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Mario Andretti: Nearly 20 years later, IndyCar Series still suffering effects of CART-IRL split in attracting fans


The fallout from the 1996 split between the now-defunct CART open-wheel series and the then-upstart Indy Racing League continues to hamper IndyCar’s efforts to further build the sport, according to legendary driver Mario Andretti.

Even though the two series reunited in 2008, IndyCar still struggles when it comes to attracting new fans, Andretti told John Bombatch of FairbornDailyHerald.com.

“I was hoping that by now, since it’s one series again, it would have regained more popularity,” Andretti said. “But I think the split was for too long, and we lost a lot of our fan base. We almost have another generation coming now.

“Sure, we have hardcore fans. But even still, the newer fan base has to be re-educated to appreciate what the IndyCar Series is all about. Right now, I think the product is really good. I think the races are the best I’ve ever seen, with the nature the cars are and the way it is regulated.”

With eight different winners in the series’ first 11 races of this season coming into Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway, parity has become synonymous with IndyCar – and the sanctioning body has to promote that type of close racing, said Andretti, a four-time open-wheel champ and winner of the 1969 Indianapolis 500.

“Once you’ve got the product, you’ve got to feel pretty positive about the series,” Andretti, 74, told Bombatch. “It’s just good racing, that’s all there is to it. The talent in the field is deep, it’s good. There’s a strong international contingent, which is fine. Golf has that. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve gotta keep hammering, that’s all.”

Even though Andretti has technically been retired from IndyCar racing for 20 years now, he’s still behind the wheel at most events, driving a specially-built two-seat race car in which he gives fans rides in during race weekends.

Andretti, the only driver to have ever won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, as well as USAC, CART and Formula One championships, is still mischievous in his new role as he was when he was a full-time racer.

“We’ve had a few people who just lose it,” Andretti told Bombatch with a laugh. “I’ve had a half dozen or so of those over the years, which makes it a special day. A bit embarrassing for them, but fun for me.

“There’s a panic button for the passenger to hit, which shows a red light on my steering wheel to tell me that they’re worried … and I ignore it. Once you’re in the cockpit, you’ve gotta go with me. Sometimes people get a little nervous, which is good. I like that actually. That’s the whole idea.”

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Sainz keen to race in Russia; decision to be made on Sunday

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been discharged from hospital in Sochi following his practice accident, and is now hoping to take part in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sainz crashed at turn 13 with considerable force during final practice on Saturday, pitching underneath the TecPro barrier that made extracting him from the car difficult.

After 20 minutes, the rescue staff on site were able to remove Sainz from the car before transporting him in an ambulance to the medical centre.

Sainz gave a thumbs up to fans on the way there, and tweeted from hospital that he was unharmed after undergoing a number of checks.

In a statement issued by Toro Rosso after qualifying on Saturday, it was confirmed that Sainz had been discharged from hospital. The Spaniard has now set his sights on starting tomorrow’s race.

“My back and my neck are just a bit sore from the accident, but I’m totally ready,” Sainz said. “Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up in a good shape and maybe I can try and race – this is definitely the intention!

“Obviously we need to be cautious. I’ve always been conscious. As soon as the accident happened I tried to talk to the team on the radio, but it wasn’t working and those must have been some scary moments.

“I’d like to thank everyone for their support, it’s really nice to receive all your messages at a moment like this one! I hope to see you all tomorrow out there!”

Team principal Franz Tost confirmed that a decision will be made on Sainz’s participation following further medical checks on Sunday before clarifying the suspected cause of the accident.

“I’m very happy that Carlos is okay and out of hospital, this is the most important thing for us,” Tost said. “I hope he will have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow morning he will have to go through the FIA medical checks to decide if he will be able to take part in tomorrow’s race.

“Now, just to clarify what happened. Prior to the accident, Carlos had completed a long-run on the option tire, before changing to the prime to do two further laps. On primes the grip level is lower.

“In addition he had changed the brake shape on the steering wheel, which meant he had more braking rearwards. A combination of these two factors might have been the cause of the rears locking, which made the car uncontrollable.”

Should Sainz be deemed fit by the FIA medical delegate, he will have to start the race from the pit lane.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton unsure about Mercedes’ race pace in Russia

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Lewis Hamilton remains unsure about Mercedes’ race pace after losing the majority of practice running to a number of incidents on Friday and Saturday.

The entire field was limited to just one hour of dry running on Friday when a diesel spillage caused the session to be shortened.

Heavy rain washed out FP2, and FP3 was red flagged after 35 minutes when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard at turn 13.

Mercedes showed few signs of weakness in qualifying, though, as it locked out the front row of the grid with Nico Rosberg scoring his third pole position of the season.

Hamilton admitted that he made a mistake on his final lap in Q3, but is unsure how Mercedes will shape up in the race compared to the rest of the field.

“Everyone was in the same position today with the limited practice,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t get a hooked-up lap together but Nico did, so well done to him.

“It’s going to be a long race tomorrow though, so hopefully I might have a chance. There’s a long run down to turn two, so we’ll both be studying the line to take tonight. Maybe I can get a good start, we’ll see.

“We haven’t done a lot of laps, so I’m not really sure what our pace is like compared to the others. Our goal in the race as always is to finish well for the team, so we’ll be trying to do that.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.