Auto Racing (105)
TOKYO, Japan – Honda Motor Co., Ltd. today announced its decision to participate in the FIA Formula One (F1) World Championship from the 2015 season under a joint project with McLaren, the UK-based F1 corporation.
Honda will be in charge of the development, manufacture and supply of the power unit, including the engine and energy recovery system, while McLaren will be in charge of the development and manufacture of the chassis, as well as the management of the new team, McLaren Honda.
From 2014, new F1 regulations require the introduction of a 1.6 litre direct injection turbocharged V6 engine with energy recovery systems. The opportunity to further develop these powertrain technologies through the challenge of racing is central to Honda’s decision to participate in F1. Throughout its history, Honda has passionately pursued improvements in the efficiency of the internal combustion engine and in more recent years, the development of pioneering energy management technologies such as hybrid systems. Participation in Formula 1 under these new regulations will encourage even further technological progress in both these areas. Furthermore, a new generation of Honda engineers can learn the challenges and the thrills of operating at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Commenting on this exciting development, Takanobu Ito, president and CEO of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. said:
“Ever since its establishment, Honda has been a company which grows by taking on challenges in racing. Honda has a long history of advancing our technologies and nurturing our people by participating in the world’s most prestigious automobile racing series. The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our participation in F1. We have the greatest respect for the FIA’s decision to introduce these new regulations that are both highly challenging but also attractive to manufacturers that pursue environmental technologies and to Formula One Group, which has developed F1 into a high value, top car racing category supported by enthusiastic fans. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Jean Todt, the President of FIA and to Mr. Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula One Group who showed great understanding and cooperation to help realize our participation in F1 racing. The corporate slogan of Honda is “The Power of Dreams”. This slogan represents our strong desire to pursue and realize our dreams together with our customers and fans. Together with McLaren, one of the most distinguished F1 constructors, Honda will mark a new beginning in our challenges in F1.”
Also, Martin Whitmarsh, CEO of McLaren Group Limited said:
“The names of McLaren and Honda are synonymous with success in Formula One, and, for everyone who works for both companies, the weight of our past achievements together lies heavily on our shoulders. But it's a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren Honda to the very pinnacle of Formula One success. Together we have a great legacy – and we’re utterly committed to maintaining it.”
Jean Todt, president of FIA said:
"I am very happy to hear about Honda’s important decision to return to Formula One with McLaren from 2015.The introduction of the new power train next year, in the form of a 1.6 litre, 6 cylinder engine with direct injection and energy recovery, is a very exciting challenge and demonstrates a vision for the future of the sport. I am sure that Honda will become a strong contender in the years to come. ”
Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of Formula One Group said:
"It is a great pleasure to see Honda back in Formula One. Their engine technology and passion for motor sports make them a natural Formula One contender.”
History of Honda Participation in F1 Racing:
1964 - 1968: Participated as an “all Honda” team including both the engine and chassis
1983 – 1992: Participated as an engine supplier (Won both the driver’s and constructors’ championship titles for four consecutive years from 1988 through 1991)
2000-2005: Participated as an engine supplier and joint developer of the chassis
2006-2008: Participated as an “all Honda” team including both the engine and chassis
SAO PAULO (AP) -- On the final turn of the final lap, James Hinchcliffe finally saw an opening - and made sure he squeezed into it.
Hinchcliffe made a last-ditch move on Takuma Sato, going past the Japanese driver on the inside of the last bend to win IndyCar's Sao Paulo 300 on Sunday.
The Canadian was barely even sure that Sato was finally behind him by the time the checkered flag went down in front of him.
"I don't think I was sure until after we crossed the line," said Hinchcliffe, who earned his second victory of the season and his career. "I didn't think we had it. It wasn't really until I crossed the line that I realized, `We got it!'"
The Canadian, also the winner in the opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., moved from third to second with three laps to go and then dueled with Sato before finally making the gutsy move as right before the finish at the Anhembi street track.
Sato, coming off his first career victory two weeks ago in Long Beach, drove in too hard for the hairpin at the end of the long back straight and gave just enough space for Hinchcliffe to get past.
"To win a race on the last corner of the last lap is one of the coolest feelings," Hinchcliffe said. "To make a last-corner pass, that's something I'll remember for a long time. Takuma was making that race car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well. He just outbroke himself just a little bit and I was able to do a high-low (pass) and got the win."
Sato had successfully defended the lead from Hinchcliffe on two other occasions during the final laps but couldn't hang on at the end with older tires.
"I think I tried everything I could to defend," Sato said. "I was really struggling on the grip the last laps. I really had to deal with a lot of things. The last few laps were great fun from a driver's point of view. It's a real pity that I lost it on the final lap of the race on the final corner."
The last Canadian to win in Brazil was Greg Moore in 1998.
