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NASCAR news: Chevy OK with Jimmie Johnson Honda IndyCar test

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson says Chevrolet understands that his first IndyCar test in a Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda next week is all about getting track time.

Johnson, who has competed in a Chevrolet in NASCAR his entire Cup career, originally had a test scheduled in April in an Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet at Barber Motorsports Park, but that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hendrick Motorsport driver is competing in what will be his final full-time season of NASCAR racing but has remained steadfast he is not done racing and has expressed interest in trying other forms of racing, including IndyCar road courses.

The opportunity arose to conduct a test next week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Ganassi following the inaugural NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend and he didn’t want to pass on the opportunity.

“Everybody has been super-understanding that I just want to get on track and experience an IndyCar and see if it’s something I want to do in the future,” Johnson said Friday.

“I feel like it is, but I have a great relationship with Chevrolet and they were understanding that laps for me and any experience I can have in an IndyCar is the most important thing.

“As we all know, I had a test scheduled April 6 with McLaren in a Chevrolet and was very, very hopeful to find a date with them and test in a Chevy-McLaren. Honestly, any testing I can get right now I want to take and get every lap I possibly can.”

Johnson acknowledges the manufacturer conflict but said he was thankful everything came together so quickly with CGR with the testing opportunity.

Johnson said he has “a lot of options” to compete in an IndyCar race.

“I’ve had a lot conversations with a lot of teams other than just CGR and McLaren,” he said. “It’s still in the very early days. It’s been more about getting to the track and teams to look at me and form their opinion of my abilities in one of their race cars and certainly I have that same opportunity to see what I feel about each team and what an IndyCar feels like.

“It’s in the very early stages of all this and it’s hard to read too far into things at this point but most importantly I’m just thankful teams are listening and willing and able to take me to the track just so I can learn.”

Johnson said in preparation for next week’s test, he has been talking a lot with Ganassi driver and five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.

“As you know I was at COTA earlier this year (during a test) and I have a lot of friends in the garage area,” he said. “As the opportunity to test in April many reached out and many have reached out now and said if I need anything to lean on them.

“It gets tricky when you get outside a certain team. So, from where I sit right now, I’ve just been leaning on Dixon to get ready for this test.”

Before the test, Johnson still has one final opportunity to win another Brickyard 400 at IMS on Sunday.

A win would not only be his fifth in the prestigious race but break a career-long winless streak and qualify him for the NASCAR playoffs.

Asked what it would be like to get one final win at Indianapolis, Johnson said, “Storybook to say the least. I certainly hope it happens. We have a great starting spot, starting fourth, and my team is doing an amazing job and we’re ready.”

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Ferrari explains why ‘first choice’ Vettel was axed

Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Mattia Binotto insisted Sebastian Vettel was the team’s “first choice” for 2021 and explained that the change in circumstances caused by the COVID-19 crisis led the team to opt for a change of driver.

Vettel admitted on Thursday in Austria that he was “surprised” when Binotto phoned and told him that his contract would not be extended beyond the 2020 season, having previously understood that he would be kept on.

The team subsequently announced that it had signed Carlos Sainz from McLaren.

Binotto reiterated on Friday that over the winter Vettel was indeed the team’s first choice, but the crisis and the rule changes that came with it triggered a change of plan.

“Certainly we have always said to him during the winter time privately and publicly that he would have been our first choice, which I confirm,” Binotto said.

“It’s normal that during the winter time many drivers ask us if there are any opportunities to drive for Ferrari, so we have certainly been contacted. That didn’t change our position, so Seb was our first choice.

“What happened since then? I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1. The budget cap has been changed by quite a lot, and is a lot more strict, the regulations have been postponed from ’21 to ’22, which somehow was something important for us.

“Cars which have been frozen, or almost frozen, for 2020 and ’21. So let’s say the entire situation has changed.

“And on top of that the season has not started, so there has been no opportunity even for Seb to be back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him.

“So during the shutdown as Ferrari we had to eventually reconsider our position. We took a decision, so certainly that was our decision, that is our responsibility, and we communicated to him.

“I heard that he was surprised – I remember that he was surprised, yes certainly, I understand it, it’s pretty normal to be surprised. While he accepted our decision I would say even today he’s not fully happy with it, which again I would say is something which is normal and obvious.”

Despite the obvious tensions in the camp given the impending split, Binotto was keen to praise Vettel and the contribution he has made over the years.

