming just two ten-thousandths of a second shy of leading Saturday morning’s practice, Hunter-Reay led Segment 1, Group 1 with a fast lap of 1:07.0176. Hunter-Reay was one of five Americans to transfer to Segment 2, followed by the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet of Josef Newgarden, Rossi, Rahal, Hinchliffe and Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda).

Group 2 featured significant drama when defending race winner Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) broke the track record with a fast lap of 1:06.5026, but was penalized for qualifying interference on Castroneves in Turn 11. The penalty cost Pagenaud his two fastest laps and removed him from the remainder of qualifying. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion will start from last in the 21-car field Sunday.

Eleven of the 12 drivers in Segment 2 broke Castroneves’ track record of 1:06.6294 set in 2015, and all 11 were separated by less than four-tenths of a second. Dixon led all with a fast lap of 1:06.2285.

Not one to enjoy being beaten, Castroneves went out in the Firestone Fast Six and broke Dixon’s lap record with a lap of 1:06.2254, scoring his first Verizon P1 Award of 2017 and the 48th pole of his career. It moved the 41-year-old within one pole of tying Bobby Unser for third place on the all-time list.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday at noon ET for the final 30-minute practice. Coverage is available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Sunday’s 85-lap race – the second of 17 on the 2017 schedule – airs live at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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News Open Wheel

Qualifying – Hamilton edges Vettel for China pole

Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth successive pole position on Saturday, as he topped qualifying for the 2017 Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix. It was another close fight between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel splitting the Silver Arrows, only a tenth off Hamilton and just a thousandth of a second ahead of Valtteri Bottas in third. At the other end of the grid, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start from the back row.

Kimi Raikkonen took fourth in the sister Ferrari, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Nico Hulkenberg was an excellent seventh for Renault, with Force India’s Sergio Perez, Toro Rosso’ Daniil Kvyat and Williams rookie Lance Stroll completing the top ten.

Q2 accounted for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Q1 ended in dramatic fashion, with Sauber stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi spinning into the wall at the final turn just as the chequered flag fell. It cost those behind him, who had been pushing to make Q2, and though the Italian finished 15th, his heavily damaged car meant he took no further part in qualifying.

The big casualty of Q1, however, was Verstappen, the Dutchman limited to 19th after an engine software issue on his RB12. Also eliminated in the first phase were McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Haas’s Romain Grosjean, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

Grosjean was another to lose control in the last corner. Unlike Giovinazzi, the Frenchman kept it out of the wall (just) early in Q1, but ruined a set of tyres and picked up a puncture in the process.

QUALIFYING RESULTS

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:31.678
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:31.864
3 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES 1:31.865
4 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI 1:32.140
5 DANIEL RICCIARDO RED BULL RACING 1:33.033
6 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS 1:33.507
7 NICO HULKENBERG RENAULT 1:33.580
8 SERGIO PEREZ FORCE INDIA 1:33.706
9 DANIIL KVYAT TORO ROSSO 1:33.719
10 LANCE STROLL WILLIAMS 1:34.220
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News Open Wheel

Vettel Stuns Mercedes with Melbourne Win

Ferrari proved that their pre-season testing form was no fluke on Sunday, as Sebastian Vettel soundly beat Lewis Hamilton to win the 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s new Mercedes team mate, Valtteri Bottas, completed the Albert Park podium.

After shadowing polesitter Hamilton throughout the race’s opening stages, Vettel leapfrogged the silver car at the first round of stops. From there the German never looked back, taking the chequered flag seven seconds clear to clinch Ferrari’s first win since Singapore 2015, with team mate Kimi Raikkonen fourth.

Red Bull never looked like troubling the podium and Max Verstappen was a fighting fifth. Team mate Daniel Ricciardo’s miserable home weekend continued, however.

After a gearbox penalty had dropped him to 15th in the starting order, his RB12 then stopped en route to the grid, stuck in sixth gear. It was recovered to the garage and the Australian joined proceedings two laps down, only to retire for good at half distance with an engine failure.

Williams veteran Felipe Massa was a distant sixth, ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez and the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. Esteban Ocon completed the points on his Force India debut.

Nico Hulkenberg’s first Renault drive garnered 11th place, while Sauber stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi was 12th on his F1 debut. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne completed the cars to reach the finish.

