BHA announces The Collection Auto Group and Castrol as sponsors; driver TBD

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Several key pieces of the Bryan Herta Autosport 2014 IndyCar puzzle have been completed, with an announcement Friday confirming some new commercial partners, its car number and the official team name.

The Collection Auto Group (CAG), Ohio’s largest dealer of luxury vehicles, will join Castrol as a sponsor of the No. 98 BHA entry in the 2014 IndyCar Series. As part of the partnership, Castrol will become the primary motor oil of The Collection Auto Group.

“The Collection Auto Group’s focus on speed and customer service blends perfectly with the speed and technology of Indycar,” team co-owner Herta said in a release. “The CAG is a flagship partner under our new Castrol sponsorship, and I’m personally very pleased to welcome them to the team and sport.”

The logo will appear at three races: Mid-Ohio, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. The announcement was made Friday at the Cleveland Auto Show.

BHA reverts to its original name, rather than the Barracuda Racing moniker it has had for two years. This news indirectly confirms that Barracuda Networks will not be returning to the team as primary sponsor in 2014.

The number 98, too, stays on as the team’s car number. When INDYCAR released the Leaders’ Circle entrants last week, BHA was listed without a car number.

As to the driver front, the front-runner all offseason has been Luca Filippi, the Italian who raced in four races over three weekends for the team the second half in 2013. Back at the Austin F1 weekend, we reported he was close to a deal. JR Hildebrand ran the remaining two California races the back half of 2013, and nearly won at Fontana before an engine issue.

The offseason has dragged on though without major movement, and when BHA tested at Sebring earlier this month, the team had 2013 Indy Lights driver Jack Hawksworth in the car.

There could be others in the frame as well, depending on the potential amount of budget they could bring to the table.

But with exactly one month until opening practice at St. Petersburg on March 28, and a little more than two weeks until preseason testing at Barber Motorsports Park, the clock is ticking.

If you want a bit of humor though, here’s a flashback to the 1998 CART race at Road America, when Herta’s Shell-sponsored car for Team Rahal was attacked by a Castrol-sponsored car, driven by Alex Barron for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team. The AAR squad ran Castrol sponsorship in CART from 1996 through its last year in 1999.

IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama final practice report

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Will Power posted the fastest lap in the third practice session for the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. with a speed of 122.953 mph.

Rookie Robert Wickens (122.552 mph) was second fast, foretelling a continuation of his incredible rookie season.

Scott Dixon (122.237), Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.231) and Alexander Rossi (122.106) rounded out the top five.

The practice was interrupted several times for incidents. 

Ed Jones spun off track in turn five after locking up his brakes with 30 minutes remaining in practice three. He was able to drive back to the pits under his own power.

With 20 minutes still on the clock, Jordan King took a trip into the fence after posting a fastest lap of 121.753 mph. He sustained substantial left side damage to his car and came back to the pits on the hook.

“I’m annoyed really,” King said afterward on the live stream at IndyCar.com. “I slightly locked the inside front, then just stayed off onto the grass and that was it. But I wasn’t really even pushing that hard.”

With two minutes remaining, Charlie Kimball lost power and pulled off the track, bringing an end to the practice session.

Dixon also had an off-road excursion.