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Weekend schedule, other rules tweaks outlined for 2017 IndyCar season

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Switches to a couple elements of Verizon IndyCar Series weekends are coming ahead of the 2017 season, as outlined by the sanctioning body on Monday.

Two oval races at Phoenix Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park will see qualifying switch to race day, earlier in the afternoon on Saturday before the races Saturday night. This will see the return of regular race day action to an oval for the first time in more than a decade, although there have been a couple exceptions in recent years (Milwaukee 2015, where practice, qualifying and the race were all on one day and Texas’ restart last year, with a split practice before the race).

Both the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekends also see a slight alternation. The IndyCar activities on the IMS road course will take place over two days, just Friday and Saturday.

Detroit, which had split its qualifying format by using a standard road/street course format for race one and two groups for race two, now sees the latter format implemented for both races. For this session, there will be 12 minutes of track time allotted for each qualifying group (with five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time). Qualifying groups for Belle Isle will be based on best lap times from the practice session immediately preceding Race 1 qualifications. If a car causes a red-flag situation during a qualifying session, its best two timed laps will be disallowed and it will not be permitted to continue in the session. One driver and entrant championship point will be awarded to the fastest car in each qualifying group on both days.

For most road/street course events, practice sessions on the first day will have standardized start times of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local, and both will be 45 minutes apiece.

A bigger rules tweak comes in INDYCAR’s push-to-pass system. Rather than going by a number of uses, it will be based on a maximum time allotment for each car instead of the number of uses. The events at the streets of St. Petersburg, Raceway at Belle Isle Park and Sonoma Raceway will have a total overtake time allotment of 150 seconds for each race, with the other road/street races set for 200 seconds. Drivers can now disengage the system if they so desire to save seconds if they’ve hit it for a straight. And perhaps most crucially, push-to-pass will not be available at the start of a race or for any restarts, with the exception of a restart commencing with two laps remaining in the race.

“INDYCAR consulted with our various stakeholders – teams, drivers, event promoters – to refine the weekend schedules and generate the most value and excitement for everyone,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, said in a release. “These changes are subtle but will enhance the race weekend experience for everyone involved, most particularly our fans.”

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.