Foyt team returns to top spot in time for Indy

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Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt is, obviously, very much synonymous with the legendary race. But despite his status as a Brickyard icon, his team hadn’t been atop the series championship entering Indy since 1979, when he himself was leading the USAC standings going into the 63rd running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

But thanks to his current driver, Takuma Sato, that drought has come to an end. Sato’s second-place finish on Sunday in Sao Paulo enabled him to assume the IZOD IndyCar Series championship lead by 13 points over Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti. In addition, Sato is the first Foyt driver to lead the series’ table at any point since Kenny Brack did it on his way to the 1998 title.

A team that had been condemned to back-marker status for years is now ruling the roost. It’s a sign of just how much the IZOD IndyCar Series has become an unpredictable free-for-all this season.

But it’s been a pleasure to watch from the observer’s standpoint. One can safely assume that it’s been especially fun for A.J. Foyt Racing, which is going full speed ahead into the event that made its namesake famous.

“I don’t think I’ve ever come down Gasoline Alley [at Indianapolis Motor Speedway] and had to take a left to our pit box,” said team director Larry Foyt in reference to the series’ top teams pitting near the end of pit road for the “500.”

“This team is really doing a fantastic job. Takuma is driving just amazingly. It’s been good going into the month of May. Obviously, this is a long month and anything can happen, but [it’s] always a positive to have good momentum going into Indy.”

As for A.J. himself, he was feeling well enough to attend last weekend’s Kentucky Derby following recent back surgery that had kept him from seeing Sato’s win last month at Long Beach (he watched the race on television from his home in Texas before going under the knife a few days later). He did not attend the Sao Paulo round because of the long flight’s potential for hindering his recovery, but he is set to return to his customary spot atop his team’s pit box at Indy.

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.