Tony Kanaan

IndyCar: Potential record-tying 11th season winner possible at Milwaukee

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The Verizon IndyCar Series has three races to tie or eclipse the overall record for most winners in a season a Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

If that sounds like deja vu from last year, it’s because it basically is.

Last season, there were 10 different winners through 15 races, and the series had four shots to tie the mark of 11, achieved in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons. But it stayed stuck at 10 with Will Power, the 10th different winner of 2013, winning three of the last five races.

This year… we again have 10 different winners through 15 races.

So who could potentially break through as lucky number 11? We run down the candidates, in order of likelihood:

  • Tony Kanaan. “TK” is the active starts leader (14) and a two-time winner at Milwaukee (2006, 2007) and most recently finished second to Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. After leading 247 laps at the only other short oval this season at Iowa, Kanaan is a good bet.
  • James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian has the best average finish at Milwaukee in his three starts – 4.7 – and enters the weekend off his first podium of 2014 two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. If the setup is right, Hinch should be a factor.
  • Marco Andretti. What’s been a recent stretch of rough races for Marco could be cleansed with a trip to one of his better tracks. His average starting position of 7.1 is third best in the field but he’s been unable to get a result to match on race day. Dominated a year ago before mechanical gremlins struck.
  • Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe and the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team have run better of late, and like Kanaan, he’s a former Milwaukee winner (2008). Also was strong at Iowa. Not the first person you’d pick to win, but wouldn’t surprise either.
  • Takuma Sato. It would make sense on several levels. Sato and the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s short oval package was very strong a year ago and seventh was a result unrepresentative of how the No. 14 Honda ran. Add in this is the home-sponsored race for sponsor ABC Supply Co. and you could well have a popular winner if Sato’s trademark “No Attack, No Chance” strategy comes good.
  • Josef Newgarden. Depends largely on setup, but as I wrote after his Mid-Ohio disappointment, his near miss there reminds me a lot of Michel Jourdain Jr. in 2003 – talented, promising young driver bouncing back and securing his first career win at Milwaukee.
  • Graham Rahal. Another in the “has run better of late than his results have indicated” camp, and also has a previous Milwaukee podium finish in the bank. Struggled on setup at this race last year and the hope is Bill Pappas’ engineering will improve what was a difficult race car in 2013.
  • Justin Wilson. Wilson’s been strangely anonymous this year – not bad by any stretch, but those usual Wilson/Dale Coyne Racing giant-killing performances haven’t come with the same frequency. Like Rahal, comes to Milwaukee with a different engineer, and with Pappas now at RLL it’s the Michael Cannon-led No. 19 crew trying to turn things around for the likable and tall Englishman.
  • Charlie Kimball. Milwaukee’s been something of a bogey track for Kimball, whose average start of 20th and average finish of 16th in three prior races is among the worst in the field. Here’s hoping the Ganassi short oval setup also helps the driver of the No. 83 car.
  • Sebastian Saavedra. The Colombian posted an oval career-best qualifying of sixth this race last year but was unable to sustain it in the race.
  • Carlos Munoz, Mikhail Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth. The rookie trio is unproven at this track and a win actually would be a surprise. I’d expect more from Aleshin this weekend given his quick adaption to ovals. Munoz is a hard one to project in Milwaukee. His team, Andretti Autosport, have been excellent in oval setup and so he could well be in the top five. Or, as in Iowa, midpack and out of lead contention. Neither he nor Hawksworth did particularly well here in Indy Lights, either.

PWC: Parente back, Sellers, Hedlund join at K-PAX

Photo: PWC
Photo: PWC
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Defending Pirelli World Challenge GT champions K-PAX Racing have confirmed their lineup for this year’s season, which will see Alvaro Parente back to defend his crown in one of three McLaren 650S GT3s.

Parente will have two new teammates, in two talented Americans. Bryan Sellers will make his first run at a full-time PWC season in the team’s No. 6 McLaren, while Mike Hedlund, who’s driven off-and-on with K-PAX Racing technical partner Flying Lizard Motorsports, will run for a GTA title in the No. 98 McLaren.

Sellers and Hedlund replace Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson, respectively, as full-season drivers. Driver lineups for the SprintX races will be announced at a later date.

“With the addition of new teams, drivers and GT3 cars in the Pirelli World Challenge, 2017 is going to be tighter and more challenging than ever,” said Team Owner Jim Haughey. “So we are very pleased to have Alvaro, the returning Driver’s Champion, team up with the very competent Bryan Sellers in GT and Mike Hedlund in GTA.”

The full release is linked here.

These confirmations add to what’s shaping up to be, once again, a very good GT class field for the series.

Foyt confirms hire of Will Phillips as technical director

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Larry Foyt, Will Phillips and A.J. Foyt. Photo courtesy A.J. Foyt Racing
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A.J. Foyt Racing has confirmed the hire of ex-INDYCAR Vice President of Technology Will Phillips as the team’s new technical director. He’ll also serve as race engineer for Carlos Munoz this season. Trackside Online was first to report the hire.

Phillips was named as technical delegate for the Formula 4 United States Championship powered by Honda this past year, and now will be in a team role for the two-car Chevrolet outfit that Foyt has this season.

Munoz and Conor Daly will be in the pair of ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets this season, with Daniele Cucchiaroni continuing with the team as Daly’s race engineer. The duo tests this week at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

He’s been a technical director/chief engineer, race engineer or design engineer at various teams, including but not limited to de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Rocketsports, and Reynard Motorsport.

“It is a privilege to join one of the most iconic teams in the IndyCar Series,” Phillips said in a release. “I have missed the competition and as such am looking forward to being back on the frontline. The depth of talent in the team is impressive and I look forward to working with them and helping create a cohesive engineering group to support Carlos and Conor.”

A.J. Foyt added, “I’m glad to have Will on our team. He’s smart and experienced and he was a close friend of “Ando’s” [the late John Anderson]. Ando worked for me and was a good friend of mine. I don’t know Will that well yet, but if Ando respected him, that’s good enough for me. I think Will can do a great job for us.”

Street in Nice renamed, unveiled in honor of Jules Bianchi

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock prior to the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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A street has been renamed and unveiled on Monday in honor of the late Jules Bianchi in his hometown of Nice, France.

The former ‘rue du Sapin’ in Nice is now ‘rue Jules Bianchi,’ in the Frenchman’s honor. A ceremony took place Monday at that street at the intersection of ‘avenue Pierre de Coubertin.’

Posts from the unveil are linked below. Charles Leclerc, Bianchi’s countryman and Ferrari Driver Academy member who participated in a couple first F1 free practice sessions with Haas F1 Team last year, posted “You’ll never ever be forgotten.”

Bianchi died in 2015 following a coma sustained after his accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Not long afterwards, his No. 17 was retired from active competition in Formula 1.

Bianchi scored the first points and to date, the best career finish for the Manor F1 team, when he finished ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

MRTI: Thompson, Castro announce 2017 USF2000 programs

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Parker Thompson. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda has received a shot in the arm with a pair of announcements in recent days.

Parker Thompson, who came up a hard-luck second in last year’s championship to teammate Anthony Martin, will be firmly entrenched as a title contender once more in 2017 with a switch to Exclusive Autosport in the team’s No. 90 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

The Red Deer, Alberta native raced for JDC Motorsports in 2015 before moving to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last season. The move reunites Thompson with fellow Canadian and EA team owner Michael Duncalfe.

“This was easily one of the hardest off seasons I have had in my motorsport career thus far,” Thompson admitted. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get behind the wheel of a racecar in 2017, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the EA organization, I was ecstatic.

“This is a dream team fit for myself, in a number of different ways. I met Michael when I was just 11-years-old racing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Karting Championships. It just goes to show you what relationship building can do for your career down the road! Since then, I actually raced for Michael in his decorated FF1600 program, and claimed my first two formula car wins with him. There’s not many team owners in the paddock who I have had such a great history and relationship with over the years.”

More on the announcement is linked here via the USF2000 website, and Thompson also released a video that is linked below.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andre Castro, an 18-year-old born in New York but with Colombian heritage, is the second confirmed driver at Newman/Wachs Racing ahead of its return to full-time racing. He’ll be in the team’s No. 37 entry alongside the previously announced Dakota Dickerson in the No. 36 car, with the series sophomore expected to improve this year.

“We ran Andre in our first test at Indy last October, and we had some success with him right from the start,”said team manager, Brian Halahan. “He was fast and he worked well with the team, so I feel we can build on that and have him running strong as soon as he is back in the Newman Wachs car. I think Andre and Dakota will make good teammates and push each other to the front.”

Castro is a go-kart veteran with limited car racing experience, but was nominated as a finalist for last year’s Team USA Scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be a part of Newman Wachs’ return to open-wheel racing, said Castro. After working with the team closely in the weeks leading up to the Chris Griffis Memorial test at Indy last fall, I saw that the team was incredibly serious about coming back and winning straight out of the gate. At the test itself, I was able to work with engineer Alan O’Leary extremely well, and by the end of the final day, me, a rookie driver and a returning team, together, we managed to be on top of the time sheets.”

While these two are in the USF2000 field this year, one driver who won’t be back for a second go-’round is Cameron Das, who raced his debut season with JAY Motorsports. The Baltimore teenager has stretched his wings not just in USF2000, but also in SCCA’s new U.S. F4 Championship, which he won.

Das, 16, will shift to Europe this year and will be one to watch along with new Red Bull Junior driver Neil Verhagen. Das has been confirmed with Carlin for its BRDC British F3 team, along with previously confirmed drivers James Pull and Enaam Ahmed.

“British Formula Three feels like the natural next step in my racing development,” said Das, who’s already tested for the team. “I’ve already had a chance to see Carlin in action and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the 2017 season with them. I really appreciate the support from my sponsor Autobahn Indoor Speedway and other partners for allowing me to embark on this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait for the first race weekend.”

The signing did bring up a good point – Das is unquestionably the racing driver with the name closest in spelling to actress Cameron Diaz.