New driver for No. 38 this weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Flinn Lazier, Bayley Mickler set for USF2000 debuts in Barber

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The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this week after more than a month off since the season-opening St. Petersburg weekend. A couple new faces are set to debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season at Barber Motorsports Park.

Last week, John Cummiskey Racing announced karting and Skip Barber veteran Bayley Mickler will make his series debut in the team’s No. 33 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

Mickler, a 19-year-old out of Perth, Australia, will look to deliver the form on par with Cummiskey’s last Australian, last year’s USF2000 champ Anthony Martin, who cut his teeth at JCR in an excellent 2015 campaign.

Cummiskey ran New Zealander Michael Scott – not of NBC’s “The Office” – at the season finale last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Photo: John Cummiskey Racing

“We’ve heard lots of good things about Bayley, and we are looking forward to getting him in the No. 33 car,” said Cummiskey, whose car will feature Regency Food Services sponsorship for the weekend. “Though he only has a year in open wheel cars he’s already shown his potential, and we think he can get up to speed quickly. We are expecting good things from him.”

Meanwhile today it was announced a famous last name makes its debut in the Mazda Road to Indy.

Photo: Newman Wachs Racing

Flinn Lazier, son of 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion and perennial modern day one-off runner Buddy Lazier, will be in Newman Wachs Racing’s No. 38 entry. A skiing and soccer star outside the track, the Vail, Col. native has moved from karting to Formula Vee the last few years.

“I am very excited to say that we will have Flinn Lazier driving the No. 38 NWR car at Barber and hopefully we’ll have him with us for more events this season,” said team manager Brian Halahan.  “With all the racing history that the name Lazier carries, this makes a great story and a great opportunity for our team to help him move forward with his racing career.

“This whole thing started when a long-time friend who works with Flinn in racing contacted me recently and said I should speak to him, and here we are!”

JCR ran Kris Wright in the team’s No. 34 car at St. Petersburg and we shall see whether he will continue this weekend. Lazier replaces Cameron Das in NWR’s No. 38 car; Das was only on a one-weekend deal with the team at St. Petersburg.

Herta, Telitz rivalry in Indy Lights has Yankees, Red Sox DNA embedded

Herta (far left) and Telitz (center) aren't just rivals on the track. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Today marks the first time the New York Yankees (11-7) and Boston Red Sox (11-8) square off in the 2017 Major League Baseball season, 7 p.m. ET tonight at Fenway Park.

Back down on the farm, however, they’ve already battled twice this year in St. Petersburg and Birmingham, Ala.

The tangential connection that manages to see this lede weave into a racing story comes courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ proverbial triple-A affiliate, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and two of its top young American prospects: Colton Herta and Aaron Telitz.

Herta’s Yankees connection is well-documented, if not directly related to his own family roots, as Bryan Herta’s son is only 17 years old and hails from Valencia, Calif.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV (pictured above), just 20, is the grandson of the iconic owner of the New York Yankees; he’s the son of Hank Steinbrenner, part-owner and co-chairman of the Yankees now. George Michael’s mother was a cousin of the late Tony Renna, a talented up-and-comer who died in 2003. Renna’s teammate in Indy Lights in the 1990s was Chris Simmons, who’s now Scott Dixon’s race engineer in IndyCar. George Michael’s stepfather is Sean Jones, Bryan Herta’s long-time friend and business partner. It’s confusing at first glance, but when you put the pieces together there’s a huge passion and amount of racing blood for these families.

Herta in St. Petersburg, near the adopted winter hometown for the Yankees of Tampa. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

He drives the No. 98 Deltro Energy Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing and while his car isn’t exactly painted in pinstripes, it’s blue and white.

Birchwood, Wisc.’s Telitz, 25, by contrast, has a lesser known but direct family lineage with the Boston Red Sox. His great grandfather was Fred Thomas, a third baseman for the Red Sox, who was on the 1918 World Series-winning team – the last Red Sox team to win it all before the team broke its 86-year drought in 2004 (the Yankees oh so happily won 26 of their 27 World Championships between 1923 and 2000 during this period).

Thomas was born in Milwaukee and was more known for a couple things he did beyond playing on the diamond itself. While on furlough from the Navy, Thomas coined the idea of playing the National Anthem at sporting events. Telitz explains it more in an April 2015 blog he wrote after winning the 2013 Team USA Scholarship, which also has a further explanation about Thomas’ and the National Anthem from ESPN.com linked within that blog.

BOSTON, MA – MAY 22: Members of all four branches of the United States military stand on the field for a pregame ceremoiney before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox on May 22, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Before this series, the two teams haven’t played at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Thomas founded a resort in Northern Wisconsin in 1924; the Fred Thomas Resort stands proud today more than 80 years later, and it’s one of several associate partners (Rice Lake Weighing Systems primary among them) you can see on Telitz’s car this year. In no small coincidence, it helps that Telitz’s No. 9 Soul Red Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing isn’t that different a shade of red from the Boston Red Sox colors.

Telitz’s Soul Red isn’t much different from Red Sox red. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Among the cool items Telitz notes from his great grandfather’s lineage is that he had a “real life The Sandlot situation” come to life with one of the mementos from that 1918 World Series.

“Because of Fred, my Grandpa was always interested in what the Red Sox were doing. So they watched quite often,” Telitz told NBC Sports. “In 2004 when they won the World Series, I watched it with my whole family. We get mementos from Red Sox all the time and that year, they sent us an American flag, in honor of Fred’s service to the country.

“One of the funny things from 1918 was that Fred had two game balls and had everyone on the team sign them. He took them back home with him to Birchwood. They sat in the main lodge of the resort in a basket, and kids used to be able to play baseball with them… as they had no idea these’d be worth anything. Eventually my Grandpa did save one of them and put it in a case and our family. I think the other one got lost!

“It was a real-life Sandlot situation. But back then it wasn’t a big deal! Then it became, oh, it’s a huge deal.”

Telitz’s family has Red Sox roots. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

With Telitz having the Red Sox connection, finding out Herta – and more importantly, the Steinbrenners – were coming to Indy Lights this year as well, it was hard for him not to be excited about that. It would also rekindle a rivalry the two started to have on their own in their rookie season of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2014, when Telitz won a race for ArmsUp Motorsports while Herta, then 14, scored a couple top-five finishes in a learning year.

“When I heard the Steinbrenners were coming in I was like, that’s so cool!” Telitz laughed. “It’s funny; Colton doesn’t exactly have a real connection, whereas I’m a direct descendent of the third baseman that won the 1918 World Series. So now here we are, and our paths have crossed again.”

Herta won Indy Lights’ 400th race Sunday at Barber. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Lest Herta be one to let the friendly jab come at him without a comeback, young “Hertamania 2.0” was quick with a comedic rebuttal.

“Well he’s running the red car, and I’m running a blue and white car. So, it’s kind of similar in that point as well. I think, just like many years before, we’ll see the Yankees emerge victorious over the Red Sox!” Herta laughed. “But no, I didn’t know that (about Aaron)! That’s actually really cool to see the baseball connections coming into racing.”

Herta expanded on his own upbringing and how the longtime Dodgers fan has adopted a different shade of blue.

“As a child, I grew up watching the Dodgers, with living just 40 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles,” he said. “Being the home team, that’s who I was always rooted for and growing up, that’s who my dad rooted for as well. I wasn’t as a child, but I’ve grown to be a Yankees fan this year.

“I’ve been able to go to quite a few Spring Training games, and have been fortunate to go behind the scenes with the Yankees and it’s really impressive. Plus, obviously, I kind of have to like them – I’m driving for their team! It’s not a bad team to like, they win a lot!”

On the scoreboard in Indy Lights this year, where the big league prize to graduate to IndyCar is $1 million from Mazda as an advancement scholarship for three races, Herta has won twice – including Sunday’s 400th race in Indy Lights history at Barber Motorsports Park – while Telitz can always say he beat Herta to winning in his series debut, as he dominated the season opener from St. Petersburg. Herta leads the points with 101 while Telitz sits fourth on 74.

So, it’s play ball between these two drivers with likely baseball’s most iconic rivalry as an intriguing subplot for the rest of the year.

BOSTON – JULY 24: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees walks to first base with hitting coach Don Mattingly #23 after a fight with Jason Varitek #33 of the Boston Red Sox in the third inning after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch by pitcher Bronson Arroyo on July 24, 2004 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Both Rodriguez and Jason Varitek of the Red Sox were ejected from the game. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Red Bull GRC: 2017 Preseason Q&A with Anders Krohn

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross prepares to kick off its 2017 season this weekend at Memphis on the NBC Sports Group networks. Qualifying takes place at midnight ET on Sunday on NBCSN with the race itself airing Sunday at 1 p.m. on NBC.

We checked in with NBC Sports analyst Anders Krohn, who will again call selected Red Bull GRC Supercars and GRC Lites races, for his take looking ahead to the new season (2016 midseason review linked here):

MST: A lot of change is coming to Red Bull GRC this year, with a number of different lineups. Do you see Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross well positioned to win its third straight title or are they vulnerable this year?

Anders Krohn: “The Beetles will definitely be hard to beat, but Honda and Subaru have stepped up their game, big time. It’s cool to see it becoming such a big fight between manufacturers, and one can only hope that 2017 is closer than in years past. Andretti Autosport recently took delivery of two brand new cars for Scott Speed and Tanner Foust, and I’m pretty certain the 2017 spec cars will be another noticeable step forward.”

MST: Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE should be much better in its second season. What are some of the goals and expectations here for this talented trio of drivers in the second year of the Honda Civic Coupe program? 

AK: “Almost to the detriment of their program last year, they got a podium at their first race weekend in Phoenix, so the expectations were already quite high from that point on. This year it’s quite simple, they need to win races. Last year they were quite a bit overweight, so if they’ve been able to shave those extra pounds off the car, they could be in good shape.”

MST: Subaru has made big improvements in the offseason with Patrik Sandell moving over and Chris Atkinson on for the season. Do you think they can return to winning races? 

AK: “Subaru have done more testing than any other manufacturer and this week we’ll get to see if the investment paid off. They’ve had a couple of tough years, and I know they are gunning for the title this year. With Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson they have a truly lethal combination and I like what each of them bring to the team. In 2016 we were left wondering too often if the lack of pace was down to driver or car, but for this year that certainly will not be the case.”

MST: There’s a lot of excitement with new faces coming into the series… Cabot Bigham, Oliver Eriksson and Mitchell DeJong all set to make their full-season debuts. Having covered them a bit in GRC Lites what is their potential like when they step up to Supercars? 

AK: “Mitchell DeJong obviously crushed the GRC Lites field in 2014, so his chance in a Supercar is well overdue and I give credit to Honda, Red Bull and OMSE for trusting in such a talented, young American to get the job done for them. Cabot Bigham and Oliver Eriksson finished first and second in what was probably the most competitive GRC Lites season ever. Having talked with Cabot’s new team owner Bryan Herta, he’s been massively impressed with Cabot’s outright pace and feedback so far. Oliver will be a natural fit within his already familiar OMSE home, albeit with an additional 350 horsepower under the bonnet. I genuinely feel as though these guys will turn some heads this year and show just how strong of a feeder series GRC Lites is.”

MST: Memphis kicks off a different schedule this year with a lot of new venues. What are some of the places for fans/series observers to be excited with this year? 

AK: “GRC is turning into a manufacturer dogfight and that is a great thing for the overall health of the sport, and should provide plenty of entertainment for the fans. I also like that the privateer teams of Rahal Letterman Racing with Austin Dyne, Loenbro Motorsports with Steve Arpin and Bryan Herta RallySport with Cabot Bigham, will have a chance to slug it out. All these guys are in Ford M-Sport Fiesta’s, which, under the right circumstances, could very well take it to the big teams with manufacturer support.

“Memphis looks like a super fast track, and using the oval part of the raceway means the wear on the tires will likely be extreme. With only 17% dirt, I expect a relatively stiffly sprung, low car to be the way to go, something that VW is obviously well known for. I’ve personally never been to Memphis, but it sure looks like a great chance to get some good BBQ, enjoy cars jumping 100 feet and banging into each other.

“If we can have three different manufacturers on the podium at the opening weekend, I think we’ll be in for a great season.”


Alonso gets seat fit, visits Borg-Warner Trophy in Indy

Photo: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Photo USA
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Fernando Alonso’s quick first visit to the U.S. before this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix continued Monday with a trip to Indianapolis with his Andretti Autosport team, following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in Birmingham, Ala.

After a jam-packed Sunday packed with media commitments and observing from the pits, Alonso went to Andretti’s shop on Zionsville Rd. where he made his seat fit for his upcoming first test on May 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This was the only time this could be worked into his schedule before he heads to Sochi to resume his Formula 1 commitments in his day job, lead driver of the team’s McLaren Honda.

Alonso also met the trophy he hopes to win as part of his quest to capture the Triple Crown, the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Andretti Autosport is the defending champion team at Indianapolis with Alexander Rossi. Rossi follows Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Dan Wheldon (2005) as winners for the team in the ‘500.

“It’s a beautiful trophy that I would be proud to take home if I won the Indianapolis 500. There are so many familiar faces on the trophy from the past and present that represent the greatest race in the world,” Alonso said, via BorgWarner. “Can I please get a full-sized trophy to take home if I win the race? The small ones (Baby Borgs) are nice but a big one would be wonderful!”

As Alonso is a two-time World Champion, he wouldn’t be the first driver to pull off an Indianapolis 500 victory. Others that have done so are listed below:

  • Jim Clark – Formula One World Champion in 1963 and 1965, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1965
  • Graham Hill – Formula One World Champion in 1962 and 1968, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1966
  • Mario Andretti – Formula One World Champion 1978, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1969
  • Emerson Fittipaldi – Formula One World Champion 1972 and 1974, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1989 and 1993
  • Jacques Villeneuve – Formula One World Champion 1997, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1995

NBCSN videos from Alonso’s Sunday at Barber are linked below.

Press Conference

Grid Interview with Townsend Bell

NBCSN Booth

Haas goes for first three-in-a-row scoring streak in Russia

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After back-to-back eighth place finishes from Kevin Magnussen at China and Romain Grosjean last time out in Bahrain, Haas F1 Team has its second chance to score points three races in a row for the first time in its F1 career – and arguably a more realistic chance at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Sunday, 8 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

Grosjean’s shock sixth and fifth place finishes to open his 2016 account in Australia and Bahrain were unexpected but the team hit a bump in the road in China. Russia, however, saw the Frenchman return to the points with an eighth place, and bring his season tally to 28 points to conclude the remarkable start of results in flyaway races.

Now, with a car that could theoretically be considered the fourth best in the field behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, hopes are high for either Grosjean or Magnussen to extend the team’s scoring streak to what would be the longest yet in its short history.

The team did well to note the Olympic tie in at the Sochi circuit, linking “Super G” and how fast the new 2017 Formula 1 cars are.

From the release: “The first time we saw Super-G in Sochi was in 2014 when the Russian city hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud beat American Andrew Weibrecht by .3 of a second on the 2.096-kilometer (1.302-mile) course with a 622-meter (2,041-foot) vertical drop to nab gold in the alpine slalom event.

“Three years later, a Super-G of a different sort returns to Sochi, but instead of taking place on the white slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it will happen on the black asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom as the fastest cars in Formula One history rocket around the 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile), 18-turn circuit for the April 30 Russian Grand Prix.”

Grosjean described the physical uptick in training he’s needed to do. The 31-year-old is in his sixth full season and seventh overall in F1, since his midseason debut in 2009.

“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun, but it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars,” Grosjean said. “You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it.

“We’re going through more g-forces, so the neck is stronger and the core is stronger,” Grosjean added. “Your whole body had to adjust to these high speeds.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner explained the importance of needing to bank points early in the crowded midfield. Haas sits seventh in the championship now, just nine points behind Sahara Force India in fourth, who have scored with both drivers in each of the three races so far in 2017.

“It’s always good to come back from two races with points, and it shows that the car is capable to score points at each race. Then again, it’s always difficult because it’s a tight midfield and we all went testing after Bahrain and everyone has learned something,” Steiner said.

“It’s as tight as it’s ever been. With four to five teams so close together, I cannot remember when that happened, and every weekend it’s mixed up in a different way. Any of these teams can go into Q3 and get into the points. It’s a very tense battle, but I think a nice battle and it keeps the constructors championship pretty open for the midfield.”

Grosjean added, “It was good to score points in Bahrain. Clearly, we deserved them – since race one, actually. I think the most encouraging fact for now is that the car is performing well everywhere we’ve been. So now we go to Russia, which was a bit of a tough one for us last year. We’ll see if we’ve made progress and if the car is working well at every type of circuit. If so, then pretty much everywhere we could score points.”

For Magnussen, the chance of a score comes after he delivered his best 2016 result here last year – seventh for Renault. He was also fifth in 2014 with McLaren, and has a chance to score for a third different team here this weekend.

“I think it’s a good track and I’ve had some good races there. Hopefully, I can have another good one there this year,” he said.

“I know last year I had a good first lap. Quite a few people messed up and lost things like front wings and so on. I made up lots of positions with that. I then had a really good race after that to finish seventh.”