A look down Baltimore's pit lane (Tony DiZinno)

Thursday notebook: Baltimore IndyCar and ALMS setup day

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Although there is no on-track activity Thursday at the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT, IndyCar and American Le Mans Series teams were still heavily in action preparing and setting up for the weekend around the street course that encloses Camden Yards. A few quick news and notes to follow from both series:

  • There’s not much in the way of circuit changes, other than the asphalt being laid down around pit in and the temporary chicane being put in on the front straight. The biggest change, of course, is the painting of pit boxes in reaction to last week’s Scott Dixon/Will Power contretemps at Sonoma. As IndyCar is the primary series at the circuit, the pit boxes are designed to IndyCar specifications; the unintended consequence, though, is that the sharing American Le Mans Series teams will need to guide their cars in knowing that their available space is smaller. More than 30 ALMS cars are entered while only 24 IndyCars will take the green flag on Sunday.
  • IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves had his media availability Thursday and among the topics he discussed, besides points and IndyCar’s new pit box changes, was how restarts will work here at Baltimore. A year ago, his Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe was passed by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final restart as the two exited the chicane and launched on the front straight.  “We’ll hit the details of this in the driver’s meeting but here, it’s very difficult to time it correctly,” he said. “It goes from single file, to double file, and then you go. You have to time it just right to make sure you have a good idea of when to go.” Castroneves has finished just 17th and 10th in two prior Baltimore starts.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden did a photo shoot with the Soft Side 1 to raise awareness and help kittens in the Baltimore area find homes. If you follow Newgarden on Instagram you’re aware he’s made tongue-in-cheek references to cats before, and the sounds of “oohs” and “awwwws” were prevalent at every angle.
  • Other ALMS notes: Dane Cameron joins the PR1/Mathiasen PC class entry as co-driver to Mike Guasch. The RSR team, run by Paul Gentilozzi, has sold its own PC chassis to Peter Baron’s Starworks team and Alex Popow replaces Duncan Ende as the car’s Silver-rated driver. It’s unfortunate for Ende, who co-drove with Bruno Junqueira to victory at Road America three weeks ago and won’t have a chance to repeat.
  • In ALMS P2, as was written earlier this week, there’s a shuffle in the P2 class with Guy Cosmo moving from Extreme Speed to Level 5. Cosmo will co-drive with Marino Franchitti in the No. 552 HPD ARX-03b with Level 5 team principal Scott Tucker and the returning Ryan Briscoe in the championship-leading No. 551. Anthony Lazzaro, who had been rated a Gold driver, will take Cosmo’s place in Extreme Speed’s No. 01. P2 regulations state at least one Silver driver must be used in a car and Lazzaro, who turned 50 earlier this week (August 26) would qualify to be downgraded to a Silver per that age change. That said, when I asked him directly about the change, he was unsure whether his birthday meant he would have a different driver classification to meet the requirement.

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.