Some Servia is better than no Servia for 2014

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It’s the line that best sums up Oriol Servia’s IndyCar career – often times interrupted, but never defeated: “Where will the wind blow next?”

The Catalan has had perhaps the most circuitous route to navigate over the last 15 years, dating to his rookie year in the then-CART championship in 2000.

In order, the team breakdown is: PPI Motorsports (2000), Sigma Autosport (2001), PWR Championship Racing (early 2002, the former PacWest, and forerunner to KV), Patrick Racing (2002-03), Dale Coyne Racing (2004-05), Newman/Haas Racing (2005, part 1), PKV Racing (2006, initially PK and before KV), Forsythe Championship Racing (2007), PKV again (2007, part 2), KV (2008), Rahal Letterman Racing (2009), Newman/Haas/Lanigan (2009, part 2), an off year, Newman/Haas/Lanigan (2011, part 3), Lotus DRR (2012), Panther DRR (2012-13), Panther Racing (2013), and now Rahal Letterman Lanigan (2014, part 2).

It says something about the quality of person and driver Servia is that through this maze of different teams, through three different series (CART, Champ Car, now IndyCar), his presence on the IndyCar grid continues to endure in some capacity.

Servia’s stats are not otherworldly. In 191 career starts, his only win came in 2005 in Montreal, then filling in for the injured Bruno Junqueira for Newman/Haas in Champ Car. There have been 18 other podium finishes.

But he’s dependable and always extracts the maximum from his machinery, if not overachieving altogether. In his full seasons dating to 2003, Servia has finished in the top-10 in points on six of a possible eight occasions (11th in 2006 and 13th in 2012 were the only exceptions, and he missed most of 2009 and 2010).

Think of all the various teammates, crews, setups, chassis, engines and seat fittings that Servia has gone through over the course of his career, and that’s in part why he’s as well respected and liked as he is.

In any instance, Servia could be frustrated about the situation presented to him, but he tends to laugh it off, roll his r’s, and move onto the next opportunity.

When you think of any open ride on the grid, the first name that comes to mind is Servia’s. When you think of a fill-in driver needed, Servia’s name emerges. When at the end of a season, a team closes, or a manufacturer pulls out, Servia’s often been the one left on the sidelines… yet he’ll likely re-enter the frame at the next available opportunity.

There’s a likeable underdog story about Servia in that for all of those 14 years, he’s really only had one shot at the best level machinery – when he was plucked from Coyne to replace Junqueira at Newman/Haas in Champ Car. And that year, he finished second in the points only behind teammate Sebastien Bourdais.

In nearly every other instance, he’s been a part-time role, fill-in role, or a last-minute change of team or equipment either at the start of or during a season.

Some of the standout races he’s put together in those roles in recent years include finishing second at Long Beach 2007 subbing for Paul Tracy at Forsythe, finishing on the podium for KV later that year at Mexico City, ending fourth for N/H/L at Motegi in 2009, or achieving any of the “ghost” top-fives he did in 2012 once DRR dumped its Lotus for a Chevrolet. It proves he still has what it takes to get the job done well at this level.

In 2011, his last proper full season, he was fourth in points with an NHL team operating on a comparative fraction of a budget compared to Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.

Just this past year he was ninth in points after the Indianapolis 500 driving for DRR, before that team too shuttered operations. And when he filled in down the line at Panther, he was seventh on two occasions in a car that had little business finishing that high.

He’s worked with big-name teammates such as James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 rookie-of-the-year, Graham Rahal, Will Power (who Servia beat in points over the course of the full 2008 season), Tracy and Bourdais, among others.

It’s rare to find someone like “the people’s champion” with such a high approval and popularity rating in the paddock, and it was interesting to watch the congratulatory messages flow in this morning.

And so, fittingly, Servia’s deal thus far for 2014 is part-time, four races and part two of his journey with RLL, and Graham Rahal as a teammate.

Servia will probably overachieve, score at least one top-five finish, maybe contend for a podium, and still there will be no guarantee of further races after the month of May despite the desire many will want to want to see him continue.

