Texas IndyCar Pack

Humpy Wheeler tries to solve what’s wrong with IndyCar (VIDEO)

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As one of the greatest promoters in NASCAR history, Humpy Wheeler has never been short of ideas. And in his latest YouTube dispatch, the former president and GM of Charlotte Motor Speedway puts his mind toward trying to revive IndyCar racing’s mainstream presence.

In the five-minute-plus video, Wheeler commends IndyCar for its great on-track product but also critiques it on several fronts. To start off, he believes that the open-wheelers are simply too quick for those in the grandstands and that they need to be slowed down.

From there, he says that the IndyCar starting grid needs to be increased at every race to 33, which is the number of cars that take the green every May for the Indianapolis 500.

But then, he proceeds to go off on a tangent about the importance of the younger fans and how IndyCar should cater to them.

“You’re entertaining people – Who’s leading the race? What does he look like?” he says. “Little kid, 12 years old, he goes to a race. He’s been in video games, he’s seen all this great stuff. He can’t tell which car is which. You can’t confuse those people. They’re not coming back to a race if you confuse ’em!

“He’s not confusing a monster truck show, because monster trucks are big and huge, they got teeth, all these things on ’em. IndyCars are little teeny cars. A 12-year-old boy – why should he like ’em? Grow that car up, folks! Make it geared toward the 12-year-old, because the 12-year-old is tomorrow’s race fan.”

Finally, he closes with the thought that IndyCar ought to seek out more American drivers from the short-track ranks.

“[Foreign drivers] add to the spice, but let’s get some Saturday night heroes out of America and stick them in IndyCars,” he said. “That’s what’s made NASCAR so good – they got a great field of drivers from around the country.”

The whole video seems a bit bizarre to me. Wheeler’s an entertainer, so it’s only natural that he approaches IndyCar’s image problem from that perspective. Fair enough.

But while it may be true that most people can’t tell the difference between 225 and 195 mph – both are insanely fast to the average Joe – that extra speed is an important part of what makes an IndyCar, well, an IndyCar. From my standpoint, that additional 30-40 mph over the stock cars helped get me hooked on watching open-wheel during a time when it was bleeding fans during the Split.

Then there’s Wheeler’s idea of bigger starting grids. He mentions how there should be 33 at every race. Well, the 2011 IndyCar finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway started with 34 cars.

We know how that ended. I’m fine with 24-26 cars at races outside of the ‘500,’ thanks.

Finally, the whole argument of adding more American drivers has been played out over and over. IndyCar’s an international sport. Americans should be a part of it, but if IndyCar were to have an all-American field like NASCAR, something would be missing.

Yes, Wheeler mentions he has nothing against the foreigners. But you get the sense that if he were in charge of IndyCar, he’d prefer the all-American field.

Altogether, a strange clip. But perhaps you agree with him? Or maybe you have your own ideas on what IndyCar should do? Drop ’em in the comment box if you like, just be sure to keep them clean.

Team Penske restores iconic ‘Blue Hilton’ Indy 500-winning transporter

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Photo courtesy of Team Penske
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Few teams have as great an appreciation for their own history as Team Penske, so it’s only fitting that on a day when Roger Penske turns 80, the team reflects on the first transporter that helped launch the team into the national stratosphere.

Penske’s first of 16 Indianapolis 500 victories was achieved in 1972 with Mark Donohue driving, and the transporter that carried that No. 66 Sunoco McLaren Offy was a customized 1972 International Fleetstar truck known in the racing circles as “The Blue Hilton.”

This transporter served Team Penske well, carrying both Indy cars and sports cars that dominated in Can-Am in the early 1970s with George Follmer and Donohue.

More than 8,000 man hours went into the restoration of this transporter, which was only found in 2015 after concerns it’d been scrapped. Penske Truck Leasing’s James Svaasand, Michael Klotz, and David Hall and Team Penske Historian Bernie King led the restoration and can thank Jerry Breon, a long-time Penske team member, who found the truck for sale.

“After we confirmed that it was, in fact, the Blue Hilton that was for sale, I called Brian Hard (president of Penske Truck Leasing) and we agreed that we had to find a way to bring her back to life,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said in a release. “This transporter was there when the foundation was laid for Team Penske and it is symbolic of the way in which we operate today.  Everyone at PTL did an unbelievable job restoring this vehicle.  I can’t wait for Roger to see it in person, as it is something he will cherish.”

The transporter will be on display at Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

You can read the full release here. A few photos of the transporter are below, courtesy of Team Penske:

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Testing confirmed, races not yet for Mikhail Aleshin in sports cars

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 01:  Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, driver of the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport IndyCar prepares for qualifying to the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 1, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin will focus primarily on the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, but may still be busy with sports car commitments with SMP Racing.

His sponsor he has in IndyCar is working on a new non-hybrid LMP1 car for 2018, as SMP Racing’s technical partner BR Engineering is working with Dallara on that new chassis.

Aleshin said via a press release he’s already been busy working on the development of that car ahead of its planned introduction next season (more info here via Sportscar365 and Endurance-Info).

The new creation stems from the fact BR Engineering was not granted a place to continue with its BR01 LMP2 chassis, which raced in the FIA World Endurance Championship and also won the pole for the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the ACO confirmed just four chassis constructors would continue in LMP2 in 2017 to coincide with new regulations (Onroak, Oreca, Riley Multimatic, Dallara). BR and other constructors were removed from the field as a result.

Intriguingly though, Aleshin was also listed as the nominated driver for SMP Racing’s Dallara P217 chassis for both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the European Le Mans Series.

Le Mans doesn’t clash with an IndyCar weekend, while the ELMS and IndyCar have one clash, the weekend of August 26 when IndyCar races at Gateway Motorsports Park and ELMS is at Paul Ricard.

Aleshin may be active in a number of sports car races this year, as he has been off-and-on the last two years. But he doesn’t know his exact schedule yet.

“Well we’re working to produce our own car for 2018… and I’m one of the test or development drivers,” Aleshin told NBC Sports.

“I don’t know yet (Le Mans)… maybe I’ll be there. Well, it’s good to be a placeholder! But hopefully not for every event.

“For me the main thing this year is to concentrate on two things. Number one is IndyCar. But I have a very similar responsibility on taking care of our LMP1 project with SMP, as that will be very big.”

Meyrick, Price reunite with Bullitt Racing McLaren GT4

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Photo: Bullitt Racing
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Veteran sports car driver Andy Meyrick and legendary team manager David Price will reunite on Bullitt Racing’s entry into the GT4 European Series Northern Cup in 2017. Meyrick will share the team’s McLaren 570S GT4 with new co-driver Stephen Pattrick.

Meyrick and Price worked together with Don Panoz’s DeltaWing Racing Cars program from 2013 through 2014, in the program’s continuation with new components after initial technical partners left the operation.

Meyrick was recently at the Rolex 24 at Daytona supporting his protege, Seb Morris, who ran well in the Whelen Engineering-backed No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R for Action Express Racing.

“I’ve been keeping a very close eye on GT4 for the last couple of years now, I really admire the racing and the close competition,” Meyrick said.

“The team is well organized and I’m sure will be competitive very quickly, this was a key part of my decision to take the role.

“Led by David Price, the team has a great opportunity to challenge at the front of the pack this year. I’m excited to be a part of GT4.”

Price, who will be team principal, added: “We were looking for an experienced GT racer to lead our team and take the fight straight to the front, Andy is perfect for the role. We are delighted to have him onboard.”

The Northern Cup season begins at Misano on April 2, the first weekend of a six-race schedule (Brands Hatch May 7, Red Bull Ring June 11, Slovakia Ring July 16, Zandvoort August 20, Nürburgring September 17).

Michael Andretti: ‘We must be the best Honda team’

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12:  Team owner Michael Andretti stands on the grid prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)
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Andretti Autosport is banking on a couple of its offseason engineering changes and motivation throughout its four-car driver lineup to reassert itself within the Verizon IndyCar Series after a challenging 2016 season.

Outside of the month of May in Indianapolis, where Alexander Rossi won the 100th Indianapolis 500, Andretti Autosport struggled as a team last season, primarily on the road and street courses.

By the season finale at Sonoma Raceway though, the team had made some setup gains and was firmly in contention with all four cars.

Team principal Michael Andretti is setting his sights on being “best in class” first, as with 13 Hondas compared to only eight Chevrolets, there’s already a lot of other teams with the same aero kit and manufacturer to get ahead of before making an outright challenge to the Chevrolet teams.

Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport both field four cars, while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing (two cars each) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (one) make up the balance of the 13 Hondas.

“I think it’s going to come down to the race tracks. Certain tracks I think we can be more competitive than others. So it’s that,” Andretti told my colleague Luke Smith at this weekend’s FIA Formula E Buenos Aires ePrix, where the Amlin Andretti team competed in the third round of that season.

“But I think our goal as a team is that we must be the best Honda team, and get our licks in when we can with the rest of it.

“Still our goal is obviously we want to repeat at Indy again and win the championship. I think we still have the team to do it. But we have to have a trouble-free year.”

Andretti himself will move off the strategist’s box for the first time in 2017, which sees him and Marco Andretti separate from that standpoint after years together. This primarily frees up Michael Andretti to be at other series events where his team competes, whether in Formula E or Red Bull Global Rallycross, if there are conflict weekends between it and IndyCar (there are several).

With Eric Bretzman brought on board as technical director for Andretti Autosport, it also will free up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engineer and race strategist, Ray Gosselin, to focus solely on the No. 28 DHL Honda instead of being the overall engineering head for the team.

“I think his mental bandwidth will be freed up for the 28,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports at the Phoenix test.

Michael Andretti, who hailed the team chemistry preseason last year, said things are better within the operation this year as it looks ahead to the season.

Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are motivated to bounce back from tough years, Alexander Rossi now has a year of experience under his belt and a good relationship with both his new strategist (Rob Edwards) and engineer (Jeremy Milless) and Takuma Sato joins from A.J. Foyt Enterprises looking to impress in a big team.

“I feel really good. We’ve made changes in our team but I think we’ve made really positive changes that I think have strengthened our team,” Michael Andretti said. “I’m very excited where that’s at. It’s going to come down to execution.”

The team will again run five cars at the Indianapolis 500, with the fifth car the subject of much interest from a mix of both ‘500 veterans and up-and-coming younger talents who’ve made some splashes in IndyCar.

While nothing is settled on that front, Andretti is confident a deal can be reached sooner rather than later.

“It’s coming together. We have about four or five different options that we’re working on. Hopefully in the next couple we’ll have something,” he said.