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NASCAR schedule reveals some potential 2015 IndyCar schedule hints; Texas IndyCar returns

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If you remember the scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” that line could well be referring to the assembled media getting the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. this weekend.

It almost certainly isn’t going to be revealed this weekend, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Considering there have been some past open-wheel schedules that have come out in the past with the ubiquitous “TBA” peppered throughout, it makes little to no sense for IndyCar to release a schedule that’s short of complete, or subject to change.

The way it stands now, IndyCar’s 2015 schedule still has many moving parts.

Still, with today’s NASCAR schedule releases, there are some hints about dates that could well be relevant from an IndyCar standpoint. And it’s also key to note which races fall on weekends where you’ll likely be seeing two NASCAR races on NBC or NBCSN, and how that may affect time slots for when IndyCar can slot in on NBCSN.

First off, the NBC Sports Group portion of the NASCAR schedule begins from the first weekend of July, with both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series (under its new title sponsor name) from Daytona. Nationwide is July 4 on NBCSN, and Sprint Cup July 5 on NBC.

If you sync up the current 2014 IndyCar weekends with the NASCAR on NBC weekends from July through the first weekend of September, when Labor Day occurs and the series again plans to end, you’d have seven as-2014 weekends to note: Pocono, Iowa, and Toronto the first weekends of July, Mid-Ohio the first weekend of August, and Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana to round out the month of August.

Here’s where the hints occur. Pocono’s Cup dates of June 7 and August 2 leave enough of a gap for IndyCar to return around the same time as this year. The catch is track president Brandon Igdalsky said earlier this year advance ticket sales were down and it would be a challenge for the race to continue on 4th of July weekend. So could this race, in the third year of its three-year contract, fall on the last weekend of June or the second weekend of July? Either’s possible, given some other possible schedule alterations.

Iowa’s NASCAR dates are May 17 and August 1 for Nationwide. May 17 won’t work as that’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and August 1 will likely be Mid-Ohio’s date. However, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series date is Friday, June 19… which would imply that if it and IndyCar share the same weekend, as they did this year, IndyCar would race Saturday night, June 20. IndyCar has raced in that date previously and that weekend in June was an off weekend this year, so likely, it seems that this date will shift from its July 12 date this year.

We get to Toronto next, and that’s the Canadian mystery at the moment. Shortly after Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported the possibility of IndyCar moving its race to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, which could make sense. Additionally, it was noted by NBCSN IndyCar insider Robin Miller, in a piece for RACER.com, to have had increased traction in the last couple weeks. The reason Toronto would shift is due to the 2015 Pan-Am Games falling during the race’s traditional July date.

June options are becoming limited with Texas Motor Speedway confirming IndyCar’s return Saturday night June 6, the night after NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, and that possible Iowa date shift back to June. Detroit will again have the weekend after the Indianapolis 500. So Toronto, whose street race was angling for that second weekend-in-June date – especially one which could have made logistical sense the week after Detroit – appears a less likely proposition at that time.

Mid-Ohio’s NASCAR date is August 15, which would all but ensure IndyCar’s race there will again be two weeks ahead of it on August 2, as it was this year.

A likely three-week break would open up with Labor Day moved back to September 7, 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann has pegged the August 22-23 weekend as the date for Milwaukee IndyFest, which would fall in the middle of an August sports logjam in the state of Wisconsin. The state will be as filled with sporting events as most Wisconsin State Fair goers are with deep fried foods.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race from Road America is set for Sunday August 9, and the Nationwide weekend at Road America has shifted to a Cup off weekend and the last Saturday of the month, August 29, after occurring on June 21 this year. Add in the aforementioned State Fair and the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. August 10-16 for the craziness.

Sonoma, if it falls the weekend after the projected Milwaukee date, would be August 30. Track president Steve Page told the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin that date is likely this past weekend.

IndyCar at Road America? We wrote about the possibility after the Road America TUDOR Championship weekend this year, and while track president George Bruggenthies has extended the olive branch to IndyCar, it doesn’t appear TUDOR – which would make the most sense with an Indy/TUDOR doubleheader weekend the second half of August – would be keen on the pairing.

