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Nearly 10 years after series merger, Coyne is last Champ Car team left

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Verizon IndyCar Series fans of a certain age might remember the term “transition teams,” which was used in 2008 when Champ Car and IndyCar announced a merger that brought an end to a divisive and nasty, 12-year split that hurt North American open-wheel racing.

Champ Car teams partnered with IndyCar teams for technical support to ease in the transition process, before striking out on their own as the 2008 season progressed.

Not all of the teams from Champ Car made it over. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, KV Racing Technology, HVM Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Conquest Racing all acquired the base Dallara chassis with Honda engines, with Pacific Coast Motorsports joining from Long Beach.

Rocketsports Racing, Walker Racing and Forsythe/Pettit Racing raced only at the Champ Car finale at Long Beach and were not seen under IndyCar team auspices again, although Derrick Walker had stints with Vision Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and INDYCAR itself in the coming years.

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 20: Will Power of Australia, driver of the #8 KV Racing Technology DP01 Ford Cosworth, leads the field at the start of the Champ Car World Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 20, 2008 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Anyway, those five teams provided nine cars, with two cars each for all teams except HVM, which only ran one. Once Pacific Coast joined, that made it six teams and 10 cars.

But one-by-one, as part of a larger loss of teams over this 10-year period, the teams have faded.

PCM was the first to go. Mario Dominguez’s last-ditch shot to make the Indianapolis 500 ended in the Turn 1 wall, and killed the team’s financial hopes for the year. Although Tyler Tadevic’s team made it the rest of the year, PCM’s time as an IndyCar entrant was done at the end of 2008. Tadevic remains active in racing via his TruSpeed Autosport team, which has had success in sports car racing.

Mike Lanigan shifted his minor ownership stake to what was Rahal Letterman Racing at the end of 2010 and the team is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The Newman/Haas name carried on for one more year into 2011 and Oriol Servia performed one of the best overachieving years in recent history when he finished fourth in the series, and James Hinchcliffe won rookie-of-the-year honors from a deep rookie class that also included JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Ana Beatriz, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes. With a lack of sponsorship and with new cars on the horizon for 2012, Newman/Haas folded over the winter, bringing to an end a near-30-year run of success.

Conquest, Eric Bachelart’s team, also failed to answer the 2012 bell despite a couple rumored drivers being linked to seats. Beatriz worked with Bachelart in an extra Andretti Autosport entry at selected 2012 races but the Conquest name was no more.

HVM, Keith Wiggins’ outfit, made it to 2012 but endured a nightmare season saddled with the uncompetitive Lotus engine. Simona de Silvestro did her best to press on and keep a brave face but it was for naught. She left for KV a year later and Wiggins’ time as a team owner ended, although like Bachelart, he was briefly involved with Andretti in one of its entries. Carlos Munoz’s car was entered under the Andretti-HVM banner a couple years ago.

This then brings us to KV, which went through various name changes over its history. Long story short, KV rose from PacWest’s ashes in 2003 and had numerous other co-owners beyond primary co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser. The team’s best success came in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 when Tony Kanaan scored his elusive first win there in the car co-owned by Kalkhoven, Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.

But that win proved a false dawn longer-term and outside of a handful of wins the last few years, there’s not been a consistent championship challenge. KV’s equipment has moved elsewhere – expected to be utilized by Juncos Racing ahead of its possible step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after plying its trade on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires (more via RACER.com on that) – and KV has now joined the list of teams that have left the grid.

“(With) that team that we won the biggest race of our lives together, and that’s the team that we struggled together, and I remember how we struggled to get where we got. And honestly, we only made it this far because of that win,” Kanaan told assembled reporters during the Phoenix test this weekend.

Pippa Mann at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So, this brings us to Dale Coyne Racing. We’ve written quite a bit about how much of a survivor Coyne is, with a tenure in the sport third only to A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske – that’s pretty illustrious company.

And with Coyne’s business savvy outside the track, but now a rare offseason of harmony where his program’s been set for months – not days – before the season opener at St. Petersburg, hopes are high the proverbial minnows will make inroads into the higher end of the top-10 on a more regular basis in 2017 with drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones, the latter of whom had a busy test.

It’s not a surprise that Coyne’s still here, nearly 10 years on from that merger. But as other teams from both the transition and IndyCar have dropped out, and the lack of new blood has entered, it’s left IndyCar requiring more from its existing owners to fill in the car count gaps.

Lest it seem that it’s just the Champ Car teams that have dropped out, the teams from the Indy Racing League arena haven’t all endured either. Since the 2008 regular season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, teams that were active then that aren’t now, full-time, are these: Panther Racing, Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Roth Racing, Sarah Fisher Racing and Dragon Racing (then Luczo Dragon Racing).

Anyway, that 28-car field featured cars from 16 teams (Penske 2, Ganassi 2, Andretti 4, Foyt 2, Rahal 1, KV 2, Newman/Haas 2, Coyne 2, Conquest 2, HVM 1, Panther 1, Vision 2, DRR 2, Roth 1, Fisher 1, Dragon 1).

Nearly 10 years later, the expected season opener at St. Petersburg will feature 21 cars from eight teams, with three of those teams holding 12 of the 21 cars (Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all 4, Foyt 2, Coyne 2, Carpenter 2, SPM 2, Rahal 1).

So over 10 years, Penske and Ganassi have added cars, Foyt’s added a second full-time car, Carpenter was born from Vision’s ashes and absorbed what was Fisher’s team, Bryan Herta joined with his own team and then joined Andretti Autosport, and SPM came from FAZZT (Alex Tagliani’s team), which came from Roth. Rahal also spent three years part-time only in IndyCar after a sponsor loss and came back full-time in 2012. So the new teams have more or less been present in other guises first.

To be fair, the economic recession of 2008 was a big part of hurting car counts for 2009, and IndyCar opened the 2009 season with just 22 cars at St. Petersburg. In subsequent years, the season opener has featured 24, 25, 26, 25, 22, 24 and 22 cars.

Fortunately, IndyCar enters 2017 with a lack of serious concerns over management, scheduling or the lineup.

But it could do with its next transition – to finding a way to attract new full-time teams to bolster the existing eight teams that are left.

Conor Daly set for American Ninja Warrior on NBC

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In a last-minute invite, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Conor Daly will get to participate in “American Ninja Warrior” on NBC. Daly posted an Instagram story with details about his call-up yesterday.

The driver of the No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet has had a busy week with testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. earlier this week, then shifted to San Antonio for a regional qualifier, where he would start training for the show.

The 25-year-old follows Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden – the latter of whom is Daly’s longtime friend and rival – who were all on the show last year.

The full release from INDYCAR is below:

Conor Daly is the latest Verizon IndyCar Series driver attempting to become an “American Ninja Warrior.”

Following in the athletic footsteps of fellow drivers Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden, Daly will venture to San Antonio this weekend to participate in a regional qualifier for the Emmy-nominated NBC obstacle course challenge show that will air its ninth season this summer.

Daly, 25, will make his bid to complete the challenge course sometime after dark Sunday night. The AJ Foyt Racing driver got a taste of the task ahead when the show held a regional competition last April in Indianapolis that included Castroneves, Kanaan and Newgarden as participants. Daly was permitted to try one of the obstacles, the Circuit Board, for an online segment of “American Ninja Warrior: Crashing the Course.”

While Daly didn’t fare well that day, he is excited to compete in San Antonio. The episode from the San Antonio regional is scheduled to air June 19, the Monday leading in to the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America (June 25, NBCSN).

“When I got the call saying it was a possibility for me to compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior,’ I was pretty stoked,” Daly said. “After seeing my fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers compete last year, it looked like a lot of fun. I haven’t had the chance to do much ninja training yet, but since we are already in season I’m pretty happy with my physical fitness level.

“I certainly was not born a nimble ninja, I’ve always been a bigger guy, so this should definitely be interesting.”

Since he experienced the “American Ninja Warrior” competition in 2016, Castroneves offered some sound advice for Daly.

“Take your time, don’t rush into the next obstacle,” the Team Penske driver said. “Obviously, observe the others that are able to pass through. Don’t focus on only one stage, that was my mistake last year. You should be thinking about the other ones. I was so worried about the first two that I forgot the third one. So if he can see all the stages and look through those things, hopefully he can do really well.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe hasn’t been through the grueling competition, but as one of Daly’s best friends, felt compelled to offer his advice as well.

“We saw last year with Josef, Helio and TK that it’s no mean feat to do that,” said Hinchcliffe. “Those guys are all good athletes and it certainly highlighted how difficult of a challenge that competing on it is. I wish him all the best and just hope he comes back in one piece.

“One thing I have to say is that he doesn’t get to come back after it and call himself a ninja. No way!”

“American Ninja Warrior” is conducting regional competitions in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Denver, Cleveland and Daytona Beach, Florida, over the next two months. Qualifiers from each of the regionals advance to the Las Vegas finals in late June. There, anyone who can conquer the Mt. Midoriyama course can win $1 million.

Castroneves, who has also represented INDYCAR on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Celebrity Family Feud,” recognizes the importance of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers appearing on popular national TV shows.

“It helps people who are not race fans see not only that drivers are athletes and able to do other things than driving a race car, but they can actually see the personality of each individual,” said the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “We all are able to demonstrate that we don’t need to be punching people to get attention.”

NBC’s partner network, NBCSN, is telecasting 12 Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2017.

Daniel Ricciardo: Australian GP pole ‘a stretch’ for Red Bull

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Daniel Ricciardo believes that scoring pole position for Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia would be “a stretch” for Red Bull following a difficult day of practice at Albert Park.

Red Bull appeared on-track with a much-revised RB13 car compared to the one that featured in pre-season testing, with a number of bodywork updates being brought in time for the Melbourne event.

Ricciardo and teammate Max Verstappen impressed to finish third and fourth in FP1, but could not carry this form through to second practice.

Ricciardo struggled for pace throughout the session, winding up fifth-fastest, while Verstappen’s running was cut short after he ran wide at Turn 12 and damaged the floor of his car.

Ricciardo revealed after the session that Red Bull had gone in the wrong direction on his setup, and that it would be taking a step back ahead of Saturday’s on-track running.

“I think this morning was promising and we tried a few things this afternoon. I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t work as much as we’d like,” Ricciardo said.

“So we’ll go back a bit and then understand what we can do better for tomorrow. I think Mercedes sure it quick, but it’s more Lewis [Hamilton] at the moment than Valtteri [Bottas].”

Hamilton finished half a second clear at the front of the pack in FP2, with Ricciardo a second off the Briton’s best lap time of 1:23.620.

While Ricciardo thinks pole is out of reach given Hamilton’s form, he is confident of battling with the second Mercedes of Bottas, who was third-fastest.

“Valtteri looks like he’s in our group or in the group with Ferrari, but I think we can be there,” Ricciardo said.

“Pole would be a stretch, but I think we can be in that next little group.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Ferrari’s F1 pre-season pace hard to find in Australian GP practice

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Following one of the most impressive pre-season performances in recent times, Ferrari headed into the new Formula 1 season facing the expectation and anticipation of a title challenge against Mercedes, the sport’s incumbent team to beat.

Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished as the two fastest drivers in Barcelona earlier this month, with the SF70H appearing to have locked in well to the new technical regulations for 2017.

For the first time since – one may argue – 2008, Ferrari entered the season looking like a serious title threat; perhaps even the fastest team.

Yet you would not have thought so judging by its Friday form in Australia as F1 got its official running underway for 2017.

FP1 saw both Vettel and Raikkonen lose track time due to some minor problems with their cars, the pair only getting in a couple of quick laps to leave them P5 and P6 overall.

Most expected a clearer picture to emerge in FP2 when both qualifying and race simulations would be completed by Mercedes and Ferrari, with Vettel and Raikkonen getting a chance to impress on low fuel and the ultra-soft tire compound.

But once again, they could not match the pace of three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who led Mercedes’ charge. Vettel finished the session second and beat Valtteri Bottas in the second W08 – but it was the half a second gap to Hamilton that sparked concern. Perhaps Ferrari testing form wasn’t all that it seemed.

Vettel downplayed the importance of Ferrari’s Friday display after the session, telling reporters that it would be Saturday in qualifying when its battle with Mercedes would play out in full.

“Today is not really that important. It’s very important but not if you look at the final standings and one lap only,” Vettel said.

“I think overall it’s been OK. We had some small trouble this morning that cost us some track time, so it took us a bit longer to get into the groove.

“Overall I think we can still improve. The car does not yet feel as good as it should and as it can, so I’m confident we can do something.”

Raikkonen – fourth-fastest in FP2 – echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“I didn’t really expect anything because it’s like in testing, we had no idea what others were doing, we only know what we are doing,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we cold have done slightly more straightforward running today and small things here and there, but I think overall we have to be happy and we go forward tomorrow.”

The true difference between Ferrari and Mercedes will become clear in qualifying – but until then, it is feasible that the game of bluffs that played out through testing may just be continuing.

Hamilton boosted by ’99 per cent perfect’ F1 practice in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton was given a boost ahead of the first round of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia on Sunday by enjoying a near-perfect day of practice at Albert Park.

Hamilton endured a difficult end to pre-season testing in Barcelona two weeks ago as Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel surged clear in the timesheets.

Ferrari’s pace was such that Hamilton said it was the favorite for victory this weekend in Melbourne, with the SF70H car produced by the Italian manufacturer appearing to have adjusted best to the new regulations for 2017.

Hamilton offered a plot twist in practice on Friday, though, heading up a Mercedes one-two in FP1 before leading once again in FP2, finishing half a second clear of the pack.

“It’s great to be back in Australia and I’m super happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect,” Hamilton said.

“After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn’t know if we’d have the same thing here. What’s really encouraging is that we’ve arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be. It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job.

“We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tires performed really well today too.”

Hamilton refused to read too much into Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari in practice, believing the true difference between the two teams will only become clear in qualifying on Saturday.

“Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be,” Hamilton said. “We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We’ll see tomorrow how it really stands.

“I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There’s always a great buzz here and a lot of support. I’m just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.