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IndyCar’s winter hibernation coming to an end with plenty to come

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The Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off its promotional efforts for 2017 with its “NEXT” video that launched just after the new year, while more concrete “next” items will come here over the coming weeks.

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams got the 2017 testing underway with all four of its cars running on the Sebring International Raceway short course. From what’s been gathered, the test went very well for the quartet of drivers, now running the Honda aero kit and power unit for the first time in road or street course configuration. It remains to be seen what Scott Dixon’s car will look like commercially speaking following Target’s departure, and whether the No. 9 Honda will have a primary partner by the Feb. 10-11 open test in Phoenix is up for debate.

This was Ganassi’s makeup test at Sebring for its lost day on December 9. Dale Coyne Racing will test on January 24-25 for its makeup days, and that test will provide Coyne rookie Ed Jones his first running with the team in a rookie day on the 24th before his formal first test on the 25th.

Silly season has all but come to an end. Spencer Pigot is all-but-formally-confirmed as the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is yet to formally confirm Mikhail Aleshin as its second driver, even though this has been a widely assumed continuation throughout the winter. Meanwhile with staff reductions having occurred at what was KVSH Racing, whether that team makes the grid in any capacity in just over two months at St. Petersburg is now doubtful.

From an INDYCAR future car standpoint, it looks likely that the process of revealing the 2018 common aero kit will begin this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As with most new car rollouts, you’ll generally see a rendering or renderings before the car itself. Forecasting further, from a buzz standpoint, you figure INDYCAR would want to have the kit itself revealed in the month of May when there’s generally the most media attention around the Indianapolis 500. And then the kit’s public track testing would figure to come in the fall.

Speaking of media, an informal media day takes place January 18-19 in Indianapolis for INDYCAR winter meetings. It won’t be a formal media day as it has been the last two years.

IndyCar drivers will be omnipresent at two of January’s bigger race events. At the Race of Champions event in Miami from Jan. 21-22, confirmed drivers include 2017 full-timers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves, along with fellow veterans Juan Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves.

Conor Daly has been nominated as a finalist for ROC Factor North America to be Hinchcliffe’s teammate, and has worked to achieve votes to make the race as well. The talented young American’s been locked in a fierce battle with underrated Edmonton native Stefan Rzadzinski, who has raced in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires before shifting into the Nissan Micra Cup ranks.

“RHR,” “TK” and “Hinch” are then three of 11 IndyCar drivers who competed at some point in 2016 who will be a part of the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. The other eight include Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot, RC Enerson, Townsend Bell, Sage Karam and Jack Hawksworth.

Then the calendar kicks into February, more testing occurs and the countdown to St. Petersburg March 12 really kicks into high gear.

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”