It also doesn’t appear IndyCar would race solo at Road America in June, even if it has an off weekend to do so. Why so, you ask? After a run of consecutive days on track and race weekends from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis mid-May through Texas June 6, the crews and teams would need an off weekend that second weekend in June.

Lastly we come to Fontana, to come full circle from where this post began nearly 900 words ago. Frankly, and despite a strong and committed level of promotion from Auto Club Speedway, ISC, and track president Gillian Zucker, INDYCAR has done ACS zero favors in terms of a consistent date for date equity since its return to the calendar after a seven-year absence.

Yeah, it’s been the last date of the season for three years. But that last date has been September 15, 2012, October 19, 2013 and now August 30, 2014 in three consecutive seasons. How can most locals know when the race is if it changes on them three straight years?

This year, Zucker has justifiably spoken out, confirming to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that a Labor Day date – one Miles has held firm the IndyCar Series needs to end by – won’t work for the track. It’s going to be a challenge because the NBCSN race telecast doesn’t start until 9 p.m. ET Saturday night, with the race scheduled to start at 7:20 p.m. local time (10:20 p.m. ET).

So suddenly one of the big things we have to watch this weekend is how Fontana deals with the date, and what could happen about its date changing again for the following season.

Essentially, here’s where we’re at for the IndyCar 2015 schedule.

Confirmed dates, as announced either by the track or series include:

  • March 16-17, Barber open test, March 29, St. Petersburg, April 19, Long Beach, May 9, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 16-17, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, May 24, Indianapolis 500, May 30-31, Detroit Belle Isle, June 6, Texas Motor Speedway

Likely dates, based on projections and similar weekends as in 2014:

  • June 20, Iowa, August 2, Mid-Ohio, August 23, Milwaukee, August 30, Sonoma

Question marks, where the date or venue could change:

  • Barber (should be either side of Long Beach in April), Houston (currently last weekend in June, not yet confirmed for same date in 2015), Pocono (possible from either last weekend in June through second weekend in July), Toronto (as mentioned above, neither venue nor date is confirmed), Fontana (date TBD; we’ll see how this week shakes out)

Wild cards, either new venues and/or the proposed international races:

  • Canada’s date du jour. Assume the Canadian Grand Prix occurs June 7, and with IndyCar at Texas June 6, that potential Toronto-Montreal date conflict is averted. Either late June or one of the July weekends could work for a CTMP, Mont-Tremblant or other random Canadian venue date. Toronto’s streets could work June 13, potentially, but that seems a likely off weekend.
  • New Orleans is possible for 2015 – Michael Andretti’s group seemed keen on it happening next year during his Milwaukee pre-race media availability.
  • The two locations mooted for the spring international races, likely in February or early March, are Dubai and Brazil. Details on those would need to be forthcoming, but they wouldn’t feature the new-for-2015 aero kits as they’re not delivered to teams until March 1. Of course, we’ve been down the “international race” path before without it actually going anywhere.
  • Road America. As mentioned above, unlikely for 2015, but we can dream, right?

CJ Wilson completes first test in Porsche GT3 Cup car

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Photo courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson’s new career is officially underway, following his retirement from professional baseball and now having completed his first test last week at Texas World Speedway in his new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Wilson, who formally announced the news he’d be transitioning into racing full-time during Rolex 24 at Daytona race week, did a two-day test at the still active oval/road course combo track in College Station, Texas. Wilson tested one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports (the team runs two in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) and then advanced into the Cup car.

Wilson got fairly close to teammate Marc Miller’s times during the test as he acclimated to both the Cup car and the Yokohama tires.

“It’s great to take another step towards my goals,” Wilson said. “We had a chance to burn through two sets of tires today and I made a lot of progress. Having Marc as my coach was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms. Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team, I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session.

“The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. TWS is a really fast and bumpy track. Looking forward to getting back in the car in ten days and pick up where I left off.”

