Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves delivers Detroit sweep for Penske with Dual 2 win

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In Saturday’s first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Helio Castroneves’ bid for victory was undone by a pit strategy that didn’t work out.

But in today’s 70-lapper on the unforgiving street circuit, Castroneves followed through on his strong pace throughout the weekend and withstood a couple of late restarts to claim his third career victory (CART – 2000, 2001) on the island in the Detroit River.

His triumph completed a Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit sweep for Team Penske, whose namesake, Roger Penske, was a driving force in bringing IndyCar racing back to Belle Isle starting in 2012. Penske teammate and Dual 1 winner Will Power overcame an early drive-through penalty for avoidable contact to finish second today.

“Yesterday, it was the frustration – it was great that Will won but it was frustration for our side because we knew what car we had,” an exuberant Castroneves told ESPN. “But we demonstrated that today.”

Last weekend, Castroneves suffered a narrow defeat at the Indianapolis 500 to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who denied him the chance to earn his fourth win in the world’s greatest race.

But according to the Brazilian, that loss proved motivational for himself and his Penske comrades.

“The Indy 500 – it just [made something click],” he said. “It made us hungry. And here I am, in Victory Circle. I wanted it so bad, and more than anything, I want this championship.

“It’s great to be back here in Victory Circle, especially in the place where I won my first race…I just can’t believe it. This is an awesome day! Whoo-hoo!”

Power and Castroneves both leap-frogged Hunter-Reay in the championship, with the Aussie now holding a 19-point edge going into the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (Next Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner, suffered a second disastrous result in as many days, when he bowed out after 61 laps with an electrical failure. He’s now 27 points behind Power.

As the second half of the race wore on, it appeared Castroneves would have a proper Sunday cruise to the champagne. But his 9.4-second lead over Power was erased when Sebastien Bourdais found the tire barriers in Turn 5 to bring out a race-changing caution with 12 laps to go.

Castroneves was able to get a perfect restart with seven laps left, but shortly after, Marco Andretti knocked Takuma Sato into those same Turn 5 tires to trigger another yellow and bunch up the field again.

That set the stage for one more restart with three to go, but Power didn’t get near Castroneves as the field headed for the green flag. Castroneves promptly pulled away and beat Power to the checkered flag by 1.7 seconds.

After the race, Power admitted that he decided to hang back late.

“Because of Roger, I definitely wasn’t going to race him hard,” he said. “Unless [Castroneves] made a mistake, I wasn’t going to go for a move unless I was close. But, it was a great day for Chevy, Roger at his home track and Chevy’s backyard. It’s just fantastic.”

Power was penalized for a bold move on Lap 1, when he attempted to get past Josef Newgarden on the inside at Turn 3. Instead, he hit Newgarden, who went into the tires and collected Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson with him.

Newgarden, Rahal, and Wilson all continued on, but Power didn’t escape the wrath of Race Control and was tagged for avoidable contact. However, as Power’s aggressive driving in the remainder of the race proved, the penalty did not chasten him one iota.

“I went up the inside and I don’t think Josef saw me,” Power said about the incident. “It wasn’t a very hard hit and I have to see the replay to kind of comment on what the call was.”

Behind the two Penske pilots were two from their arch-rivals at Chip Ganassi Racing. Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon both roared from the back of the grid to finish third and fourth, respectively; for Kimball, it’s his first IndyCar podium since winning last year at Mid-Ohio.

Both men were able to get past Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe in the final three-lap dash, causing him to settle for fifth at the track he considers as sort of a second home due to his homeland of Canada being nearby.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – CHEVROLET INDY DUAL IN DETROIT, RACE 2
Belle Isle Park
Unofficial Results in order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy
2. (8) Will Power, Penske-Chevy
3. (20) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy
4. (22) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy
5. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda
6. (7) Simon Pagenaud, SPM-Honda
7. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, SPM-Honda
8. (6) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda
9. (17) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy
10. (5) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy
11. (4) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy
12. (13) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda
13. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy
14. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda
15. (12) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda
16. (18) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda
17. (10) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, -1 lap
18. (1) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, -1 lap
19. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 61 – Electrical
20. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, Lap 58 – Contact
21. (14) Graham Rahal, RLL-Honda, Lap 43 – Contact
22. (9) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, Lap 9 – Contact

Race Statistics: Winner’s average speed: 93.211 mph; Time of race: One hour, 45 minutes, 53.3410 seconds; Margin of victory: 1.6836 seconds; Cautions: 4 for 13 laps; Lead changes: 7 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Sato, 1-10; Hinchcliffe, 11-20; Conway, 21-24; Power, 25-26; Aleshin, 27; Castroneves, 28-33; Hawksworth, 34; Castroneves, 35-70.