Romain Grosjean had the dubious honour of becoming 2017’s first retirement, when he pitted his smoking Haas at the end of Lap 14, and Jolyon Palmer followed shortly after, conceding defeat to ongoing brake issues on his Renault.

Marcus Ericsson parked his Sauber on the grass on Lap 24, and Kevin Magnussen – with whom the Swede had clashed on the opening lap – did the same with his Haas at the very same spot 26 laps later.

A strong drive from Williams rookie Lance Stroll ended in retirement on Lap 44, while Fernando Alonso completed the DNF list, the Spaniard pulling his McLaren into the garage less than five laps from home.

RACE RESULTS

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME POINTS
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:24:11.672 25
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES +9.975s 18
3 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES +11.250s 15
4 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI +22.393s 12
5 MAX VERSTAPPEN RED BULL RACING +28.827s 10
6 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS +83.386s 8
7 SERGIO PEREZ FORCE INDIA +1 lap 6
8 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO +1 lap 4
9 DANIIL KVYAT TORO ROSSO +1 lap 2
10 ESTEBAN OCON FORCE INDIA +1 lap 1
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News Open Wheel

Qualifying – Hamilton on Pole as Ricciardo Crashes Out

There was huge disappointment for the Melbourne crowd on Saturday afternoon, as local hero Daniel Ricciardo ended his qualifying session for the 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix in the wall. Ahead of him, Mercedes and Ferrari juked it out for pole, with Lewis Hamilton edging Sebastian Vettel by a quarter of a second.

Vettel’s result means the Scuderia will start a race from the front row for the first time since Singapore 2015. On the second row will be the respective Mercedes and Ferrari of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.

With rain threatening, Ricciardo lost the rear of his Red Bull at Turn 14, skating across the gravel and planting the back of the car into the tyre barriers. That brought out the red flags with eight minutes of Q3 to go and the Australian ended up 10th on the grid.

Max Verstappen was thus left to uphold Red Bull’s honour, which he duly did in fifth ahead of Romain Grosjean, who was a superb sixth for Haas. Williams’ Felipe Massa took seventh, followed by the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.

Q1 had seen Hamilton fastest on 1m 24.191s from Raikkonen on 1m 24.352s and Verstappen on 1m 24.482s, all three on ultrasoft tyres, ahead of Bottas, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Force India’s Sergio Perez, with Williams’ Felipe Massa pipping supersoft-shod Vettel for seventh.

Running wide in the final corner cost rookie Antonio Giovinazzi his chance of Q2 for Sauber, as team mate Marcus Ericsson went ahead for P15. The Italian – standing in at late notice for Pascal Wehrlein – was thus the first Q1 faller with 1m 26.419s, ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who ruined his chances by running his Haas wide exiting Turn 12 and lapping in 1m 26.847s.

McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne lost crucial time with a fuel pressure issue and then tyre warm-up problems while following 12th fastest team mate Fernando Alonso, and was 18th on 1m 26.858s ahead of rookie Lance Stroll on 1m 27.143s for Williams. The Canadian is set to start last, however, as he will get a five grid-place penalty for a gearbox change after his FP3 accident.

Jolyon Palmer’s horrible weekend continued as he was only 20th for Renault, on 1m 28.244s.

Bottas went to the front in Q2 with 1m 23.215s from Hamilton on 1m 23.251s. Intriguingly, Raikkonen and Vettel were right there too, on 1m 23.376s and 1m 23.401s, but Ricciardo lagged with 1m 23.989s ahead of Verstappen, Massa, Grosjean, Kvyat and Sainz. Everyone used ultrasofts.

Perez was the first to lose out, for Force India, on 1m 25.081s ahead of Renault’s Hulkenberg on 1m 25.091s. Alonso was 13th for McLaren on 1m 25.425s despite loss of power, as Esteban Ocon took his Force India to 14th on 1m 25.568s ahead of Ericsson’s Sauber on 1m 26.465s.

There was thus huge expectation as Mercedes and Ferrari set off to slog it out for pole in Q3, with Red Bull waiting to see what pieces they might pick up. Just to spice things up, some felt a few drops of rain.

For a few minutes we had some grand driving that held the promise of the great season that lies ahead. Bottas set the pace with 1m 22.798s, only for Vettel to snatch away the advantage with 1m 22.796s, before Hamilton got it back for Mercedes with 1m 22.496s. Raikkonen was left a trifle breathless on 1m 23.435s, but things were worse for Ricciardo, as he spun his Red Bull out of contention. Ironically, by the time the session restarted the sun had come back out.

