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Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull GRC: Lites champ Cabot Bigham steps up with Herta

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Californian driver Cabot Bigham’s social media channels branded him a year ago with the moniker of “Follow the Ham,” which is both clever and accurate at the same time.

For one, it makes a fun play on words of his surname – Bigham immediately makes one break the word down into “Big Ham,” which then leads to thinking about bacon, which then leads to the logo that has developed for his driver identity.

And second, perhaps more importantly, it’s a perfect double meaning for what “Following” the Ham actually means. From a social media context, it means following him via his various posts. But on the race track, it means others were following him on track.

Bigham scored a surprise but well-judged GRC Lites championship in his debut season, defeating 2015 champion Oliver Eriksson, talented veterans Alex Keyes and Alejo Fernandez, and a host of notable rookies including Miki Weckstrom in the process.

Bigham, 20, will now step up into Supercars for 2017 with Bryan Herta Rallysport, as the replacement for Patrik Sandell in the team’s No. 2 MSport Ford Fiesta. Nick Franzosi is the team manager. Bigham carries support from Paratek Pharmaceuticals, Oral IV and Fuel Clothing, with team partners to be announced later.

With the Swede moving to Subaru’s program, the door opened for Bigham to graduate as the first Lites champion to do so since 2014 champ Mitchell DeJong, who only made his Supercars debut at last year’s season finale in Los Angeles in a wild card third entry for Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE.

The Mill Valley, Calif. resident who drove the Paratek Pharmaceuticals entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last year won twice, scored five podiums and eight top-five finishes in 11 starts. But down to both Eriksson and Weckstrom going into the final race of the season in L.A., Bigham needed a minor miracle to pull off a championship victory.

He got it when after starting 10th and last in the final, an accordion effect accident that happened in front of him was akin to his personal “parting of the red sea” as he made into second behind DRR teammate Keyes merely several turns into the 10-lap race.

“It’s exactly that – everything fell into place!” Bigham told NBC Sports. “We couldn’t have predicted a more ideal scenario for where we were starting. I got inside of Alejo into Turn 2. That gave me the proper positioning to get inside the wreck, avoid it all, and slot in behind Alex.

“But at the checkered, I couldn’t really comprehend the emotions! So much is going through your head. Prior to the race start, I said, ‘There’s a pretty slim chance I could battle for second.’ It didn’t occur to me I could win it, but I never said I couldn’t win it. That was a huge learning experience to tech me to never give up, no matter the situation.”

Bigham then had the option of returning for a GRC Lites title defense or instead moving up to Supercars.

Once Sandell announced his departure after two solid seasons with Herta’s rally team, suddenly the two-time Indianapolis 500-winning car owner had a void to fill in the team that still has his name.

“We looked at all our options. I talked to a great number of drivers – GRC veterans and other racing championships – and also rookies to rallycross,” Herta told NBC Sports. “There wasn’t a particular mould but someone we could fit.

Photo: Tony DiZinno
Photo: Tony DiZinno

“But with Cabot, I saw he won the championship. I was able to watch. I tend to watch the Lites stuff when I can. But I hadn’t met him much in person. He’s young and doesn’t have a lot of racing experience yet. Traditionally it’s a two-to-three year process for most people. But he sort of mastered it in his first year.”

Bigham had become aware of Herta via a Skip Barber shootout and also through Herta’s own son, Colton’s, burgeoning racing career. Bigham called the meeting and now subsequent opportunity with Herta a “full circle” moment.

Putting together the deal took a couple months before today’s confirmation.

“Moving up as a rookie, you need to secure the time with team owners to talk, and secondly to find the finding,” Bigham explained. “Everything slots into place usually from December to February. That’s when the driver releases and contracts get signed. We try to get signed as quickly as possible, but without rushing.”

The single-car Ford team is the second confirmed Ford entry for the season, along with the two-car Loenbro Motorsports effort. For Bigham, he’ll have the team’s singular focus while for Herta, the opportunity to expand to a two-car team in Red Bull GRC would only come with the right manufacturer opportunity.

“This should ensure we have everything at our disposal for great results,” Bigham said. “It’ll be the same car as they’ve had the last two years (Ford), which is an appealing aspect. There’s always a couple years of R&D. I’m glad there’s a consistency there.”

Herta added, “Red Bull Global Rallycross gets a lot of looks from new manufacturers and it’s been a goal/business plan to position ourselves as a one-car team. Expanding to multiple cars is something we’d only do with a manufacturer partner involved with us.”

Bigham said the series’ trip to Canada in June for a doubleheader is the race weekend he’s looking forward to most, as it will mark the first time he’s raced outside the United States.

Matched up against some of the more experienced names in Red Bull GRC, this is quite an opportunity for Bigham and a shot to impress in the championship.

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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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Photo: IndyCar
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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.