Ryan Hunter-Reay

IndyCar: An important weekend for title chase, ovals at Milwaukee IndyFest

1 Comment

Traditionally a staple on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar in June, the Milwaukee weekend now shifts to August in 2014, which is crucial on several fronts.

From an event standpoint, Milwaukee is the fifth of six oval races this season. While the Indianapolis 500 is and will always be both IndyCar’s biggest and marquee race from an attendance and interest standpoint, the other oval races this year at Texas, Pocono and Iowa have come under fire for perceived lack of attendance.

“It’s hard to compare a Milwaukee or Pocono to St. Petersburg or Long Beach; they’re different environments,” says Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. “They have done a really good job at Milwaukee. Sometimes the perception of attendance is one event – street courses feel busier than what they are compared to a Pocono or Iowa, good example, or Texas as well.

“The actual attendance you see at Texas or Iowa isn’t all that different… but like St. Pete, Detroit, there’s more going on at the race. It feels more crowded at Detroit because of confined space. It looks more different than what they are. For ovals it’s a different type of excitement; and there is always going to be more passing.”

It’s an important event for IndyCar to look big – Andretti Sports Marketing has more or less “thrown the kitchen sink” at this event for the last three years, although there’s still something of a mystery as to how well it gets through to the locals.

The upside is that this year’s race comes following the Wisconsin State Fair. A record number of patrons passed through the gates there, and a fair number should have been exposed to IndyFest signage and appearances. Drivers have been in the state for appearances and promotions on-and-off since March. Radio ads and billboards have made the rounds; a good Sunday forecast should encourage a good walk-up number.

But the look will be important, because although Milwaukee is overflowing with history and praise from most in the IndyCar paddock, it needs to work business-wise to ensure its long-term survival. For that, I say, if you’re near the area and claim to be an IndyCar oval fan, you need to put your money where your mouth is, show up, and pack the joint. Here’s a rundown of the events occurring this weekend.

From the series standpoint, the championship now enters its final stretch of three races, in three weekends, on three completely different types of circuits.

The ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is on the legendary, historic one-mile Milwaukee Mile oval. Then it shifts to the flowing road course of Sonoma next week, and the two-mile, bumpy Auto Club Speedway in Fontana the following week.

This is more or less the week Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud, 63 and 64 points behind points leader Will Power (and his Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, who lost the lead at Mid-Ohio) need to make headway and get to within roughly the 30-40 point ballpark of the top two.

There’s 200 available points, plus bonus points, for the final three races with Fontana a double-points race. Hunter-Reay, who’s won the last two Milwaukee races and three in total, has his first ever shot at a race three-peat this weekend.

In his 2012 title-winning season, Hunter-Reay kicked off a string of three wins during the season at Milwaukee, which began his championship charge. Wins at Iowa and Toronto added to it.

None of the other three other than “RHR” have won here. Castroneves, in particular, has had a snakebit history at this track. Past Milwaukee winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon have a mathematical, if less realistic shot at the title but could well play themselves into it with another big week themselves. Neither “JPM” nor “Dixie” has anything to lose.

Then there are the spoilers. Any of 13 drivers have the chance to become IndyCar’s 11th different winner this season, which would tie a record set in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons.

From that baker’s dozen, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe are the two I’m watching closely this weekend. Kanaan’s been fast, leading and unlucky on ovals; Hinchcliffe has traditionally run well at Milwaukee.

Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden would also be popular winners – Andretti for the name and the fact it’s his father, Michael’s, organization promoting the event, and Newgarden after his Mid-Ohio near miss.

But whoever wins Sunday will have mastered the combination of pace, patience, balance, setup and traffic.

And so long as there’s a good number of folks in the stands here to see it – so it looks like the historic and major event it can be, and to enhance the NBCSN TV coverage – that’ll be a good day at the office for both INDYCAR and Andretti Sports Marketing.

Josef Newgarden named honorary chairman of Rev fundraiser at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

josef newgarden 2015 getty
Getty Images
Leave a comment

New Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has been named as honorary chairman of the 2017 Rev fundraiser to benefit Methodist Health Foundation.

This year’s edition of Rev, which brings together luminaries including drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series, as well as fans and philanthropists, will be held May 6 in the infield of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“This is our main fundraiser which also serves to kick off the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Methodist Health Foundation Chief Development Officer Sally McGuffey said in a media release. “Rev has grown to become one of the city’s premier foodie events, with cuisine inspired by drivers and Indy’s top chefs.

