31I0167

 31I0167Daniel Ricciardo believes Red Bull's rivals have been "more adventurous" than his team in terms of 2017 car design.

Red Bull's RB13 was seen in the flesh for the first time when it rolled out of the pit lane on Monday morning in Barcelona, while Mercedes and Ferrari had already carried out filming days. The 2017 Red Bull follows a similar philosophy to last year's car, but Ricciardo says he is comfortable with the approach taken by his team.

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"Yeah, that is an interesting one," Ricciardo replied when asked about the difference between the Red Bull design and its rivals. "Obviously people expect us to have the most detailed car with lots of little wings everywhere, but it looks like some other teams have tried some more adventurous things.

"We have to see. I definitely have faith in my guys with the team. If we feel that we need to try some other things then that is what testing is for. The car looks clean. It looks nice, but at the end of the day hopefully it drives fast. That is important."

Red Bull struggled for mileage on the opening day of testing as two stoppages limited Ricciardo to 50 laps, but the Australian – who ended the day 1.1 seconds off the pace in fifth place – was unconcerned by the sensor and battery problems he faced.

ricciardo 1"Not worried. It would have been nice to do more laps, this morning in particular. The main issue was that it was for safety measures, so we stopped running because of some sensor things and they are giving us warnings. So especially from the engine side we are playing it a bit safe and making sure we don't do damage on day one. In the last two hours we got some good running, and hopefully that continues for the rest of the test, and hopefully Max [Verstappen] does 200 laps tomorrow.

"It's not annoying because I know what to expect. Particularly on day one in testing we set a long program that we all set that with a bit of a smile, knowing that it is very unlikely that we can complete it all. So, I don't get my hopes up to much. I think it is important that we do get some running, and what is important is that we had clean running at the end of the day. It gives us a bit of momentum tomorrow.

"Today l learned that the cars have potential. We still have a lot to learn with them, getting the most out of them. Will they be six seconds quicker like people say? I don't know, that is pretty optimistic but certainly you start to feel that they are going to work, and it is winter and cold. When we come here in May it is going to be a different story, and it will help when the track warms up."

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17DAY2mt1577Nearly three hours after winning his first Daytona 500, Kurt Busch was finally finished with all of his obligations.

Thousands of pictures had been snapped in victory lane. Numerous television and radio interviews were given. A media center press conference was done. All the other spoils that come with winning the sport's biggest race had been taken care of.

Busch is now headed for his Stewart-Haas Racing hauler, the last one parked in the Daytona International Speedway garage, and still trying to wrap his head around the accomplishment of winning the Daytona 500. His first such victory in 16 tries.

With each step through the quiet and empty infield, all of Busch's past Daytona disappointments disappear into the brisk night.

Then came a question that made him pause before answering: With three second-place finishes and other tough losses that have occurred here, did Busch feel he had to win the Daytona 500 before his career was over?

"I wanted to," Busch told RACER, "and then when it isn't the realization ... let's just say 10 years from now, and you didn't win it, you have to accept that you didn't. This is a huge championship moment wrapped into 10 days.

"When we run for the title it's 10 weeks, for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. These 10 days are the same as 10 weeks, except it's compressed, the emotions are. They're high. They're low. You have a bad practice, you're like, 'oh man!' You have a great practice, you're like, 'woo!' It's a championship all in one week."

 JKH7326Even without a Daytona 500 win on his resume, entering Sunday's race Busch had already established himself as one of NASCAR's premier drivers. In his 16 full seasons, Busch had accumulated 28 career wins, including in the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. The 2004 season saw him ascend to the top of the sport when Busch won the first championship under the playoff format. Now add in a Daytona 500 triumph, and it's easy to start wondering where his place in the sport might be.

Busch doesn't. He's keeping the blinders on.

busch portrait"I want to continue to win and do what Gene Haas hired me to do, and that's collect trophies," he said.

Daytona and Charlotte, wins like that are special of course. But next comes Atlanta. While there are other races out there he still hasn't knocked off his list, Busch goes week-by-week focusing on the immediate goal.

"I want to win in my hometown, though," Busch said of Las Vegas, which is the third stop on the schedule. "I want to win at Darlington. And I want to win Indy. I want to win everywhere. You know, Kentucky's cool, too. They're all great."

Daytona now gives Busch victories on 15 of the 23 tracks on the current Cup Series schedule. Newly remarried, he has appeared rejuvenated in his approach to racing. Being back in the Ford family has brought a comforting sense of familiarity.

