Rusty Wallace all smiles after “one more round” at Daytona

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For the first time since the 2005 season finale at Homestead-Miami, former Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace drove the familiar No. 2 Miller Lite Team Penske Ford during today’s Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway.

Fittingly, he didn’t take the Deuce around for a single, slow cruise. Wallace, now working as a NASCAR television analyst, got in several runs this afternoon in the car that now belongs to fellow former Cup champ Brad Keselowski.

Per Jeff Wackerlin of MRN Radio, Wallace topped out with a lap at 192.102 mph in qualifying setup on his final run of the day – good enough for fourth on the overall chart at the time. Not too shabby.

“I really wanted to get back in the car and get a good feel for this Gen-6 car here at Daytona,” a smiling Wallace told Fox Sports. “Not only did they let me run a couple of times, they ran me for most of the day. The car is fantastic – it was real smooth and nice, and the crew was kind. I hope I helped them a little bit, you know, with a lot of feedback.”

Standing next to Wallace was Keselowski, who had noted earlier during Fox’s telecast that Wallace raced against his father and that he himself had worn a “Rusty shirt” in his fourth-grade school picture.

Like Wallace, Keselowski was tickled over the event.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “Rusty is probably the reason why Miller Lite and Penske stayed together  and got to the point to where I’d have this opportunity. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for guys like Rusty and, specifically, what he did for the No. 2 team.

“This is our way of showing the honor and respect back, and it’s so important. We’ve got a lot of people that make this program possible, and Rusty is certainly one of them. He was such a large part of it, but we want to show respect back to them. We were able to do that with Rusty. It was my pleasure.”

Wallace won the 1989 Cup championship in the No. 27 car for Blue Max Racing, but it’s his No. 2 Miller-backed ride that may be his most well-known. He brought the Miller sponsorship to Team Penske in 1991, and Wallace wound up earning 39 victories for Penske while bearing the beer giant’s colors.

As for whether Wallace might like to do more testing in the future, he told Fox that restrictor plate tracks would be “no problem” but that he’d “need some more reps to get that courage back up” for other tracks.

“Trying to hold this Blue Deuce wide open at, say, Charlotte or Vegas – that might be above my pay grade at the moment,” he said.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.