Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: St. Petersburg Saturday

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Saturday for the Verizon IndyCar Series – and the rest of the series in action on the streets of St. Petersburg – was a weird one thanks to the weather interruptions. Although you could say the same of Martinsville for NASCAR and Malaysia for Formula One as well.

Alas, some news and notes to follow from the day:

  • Wrecks for both Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe eliminated two of the practice pace-setters, but the pair of past St. Pete winners should be fine for a comeback on Sunday. Said “Hinch,” “Conditions were obviously tricky, but I just lost it. It’s a real shame because the guys have done such a good job, we were quick in the dry, quick in the wet until my spin, the United Fiber & Data Honda deserved to be higher up today.”
  • Rookies Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) and Jack Hawksworth (Bryan Herta Autosport) starred in their inaugural IndyCar road/street course qualifying efforts, and will start seventh and eighth on Sunday. Munoz called it a “fine, fine effort” while Hawksworth said a minor mistake cost him a debut Firestone Fast Six appearance. Interestingly this is not Munoz’s best career start, as he qualified second for his series debut at the 2013 Indianapolis 500.
  • Ganassi’s Ryan Briscoe ended a disappointing ninth despite being the best of the quartet in practice. “My tires kind of dropped off there at the end and we didn’t have the speed when the track was at its best,” said the driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet.
  • Simon Pagenaud missed transferring into Q2 by just seven hundredths of a second, and will start 15th behind rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin. “We weren’t expecting the conditions to change that fast, so in the end we couldn’t improve our lap time even though the track was drying,” said the Frenchman.
  • Countryman Sebastien Bourdais, a St. Pete resident, starts an unlucky 13th in the striking No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet. “When we went back out I got one lap at speed before the second red flag. We were too conservative and I feel bad for the crew,” said the four-time Champ Car champion.
  • Row 9 is all-Colombian, with rookie Carlos Huertas next to series returnee Juan Pablo Montoya. And no, I never thought I’d ever be writing that sentence because we went from one full-time Colombian (Sebastian Saavedra) in the series to four, and I never thought JPM would be coming back to IndyCar, either. Saavedra, for what it’s worth, starts 11th for KV/AFS Racing.
  • In 2011, it was “planking” at Indianapolis. Today, it was the “IndyCar selfie” to kill some time during the rain delay. More from my MST colleague Chris Estrada here.
  • In the Mazda Road to Indy, Gabby Chaves will have the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires pole after qualifying was canceled due to the weather. Chaves, driving for Belardi Auto Racing, had the fastest practice times. Victor Franzoni of Afterburner Autosport (Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship) and Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing (Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires) took Race 1 victories on the weekend.
  • The non-open-wheelers got one race in, one race not. The Pirelli World Challenge first race was canceled due to weather and limited remaining track time; meanwhile Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series were the rain “guinea pigs” after the afternoon delay and fittingly, Gordon won the race.

Past 3 p.m. EDT on Sunday, the season begins.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.