In other words, just like he did with his attitude toward the Daytona 500, Busch is just plugging away.

"I'm having fun. I'm enjoying it," Busch said. "We just signed a new deal with Ford and with everybody at Haas Automation and Monster Energy, the ball doesn't just stop here. The tire's going to keep rolling, and we hope that we're rolling the right way to victory lane as we go."

Just give Busch time to roll through the post-race parties and victory media tour, first.

Auto Club

RACER's Daytona 500 coverage is presented by Auto Club Speedway. Celebrating 20 years of flat out and five wide at their Track Reunion with two days of racing, March 25-26.

 

lat levitt spb 0413 08982

Verizon IndyCar Series CEO Mark Miles continues to look for opportunities to start the season in February at destinations outside North America. At least one venue in South America is rumored to be on IndyCar's radar, and numerous tracks in Europe, Asia and Australia have been mentioned as possibilities to host the open-wheel series.

The desire to add international events that would be held prior to the start of the regular IndyCar season would add exposure for the series, but more importantly, Miles views the trips abroad as a way to help the cash-strapped teams in the paddock.

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"For us, international races at the beginning of the year still matter," Miles said of the non-championship events. "The first thing to know is, we're talking about February, we're talking about a limited number – I think maybe two, someday – and we believe that that market will allow us to pay the teams more."

Miles envisions an increase in IndyCar's Leader Circle payouts to each full-time entry would be made, and with the costs of travel covered to some degree, international races could result in a positive cash flow for team owners.

"We've told the teams, if we get what we're looking for in the marketplace, it'll be $200,000 bucks a car per race. And then subsidized, if not completely, subsidized logistical expense," Miles added.

"If we got two of those, and you move from [an annual Leader Circle payout of a] little under $1 million to $1.4 million [per car], it's not insignificant for all the teams. Especially, two- or three-, or four-car teams."

rossiDepending on the level of travel support, and whether teams would be able to secure sponsors for international events – a problem that became increasingly hard to ignore in the final years of the former street race in Sao Paulo, Brazil (pictured, top), the concept of new international events could also hold limited appeal for some within the IndyCar paddock. 

Andretti Herta Autosport co-owner Bryan Herta, whose entry would welcome more funding, sees the pros and cons of going international.

"Personally, I would like to do international races because I love to travel and it's exciting, but it's a lot more work for the teams I do think," he told RACER. "As long as we remain a North American championship, there's nothing wrong with doing it if it helps," 

"The value-for-sponsors part can be a thing to think about, but it really depends on the sponsors you already have. I don't know if on our No. 98 car with NAPA Auto Parts, if international races would help unless they do business in a country we're going to, but it would for one of our other sponsors, Castrol. I think it would be like that for most teams.

"And, can we open an opportunity to sell some new sponsorship to new sponsors in that region of the world? In CART, when we raced in Canada or Mexico, we had great support from sponsors and picked up interesting drivers who came in that broadened our horizon. If we're going to great venues and bringing IndyCar racing to new audiences, I'm all for it."

frye milesOn the domestic front, IndyCar has 17 races on the calendar this year – an increase from the 16 held in 2016. Asked if the number of North American races could expand beyond 17 in the near future – separate from any international growth –  IndyCar competition president Jay Frye (pictured, left, with Miles) says it's being considered.

"I think step one was to get to the point where we're at now, where there's consistency the next couple of years where we have the 17 races, we have the calendars pretty set; that part's done," he said. "And then geographically, what's important, where are there holes in our current schedule, what is the total amount that we want to go to?

"It appears that 20 [races] was always the bogey, but this is all very debatable. You wouldn't want to just have 20 races to have 20 races. We've got [16 events with 17 races] now, promoters that are great partners and that we're really excited about, so if you added one or two [races], they would have to fit in the windows that are open and there would have to be some sort of excitement to the opportunity."

phxFrye has been instrumental in bringing tracks that once held open-wheel races back to the schedule, and with the return of Gateway, Phoenix (pictured), Road America and Watkins Glen, a few regional holes remain. Tracks in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, places the CART and Champ Car series once visited with great regularity, are among the once-popular stops to be considered if IndyCar moves beyond 17 races. Frye pointed to Phoenix as an example of what could be possible elsewhere.