For Servia, it couldn’t happen any other way.

Comedian Adam Carolla makes pro racing debut in Trans Am

Adam Carolla pilots the No. 33 GoShare Corvette at Willow Springs International Raceway. Photo: Burtin Racing
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As the host of such shows as CarCast, Ace on the House, and Adam Carolla and Friends Build Stuff Live, and with a massive classic car collection to boot, funnyman Adam Carolla is an unapologetic gearhead who is well-versed in the car industry. He even made a documentary honoring Paul Newman in recent years. However, he recently took his love of all things automotive one step further: he contested his first professional car race.

He joined the Burtin Racing team, which fields Corvette C7.Rs in the Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship, at California’s Willow Springs International Raceway for the High Desert Challenge, the season opener for Trans Am’s 2017 season. He piloted their No. 33 GoShare entry as a teammate to Richard Wall, who signed as a last-minute entrant for team’s the No. 7 machine.

Carolla was not daunted by the challenge. He quickly came to grips with the 850-horsepower beast and qualified a solid fifth for the 100-mile feature. In the race itself, he worked his way up to third before facing a tough challenge from Trans Am veteran and former champion Greg Pickett, who previously ran the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing effort in the American Le Mans Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Photo: Burtin Racing

However, Carolla was unfazed by Pickett’s advance and he held off the former champion to claim third, not far behind teammate Wall, who crossed the line in second. Tomy Drissi won the event in the No. 8 Ghost in The Shell Chevrolet Corvette.

For Carolla, simply contesting the Trans Am event was an honor. “For me, Trans Am has always been huge,” said Carolla, who earned the COOLSHIRT Systems “Cool Move of the Race” award for his performance.

“I have old Trans Am cars from the 70’s and 80’s. I have some 2.5 (liter) Trans Am cars from the 70’s and I have Paul Newman cars that were raced in Trans Am. So just the idea of being asked to race in the modern Trans Am was a huge honor. Just being able to hold my own in modern Trans Am was exciting to me.”

Team owner Claudio Burtin was ecstatic with Carolla’s performance. “I think we all have to take our hat off to Adam Carolla on his debut in Trans Am,” he said of Carolla. “This is a fast and difficult track at Willow Springs, and the team is ecstatic with Adam’s podium finish. GoShare is thrilled with the results and we will work to improve one step higher on the podium next time.”

The Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Championships resume action on April 29-30 at Auto Club Speedway.

Preferred Freezer Services expands partnership with Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing

Mike Finnegan/Ed Carpenter Racing
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Preferred Freezer Services, which has been a sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing and driver J.R. Hildebrand since 2014, is set to expand its partnership with both driver and team. Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet with sport the white and blue Preferred Freezer Services livery at four races during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the first being at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 7-9. The expansion also includes the entire month of May, which will see the brand on the No. 21 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. They will return as a primary sponsor for the Honda Indy Toronto in July and will be an associate sponsor throughout the season.

“Preferred Freezer Services was a big part of helping me get to running just the Indy 500 with ECR the first year in 2014. We’ve been fortunate to see the program grow and help it expand over the last few years,” Hildebrand said of the relationship. “I’m really excited to be able to continue that partnership and have them on board for a few more races this year! It is great to work with these guys again and I can’t wait to kick it off at such an awesome event as Long Beach.”

As Hildebrand explained, the partnership between sponsor, driver and team dates back to 2014, when Preferred Freezer Services adorned a then one-off No. 21 entry for Hildebrand, incidentally his first start for Ed Carpenter Racing. They expanded their partnership in 2015, adorning Hildebrand’s entry at that year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indy 500. Their presence grew even more last year, when they appeared on the cars of Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hildebrand has finished in top ten in the last three Indianapolis 500 mile races. However, his best finish remains his infamous second place at the 2011 race, in which he crashed in the final corner while leading, which yielded victory to Dan Wheldon.

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for fifth straight Indy 500

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Dale Coyne Racing has confirmed Pippa Mann will be back in the team’s third car for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which will mark her fifth consecutive year with the team and sixth start in the race overall.

