The IMS road course is legit – a view from the passenger’s seat

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In the run-up to today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, drivers have pretty much offered near universal praise for the revised Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

That’s to be expected, because lest you be viewed as “the critic” who isn’t trumpeting the series’, or track’s, efforts to make this a circuit worthy of the “hallowed ground” distinction that IMS has held for more than 100 years.

You don’t want the law coming after you saying, “Hey, why aren’t you pimping this new race and new track?”

And while the IMS road course doesn’t pose a threat to the purpose-built, North American natural parks disguised as permanent road courses like Road America and Barber Motorsports Park, I can confirm the drivers aren’t BS-ing when it comes to the quality of this track.

The IMS road course is freaking legit, and that’s with a view from the passenger’s seat in a Chevrolet Camaro.

The Indy Racing Experience always makes both pace car rides and two-seater rides available, and while the latter would have been incredible, the former was no slouch.

I saddled up with my man Anders Krohn, who’s carved quite a career outside the driver’s seat between his NBCSN Indy Lights TV analyst role, his co-founding of the CoForce International driver development program and his continued role with IRE driving both the pace cars and the two-seaters.

Here’s the funny part. As part of NBCSN’s Indy Lights coverage, Krohn has already done stand-ups and called Race 1 of the double-header weekend, but only having completed a single track walk lap before our rides this morning.

“Now I get to understand the lines that I’ve been telling them to run,” “The Viking” joked.

Believe it or not the first thing that came on the radio as a pump-up to the lap was DJ Hardwell, who will be playing the Turn 3 Snake Pit on Indianapolis 500 race day. “I’m down with that,” I cracked, much to Krohn’s amusement.

But we got our game faces up and burned out of the pits – Krohn driving a manual transmission for the first time in a while – behind the quartet of two-seaters.

Turn 1 is tight, like full-on 90-degree right-hander tight. This has clearly been tightened from the almost flowing right off the banking used by Formula One in its run here, and based on yesterday’s three Mazda Road to Indy events there’s going to be a wealth of passing as has been projected.

Turns 2 through 4 will test how hard these guys can push with the quick left, right and right again. We’ve already seen a number of incidents in Turns 3 and 4 and the apex and line through 4, as projected, will be crucial to the run down the backstraight.

Krohn hit both apexes nicely on the Turns 5/6 chicane and powered down Hulman Blvd., a.k.a. the backstraight on the run down to Turn 7. Like Turn 1, this is another full-90, tighter than it was in the F1 era. Even at 8:35 this morning, there’s fans already camped out on the hillside mounds.

Grip’s high at all points on this track, as there’s no sliding.

The back section of the course from Turns 7 through to 12, a left, right, left, and three rights complex, is where teams that have opted for a higher downforce setting should be in good shape, and perhaps have the opportunity to pass into Turn 12.

The entry to 12 is a bit hard to nail, as you’re briefly back on the oval and not completely flat, but have to apex tighter into the right-hander, then be in proper position for the left-handed Turn 13 that will prove pivotal as cars launch through Turn 14 and back onto the front straight.

Not bad for Krohn’s first lap, and certainly not bad from the passenger’s seat.

And by not bad, I mean freaking awesome.

Thanks to Indy Racing Experience and Chevrolet for the opportunity.

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.