Miller added, “CJ did great job, but I expected as much. He is logical and methodical which makes him easy to help and that translated into a very quick progression along the learning curve. Like any professional athlete though he is never truly satisfied because he wants to be perfect. He took quickly to the new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. Overall, it was a successful first outing and I look forward to working with CJ this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I’m likely fired.”

A teaser of on-board footage is below, along with a couple other social posts from the test:

Danny Watts: ‘Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  (l to r) Strakka Racing drivers Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane pose during the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship Photo Call on March 22, 2013 at Potters Fields in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Watts (left) with Leventis and Kane in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
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Sports car veteran driver Danny Watts has announced his retirement from active competition, but is in the news for an entirely different reason on Monday.

The 37-year-old Brit has announced he’s gay, penning a first-person piece for the Huffington Post and also doing interviews with both Daily Sportscar and Autosport. The latter article features a well-written op-ed from author Matt Beer.

In the Huffington Post piece, Watts, an eight-time starter and 2010 LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, wrote that hiding his sexuality in the heavily white male heterosexual world of motorsport was simply becoming too much to keep under wraps.

“There isn’t any one moment that stands out in my mind as the moment I realized I would need to live in the closet if I wanted my motorsport career to go anywhere; it was just a general feeling I got,” Watts wrote.

“All the other guys in the paddock had girlfriends, so I got one to blend in. When that relationship ended, I got another one, and so I continued pretending to be straight for seventeen years.

“Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain.

“I hope that there are a few people who are supportive. If the response I’ve had from the queer motorsport community thus far is any gauge, I feel hopeful that I’ll find a supportive group to start driving change for my queer siblings in the sport I love.”

Within the motorsports world, Watts’ name is best known to the sports car paddock, and he was a regular with the Strakka Racing team alongside co-drivers Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis. But he isn’t particularly known to the racing world at large.

This announcement comes as Watts has opted to call time on his full-time driving career and instead will focus on coaching for the future. It also represents one of the higher profile names in racing announcing his sexual orientation, which makes it newsworthy.

Despite some detractors (as you might expect), a number of other drivers and key motorsports figures have revealed their support for Watts, and why this news matters, on social media today:

Marino Franchitti returns to Mazda at Sebring

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15:  Left to right, Marino Franchitti, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett celebrate after winning the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Franchitti (left) won at Sebring in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Marino Franchitti will make his return to a Mazda entry for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be run March 18, as third driver in the team’s No. 70 Mazda RT24-P with Joel Miller and Tom Long.

The Scotsman competed in the team’s RX-8 and 6 models in the GT ranks but has been out of a drive since his role with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing last season in one of the team’s Ford GTs in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Franchitti replaces James Hinchcliffe, who was the third driver in the No. 70 car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll test for the team later this week at Sebring prior to the race run in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the year.

“A big part of those results are being with great teams and having great teammates. I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Franchitti, who co-drove to win overall at Sebring in 2014. “I love driving there, I always have since the first laps I did. It’s a proper old-school track. If you go over the limit, you crash, simple as that, rather than going onto some tarmac run-off like many tracks. I love the challenge of walking that tightrope. Of course, there’s the challenge of the bumps too, trying to get the car to handle over them and the beating the car and driver takes. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to endurance test their cars here, it’s the ultimate test of a vehicle and its durability.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s so cool to be coming back into the Mazda family,” said Franchitti. “Like everyone else, I was blown away when I saw the first shots of the RT24-P and how incredible it looks, so there’s a lot of excitement at getting to drive it. I’m relieved I get a chance to test the car, as many times I’ve just jumped in and raced, so this is a bit of a luxury! Being a part of the development process of a car is something I’ve been lucky enough to do several times and it’s something I really love.”

Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan added, “He’s a proven winner there, and he’s been a part of the Mazda family for years. Just look at his record at Sebring! He has the experience that can really help our team. Because he’s driven with Mazda before, we know his personality is a great fit. That’s important to us, and it goes a long way in helping the team chemistry remain strong. He’s a great fit with Tom [Long] and Joel [Miller], just as Spencer Pigot has been great with Nunez and Bomarito.”

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.