"Obviously, Greg Moore was my hero growing up," Hinchcliffe said. "When I got to IndyCar, the biggest pressure I put on myself was to maintain the reputation that Canada has with their IndyCar drivers. To be able to do that now, not only make it to this level, be successful at that level. I'm proud."
Despite losing the race, Sato leaves Brazil with the lead in the drivers' standings. American Marco Andretti, who finished third Sunday, moved to second for the championship.
Helio Castroneves, who led coming into his home race, had an incident-filled race and finished 13th to drop to third in the championship.
Castroneves' Penske teammate Will Power, who won the previous three races in Brazil but started only 22nd after a mishap in qualifying, retired on lap 19 because of an apparent gear shift problem.
Andretti has had an unusually good start to the season on road and street circuits. It was the second third-place finish for him this year - he was also on the podium in St. Petersburg - and the result gives him some momentum going into the Indianapolis 500.
"I think right now we're on par for a great season," he said. "This is what used to be the tough part of the season for me. We've been getting some decent results where I used to struggle, so I'm pleased with that."
Spaniard Oriol Servia was fourth in the second-to-last race for Panther DRR racing, which will not compete after the Indy 500 because of financial difficulties.
American Josef Newgarden, who started last after changing an engine before the race, managed a fifth-place finish, the best of his career. Pole-sitter and current IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay ran up the front for a while but finished only 11th after a flat tire. Andretti teammate and front-row starter EJ Viso of Venezuela was sixth.
Tony Kanaan's impressive weekend despite an injured right hand ended in disappointment when he ran out of fuel before a pit stop on lap 51 while running second.
After stopping on top of the cross-finish line, he put both hands on top of his visor in disbelief as fans packing the stands at the Sambadrome front straight loudly applauded. He finished 21st, three laps back.
"I couldn't believe that something like that happened. I wanted to win this one for the fans really bad, they supported me all week," he said. "It's tough, but it happens. I leave with my head up because I know that I did everything that I could."
Power's winless streak was extended to 15 races after his disappointing weekend in Brazil. The "King of Sao Paulo" was the pre-race favorite after winning all three previous races at the Anhembi circuit. He dominated the first two practice sessions on Saturday, but a red flag kept him from posting a fast lap in qualifying.
Power had moved to 11th place by Lap 18 before the mechanical failure ended his hopes of another victory.
"We don't know what happened," Power said. "I had no real warning, unfortunately. I had such a good car. I was passing a car a lap."
Castroneves came boosted by the best start of his career after three straight top-10 finishes, but it was a difficult day for the Brazilian, who got involved in at least three crashes in the 75-lap race.
"We didn't have the race we wanted, everything happened to us," the three-time Indy 500 winner said. "But we have to move on and think about Indy."
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park announced today that Chevrolet will be the title sponsor of the first Canadian race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, taking place on Labour Day Weekend, August 30 – September 1. The name of the race will be the Chevrolet Silverado 250.
“We are thrilled to have our official vehicle supplier Chevrolet, as the title sponsor of the first Canadian NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the storied 3.957 km road course on September 1st,” said Myles Brandt, President and General Manager of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. “Having such an iconic brand such as Chevrolet come on board for this historic event shows their commitment to the track, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and local community in which many of their vehicles are built.”
“Chevrolet has a long and celebrated history in racing, and we are proud to introduce the Chevrolet Silverado 250 as the first Canadian race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, right here in our own backyard,” said Marc Comeau, Vice President of Sales, Service and Marketing for Chevrolet in Canada. “With the launch of the 2014 Silverado, new from hood to hitch, this event is a natural fit to showcase its innovative features, capability, performance and unmatched V8 power and efficiency.”
The new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado is engineered to be the strongest, smartest, and most capable Silverado ever. It builds on Chevrolet’s 95 years of truck heritage, while raising the bar for full-size pickups. Among the many updates for 2014 are a new trio of powerful, efficient EcoTec3 family of engines; a stronger, quieter, more comfortable cab; revised steering, suspension and brakes; ingenious solutions for managing cargo in the bed and true truck capability for towing and hauling.
The Early Bird Weekend SuperTicket is just $65 until June 30 ($80 at the Gate). Single-day tickets are also available. Each ticket includes parking and access to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Expo and Marketplace. As with all events, children 12 and under are admitted for free when accompanied by a paid adult admission.
Camping is a popular part of the experience, with Early Bird General Camping passes just $65 for the weekend when purchased before June 30 (tents or pop-up trailers). Early Bird RV passes are $90 and Reserved Camping is $225.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- It was an unlikely pairing that no one was certain would work when A.J. Foyt hired Takuma Sato to drive for him this year.
Foyt, the hot-tempered Texan with little patience for errors, had just hired a talented Japanese driver with a penchant of letting his aggression take him out of many races. Sato's most spectacular gaffe came on the last lap of last year's Indianapolis 500, when he wrecked while racing for the win.
Foyt made it clear early he wanted his new driver to bring a 10th-place car home in 10th, to never push past the limit and settle for what the car would give him.
