Rick Mears sits on the wall during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis.

Rick Mears excited about Indy car return to Pocono after 23-year absence

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He hasn’t driven a race car since retiring in 1992, but when modern-era drivers talk about the return of Indy cars to Pocono Raceway for this Sunday’s Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco, invariably the first name out of their mouths is legendary driver Rick Mears.

“He was the master of this place,” Helio Castroneves said of Mears in a recent interview with the Scranton (Pa.) Times-Tribune. “We’ve heard a lot about this place. We’re honored to be back here with Team Penske. Hopefully, we can do the same as Rick Mears did in the past.”

Mears, now in his 21st year as a consultant to Penske Racing, dominated Indy car racing at Pocono – until the track stopped hosting open-wheel racing in 1989.

But even as the hiatus ends with this weekend’s race return to the 2.5-mile tri-oval track in Long Pond, Pa., what Mears did there in a relatively short period of time is the kind of thing that legends are built from.

In just 10 races at Pocono (nine in the old CART series and a 10th in the USAC Champ Car series), Mears won three times, had six overall podium finishes (including two runners-up and a third) and earned four pole positions.

His average career finish there: an outstanding 8.3.

“You can never have too many tracks and you can never have enough tracks,” Mears told the newspaper. “I’m a racer. I like to run on all of them. Anything with a history like here with our cars, I think it’s great to get back.”

Much like it continues to remain a challenge to other series that have raced at Pocono for decades, including NASCAR, the track’s unique three-turn layout – with no turn the same – should make for some exciting racing this Sunday.

“It was like having three race tracks in one,” Mears said. “So the challenge was getting set up for three race tracks with one car. That was part of the fun.”

While lots has changed since Mears last appeared at Pocono a quarter-century ago, a famous old saying appears to still be true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“You still basically have to get the balance of the car the way you want it,” Mears said. “The patterns on the race track as far as the line goes don’t change much. What was a good line back then is a good line today. All that stuff is still relative and still comes into play.”

Even with such a lengthy layoff, Penske Racing returns as one of the most dominating Indy car teams in Pocono track history, with seven wins there between 1971 (the late Mark Donahue) and 1989 (its last there with Danny Sullivan). In addition to Mears’ wins in 1982, 1985 and 1987, Tom Sneva (1977) and Bobby Unser (1980) also won there under the Penske banner.

Said current driver Will Power, teammates with Castroneves at Penske Racing, “Pressure’s on.”

Ahead of #DWR2, check out Jeff Braun’s house (VIDEO)

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There will be more to come very likely later this week regarding the launch of Dinner with Racers season two, as supported by Continental Tire and Acura.

The popular podcast hosted by sports car veteran driver Ryan Eversley, a factory driver for Acura Motorsports’ NSX GT3 program with RealTime Racing in Pirelli World Challenge, and veteran behind-the-scenes PR/video/marketing maven Sean Heckman had 28 episodes in its first season and should have a similar number for season two.

Two of the more popular episodes from Season 1 involved veteran engineer Jeff Braun, father of Colin and Travis Braun. The elder Braun hosted the guys at his family’s house in Ovalo, Texas, which is about as “middle of nowhere” as it gets. Colin Braun and Jon Bennett will share the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R next season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Jeff Braun’s racing stories were one episode, while a special breakout episode was dedicated to Level 5 Motorsports, and remains one of the most popular downloaded episodes from the season. Both are linked below.

But in the above video, you can get a tour of the Braun household. We leave it to Jeff, Sean and Ryan to do the rest.

Sports cars: Lizards win Thunderhill; more confirmations

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Photo: Bob Chapman/Autosport Image
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Notes from the last week or so in the busy, wild world of sports car racing:

  • Flying Lizard Motorsports benefitted from late-race issues that hit the Ryno Racing Team, where the right rear stub axle broke on its Ginetta G57 LMP3. The Lizard’s No. 45 Audi R8 LMS of Darren Law, Johannes van Overbeek, Mike Hedlund and Dion von Moltke delivered a flawless drive en route to the win, the car’s second straight. More here from Sportscar365.
  • Rebellion Racing confirmed a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup entry. Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani and Sebastien Buemi will be an all-star lineup in the team’s Oreca 07 at the 51st running of the 24 Hours of Daytona, January 26-29, and at the Roar, January 6-9.
  • Grasser Racing Team will run a two-car Lamborghini Huracán GT3 effort at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Rolf Ineichen (Switzerland), Christian Engelhart (Germany), Mirko Bortolotti (Italy) and Ezequil Companc (Argentina) will be in one car, with Ineichen and Engelhart the first two drivers listed for the second car.
  • Former Fall-Line Motorsports team manager Michael Harvey has been named Director of Race Operations for VISIT FLORIDA Racing, which is a great get for the Troy Flis-owned team. Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens are the team’s full-season drivers for the No. 90 Riley-Gibson car.
  • IMSA has confirmed a couple things on the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – which is linked here.
  • Mercedes-AMG will build a GT4. More here from Sportscar365.
  • Two Porsche announcements in PWC. Patrick Long will be back with Wright Motorsports in its No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R, while Jon Fogarty will be back in a Porsche, following a surprise switch by the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing from McLaren this year.

Indy’s unsung heroes: RRDC hails Holmatro Safety Team (VIDEO)

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In this video produced by the Road Racing Drivers Club SAFEisFAST initiative, we take a look behind the scenes at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ unsung heroes: the Holmatro Safety Team.

You’ve heard about their heroic efforts over the years, particularly with saving James Hinchcliffe’s life last year in Indianapolis.

But how do they do what they do? This video explains it.

Red Bull, Aston Martin partnership continues into 2017

GAYDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing talks on stage at the Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing Project AMRB 001 Unveil on July 5, 2016 at the Aston Martin Headquarters in Gaydon, England on July 5, 2016 in Gaydon, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The partnership between Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin will continue into 2017, Red Bull confirmed on Tuesday.

Branding on the Red Bull Formula 1 chassis will continue, while bigger news has come in terms of the AM-RB 001 hypercar.

Red Bull and Aston Martin announced that all 150 road-going cars of the 175 cars built (the other 25 are track-only specials) have been sold and customer deliveries will begin in early 2019.

An AM-RB 001 prototype is expected to run for the first time by the end of this season.

“We first conceived our Innovation Partnership with Aston Martin in the realization that it could be truly pioneering,” said Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing team principal.

“In blending our distinct but unique skills under a shared creative vision, we have already seen tangible development to both of our brands and businesses. The extraordinary success of the AM RB-001 is testament to the expert and collaborative spirit in which it was forged, and extending our relationship with Aston Martin through 2017 was a simple and pleasing decision.”

Aston Martin President and CEO Andy Palmer added,  “By bringing together the talents of Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin, AM-RB 001 is destined to become the defining hypercar of this decade and a hugely desirable investment for collectors and enthusiasts.

“Our relationship with Red Bull Racing has done for Aston Martin exactly what we expected it to do,” he continued. “It is helping us to continue to build our brand across the globe. Partnerships like this are good for business both in terms of technical innovation and brand awareness, so we are pleased to continue into 2017.”