Hinchcliffe on front row at Long Beach

- April 12th, 2014

Canada’s James Hinchcliffe was the victim of some unfortunate mechanical problems at the Verizon IndyCar Series 2014 season opening race at St. Petersburg in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda but he will start on the front row on Sunday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Hinchcliffe, finished second in the Fast Six qualifying round with a lap of one minute, 7.940 seconds in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda.
His teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay will start beside him on the pole with a fast lap of  1:07.821.
Hinchcliffe expects he can use the qualifying as momentum on Sunday afternoon to get a top result.
He has a podium finish on his resume at the 11 turn, 3.167 km temporary street circuit in 2012 giving him added confidence he can bounce back from the mess at St. Petersburg.
Of his three IndyCar wins last season two of them were on street courses so he knows what he is doing.
“The biggest thing about these street circuits is trying to stay ahead of the track,” he said. “It’s one thing to be quick in the first practice, but the track evolves, you need to evolve the setup and kind of stay one step ahead of it, and that’s something we haven’t been awesome at in years past.
“We just missed the Fast Six last year, but the United Fiber & Data car was quick, and hopefully we can stay ahead of things.”

NASCAR team owner gets F-1 licence for 2015

- April 11th, 2014

NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Gene Haas has been granted a Formula 1 racing licence that will see an American team in the world championship in 2015, for the first time since the Ford Motor Company and its Jaguar division  quit the sport in 2004.
Haas, the co-owner of Stewart Haas Racing, will begin work immediately to get the team ready for next year’s calendar of races.
Haas already owns a factor in Belgium, from which he could base the team.
He also owns one of the world’s most advance rolling wind tunnels based in North Carolina near the SHR shop.
In a statement released by SHR Haas expressed gratitude the deal was finally done.
“Obviously, we’re extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA. It’s an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One.,” Haas said.
“Now, the really hard work begins. It’s a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid.
“I want to thank the FIA for this opportunity and the diligence everyone put forth to see our license application come to fruition.”

One on one with @Hinchtown

- March 28th, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — James Hinchcliffe roared into his pit stall on the temporary street course at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg just before noon on Friday and looked across the track at a giant television screen to see his likeness and confirmation he was the fastest driver of the first practice session ahead of Sunday’s race.
It was a familiar place to be for the 27-year-old Oakville, Ont., native who scored his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory on this very track 12 months ago.
Lots of other things have changed for Hinchcliffe, however.
Gone is the dayglo green GoDaddy.com livery on  his No. 27 Andretti Autosport DW12 chassis and gone are the comparisons to Danica Patrick, the former occupant of the car.
Hinchcliffe put those to rest the minute he crossed the finish line ahead of Helio Castroneves last year.
The Andretti team also switched engine manufacturers, going back to its roots with Honda.
Yesterday, at least in the first practice of the 2014 season, the move seems to have paid off.
Hinchcliffe’s fast lap of one minute, 2.9326 seconds, put him P1, five one thousandths of second faster that former Honda Indy Toronto winner Justin Wilson’s lap of 1:02.9385.
Hinchcliffe warned, in an exclusive one on one interview with The Toronto Sun, that it was far too soon in the season to project one practice session — as good as it was — into a championship.
“It’s still early, it was just the first session of a new season, so there still are a lot of things that need to be sorted out,” he said just after stepping out of his new blue, silver and white ride that is remarkably similar to the race colours of his childhood hero Greg Moore.
“Though it is nice to start on a strong note because we’ve been on the other side of that equation where you start out poorly on Friday and you spend the rest of the weekend trying to rebound.”
Hinchcliffe, to his credit and probably because of his Canadian roots, is generally very grounded, not willing to take a whole lot of credit, even when, like on Friday morning, he was the fastest man on the track, instead deflecting that credit to his Andretti team.
“I am happy for Andretti,” he said. “Obviously it means the work they have been doing is paying off.
“It’s also nice to see a couple of Hondas running up front.
“So, yeah, overall I like that we are P1 right out of the gate with (new sponsor) UFD on the car, but there is still a long, long away to go.”
Hinchcliffe said the coming season will be the true test of the longevity of his career.
Last season — only his second in IndyCar — he won three races, but also had a pair of last place finishes at Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach.
Hinchcliffe said he learned as much about himself in the losses as he did from the victories.
“The 2013 season was a big growth year for me personally,” he said. “Coming back (to St. Petersburg) I feel I am a lot more prepared for whatever the weekend can throw at us.
“Certainly having that result last year goes a long way to helping my confidence and knowing what you need out of the car and out of the team.
“So hopefully it will put us in a position to try to get ourselves back in the fight for another win here.”
The one thing Hinchcliffe is wary about is the fact he, nor any other IndyCar driver, get the chance to test at temporary street courses like St. Petersburg and Toronto.
“That is that fascinating thing about it, it’s one of the big challenges we face,” he said. “You do some simulation work, you study video from last year, you do visualizations, but at the end of the day you just depend a lot on what the team has done in the off season to get a car that will handle as well as it did (on Friday).”

FINISH LINES

There will be fourt rookies starting the 2013 Verizon IndyCar season: Colombia’s Carlos Huertas and Carlos Munoz with Dale Coyne Racing and Andretti Autosport respectively, Russian Mikhail Aleshin with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport and England’s Jack Hawksworth with Bryan Herta Autosport. … And for the first time since Danica Patrick made her debut in 2005, there will be no females on the grid to start the season at St. Petersburg.