Point Standings: Power 326, Castroneves 307, Hunter-Reay 299, Pagenaud 247, Andretti 227, Munoz 210, Montoya 187, Dixon 184, Wilson 173, Bourdais 170.

SCCA postpones F4 U.S. Championship race debut

F4 Test Car
Photo: F4 U.S. Championship
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Citing a lack of time in manufacturing, SCCA Pro Racing announced the new Formula 4 U.S. Championship race debut will be delayed.

The first weekend had been scheduled May 27-28 at Lime Rock Park, along with the Pirelli World Challenge.

The full release is below:

SCCA Pro Racing announced its debut weekend of the Formula 4 United States Championship has been postponed due to delays in manufacturing of a sufficient number of cars to meet the team demand.

The first race weekend, scheduled for May 27-28 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, will be rescheduled at a track and date to be determined to maintain a five-event championship series. The F4 U.S. Championship will now make its debut June 10-12 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey.

“Regrettably, if the Lime Rock event were to go ahead as planned, we would be in jeopardy of leaving some drivers and teams who are committed to the series disenfranchised,” SCCA Pro Racing President and CEO Derrick Walker said. “We felt it was important that all drivers who want to participate in the F4 United States Championship be given a chance to do so. We appreciate the loyalty they have shown us.”

Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) regulations require a minimum of 12 cars for each championship event, which currently would not have been an issue for Lime Rock. However, delaying the start of the inaugural event of the F4 U.S. Championship provides the opportunity to fulfill all car orders exceeding the FIA requirement.

“We are very proud to be constructing the first FIA approved monocoque chassis in America,” said Crawford Composites President Max Crawford, whose company is producing the chassis. “We believe the F4 U.S. Championship is the start of something great for American motorsports. I fully endorse the decision to reschedule the first race, and we look forward to getting all the drivers in the lineup in New Jersey.”

Crawford is confident a sufficient quantity of cars can be produced for the current number of drivers committed to the F4 U.S. Championship to debut in New Jersey.

Justice Brothers to run 100th Indy 500 with Townsend Bell

Indy-2016---Justice-Brothers---1
Bell and Justice. Photo: Justice Brothers
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A family with more than 70 years of presence at the Indianapolis 500 – the Justice family – will continue its involvement this year with Townsend Bell’s No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda, which features California Pizza Kitchen and Robert Graham as co-primary partners.

The Justice Brothers logo will adorn Bell’s car as the family reunites with Bell, to continue a relationship dating to 2001 when Bell won the Indy Lights championship driving for Dorricott Racing.

The full release is below, and we’ll have more on the Justice family in a separate post later this month on MotorSportsTalk.

The Justice Brothers Family is once again returning to the legendary Indianapolis 500 this May to celebrate their 71st year of involvement at the 100th running with the partnership of Townsend Bell. Bell will be driving the No. 29 car for Andretti Autosport.

The company’s relationship with Bell dates back to his championship winning Indy Lights season in 2001 with Dorricott Racing.

“I’m excited to partner with Townsend in celebration of our family’s 71st year of involvement with the Indy 500, starting in 1946. With it being the 100th running of the race and Townsend teaming up with Andretti Autosport it will guarantee some special memories,” said President and CEO Ed Justice, Jr.

May the Force be with you: Happy 67th birthday, John Force

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(Getty Images)
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If you’re a John Force fan, May 4 should be a national holiday.

The winningest driver in NHRA history and a record 16-time Funny Car champion turns 67 today.

And John Harold Force, born this day in 1949 in Bell Gardens, California, is still going as strong as ever.

After six of the first 24 races of the 2016 season, Force is ranked fifth in the Funny Car standings, just 55 points behind youngest daughter Courtney Force, who is tied for the points lead with Tim Wilkerson.

And daughter Brittany Force, who has two wins this season, is leading the Top Fuel points – making it the first time in NHRA history that sisters have led the point standings in two different pro classes at the same time.

All four of Force’s daughters – Adria, Ashley, Brittany and Courntey – are obviously the apple of his eye. But they let NBC Sports in on a little secret: dear old dad is one of the hardest people to shop for when it comes to birthdays and holidays.

After all, what do you give a guy who has pretty much everything?

Here’s how Ashley describes a typical birthday for her father:

Ashley Force Hood

“My dad is impossible to buy a gift for. Every gift I give him, he gives back to me at the next holiday. Or I hear him giving my gifts out to co-workers: ‘Here Joan (JFR office manager) take these car wash coupons. Here Steve (VP of Sales), here’s some movie tickets.’ I also opened a closet one day at his house and found a bunch of gifts we’d given him over the years like a carnival hot dog maker, and slippers from Sharper Image.

“Every year he tells us not to get him anything and last year my mom actually didn’t get him anything, just like he wanted. He whined and complained for weeks that she didn’t get him anything and how crushed he was! She’ll never make THAT mistake again!

Adria Force High

“So this year they just got a kitten (his name is Champs!) and I’m getting dad a gift card for PetsMart … and some Claritin!”

Force’s oldest daughter, Adria, has buying gifts for her father down-pat: “German Chocolate cake, wine, homemade tacos and Tommy Bahama dress shirts he wishes we wouldn’t spend the money on, but he really loves!”

Courtney Force

Here’s what Courtney Force had to say:

“One birthday, we tried to surprise our dad and drove him all the way out to Temecula, California, and pulled up to all these hot air balloons and told him we were taking him on a hot air balloon ride. He freaked out, refused to go and made us turn around and go home. We learned he had a fear of heights, so we never made that mistake again!”

And Brittany had this to add:

Brittany Force

“Every year when we bring up birthday celebrations to my dad we get the same response, “Don’t throw me a party, don’t buy me any gifts because I hate pretending to like them. Don’t get me a card and write a beautiful message in it cuz I have guilt when I have to throw it away. Don’t get me no cake because I have to fit in to my firesuit next week! And you all know how much I HATE surprises so don’t do that either!”

“Every year it’s a battle trying to convince him that we all want to celebrate his birthday. One year we decided to give him what he truly wanted, nothing! We took the whole family to dinner, bought no presents, no cards, no cake and didn’t sing happy birthday. When we got home he complained for a good hour that we obviously forgot his birthday or that we were playing a mean joke on him. He asked us where we were hiding the gifts and was asking if we baked a German chocolate cake or a Devils Food Cake. Whoops!!! Our mistake or his?!?!”

John Force, who recently joined Twitter, also received a number of congratulatory tweets, including:

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Munoz: “I haven’t reached my full potential”

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  Carlos Munoz of Columbia, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Like fellow IndyCar rookie class-of-2014 alumnus Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Munoz’s results haven’t matched his pace and potential this year.

And while on the surface it looks like there have been a handful of mistakes this year for the third-year Colombian driver – and there have been – Munoz’s efforts to improve are probably being overshadowed by the overall team struggles at Andretti Autosport.

In a case where stats don’t tell the full story, Munoz’s finished eighth, 22nd, 12th and 14th in the opening four races – the 12th at Long Beach was the only time where he was highest of Andretti’s four cars. That’s left him 15th in points, five spots back of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay but two and three clear of Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi, respectively, heading into the month of May.

Starts of 12th, 21st, 10th and 15th also tell a similar tale, although he’s been the highest starter of Andretti’s four cars in the last two races at Long Beach and Barber.

He’s been particularly quick in practice, though. He has top-five practice results of third (Barber FP1) and fourth (Barber FP3) and a handful of other top-10 results. Like others, nailing the balance in qualifying once on Firestone’s red alternate tires has been challenging.

Incidentally, his best finish of eighth at St. Petersburg came after a misguided passing attempt drew ire from Graham Rahal and created a parking lot in Turn 4.

Yet his best drives have come at Long Beach and Barber, where Munoz has been the quickest of the Andretti quartet through most of the weekend.

“I’ve been driving so good and feel so emotionally good in the car,” Munoz told NBC Sports. “You could see it in Long Beach; I never drove so good. I was quicker than Ryan at Long Beach… and his worst qualifying in Long Beach was fourth before that.

“Then Barber, I was really quick in practice. But then in qualifying, I lost the balance on the red tires.

“I’ve never been driving so good as this year. Results haven’t shown that. The team has been lacking… it’s no secret. There’s a little bit of mechanical grip we need to find. As soon as we find it, I hope I’ll be able to fight for victories.

“I’ve done some mistakes. But speed-wise, I’ve not driven better.”

Barber was a tough weekend for Munoz, having triggered the first-lap accordion effect accident between he, Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin. The slow start helped contribute to the chaos.

“When you’re in the back – I checked up – but I had Aleshin in front of me,” he explained. “He accelerated, then braked. I had to lock the rear tires. It was too close. It was my mistake… but the start was way too slow.”

Overall it’s a fascinating fusion for Munoz, who overachieved as a rookie in 2014, then secured his first win last year at Detroit race one but otherwise struggled for competitiveness along with the rest of the Andretti team.

Now though he feels he’s in a better spot.

Munoz has rebounded from a heavy practice accident at Phoenix in early April to find this newfound burst of personal performance. He cleaned up his stats to where he has only had two failures to finish from contact in his last 28 starts, compared to four in his first 13 races.

The impact at Phoenix, he said, was his “first big accident” in IndyCar and forced him to quickly forget about it and move on.

“It was a big hit; if you saw the numbers you’d be amazed,” Munoz said. “But as a driver you have to forget about it and move on. After practice to go back in the car, that was good. It was my first actual big hit.

“The team always said, it’s always one. I had a hit at Fontana, replacing E.J. (Viso, in 2013). But this one was big. I know it’s part of racing when you crash. Try to move on. I feel comfortable.”

Munoz has felt better in terms of setup contribution this year, noting whereas Hunter-Reay or Andretti had been primarily used as the baseline setup in the past, now he’s able to play a greater role.

Additionally, Munoz relates to IndyCar freshman Rossi, who’s learning the ropes in this series thus far as Munoz was two years ago.

“I think this year has been better, probably because I’ve been fast compared to my teammates,” he said. “We work as a team. I know if Marco likes it, that’s better, because more or less we have the same feeling.

“Rossi was (with us) in Texas. And that’s where we try to help him as a rookie. I was a rookie two years ago. So yeah, I helped him. This is hard to get used to.”

He’s also determined and focused on being his own man in the sport, besides being “that other Colombian” besides Juan Pablo Montoya.

Colombian interest has been high in recent years with Montoya, Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Sebastian Saavedra and Carlos Huertas all having been in the series of late. Montoya remains the benchmark but Munoz and Huertas are race winners; Saavedra a polesitter and Chaves a double rookie-of-the-year in 2015, although the latter three are sidelined.

Comparisons are inevitable and while Munoz credits Montoya for getting him interested in racing, he doesn’t want to be known as “JPM 2.0.”

“He’s been a big example since I was a child,” Munoz admits. “I remember when I saw him winning his first 500 (in 2000; Munoz was 8 years old), we all went on the streets and celebrated! We were all waving the flag.

“He showed us the path to become a professional race car driver. But I want to make my name. I want to be my own man. I want to win races.”

Even more fascinating about Munoz is that while this is his third full-time season in IndyCar, he’s still only 24 years old, with room to grow. This is his fifth season in America, having done two years of Indy Lights prior in 2012 and 2013.

The setup advancements and aero kit improvements Honda has made has made the car better to drive this year, as Munoz looks to break out of the tightly bunched, yet crowded, IndyCar midpack.

“I think with the new aero kit, on the road course, I’ve felt much stronger, much more confident,” he said. “It’s easier to drive. It’s a lot more consistent. We had a nasty rear last year.

“There’s loads still to learn,” he added. “Helio (Castroneves) and Tony (Kanaan) learn stuff each race when they keep going. They’ve been doing this for a long time and they learn each time.

“My curve of learning, I still have a lot to get better at, both ovals and road courses. I haven’t reached my potential.

“As a driver or person, you’re never going to reach your potential.”