Franchitti shakes off Pocono cobwebs

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The only driver of those testing an IndyCar at Pocono Raceway with prior experience at the track was Dario Franchitti, who raced in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car there in 2008. Not that he’d be privy to giving away any secrets.

“No, they haven’t. I wouldn’t tell them anyway!” Franchitti joked to the assembled press when asked whether the other drivers were asking for advice.

The track has been repaved and had other safety improvements made since that time.

“No, the difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable,” he said. “This was a bumpy old place before. I don’t need to tell you guys that. Now it’s very, very smooth. There’s obviously been a great deal of investment in the track, the SAFER barrier in different places, as well. That’s really allowed us as IndyCar as a group to come back here. It’s very much appreciated. All those investments have been made.  I said at the time to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is.”

Couple in the night-and-day car difference and it was pretty much all new for Franchitti.

“It feels like a different track,” he said. “Going down the straight, any straight this length, is going to feel long. When you turn into turn one here wide open, just keep it flat, the car compresses, all those Gs build up, it is a helluva feeling.

“The tunnel turn is probably the most similar car-to-car. We’re still I think 20 miles an hour quicker, 30 miles an hour quicker in the IndyCar.  But Turn 3, I mean, as Will (Power) said, you’re going through there wide open right now, which defies logic really when you consider we have Indianapolis spec wings on the car.”

Two nightmare weekends have seen two DNFs to start the IndyCar season, although Franchitti was pleased with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team’s improvements in Barber as a whole. He inherited the pole position at Long Beach a year ago when Ryan Briscoe, the fastest qualifier, took a 10-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.