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MRTI: Dickerson primed for success with rare 2-year deal in place at NWR

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Two-year deals in open-wheel junior series racing are about as frequent as 30-degree weather in San Diego. They occasionally happen, but it’s usually once in a blue moon, at best.

Luckily for San Diego native Dakota Dickerson, he got that “30-degree weather day” equivalent to kick off this month, with confirmation of a two-year deal coming with Newman Wachs Racing.

Newman Wachs Racing starred during its four-year run in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship from 2006 through 2009, with drivers such as John Edwards, JR Hildebrand, Simona de Silvestro, Jonathan Summerton and Markus Niemela among those who raced for them. Edwards won the 2009 title in the last year of Champ Car Atlantic, before the series came back to life under a new promoter several years later.

NWR however dipped off the radar in the years since. Team co-owner Paul Newman died in fall of 2008 and Eddie Wachs only carried on as a team owner into the following year. But the opportunity to come back arose following the USF2000’s launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, and NWR is one of the marquee teams entering the championship as a result.

In Dickerson, a past Team USA Scholarship winner and Mazda scholarship recipient who made big strides over the course of his first USF2000 campaign this year with Afterburner Autosport, the team has found a driver they can grow with who already has experience.

And Dickerson has the peace of mind knowing he’ll be set for two years, with USF2000 this year and Pro Mazda set for 2018, in the new Tatuus PM-18.

“Yeah, I know, it’s awesome. Especially this early in my career. It’s really nice,” Dickerson told NBC Sports. “The credit goes to the team for believing in me and wanting to put something together like this. A large portion of it, too, is the fact the USF 2000 Pro Mazda chassis going to be the same, so if we’re putting all our time and resources into developing the USF car, it just makes sense to go up and do the Pro Mazda car together, as well.”

Dickerson met team manager Brian Halahan in August when the team announced its return plans. He visited the shop following the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, met Wachs, and clicked rather instantly. He was signed following a successful private test.

While Dickerson, who turned 20 on December 2, was in his early teen years when NWR was racing in Atlantics, he paid attention to their pedigree.

“When they were in Atlantics, I was running go-karts and one of their Atlantic drivers, Markus Niemela was a good friend,” Dickerson said. “So it was kind of weird to hear their name when I was 12-years-old and now getting to run with them.

“And everybody in the series, since Newman Wachs is running in the Atlantics, they told me a bit about their background and it all kind of clicked and made sense.”

Dickerson’s first season in USF2000 turned a corner starting at Lucas Oil Raceway end of May. He had an eighth place on debut in a crash-marred season opener in St. Petersburg but only finished better than 13th once in the next five races. From Lucas Oil through the end of the year, Dickerson was 12th or better in 10 straight races, with a best stretch of fourth in Toronto race two, then two fifths and a sixth at Mid-Ohio. He ended ninth in points.

“A lot of it was a learning process. I didn’t get to spend as much time with the Afterburner team as I would have liked to in the offseason,” Dickerson explained.

“So we were learning a lot together throughout the season and a lot of it clicked, a lot of things started to come together. We brought on a driver coach, Barry Waddell, and he was real helpful at Mid-Ohio and kind of just getting me used to running with this team. A lot of it just came together in the last half and I think a lot of our success was due to that.”

The new, wider Cooper Tires on the new USF-17 car will require a bit of adapting but Dickerson seems to have a good handle on it.

“The tires are a lot wider, a lot more mechanical grip,” he said. “It seemed like it was hard to tell between whether it was the brakes that were more efficient or the tires in general. But overall, just so much more grip overall with the new tires, the bigger tires. I don’t know what’s different with the compound, but just a lot more grip.”

Dickerson should be the team leader as Newman Wachs plans to run at least three cars, engineered by Alan O’Leary, look set to tackle the series next year.

“We can get after it now. We’ve taken care of the logistics for the next two years and it’s just nice to focus on the driving aspect for as much as we can and I’m really excited to get preseason testing going.”

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.