Rossi learned he wouldn't race after FP1

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Alexander Rossi has revealed that he only found out that he was not racing at the Belgian Grand Prix after first Formula 1 practice on Friday.

The American had been due to fill in for Max Chilton at Spa-Francorchamps, because at the time Marussia had contractual issues with its regular racer. But following a change of circumstance at the team, which has not yet been fully explained, Chilton was given the green light to be back in the car on Friday morning.

Speaking at the end of the day, Rossi revealed that he had no idea about the change of plan until he got out of the car following his run in first practice.

"It was after the end of the FP1 session," said Rossi. "Of course it was [a surprise], but at the end of the day there is nothing you can do it about it so there is no point complaining or anything.

"That is the way it goes and we will be back very soon."


Rossi admitted that losing the chance to race was a disappointment, but it was not as gutting as some may have thought.

"I don't think it was as hard as you would expect, because it came so quickly and it went away in the same way," he said. "I don't think it had fully sunk it quite yet that I was racing as it was a Friday morning session - it was nothing new to me obviously.

"But I was quite disappointed – I wanted to race this weekend, but that is the way it goes sometimes. It is the sport we are involved in."


Despite not getting the chance to race, Rossi thinks that the uplift in profile he got this weekend – and the fact he was given the nod to race – has been a big boost.

"It not only gave America and the F1 fan base a bit of confidence in the fact that I can make it, but it gave me the confidence, too," he added. "Coming to this team and being here for such a short period of time, the fact that they showed faith in me when necessary went a long way.

"Beyond all this, the biggest emotion I have is gratitude I am here and that I am involved with these people."



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Jacques Villeneuve

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve believes the Super Licence system is flawed when a 17-year-old such as Max Verstappen can race in Formula 1.

Toro Rosso will give Verstappen, currently 16, his grand prix debut in 2015 after just one year of car racing in European Formula 3. The Dutch driver, who only graduated from karts last winter, will become the youngest ever driver to race in F1.

Villeneuve has labeled the current Superlicense "meaningless" and thinks a driver should gain experience over the years before reaching F1, no matter how talented he may be.

"Getting a Superlicense should be meaningful, not just doing three hundred kilometers and it being fine," Villeneuve said. "There is something that is flawed there.

"Basically, it's like getting all the presents without deserving anything. But there is this thing of 'the younger, the better.' What's the next step? A team who will sign someone at 15 just to get the image out of it?

"It is the wrong way around. Caesar and Napoleon were good from the beginning but it takes time before you become an emperor. You build it. It does not mean that you are more talented, it doesn't mean that you are faster but you build; it's something you learn and you become a man also.

"He is still a boy, so it is very risky. You don't take a 16-year-old, who hasn't even been to university, in the best hospital as a doctor even if he is very good and very intelligent.

"You need to pay dues; you need to deserve it because that is only how you will become a man."


Max Verstappen

The 1997 world champion is convinced Verstappen's arrival will not be good for the sport even if he is successful right away.

"It is the worst thing ever for Formula 1 because it will have two effects," he added. "It will either destroy him [Verstappen] or, even if he is successful right away, then F1 will be meaningless. What will F1 be? It will be nothing. It doesn't do any good for anyone.

"It does a good splash of publicity now for Red Bull but putting a Red Bull helmet on his head for four years probably would have been better."

The Canadian also feels drivers racing against Verstappen will feel less safe than when up against more mature rivals.

"For you, it is fun and you don't really judge the danger the same way," he said of young drivers. "I remember when I was racing in Formula 3 at 17 and I wasn't thinking the same way as I was later on, because you haven't paid your dues."


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Hamilton tops the times in FP2

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Lewis Hamilton topped the opening day of practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, outpacing Formula 1 title rival Nico Rosberg by six tenths of a second in the afternoon.

The 90-minute session was interrupted by two red flags during the first half-hour of running, the first caused by a crash for Pastor Maldonado and the second by Esteban Gutierrez's spin. But Hamilton was not fazed by these brief stoppages and was already fastest, four tenths quicker than Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, before the second red flag. He then switched to the soft rubber for his performance run, heading out at the halfway point of the session.

By the time Hamilton set his best time, on his first flying lap on the faster rubber, he had slid down to seventh, with Rosberg having bumped McLaren driver Jenson Button off top spot moments earlier.

Hamilton then outpaced Rosberg in all three sectors, a massive 0.445sec of his advantage coming in the middle sector, helped by the German having a messy lap.

Alonso was third fastest ahead of old teammate Felipe Massa, the Brazilian Williams driver showing that his team would again be a podium threat here.

Button ended up fifth fastest, 1.47sec down, but he set the fastest overall time in sector one, suggesting he was trying a setup that was low downforce, even by Spa standards.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth fastest in the second Williams, ahead of Daniil Kvyat, with both drivers briefly being classified as high as second thanks to completing their qualifying simulation laps before some of the frontrunners.

Daniel Ricciardo was down in eighth place after completing his first soft-tire run later than most while work was being done on his front brakes in the pits, jumping from 15th and bumping Kevin Magnussen and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg down to ninth and 10th.

Adrian Sutil was 12th fastest in the improving Sauber, briefly running as high as fourth before being bumped down the order, behind Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso, with Sergio Perez down in 13th.

Lotus' Romain Grosjean complained of the rear end of his car being unpredictable on his way to 14th, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver endured a difficult session, with a misfire setting in early on and forcing a lengthy stay in the pits. He returned to the track in the closing stages of the session, but the car was not able to do any better than 15th.

Hamilton tops the times in FP2

Marussia driver Jules Bianchi was up in 16th, just 3.587sec off the pace, although his position was boosted by several others hitting trouble.

Gutierrez ended up 18th after managing only seven laps before he spun at Blanchimont and being unable to rejoin.

Andre Lotterer continued to impress, ending the session just half-a-tenth off teammate Marcus Ericsson in 19th place.

Max Chilton, who had yesterday been replaced by Alexander Rossi before earning a reprieve this morning, had sat out the morning session and ended up 20th after his running was hindered by a turbo problem.

Maldonado did not set a time after causing an early red flag when he crashed just after the eight-minute mark. The Lotus driver drifted onto the grass on the right-hand side of the track run-out of Rivage towards Pouhon and lost control, spearing across the track and heavily into the barrier on the opposite side of the circuit.

But he at least went further than Sebastian Vettel, who was forced to sit out the session as a result of an electrical problem related to the engine in the morning. This has forced an engine change, which the team did not have the time to do before the afternoon's running.

Pos Driver                Team                   Time      Gap      Laps
 1. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes               1m49.189s           26
 2. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1m49.793s  +0.604s  28
 3. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1m49.930s  +0.741s  19
 4. Felipe Massa          Williams-Mercedes      1m50.327s  +1.138s  24
 5. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1m50.659s  +1.470s  31
 6. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Mercedes      1m50.677s  +1.488s  26
 7. Daniil Kvyat          Toro Rosso-Renault     1m50.725s  +1.536s  25
 8. Daniel Ricciardo      Red Bull-Renault       1m50.977s  +1.788s  16
 9. Kevin Magnussen       McLaren-Mercedes       1m51.074s  +1.885s  31
10. Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1m51.077s  +1.888s  26
11. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Renault     1m51.383s  +2.194s  26
12. Adrian Sutil          Sauber-Ferrari         1m51.450s  +2.261s  29
13. Sergio Perez          Force India-Mercedes   1m51.573s  +2.384s  28
14. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1m52.196s  +3.007s  25
15. Kimi Raikkonen        Ferrari                1m52.234s  +3.045s  18
16. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Ferrari       1m52.776s  +3.587s  23
17. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari         1m53.955s  +4.766s   7
18. Max Chilton           Marussia-Ferrari       1m54.040s  +4.851s  18
19. Marcus Ericsson       Caterham-Renault       1m54.050s  +4.861s  30
20. Andre Lotterer        Caterham-Renault       1m54.093s  +4.904s  24
21. Pastor Maldonado      Lotus-Renault          no time              2
22. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       no time

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Ecclestone: End of case changes nothing

Formula 1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone insists that his control of the sport was unchanged despite the settlement of his Munich court case.

Proceedings against Ecclestone on allegations of bribery relating to a $44 million payment to former banker Gerhard Gribkowsky were called off last week after he agreed to pay a $100 million settlement. The end of the case means the way is now clear for Ecclestone to resume his place on the F1 board, although the man himself played down its impact.

"Nothing ever changed," he said. "It was a couple of days I wasn't in the office, that was all. But it is better because I had to do things at weekend to catch up with what I missed."


One of Ecclestone's priorities in the second half of the year will be in settling concerns about falling audience figures. A proposed meeting of a new popularity working group to look at ways of raising interest has yet to take place, but Ecclestone says that recent spectacular races have eased worries.

"All of the time we are talking about what we can do and what we cannot do – we are always talking," he said.

Asked why he felt there had been a decline in interest, he said: "I don't know. We were talking to TV people about that. They [audience figures] seem to have drooped everywhere – all sports. And not just sport, other things. There are too many other things to look at."


Ecclestone is also putting the finishing touches to the 2015 F1 calendar, with a draft version set to be distributed to teams imminently.

With Mexico set to be the only addition from this year's schedule, Ecclestone said on Friday that he doubted a race in New Jersey would ever happen, despite having said in December he was sure it would take place in 2015.

"I don't really think so," he said. "It is the same problems that it started with – nothing has changed."


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sonoma pack

“I need a big weekend. Kick up the dust. Yeah a big weekend. If you don't run, you rust.”

So sang Tom Petty on Big Weekend a track from his album Highway Companion. And there are drivers, team owners and even engineers feeling the same way in these final two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2014 championship. They’re guys for whom the championship battle is irrelevant, ones with much to go for and not much to lose.

There used to be a common belief that certain drivers, even at the top levels of racing, always picked up their game in the second half of a season, around contracts time, but that’s surely not a situation that still exists. For one thing, such is the constant microscope, the ability of all observers to sift through the minute details, that a driver feels “contracts-time” pressure bearing down all the time, starting as early as pre-season testing. Secondly, many open-wheel racing drivers, unlike NASCAR drivers, lack a big-name sponsor intertwined with their own image, so a team owner does not feel obliged to put up and shut up if a driver isn’t producing. He’ll just swap him out mid-season, especially if there’s someone standing by with a bigger fistful of dollars.

“I think I give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time,” remarked one IndyCar driver recently, “because in this series, if you don’t do that, you’ll just get run over and left behind. Those qualifying times don’t lie; most of the field is covered by one second. If you aren’t bringing your A game, you’ll get shown up very easily.

“But – and don’t quote me on this…or don’t say it’s me! – I have noticed in this end-of-year situation that I’m more likely to take risks during the race if it’s been a terrible season and we haven’t been front runners and I don’t care where I am in the championship. A couple of times, I’ve seen a 50/50 chance or even a 40/60 chance, and thought “Screw it!” and gone for it.

“The way I look at it is that nothing we did so far this year has worked, so let’s try something different. And I think teams can sometimes feel that way too and maybe try some risky strategy that could make us heros or zeros. If [my engineer] did that, I’d be totally on his side. And the good result may make us stay together for the next year, or it may do enough to get me some attention from a bigger team.”

NewgardenThere’s more than a hint of naivety in that last sentence. The likes of Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske look for season-long excellence or at least, potential. It’s doubtful that many team owners were beating down Carlos Huertas’ door, contract in hand, after his victory at Houston. By contrast, Josef Newgarden has certainly garnered plenty of attention despite not reaching victory lane because, results be damned, he’s shone consistently and on all types of track this year. Any positives in Sonoma and Fontana will be a welcome (and deserved) bonus, but any negatives aren’t going to affect his standing. Everyone has a fair idea of his skill level now.

You’d like to think the same is true of James Hinchcliffe, but such is not the case. He and engineer Nathan O’Rourke need a big weekend. Despite several front-row starts this year, revealing that the pace is there, misfortune has dogged the No. 27 Andretti Autosport driver Remember the flying debris at Grand Prix of Indianapolis? No way was it going to hit anyone else. And I’d have placed money on him being one of the innocent victims of the multi-car shunt in Long Beach. But the stats show the guy who triggered that pile-up, teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, has more than redeemed himself by scoring three wins, one of them in the biggest race of all, and is fourth in the championship. Hinch, in doleful contrast, has a solitary podium finish and languishes 12th.

Two race weekends where things just go to plan – that’s all Hinchcliffe and O’Rourke need to be potential winners at either track – will be enough to either help salvage James’ ride at Andretti Autosport or earn him a place with another strong team, depending on which rumors you believe. I’ve heard from one very reliable source that the Simon-Pagenaud-to-AA deal will happen and, given that Michael Andretti would struggle to find sponsorship money for five cars, the sword of Damocles is hanging over Hinch. If that seems unfair given his speed, welcome to the world of racing.



One of Hinch’s teammates doesn’t need to worry about a ride next (or any other) year, but for the sake of his own satisfaction, pride and confidence, needs the adrenaline shot of winning. Marco Andretti has endured a strange season by his standards. Normally over the course of 18 races, he has peaks and valleys like the Himalayas, but this year he’s become more consistent, yet that plateau is still some way off the top.

Andretti’s second place at Barber Motorsports Park was soon followed by his sixth career top-five finish in the Indy 500. But that seems a hell of a long time ago (only three months, in actuality). Aside from those spellbinding opening laps at Texas Motor Speedway before his engine blew, he’s just been under the radar, accumulating points and it’s not good to see him muted in this manner. At Fontana, where he took pole in 2012, he should stand a chance of nailing that elusive third victory.