She joins Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Ed Jones as Coyne’s three drivers in for the race, as the Coyne team is expected to focus just on these three after running four cars last year.

“I’m very happy to be rejoining Dale Coyne Racing for my fifth consecutive year with the team at the 101st Indy 500,” Mann said in a release.

“Dale has invested heavily in the team over the winter, and it’s an exciting time to be part of his organization. I’m looking forward to working with the same familiar faces from my 2016 campaign, like my race engineer Rob Ridgely, as well as working with the new members of the team, including my new teammates Sebastien (Bourdais) and Ed (Jones). I’m thrilled to be getting back on the race track this May for my sixth Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Mann continues her relationship with Susan G. Komen, the supporters of the pink No. 63 Honda for the last three years in an effort which first began in 2014.

As she’s done for the past four consecutive years, Mann will continue to raise awareness for the Get Involved Campaign alongside her racing program. This year, the campaign that raises money for Susan G. Komen® is partnering with Auction Cause, a premier cause marketing agency, that will run the auction on eBay for Charity. The campaign will launch May 1 and close the week following the Indy 500. The funds raised will be used to support Komen’s global breast cancer research, and community based programs throughout the U.S.

Komen continues as a key partner and Mann has announced another partnership with OrthoIndy, with further partnerships to be released soon.

“I’m also excited about the link up with Auction Cause and eBay for Charity this May,” she added. “They have so much experience running online campaigns, I feel like it’s a huge step for me, and for the Get Involved Campaign to partner with them. This new format has allowed me to reach out to more drivers, get them involved with more signed items, and I’m hoping we’re able to reach more race fans, and raise even more money for Susan G. Komen than we have ever done before.”

“It’s always a pleasure to have Pippa on board for the Indy 500 and to help promote the Get Involved Campaign, raising funds for Susan G. Komen,” Coyne said. “Pippa works hard every year to put together this program and to race in the Indy 500. With her perseverance and enthusiasm for our sport, it’s only fitting that we continue this relationship that started five years ago.”

Newgarden hails ‘spectacular’ Montoya after JPM’s first 2017 test

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At 26 years old, Josef Newgarden was watching Juan Pablo Montoya win races in CART, then Formula 1, then NASCAR as his own career was starting out.

When Montoya returned to IndyCar in 2014 at age 38, Newgarden was just 23, and the two had the chance to share a race track together for the first time.

After Newgarden’s subsequent rise over the years, he was scouted by Team Penske, and eventually signed to replace Montoya in the team’s No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

But Montoya remains part of the Team Penske landscape in 2017, driving the team’s fifth car during the month of May at both the IndyCar Grand Prix in Indianapolis and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He’s also been mentioned as the leading candidate to drive with Penske’s highly likely but not officially confirmed future sports car program, which Penske discussed openly during a media roundtable at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.

At last week’s test at Barber Motorsports Park, Newgarden and Montoya had the chance to work together as teammates and as Newgarden explained, having the chance to study his predecessor’s data was something he relished.

“Juan’s fun to be around. He’s an interesting guy,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “He’s so competitive… and you can tell how competitive he is interacting with him. But it’s fun to look at his data, and have the privilege to look at that.

“I’m excited to see that at Indianapolis, because that’s the big race for all of us together at Team Penske.”

Montoya has mentioned his appreciation for Newgarden in the past, particularly after the two raced so closely for position at the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America last season.

Newgarden said he’s looked up to Montoya for years and seeing him in this element provided such a rare glimpse into his world.

“The level of respect I have for Juan is tremendous,” he said. “He’s been so spectacular, and is even more so on ovals. I’ll be so thankful to get the chance to look at his data.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Newgarden, who today is promoting the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 9, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and has that sandwiched in-between two tests at the Indianapolis oval. Team Penske used a team test last Friday and will be back in action as part of a Chevrolet manufacturer test on Saturday.

“It’s a great couple days to get my feet wet,” he said. “I hadn’t been around there with Team Penske yet. It’s good to get that type of knowledge early on.”