Good cause and increased comfort level highlights Pippa Mann’s third Indy 500 effort

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For Pippa Mann, her third start in the Indianapolis 500 is all about maximizing her opportunity and making the most out of her familiar resources.

She’s in a better place now this time than either 2011 or 2013. In 2011, she made the field in a one-off second car for Conquest Racing and hadn’t ever raced an IndyCar.

Last year, 2013, marked her first race in the new Dallara DW12 chassis, and her first IndyCar start since the end of the 2011 season.

But armed with the same engineer as her inaugural run – the talented Brandon Fry – the crew that most recently worked with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing to service her car, and Dale Coyne’s continued commitment to her development, the 2014 run is clearly a night and day difference compared to the other two for Mann.

“I’m so much more comfortable, but it’s not just having the DW12 experience,” she said Thursday during IMS media day. “It’s my second ‘500 in this chassis. It’s returning to the same team. I know the guys. And with a longer engine program, I’ve done full tank and traffic runs, so it all makes me feel so comfortable.

“I feel as comfortable as I have ever been; it’s almost to where I was in the white Indy Lights car,” she added. “I’m confident you’ll see the Susan G. Komen car heading to the front.”

The white Indy Lights car Mann refers to was her No. 11 entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2010, a year she made history as the first woman ever to win the pole position at Indianapolis, won her first race at Kentucky, and finished fifth in the championship.

The Susan G. Komen car she drives now, the pink No. 63 for Dale Coyne Racing, is of course, one of the bigger storylines for the world outside the niche racing community.

Mann’s the only female driver in this year’s field – there have been at least three or four every year from 2010 to 2013 previously – and is working tirelessly to raise awareness for Susan G. Komen and for breast cancer awareness. She’s also fundraising for the effort. More information on that, and donations, can be found on RaceWithPippa.com.

Her time in the spotlight has also increased this year as full-time radio analyst for the IMS Radio Network, alongside Paul Page. The pair have been a refreshing change of pace compared to past years, and for Mann, translating the analyst role to the cockpit gives her a very different view on how to handle her 32 competitors on Sunday.

“It’s a really interesting question,” she explained. “When you’re always planning to be getting back in the car, thinking that way, it definitely affects me. You can’t throw people under the bus, and you have to be as fair as possible. But it helps give me an overview into driving styles, which guys you’d want to be around and not, before you get back out there.”

Get back out there she will this Sunday, starting 22nd. Her Dale Coyne Racing teammates Justin Wilson and rookie Carlos Huertas start 14th and 21st, respectively. Despite a brief balance issue on Monday across the board, Mann’s confident that the DCR engineering staff will correct course and return to the front on Sunday. Realistically, a top-15 finish would be a good goal for Mann to hit.

“We’ve had a very good car in traffic and dirty air thus far,” she said. “Because I’m on a longer engine program, the Susan G. Komen car and I get to play more … it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun! We fell just outside of the window on Monday, but between Brandon, Mike Cannon (Wilson’s engineer) and the crew we’ll get it back.”

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.