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.”

CJ Wilson completes first test in Porsche GT3 Cup car

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Photo courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson’s new career is officially underway, following his retirement from professional baseball and now having completed his first test last week at Texas World Speedway in his new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Wilson, who formally announced the news he’d be transitioning into racing full-time during Rolex 24 at Daytona race week, did a two-day test at the still active oval/road course combo track in College Station, Texas. Wilson tested one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports (the team runs two in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) and then advanced into the Cup car.

Wilson got fairly close to teammate Marc Miller’s times during the test as he acclimated to both the Cup car and the Yokohama tires.

“It’s great to take another step towards my goals,” Wilson said. “We had a chance to burn through two sets of tires today and I made a lot of progress. Having Marc as my coach was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms. Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team, I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session.

“The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. TWS is a really fast and bumpy track. Looking forward to getting back in the car in ten days and pick up where I left off.”

Miller added, “CJ did great job, but I expected as much. He is logical and methodical which makes him easy to help and that translated into a very quick progression along the learning curve. Like any professional athlete though he is never truly satisfied because he wants to be perfect. He took quickly to the new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. Overall, it was a successful first outing and I look forward to working with CJ this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I’m likely fired.”

A teaser of on-board footage is below, along with a couple other social posts from the test:

Danny Watts: ‘Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  (l to r) Strakka Racing drivers Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane pose during the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship Photo Call on March 22, 2013 at Potters Fields in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Watts (left) with Leventis and Kane in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
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Sports car veteran driver Danny Watts has announced his retirement from active competition, but is in the news for an entirely different reason on Monday.

The 37-year-old Brit has announced he’s gay, penning a first-person piece for the Huffington Post and also doing interviews with both Daily Sportscar and Autosport. The latter article features a well-written op-ed from author Matt Beer.

In the Huffington Post piece, Watts, an eight-time starter and 2010 LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, wrote that hiding his sexuality in the heavily white male heterosexual world of motorsport was simply becoming too much to keep under wraps.

“There isn’t any one moment that stands out in my mind as the moment I realized I would need to live in the closet if I wanted my motorsport career to go anywhere; it was just a general feeling I got,” Watts wrote.

“All the other guys in the paddock had girlfriends, so I got one to blend in. When that relationship ended, I got another one, and so I continued pretending to be straight for seventeen years.

“Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain.

“I hope that there are a few people who are supportive. If the response I’ve had from the queer motorsport community thus far is any gauge, I feel hopeful that I’ll find a supportive group to start driving change for my queer siblings in the sport I love.”

Within the motorsports world, Watts’ name is best known to the sports car paddock, and he was a regular with the Strakka Racing team alongside co-drivers Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis. But he isn’t particularly known to the racing world at large.

This announcement comes as Watts has opted to call time on his full-time driving career and instead will focus on coaching for the future. It also represents one of the higher profile names in racing announcing his sexual orientation, which makes it newsworthy.

Despite some detractors (as you might expect), a number of other drivers and key motorsports figures have revealed their support for Watts, and why this news matters, on social media today:

Marino Franchitti returns to Mazda at Sebring

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15:  Left to right, Marino Franchitti, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett celebrate after winning the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Franchitti (left) won at Sebring in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Marino Franchitti will make his return to a Mazda entry for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be run March 18, as third driver in the team’s No. 70 Mazda RT24-P with Joel Miller and Tom Long.

The Scotsman competed in the team’s RX-8 and 6 models in the GT ranks but has been out of a drive since his role with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing last season in one of the team’s Ford GTs in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Franchitti replaces James Hinchcliffe, who was the third driver in the No. 70 car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll test for the team later this week at Sebring prior to the race run in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the year.

“A big part of those results are being with great teams and having great teammates. I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Franchitti, who co-drove to win overall at Sebring in 2014. “I love driving there, I always have since the first laps I did. It’s a proper old-school track. If you go over the limit, you crash, simple as that, rather than going onto some tarmac run-off like many tracks. I love the challenge of walking that tightrope. Of course, there’s the challenge of the bumps too, trying to get the car to handle over them and the beating the car and driver takes. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to endurance test their cars here, it’s the ultimate test of a vehicle and its durability.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s so cool to be coming back into the Mazda family,” said Franchitti. “Like everyone else, I was blown away when I saw the first shots of the RT24-P and how incredible it looks, so there’s a lot of excitement at getting to drive it. I’m relieved I get a chance to test the car, as many times I’ve just jumped in and raced, so this is a bit of a luxury! Being a part of the development process of a car is something I’ve been lucky enough to do several times and it’s something I really love.”

Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan added, “He’s a proven winner there, and he’s been a part of the Mazda family for years. Just look at his record at Sebring! He has the experience that can really help our team. Because he’s driven with Mazda before, we know his personality is a great fit. That’s important to us, and it goes a long way in helping the team chemistry remain strong. He’s a great fit with Tom [Long] and Joel [Miller], just as Spencer Pigot has been great with Nunez and Bomarito.”

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.