"We're reintroducing ourselves to this area," he said of the one-mile Arizona oval. "This place was built for IndyCar racing in 1964. It was important ... it felt great to come back here. There's Road America, here, Watkins Glen, you look at some of those other areas that we used to go to that were important and impactful. Why couldn't they be again?"

Like Frye, Herta believes IndyCar is in the right place to look at growing its footprint.

"We have a stable schedule now – more stability to our ship," said the two-time Indy 500-winning team owner. "We're in a better position to ask those questions and consider those possibilities than in the past."

lat abbott phxR 0416 3477Continual progress is being made with IndyCar's new-for-2018 universal bodywork. The process began last year on the Phoenix oval and at the Mid-Ohio road course gave the series' technical department a chance to have teams run with and without a number of pieces on the cars to evaluate a new direction it had in mind.

Three key items were set in motion based on the data and driver feedback generated at those tests: Shifting a significant portion of Road Course/Short Oval (RC/SO) downforce production away from using an abundance of wings atop the cars, reducing the overall RC/SO downforce, and reimagining the look of an Indy car emerged as directions the series would follow.

Fewer wings will adorn the universal bodywork; the Dallara DW12's underwing will be relied upon to play a greater role in making RC/SO downforce and, as a package, the 2018 cars will have a decreased maximum downforce figure to work with. A new shape will also come with the bodywork as a low Champ Car-style engine cover and other visual enhancements will mark a clear direction change for the series.

The pace of turning the three main alterations into reality continues to grow, according to IndyCar competition president Jay Frye, as wind tunnel testing is currently taking place with a scale model.

01 12 NEW 2018 CAR CONCEPT SKETCHES HIRES"From those [track] tests then we started designing a car," Frye said. "And we took almost the reverse engineering approach, but we had data to support it, but we did all the stuff we wanted to talk about, with the lower engine cover, and again the rear guards, what do you do with those? [We've tried] on [and] off, that type of thing, so we've come up with some different scenarios.

"So since then we've taken all of our drawings, our data, there's been a couple scale model tunnel [runs] that have went very well, actually surprising well. They exceeded expectations – so far we feel like we're on a good path."

The 2018 universal bodywork design project, which has included direction and oversight from Frye's senior IndyCar competition team members, is moving closer to dressing a DW12 with the new panels to start full-scale testing.

"We had really good people working on this project – Bill Pappas and Tino Belli – but you don't know until you run it," he said. "Even at this point, the [wind tunnel] numbers are great and encouraging in a scale model wind tunnel. The next step is a full-scale tunnel, then the next step is track testing. So far, we're checking off all the boxes. We still have a ways to go."

The exact date could shift, but Frye expects the first track test with the 2018 universal kit to take place somewhere before or after IndyCar's visit to Mid-Ohio July 28-30.

"End of July, first of August hopefully, will be the first step, we hope," he said. "Again, sometimes when you put in a timeline you're just setting yourself up to fail, but so far we feel like we're probably ... there's things we're behind schedule on but there's things we're ahead of schedule on because again so far the wind tunnel numbers have come back encouraging. So we're shooting for that general time frame to get a car on the track."

mo powerOnce track testing ramps up, new investigations into the raceability of the 2018 RC/SO package will be carried out. By eliminating some of the topside wings, dialing up the underside downforce, and embracing a more streamlined (and lower drag) shape, Frye hopes to find IndyCar's drivers can closer together and complete more passes due to running in less turbulent air.

"That's absolutely what it is," Frye said of the series' goal. "Just to create more underwing ... the downforce is generated by the underwing, not everything on the top. Again, what we did on the track testing was that. We took stuff off and put it on the bottom to see how it would react, how they could up, how they could pass, that type of thing. It went just as we expected, what we were hoping for. So that's what's all been built into the car.

"Especially for these [short] ovals and road courses, there will be an overall reduction in downforce, too. So that's part of this too. To get some downforce out of the car."

Despite the rapid progress, Frye says there's still work to do on the final RC/SO design to meet the series' aerodynamic performance criteria.

"The car in its current configuration has probably a little more drag than we anticipated," he said. "That's one of the things we've talking about having to work through. But not bad. The drag numbers [have] become very important, too. The biggest target we've had is the overall downforce numbers. The [Chevy and Honda RC/SO aero kit] downforce numbers are very high and we're trying to get them back in a reasonable area."

The exact downforce and drag numbers for the universal kit won't be known until the RC/SO package is finalized. Whether it's a 10 percent cut, 20 percent, or more from the 5500 pounds of downforce teams currently have at their disposal will be a point of interest for teams and drivers, as will the drop in drag numbers.

One thing Frye's team is not pursuing, however, is a radical cut in downforce that would make the cars into dragsters that lumber through corners. With something in the region of 700-750 hp in RC/SO trim and a healthy amount of downforce expected to be retained with the universal kit, high-speed cornering should be harder starting in 2018 while still being impressive to watch.

"This thing won't have 900 horsepower, where you can do a drag race down the straightaways then you've got to slam on the brakes ... [and see] who's the bravest one to drive it in the farthest. That's not what we're going for either," Frye said.

"So there's some balance between where we're at and that. We'll be in the middle of that."

Listen to the full conversation on 2018 universal aero kit develop progress with Frye and RACER's Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller starting at the 1m54s mark below:

 R3I5820Lewis Hamilton edged out Sebastian Vettel on the opening day of pre-season testing as McLaren struggled with reliability problems in Barcelona.

The 2017 cars hit the track in anger for the first time on Monday, but McLaren was soon in trouble as Honda discovered an oil system problem after Fernando Alonso's installation lap. A power unit change was required and kept the Spaniard in the garage until 4 p.m. local time, eventually managing to complete 29 laps and set the 10th-fastest time.

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That was three seconds off the pace set by Hamilton, with the triple world champion leading the way with a 1m21.765s. The lap time showed the increase in pace provided by the new aerodynamic regulations, with Hamilton's time exactly one second quicker than the fastest lap from all of pre-season testing last year. The Briton – who was only in the car for the afternoon session as he shared driving duties with new teammate Valtteri Bottas – set his time on soft tires and added 73 laps to the overall Mercedes tally of 152.

Mercedes completed comfortably the most mileage of all the teams on the opening day, and it also tested a shark fin on its engine cover for the first time in the afternoon. Bottas (below) had run without the extra wing during the morning but Hamilton's time in the car coincided with its first test of the addition.

 SLA7264Despite the strong showing from Mercedes, Ferrari enjoyed an encouraging start to its pre-season as Vettel was just 0.113s adrift in second place. Vettel's best time was also set on the medium compound tire, as he clocked up 126 laps himself, the most of any single driver.

 SLB8850Felipe Massa (pictured) returned to the Williams cockpit after reversing his decision to retire and was third quickest on the opening day, also breaking the 100-lap barrier in the FW40. Massa was 0.311s off of Hamilton's time, and over 0.8s clear of Kevin Magnussen in the Haas.

Magnussen suffered an off-track excursion on his first outing with his new team, wiping the front wing off the VF-17 at Turn 10 with half an hour to go in the morning session. Magnussen was able to return to the pits for repairs but was limited to just 51 laps overall.

Another team to suffer reliability problems was Red Bull, with Daniel Ricciardo (below) having to stop on track after just four laps with a power unit sensor issue. Once set to return, Ricciardo then had a problem with the battery that required addressing, but he was able to rejoin the action in the afternoon session to get in some meaningful running and post the fifth-fastest time.

ricciardoHaving driven for Mercedes throughout the morning, Bottas was bumped down to sixth by a late Ricciardo improvement. The Finn was second quickest at the break after completing 79 laps, and said he noticed a clear difference compared to the 2016 cars.

"Very different to last year I have to say," Bottas said. "Definitely can feel the new regulations they increase loads and make the car have a bit more grip. Obviously it's a completely different car anyway, different from the Williams it behaves quite differently. but it's still a car. It's got an engine, four tires, and a steering wheel so yeah, it was very good to test it in the morning."

A solid morning of running for Force India gave way to a frustrating afternoon as Sergio Perez failed to run after the lunch break due to a cracked exhaust. 39 laps was the result, with only Alonso completing less mileage.

Only Marcus Ericsson was slower than Alonso on the opening day, with the Sauber – powered by a 2016-specification Ferrari – setting a time five seconds off the overall pace, two seconds adrift of the McLaren.

1488215562326

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gal lede1Images from the opening day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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 DSC7952In a race punctuated by numerous accidents, fuel mileage proved critical at the end of the Daytona 500 as Kurt Busch stormed through to victory – his first in the Great American Race – with a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Ford.

Polesitter Chase Elliott appeared set to win until his No. 24 Chevrolet sputtered on fumes and fell back, fell back in the pack. Busch then grabbed the lead from Larson's Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and held off a charging Ryan Blaney's No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford to the finish line.

Daytona 500 results | Standings

"There is nothing predictable about this race anymore, and the more years that have gone by that I didn't win I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past," Busch said. "My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind.

"It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run, and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this – this Ford Fusion is in Daytona's Victory Lane!"

AJ Allmendinger took third in his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet. Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola and Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard rounded out the top five, respectively.

The wreck-filled day began 104 laps in when a flat rear tire caused Kyle Busch to spin, involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler, who was able to continue the race with minimal damage. Busch, Earnhardt, Kenseth, Dillon and Jones were all declared out, while the sidelined Busch went on a tirade about tire supplier Goodyear.

A classic Daytona "Big One" came 23 laps later, when third-place Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 spun across the track after contact from Trevor Bayne, and 16 other cars were involved in the melee. Harvick, Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Joey Gase and Landon Cassill were included in the list of those involved.

Another key wreck came at lap 141 after Chase Elliott's No. 24 car got loose, with Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman getting caught up in the ensuing chaos.

The debut of NASCAR's new stage format saw Kyle Busch won Stage 1 and Harvick took Stage 2, earning 10 race points and 1 playoff point apiece, while Kurt Busch earned 40 race points and five playoff points for his win.

The win marked the first Daytona 500 win for the recently retired SHR co-owner Tony Stewart.

"It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally," Stewart said. "If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago, if I knew it was what it took to win the race ... I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn't win it.

"Kurt did an amazing job. He doesn't even have a rear view mirror. The mirror folded on him. His spotter, Tony Raines, did an amazing job. That is the most composed I have ever seen Kurt at the end of a race. He deserved this."

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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Quotes courtesy NASCAR Wire Service

Auto Club

RACER's Daytona 500 coverage is presented by Auto Club Speedway. Celebrating 20 years of flat out and five wide at their Track Reunion with two days of racing, March 25-26.

 

blaney gettyA career-best finish in Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500 put an exclamation point on a strong Speedweeks showing for Ryan Blaney.

The No. 21 Ford came home second, which bested Blaney's three previous fourth-place feats. He also led two laps in the event. In contention for the victory as drivers around him began running out of fuel, Blaney made it to the finish line as his machine began to sputter.

"I thought we had a good car all day to start off," Blaney said. "We showed that definitely in the first half of the race. Then we got some damage there in one of those big wrecks about the middle of the race. Kind of hurt our car a little bit."

With the laps winding down and Chase Elliott leading a single-file line around the top of track, Blaney thought his race was over when he tried to make a move with 10 laps to go. Luckily, Ford teammate Joey Logano went with him and Blaney found himself on a ride toward the front of the field and behind eventual winner Kurt Busch.

"A good showing for us," Blaney said. "It was a good way to start off the year. Stinks to be so close, but I think that's good momentum for our team, to be good at the beginning of the day, get some damage and be able to rally for a good finish."

The finish came in spite of starting in the rear after the Wood Brothers had to pull out a backup car after the Can-Am Duel races Thursday night.

One of the strongest cars in the Duel field, Blaney finished 19th after contact with Jimmie Johnson. Adding to the disappointment of losing the backup car was that Blaney had been running inside the top five at the time.

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Blaney described the primary car as spectacular, but the backup was just as good – as were his confidence and drafting moves. Both Thursday and Sunday the fourth-year Cup driver was able to work his way through the field with aggressive but smart moves, and even challenged for the lead.

Blaney said it was the result of confidence in his car and his growing comfort in restrictor-plate racing.

"We were able to come from the back really early and were able to drive up through the middle and be aggressive when the time was right," Blaney said. "We were able to stay up there. I think our car had enough time to stay up there, too."

The only thing Blaney didn't do was grab the lead at the right time where it would allow him to be the one manipulating both lanes. Taking the blame for perhaps not doing something that he could have to get the right run, it was the only blemish on Blaney's Daytona weekend.

"It was definitely a little bit of both with the car and myself, and myself and Josh Williams up top, my spotter, getting a little bit more comfortable with each other and communicating really well," Blaney said.

"He hasn't been spotting very long. He spotted for AJ [Allmendinger] a couple years ago. He only started a couple years before that. He has a lot to learn, but he's done a great job. He's been a big part it (the performance), as well."

Auto Club

RACER's Daytona 500 coverage is presented by Auto Club Speedway. Celebrating 20 years of flat out and five wide at their Track Reunion with two days of racing, March 25-26.

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