Part of the festivities of the 2016 Rev at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy IndyCar)
Part of the festivities of the 2016 Rev at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy IndyCar)

“The event’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for Indiana University Health statewide trauma programs, including those that provide care for drivers and patrons at the Indiana University Health Emergency Medical Center of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Rev is presented by Fifth Third Bank and this year’s edition will see the addition of Milktooth restaurant, a well-known Indianapolis eatery that is ranked in the top 10 of Bonappetit.com’s best restaurants in the United States. Milktooth will be one of more than 60 restaurants that will be offering some of their top delicacies to Rev attendees.

Last year’s Rev drew over 3,000 attendees to IMS for not only great food, but also live music and dancing. It has become one of the premier ways for fans to interact with IndyCar drivers while also contributing to a worthy charitable cause.

Newgarden is entering his first season with Team Penske – he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet – and sixth overall season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He finished fourth in last year’s final standings.

“It’s a great honor to be partner with Rev this year for a cause that does so much for the community of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Newgarden said. “The growth of this event in such a short time is a testament to the hard work everyone puts in to support Methodist Health Foundation. I’m really looking forward to helping the event continue the upward trend.”

This will be Rev’s fourth consecutive year of being hosted by IMS.

“The relationship of IU Health and Methodist Health Foundation with IMS is over 100 years old and great events like Rev help make our partnership stronger than ever, while ensuring that both drivers and fans continue to receive top-notch care,” IMS president Doug Boles said. “Josef is a fantastic addition to this year’s Rev team and will ensure the event continues to grow and serve as an excellent Month of May kickoff.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

INDYCAR, Firestone announce long-term extension

Firestone
Photo: Tony DiZinno
Leave a comment

Firestone has extended its contract with INDYCAR in a multi-year agreement, beyond its current deal which was set to expire at the end of 2018.

The move continues INDYCAR’s relationship with the tire manufacturer, as Firestone re-entered the series in 1995 after testing all of 1994. Firestone has been the exclusive tire partner since 2000. This is another extension that follows not long after the Dallara continuation through 2020, announced last week at the North American International Auto Show.

Another key note in today’s extension is that the wishes of drivers to have red sidewall alternate tires run in practice prior to qualifying has been granted. One set will be made available for Friday practice at all road and street course races this year.

The release from INDYCAR is below:

INDYCAR announced a multiyear contract extension today with Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC (BATO), continuing its longtime partnership with Firestone as the official tire supplier of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The announcement extends the tire brand’s involvement in open-wheel racing that dates to Ray Harroun’s Firestone-equipped Marmon Wasp winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

“Firestone is part of the fabric of INDYCAR and its commitment to evolving performance, innovation and safety in the Verizon IndyCar Series has been remarkable,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “The Firestone brand has been part of our sport for more than 100 years and continues to be an integral partner in the growth of INDYCAR on and off the racetrack.”

Firestone has been involved in racing competitions since the early days of the automobile, particularly at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Alexander Rossi’s win at the 100th Running of the Indy 500 last May was the 67th for Firestone – more than all other tire manufacturers combined – in the iconic race. Firestone, which returned to Indy car racing in 1995 following a 20-year hiatus, has been the sole supplier of Verizon IndyCar Series tires since 2000 and provides teams with a known, stable and reliable platform for the future of INDYCAR.

“For more than a century, the Firestone brand has utilized racing as the ideal stage to showcase the trusted dependability of our tires,” said Lisa Boggs, director of motorsports, Bridgestone Americas. “This partnership is integral to our marketing initiatives as it allows us to engage with fans via the unique, multi-faceted platform that the Verizon IndyCar Series provides, and we look forward to building upon the brand’s time-tested racing legacy.”

This season, following discussion with Verizon IndyCar Series teams, INDYCAR and Firestone have added to the overall tire allotment at each event to increase the amount of on-track activity during practice sessions. Additionally, teams will be permitted to run one set of alternate (red-sidewall) Firestone Firehawk tires during Friday practice sessions at all road/street course events to better evaluate their capabilities for qualifying and the race.

In addition to its contributions to on-track competition, Firestone is a key partner in the marketing and promotion of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The season-long activation for Firestone includes sponsorship of race events, on-site fan engagement via the INDYCAR Fan Village and a national advertising campaign that spans television, radio and print/digital media outlets.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12

Franchitti: Ganassi to Honda ‘creates interest in manufacturer battle’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda holds up his fist in celebration of wining the IZOD IndyCar Series 96th running of the Indianpolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dario Franchitti’s most successful years in his illustrious IndyCar career came with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda.

The Scotsman never drove for any other engine manufacturer full-time in his run from 1998 to 2013, after Mercedes-Benz initially brought him to the United States in 1997, when he debuted with Hogan Racing.

Ganassi’s switch back to Honda power and aero kits this year after a three-year shift to Chevrolet is one of the key story lines going into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and Franchitti seems bullish on the prospects.

“I think it’s good for the series to have the two top teams with different manufacturers,” Franchitti told my NBC Sports colleague Luke Smith at this weekend’s Autosport International show.

“I think it creates more interest in that battle. From that point of view I think it’s good. Obviously Penske were quite dominant last year. We need to redress that balance this year.”

Team Penske asserted itself a bit further ahead of Ganassi this past season when both teams had the Chevrolet engines and aero kits. Penske won 10 races among three of its four drivers to Ganassi’s two, achieved only by Scott Dixon.

Other gaps saw Penske saw 12 other podium finishes beyond the wins, for a total of 22, while Ganassi scored only six total podiums.

In qualifying, Penske made 28 combined appearances of a possible 60 in the Firestone Fast Six on road and street courses; Ganassi made 13. Last year Penske won 11 of 16 pole positions; in 2015, that number was 13 of 16.

The balance was more even in 2015, when Dixon edged Juan Pablo Montoya for the title on a three-two win tiebreaker. Penske and Ganassi each won three races. Penske had 12 other podiums and Ganassi seven. The qualifying advantage maintained itself with Penske ahead 26-8 in Firestone Fast Six appearances.

With the manufacturer aero kits frozen for 2017 and Honda’s behind in the road and street course and short oval configurations, wizardry and engineering from the Ganassi staff will be needed to account for the performance deficits from an aero side, while Honda should be able to make strides from a power perspective.

It’s expected the Honda kit will remain ahead on the superspeedways, which gives Ganassi’s crew a better shout at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono, places they struggled this past year.

The team’s initial test with all four cars at Sebring’s short course held earlier this month was a very productive one, according to Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the program,” Franchitti explained. “In the team everyone is working. I mean you see it all the time, everyone works hard all the time, but you see a real confidence in the workshop.

“We tested at Sebring. I was talking to Mike Hull last night (Friday) and he said that everyone was feeling really good about things. Everyone is working on all aspects of our program and working really hard to improve it.”

Ganassi’s title success, bar Dixon’s 2015 triumph, have come exclusively with Honda. Last year marked the 20-year anniversary of the team’s first title with Jimmy Vasser, which set sail for the team’s first of two four-in-a-row title runs in a CART era of open chassis, manufacturer and tire competition from 1996 through 1999 with Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Montoya.

A further run of four followed once Franchitti rejoined IndyCar in 2009 after one year in NASCAR. Dixon scored his second of four titles (2008) to kick off that run in what became the all-spec Dallara-Honda period in IndyCar, and Franchitti followed with three storming runs in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The 2011 title was Franchitti’s fourth and last of his career, with his final win coming a year later in dramatic fashion at the 2012 Indianapolis 500. The series introduced the new Dallara DW12 chassis and the new engine formula of 2.2L V6 turbocharged engines.

It’s been funny to see Franchitti as the lone individual wearing a Chevrolet shirt at Honda hospitality the last few years so with Ganassi back at Honda, the humorous moments are resigned just to the conversations now.

“Every race I won was with a Honda, so I still have a lot of friends there. It was always a bit awkward when I went for lunch at Honda with a Chevy shirt on! But the Chevy guys with Ilmor as well, they were great guys to work with.”

Kevin Magnussen arrives for first visit to Haas F1 headquarters

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Renault Sport F1 talks in the Drivers Press Conference during previews for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

On Monday, it was a day of confirmations – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Williams) and Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) – all became official after weeks of speculation.

One driver confirmed much earlier, Kevin Magnussen to Haas F1 Team, has now made his first official visit to Haas F1 Team’s United Kingdom headquarters in Banbury. He’ll be there for a couple days to complete most of the preseason marketing and media-gathering tasks.

The Dane will enter his third full-time season in Formula 1 with his third different team, as he joins Haas for 2017 and beyond after a year apiece at Renault (2016) and McLaren (2014).

Magnussen has gone through HQ and the Haas F1 social team has taken us along for the ride. Here’s a few pics:

Magnussen’s former team, Renault, was up to the task of bantering as Haas welcomes Magnussen to HQ.