RahalHis long-time rival by familial feud, Graham Rahal, has of course got everything to prove but so has Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, as it seeks a new sponsor to replace the National Guard. The first half of the year was generally dreadful results-wise, boosted only by that well-deserved runner-up finish in Detroit (RIGHT).

However, some consistency has started to return and at Mid-Ohio, while not a match for Newgarden, Bourdais and Hunter-Reay, he appeared as quick as anyone else. Notable, for instance, was the fact that on black tires, he equaled the pace of Will Power on reds.

Whether anything learned from high-grip Mid-Ohio can be applied to Sonoma this weekend is questionable. What’s in Rahal’s favor is the fact that he has Bill Pappas as his engineer, and Bill’s car finished runner up at this track last year. What counts against Graham is that this year’s tire compounds have forced drivers and engineers up and down pit lane to rethink their setups, sometimes quite radically, sometimes with brilliant/awful results.

And somewhere in the middle of brilJwilMarcoliant/awful is Pappas’ previous charge, Justin Wilson. He and Michael Cannon have had a rather nondescript year, despite few questioning the quality of either. Fourth place at Detroit and five other top 10s is certainly less than either of them expected from 2014, and deep down, it must be aggravating as hell that a previously unknown rookie teammate managed to nail a victory in Detroit largely due to Dale Coyne’s math skills.

Don’t get me wrong, Huertas is way better than anyone expected, but you wouldn’t say he’s in the same league as Wilson – or I wouldn’t anyway. Both driver and engineer on the No. 19 car are going to be haunted by this season unless they can turn it around very soon. Neither of them is in racing just to make up the numbers, so I suspect each has too much pride to continue into 2015 with the situation as it currently stands.

Takuma Sato’s ride at AJ Foyt Racing is not a lock, and again, here is one of those one-car teams where performance deficiencies are so hard to assess. Taku can stun with his brilliance and improvisation (remember those pole positions at St. Pete and Detroit) but he, like Marco Andretti, is often missing those last few tenths of precision which leaves him mid-pack or worse on the grid, and therefore more likely to get caught up in other people’s fracas.

Sato’s number of self-induced incidents, by my calculations, has gone down this year and it’s only fair to point out that he’s also suffered reliability issues. However, with one fifth place and only two other top 10 finishes to his name, the Foyts will surely make some changes for 2015. A win in either of the next two races would do great things for the confidence of the team, whose sponsor, ABC Supply, has been very loyal and deserve reward. But would it be enough to persuade AJ and Larry to keep Taku? Maybe if there was also money enough to employ a steady teammate. Would a win be enough to earn him a ride elsewhere? I’d say that was 50/50.



“What might Sebastian Saavedra have done if he hadn’t scraped the wall on lap 161?” I mused after the Iowa Corn 300, while considering the KV AFS driver’s superb surge to third place. “He’d have scraped it on 162,” replied the crueler side of my soul. To be fair, it’s been a long time since Sebastian has run at the front of a race, so it’s no surprise his composure doesn’t match that of the series veterans. Perhaps a bigger or fairer question would be – what might have happened had he got his car off the line at the GP of Indianapolis? There was opportunism in his pole, true, but there was real instinctual skill, too.

But momentary brilliance isn’t enough. What IndyCar has taught us as the pack has compacted over the past three years is that only the complete and consistent drivers earn a state of permanence. KV teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who also partnered Saavedra at Dragon Racing, speaks highly of the spiky-haired Colombian’s bravery and speed, but says he has fluctuations in form that make it difficult to use his technical feedback. In other words, he’s a typical diamond in the rough – “all balls and eyesight,” as the late Frank Gardner once described a young and fearless rival – who should have benefited more from being partnered with a proven champion like Bourdais for two years. In short, Saavedra has yet to make a compelling case for re-employment.

Hawksworth3Finally, no one needs reminding that another podium result for Bryan Herta Autosport, and one that’s truly earned, as per Jack Hawksworth’s drive to third at Houston, would be a huge deal for this little team. And, like Hinchcliffe at Andretti, what’s needed is simply a weekend devoid of drama and bad luck.

This would benefit the team, at least. I’m one of many to think that young Hawksworth, like Mikhail Aleshin at Schmidt Peterson, may have done enough already to attract interest from a bigger team. However, I also think Jack, BHA and underestimated race engineer Todd Malloy seem well suited to the one-car underdog role, and they’d all benefit from another year together.

So, as well as the championship battle at Sonoma and Fontana over the next two weekends, there are plenty of folk in the IndyCar lineup, both in the cockpit and on the timing stands, whose short-term needs could lead to longer-term personal gains.

And whether that truly makes a difference to how they drive and how they strategize, how they fight and how they gamble, may start becoming clearer this weekend.

WillP-RHR-HelioIt’s probably not what Will Power wants to read or hear but the reality is that the three-time Verizon IndyCar Series bridesmaid would have a healthy 75-point lead with the old scoring system. And teammate Helio Castroneves would be his only challenger with two races remaining in the 2014 season.

StPete-actionBut, since IndyCar officials opted to award double points for the three 500-mile races this year, six drivers still remain in the title picture going into these last two races because a minimum of 150 points are still on the table.

“It’s the same for everybody, nothing we can do except keep focused and earn as many points as possible,” reasoned the 33-year-old Aussie who lost the 2010 and 2011 crowns to Dario Franchitti by five and 18 points respectively before falling three points shy in 2012 as Ryan Hunter-Reay snatched the No. 1 spot. “I imagine it’s hurt some guys and helped others.”

Willy P. would be spot on and nobody has benefitted more from double points at Indianapolis and Pocono than his Team Penske partner. Using last year’s system, Power would have 558 points to Helio’s 483. However, by qualifying fourth at IMS and finishing second to Hunter-Reay (BELOW), the three-time Indy 500 winner racked up 118 points in one race and then pocketed another 80 for his runner-up finish at the Pocono 500.

In other words, both his second places garnered far more points than a standard victory which pays 50 points, and HCN owns an 80-44 edge over Power in the double points category.

Ryan-Helio“The 500-milers have been good to us, obviously, but I need to have a maximum points day at Sonoma and go into Fontana right on Will’s rear wing,” said the 39-year-old Brazilian who trails his teammate by 39 points heading to Wine Country.

In the old system, third-placed Simon Pagenaud (BOTTOM) would already be eliminated since Power would be 114 points ahead and even a total sweep of pole/most laps led/victory in Sonoma couldn’t get the fast Frenchman around his rival. Even as things stand, it’s a real long-shot since the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver trails by 92 but at least he’s still got a pulse. Ditto for Andretti Autosport's fourth-placed Hunter-Reay, whose deficit is 108 but he’d already be closed out (minus 126) with the former system.

Juan Montoya  (-114) and defending champ, Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (-130) are still mathematically alive but it would take back-to-back wins and a total disaster for Power to get them around his current total. And, simultaneously, some mighty bad luck would have to befall Castroneves, Pagenaud and RHR.

“I feel fortunate to even be in the battle, the way our season started and I know I’m a long-shot, especially the way Will usually runs at Sonoma,” said Montoya, who scored his initial comeback victory at Pocono.

With three wins, three seconds and a third in 16 races, Power has amassed almost as many points as Dixon did a year go (577) in 19 starts using the old system. And Dario scored 573 in his title run in 2011. Power, who has led the most laps (582), also has aPagenaudveraged an impressive 34.9 points per race using the old math. In many ways he’s already had a championship year but the last double-point salvo looms large…and he's been burnt at the last moment before.

“Our path is easier now,” he said after his dominating drive at Milwaukee, “but it’s by no means easy.”

2014 Standings with Double Points 
1. Will Power 602
2. Helio Castroneves 563
3. Simon Pagenaud 510
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay 494
5. Juan Montoya 488

2014 Standings with Old System
1. Power 558
2. Castroneves  483
3. Pagenaud  464
4. Scott Dixon 437
5. Hunter-Reay 432

 RD49543 2The Pirelli World Challenge heads toward the conclusion of its 25th Anniversary season with the penultimate round of 2014, the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sonoma. The GT, GT-A and GTS divisions will race Rounds 13 and 14 of the year, a pair of 50-minute sprints, at Sonoma Raceway, a 1.99-mile permanent road course.

More than 40 entries are set to compete at Sonoma, the series' second trip to California this year; the series raced Round 2 in Long Beach in April. Several drivers have home turf or wins to defend in the Golden State, as championship battles intensify in all classes.

OconnellimagePirelli World Challenge GT: O'Connell Leads Skeen With Just Four Races Left
The GT title battle is intense between points leader and two-time defending champion, Johnny O'Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R and Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., in the No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi R8 Ultra.

O'Connell leads Skeen by 82 points (1228 to 1146) heading into the two-race Sonoma weekend. Both drivers seek to bounce back after challenging Sonoma races in 2013; O'Connell was taken out on the first lap and Skeen was issued a post-race penalty that dropped him, like O'Connell, outside the top 10 in the race.

If either of these two falters there are three drivers within striking distance who could put themselves into title contention this weekend. Among them is O'Connell's teammate Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., in the sister No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, and the defending Sonoma race winner.

Pilgrim sits fifth, just nine points behind Anthony Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Andrew Palmer, of Chicago, in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra. Both Lazzaro and Palmer have a win apiece this year as they split the two-race Barber weekend on another permanent road course.

The driver entering the weekend with the most momentum is Ryan Dalziel, of Winter Park, Fla., who swept the Mid-Ohio weekend in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R. Dalziel, who is not in the championship picture, could play spoiler this weekend.

K-PAX Racing has shown increased speed of late, but has not had the results to match. Both Alex Figge, of Denver, Col., in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 and Robert Thorne, of Littleton, Col., in the sister No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 look for solid results and further top-10 finishes.

RealTime Racing brings its new Acura to Honda Performance Development's home state for the first time, with seven-time Pirelli World Challenge champion Peter Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., driving the No. 42 Acura/RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT. Cunningham and the team enjoyed a successful debut weekend at Mid-Ohio and look to break into the top-10 in Sonoma, several hours north of HPD's U.S. base in Torrance.

California natives James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., in the No. 14 Spyder/The Thermal Club Audi R8 Ultra and Mike Hedlund, of Woodside, Calif. in the No. 77 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 seek big results in their home state. Sofronas looks to continue his run of consistent finishes, having scored a top-10 result in each of the first 12 races this season. Hedlund returns for the first time since Long Beach in April; the Scuderia Corsa team makes its first Pirelli World Challenge start.

TRG-AMR also has its home race this weekend in Sonoma, as part of a banner weekend for Kevin Buckler's TRG-AMR operation - both it and Buckler's Adobe Road Winery are based in nearby Petaluma. Rising young sports car star Christina Nielsen, of Horsholm, Denmark, will make her series debut in the No. 00 Passtime USA Aston Martin GT3.

Dyson Racing Team Bentley steps up to a two-car effort for the first time. Butch Leitzinger, of State College, Pa., in the No. 08 Bentley/Breitling/Mobil 1 Bentley Continental GT3 continues as he has since Road America. Longtime Dyson Racing driver Guy Smith, of Beverley, U.K., will drive alongside in the sister No. 88 Bentley/Breitling/Mobil 1 Bentley Continental GT3.

Alex Lloyd, of Westfield, Ind. in the No. 12 Indianapolis Attorneys Chevrolet Corvette bolsters the season-high 15-car GT class field. Lloyd, a Yahoo Autos writer, will race not far from Yahoo's corporate headquarters.


 RD42565Pirelli World Challenge GT-A: Mills Seizes Momentum at Mid-Ohio
Michael Mills, of Angleton, Texas, took over the GT-A points lead with a double win at Mid-Ohio in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R. Mills, who also won Round 10 in Toronto, seeks to extend his three-race win streak this weekend.

Seeking to catch him in Sonoma are Henrik Hedman, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in the No. 10 DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Dan Knox, of Pilot Point, Texas, in the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing, Inc./Performance SpeedTech Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R. Hedman and Knox are 27 and 34 points back respectively of Mills entering the two-race weekend.

Santa Ana, Calif.-based GMG Racing again has two cars entered in GT-A with full-season competitor Bill Ziegler, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 Ultra and local driver Brent Holden, of Newport Coast, Calif., in the No. 44 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra. Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis., in the No. 99 Kenda/ Audi R8 Ultra makes it three GT-A Audis in the field.

Lastly the pair of Reiter Engineering entries should be interesting to watch. Marcelo Hahn, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 has had four class wins this season while Albert von Thurn und Taxis, of Regensburg, Germany, continues for a third consecutive weekend in the No. 24 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2.

Pirelli World Challenge GTS: Kia Leads, Others Challenge Heading to Sonoma
Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports has an important weekend; it's back in the home state where the manufacturer's corporate headquarters are based (Orange County, in Irvine). Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., in the No. 36 Kia Optima and teammate Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, in the No. 38 Kia Optima finished 1-3 in Long Beach earlier this year. Wilkins and Jonsson enter the weekend 1-2 in GTS points, and seek to defend their lead in both the driver and manufacturer championships in Northern California.

Defending class champion Lawson Aschenbach, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro has an outside title chance thanks to securing maximum points in the Mid-Ohio weekend, with two victories from pole. Although he's 164 points behind Wilkins, further wins and trouble for the Kias could bring him back into title contention.

Dean Martin, of Westland, Mich., in the No. 50 Picture Cars East/Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S, also could enter the title picture with a big weekend in Sonoma. The three-time 2014 winner sits fourth in points and like Aschenbach, could capitalize if the Kias falter.

A pair of Jacks completes the top six in GTS points. Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., in the No. 73 RESET-MD Porsche Cayman S sits fifth and looks for his first podium finish since Round 5 in Detroit; in sixth, Jack Roush Jr., of Livonia, Mich., in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R seeks his first series win.

