Zippo 200 At The Glen

Ambrose earns 4th consecutive Watkins Glen Nationwide win

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Going into a critical race for his Chase hopes on Sunday, Marcos Ambrose got the one thing he needed to get today in the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

Confidence.

Ambrose survived an early run-in with Kyle Busch that sent them both spinning off course, and then held off Busch in the final laps to claim his fourth consecutive Nationwide victory at the Glen.

Now comes the big one – Sunday’s Cheez-It 355, which Ambrose and his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team have targeted as their best opportunity to win and get into the Sprint Cup postseason.

“I’m just gonna enjoy today,” Ambrose said to ESPN. “Anytime you get in Victory Lane, it’s something special. I’d love to repeat, but there’s a lot of work to do tomorrow and I want to think about it, have a good night’s rest, and come and attack tomorrow.”

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski of Team Penske finished third and fourth, followed by Matt Kenseth in fifth place.

Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott was the top Nationwide regular in sixth place and also extended his lead in the championship to 12 points over Regan Smith.

Smith finished 17th after a tough day that saw him give up gobs of track position because of having to pit twice under green in the second half of the race – once for a loose right front wheel and again because of grille debris that was overheating his car.

On Lap 6 of today’s race, Busch appeared to try and go to the inside of Ambrose for third at the “bus stop” chicane. But instead, both car went sliding out of the Top 10.

Both of them earned some ground back by the time the first caution of the day came out at Lap 12 due to debris from an incident involving Kenny Habul and Trevor Bayne.

Ambrose was the first to come to the pits from seventh, leading drivers like Busch, Elliott, and Elliott Sadler in with him.

Pole sitter Keselowski led the field to the restart at Lap 16, but started the leaders’ first wave of stops by pitting on Lap 18. The cycle was still in progress when Bayne got into the back of Kevin O’Connell at the bus stop, sending O’Connell into the wall to trigger Caution No. 2.

By virtue of pitting under the first caution, James Buescher, J.J. Yeley, and Brennan Newberry were the Top 3 at the time of the caution. But when those three drivers chose to go in for service, Ambrose and Busch cycled to the top two spots in a quick recovery from their earlier incident.

Off the restart at Lap 31, Ambrose held the point while Logano passed Busch for 2nd and Kenseth did the same to Keselowski for fourth. Four laps later, Bayne got involved in another caution when he and J.J. Yeley made contact heading into Turn 6.

That turned Yeley into the outside wall, and after he parked his heavily damaged car near the entrance of Turn 7, he gestured to Bayne as he and the rest of the field rolled by under the yellow.

Ambrose continued to control the race after the restart at Lap 39, but the field was bunched up again by another debris yellow at the halfway point, Lap 41.

They set ’em loose at Lap 44, and Ambrose and Logano quickly pulled a gap to third-place Busch, while Keselowski and Kenseth battled for fourth.

On Lap 49, Ambrose abandoned the lead for his second stop, with Logano doing the same on Lap 50. As Logano came out of the pits, he and Ambrose went side-by-side through the esses before Ambrose was able to get in front of him.

During the cycle, Smith pitted on Lap 52 but had to return to the pits because the lug nuts on his right front wheel weren’t all tight. Smith, who entered the day down just two points in the NNS championship, fell all the way out of the Top 25 on the track.

Brendan Gaughan’s stop on Lap 57 moved Ambrose back to the top. Leading up to that, Ambrose had gotten away from Logano on the track and when Gaughan went in, the Aussie assumed an edge of almost three seconds.

That edge disappeared when Landon Cassill suffered an apparent tire failure and slowed in Turn 6 to bring out the caution. Drivers such as Bayne, Brian Scott, and Paul Menard decided to pit, but Ambrose, Logano and the other leaders stayed on track for the restart with 20 laps left.

With 19 to go, Keselowski and Busch battled for third place going into the bus stop. But Keselowski carried too much speed into the corner and went into the inside grass before coming back on course.

Keselowski dropped back to sixth but was able to earn two of the lost spots back in a short time. Behind them, Smith was marching toward the Top 10 after a superb restart but the aforementioned debris on his grille forced him to come in again.

But up front, Ambrose remained smooth, holding a steady lead of around 1.5 to two seconds over Logano until Busch took control of second with five to go.

Busch made progress in cutting Ambrose’s lead down to less than a second going into the final lap, but Ambrose was able to hold on.

NASCAR Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen – Unofficial Results

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.

‘Uncle Bobby’ Unser turns 83 today

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February 20 is quite a day for birthdays in the North American racing world. “The Captain,” Roger Penske, turns 80, and the Shaker Heights, Ohio native continues at the head of his incredibly successful race team and automotive group without so much as a sweat.

One of Penske’s longtime drivers has his birthday today, as well. Bobby Unser, or “Uncle Bobby,” turns 83.

A member of the famed Albuquerque family, Unser won three Indianapolis 500s (1968, 1975 and 1981) before moving into broadcasting after he retired, working with ABC at the ‘500 and throughout the IndyCar schedule. A legend on Pikes Peak as well, Unser has more than a dozen wins there.

As time has passed, Unser’s forthright, candid insights have really stood out in a time where fewer drivers have properly spoke their minds.

Last May at Indianapolis ahead of the 100th Indianapolis 500, I had the opportunity to chat with “Uncle Bobby” about his life and career at the Speedway. A selection of those quotes are below:

“I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been coming every year since 1959. I saw the lights blinking on track and wonder what just happened!” he said. “This place has been going 100 years, and I’ve been a part of it for a long time.

“There’s been too many changes and I couldn’t remember them all in my head anyway. I don’t like the changes I’m seeing, but it doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

“I don’t know why I got into TV; I didn’t even go to high school. Yet I’m an engineer! Who’d ever thought Bobby Unser would do television? I ended up with a really good group at ABC. I didn’t think I could ever do it – but I did! I enjoyed myself.

“I lost a brother here. And I lost an uncle who was preparing to come here. My brother Jerry was killed here, and my uncle Joe was killed preparing to come here in a car. We were testing it in Colorado. We’ve lost two Unsers here – we don’t need a medal – but it hasn’t all been peaches and roses.

“The evolution of cars was easy. It was better to do it when we’re young! I’m not kidding. One of my heroes was Don Branson. He was a dirt track legend for sure, but he was good here too. He was the upper end of years, and I was gonna get his car. I didn’t know he’d get himself killed… we had it preplanned. But he was gonna quit driving and work for Goodyear as field manager for their racing tires. That was a big step for me.

“Don, I’m not gonna tell you I’m better than him. But he didn’t like the rear-engined cars. I’m young. He’s older. So I stepped into a rear-engined car and it feels fine to me! Some of them couldn’t hack it going from the roadster to rear-engined car. But it was easy for me, and for my brother Al. I think a lot of that is the experience you have, and the age.

“This is a tough place. Arguing about the cars now could be another deal. Most anyone could run the cars today… but I don’t want to go down that road and take up more of your time.

“Mario (Andretti) was one of my closest friends in those days. We’d fly together as I had a junky old airplane that barely made it, but it beat driving to races!

“Foyt’s Foyt. He’s a grouchy old fart, you know? But he’s a hell of a race driver. I wish the younger generation would have seen him when he was young… he was a fireplug. He was fast, he was a chassis man, and he understood engines. He was so good.

“It’s ’68, obviously (my favorite ‘500 win). You never know you can do it. There’s so many guys in this race that could be leading, two laps or 10 from the end the car quits. There’s so many of them like that. How many times are you’re leading Lap 150, and then ain’t gonna win it?

“You don’t know you can win it until checkered flag falls. The next one’s easier.”

Team Penske restores iconic ‘Blue Hilton’ Indy 500-winning transporter

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Photo courtesy of Team Penske
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Few teams have as great an appreciation for their own history as Team Penske, so it’s only fitting that on a day when Roger Penske turns 80, the team reflects on the first transporter that helped launch the team into the national stratosphere.

Penske’s first of 16 Indianapolis 500 victories was achieved in 1972 with Mark Donohue driving, and the transporter that carried that No. 66 Sunoco McLaren Offy was a customized 1972 International Fleetstar truck known in the racing circles as “The Blue Hilton.”

This transporter served Team Penske well, carrying both Indy cars and sports cars that dominated in Can-Am in the early 1970s with George Follmer and Donohue.

More than 8,000 man hours went into the restoration of this transporter, which was only found in 2015 after concerns it’d been scrapped. Penske Truck Leasing’s James Svaasand, Michael Klotz, and David Hall and Team Penske Historian Bernie King led the restoration and can thank Jerry Breon, a long-time Penske team member, who found the truck for sale.

“After we confirmed that it was, in fact, the Blue Hilton that was for sale, I called Brian Hard (president of Penske Truck Leasing) and we agreed that we had to find a way to bring her back to life,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said in a release. “This transporter was there when the foundation was laid for Team Penske and it is symbolic of the way in which we operate today.  Everyone at PTL did an unbelievable job restoring this vehicle.  I can’t wait for Roger to see it in person, as it is something he will cherish.”

The transporter will be on display at Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

You can read the full release here. A few photos of the transporter are below, courtesy of Team Penske:

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Testing confirmed, races not yet for Mikhail Aleshin in sports cars

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 01:  Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, driver of the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport IndyCar prepares for qualifying to the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 1, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin will focus primarily on the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, but may still be busy with sports car commitments with SMP Racing.

His sponsor he has in IndyCar is working on a new non-hybrid LMP1 car for 2018, as SMP Racing’s technical partner BR Engineering is working with Dallara on that new chassis.

Aleshin said via a press release he’s already been busy working on the development of that car ahead of its planned introduction next season (more info here via Sportscar365 and Endurance-Info).

The new creation stems from the fact BR Engineering was not granted a place to continue with its BR01 LMP2 chassis, which raced in the FIA World Endurance Championship and also won the pole for the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the ACO confirmed just four chassis constructors would continue in LMP2 in 2017 to coincide with new regulations (Onroak, Oreca, Riley Multimatic, Dallara). BR and other constructors were removed from the field as a result.

Intriguingly though, Aleshin was also listed as the nominated driver for SMP Racing’s Dallara P217 chassis for both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the European Le Mans Series.

Le Mans doesn’t clash with an IndyCar weekend, while the ELMS and IndyCar have one clash, the weekend of August 26 when IndyCar races at Gateway Motorsports Park and ELMS is at Paul Ricard.

Aleshin may be active in a number of sports car races this year, as he has been off-and-on the last two years. But he doesn’t know his exact schedule yet.

“Well we’re working to produce our own car for 2018… and I’m one of the test or development drivers,” Aleshin told NBC Sports.

“I don’t know yet (Le Mans)… maybe I’ll be there. Well, it’s good to be a placeholder! But hopefully not for every event.

“For me the main thing this year is to concentrate on two things. Number one is IndyCar. But I have a very similar responsibility on taking care of our LMP1 project with SMP, as that will be very big.”