MRTI: Big weekends for Hargrove, Burkett away from primary series

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One of the most valuable lessons and things a young driver can do coming through the ladder series – whether open-wheel, sports cars or NASCAR – is gain seat time and race experience in other formulas different from their normal disciplines.

And this weekend, a pair of Canadians fully maximized their time in other series.

In IMSA’s Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada Presented by Michelin, Scott Hargrove managed to win both of the series’ first two races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, outside Toronto.

The even more impressive part? Hargrove, the 19-year-old from Surrey, British Columbia, who is the 2013 USF2000 champion and current driver for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in Pro Mazda, hadn’t so much as driven a sports car, ever, before this weekend. He was in a one-off entry in the No. 69 OpenRoad car.

“Two races, two wins,” Hargrove said, via IMSA.com. “I can’t ask for more than that. It’s phenomenal racing in these Porsche cars, and I can’t thank the OpenRoad guys enough for giving me a good car and being able to run up front all weekend. A phenomenal weekend for us, and hopefully we will be back and be able to run more races this year.”

After going two-for-two last weekend in Pro Mazda at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hargrove now has four race wins in two weekends. He and Pro Mazda teammate Neil Alberico put together a race compilation of their Indy races as “Mario Kart.”

Meanwhile at another picturesque road course, this time in the Finger Lakes region of New York at Watkins Glen International, USF2000 driver Daniel Burkett did something other than putting on a hot dog suit in his quest for sponsorship: he won both Atlantic Championship Series races, to extend his winning streak to four wins in as many starts this season.

“Coming in here I knew it would be more difficult than Road Atlanta, we would have to be on our game. We knew Jimmy (Simpson) would be fast here with his past experience,” said the Winnipeg native, who drives for Belardi Auto Racing in USF2000.

These two weren’t alone in making headlines. Hargrove’s Pro Mazda sparring partner Spencer Pigot, who won the first four races of that season, finished sixth and third in the two Porsche races. Pigot is able to run a full season in both championships – he’ll be with Alegra Motorsports in the Porsche series – due to a favorable schedule of no conflicts. Pigot first ran a Porsche at the 2012 Porsche Young Driver Academy at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Mazda Road to Indy alumnus Jason Wolfe, who raced in USF2000 last year, also had a big weekend at CTMP winning two of the three Pirelli World Challenge Championships races in the Touring Car A category, driving a Kia Forte Koup. Wolfe now leads that class’ points standings. Other PWC CTMP winners were Michael DiMeo, who swept the Touring Car triple header, with Ernie Francis Jr. taking the other TCA win, and Brian Price (2 wins) and Nathan Stacy (1 win) winning in TCB. Stacy, 14, becomes the youngest winner in series history and eclipses, ironically, Francis Jr., who achieved the feat as a 15-year-old in TCB in 2013.

Hargrove, Pigot and Burkett will be back in action this weekend as the Mazda Road to Indy heads to Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., where Pro Mazda and USF2000 race their first oval event of the season in the “Night Before the 500.”

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.