Only 111 points separate seventh through 10th in GTS points. Young guns Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Col., in the No. 20 Crown Seven/BestIT Chevrolet Camaro and Alec Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, in the No. 17 Watson Racing/MDG Ford Mustang Boss 302S have had several podiums and look for wins; veterans Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill., in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro and Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif. in the No. 34 Natural Cures Aston Martin GT4 have been consistent top-10 finishers. Esayian is part of a banner weekend for TRG-AMR; the team has five GTS cars entered plus Buckler's GT3-spec Aston Martin GT3 in GT. The team won in GTS a year ago with Brandon Davis.

Drew Regitz, of Denver, Col., in the No. 02 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin GT4, Jorge de la Torre in the No. 04 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin GT4, plus two new drivers in Santiago Creel, of Mexico City, in the No. 06 Hotbook/Pal Zileri Aston Martin GT4 and Derek DeBoer, of Ashland, Ore., in the No. 09 Project Motorsports/B.R.M. Watches Aston Martin GT4 join Esayian in the quintet of TRG-AMR GTS cars this weekend.

Capaldi Racing brings a two-car effort to Sonoma. Joey Atterbury, of Rochester, N.Y., looks to add to his two Mid-Ohio top-fives in the No. 33 Capaldi Racing/Ford Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S while Brad Adams, of New Orleans, La., continues in the No. 96 Voodoo Music Experience/Datdog/Yo MTV Raps Ford Mustang Boss 302S. There are two other Mustangs entered with Mitch Landry, of Lake Charles, La. in the No. 97 VersaCrane/DeepSouth Ford Mustang Boss 302S and Erik Davis, of Burbank, Calif. in the No. 75 Always Evolving Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Davis returns for the first time since Road America in June.

Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., seeks a bounce back weekend in the No. 51 Nissan/Motul/SPL/OSGiken/Sparco/Sunoco Nissan 370Z after a challenging Mid-Ohio. He enters the weekend 11th in points, one spot ahead of Buz McCall, of Boca Raton, Fla. in the No. 72 RESET-MD Porsche Cayman S.

Additional season-long entrants Geoff Reeves, of Columbus, Ohio in the No. 40 Shadow Works/BestIT Chevrolet Camaro and Brian Kleeman, of Baltimore, Md. in the No. 07 Nissan/DXD Clutches/Aeromotions Nissan 370Z round out the expected 22-car GTS field.

Sonoma Raceway
11-turn, 1.99-mile permanent road circuit

Saturday, August 23, 8:55 A.M. PDT/11:55 A.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS)

Green Flag:
Saturday, August 23, 2:35 P.M. PDT/5:35 P.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 1)
Sunday, August 24, 4:40 P.M. PDT/7:40 P.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 2)

Race Lengths:
50 minutes (GT/GT-A/GTS)
Television (on NBC Sports Network): Saturday, August 30 – 1:00 PM (EDT)

Live Internet Telecast (on
Saturday, August 23, 2:20 P.M. PDT/5:15 P.M. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 1)
Sunday, August 24, 4:10 P.M. PDT/7:20 PM. EDT (GT/GT-A/GTS Race 2)

081614 MLWKE BC 401316Nine Verizon IndyCar Series races have been held at Sonoma Raceway, and all nine have been won by drivers starting inside the top-5. Eight wins have been taken by drivers starting third or better, and the Grand Prix of Sonoma has been won from pole on five occasions. The message is clear for the few drivers left with realistic chances of winning the title in 2014: Saturday's run for the Firestone Fast 6 qualifying carries more importance than possibly any other qualifying session this season.

If Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay – the drivers chasing championship leader Will Power – happen to miss the Fast 6, their chances of scoring 50 points for the win, along with their championship aspirations, will likely suffer a major setback. With the title in mind, the pressure to earn the pole at Sonoma will be particularly intense.

"Yes, absolutely, it's really important," said Power, who leads Penske teammate Castroneves by 39 points. "Sonoma and Mid-Ohio are tracks where it's very difficult to pass and you must qualify well. It's not like a street course where you can recover if you have a bad qualifying; at Sonoma, you have to qualify up front."

lat abbott son0813 9768Sonoma is a two-day affair for IndyCar activities that will see teams practice twice on Saturday before heading into qualifying later in the afternoon. Compared to a normal three-day road course event, teams and drivers won't have Friday to practice, evaluate changes and improvements overnight, and return Saturday to perfect those updates prior to qualifying.

