IndyCar: Andretti confirms RHR, DHL extensions; reveals more on 2015

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. – “The family” of DHL, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport will continue for a further three seasons.

The current Indianapolis 500 champion joined his team boss, Michael Andretti, and DHL Express U.S. CEO Mike Parra to confirm the partnership before today’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

“It’s a really big day for us and for IndyCar, to have DHL committed to a multi-year deal,” Andretti said.

Added Hunter-Reay, “I can’t say enough about DHL from day one we worked together back in 2011. We’ve grown as a team, and as a family. We’ve just won the biggest race together, and the 2012 championship. And we’re working hard for more.”

Parra added the partnership extension was “not a difficult one” and that it provided huge ad value for the company. International races were also mentioned, but not expanded.

What followed in an impromptu Q&A with Andretti directly provided a series of nuggets.

First, the team’s possible sports car program – Andretti had been rumored to run a new HPD ARX-04b coupe – is all but dead for 2015.

“It doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen. Something fell through and it’s disappointing,” Andretti said.

The focus, instead, shifts to the goal of a fifth full-time IndyCar for 2015. It does “not necessarily” need to be Simon Pagenaud.

Andretti did confirm Carlos Munoz for a second season alongside RHR and Marco Andretti. Sponsorship-wise, Marco Andretti’s car is likely to have different sponsors for at least selected races and Michael Andretti did not confirm the Dr Pepper Snapple group’s full-time presence – yet anyway. The team now works to re-sign James Hinchcliffe. Andretti did say he was pleased to have three cars already put to bed.

One of Andretti’s Indy Lights drivers, Zach Veach, could drive a partial IndyCar season in 2015 if he wins this year’s Lights championship. Andretti said he has a lot of time for both Veach and Matty Brabham, who finished 1-2 in today’s race. However, he could not commit to running either of them with the new Indy Lights chassis in 2015; Andretti said he’ll only run one if he can find a paying driver.

“The only way I can do it is if I can find kids who can afford paying for the car,” Andretti said. “I won’t be able to go out and buy the new chassis. It’s not dead, it’s still possible, but at this time we don’t have anything.”

Andretti’s Pro Mazda team is also a question mark, while Andretti said he hopes to reveal the second driver (or drivers) of his second FIA Formula E entry soon.

As for the Andretti Sports Marketing department, Andretti is optimistic the New Orleans race – discussed earlier this year – will happen in 2015.

“We’re working on New Orleans. We’re announcing it hopefully somewhere soon,” Andretti said. “We’re very excited about this event. It’s going to be way bigger than people think. It will be for ’15.”

Asked on a date, Andretti replied, “I think they have a spot, I’m not gonna say where, but we’ll be happy with what’s being discussed.”

And as for this race, in the first of its two-year deal in August, Andretti said walkup ticket sales will be key.

“We have another year. We’re still building and we want to go beyond next year,” he said. “I think today’s walkup is important. Sponsorship is way up. We’re going the right direction; we continue to build and we want to say next year that hopefully we can continue this thing.”

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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