From those at Sebring, there’s actually been a fair bit of potential IndyCar nuggets that have emerged this week:
Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told MotorSportsTalk on Wednesday that a fifth car for the Indianapolis 500 is possible, but if it comes together it would likely be late.
On a somewhat related note, 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam also said he has not shut the door to IndyCar opportunities, as he makes his second TUDOR United SportsCar Championship start this weekend with CGR. It would not be a surprise to see Karam appear somewhere on the IndyCar grid in the month of May, as he and his management team continue to work to put at least a partial open-wheel program together.
At least one other Chevrolet-powered team that has not announced an extra Indianapolis-only entry yet appears close to a deal with one Indy 500 veteran.
A significant number of Panther Racing’s crew members have been released to explore other opportunities; some have opted to shift into sports car racing. Panther has not formalized its 2014 IndyCar plans.
Felipe Massa is a number of things, including a great driver, a fan favorite, a mentor to young drivers and a great representative for Formula 1.
But perhaps above all those attributes are the word that best describes Massa: loyal.
When Massa retired at the end of the 2016 F1 season from Williams, he was pretty sure his F1 days were forever behind him. But when teammate Valtteri Bottas surprised everyone by leaving the team to replace retired champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, Massa’s sense of loyalty kicked in.
The Brazilian driver knew that 2017 would be a very important year for Williams, as the organization celebrates its 40th anniversary. He also knew young teammate Lance Stroll needed a mentor to guide him through the rigors of F1.
Given all Williams had done for him the past three seasons, Massa felt he owed his old team something back: namely himself and his talent behind the wheel.
“I have a strong love for Williams,” Massa said in a Q&A on WilliamsF1.com. “I have enjoyed the last three years with the team, and therefore coming back to help give stability and experience to drive things forward in 2017 was something that felt right to do.
“When I joined Williams back in 2014 I found a team – and a family – that I have loved being a part of. I certainly haven’t lost the desire to race and fight on track. Whatever I would have turned my hand to this year, I would have been putting 100 percent effort into doing the best job that I can, and if I didn’t have that passion, I would not have agreed to return.”
While the 35-year-old Massa said his return to F1 and Williams is just for 2017, with all the elements in play, particularly since Bottas left, Massa feels reinvigorated. It may seem like he’s racing for a new team, even though he’s returning to the same team he left less than two months ago.
And that’s where the beauty of his loyalty truly is: Massa made it very clear that the only F1 team he would ever consider ending retirement for was, one and the same, Williams.
“My return is not about seeing Formula 1 as the best option, but is about seeing the role at Williams as the best option,” Massa said. “I would not have returned for any other team.”
And if retirement for the second time is in his future after the 2017 season, Massa will leave with no regrets.
“Whatever happens this season, I will always leave the sport with my head held high,” he said.
While he wishes Bottas the best with his new team, Massa is also very keen on working with Stroll.
“I’m looking forward to working with Lance, having known him for a long time,” Massa said. “He has proved in the championships he has competed in so far that he deserves this opportunity, and it’s great to welcome new talent into Formula 1.
“Lance may be young, but Williams has a history of bringing young drivers into the sport. He knows there is a steep learning curve ahead, but motorsport is a team sport and I look forward supporting him in any way I can.
“Valtteri has been offered a fantastic opportunity and, as a result, an opportunity arose for me. When the media began reporting that I might return, I was touched by the response from so many fans who wanted to see me back in the sport.
“That was certainly a factor in the decision, so I’d like to thank the fans for their support. But, at the end of the day, when I received the call it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was Williams!”
Porsche and 911 are as inextricably linked as bread and butter. Porsche and a mid-rear-engined 911, however, are as disparate as chalk and cheese.
Yet for 2017, the new era of Porsche’s 911 – its flagship car – marks its most radical reinvention from its usual rear-engine flat-six engine that is the hallmark, with the engine now ahead of the rear axle.
The new 911 is a normally aspirated beast and shakes up the norm for all its drivers, its engineers and its team.
Per Porsche: “The suspension, body structure, aerodynamic concept, engine and transmission have all been designed from scratch for the 2017 season. Depending on the size of the restrictor, the motor, which is now positioned in front of the rear axle, puts out approximately 510 hp. Thanks to the modern, lightweight normally aspirated engine, the designers were able to install a larger rear diffuser than in years past. Combined with a top-mounted rear wing, the level of downforce and the aerodynamic efficiency have been significantly improved.”
This new car looks to add to Porsche’s legacy at Daytona. From 1966 to Daytona, Porsche has 22 overall wins (11 straight from 1977 to 1987) and a total of 76 class wins. The most recent class victory came with the North American debut of the previous generation 911 RSR in 2014. That record is made of 27 GT class wins, one SGS class and GX class win each.
In the stacked GT Le Mans class, Porsche stands alone with the only all-new car for 2017, while Ford (second year of the GT), Ferrari (second year of the 488 GTE), BMW (second year of the M6 GTLM) and Chevrolet (fourth year of the Corvette C7.R) are all well into their current cycles of their newest cars.
That makes Porsche an outlier and arguably the manufacturer to watch throughout the year, as the new car progresses from start-to-finish over the course of the season in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship, where the rebranded Porsche GT Team has parallel two-car programs.
On the IMSA front, it’s not just the car that’s new, but also both driver lineups – only two years removed from a dream 2015 season that saw them dominate the GTLM class and score a shock, but well-judged, overall win in the torrential rains at Petit Le Mans.
Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber earn justifiable promotions to Porsche’s LMP1 team in the WEC, but it left a couple openings on the GTLM team. With Fred Makowiecki then shifted away from a full-season IMSA ride, that meant three spots opened up.
For the Morgan Brady-led, CORE autosport-run U.S. Porsche team, Patrick Pilet, the 2015 GTLM champion and lone holdover, will continue into 2017 with ex-privateer Porsche driver and past factory BMW driver Dirk Werner in the No. 911 car.
An entirely new lineup of Laurens Vanthoor (formerly of Audi) and Kevin Estre will be in the No. 912 car, and this presents arguably the most intriguing of pairings given both drivers’ youth but already ton of experience. Makowiecki (No. 911) and Richard Lietz (No. 912) are the third drivers. The two cars clocked 1,824 miles at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.
Estre, who joined Porsche as a factory driver last year, said he and Vanthoor already get on great from their European racing experience, and are looking forward to combining as teammates rather than trying to beat each other.
“We drove one time together in Le Mans in LMP2 with OAK (in 2015, in a Ligier JS P2 Honda),” Estre told NBC Sports. “We know each other as teammates, but more as competitors. It’s been really good so far. We’re both speaking French and have a German wife!
“The connection is really important for endurance races. It’s good to feel confident, and speak about a lot of stuff. So far it’s perfect. I’m confident we’ll work well together with our ways, being pretty similar of GT3 to Porsche. It’s quite new and with Porsche in GTLM.”
Estre offered advice for Werner and Vanthoor, who join Porsche as new factory drivers this year, on how to integrate into the culture of one of the world’s most successful manufacturers.
“I’ve done a lot before with Porsche in German Carrera Cup and Supercup,” he explained. “I knew the German culture. But being new as a factory driver is a bit special. You need to understand the team… you need to know CORE, Manthey, and Porsche AG in general.
“Everything is new. It’s a lot different. But with time, you know the people. You know where to go if you have a problem, or which question to ask to which people. I’m a lot more confident and more experienced now.”
Estre, who starred with McLaren in Pirelli World Challenge in 2015, had a mixed season in 2016 where he ran a mix of IMSA and European races. Having a single focus back on North America full-time is exciting for the Frenchman.
“I was happy to do different things but knowing you’re doing just one championship is different than three races here or there. As a driver, you look forward to winning something and to have a full season here is good for the U.S. I did IMSA three years ago in GTD, so GTLM will be new.”
Marco Ujhasi, Director of GT Factory Motorsports for Porsche, said the test went well for the design of the program.
“The test miles that we covered over the last three days in preparation for the race were very important. We managed to tick off all the points we’d scheduled for ourselves and now we have a much better understanding of the car on this racetrack,” he said in a release.
“In addition, we experienced changeable and very diverse track conditions. It was dry and wet, warm and cold – precisely what you need in race preparations to be primed for all eventualities. We feel very well prepared for the race and the premiere of our new 911 RSR. In this respect, these three days in Florida were very successful.”
As noted above, Porsche won in GTLM in the U.S. debut of its previous 911 RSR in 2014, with Tandy, Pilet and Lietz. An encore with this car’s debut would be another interesting story in and of itself.
“This is all about having a good time,” IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves said. “I respect all of the drivers and every one of them competing has some amazing qualities, plus switching cars throughout the event means the advantage will constantly be shifting. That’s why this is such a great event.”
Added fellow IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, “To see a race track taking shape here in Marlins Park – where I bring my family for games – is incredible. And I also think it’s the best layout yet. I’m a home-town guy so hopefully the crowd will be cheering me on against two former ROC champions in my group.”
The two-day ROC will be divided between one-on-one races on Saturday, with team racing on Sunday.
Among Saturday’s marquee matchups:
* NASCAR’s Kyle Busch vs. F1’s Jenson Button.
* NASCAR’s Kurt Busch vs. Tom “Mr. Le Mans” Kristensen.
* Two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya vs. World Rallycross’s Petter Solberg, action sports’ Travis Pastrana vs. four-time F1 champ and reigning ROC champ Sebastian Vettel.
* IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe vs. fellow IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan.
* IndyCar’s Ryan Hunter-Reay vs. former ROC Champion of Champions David Coulthard.
* 2-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya vs. World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg, F1’s Pascal Wehrlein vs. fellow F1 pilot Felipe Massa.
* Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves vs. the winner of a play-off between Global Rallycross Champion Scott Speed and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi.
* Other drivers in the field include Gabby Chaves (IndyCar), Stefan Rzadzinski and Gabriel Glusman, the latter two having won ROC Factor North America fan votes to get into the competition.
The top two drivers in each group will advance to the quarterfinals, and then a knockout tournament from there leads to crowning the Champion of Champions.
The top two drivers in each group progress to the quarter-finals. Then it’s a knockout tournament all the way to the Grand Final, when this year’s Champion of Champions will be crowned.
In Sunday’s Nations Cup competition, it’ll be America vs. The World in a Ryder Cup-style team battle:
Group A: Team USA NASCAR (Kyle and Kurt Busch), Team USA IndyCar (Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay) and Team USA Rally X (Travis Pastrana and Scott Speed) will all have to battle Team ROC Factor Canada (James Hinchcliffe and Stefan Rzadzinski).
Group B: Team Germany (Sebastian Vettel and Pascal Wehrlein), Team Great Britain (Jenson Button and David Coulthard) and Team Nordic (Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg).
Group C: Team Brazil (Felipe Massa and Tony Kanaan), Team Colombia (Juan-Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves) and Team ROC Factor Latin America (Helio Castroneves and Gabriel Glusman).
Miami Marlins Park becomes the eighth different host site – and first in the United States – in recent years for the ROC, which returns after a one-year hiatus in 2016: Stade de France in Paris (2004-2006), London’s Wembley Stadium (2007-2008), Olympic Stadium in Beijing (2009), Düsseldorf’s Esprit Arena (2010-2011), Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok (2012), Bushy Park Barbados (2014) and London’s former Olympic Stadium (2015).
New Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has been named as honorary chairman of the 2017 Rev fundraiser to benefit Methodist Health Foundation.
This year’s edition of Rev, which brings together luminaries including drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series, as well as fans and philanthropists, will be held May 6 in the infield of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“This is our main fundraiser which also serves to kick off the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Methodist Health Foundation Chief Development Officer Sally McGuffey said in a media release. “Rev has grown to become one of the city’s premier foodie events, with cuisine inspired by drivers and Indy’s top chefs.
“The event’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for Indiana University Health statewide trauma programs, including those that provide care for drivers and patrons at the Indiana University Health Emergency Medical Center of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
Rev is presented by Fifth Third Bank and this year’s edition will see the addition of Milktooth restaurant, a well-known Indianapolis eatery that is ranked in the top 10 of Bonappetit.com’s best restaurants in the United States. Milktooth will be one of more than 60 restaurants that will be offering some of their top delicacies to Rev attendees.
Last year’s Rev drew over 3,000 attendees to IMS for not only great food, but also live music and dancing. It has become one of the premier ways for fans to interact with IndyCar drivers while also contributing to a worthy charitable cause.
Newgarden is entering his first season with Team Penske – he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet – and sixth overall season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He finished fourth in last year’s final standings.
“It’s a great honor to be partner with Rev this year for a cause that does so much for the community of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Newgarden said. “The growth of this event in such a short time is a testament to the hard work everyone puts in to support Methodist Health Foundation. I’m really looking forward to helping the event continue the upward trend.”
This will be Rev’s fourth consecutive year of being hosted by IMS.
“The relationship of IU Health and Methodist Health Foundation with IMS is over 100 years old and great events like Rev help make our partnership stronger than ever, while ensuring that both drivers and fans continue to receive top-notch care,” IMS president Doug Boles said. “Josef is a fantastic addition to this year’s Rev team and will ensure the event continues to grow and serve as an excellent Month of May kickoff.”