"The weekend is compressed compared to usual; we don't run on Friday, so we don't have as much time to practice and Sonoma is a very difficult track to get right," said Pagenaud who holds third in the standings, 92 points back from Power. "It's a big change, and if you don't get it right, you don't have much time to figure it out before you have to qualify so that's hard for everyone.

"And another big change is we won't have double-file restarts, so that will make passing on restarts really tough at Sonoma. You want to use those to attack and gain positions, but since that won't really happen, qualifying is mega-important."

Sonoma Raceway is known for its worn, polished track surface, which makes lapping the 2.3-mile road course a slippery experience. Combined with gusts of wind that can induce understeer or snap oversteer when cresting the hilly circuit, Sonoma's unpredictable conditions make passing nearly impossible at the front of the field and could influence how some teams approach their workload prior to qualifying.

"All we ever do on the road courses is work on fast setups; we don't really try race setups until the warm-up on Sunday," Power explained. "You'll just be doing the normal stuff trying to make the car good – nothing should really change."

"It's all going to be about qualifying and getting that one lap right," added Pagenaud. "It's about preparing well and going into the weekend with a very set approach – a program you've already talked about and run through in a test-like situation. Check the boxes on which items do or don't work, choose what makes the car better and go from there. It makes things work much faster going through the solutions for each problem before you go qualify."

Approximately half of the IndyCar Series paddock tested at Sonoma in February, and more teams made the trek to take part in a second test earlier this month. The multiple test days led IndyCar to pare one day of running off the event schedule, and according to Power and Pagenaud, there's a definite advantage on which test date was chosen by each team.

"For us, yeah, it was beneficial to just be there testing a little while ago," Power noted. "Penske's always been good at Sonoma. Even when we haven't been competitive, we've had good days. Because of that test, we've found some good stuff that had been missing, but we were also there with Andretti and Ganassi, so I'm sure they also learned stuff."

Pagenaud's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team elected to skip the recent Sonoma test in favor of getting ready for the championship finale at Fontana.

"I think it does matter," said Pagenaud of those who tested on the 11-turn road course. "The guys who were just there will have a better feel for what the track will be like. It's a big time in the IndyCar schedule, so the more comfortable you are – anything you can do to find a few hundredths of a second, the better you are.

"We chose not to go and instead to test at Chicago to prepare for Fontana. We feel that was the right choice for us and we're focused on being within striking distance [of Power] leading into the last race. I'm confident in my team and we'll be doing everything humanly possible to score maximum points this weekend."​

Captain1Team Penske has won many races and championships with customer cars – March, Reynard, G-Force, Dallara – by being a superior team operationally. But in Indy car racing's "kit car" era, Roger Penske's empire produced its own racers. While there were a few duds among the studs, usually Penske creations were gems, so picking the very best of the best is difficult. Oh, and they're not all Indy cars, either...

This story is an excerpt from RACER magazine's GREAT CARS III ISSUE, on sale now.

1994/Indy car

Everyone raves about the Penske PC23B (BELOW), which dominated 1994's Indianapolis 500 with its Ilmor-Mercedes pushrod V8 engine, and rightly so. However, that tends to unfairly overshadow the fact that the "regular" PC23-Ilmor (ABOVE, and TOP) allowed Team Penske to dominate the '94 Indy car season to an extent no team has matched since. Penske drivers Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy finished 1-2-3 in the final championship standings.

The PC22 of 1993, designed by Nigel Bennett, had scored eight wins in the hands of Tracy and Fittipaldi, but his new one was something else again. Even now, the stats for this car are breathtaking. In the 16-race CART championship, Penske scored 12 wins – eight for Unser Jr., three for Tracy and one for Fittipaldi. Five of those wins were podium lockouts for the guys in red 'n' white, and a PC23 started from pole 10 times. Heck, the car was so fast that Junior – never a driver who bothered much about qualifying – started P1 four times. Little Al only took pole on three occasions across the other 19 years of his Indy car career!

Captain3So what made the PC23 so special? Well, Bennett had done his homework in making percentage improvements on the PC22's aero package; the Ilmor/D was a significant step ahead of the Chevrolet-badged unit from the year before; and between them, the three drivers put in 4,500 miles of testing prior to the season opener. Even the gearbox, initially a weak point, was a tougher cookie by mid-season.

The open-book policy that prevails at Penske worked wonders, too, and the three drivers and their race engineers, Terry Satchell (Unser), Nigel Beresford (Tracy) and Tom Brown (Fittipaldi), took a methodical approach to group debriefs, overseen by head of engineering Grant Newbury and contributed to by the recently retired Rick Mears.

In short, all the stars aligned in 1994, and Team Penske took full advantage.

Next up: PC7
1979/Indy car...

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