James Hinchcliffe, Michael Andretti, Bill Hynes, Matthew Brabham

Andretti announces Honda, Hinch, UFD and Brabham to Indy Lights

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Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosport team returns to its longtime engine partner, Honda, for 2014. The team announced the move Saturday ahead of the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – one of a series of moves announced by the team.

“It’s like going back to family,” Andretti said. “Team Green was one of the factory Honda teams in the mid-90s. I do want to thank Chevrolet, awesome to work with, them and Illmor. Won a championship with them and a lot of races. The way everything came down. Honda was the best option going forward.”

Added Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development: “We have a long history with the Andretti name. Clearly Andretti has been very strong. It is important to have teams and drivers that can complement each other.”

Had Andretti stayed with Chevrolet, it would have meant the three preeminent teams in IndyCar, Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, would be part of the “Bowtie brigade.”

A statement from Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, read:

“We’d like to thank Michael Andretti and the entire Andretti Autosport organization for their partnership in IndyCar Series competition during 2012 and 2013. Michael, J-F Thormann and John Lopes lead a quality organization that resulted in Ryan Hunter-Reay winning the 2012 IndyCar Series driver championship. We would like to thank the Andretti Autosport drivers for their on-track achievements that contributed to Chevrolet clinching the 2012 manufacturers’ championship.  They are all true professionals on and off the track. We wish them well and look forward to spirited competition in the future.”

As it is, Andretti’s team has shifted as a counterpunch to Ganassi’s switch the other way. Andretti achieved great success with Honda from 2003 through 2011, and prior to that as Team Green from 1998 through 2002. Andretti’s team won three series championships (2004, Tony Kanaan, 2005, Dan Wheldon, 2007, Dario Franchitti) and scored two Indianapolis 500 victories (2005, Wheldon and 2007, Franchitti).

Andretti’s team also won races with sister brand Acura from 2007 to 2008 in the American Le Mans Series P2 class.

On the driving front, faced with the choice of testing the open market, and a new situation, or returning where he’s taken his IndyCar career to the next level, Canadian James Hinchcliffe decided staying put at Andretti Autosport made more sense for his future. He’s re-signed for a one year deal with a team option for a second year.

“We’re doing an encore performance,” said Hinchcliffe. “The last two years have been tremendous. To keep the band together so to speak is huge.”

Hinchcliffe, who’s won three races this season, will stay with Andretti after other media reports (RACER’s Robin Miller, Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer) had linked him to potential moves to either KV Racing Technology or perhaps Chip Ganassi Racing.

The other major announcement was the official confirmation of GoDaddy’s departure from IndyCar ahead of a planned drawdown from all forms of motorsports, and United Fiber & Data replacing GoDaddy as primary sponsor of Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 Honda. UFD, which has served as an associate sponsor for the team this year, will serve as an associate on the No. 25 (Marco Andretti) and No. 28 (Ryan Hunter-Reay) cars next year.

“We saw how great with he was as a brand ambassador,” said Bill Hines of UFD. “We want to piggyback off that. Hinch is a hilarious individual. He’s not such a great golfer. The face of UFD should be this one.”

Honda Canada support has not been confirmed for the team, contrary to rumors suggesting it would be.

“There’s talk but we haven’t done anything with them yet,” Michael Andretti said. “There’s a possibility with Hinch.”

The other UFD bit of news was the confirmation it would be primary sponsor for Matthew “Matty” Brabham, the 2013 Pro Mazda champion who will step up to Andretti’s Indy Lights team in 2014. Brabham will team with Zach Veach, who qualified on the pole for today’s Lights race.

The one bit of news not touched on was E.J. Viso’s absence this weekend. Andretti Autosport released a statement Saturday regarding that:

“Andretti Autosport was notified Thursday evening of E.J. Viso’s illness by both Viso and his health care provider. Viso made every attempt to make the trip to Fontana to take the track for his crew and sponsors. E.J.’s illness was too great and it was advised by his medical team that he remain home to recover. While we are disappointed that he will not be able to join us for the 2013 IndyCar Season finale this weekend, we are more concerned with his health. We will miss having E.J. around the track with us and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway