LATVALA BRINGS TOYOTA IN FROM THE COLD
Prior to its return to the World Rally
Championship for the first time in 17 years
as a factory squad, Toyota did its best to
play down expectations, and many insiders
had predicted its Yaris WRC would struggle
badly. But in just its second event, the
Japanese marque was a winner again.
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala took control
of February’s Rally Sweden after early
leader Thierry Neuville crashed his
Hyundai on the second day. The Finn
took a 29-second win over the privateer
M-Sport Ford of Ott Tanak, with reigning
IndyCar’s long offseason finally thawed
at Phoenix International Raceway in
February for this year’s only official
pre-season test. And with Chevy engines
and aero kits taking the first five spots on
the time sheet, it’s looking like Honda’s
teams – bolstered by Chip Ganassi Racing’s
return to the fold – still have work to do.
Not that that should be any great
surprise. IndyCar’s decision to freeze aero
kit development at the end of 2016 locked
Chevy and Honda teams into the exact
same aerodynamic packages that tilted
the win column 14-2 in the Bowtie’s favor.
At Phoenix, using the short oval/road
course aero Chevy dominated in 2016, its
cars sweeping the top five times.
There was some surprise at the top of
the stack though: JR Hildebrand – back
full-time for the first time since 2012 with
Ed Carpenter Racing in place of Penske-bound Josef Newgarden – led the way
with a sub-record 193.234mph lap.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t feel
good going out and putting a couple laps
down and doing it to where we felt they
were legit,” said Hildebrand.
Several Honda runners crashed while
running qualifying simulations with
minimal downforce to compensate for
Chevy’s speed advantage. Unlocking the
HPD kit’s sweet spot remains a priority...
Latvala’s win made
WRC legend Tommi
Makinen a winner as
a team director, too,
in just his second
event in that role
world champion Sebastien Ogier third
in the second M-Sport Fiesta WRC.
Three weeks earlier, Ogier had won on
his debut for M-Sport in Monte Carlo.
“It’s amazing! A new team, new car, our
second rally and we won!” said Latvala. “I’ve
no words to describe it – I’m so emotional.”
Latvala’s early points advantage over
his former teammate, Ogier – who had
eclipsed him the past four years at
Volkswagen, before that team’s abrupt
shutdown at the end of last year – made
the victory all the sweeter.
Pre-season IndyCar testing takes up where 2016 left off
Comedian, former “Tonight Show” host and
renowned car guy Jay Leno lived a dream
by driving an IndyCar at Phoenix, with
coaching from Scott Dixon. Watch for it on
“Jay Leno’s Garage” on CNBC this July.
Phoenix showed Honda
runners such as Indy
500 champ Alexander
Rossi that there’s still
work to do.
NOTHING RUSTY HERE
JR Hildebrand is back to full-time
IndyCar racing this year, and appeared
more than ready to go as he set the
pre-season testing pace ahead of his
teammate and boss, Ed Carpenter.
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