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Photo: IndyCar

Busy Phoenix test sees more than 5,000 laps banked

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In total, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at Phoenix International Raceway consisted of four sessions: two during the day and two during the evening, each lasting three hours. There were 23 car/driver combinations that turned laps (of note: 21 cars were entered, but Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi each took laps in the other’s car).

Because of the number of sessions and cars participating, the lap count was expected to be relatively high. Several drivers completed more than 100 laps in at least one session, with a handful even doing so in multiple sessions.

Among the notable drivers to break the 100-lap barrier was Graham Rahal, driving a lone entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “I don’t know why, but our guys like to pound laps, so that’s all right. We’ll just keep driving when they tell me to,” he quipped after the Friday evening session, in which he turned 114 laps.

For Rahal, the track time as a single-car entry over the weekend was paramount in maximizing the team’s efforts. “One of my concerns is always just stalling out,” he explained. “As a single car, you see the amount of laps we’re pounding here, and we have to. I mean, we’re trying things on tires we probably shouldn’t be running on, but we have to try to do things because as a single car you’re only getting knowledge from one source.”

Another driver who enjoyed a heavy workload was Josef Newgarden on his first major outing in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden accounted for 99 laps on Friday night and 114 laps on Saturday night. For Newgarden, it presented a great opportunity to spend more time with his new team. “The Verizon 2 car team is all new to me, so they’re not new to each other, so there’s great continuity there, but I’m new to the group,” he detailed. “So they’re trying to understand me and I’m trying to understand them.”

Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais also cracked the 100-lap mark during a session, putting 103 laps of work in on Saturday night. For Bourdais, it was an opportunity to get reacquainted with Craig Hampson, with whom he won four consecutive championships in the Champ Car World Series between 2004 and 2007, and run through a myriad of changes to the chassis. “The guys did a great job. I don’t recall that I’ve ever gone through so many changes, big changes on the car over a two-day test, and we got out of this with a very happy car,” said the Frenchman.

However, the prize for the most laps turned goes to defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud, who totaled 303 laps across both days, including a whopping 124 on Friday night. For Pagenaud, it helped knock the rust off. A stalwart at the Rolex 24 in past years, Pagenaud elected to forego a driving opportunity at the 2017 edition of the endurance classic, especially after a busy off-season. “It’s been a busy winter with the championship and all the appearances everywhere in the world,” said Pagenaud, who did a tour of France, among other appearances, following his championship run. “It was good for me to get some time off, stay with my family. That’s something I really needed.”

For Pagenaud, the Phoenix test marked his first significant driving duty since the Petit Le Mans in early October. “This year I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for my program and for being pretty focused with Penske at attacking another title,” he said of his decision to forego the Rolex 24, though he did attend as a spectator.

The 21 drivers who participated at the Phoenix test completed 5,134 laps across all four sessions. The next open test takes place at Barber Motorsports Park on March 21, just over a week after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

NHRA: Leah Pritchett sets new quickest national elapsed time record

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Photo: Don Schumacher Racing
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Pomona Winternationals winner Leah Pritchett added to her incredible start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, one she came in with high hopes with anyway, with a slightly bigger accomplishment:

She set a new national elapsed time record for a 1,000-foot distance in NHRA history.

Pritchett, who drives the Don Schumacher Racing-entered, Todd Okuhara-tuned Papa John’s Top Fuel dragster, ran a 3.658-second pass at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Friday outside Phoenix during the first day of qualifying for this weekend’s Arizona Nationals. The speed was 329.34 mph.

Incidentally, both Pritchett and Courtney Force set unofficial best times in Top Fuel and Funny Car testing, also at Wild Horse Pass, earlier this month.

You could barely put a piece of cheese between Pritchett’s two times; her time at the test was 3.654 seconds, but because that’s a test it is not an official mark.

The previous official record in competition was a 3.671-second pass, which Steve Torrence set July 31, 2016 at Sonoma.

“To be behind the wheel of this machine that is constantly putting out time and time again fast numbers and quick numbers is, to be honest, a little bit difficult to comprehend,” Pritchett said, via NHRA.com. “It’s everything that dreams are made of. It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s not.”

For good measure, Pritchett’s teammate Tony Schumacher also eclipsed Torrence’s old mark with a side-by-side run to second at 3.667 seconds, and 323 mph and change in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.

Force led the Funny Car charts on the first day of qualifying, while Jason Line led Pro Stock. Both drivers drive Chevrolets.

Lest Force’s day be overshadowed, she set a record of her own. Force broke the track’s elapsed time and speed records during the opening session of qualifying for Sunday’s NHRA Arizona Nationals with a pass of 3.838 seconds at 332.67 mph.

Force lost to Matt Hagan in the Pomona finals while Line beat his KB Racing teammate, Greg Anderson, for the Pomona win.

Butterball, Andretti Autosport extension is all gravy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Andretti Autosport and Butterball, a U.S.-based provider of turkey and poultry products, announced a new expansion of their partnership. The newly revamped agreement will see Butterball branding on all four Andretti Autosport entries in 2017.

“Butterball has been a great partner since 2014 and I’m really excited to have them on board again this year,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay. “They were with me when I won the Indianapolis 500 which was a really special moment for everyone involved. Hopefully we can bring them back into victory lane this year, not only at Indy, but throughout the season as well.”

The machines of Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato will feature branding just below the front suspension components. Per the announcement, the placement has created a new nickname for the assembly: “the Butterball Wishbone.”

“Butterball is extremely excited about our sponsorship with Andretti Autosport in 2017,” said Butterball CEO and President Kerry Doughty. “With the addition of the new Butterball Wishbone Sponsorship on all Andretti Autosport Indy cars for the 2017 season, we are expanding the tremendously successful relationship that began with Michael and Ryan in 2014 when we won the Indianapolis 500 in our first season.”

Butterball’s tenure with Andretti Autosport dates back to May 2014, shortly before Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed victory at the Indianapolis 500. Branding has been featured on Hunter-Reay No. 28 entry ever since.

Newgarden completes busy day in Detroit

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Josef Newgarden’s media prowess and charisma was again in full display on Thursday during a series promotional efforts for June’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

Specifically, Newgarden was in town for Detroit Grand Prix night at that night’s Pistons-Hornets NBA game.

The day began with Newgarden visiting a handful of Detroit news media outlets, where his most notable venture involved duking it out with Pistons mascot Hooper.

The day continued with Newgarden exploring more of the city, and getting in touch with its rock ‘n roll history.

That, Newgarden ventured to The Palace of Auburn Hills to the big promotional event of day, Detroit Grand Prix night. There, Newgarden was greeted with his own Detroit Pistons jersey and even tried a couple of half-court shots at halftime. However, he did not make any, making it less likely he’ll pursue a basketball career when he decides to hang up his helmet.

For an additional recap Detroit Grand Prix night, visit The Chevrolet’s Detroit Grand Prix twitter @detroitgp.

Entry lists revealed for MRTI Spring Training in Miami

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Kyle Kaiser in Miami, 2015. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The first real good, if not final, looks at the season to come in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires come with next week’s Spring Training, which sees four total days of action at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for all three rungs of the ladder.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will run February 27 on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval and March 2 on the 2.21-mile road course. Meanwhile the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will run solely on the road course over two back-to-back days, February 28 and March 1.

Indy Lights’ field seems closest to being finalized from this group, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 still have some gaps to fill.

In one other bit, Mazda will announce the teams of competition for its Soul Red-liveried drivers this year, all of whom won Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships for their next step up this year. That’s why Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights), Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) teams are listed as TBAs.

Anyway, quick notes:

Indy Lights (14 cars

All drivers on the Indy Lights entry list have been officially announced, and as noted, Telitz’s team is the only significant TBA of note. Car numbers are revealed for Zachary Claman De Melo and Matheus Leist at Carlin of 13 and 26 respectively, with the known in advance.

In terms of team breakdown, it’s four each at Carlin and Andretti Autosport (with Colton Herta’s No. 98 car an Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry), Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing each with two official cars and Team Pelfrey the lone one-car entry.

Of the 14 drivers, the field is split exactly in half between seven veterans and seven rookies.

Questions from here are whether one or two more cars not at this test will join the grid at St. Petersburg and push the number back up. Since the debut of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the St. Pete weekend has had 13 cars in 2015 and 16 cars last year, with this one falling in the middle.

Pro Mazda (6 cars)

In what’s very much a survive-and-advance season for Pro Mazda in the final year with its existing car, a small batch of cars come from Team Pelfrey, World Speed Motorsports and the team TBA for Anthony Martin for this test.

Within a 20-to-30-plus, multiple-class series of racing, six cars for one class wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But six on their own for an independent series is certainly an issue. The number simply has to grow by St. Petersburg to at least eight at a bare minimum, the low-water mark last year, with 10 a significant step forward at this rate (the series had 12 cars at St. Petersburg last year).

USF2000 (22 cars)

Quite by contrast, the new Tatuus USF-17 premieres in USF2000 with 22 cars at this test and the potential of more cars by St. Petersburg (the series had 26 starters last year with two additional withdrawals).

Six returning drivers join 12 rookies and four TBAs on this list, all split among 10 teams. Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, initially announced as driving for Benik in 2017, is listed in a third Newman Wachs Racing entry for this test.