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IndyCar focus shifts to Detroit, and remainder of 2017

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With the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil now in everyone’s rearview mirror, the Verizon IndyCar Series shifts its focus to the remainder of the season. And while every race is vital in the championship picture, the next several races, starting with this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, mark a pivotal point in the calendar for a driver looking to make a championship push.

Consider last year. Simon Pagenaud left the Indianapolis 500 leading the championship with 292 points to his name. Teammate Will Power was mired down in 11th at the time, sitting on 178 points, 114 away from the championship lead.

Power’s finishes over the next seven races went as follows: 20, 1, 1, 2, 1,2, 1. After a weird first race in Detroit, Power then went on a surreal run of four wins and two second-place finishes in the next six races. At the end of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the seventh race in that stretch, Power had vaulted all the way up to second in the standings with 477 points. Teammate Pagenaud was still in the championship lead, but with 497 points, he only led Power by 20. In summary, Power made up 94 points over those seven races to put himself within reach of the championship lead.

Heading into this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear, it’s another Team Penske driver atop the standings. Helio Castroneves currently sits on 245 points, 11 ahead of a three-way tie for second between Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, and Scott Dixon. Any one of those four could emerge from Race 1 as the championship leader.

Helio Castroneves currently leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Photo: IndyCar

Behind them sit Alexander Rossi (190 points), Tony Kanaan (188 points), Will Power and Josef Newgarden (186 points apiece), Ed Jones (185 points) and James Hinchcliffe and Max Chilton (170 points apiece). Even Ryan Hunter-Reay, 11th with 152 points, is within the 94 points Power made up last year.

Quite simply, this championship is still up for the taking, and Detroit’s unique challenge of two races in one weekend can easily flip the tables, as Scott Dixon detailed.

“You put so much time and effort into Indianapolis, but you have to also keep your attention on the bigger picture in terms of the championship, and that continues right away in Detroit this weekend,” he explained. “Two races in two days and two qualifiers in two days can really affect the championship race, and we’re hoping we can take advantage of the points on the table this weekend.”

And of course, as a street circuit, Detroit is infamous for its bumpy surface, perhaps the bumpiest of any street circuit the series visits. Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato highlighted the bumps in talking about the challenges of the event.

“Detroit will be completely different from the Indy 500,” he asserted. “It’s going back to a street course – very bumpy track, a lot of braking and tight corners. Usually Detroit is a very exciting track and quite challenging. I personally have a good memory (finishing second in Race 2 in 2015) as well as the team has a strong record, so I’m looking forward to going back to the street course.”

Sato will be looking to avoid the now seemingly traditional post-Indianapolis 500 winner slump in the Detroit doubleheader.

Since the race was introduced as a doubleheader in 2013, here’s been the ‘500 winner’s results in Detroit:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan: Race 1, Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2, Started 19th, Finished 12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay: Race 1, 21st/16th (Accident); Race 2, 21st/19th (Electrical)
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya: Race 1, 3rd/10th; Race 2, 1st/10th
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1, 17th/10th; Race 2, 18th/12th

Practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins on Friday June 2 at 10:20 a.m. ET.

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GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA