Sorry Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Ford extend season-ending championship weekend through at least 2019

Leave a comment

Any hope that Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith had of moving the season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2015 ended Sunday.

Smith has sought to prod NASCAR to move the season finale to Las Vegas, given that Homestead-Miami Speedway’s agreement with Ford was due to expire at the end of this season.

Not anymore.

Officials from Ford and HMS announced Sunday morning prior to the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway that the south Florida 1.5-mile track will continue to host the season-ending races for all three series through 2019, with an option to extend the agreement through 2024.

Ford has hosted the championship-deciding races in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami since 2002.

“While many things have changed in those 13 years, one thing has remained constant and that’s the fantastic partnership that we have with Ford Motor Company,” HMS president Matt Becherer said.

“Whether you’re talking about the celebrity involvement, whether you’re talking about their best-in-class display that anchors our midway, or the iconic flags that are pulled behind the Ford trucks at the conclusion of the national anthem, there’s no doubt in our fan’s mind that we do everything possible to make Ford Championship Weekend a top-notch championship event.

“It’s for that reason I am thrilled to announce that Homestead-Miami Speedway and Ford Motor Company have extended their relationship on Ford Championship Weekend through 2019, with an option to continue through 2024.”

The last two times a Ford driver won the Sprint Cup championship was Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004, both out of the Roush Racing stable at the time.

With the new extension in place, Ford hopes to change that in this year’s season finale, particularly with the expanded and revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup format.

“I was there last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway and I’ll be there again this year to hopefully celebrate a Ford blue oval in the championship circle,” said Joe Hinrichs, Executive Vice Present/President of the Americas, Ford Motor Company.

“We think Ford Championship Weekend sets up now and into the future as an even bigger event with the new Chase format and the excitement around qualifying … and then of course the race itself and crowning a champion.”

When NASCAR and sister company International Speedway Corp. both agreed to keeping the season’s final race at Homestead, that sealed the deal for Ford and HMS to put a deal together – much to the chagrin of Las Vegas or any other potential suitors for the annual season-ending race.

“We’ve spent the better part of a year renegotiating this extension and we would not have expended the time and energy that we did had we thought there was any chance that the championship could be leaving Miami in the near future,” Becherer said. “… The reality is we would not have gone down the path we did if we thought there was a chance that it would leave. And frankly it shouldn’t leave.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne