Marco Andretti

IndyCar could tie mark for most season winners, 11, at MAVTV 500

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Although two of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ most dominant teams, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, collide for the title this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), they haven’t had it all their way this year when it comes to owning victory lane.

This year, Ganassi and Penske drivers have won just eight of 18 races. While that’s still a lot, it marks the pair’s first combined sub-.500 winning percentage since 2007 (eight of 17), and unsurprisingly, their lowest win total since.

We touched on it earlier this year, but the parity is statistically unmatched this year with 10 different winners from seven different teams. By contrast, NASCAR Sprint Cup has had 14 different winners, but in 31 races. Thus far, IndyCar’s 2013 race winners are:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon (4 season wins), Charlie Kimball (1)
  • Team Penske: Will Power (2), Helio Castroneves (1)
  • Andretti Autosport: James Hinchcliffe (3), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2)
  • Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports: Simon Pagenaud (2)
  • KV Racing Technology: Tony Kanaan (1)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Takuma Sato (1)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Mike Conway (1)

There are 16 drivers in this weekend’s race at Fontana who could tie the all-time IndyCar record of 11 different winners in the season, set in back-to-back years of 2000 and 2001 in the CART series. Those eligible to tie the record include:

  • Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti (2 career wins), E.J. Viso (0)
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Alex Tagliani (1)
  • Team Penske: AJ Allmendinger (5)
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Justin Wilson (7), Pippa Mann (0)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal (1), James Jakes (0)
  • Dragon Racing: Sebastien Bourdais (31), Sebastian Saavedra (0)
  • Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter (2)
  • Panther Racing: Oriol Servia (1)
  • KV Racing Technology: Simona de Silvestro (0)
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden (0)
  • Barracuda Racing: JR Hildebrand (0)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Tristan Vautier (0)

Of those 16, there’s five I think have a realistic shot to tie the mark this weekend. In no particular order…

  • Justin Wilson. His newfound confidence on ovals over the last two years and working relationship with engineer Bill Pappas has been an impressive transformation. He’s driven too well all year to have not scored a victory; at a track where managing his car, tires, and equipment over 500 miles is a challenge, he’s a contender.
  • Marco Andretti. He’s been too good on ovals this year – wins went begging at Milwaukee and Pocono – to have not gotten a win. His biggest issue will be managing fuel mileage.
  • Ed Carpenter. I mentioned it separately yesterday but Carpenter has to be included among the “big dogs” for the all-too-rare oval races. Really showed a lot of people something with his win at Fontana last year, proving Kentucky was no fluke, and will be a contender for all 500 miles.
  • Alex Tagliani. He’s been out of an IndyCar since Toronto in July but hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, racing sports cars with Ferrari. Provided the best opportunity of his career under less than ideal circumstances, Tagliani will seize his chance with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • JR Hildebrand. A tough call to include JR here but consider the factors. He probably could have won this race last year, the Barracuda Racing team also could have won last year with Tagliani, and there’s the added motivation of needing a huge result to gain entry into IndyCar’s Leaders Circle Top 22 in entrant points for 2014. Big weekend needed for team and driver as they sort out their respective futures; their only downside to me is missing the series’ open test here last month.

Of the remaining 11, Allmendinger has a good shot given his equipment but knows he will have to play gunner to Castroneves. Servia is probably better than his team over 500 miles, Rahal’s a sleeper if the team’s engineering improves on the oval as much as it has on the street courses of late, and Viso could surprise given the Andretti team’s pace. But they’re longer shots.

The championship is the main storyline heading into the race, but don’t be surprised if we’re looking at victory lane at night’s end with a record-tying mark achieved.

PIRTEK Team Murray rolls out several tidbits as Brabham preps for debut

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Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
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It’s been a busy last week or so for PIRTEK Team Murray and driver Matthew Brabham around the Indianapolis area.

And they haven’t even begun practicing or qualifying or even racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

* First, the team announced that the most decorated police officer in New York City Police history, Walter Wasilewski, has joined PIRTEK Team Murray’s CK Crew of Veterans and First Responders that will take part in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge for the Indianapolis 500 (photo below; photo credit: PIRTEK Team Murray).

056Wasilewski received over 200 medals and awards before retiring. He made over 3,000 arrests during his career with the NYPD, and also served at Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The CK Crew, will allow the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to host 500 members of the military and first responders at Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May. Kyle was a highly-decorated NAVY Seal and sniper who was killed in 2013 in his native Texas.

Seven of those 500 members of the CK Crew will train and crew Brabham’s PIRTEK Team Murray car in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, to be held on Miller Lite Carb Day on May 27.

“This concept is unique and it will allow a number of guys and girls to come together and form a team to hopefully get PIRTEK Team Murray to victory lane in the Pit Stop Challenge,” said Walter Wasilewski.

“Everyone knows what Chris Kyle did for America and Taya (Kyle’s widow) is carrying on his legacy with such dignity and class. I’ve had the chance to meet with Taya on several occasions in New York and she is an amazing American.

“My career in the Police Department was through some of the most dangerous times in New York’s history. Period.

“That training is going to come in handy when standing waiting for the PIRTEK Team Murray racecar to come at me. In the Police Department, you have to have faith in those around you to protect you – in this case, I have to have the faith in Matt to stop the car on his marks so we can then go about our job.”

* Second, Brabham recently had the opportunity to take part in the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL Draft announcement (see main photo).

Brabham, 22, joined four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in announcing two of the Colts’ draft picks: Hassan Ridgeway from Texas and Florida’s Antonio Morrison.

The draft announcement was made on the start-finish line of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I knew nothing about American football when I first moved back to the US from Australia in 2012, but I have really grown to love it,” Brabham said. “I have been to several Colts games and the more I know the more I am really starting to get into it.

“We had a fantasy football league with several of the drivers last year and I won it, so I must be learning something.

“It is great that we can combine two things as significant as the Colts and NFL Draft and the Indianapolis Speedway and the 100th Indy 500.

“To get up close to the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl trophy (Vince Lombardi Trophy) was pretty cool. You don’t get to do that every day.”

* Third, Matthew Brabham’s grandfather, three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham, has been named to “The Top 100 Most Important People in Indy 500 History” by the Indianapolis Star.

“Sir Jack,” as he was called in the later years of his life, is ranked 56th on the list. The patriarch of the Brabham family passed away on May 19, 2014 at the age of 88.

Young Matthew is only the third third-generation racer to attempt to race in the 500, following his grandfather and father Geoff.

The other two families that have had three generations of racers compete at Indianapolis are the Vukovich family – Bill, Billy Jr. and Billy III – as well as the Andretti family: Mario, Michael and Marco.

“We have said it many times, but it is just an honor and a privilege to be part of this year’s Month of May and everything that goes with it,” Matthew Brabham said in a media release.

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Marty Snider’s son Myatt Snider set for ARCA debut

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Photo: Cunningham Motorsports
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Myatt Snider, the 21-year-old eldest son of NBCSN NASCAR and IndyCar reporter Marty Snider, will make his ARCA Series debut later this month.

His series debut will come at Toledo Speedway on May 22, driving the No. 22 Ford for Cunningham Motorsports. It will be the first of nine starts for him this year.

“This is the big opportunity that I have been dreaming about for several years,” the younger Snider said in a release. “I feel so blessed to drive for Paul Andrews and Cunningham Motorsports. I’m confident the move up to ARCA will be a smooth transition, especially since Jeff Caudill will be coming with me and continue being my crew chief.”

With Kevin Lee’s son Jackson also a rising star in the karting ranks, it’s cool to see the next generation of talent start to grow and develop in the stock car ranks. Marty Snider will work on NBCSN’s IndyCar broadcasts through Road America on June 26 on pit road, before the return of NASCAR on NBC on July 2 at Daytona.

A more extensive report can be found here via NASCAR TALK’s Nate Ryan.

Pagenaud disappointed by Boston drop; would love Watkins Glen option

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17: Simon Pagenaud is the winner of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2016 in Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, Simon Pagenaud, was one of several drivers the series deployed to Boston (James Hinchcliffe was another) to promote what would have been the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston on Labor Day weekend.

