Raise your hand if you saw Lucas Luhr in a Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing IndyCar for Sonoma next month. Anyone? Bueller?
Of course you didn’t.
In what has to be one of the biggest surprises in IndyCar in years, the sports car veteran and all-time winningest driver in the American Le Mans Series (45 wins as of the last round at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) will make his IndyCar debut at Sonoma on August 25. Luhr is a five-time ALMS champion and the only ALMS driver to win championships in three separate series classes – GT, LMP2 and LMP1.
Luhr, 34, of Koblenz, Germany, will drive the No. 97 Rotondo Weirich (RW)/SFHR Indy Dallara-Honda as a teammate to the full-season driver Josef Newgarden. Luhr will have his first running by participating in an open test at Sonoma on August 13.
“I am very excited about driving for RW/SFHR in Sonoma,” Luhr said. “I have wanted to drive an IndyCar for quite some time and when this opportunity came up I was very happy to say yes straight away. I would like to thank Steve Weirich, RW, Sarah (Fisher) and Mr. (Wink) Hartman, as well as Honda HPD for introducing us. I’d also like to give a very big thank you to my team owner Greg Pickett at Muscle Milk for allowing me to accept this challenge in the middle of the season.”
While the SFHR press release did indicate this is possible “with the combined efforts of Rotondo Weirich (RW) and Muscle Milk,” we have to stress this is not a Muscle Milk Pickett Racing entry. The ALMS team that competes in P1 with a Honda Performance Development HPD ARX-03c is based in nearby Benicia, Calif.
The possibility of a second car for Fisher has been in play since late June. The team issued a release then which listed Steve Weirich of RW, a construction business, as an owner of one of the team’s three cars. Weirich is the owner of RW and RW Motorsports.
“IndyCar is the epitome of racing,” Weirich said at the time. “It’s always been a dream of mine to build up to that level of racing and to do it with an all- American racing team. The whole alignment of IndyCar racing and the passion I see from SFHR is the same passion I hold, and it’s the perfect alignment of goals.”
As for this release, Weirich said, “”Lucas [Luhr] has great strengths as well and I am looking forward to bringing a driver of his caliber to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Sonoma is a great venue for us as well as IndyCar and we know the synergy of this entry will produce a great result.”
Read into this what you will for 2014, but the bottom line is for now, this is a joint SFHR/RW entry with the possibility of it being an exploratory opportunity for Muscle Milk and its brand in the future.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.