“I think it has been a great period, five years so far, six with the current season. He’s a great champion, but he’s as well a great person. I think that everybody in Ferrari, our fans, the people working internally, really love the time with him.

“I think that’s something we fully respect. I personally respect him a lot, him as a professional and as person, and I think that is fully unchanged compared to our decision.”

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Wolff urges Red Bull to consider timing of DAS protest

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has urged Red Bull to be “sensitive” to the dangers of overshadowing Formula 1’s season opener in Austria ahead of a potential protest against his team’s DAS (Dual Axis Steering) System.

With Red Bull poised to seek clarification about the legality of the innovative Mercedes device, which could go as far as a formal protest, Wolff is mindful about the risk of F1’s first race back getting bogged down on Sunday night.

Asked if he was worried that what should be a celebration of F1’s comeback could turn sour, Wolff said: “All teams are pretty much aware that we are in a sensitive situation with going racing.

“It’s the first race, and I think on one side, it’s fair enough to seek clarification, [but] on the other side we are aware that we don’t want to end up with a big debate on Sunday.

“I think Christian [Horner, Red Bull boss] is going to take the right actions. Controversy and different judgement on engineering innovation has always been a part of Formula 1, and this is what’s to be be expected in a way and it’s part of the risk.”

Red Bull had indicated before the original season opener in Australia that it would protest the DAS system, which allows Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to adjust the toe angle of their front wheels through pushing and pulling the steering wheel.

Horner said on Friday that questions his team had on the legality of the device had not been fully answered yet.

“It’s a very clever system,” he explained. “All credit to the ingenuity behind it, but I think the fundamental question for us is, you know, does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area?

“Obviously we do want clarity on it, because it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year. It’s something that’s been outlawed for next year. But the question is, is it right for this year? So these are the questions that we’ll be asking of the FIA through the necessary channels.”

Wolff added that Mercedes felt comfortable with the legality of DAS and was ready to fight its corner if there was a formal protest.

“I respect Christian’s position,” he said. “Clarification is always good. We think we are on the right side. There was a lot of talking and exchange with the FIA.

“That is the reason why we have it on the car, so we will both bring our arguments forward and then let’s see.”

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Lando Norris: Carlos Sainz deserves his Ferrari move

Lando Norris has said his McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz is worthy of replacing Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari for the 2021 campaign.

The Scuderia moved quickly to announced the Spaniard as Ferrari’s new recruit for next season once it was confirmed Vettel would be leaving the team at the end of 2020.

The debate and discussion around Sainz since has been whether he is the right choice for Ferrari and what role he will have in the team alongside Charles Leclerc.

But, there is no doubt in Norris’ mind that Sainz is deserving of this opportunity.

2 0 / 2 0 pic.twitter.com/s2E2yaMSAP

— Lando Norris (@LandoNorris) July 2, 2020

“I think he deserved it, he drove very well last year,” said in the FIA press conference ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, as quoted by RaceFans.net.

“We still have a lot of driving and fun to go on this year. We’re still going to be team mates, we’re still working together, we’re still trying to get McLaren back to back to the front and doing as well as possible.

“So I still look forward to the times we have together. But I wish him all the best in the future.”

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But that is not to say that Norris wasn’t surprised to see the move for Sainz develop as he was not expecting any driver from the top three to start moving around for 2021.

He added: “Someone was going to replace [Vettel] and whoever it was, it was going to be a bit of a surprise because I didn’t think there was going to be any of the other drivers in the top three teams moving around at all.

“I knew it was obviously going to have to be someone, and I knew at that point that Carlos was going to be on the radar.

“I’m still with McLaren, so very happy with where I was. He was one of the guys which I knew could have a chance.

“But at the same time, when someone gets announced, there’s always a few days or a week prior that things kind of start off and you don’t know about them at the time.”

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Red Bull keeping beady eye on Mercedes over DAS

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said a close eye is being kept on Mercedes with their potential DAS usage in Austria this weekend.

Mercedes introduced the innovative dual-axis steering system in the pre-season test at Barcelona and is set to be placed back under scrutiny now that Formula 1 has finally returned from its extended hiatus.

Horner said in the lead-up that the controversial topics such as DAS would all come flooding back and it appears Red Bull are ready and waiting to see if they still have grounds to launch an official protest to the FIA.

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“We are waiting to see if it is fitted to their cars,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“Obviously it’s a clever system and a complicated one and we’re after some clarification from the FIA as we have some questions about it.”

As for whether Red Bull would consider using DAS themselves if all is above aboard, Horner added: “It depends what it actually does and achieves.

Everything has to earn its place on the car. It’s a clever system but these rules are so complex…it’s just understanding which part of the regulations it fits in to.”

Strict protocols are in place at the Red Bull Ring in order to protect the health and safety of those present within the Formula 1 paddock.

But more surreal for Horner is that the Formula 1 roadshow is Austria for the first race of the season.

“Well we all look like we are in some kind of hospital programme with all the face masks and PPE,” Horner joked.

“But that’s all been practiced and drilled. It’s an FIA stipulation, but other than that working practices are pretty normal.

“This is day one of the season remember so it’s a little bit odd coming here halfway through the year and this effectively being the first day of the year.”

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Kimi concedes next generation of Raikkonens is faster

Spending parts of his extended break karting with his children, Kimi Raikkonen has revealed he “cannot keep up” with his son Robin.

Raikkonen’s wife, Minttu, has been showing off her family’s karting exploits on social media with both children, Robin and Rianna, getting into racing.

Robin, it seems, has picked up his father’s flair for speed.

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I got it from my daddy💪🏼🏁 #ace

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So much so that Minttu said in one Instagram video that it “looks like Robin is faster”.

Raikkonen concedes he is, at least in some situations.

“I don’t know how to compare [him] – it’s to enjoy it,” the Alfa Romeo driver told Motorsport.com.

“Some days we’ll do more laps than others, but it’s like with kids, one day they like to do one thing and the next day another.

“As long as he enjoys it, that’s the main thing.

“He’s been getting a bit faster.

“With me in a rental kart, I cannot keep up any more. I need a bit more horsepower. Apart from that, it’s been good.”

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Unfortunately for Raikkonen, but fortunately for Formula 1 fans, the extended break is finally over.

More than 100 days after the season was scheduled to get underway in Australia, Formula 1 will go racing this weekend at the Red Bull Ring.

Many are predicting that this season’s best fights will be amongst the midfield drivers with Daniel Ricciardo saying up to five teams could be separated by a mere tenth of a second.

Asked for his thoughts on the midfield battle, which Alfa Romeo is expected to feature in, Raikkonen said it is all speculation until Sunday evening.

“[From] testing every year, it’s impossible to say where we are, a lot of speculation,” said the 2007 World Champion.

“But in the first race, we always see what is the real story.

“Obviously we never managed to do the first race, and now months later, we obviously are going to do it and then we’ll see where we are.

“But then there’s another thing, people are bringing updates. Who knows. We’ll see over the weekend now where we are and where everybody else is.”

Last season Alfa Romeo finished eighth in the Constructors’ Championship with 57 points.

Raikkonen recorded a best result of fourth at the Brazilian Grand Prix, a race in which his team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi finished in fifth place.

The duo’s only other double points haul came at the Austrian Grand Prix with the Finn ninth to Giovinazzi’s P10.

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Lewis Hamilton 'anticipates' Max Verstappen challenge

Lewis Hamilton is expecting a “challenging” start to the season as Mercedes take on defending Austrian GP champs Red Bull at the latter’s home circuit.

For the first time, the 2020 season will not only begin at the Red Bull Ring but will do so with a double header at Red Bull’s home track.

It is a circuit where the home team has done well in recent years with Max Verstappen beating Charles Leclerc last season while the year prior he took the chequered flag ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

Mercedes was on the podium with Valtteri Bottas in 2019 but missed out in 2018 when neither driver managed to finish the grand prix.

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Hamilton reckons this year Verstappen and Red Bull will once again be his strongest opposition for the Austrian wins.

“I mean, they looked quite strong through testing,” Hamilton, who won the 2016 Austrian GP, told Autosport.

“It was quite close between the top three teams in testing and I think Red Bull particularly being the closest to us from our understanding.

“And Max is progressing year on year, so I anticipate they’re going to be strong competitors.

“They are always very strong here at this track, so definitely going to be a challenge these two weekends.

“But I’m excited to see how that goes.”

It could, of course, depended on the track temperature which caught Mercedes out in 2019.

Last year with Europe in the midst of a heatwave when Formula 1 arrived at the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton and Bottas struggled to get the most out of their W10s.

This year the Brit believes Mercedes has designed the car to ensure it works well in all temperatures.

“We’ve not been terrible [since 2017],” he added, “but it is a challenging circuit with the height of the circuit, the temperatures that we see.

“We’ve arrived here [in previous years] and it’s usually kind of not in the perfect window of operating temperatures for our car.

“But I’d like to think we’re in a better position this year with improvements that we’ve made for this season’s car.

“So, time will tell.”

Formula 1 is holding a double header at the Red Bull Ring to start the season, the Austrian GP on July 5 and the Steiermark Grand Prix a week later on July 12.

The sport will then head to Hungary for round three with just eight grands prix confirmed to date.

F1 chief Chase Carey is hoping to add a further seven to 10 races, saying an announcement will be made in the coming weeks.

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Kiwi forfeits S5000 seat due to travel restrictions

Jordan Michels has pulled out of the 2020 S5000 season due to the ongoing intern travel restrictions in both his native New Zealand and Australia.

Michels has elected to pull the pin on plans to contest the full S5000 season in Australia this year, with border restrictions and quarantine requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic likely to be in place for the foreseeable future.

There has been talk of an Australian/New Zealand ‘travel bubble’, however it remains unknown when that might come into effect.

“It’s a real shame,” said Michels. “But it’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment and, while the border situation exists, it’s sort-of doable, but the logistics and cost really do work against it.

“I’m still very much committed to racing S5000, and will be working to get back when the circumstances allow.”

Team 88Racing, which was set to run Michels, has put his seat “on hold”, and is now looking for Australia-based replacements to run a single or two-car programme for the 2020 season.

That process is well underway, the squad recently testing some young drivers at Winton.

“The required isolation periods and inability to commute has made the whole thing impractical for now,” said team boss Albert Callegher of the Michels situation.

“Jordan has been doing a great job for us, so we’re hopeful of having an entry for him early in 2021, at something like the AGP, if S5000 races there, where the team is expecting to run two cars.

“In the meantime, we are focussing on seeking an Australian-based driver to contest this year’s series. The AGP cancellation was a blow but since then we’ve been able to run at Winton, and the car has evolved well in performance terms.”

The revised S5000 season will kick off at Sydney Motorsport Park next month.

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Ferrari '99% sure' they will be struggling

Charles Leclerc says Ferrari are “99% sure” that their performance will be down on the start of last season due to various factors.

Although Mercedes secured a record sixth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship double last year, Ferrari were able to score three race wins and could have done even better with sharper race management.

But this year the Scuderia by their own admission are struggling and looked off the pace during pre-season testing.

And Ferrari have told The Race that the same SF1000 spec that they used in testing will be also used at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix because of the need for a “significant change of direction in terms of development, especially on the aerodynamic front”.

And Leclerc says that has left the team “99% sure” that they will be struggling.

“I think it’s going to be a very challenging season for us, it’s definitely not going to be easy,” he said.

“We still have this question mark and we still need to wait for qualifying to be absolutely sure of what we say, even though we are 99% sure that we’ll be struggling more than last year.”

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Vettel feels it’s important that Ferrari get answers now with an upgrade planned for the Hungarian Grand Prix later this month, and he also said that Ferrari have been running on a “tight schedule” back at the factory.

“The last couple of months have been quite disruptive for everyone in terms of how much time they had probably to prepare,” he said.

“Everyone in the factory is flat out trying to get everything that we can to the track as soon as possible.

“At the moment it looks like we get an upgrade for Hungary and not for here.

“So it will be interesting to see where we are, to get an answer on that and then we have to take it from there.

“At this stage also it’s unknown how long this season will be, I think we have eight races scheduled. Whether we will have these eight races, whether there will be more, how many more.

“So a lot of things that are unknown. No matter, we try to do our best and get everything on the car as soon as we can, which has always been the case.

“We didn’t make it in time for here but Hungary is only two weeks away.

“We have been on a very tight schedule since the factory was able to restart again.”

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Austrian GP: All the F1 winners since 1964

The Austrian Grand Prix was first run as a round of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1964, first at Zeltweg airfield and then the permanent Osterreichring (aka A1-Ring and Red Bull Ring). Alain Prost is the only three-time victor here, and there’s been some fascinating races – including a winner who crashed just after the finish line! Here are all the winners from across the years, click on the arrows above to scroll through them…

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