On Sunday, the car gave both owner and driver a victory.
Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race, taking the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in just his third race with his new team.
The win came in Sato's 52nd career start, but was the first for A.J. Foyt Racing since Airton Dare won Kansas in 2002. Even more impressive? It was the first on a road or street course since 1978 when Foyt was behind the wheel for a win at Silverstone.
"We've had a lot of drivers, but none of them wanted to win," Foyt said, "this boy wants to win."
The 78-year-old Foyt had to watch the race on television at home because of a sciatic nerve that needs surgery. He missed out on making his first-ever trip to Long Beach's Victory Lane - Foyt never won on the street course as a driver or an owner - and said via telephone "the last five laps were the longest five laps of anything."
Not so for Sato.
"I was really enjoying driving," he smiled. "I didn't want to finish the race because it felt so good."
The diminutive Sato, he stands just 5-foot-4 and is listed at 117 lbs., leapt into the arms of his crew members in Victory Lane and spoke of how much his victory would mean in Japan. He touched upon the struggles of his home country since the 2011 earthquake.
"I think it's great news from a sporting point of view for the Japanese all over the world competing. Any win is really great news for us, particularly that we had such a tragedy for the earthquake, we had such a difficulty," he said. "People (are) still on the way back, 300,000 people still don't have their home, have temporary living.
"This hopefully is good news to cheer them up and hopefully, yes, this is just a start to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans."
Both Sato and team manager Larry Foyt, who runs the day-to-day operations of the race team, spoke to Foyt by telephone after the win and were disappointed he wasn't present Sunday.
"We hate it because he is definitely our big leader and he is the big boss man," Larry Foyt said. "This is for him. He was surprisingly calm. He said, `If my memory serves me correct, I think it's been since 2002.' He's very happy."
Foyt is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday in Texas, but said he's pushing to have it moved up at Tuesday because he wants to shorten his recovery period.
"I just can't walk very far and I want to get this healed up because I am definitely going to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Foyt said.
The win pushed Sato to second in the IndyCar standings, and was redemption for the Honda driver, who was headed to a podium finish last year at Long Beach while driving for Bobby Rahal when he was spun by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap.
On Sunday, he held off Graham Rahal, who took his seat at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for the win. Although the second-place finish was a huge turnaround for Rahal, who did not fare well in his first two races driving for his father's team, it was a typical Rahal result. Bobby Rahal finished second as a driver at Long Beach four times, in 1988, and from 1991 through 1993.
"I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend," Rahal said. "To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result. God, I came so close to winning yet again."
Justin Wilson, who started 24th because his team failed to get an approved wing onto his car in time for him to make a qualifying run Saturday, drove all the way to third for Dale Coyne Racing. The team had held a meeting without Wilson to discuss its qualifying gaffe.
"I figured if we got in the top-12, top-10 on the outside chance, that would be a great day," Wilson said. "To actually be on the podium, that's a great day. A real team effort."
Pole-sitter Dario Franchitti was fourth in his 250th career start. It was the first race he's finished this season after a crash led to a last-place finish at St. Pete and a mechanical failure ended his race early at Barber,
"After the first two results this is a lot better," said the four-time champion. "We're getting there, we're getting there."
It marked a sweep of the top four spots for Honda, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season and had been shut out by Chevrolet in the first two races of the year. All Honda drivers were previously scheduled to visit Honda Performance Development and American Honda on Monday in Los Angeles, a trip Rahal noted will be much more enjoyable following the sweep.
"We as drivers have pushed them extremely hard," Rahal said. "We push on each and every one of our race engineers that are with us each and every session. The response that they've given us has been phenomenal. At times it would be easy for them to get down on themselves because of the things surrounding them, but I can't say I've seen them with a negative outlook on anything."
Honda was locked out of the podium at St. Pete and had just one spot - Scott Dixon's second-place finish at Barber - as Chevy drivers from Andretti Autosport won the first two races.
JR Hildebrand was the highest finishing Chevrolet driver in fifth, his best finish of the season, and Oriol Servia was sixth after a penalty was overturned. That pushed Marco Andretti down a spot to sixth, but the highest finish for an Andretti organization that was looking to open the season with three consecutive wins.
Sato took the lead when Will Power pitted from the front and had no problems holding off the field over the remaining 50 laps.
The rest of the field wasn't so lucky.
A late crash between Servia and Tony Kanaan sent Kanaan into the wall, where he climbed from his car and was on the track for the final lap. It brought out the caution that ended the race under yellow, and Servia was hit with a 30-second penalty for what IndyCar deemed avoidable contact.
Servia appealed and IndyCar overturned the penalty - the second penalty he's had rescinded this weekend - but Kanaan was not happy.
"We had a good race going and I was set for a fifth-place finish until Servia took me out with half a lap to go," Kanaan said. "It's really frustrating - I was the leading Chevy car out there and it was looking like a good points race for us. I'm really disappointed on how it turned out."
Race control was busy Sunday with several calls, and several other incidents that required review.
Defending IndyCar champion Hunter-Reay, who was coming off a win at Barber two weeks ago, had too much speed as he passed Ana Beatriz and couldn't navigate his way through Turn 8, driving straight into the tire barrier to bring out a full-course yellow.
"I just started getting desperate. We couldn't go anywhere," Hunter-Reay said. "Some of the corners that are my strongest were my weakest today. I just got in too hot. Trying anything to get a little better, and it just went from bad to worse."
The caution period triggered pit stops, and an incident on pit road between Tristan Vautier and Power.
Vautier started to pull out of his pit stall as Power was coming in and the two cars collided. The contact damaged Vautier's wing, and although Power seemed to escape major damage, his car stalled as he tried to pull away after the service stop.
It led to a penalty for Vautier, his second of the race. His first was for avoidable contact with Dixon on the first lap of the race. The rookie ran into the back of Dixon, causing him to spin.
"I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I'm sorry about that to him and his crew," said Vautier. "Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power's car. We had some communication issues as a team, but we're all learning to work together and things happen. We win as a team and we lose as a team, and I had my mistakes as well."
At the same time Power's Penske Racing crew was trying to get him re-started, his teammate's race was ending. AJ Allmendinger, making his second IndyCar start, pulled his car off the course in Turn 5 with some sort of mechanical issue.
Andretti escaped penalty after IndyCar reviewed contact between him and Simon Pagenaud that caused Pagenaud's tire to go flat.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Conway is certain it will take him only one lap to get up to speed at Long Beach, and he believes he's a threat to win Sunday's race.
"That'd be good. I could retire on top," Conway said Thursday.
Yes, the 29-year-old Conway was joking about retirement. But he knows there may not be another IndyCar Series race for him after this weekend.
And he knows that it was his decision alone that put him in this position.
Seven months ago, during a test session for the IndyCar season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Conway decided he just didn't want to race ovals anymore. The Englishman missed most of the 2010 season with serious injuries to his back and leg suffered in a last-lap crash at the Indianapolis 500, and he was in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas when Dan Wheldon was killed.
The next oval race after that was last year's Indy 500, and Conway was involved in an accident with Will Power in which his car turned on its side against the fence.
So when Conway, who had never before raced on ovals until he joined IndyCar in 2009, couldn't get comfortable in the car on Fontana's 2-mile oval, he simply gave up his seat.
"When you can't give it 100 percent, and you can't wait for the race to end, and you just want to get it out of the way, then you shouldn't be doing it," Conway said. "I didn't realize it until I got in the car at Fontana. I just wanted to get out and I didn't want to get back in. Then it hit me that I felt that strongly about it."
But Conway doesn't want to give up IndyCar outright, and if he could find a team willing to let him run just road and street courses he would jump at the opportunity. Right now, the only opportunity came from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which will field a third car Sunday at Long Beach for Conway.
Long Beach just happens to be the site of Conway's 2011 victory, his only career IndyCar win.
"There will obviously be people who are race ready having competed in the first two events, but I have been thinking about Long Beach since the start of the year," he said. "I don't feel like I am rusty."
RLL, which has one-race sponsorship from Blu eCigs for Long Beach, let Conway prepare for this weekend with a one-day test at Barber Motorsports Park. Conway said he was up to speed after just one lap.
"I felt at home straight away in the car and that was the main thing - I felt comfortable," he said. "I have been doing laps of Long Beach in my head for the last few months so I feel like I am in tune that way."
Conway also has race time under his belt this year. He's running the full season in the FIA World Endurance Championship sports car series for G-Drive Racing with Delta-ADR, and drove a full stint last weekend in the season opener at Silverstone.
But that WEC schedule has just eight races, and Conway would love to fill his time with some more IndyCar events.
"I know it's hard for a team to want to give me a seat and then swap the driver out on the ovals, but I'd like to try to do more IndyCar. I love the series," Conway said. "I'd love to do more with the Rahal team. I'd race every weekend if I could, it's just a matter of finding an owner willing to do something."
SHANGHAI (AP) -- Fernando Alonso has "no illusions" about his prospects in the Formula One championship despite ending a 12-race drought with a commanding victory at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The dozen races without a win was the Ferrari driver's longest barren period since his winless 2009 season, and represented a sharp change of fortunes after a Did-Not-Finish result at the previous race in Malaysia.
"It couldn't have gone better than this today," Alonso said after Sunday's race. "This has a special feeling because it was a tricky race full of action.
"Along with the second place I got in Australia, this result shows that the car is competitive and that we are working in the right direction to always be in the fight for the podium."
The Spanish driver said he had "pace in his pocket" which he kept in reserve, yet still drove away to a comfortable 10-second victory over Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton hung on for third, just two-tenths of a second ahead of the fast-finishing Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.