Sometimes nice guys do finish first

- February 24th, 2014

DAYTONA — Jeff Gordon, himself a three time winner of the Daytona 500, said it best when Dale Earnhardt Jr, beat him and 42 other NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers to the finish line at Daytona International Speedway late into the night on Sunday: “All is right with the world, Dale Jr. has won the Daytona 500.”
It was a sentiment shared by more than 150,000 fans who had braved the threat of a tornado and a six and a half hour rain delay as well as millions more of the so called Junior Nation who watched it at home.
This was no fluke win, nor was it any stage managed win, although there will be plenty of conspiracy theorists coming out of their mother’s basements this week claiming exactly that.
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had been the dominant race car all day and all night at the 2.5 mile banked oval.
This after all is the same Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the same team that has finished second at Daytona in 2012 and again last season.
So he knows how to get around a superspeedway.
It was the reaction of his competitors, however, that tells the real story of just how well liked and respected Earnhardt is in NASCAR.
It started with Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, but it was almost universal.
Denny Hamlin, who had won every race he was in the week leading up to Sunday’s Daytona 500 and was crushed he couldn’t complete  the trifecta to bring Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota their first Great America Race win, said he was torn between two emotions as he saw his friend take the checkered flag in front of his No. 11 Camry.
“I was both  pissed off at finishing second and happy for Dale,” he said.
Hamlin did acknowledge, though, that Earnhardt’s win was well deserved.
“Dale just played it perfectly once he got out front on that last fuel run — everyone else is just side by side,” he said.
Six time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished fifth in the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet, heaped praise on his teammate, even though the two battled through the final laps before the green white checkered finish.
“I want to talk about my teammate and the awesome job he did,” Johnson said. “He has been knocking on the door here at the 500 for a lot of years and got it done tonight.”
Brad Keselowski, the third place finisher in the No. 2 Penske Ford, said he thought he had the best chance of his career to win at Daytona, but came up agonizingly short.
Still he was smiling at the end for his longtime pal.
“We didn’t get the win, which is most disappointing as a driver with a car like that which you don’t get all the time, at least most of us don’t,” Keselowski said. “I had the opportunity tonight and came up a little short on that last restart. I am really proud of the effort and happy for my friend.”
Keselowski’s comments and those of others afterwards reflect the genuine feelings in the NASCAR garage for Earnhardt.
It is not something done for the television cameras, it is real.
“I am happy for him and happy for all those guys,” Keselowski said. “There are a lot of great people over there on that team.
“Dale obviously gave me my big opportunity and is probably my best friend in the garage outside of my teammate Joey Logano.
“There is a lot of cross-pollination there. It is good for them. I am happy for him.”
And Keselowski, being Keselowski, couldn’t let Earnhardt’s victory go into the history book without taking a well deserved shot at those who woke up Monday morning believing NASCAR had somehow engineered the whole thing.
“I think the great thing about Dale winning today is that I followed him and passed him and did all those other things and I think it was something where this particular race there is no drama or feeling that anyone can legitimately say there was some voodoo magic reason why he won,” he said.  “He earned this in every sense of the form. I think to me, that probably stands out the most.”
It probably won’t matter to the cave dwellers, but sometimes nice guys do finish first and on Sunday night in Daytona was one of those times.
dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca

Who won what at Daytona 500

1:    Dale Earnhardt. Jr.     1 $1,506,363
2:    Denny Hamlin     $1,148,451
3:    Brad Keselowski     $847,721
4:    Jeff Gordon     $731,399
5:    Jimmie Johnson     $589,399
6:    Matt Kenseth     $518,362
7:    Ricky Stenhouse. Jr.     $434,588
8:    Greg Biffle     $413,838
9:    Austin Dillon     $424,674
10:    Casey Mears     $377,221
11:    Joey Logano     $376,354
12:    Landon Cassill     $306,850
13:    Kevin Harvick     $368,196
14:     Jamie McMurray     $361,777
15;    Bobby Labonte     $325,213
16;    Reed Sorenson     $342,446
17:    Carl Edwards     $340,638
18:    Marcos Ambrose     $363,458
19;    Kyle Busch     $373,504
20:    Terry Labonte     $339,996

Steckly to build Tagliani’s NCTS No. 18 Dodge

- February 14th, 2014

Alex Tagliani announced only last week that he will be driving the No. 18 Tagliani Autosport/Team EpiPen/Dicom Express Dodge in the 2014 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and already he has switched teams.
Originally Tagliani told Le Journal de Montreal that his race car would be prepared by DJK Racing, the team owned and operated by two-time NCTS champion D.J. Kennington.
But on Friday Tagliani released a statement that the Indianapolis 500 pole sitter and race winner in the CART Series, would have his NCTS car built and maintained by 22 Racing, owned by reigning champion Scott Steckly.
“I have long respected Scott Steckly’s racing operation and their high degree of success in The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series,” Tagliani said. “They are so professional as a team working with their sponsors. I cannot think of a better partnership to create a lasting bond in this series to provide the best service and effort possible for our sponsors and partners going forward. I am very excited with this new alliance.”
Tagliani does not have am IndyCar deal in hand right now but could race at least in the Indy 500 in May.
If that conflicts with his NCTS duties he will hand off the car to another Canadian driver, possibly former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Patrick Carpentier.
Steckly said he is happy to have Tagliani aboard his 22 Racing team.
“I’m very excited to have Alex drive out of our 22 Racing stable this season,” Steckly said. “Tag is a proven professional that will make our team even better with his passion and grit to be the best at what he does.
“He will bring another level of competition to the Series, so that means we will all have to race harder for wins and the championship with Alex out there.”