Looking ahead to Indy Lights’ next race, and new future with new chassis

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The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season resumes next weekend at Pocono Raceway, marking the series’ first race since the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of May.

We’re a month removed from the series’ unveil of its new car, the Dallara IL-15, at IMS, and also one month away from the car’s official on-track debut in Mid-Ohio. A shakedown in Italy is scheduled for two weeks from today, on July 15.

It’s a little early to say yet what the demand and interest level in the new chassis will be. But initial discussions from key players set to be involved with the car after the unveil were positive.

Start first with project leader Tony Cotman, who had previously been instrumental in the creation of Champ Car’s new Panoz DP-01 chassis in 2007. While visually there are some similar lines to the DP-01 – including just a roll hoop with no airbox – Cotman called this a “clean slate” project.

“There were not too many parameters from Dan (Andersen) that tied your hands,” Cotman told MotorSportsTalk. “I didn’t walk in with any preconceived notions. We formed it as we went along. Any new car is exciting, and to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had on one.”

He added about the decision to avoid the airbox, “It’s one of those things where this particular vehicle didn’t need it. There’s many that like the no airbox look – me included – so we took that opportunity.”

Andersen, whose Andersen Promotions organization runs and operates the top three rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, said details were important for the first new Indy Lights chassis since the series was reincarnated in 2002.

“There were so many big and little decisions to do, from the wiring, the water pumps, the fuel systems and on down the line,” he said. “We brought the car weight down 160 pounds, added more horsepower and created a better layout overall.”

Lower costs are a goal with this new chassis, but crucially, Andersen wants this chassis to serve as a selling point more for the opportunity and clarity the Mazda Road to Indy ladder creates.

“Cost is important, critical in fact. But I don’t know that current problems (with the series) have to do with budget. It’s about perception of what the series has,” Andersen explained. “Drivers pay double in Europe compare to a current Lights budget, with no guarantee of advancement, with no prize money, no exposure. We have to do a better job of selling what our championship is.”

Andersen said as a promoter and entrepreneur he’s “nervous” until he gets results, but did say there was good interest. Several team principals from other Road to Indy series – Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – were on hand at the chassis unveil at IMS.

One big racing name who is involved in this project is that of Dyson – their Advanced Engine Research company, AER for short – is tasked with being the engine for the new car. Rob Dyson, and later son Chris, were on hand at Indy for the unveil.

“I think it’s an evolution that was necessary,” Rob Dyson said of the new car. “It needed a freshening in every respect. I’m proud they’ve done not only the chassis but the engine combination with our technology. I’m elated we’re part of it.”

Driver-wise? Quick chats with Tristan Vautier, who will handle most of the car’s testing, and Spencer Pigot, the Pro Mazda points leader who’s poised to advance into Indy Lights next year, brought rave reviews for the car’s look.

“I really like the design – it’s got that Italian class, I guess,” Vautier said. “It’s a good mix of the American race car style, and Indy style, with modern European style as well. It’s a good blend. It looks beautiful and should be quick.”

Added Pigot, “It’s a very cool looking car; it’s a big improvement from the current model and the performance should be better. It’s very modern looking. It looks like a fast race car.”

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

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There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.

Kimi Raikkonen confirmed at Ferrari for 2018 F1 season

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Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen will remain with the team for the 2018 Formula 1 season after being given a new one-year contract.

Raikkonen, 37, has raced with Ferrari since 2014, and has been on a one-year rolling contract since the end of 2015.

The Finn has been a regular focus for the F1 driver market’s ‘silly season’ given his age and struggle for form compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who currently leads the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen has scored 86 less points than Vettel through the opening 11 races of the 2017 season, but has nevertheless done enough to secure a new contract, confirmed by Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” a brief statement from Ferrari reads.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

Raikkonen is the first of the big-name free agents to have his plans for 2018 confirmed, with Vettel, ex-Ferrari racer Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas yet to announce a drive for next year.

Raikkonen first joined Ferrari in 2007, winning the F1 drivers’ championship in his first season, but left at the end of 2009 to take some time out from the sport.

A return in 2012 with Lotus saw Raikkonen display plenty of his old spark, taking two wins for the financially-hamstrung team before leaving at the end of 2013 over a pay row.

Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari for 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso, with Vettel arriving the following year.

Questions over Raikkonen’s motivation and ability have been rife for some time, but without any outstanding candidates for a seat available as things stand, the news is not overly surprising.

Nevertheless, it does defuse some of the silliness of ‘silly season’, with Vettel’s confirmation at Ferrari seemingly set to follow.