Auto Club Speedway - Day 2

Andersen: We need to create interest in the value of Indy Lights

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The Mazda Road to Indy is officially under one promotional direction for all three rungs, now that Dan Andersen’s company, Andersen Promotions, will license and operate the Firestone Indy Lights Series starting in 2014. Andersen also owns and operates the Pro Mazda and USF2000 championships.

In a wide-ranging interview on ESPN 1070 the Fan’s “Trackside” radio show in Indianapolis Thursday night (Andersen’s interview starts with 58:25 remaining in the podcast), Andersen outlined some of the challenges he faces and goals he hopes to achieve with Indy Lights.

“We need to create interest back into Indy Lights as a great career path,” Andersen told show co-host Kevin Lee, also one of NBC Sports Network’s IndyCar pit reporters. “Drivers do not view Indy Lights as a good choice or a good value. My job is to get them to see it’s a terrific value compared to other worldwide options. I need to tell that story better than it’s been told.”

Indeed compared to the tangled web that leads to Formula One, where any path of GP2, GP3, World Series by Renault, Auto GP, Formula 3 (a shadow of its former self in some areas), you name it, IndyCar’s path is direct through the Road to Indy ladder. And, as Andersen attests, it has worked with the increased number of Lights graduates making it to IndyCar within the last several years.

“What you look at the front row, all out of Indy Lights, it is working,” Andersen said of the front row at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Ed Carpenter, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti are three of 18 drivers in this year’s 500 who have competed in Indy Lights either in its current incarnation (2002-present) or previous (1986-2001). Indy Lights champions who have raced in IndyCar this year include Tristan Vautier (2012), Josef Newgarden (2011), JR Hildebrand (2009), Townsend Bell (2001), Scott Dixon (2000), Oriol Servia (1999) and Tony Kanaan (1997).

Some of the tasks Andersen and his staff will need to tackle beyond the car count and interest level is signing off on new deals with tire and engine manufacturers for the future. Andersen said he hopes to have an announcement on a tire partner within a few weeks, while RFPs have been sent out to possible engine manufacturers, with at least “four or five” rumored in consideration. Partners in both aspects need to activate the series and its participants, Andersen said.

Andersen confirmed there won’t be a new car for 2014, instead slating that for 2015, but said there seems to be increased interest from prospective teams. He’s optimistic of a field of 14-16 cars for 2014, with that number topping 20 when a new car introduced.

The last bit of news he hit, and we’ll expand on this when we have further details, is that some USF2000 and Pro Mazda programming will appear later this year on the NBC Sports Network. Cameras were set up for their opening rounds and while no TV deal had been in place, highlight shows will be shown later this year. It ensures some of the young talent within these championships will get noticed.

Max Verstappen wins two awards at FIA Prize Giving in Vienna

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Max Verstappen capped off a remarkable 2016 Formula 1 season by winning two awards at the FIA Prize Giving in Vienna, Austria on Friday.

Verstappen, 19, became the youngest grand prix winner in F1 history at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, taking victory on his Red Bull debut after being promoted from Toro Rosso four races into the year.

The Dutchman ended the 2016 season fifth in the drivers’ championship, and also won the Driver of the Day award more times than anyone else.

Verstappen featured on the shortlist for both FIA Personality of the Year and FIA Action of the Year, having won both awards at the gala in 2015, and walked away with the silverware once again.

Verstappen was voted as the FIA Personality of the Year by permanent FIA-accredited journalists for the second year running, fending off competition from Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton.

His wet-weather overtaking masterclass in Brazil saw Verstappen win the FIA Action of the Year, with his stunning overtake on Nico Rosberg being the sole nomination from F1.

The gala saw the FIA champions for 2016 be officially crowned, including Rosberg, who was given the F1 World Championship trophy just hours after announcing his retirement from racing.

Jackie Stewart calls Rosberg’s F1 retirement ‘wonderful’

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17:  Former driver Sir Jackie Stewart walks in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart has praised Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, calling the news “wonderful”.

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden F1 world title in Abu Dhabi.

The news has sent shockwaves through F1, with the general response being one of respect for the German’s decision.

Rosberg becomes just the fourth driver in F1 history to formally retire as champion, following in the footsteps of Mike Hawthorn, Alain Prost and Stewart.

Stewart won his third and final F1 title in 1973, but decided many months before his title success that he would call time on his career; Rosberg only made a final decision the day after his championship win.

“I was surprised when I heard the news, but I thought it was wonderful,” Stewart told Motor Sport Magazine.

“My first reaction was that it is not always possible to stop when at the top, but he has managed to do it.

“My decision was very different to Nico’s and came in very different circumstances. Motor racing is a lot less dangerous today than it was when I was making my decision.

“But I was burned out and exhausted with the travel and the racing.”

Stewart believes that the grind of the internal battles at Mercedes, particularly with teammate Lewis Hamilton, may have influenced Rosberg’s decision to call it quits.

“We don’t know what was going on this season but on the inside it could not have been enjoyable,” Stewart said.

“Now that he has won the World Championship he must have thought ‘do I need the aggro anymore?’; ‘Is it worthwhile going on?’

“He is good looking, well presented highly intelligent and a nice guy. There certainly won’t be a lack of commercial opportunities for him.”

Andretti Autosport closing on four cars for Indy Lights

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The departure of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid doesn’t necessarily mean a departure of cars from the grid, if those cars wind up elsewhere.

At least one more figures to land with Andretti Autosport, with the team closing on running four cars next season.

The team confirmed Nico Jamin earlier this week, in addition to the previously confirmed Dalton Kellett. Ryan Norman has tested for Andretti this offseason and figures to be added, while a fourth car would be a wild card.

“He went really well. He’s the real deal,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBC Sports about Jamin. “He’s serious about it. His approach is very professional. He’ll be really quick.

“We’re excited to have him, Dalton, and then we have a couple other deals trying to get finalized. We’d fully expect to be a four-car team. We bought a lot of stuff from (Schmidt).”

While Andretti is doing his part to help the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder with a four-car effort, and with Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing poised to be bigger teams in 2017 than they were in 2016, he did note the concern over the series’ costs of operating.

For several years, Andretti Autosport ran a team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. However, first the team’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, then Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, programs were discontinued. The Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced prior to 2015, has witnessed an escalation in costs compared to the older Dallara that came into the series at its inception in 2002.

“That’s the problem; this new car made the same mistakes IndyCar did,” Andretti said. “It’s costing a good $200,000 more than what it used to, and it’s a big number. That’s been a big problem.

“That’s why they’re struggling, because it’s expensive with the (U.S.) dollar being so strong. Europeans aren’t necessarily looking because of the strength of the dollar. Personally, I feel the new car was a bit of mistake the way they went about it.”

Andretti Autosport had Kellett, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock this year in Indy Lights. Blackstock shifted to Belardi Auto Racing, while Stoneman is unsure of what he’ll be doing next season. The Englishman won twice, both on the road course and oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rosberg would have continued in F1 had he lost title to Hamilton

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Nico Rosberg says he would have continued racing in Formula 1 had he lost the drivers’ championship to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton last weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 World Championship by five points ahead of Hamilton before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, but Rosberg was content with fulfilling his childhood dream and winning the World Championship, reasoning his retirement.

“When I was six years old and started out, the dream was very clear: it’s becoming Formula 1 World Champion,” Rosberg said after receiving the championship trophy at the FIA gala in Vienna on Friday.

“That’s what I pursued all along, and it’s mission accomplished for me. I’ve done it. It’s my dream come true.

“Now on to other things, family first now, in the winter gonna love that, and let’s see what the future holds. Just following my heart.”

Rosberg revealed that he would have continued in F1 had he lost out to Hamilton in the race for the championship, with his Mercedes contract running to the end of the 2018 season.

“No I never give up. So if I would have come second, I would have gone for another year for sure, next year, definitely,” Rosberg said.

“I knew when I won [I would retire], but I wasn’t sure yet if I had the courage. But here I am now, and I’m very happy.”