Richard Petty Motorsports’ future: Stay with Ford or potential move to Toyota, Chevy or Dodge?

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Like a wheel of fortune, around and around and around it goes, and where Richard Petty Motorsports winds up at, still nobody knows.

Although some recent reports claim RPM will shift from Ford to Toyota for 2015, RPM vice president of competition Sammy Johns told MRN.com’s Dustin Long on Saturday that there has been no movement or decision on which manufacturer the organization will align itself with.

RPM has been with Ford since the last three races of the 2009 season, switching to the so-called blue oval after nearly two seasons with Dodge.

According to reports last month, team patriarch Richard Petty has had recent meetings with representatives of both Toyota and Ford.

Ford Racing director Jamie Allison said RPM’s contract with the manufacturer does not expire after this season, contrary to what other reports and rumors have indicated.

Conspicuous by its absence in reports and rumors about RPM’s future is a lack of discussion about a potential partnership with Chevrolet.

While RPM would likely have significant resources at its disposal if it affiliated with Chevrolet – perhaps more so than it currently has with Ford – if the legendary team indeed does leave Ford, it would most likely be headed to Toyota, if reports and rumors are to be believed.

As wild as some of the rumors and reports about RPM’s future have been, it would not be completely out of the realm of possibility that RPM may stay with Ford through 2015 and then potentially spearhead a possible return to Sprint Cup by Dodge. During its last round of negotiations with Ford back in 2012, Petty said at the time he would not rule out a return to Dodge.

Of course, that depends on if Dodge wants to get back into NASCAR, a possibility company officials have had little to say about of late.

The last time RPM’s contract came up for renewal with Ford, it was subsequently left without much of a choice but to remain with Ford when Dodge announced it would leave NASCAR at the end of that season, ironically enough right after Brad Keselowski and Team Penske won the championship in a Dodge Charger.

Also weighing heavy on the minds of the RPM braintrust is whether driver Marcos Ambrose will stay with the team or leave when his current contract expires at the end of this season.

There have been several reports that Ambrose is considering returning to his native Australia and to race on the increasingly popular V8 Supercars series, with some reports having Ambrose racing for a new team potentially to be owned by legendary IndyCar and NASCAR team owner Roger Penske.

However, Ambrose recently denied those rumors and insisted he wants to remain with RPM, an organization that is on the upswing.

During January’s annual preseason NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, Petty questioned whether Ambrose indeed would return for 2015.

“I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S.,” Petty said candidly at the time. “You know, (Ambrose has) come a long way. He’s sort of a hero in Australia just because he’s running Cup. His big deal is if he could win on a round and around racetrack, that would be the optimum for him. If he did do that, he’d probably just go home and say, ‘Thank you guys,’ but I don’t know.”

All reports and rumors aside, the Sprint Cup Series races next weekend in the backyard of the Big Three manufacturers, namely, Michigan International Speedway.

If RPM is to make any announcement, particularly if it will stay with Ford or not, or whether it will jump to Toyota, Chevy or even Dodge, MIS would be a perfect venue to do so.

On another topic, Johns told MRN.com that RPM is looking for sponsorship for up-and-coming driver Corey LaJoie, son of former NASCAR driver Randy LaJoie.

The younger LaJoie won the ARCA race at Pocono last year, but was not in the field for Saturday’s race there.

Johns said the team hopes to have LaJoie do some Sprint Cup testing soon.

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”