Dallas Mavericks owner, Shark Tank star, and business tycoon Mark Cuban will wave the green flag to start the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
Earlier this morning, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that Cuban has been named honorary starter for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The 55-year-old has some local ties as a graduate of Indiana University.
“Whether it’s winning an NBA Championship or the honor of waving the green flag to start the Indianapolis 500, there are certain sporting events that are monumental for any true sports fan,” said Cuban in a statement.
“I am excited to come back to Indiana, not just to attend, but actually participate in this historic race.”
IMS president J. Douglas Boles said that in addition to his Indiana links, Cuban brings “a passion for sporting events, and a diverse following of fans around the globe to the flag stand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
“His successes and personality are well known in the business and entertainment world and we look forward to watching him wave the green flag to start the 98th Indianapolis 500,” he added.
IMS has also announced a new addition to their Coors Light Carb Day lineup: Robby Gordon’s Formula Off-Road series, whose Stadium Super Trucks will compete on a modified course that features the front-stretch of the Brickyard oval and a portion of the infield road course.
It will mark the third time this season that Formula Off-Road will run in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series, and it will also mark Gordon’s return to competition at IMS.
Gordon was a 10-time starter in the Indy 500, which he almost won in 1999 before he ran out of fuel while leading on Lap 199 and had to pit. He also ran 12 times in the Brickyard 400 (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) with a top finish of sixth in 2003.
“My first trip to Indy as a competitor was in 1993 driving for A.J. Foyt,” he said. “I grew up watching Rick Mears, A.J. and others race at the Speedway and dreamed of driving there, but I never imagined we would race off-road trucks at Indy.
“I have a lot of great memories from Indianapolis and this will be another one added to the list.”
NBCSN will carry Carb Day coverage starting Friday morning at 11 a.m. ET, and will air the “Menards at the Brickyard” Formula Off-Road race on June 13 at Midnight ET.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”