Montoya to drive in IndyCar next year for Team Penske

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NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Juan Pablo Montoya will be returning to open-wheel racing after all. But who could’ve predicted that he’d be suiting up for Roger Penske?

Earlier today, Penske Racing announced that Montoya, the 1999 CART champion and the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, will take the controls of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet in the IZOD IndyCar Series on a full-time basis in 2014 – joining current series points leader Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Montoya has spent the last seven seasons in Sprint Cup, but was recently informed that he would not return to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing next season. He had been linked to a possible IndyCar ride with Andretti Autosport, as well as a new Sprint Cup drive with Furniture Row Racing, which is losing Kurt Busch at season’s end.

But this past week, Montoya informed Andretti Autosport that he would not join them. Instead, he and “The Captain” will team up in what could prove to be a major overall boost, both on the track and off, for INDYCAR.

“I am really excited to join this legendary team beginning next year,” Montoya said in a statement. “I have had the opportunity to drive for some of the best racing teams in the world and I have always admired Roger Penske and his organization. I consider it an honor to be offered the opportunity to drive for Team Penske.”

In his own thoughts, Penske was equally cordial to Montoya.

“Juan is a proven winner at all levels of motorsport,” he said. “He has won a lot of races and championships and he has an extremely passionate fan base. We look forward to building on his successes together and we believe he will be a great addition to Team Penske.”

Following his success with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in CART, Montoya hopped the pond to Formula One, where he would compete with Williams (2001-2004) and then McLaren (2005-2006). After a six-year run in F1 that saw him capture seven Grand Prix wins, he made the massive switch to stock car racing full-time in 2007 with Ganassi’s NASCAR program.

Montoya was hyped considerably as a potential hook for NASCAR to grab the coveted Latino/Hispanic market. But while he’s been able to notch a pair of Sprint Cup wins (both on road courses), he’s been unable to truly escape mid-pack status in the series. He’s only made the Chase once, back in 2009, when he finished eighth in the championship.

But now, Montoya has a chance to revitalize his career. He’ll likely face a learning curve with the new-to-him Dallara DW12 upon his return to IndyCar, but one assumes that with his talent and the environment at Team Penske, he can get up to speed again before too long.

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”