The comfortable nature of the win raised Ferrari's hopes of taking its first drivers' championship since 2007, particularly with the next race coming this weekend in Bahrain, giving rival teams no chance to introduce any significant aerodynamic upgrades in the meantime.
However, the 2013 season is already shaping as one in which fortunes will change from venue to venue depending on the layout of tracks, surfaces and the various team strategies revolving around tires. The Red Bulls were dominant in Malaysia, yet absent from the podium in Shanghai.
"With no one dominating the championship, it makes it extremely interesting, even if we are aware this is only the third race," Alonso said. "We are under no illusions and we must continue to concentrate and do all we can to improve still further."
Vettel still leads the drivers' standings, with his advantage sliced to three points over the consistent Raikkonen. The Finn's second-place finish on Sunday was his 20th consecutive points finish in Formula One, joining Alonso (23) and Michael Schumacher (24) as the only men to achieve that feat.
That string of points finishes appeared to be in serious jeopardy when he ran heavily into the back of Sergio Perez's McLaren early in the race, but remarkably his Lotus lost little pace and the team opted to keep the damaged front wing and nose on the car.
If not for that accident, and a slow start that saw the Finn immediately shuffled down from his second place on the grid to fourth, Raikkonen would have posed a much stronger challenge to Alonso.
"It was quite difficult out there," Raikkonen said of driving with a rearranged front assembly. "The car is not designed like that, otherwise we would use it all the time, but I was surprised how good it was. Of course there were some handling issues, which was not ideal, but we just had to try to live with it and we still had pretty OK speed."
Lotus' trackside operations manager Alan Permane calculated that the damage cost Raikkonen about one-quarter of a second per lap. Given it happened with 40 laps to go, that was 10 seconds in all - precisely the margin behind the race winner.
"Without the poor start and without the incident for Kimi, then we definitely would have fought for a win today," team principal Eric Boullier said. "Kimi showed once more why he's one of the very best drivers in the world by being one of the fastest on track despite sustaining damage to his car."
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- James Hinchcliffe went from finishing first to ... finishing first.
Hinchcliffe got the worst of it when several cars made contact in the opening lap of Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, setting off the race's only caution. Then, he said "something let go in the left rear" while he was warming up the tire and he got stuck at Turn 5.
That's where the St. Petersburg race winner spent the rest of the race since there weren't any more cautions allowing him to escape the track. He grumbled after the race he wish he'd followed NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski's lead and had his cell phone inside his car for entertainment.
"It was just shockingly painful and frustrating, because we were only four corners from pit lane," Hinchliffe said. "I mean, I could almost see pit lane. And you're watching everybody else just palling around and having a great time. You never want to watching, especially when you're sitting in a car right beside the race track watching.
"It's tough but the crew kept me smiling over the radio. We were having some fun banter, just trying to make light of the situation because at that point, that's all you can do."
Hinchcliffe had hoped for a much better follow-up to his first IndyCar victory two weeks ago.
Instead, he completed all of three laps after starting back in the 20th spot in what became a rough weekend all around. He didn't advance in qualifying and accused Will Power of blocking him and spoiling his lap, which Power denied.
Hinchcliffe was still smiling once he got clear of the car and made it back to the trailer. That's how racing goes sometimes, after all.
"The highest of highs and the lowest of lows, that's what this sport's all about," he said. "Unfortunately, every driver on earth, you're going to lose more races than you win. That's a statistical fact. But it's the good days like two weeks ago that keep you plowing through the bad days. We still have 17 races to go. We've got a lot of time left to have some good days."
Meanwhile, IndyCar said it left Hinchcliffe on the track because it didn't want to extend the caution period just to get him towed back to pit lane.
He was hooked to the tow truck when series officials noticed his car was missing one wheel, and they didn't want to risk further damage to his car. Hinchcliffe said his team was "happy to keep going."
"At the same time we were getting ready to go green as the track was clear so Race Control made the decision to leave the No. 27 car, and try to bring it back during the next yellow, which never happened," IndyCar said.
Scott Dixon, who was left on course for a large portion of last year's race at Long Beach, could understand Hinchcliffe's frustration. He said he was grateful a fan brought him an umbrella when he was stranded last year "so I could sort of cool off a bit."
But Dixon said the rule book is confusing.
"The rules state, they will tow you back till the last 10 laps of the race, so I don't know what the deal is with that," Dixon said. "I know I was (mad) when that happened to me, and Hinch should be as well. There's a whole lot of the race to go. I thought they were going to tow him back, but we already had a yellow ... I think they get worried about these yellows being too long.
"It needs to be in the rule book or they need to tow you back."
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- James Hinchcliffe watched the 2011 season-opening race at St. Petersburg from the sidelines because he didn't have a deal yet to drive in the IndyCar Series. Out of work again at the end of the year when his race team closed its doors, the Canadian was pondering his future in the Indianapolis house he shared with a bunch of roommates when his big break finally came.
Michael Andretti was on the phone in need of a driver to fill Danica Patrick's seat. The ride had gone to Dan Wheldon, who signed to drive the GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport but was killed shortly after in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas.
Hinchcliffe was both honored and humbled - feelings that came flooding back Sunday when it all came full circle for him as he picked up his first career victory on the street course in Wheldon's adopted hometown of St. Pete.
"This is his hometown; this is his car," said Hinchcliffe, who will be added now to the Wheldon monument unveiled Thursday at Turn 10 on the course. "Knowing my face will be on that memorial, that's really special."
He drove the bright green No. 27 to the win in front of Wheldon's wife, two sons, and sister, who have become like family to him and gave him the blessing to accept the job when Andretti called.
"It was a tremendous amount of responsibility I felt to honor Dan and do a good enough job to honor what he would have done in this car," Hinchcliffe said. "So to get the first win here in his hometown with his family here, who I've grown quite close to, it means so much more, to be honest. There's nowhere that I would have rather had my first win I don't think in this car than right here in St. Pete."
Hinchcliffe passed Helio Castroneves on the final restart to take the lead and held on to win by 1.09 seconds over the defending race winner. He became the first Canadian to win since Paul Tracy's 2007 victory at Cleveland in the CART Series, and Hinchcliffe waved the Canadian flag as he climbed from his car.
The win showed Andretti didn't lose a step over the offseason, when the organization turned it up a notch even after Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship.
It paid off Sunday when Hinchcliffe got the first IndyCar win for sponsor GoDaddy, who was with Patrick in the series before her 2012 move to NASCAR, and it was the 44th win for the organization.
The team also celebrated Marco Andretti's third-place finish, and was satisfied with new addition E.J. Viso's seventh-place finish considering he came back from a hard crash in Saturday's practice after his suspension failed. Hunter-Reay might have also been in the mix if not for a mechanical problem.
"We worked so hard over the winter because we knew it was going to be that much harder to be competitive this year," team owner Michael Andretti said. "To come out the way we did, I think all weekend all of our cars were showing they had strength.
"For Hinch, especially, he just was on it from the first practice on. He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend. He drove his butt off."
So did Andretti's son, Marco, who picked up his career-best finish on the downtown street course after using the offseason to study what he's been doing wrong in the race car and to rebuild his confidence. He used a late surge to pass Simona de Silvestro with two laps to go to get the podium finish.
"I've been working so hard in the offseason, not just physically, but on places where I've been lacking and these places have been a weak point for me," said Andretti, who praised de Silvestro but said in the closing laps, "I had to muscle her a little bit. I needed a podium."
De Silvestro lost two more spots - to Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon - before the checkered flag. She settled for sixth but was thrilled about her debut race for KV Racing Technology, which went fourth and sixth with Kanaan and de Silvestro.
Mario Andretti was among the many people who stopped after the race to congratulate the Swiss driver.
"We were running up front the whole day and it was really cool to be keeping up with them," she said. "I think we can really learn from this and try to be better next week. We all know we can be fast and qualify fast and run up front. Now we just have to minimize mistakes so we can win races."
It was a huge opening weekend for Chevrolet, which swept the top four spots in its first race since capturing the driver and manufacturer championship in last year's return season to IndyCar.
Dixon was the highest-finishing Honda for team owner Chip Ganassi, who minced no words Saturday when he openly questioned Honda's desire to win in IndyCar. The Honda teams had been slow all weekend, and Ganassi's comments sent a clear message he's not satisfied with engine performance.
Honda had only three drivers in the top 10.
"Obviously, it was a disappointing start to our IndyCar season," said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development. "But we will learn from this and everyone ... will work, together with our teams, to get back to the top of the podium."
The race was dominated early by Will Power, who led the first 26 laps but lost the lead to Penske Racing teammate Castroneves on a restart and then lost another position to Hinchcliffe on another restart. It put him back in third for a huge chunk of the race until a bizarre incident under caution with JR Hildebrand, who inexplicably drove on top of Power's car.
The contact damaged Power's side mirror and caused a flat tire, forcing him to pit road for repairs that dropped him to 16th, where he finished.
Hildebrand took the blame.
"We were getting ready for the restart, I was dialing my knobs back and talking to team about the start," Hildebrand said. "Guys just slowed up, and I ran into the back of him. It was totally my fault. As soon as I hit him, I couldn't help from going anywhere. It was totally my fault.
"I'm super sorry for Will. We were just trying to get back on lead lap. I was doing too much all at once when the field slowed up there."
But Power was more bothered by the restarts, and said he's spoken to race director Beaux Barfield about protocol in the past.
"What are we going to do about second-place taking off? He just keeps allowing people to do it," Power said. "And then JR just ran over the back of me to ruin the day. He said he was just looking at the steering wheel. Just a mistake, man, it happens."
Castroneves said he did nothing wrong on the restart that got him past Power on the restart on lap 27. Power never led again.
"I went between the cones where we talk about it; but I understand that he also has got to keep the pace," said Castroneves, who led a race-high 42 laps.
"They said this is going to be the start of the race, you've got to be ready. I was ready. So in this situation, everybody wants to win and go for it. I think I was doing my job."
With the onset of the IndyCar season this weekend I wanted to set-up an interview with Canadian and Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe to preview his upcoming junior year (and for us Canadians his third year) in the sport.
This was going to be a story about Hinchcliffe’s hopes and expectations for the upcoming season (his second at Andretti Autosport), but the more I spoke with him and the more I looked at the state of IndyCar, I realized that IndyCar’s future success might hinge on this humble yet extremely charismatic personality.
Let’s first look at the recent history of the sport. IndyCar has tried to claw back to the state it was in before the IRL–CART split in 1995, but the progress has been slow. They’ve made strides since reunification in 2008, but the overall loss of interest in open-wheel motor racing to NASCAR has been devastating especially in the United States.
For years, IndyCar got plenty of mainstream media attention from starlet Danica Patrick. Showcasing her at any opportunity, but their biggest chess piece will soon be two years removed from IndyCar and has started her second year in NASCAR. IndyCar’s hope of showcasing Target Chip Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti and Team Penske’s Will Power has seemed to fizzle. The Franchitti–Power battles over the years have been entertaining to watch from a racing fans perspective, but it hasn’t catapulted IndyCar to the level it needs to be at.
IndyCar receives most of its publicity from its showpiece race the Indy 500 held at the end of May. Otherwise, the media push is only on when the race is coming to your backyard or when there’s a big change up top which happened once again this off-season with the ousting of CEO Randy Bernard. Ownership changes and boardroom politics are not the media attention that fans care about and any more instability might just turn loyal fans away. When at the track, fans have a great time watching their local spectacle and seeing their favourite drivers’ compete. The key is getting them to follow IndyCar year round on television.
The answer – well in my opinion he’s sitting right in front of me in Canada’s own James Hinchcliffe. What IndyCar needs is a major personality that can resonate with many and introduce new followers to IndyCar. An American would probably be preferred by the powers that be to take the mantle and lead the charge, but Canada is close enough and his team is owned by the all-American Michael Andretti anyways.
Hinchcliffe doesn’t take himself too seriously outside of the race car and is famous for being the self-appointed mayor in his fictitiously created town called “Hinchtown.” Hinchtown was created when he was still working his way up the ladder in the Indy Lights series producing and starring in a number of videos addressing his citizens. Hinchcliffe has furthered his video star this offseason with parody videos called The Offseason co-starring Power, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden and Chip Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball. These videos are just some examples that showcase Hinchcliffe’s personality and why he can be the star that IndyCar longs for.
Whether Hinchcliffe knows it or not – a big showing in this year’s IndyCar season will catapult him to stardom. However, as the saying goes “you have to crawl before you can walk” and Hinchcliffe understands he has to win his first race before he can even think about the driver’s championship.
“I absolutely want to get the win out of the way, but I also want to eliminate mistakes. That’s the goal. I think if our car is competitive enough and if we eliminate all mistakes – we can finish in the top three at the end of the season,” said Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe should no longer be viewed as just a nice Canadian story in the field. It was suitable when he won Rookie of the Year honours with Newman/Haas Racing edging Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand. It was also a nice story last year with seven top-six finishes in his first eight races last year, but the rest of the season was filled with mishaps and bad breaks. Those things happen in your first full season with a new team, but it’s time for Hinchcliffe to shine considering his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay won the driver’s championship last season.
Hinchcliffe needs to elevate to the next level and the continuity with the same team under the leadership of Michael Andretti should be the ticket. Andretti Autosport is the first team that Hinchcliffe has been with for more than one season and he cherishes the time he has had with Andretti to soak up his knowledge. Andretti Autosport has retained their drivers for another year including the aforementioned Hunter-Reay, Michael’s son Marco Andretti, while adding E.J. Viso into the fold from KV Racing.
“Continuity is huge. If you know the people you’re working with and you’ve had that experience together, you’re in a much better position to make certain decision on the race track,” explains Hinchcliffe.
Marketing yourself is not what you grow up thinking as a young race car driver coming up the ranks, but it looks like that’s what it has come down to. There are many great ambassadors of the sport including Franchitti and long-term stalwarts KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, who have all done their part in promoting IndyCar over the years. Unfortunately, IndyCar is at a point where they need more than talented ambassadors and all three of them are getting a bit long in the tooth. There’s a need for fresh faces to attract an additional fan base with a combination of youth, talent and personality. If you google IndyCar, a section of people related to your search pops up showcasing Danica Patrick and Randy Bernard – wouldn’t that signify a need to promote the current stars of IndyCar?
Ryan Hunter-Reay is a great story filled with determination and perseverance, but why hasn’t Hunter-Reay taken off? He’s the perfect all-American talent that the series thrives for, yet still his thrilling championship win over Will Power in the last race of the year created no buzz outside of the racing world.