This time Bottas went back ahead, with 1m 22.481s, before Hamilton once again dramatically undercut him with 1m 21.188s for pole. But Ferrari were close, and Vettel’s 1m 22.456s put the red car alongside the silver arrow at the front. With Raikkonen improving, but only to a below-par 1m 23.033s, the two big teams shared the honours and set the stage for a great race.

Behind them, Verstappen lined his Red Bull up fifth on a disappointing 1m 23.485s, while the sensational Grosjean planted the Haas solidly in sixth place with 1m 24.074s.

Massa put Williams seventh with 1m 24.443s, ahead of the Toro Rossos of Sainz and Kvyat on 1m 24.487s and 1m 24.512s. The subdued Ricciardo was 10th, without a time.

Thus the provisional grid will line up: Hamilton, Vettel; Bottas, Raikkonen; Verstappen, Grosjean; Massa, Sainz; Kvyat, Ricciardo; Perez, Hulkenberg; Alonso, Ocon; Ericsson, Giovinazzi; Magnussen, Vandoorne; Palmer, Stroll.

QUALIFYING RESULTS

POS. DRIVER TEAM TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:22.188
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:22.456
3 VALTTERI BOTTAS MERCEDES 1:22.481
4 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI 1:23.033
5 MAX VERSTAPPEN RED BULL RACING 1:23.485
6 ROMAIN GROSJEAN HAAS 1:24.074
7 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS 1:24.443
8 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO 1:24.487
9 DANIIL KVYAT TORO ROSSO 1:24.512
10 DANIEL RICCIARDO RED BULL RACING DNF
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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Rookie Colton Herta Romps to Indy Lights Championship Lead

Second-Generation Racer Becomes Youngest Ever Indy Lights Race Winner

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Colton Herta impressed everyone yesterday on his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires debut by charging through from sixth to second. But that was nothing compared to this morning on the Streets of St. Petersburg. The 16-year-old from Valencia, Calif., started from the pole and displayed remarkable poise as he outpaced the field to win the Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires in convincing style for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing.

The son of 1993 Indy Lights champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 car owner Bryan Herta also put his name in the record books as the youngest ever winner in the 31-year history of Indy Lights dating back to 1985.

Last year’s championship runner-up, Santi Urrutia, from Uruguay, finished second for Belardi Auto Racing ahead of another impressive teenager, Mexico’s Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey).

After qualifying on pole position yesterday morning, Herta maintained his advantage at Turn One, only for the caution flags to wave almost immediately due to an incident in the midfield involving Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), winner of the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, and one of podium finishers from yesterday, Neil Alberico (Carlin). Both cars sustained substantial damage but neither driver was hurt.

The restart again proved no problem for Herta, who soon began to edge clear of fellow front row qualifier Urrutia. Behind, after restarting fifth, O’Ward made quick work of passing Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) before charging around the outside of Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) at Turn One and finally completing the pass in Turn Two after a brief clash of wheels. Next in O’Ward’s sights was Urrutia, who proved to be a tougher nut to crack. He tried a couple of times, only to be firmly rebuffed.

A couple of mid-race caution periods (due to single-car incidents involving Kellett and, later, Carlin’s Garth Rickards) negated what had been a comfortable advantage of almost three seconds for Herta, but the youngster again proved up to the challenge as he kept his cool – and his lead – before taking the checkered flag 1.7797 seconds clear of Urrutia.

O’Ward battled his way to third after relinquishing the position to Kaiser and then repassing him soon after the final restart. Kaiser had to settle for fourth ahead of yesterday’s winner, Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing), who battled his way from 10th on the grid to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

After the first two of 16 races which will determine the winner of a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee the Indy Lights series champion an opportunity to contest at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the Indianapolis 500, Herta (who also secured today’s Staubli Award) holds a 10-point advantage, 59-49, over Telitz. O’Ward, on 39 points, ensured three rookies atop the point standings following the opening weekend.

This weekend’s racing action will air March 18 on NBCSN. The next two Indy Lights races will take place at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala., on April 22-23.

Colton Herta (#98 Deltro Energy Mazda/Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing): “All the yellows we were looking for yesterday happened today. It was a good race and we came away with the win so we’re super happy. My first feeling was relief that the race was over, because that was a hectic one. I was always checking the mirrors on the restarts for Santi and learning how to do the best job on cold tires. It was a tough race, because Santi’s been in this position before – and he’s one of the toughest competitors I’ve come against in this situation. Coming away from this weekend with the championship lead puts me a little bit ahead of schedule.”

George Michael Steinbrenner IV, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Team President: “It was definitely a good start to the season, leaving the first two races in the points lead, but it’s a tough field this year. As you saw, Urrutia was really quick behind Colton, and Aaron was super-fast yesterday. We’re not booking the championship but it was a good start! Knowing Colton for so long and knowing how good he can be, it was great to see how quickly he got out there.”

Santi Urrutia (#5 Belardi Auto Racing): “It was a tough race but a good one. I was trying to get to Colton but I had Pato right behind me. He was my teammate in 2015 in Pro Mazda, so I knew he was going to try to pass me. I tried to get Colton on the restarts but his car was really quick and he defended really well. I didn’t really get a clear chance to get by. Everyone is so quick in the series – both races this weekend were won by rookies. It’s so competitive, so I am happy with second place today and the points toward the championship.”

Pato O’Ward (#3 Gap Guard/Topo Chico-Team Pelfrey): “The weekend went really well, in the end. I lost my quick time in the first qualifying session and started from the back, which was not what we were looking for. But my goal was to finish fifth in the first race and get on the podium for the second, and we accomplished that so I’m satisfied. I’m going to go home and work on putting something together for the next race at Barber!”

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About Indy Lights: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship valued at $1M toward the Verizon IndyCar Series. The series has a rich history as a development platform for many of today’s top drivers. For more information, visit indylights.com.

About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.

About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, together with its subsidiaries, is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative, great-performing tires that people depend on for all of life’s road trips, whether on city streets, off-road adventures or high-speed tracks. In fact, Cooper is proud to sponsor and race in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor of the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, together with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. In our second century in the tire business, Cooper looks toward a future where innovation will continue to drive our products and our products will continue to drive the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Martin Wins Again to Maintain his Unbeaten Record in Pro Mazda

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Talented Australian Anthony Martin continued from where he left off yesterday, scoring another flag-to-flag victory in this afternoon’s Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He now boasts a perfect two-for-two record in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Martin, 22, led throughout the 40-minute race to enjoy a weekend sweep for himself and the locally based Cape Motorsports team on the streets of St. Petersburg.

The remaining podium finishers also repeated from yesterday, with Victor Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, finishing second for Juncos Racing and California’s TJ Fischer taking third for Team Pelfrey after his Brazilian teammate Carlos Cunha experienced a mechanical failure.

Martin, last year’s champion in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, set a conservative pace in the early stages. He remained only narrowly ahead of Franzoni, one of his principal rivals last year in USF2000, the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, with Cunha and Fischer also in close attendance.

All four contenders posted a fastest race lap at one point or another during the opening dozen laps. Fischer eventually lost the leading draft, leaving only one of the distinctive yellow-and-black Team Pelfrey cars to challenge the two leaders, but Cunha proved up to the task as he out-maneuvered his Brazilian countryman Franzoni with an opportunistic pass in Turn One on Lap 17. Sadly, almost exactly one lap later, Cunha’s No. 81 machine coasted to a halt.

Cunha’s pass delayed Franzoni just enough to allow Martin to pull away just a little for the first time. Coincidentally, Martin set what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race (worth an additional championship point) on the same lap to establish a healthy lead of over two seconds.

However, that advantage was negated a few laps later when the yellow flags waved following an incident in Turn Nine involving National Class leader Kevin Davis, who had been running in ninth place overall at the time.

After the cleanup had been completed, Martin took off again into the lead and sped home to win by just over a second from Franzoni. Fischer finished hot on Franzoni’s heels in third, with 15-year-old Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, claiming fourth for World Speed Motorsports ahead of Nikita Lastochkin (Team Pelfrey), Max Hanratty (ArmsUp Motorsports), who earned the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after starting at the back of the field, and Phillippe Denes (World Speed), who had lost a couple of positions with a spin in the closing stages.

Cape Motorsports claimed its second straight PFC Award. Franzoni earned the Staubli Award and Charles Finelli secured National Class honors for FatBoy Racing! after his other rivals fell by the wayside.

The Pro Mazda Championship will return to action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit on May 12-13.

Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA-Cape Motorsports): “I’m so happy to take the sweep at St. Pete and to come away from here with the championship lead. To have Mazda backing and be driving the Soul Red colors seems to have pushed me harder than ever before. With the scholarship, there’s a lot of pressure, but I thrive on pressure and that’s one reason we’ve done so well this weekend. This race was 40 minutes which was much longer than yesterday’s race, so once I was able to get a gap I just drove to a lap time and kept it consistent. Just when I was starting to push harder to widen the gap, the safety car came out. It may have looked easy, but it was hard. As a race car driver, you want to drive hard all the time, so to hold yourself back is very difficult.”

Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “This is going to be a good fight this year, between me, Anthony and the Pelfrey guys. It just wasn’t my race today. The car was good and I think I had a better car than Anthony, but I couldn’t put everything together. I’ve raced here for four years and I’ve only gotten one podium before, in USF2000 in the rain. But I survived the race and got some good points. It’s a good start for me and for Juncos Racing. We’re still getting to know each other, so this is still like testing. I’m sad and happy now, but I am confident for the rest of the year.”

TJ Fischer (#82 Team Pelfrey): “It’s good momentum for us now. I struggled at St. Pete last year so to have two podiums right off the bat is great for my confidence. It’s hard on the street courses, because you have limited track time so you’re pretty much thrown in and you have to perform. Anthony and Victor have more experience here than I do so it’s still a learning experience. We hung in there and the three of us kept it pretty close. It is a little hollow for me, since my teammate had a mechanical problem, but in the end I’m happy to be on the podium.”

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About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com.

About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.

About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, together with its subsidiaries, is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative, great-performing tires that people depend on for all of life’s road trips, whether on city streets, off-road adventures or high-speed tracks. In fact, Cooper is proud to sponsor and race in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor of the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, together with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. In our second century in the tire business, Cooper looks toward a future where innovation will continue to drive our products and our products will continue to drive the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Bourdais drives from last to first in St. Petersburg win

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Sunday, March 12, 2017) – Sebastien Bourdais went for a Sunday drive in his adopted American hometown, but it was far from leisurely. The Frenchman charged from last to first to win today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

Bourdais piloted his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda to a 10.3508-second victory over countryman Simon Pagenaud in the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit to secure the 36th victory of his illustrious Indy car career. It moved the 38-year-old Bourdais past Bobby Unser into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time win list.

“It’s probably the hardest race to recover, the (pit) windows are really narrow and it’s really hard to pass,” said Bourdais, whose Indy car career began 14 years ago at the inaugural St. Petersburg race.

Bourdais moved to St. Petersburg permanently more than a decade ago and rejoined Coyne’s team this season after leaving it six years ago.

“It’s putting the band back together and hopefully we’ll have many more days like this,” he said.

After crashing his car in the first round of qualifying Saturday, Bourdais started today’s race at the rear of the 21-car field. He had advanced to ninth place when the second and last full-course caution flag waved on Lap 26. When seven cars in front of Bourdais made pit stops under the yellow, Bourdais seized the advantage. He passed reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud for first place on Lap 37 and led 69 of the last 84 laps.

“Honestly, I’m a little speechless,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who now has led 2,526 laps in his career, good for 22nd place all-time. “We had a miserable day yesterday (in qualifying) and that was all me, and today we turned it into a great day. Once you’re in the lead here, it’s awful difficult to lose it unless you throw it away, so I sure tried not to do that again.”

Pagenaud finished runner-up at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. The Team Penske driver of the No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet used the 2016 St. Pete result as a launching pad to his first series championship.

“At the end (of the race), I pushed really, really hard at the beginning of the stint on the (Firestone alternate) red tires to try to come back and get (Bourdais) on the pit sequence,” Pagenaud said. “And I pushed so hard that actually the tires dropped off really quickly afterwards and I couldn’t keep up toward the end of the stint.

“I’m very happy that we finished second, which is where we finished last year, so hopefully that’s good luck.”

Scott Dixon placed third in the No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda, marking the 90th time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has finished in the top three and tying the New Zealander with Helio Castroneves for sixth on the all-time podium chart.

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato finished fourth and fifth, respectively, giving Honda four of the top five finishers. Bourdais’ win is the first for Honda on a temporary street circuit since the manufacturer swept the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, also the last time Dale Coyne Racing won a race.

The next stop on the 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the weekend of April 7-9. Live race coverage starts at 4 p.m. ET April 9 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.