Roger Penske

Team Penske on verge of ending 8-year IndyCar title drought

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I’m not sure whether Roger Penske, or his right-hand man Tim Cindric, has Etta James’ “At Last” in their iTunes library.

But that may well be the song that would best describe the end to an eight-year title drought if Team Penske does, as it’s very likely to do, capture the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway.

Going back 20 years, Penske swept through the 1994 IndyCar season with a top-three sweep of the championship, led by Al Unser Jr.

The following year began a six-year title drought, dating until the year 2000, when Penske performed a radical team shakeup.

Gone were Unser Jr., Penske chassis, Mercedes engines and Goodyear tires; in were Gil de Ferran and his then-unheralded Brazilian countryman Helio Castroneves (who began the year with a hyphen in his surname), Reynard chassis, Honda engines and Firestone tires.

De Ferran ended Penske’s title drought in a year when 11 different drivers won races during the CART season and no less than eight drivers still had a mathematical chance at the title in the final two races.

If this all sounds like déjà vu, as we head into the 2014 season finale, it’s because it basically is.

De Ferran’s place in the role of star-who-would-be-but-hasn’t-been-champion-yet is Will Power, who since joining Penske full-time in 2010 (and part-time in 2009) has long been IndyCar’s fastest but never its finest driver.

Castroneves completes his 15th season with Penske this weekend and 17th overall, still in search of his elusive first title.

Juan Pablo Montoya has arrived back on the scene – for the first time since 2000 – and added a third set of valuable data and an invaluable presence on track.

In 2014, we’ve had 10 different race winners. We are guaranteed a first-time series champion with Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the last two champs, set to be mathematically eliminated once Power takes the green flag Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

All the stars are aligning for Penske to end its run without a title since 2006, and it would take a minor miracle for Simon Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, 81 points back of Power, to pull it off.

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada noted earlier this week, and I’ve noticed all season from the season opener in St. Petersburg, Power has been in a much better mental state most of if not all the season.

He’s overcome a mid-season run of penalties that threatened to destroy his title chances yet again; he’s also officially conquered ovals, and put to rest any notion that these aren’t in his wheelhouse.

Castroneves has done enough, once again, to be in title contention heading into the finale. He’s not entering Fontana in great form at the moment – four consecutive finishes outside the top-10 have cost him 79 points and turned him from 28 up to 51 down to his teammate.

Still, he’s smart and savvy enough to remain focused and committed in a 500-miler, and he will factor into the win.

The Penske pair made their championship charge early this year with three wins in the first seven races, and they’ve stayed atop the points heap despite their rivals’ challenges.

Meanwhile the Chip Ganassi Racing team – by its illustrious standards – stumbled out of the gates while adapting to an engine change and two of its four drivers also changing. Additionally, Andretti Autosport had the opposite season trajectory, with a fast start and a roller coaster second half with more downs than ups.

It’s been Penske that’s stayed consistent, yet fast, all season. Heading into Fontana, Penske has led 938 of 2,145 laps this season – a staggering 43.72 percent – between Power (615), Castroneves (241) and Juan Pablo Montoya (82).

Ganassi has the second-most laps led this season… with 440, less than half that.

The three Penske teammates have made 12 Firestone Fast Six appearances (Power 6, Castroneves 5, Montoya 1). Andretti, with four drivers, made only one more (13).

And outside of a handful of rough qualifying weekends, the three Penske teammates have given themselves less of a hassle on race days, with solid qualifying performances. Castroneves has an average grid position of 6.0, Power 7.7 this year.

All told, this has been the year where minimal outside influences have conspired to knock Penske down, and the team has been the class of the field in an intensely competitive season.

It’s time “The Captain” is rewarded with another IndyCar championship, because either Power or Castroneves has done enough to earn it.

FIA welcomes Liberty Media’s arrival

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has approved Liberty Media Corporation’s acquisition of Formula 1 in its first formal comments after the change.

In a statement released Tuesday, the FIA and its president, Jean Todt, sought to thank Bernie Ecclestone for his governance over his 40-year rein at the head of the sport.

Meanwhile there was also a small word of welcoming to the new group, led by F1’s new chairman/CEO, Chase Carey.

The full statement is below:

The world governing body of motor sport, the FIA wishes to thank the outgoing CEO of the Formula One Group, Bernie Ecclestone for more than 40 years of dedication to the FIA Formula One World Championship and as a member of both the F1 Commission and World Motor Sport Council.

The FIA was responsible for creating Formula One when it established the first regulations for the category in 1946.

The Federation remains committed to regulating the FIA Formula One World Championship fairly, safely, and in the best interests of the sport – as it has strived to do since its inception 67 years ago.

The FIA President, Jean Todt, congratulated the new owners of the Formula One Group, Liberty Media Corporation.

“As Formula One’s governing body, the FIA would like to welcome the new CEO, Chase Carey and his entire team to the Championship.

“The whole FIA organization is looking forward to working closely together, with the common goal of improving and growing the sport further with the support of the highly recognized skills of Liberty Media Corporation in the media and sport domains.”

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTLM

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No. 66 Ford GT and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the first of two GT classes, the GT Le Mans class. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

An 11-car grid features one new car (the new mid-rear-engined Porsche 911 RSR), one set of new entries (the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GTs, to make a four-car total phalanx of Fords) and seven remaining leftover entries from last year from Corvette, Ford, BMW and Ferrari.

No. 4 Corvette C7.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 4 Corvette C7.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 3 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller
Roar Time: 1:44.738 (7)

Outlook: The No. 3 Corvette took the 2015 Rolex 24 win, although that seems a relative eternity ago after Garcia’s nail-biting loss to Gavin 12 months ago. The trio on the Danny Binks-led No. 3 car would be a popular winner, if it could deliver Corvette Racing its third straight Rolex 24 win.

No. 4 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
Roar Time: 1:44.717 (5)

Outlook: The defending race and class series champions return an unchanged lineup and car that is once again one of the favorites, albeit hoping to win by a slightly bigger margin this go-around than the 0.034 sliver of a second last year. Fassler was lucky to escape a fuel-induced fire that ignited the car at the Roar.

No. 19 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 19 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 19 BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M6 GTLM
Drivers: Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler
Roar Time: 1:44.764 (8)

Outlook: It’ll be interesting to see how new BMW recruit Sims gets on, and to see what the reaction is to the John Baldessari-designed “Art Car” livery that adorns this entry.

No. 24 BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M6 GTLM
Drivers: John Edwards, Martin Tomczyk, Kuno Wittmer, Nicky Catsburg
Roar Time: 1:44.692 (3)

Outlook: Proof that test times mean nothing, BMW was one and three at the Roar last year and exactly nowhere at the Rolex 24. It was a frustrating 2016 campaign for the team and this new lineup, with Tomczyk and Catsburg as new additions, look to bolster Edwards and Wittmer in this entry.

No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 62 Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, James Calado
Roar Time: 1:44.705 (4)

Outlook: Risi enters with a significantly better turn of fortune this Rolex 24 compared to last year when they were scrambling to get their new 488 GTE. With the team scoring a popular win at Petit Le Mans to end 2016, look for them to come out firing with the good all-‘rounder of a car and a lineup that’s achieved numerous 24-hour wins at Le Mans before.

All four Ford GTs. Photo: Wes Duenkel/Ford Performance
All four Ford GTs. Photo: Wes Duenkel/Ford Performance

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
Roar Time: 1:44.719 (6)

Outlook: This trio got the 24-hour win that counted just a bit more in 2016 at Le Mans, and are much better prepared for this year’s Rolex 24 after a year’s worth of testing, running and reliability pitfalls now hopefully behind them. Bourdais and Hand have past overall wins at Daytona and look for class wins to match.

No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon
Roar Time: 1:44.380 (1)

Outlook: It’s a slight change for the team that nearly won the GTLM title last year overall with Dixon now moving into the GT at Daytona after running DPs for years. Never had a chance to contend last year after early reliability woes, and should be much better sorted this go-around.

No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Olivier Pla, Stefan Muecke, Billy Johnson
Roar Time: 1:44.808 (9)

Outlook: Pla’s bounced around various prototypes in recent years at Daytona (OAK, Krohn and Shank all in Onroak chassis), Muecke primarily in Astons before making his first Ford start last year, and Johnson has always seemingly got last-minute deals without much of a chance to showcase himself in the factory GT ranks. This is perhaps the most well-rounded sports car-only lineup of Ganassi’s quartet this month.

No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan
Roar Time: 1:44.645 (7)

Outlook: As the only one of Ganassi’s four lineups that’s new as a collective unit this year, this is likely the slightest of underdogs among the Ford GT “fearsome foursome.” Tincknell’s blossomed into a star, Priaulx’s reliable and so how Kanaan gets on in his Ford GT race debut will be the target to watch.

Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 911 Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Pilet, Dirk Werner, Fred Makowiecki
Roar Time: 1:44.874 (10)

Outlook: The first of the two mid-rear-engined new 911s features Porsche returnee and new factory driver Werner back alongside past GTLM champion Pilet, the 2014 Rolex 24 champ, and the enigmatic Makowiecki. Given the new variables, it’s hard to project a debut win for this trio.

No. 912 Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz
Roar Time: 1:45.037 (11)

Outlook: The No. 912 car ensures the No. 911 isn’t alone in new components. Audi GT3 ace Vanthoor makes his Porsche factory debut while the fast, fearless Estre has received the privilege of a full-time race seat, after mistakes occurred in his all-too-few U.S. opportunities last year. Lietz is then the Porsche factory veteran here. A podium would be a good result on debut.

Four Ford GTs determined to rise to top of GTLM crop at Rolex 24

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Photo: Ford Performance
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Since winning its first Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2006, Chip Ganassi Racing has never been absent more than two consecutive years from victory lane in the 11 years since. Overall wins have followed in 2007, 2008, and then again in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

This being an odd-numbered year, and with the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team expanding back to four Ford GTs as it did at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last summer, hopes are high within the Ganassi camp that it will now add the Rolex 24 with the Ford GT to its win list.

After last year, the new car debuted with a litany of mechanical errors, few of which were forecast after a thorough and comprehensive testing program in the buildup. It was a brutal start to the program but one which was quickly eradicated.

But the car obviously improved from a reliability standpoint and just a few months after its debut in Daytona, had achieved its first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before dominating at Le Mans.

The Ford Ganassi crew is leaving no doubt of its desire to topple the rest of the GT Le Mans field at this year’s Rolex 24. With the four-car entry – two Multimatic-run, Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK entries from the FIA World Endurance Championship joining the two full-season IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entries – the team and manufacturer has double the number of cars of any other manufacturer within the 11-car class.

As such, with only two Corvette C7.Rs, two BMW M6 GTLMs, two of the new debuting Porsche 911 RSRs and a single Ferrari 488 GTE, the odds are firmly in Ganassi’s favor. The car was also top of the heap at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.

A Ford GT win too would also accomplish the feat of ending Corvette Racing’s two-year run, and stopping the manufacturer from a three-peat with its incredibly well-oiled machine.

“Having all four cars here in Daytona is really great, as some might say safety in numbers, but truthfully it’s a huge advantage to be able to test a range of different set ups,” explained Richard Westbrook, who shares the No. 67 Ford with Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

Joey Hand, whose eventual career shift from BMW to Ford and Ganassi saw the seeds planted when he was part of Ganassi’s 2011 overall victory, added the sheer volume of capacity from Ganassi is something to behold.

“Well, it feels like Le Mans now, it’s the first time we have had all of the cars competing together since the win at Le Mans,” said Hand, who won Le Mans with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais; the trio will share the No. 66 Ford. “Obviously having four cars really ups the odds for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing to have a win here at Daytona.”

The wild cards for Ganassi on U.S. soil among the quartet of GTs are the two European-based entries, all of whom are high on outright talent but not as high on formal Daytona experience. Stefan Muecke, Olivier Pla, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell have a handful of Rolex starts between them and surprisingly, this marks Tincknell’s Daytona debut.

“It’s going to be amazing. Obviously at (the back-to-back IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/FIA World Endurance Championship races at) COTA, it was great to hook up and use the IMSA guys to give us information because their race was before ours, which helped us a lot,” Priaulx, who shares the No. 69 Ford with Tincknell and Tony Kanaan, explained.

“Now having four cars working toward one goal gives us all a more positive chance to try and win one of the best races in the world. I think it’s great for Ford to commit to this race in such a big way. It shows the dedication and passion to win. That’s something that’s very important to me as a driver. It motivates you when you see that sort of commitment coming in. Hopefully we can deliver for Ford and everybody at Ganassi.”

It might be Billy Johnson who helps this group the most. One of only two Americans in Ford’s 12-driver lineup, Johnson was instrumental in the test and development work of the Ford GT and has been rewarded for his efforts with a place on board. Unfortunately for him, despite winning the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge championship last year, his new Platinum rating has affected his ability to defend that title. Nonetheless, with a mix of both car and Daytona experience in his pocket, Johnson is the under-the-radar ace in the hole that could emerge a star in the stacked GTLM class.

“Just before Christmas I was doing more development work on the Ford GT and running some more in Mustangs. I was definitely staying busy for Ford,” said Johnson, who is the No. 68 Ford with Pla and Muecke.  “(It’s been) a lot of working out. Running and eating right and just making sure I’m in good condition for putting in the best performance I can at the race.”

Johnson’s one of the four “extra” drivers as you were, and the only full-time sports car driver among them. Bourdais and Dixon have easily acclimated to the Ford GT, while Kanaan looks forward to his debut in the twin-turbo, EcoBoost V6 beast. Bourdais and Dixon are past overall winners at the Rolex 24 and look to add class wins to their resumes.

“We had so little experience and starting the year and career of the car with a 24-hour race was like asking, ‘Hey, how much harder could we make it?'” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “Overall it was a painful experience because it didn’t go anywhere near what we wanted, which makes Le Mans even more remarkable.

“To be honest the oddball was Daytona because we never suffered that many problems. It all gathered for Daytona and it was like, what is going on? How is this possible? We ran… not problem-free, but ran a lot of laps without problems in testing. It was so weird. But then running four cars with no major problems at Le Mans was a testament to the performance.”

Dixon added to NBC Sports, “With a car like this you have a bit more leg room and things to try. Different development pieces. I’m not so immersed in the program. But for me, it’s coming to do some miles and make sure I can help everything run smooth.

“Winning here in 2006 and 2015 is huge, because it’s such a tough race to get everything race. Many times we’ve been in the hunt and the sister car has won when we haven’t. It’s a different style of race. It’s great for team building, learning setups.

“As far as races go, there’s key ones you want to win. Daytona is definitely on that list.”

Ford’s winning legacy at Daytona includes six overall triumphs, including the first 24-hour race at Daytona in 1966 with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby in a Ford GT40 Mk. II.

“We’re ready to get this second season started with Ford GT,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “We walked away from last year happy with what we were able to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean the job’s done. The team did a great job preparing in the very short off-season and we believe we’re prepared to compete for championships in 2017.”

Ganassi added, “Overall, when you look back at 2016, I would say ‘mission accomplished’ when it came to debuting this program with Ford. We won races, competed for the championship in both IMSA and WEC and of course won in Le Mans. Like any new program, you’re going to have some growing pains as we did here in Daytona but we have worked through all of those and finished 2016 strong. This year is a totally different scenario. Not only do we have four cars instead of two, we also have a 24-hour win under our belts and a season’s worth of experiences with this car. I can’t wait to see what this year’s race brings.”

New F1 CEO keen for ’21 Super Bowls’ per season, U.S. expansion

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari line up on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Newly-appointed Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey has set his sights on expanding race weekend events and turning each race into its own Super Bowl-style event.

Carey was appointed F1 chairman back in September before becoming CEO on Monday following the completion of Liberty Media’s takeover of the series.

Long-standing CEO Bernie Ecclestone resigned from his role to make way for Carey, who will run F1 alongside commercial chief Sean Bratches and ex-Ferrari and Benetton technical boss Ross Brawn.

Carey confirmed on Tuesday that the decision to change F1’s management structure was sparked by Liberty’s belief that the series had not reached its full growth potential in recent years.

Speaking on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Carey identified sponsorship as being a key area where F1 could grow quickly, as well as stressing the need to increase the show surrounding race weekends, drawing a comparison to the Super Bowl.

“The one that grows the fastest is sponsorship,” Carey said when asked about revenue streams.

“Right now we have a one-man sponsorship [team]. There are many categories we’re not selling into. We have signage we’re not selling. We need to execute on that.

“The opportunity in the event side is to make our events bigger, broader. We have 21 events… we need 21 Super Bowls.

“Realistically, they should be weeklong extravaganzas with music and activity, not just at the track. Over time the goal is to grow that dimension.”

Carey also wants to harness the popularity and global awareness of F1’s star drivers, identifying Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen as two of the sport’s top names that need to be more accessible to fans.

“We have great stars. Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, an 18-year-old who broke out,” Carey said.

“We have wonderful stars, incredible cars. We have to create the vehicles to allow the fans to connect to them.”

Liberty’s arrival as F1’s new owner has led to much speculation that it is set to expand the sport’s presence in the United States, a market that has traditionally proven difficult to crack.

Currently there is just one annual grand prix held in the United States, taking place at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, but Carey wants to bring F1 to some of America’s biggest cities.

“The U.S. is a real opportunity for us. There’s real upside for us in the U.S. market,” Carey said.

“We want destination cities: Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas. That way, people would come to for a weeklong event.”