That leaves you with James Hinchcliffe. He’s a master in marketing himself and he’s backed by Go Daddy, the most recognizable sponsor in the sport. He has been featured in television commercials and billboards not just in his native Canada, but throughout the United States. All that’s left is for him to do is win a few races and the path for glory is set in a sport that’s desperate for personalities.
Hinchcliffe is not the only IndyCar driver that can lead this push. His parody co-stars Power and Newgarden, as well as Hunter-Reay should be the new wave of drivers headlining their marketing efforts.
In Canada, specialty sports television channel Sportsnet have already tried to capitalize on Hinchcliffe’s personality by showcasing the mayor in commercials, television shows and in their new magazine.
With the promotion and hopeful success of James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar can grow the sport in Canada and draw the attention it deserves. IndyCar will never get to the level of attention it received before the split of IRL and CART in the 1990’s, but it can definitely do better than its current state. Now James only has to do his part on track, so no pressure…
Getting to know James Hinchcliffe a bit more
First car? 2005 MINI Cooper S
Last song sung in the car? “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
The longest road trip you’ve ever taken? 18 hour drive to Denver.
Favourite vacation spot? Turks and Caicos Islands
Favourite sports team? Toronto Maple Leafs
Favourite Movie? Snatch (2000)
Is there any one motto that you live by? Life is too short.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Kimi Raikkonen won Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, jumpstarting Lotus' bid to challenge the series' bigger teams for the 2013 championship.
Raikkonen took the lead for good on lap 43 of 58 in a race that had seven different leaders, and had the luxury of driving conservatively in the closing laps while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel scrambled in vain to keep up.
The Finn needed only two pit stops compared to three stops for each of the six men who followed in his wake, and he became the 15th driver in F1 history to record 20 grand prix wins.
"Our plan was to do two stops and though it's always difficult in the first races to know when to stop and not go too early, we got it exactly right," Raikkonen said.
"We followed the plan and it worked out perfectly for us. I could save the tires and go fast if I needed. It was one of the easiest races I have done to win and hopefully we can have many more of these races."
Alonso looked like he had a chance when he trailed Raikkonen by 6.2 seconds with 12 laps to go, but could not make up ground. Still, he was satisfied with where Ferrari stands compared to the poor performances to start last season.
"I am extremely happy," Alonso said. "We had a difficult start of season two years ago and last year, too, and this year is very different. We feel much more comfortable, the car is responding well and we have a good season ahead of us."
Pole sitter and three-time reigning world champion Vettel was third in a Red Bull. He was forced to pit after just seven laps due to worn super-soft tires and never threatened thereafter.
"The first few laps were okay but then the tires were falling apart and we could not go as far as other people," Vettel said.
"We have to admit sometimes that other people are faster than us but it's a long season so we have some good points to start with and we have no reason to be disappointed."
While Vettel was accentuating the positive, the race performance was a disappointing one, and the rapid tire degradation is a headache for a team which had precious few reliability issues over recent years.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa was fourth in an encouraging performance that indicated he had carried the strong form of late 2012 into the new campaign.
Lewis Hamilton was fifth in his first race for Mercedes, having to ditch his plans for a two-stopper and switch to three because of tire degradation. The Mercedes race pace was underwhelming and the dominant performances of preseason testing are already a distant memory.
Mark Webber of Red Bull was sixth. The Australian local favorite qualified second on Sunday morning -- qualifying was postponed from Saturday due to heavy rain -- but yet again made one of his frustrating slow starts off the line, was seventh after lap one, and still has not finished on the podium in his home race in 12 attempts.
Force India pair Adrian Sutil -- who twice led the race and was the man overtaken by Raikkonen for the lead -- faded to seventh as he struggled on the super-soft tires in the closing stages, and finished ahead of teammate Paul di Resta. McLaren's Jenson Button and Lotus' Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10.
While Lotus was acknowledged even in preseason testing to have a pace comparable to the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari, there was a nagging doubt whether it would have the depth of financial resources to challenge its bigger rivals throughout the season.
Raikkonen was not yet eyeing off the championship but was hoping more money would arrive to sustain a challenge.
"It's not going to be as easy for us," Raikkonen said. "We have the people and the tools to make it, but the money is the big part of the whole thing.
"Last year we did pretty well on the money. If we can get more money it will help and a better chance for fair play against the big teams."
McLaren had been off the pace of its rivals throughout practice and qualifying, paying the price early in the season for a radical overhaul of the car in the hope of having more development upside in the second half.
That continued in Sunday's race with Jenson Button an uncompetitive ninth and Sergio Perez leaving empty handed in his McLaren debut, finishing 11th.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who set the fastest time in first and second qualifying sessions, retired on lap 27 due to an electrical failure, while Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg did not even start the race due to a fuel-system problem.