“The underground aspect is very unique,” Pagenaud said in a series release in January. “I mainly look forward to hearing the sound of the car as I drive under it. The layout is very fun and the track itself is in a fast-growing area with a great dynamic. I should be able to get good speed because the wide track, fast corners and smooth roads after all of the work (is completed) will most likely make this track one of the fastest tracks there is.

“The Verizon IndyCar Series is very excited for the potential that Boston brings as a whole,” he added. “It is exciting to be able to reach out to another population in a great area and hopefully see its economy change for the better as a result of the race. I would really like to thank the city of Boston for this opportunity.”

But with news emerging late Friday that the race wouldn’t be on the 2016 schedule after all, Pagenaud reflected a bit of disappointment that people didn’t understand what the event could have provided.

“Yeah, I’m very disappointed,” Pagenaud told reporters Wednesday during a teleconference. “That was going to be a great event, perfect position in the city.

“I managed to see the excitement of I guess half of the population in Boston, because I know some of the population was not excited about it. There were a lot of people that were pulling for the race. I saw the excitement.

“The racetrack itself looked like it was going to be a beautiful layout. We were going to go through a tunnel, which would have been really cool.”

Naturally, the next follow-up question is where would Pagenaud like to race provided INDYCAR could fill the slot on the calendar.

A permanent road course in the vain of Road America – where Pagenaud’s had success in sports cars and clinched his Champ Car Atlantic crown in 2006 – immediately came to mind.

“I hope we can replace the race. For sure, I’m thinking of Watkins Glen. I’ve never been there, but it looks like a beautiful track. It’s been repaved, as well, recently. That would be a good market and really cool track to go to.

“There’s plenty of tracks in America that could be exciting to go to. I’d like to go back to Fontana personally. I love that oval. But I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

For what it’s worth, Watkins Glen has been discussed openly as an option although whether INDYCAR could make it happen and whether the track will be able to accommodate it remains to be seen.

Watkins Glen International Michael Printup told the Boston Herald that while the track would “be a great site for them,” it remains a long ways off and would require a minor miracle to do some schedule jostling.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but we’re not even there yet. It’s a huge challenge,” Printup told the Herald, with neither INDYCAR officials nor Grand Prix of Boston officials available for further comment.

I had to joke with Pagenaud, who’s now driving a Menards-backed entry with John Menard’s support for the full month of May and for IndyCar’s return to Road America in late June, whether he could persuade Menard to help IndyCar return – again – to the Milwaukee Mile.

“There you go,” Pagenaud laughed, although such an option doesn’t seem realistic at this juncture.

Space dreams occur for Hildebrand, Daly at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Hildebrand Daly
(Photo courtesy Conor Daly official Twitter page)
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To some awe-struck fans, their dreams of driving an Indy car are an out-of-this-world experience.

For Conor Daly and JR Hildebrand, driving an race car in the Verizon IndyCar Series is an orbital experience what they do for a living.

Earlier this week in Houston, on Tuesday, Daly and Hildebrand enjoyed a REAL out of this world experience as they visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The day-long visit was an exceptional trip for the two drivers, who hung out with robots, did a virtual tour of the International Space Station, saw mockups of the Space Shuttle and more.

But the best part for the duo was the opportunity to have a live 10-minute conversation with astronauts Tim Kopra, Jeff Williams and Tim Peake.

“Man, I wanna go to space,” Daly said, via IndyCar.com. Of note, the driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda also went to “Space Camp” prior to the series’ most recent round at Barber Motorsports Park.

Added Hildebrand, “Ultimately, you end the day feeling overwhelmed about how much amazing stuff you got to see.”

Later, as their trip came to an end, the drivers were more than just appreciative. They left the JSC in a kind of awe that they’ll likely feel for a long time to come.

“Right away we were able to find common ground on things that we do compared to things that they do,” Hildebrand said. “Coming from the motorsports community, there is so much crossover in terms of the way that things happen at NASA.”

Added Daly, “This is probably one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Check out some of the many tweets both drivers and their new friends, the astronauts in the ISS, posted, as well as tweets of others including Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles:

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