98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race-Qualifying

Indy 500: Experience is a virtue for former champ Jacques Villeneuve

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After running around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval for the first time since his 1995 Indy 500 triumph, Jacques Villeneuve needed a moment to get himself together.

But eventually, the experience from all those years ago kicked in.

“The first 20 laps was a big shock to the system because I hadn’t been in an open-wheel car since 2006,” he said of the experience last month. “If I had jumped from F1 directly to Indy, it would’ve been a non-issue. But the first 20 laps – your body, your brain, your eyes – they’re just not used to those speeds anymore and it’s a big shock.

“You just need to do a few laps, get out of the car, take a breather and then when you get back in, it’s business as usual. The muscle memory is there. It’s like riding a bicycle. You start doing a few set-up changes and you settle in.”

19 years later, Villeneuve – who also became a Formula One World Champion in 1997 – is returning to the ‘500’ this year in a third car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

A lot has changed in 19 years, and Villeneuve doesn’t seem to like some of those changes such as the shift to a “fixed” chassis formula with the Dallara DW12. He says he understands why IndyCar did it, but in his mind, it doesn’t attain the obvious goal of cost-containment for its competitors.

“If you open it up, people will start making cars again,” he said. “It’s never been a bad thing. If you look at every series through history that went to one manufacturer, one engine, one tire, they never made things cheaper.

“It’s supposed to do that but it doesn’t, and it just stops the evolution. When you’re a world series or a top-notch series, it needs to be open to be respected.”

He also believes the level of respect that drivers gave each other on the race track has decreased as well.

“Some younger drivers didn’t even grow up seeing real racing as being dangerous,” he mused. “A lot of drivers, when they break their little finger, they’re surprised. I’m like, ‘Be happy!’

“Sometimes you see things happen that you’d never see in the past, because the drivers back then knew you needed to respect the danger, and they don’t.”

Villeneuve is hoping not to be around those particular drivers if and when they have a problem Sunday. He also hopes to use the first half of Sunday’s race as a chance to gauge his car’s capabilities in the draft.

That could prove to be the biggest challenge of all for the 43-year-old Canadian.

“Once you back out a little bit, it’s similar to throwing a parachute,” he said. “If the guy behind you has managed to stay close to you without backing out of it, you’re done. When one car gets you, the car behind him will get you and so on, and you can never get your rhythm back and that’s what’s tough.

“Early in the race, it shouldn’t be an issue and you can run wide. But as soon as the marbles get on the track, then you really have to be careful in how you let guys pass you if they’re getting a run on you.”

You certainly can’t be passive in a situation like that. But that should be the last problem we’ll expect out of Villeneuve now that he’s re-acquainted himself with the Brickyard oval.

“It feels as if 19 years ago is yesterday and that is weird. 19 years is a long time and suddenly, the speeds felt normal,” he said. “…You get to the point where it doesn’t feel fast anymore and that’s where the danger lies.

“You become too complacent and you get caught out. The good thing is I’ve been here before, I hit the wall here before, so I know not to get caught with that.”

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway