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Chevrolet surging as it hits 100 starts since IndyCar return

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN) will see Chevrolet hit the 100-start mark since it returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series ahead of the 2012 season.

The results have been nothing short of spectacular.

Chevrolet enters with 66 wins (11 in 2012, 10 in 2013, 12 in 2014, 10 in 2015, 14 in 2016 and 9 in 2017) and 73 poles (10 in 2012, 11 in 2013, 13 in 2014, 16 in 2015, 13 in 2016 and 10 in 2017) from the 99 previous races, having achieved all five Manufacturer’s Championships, and four of five Driver’s Championships with four different drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, Will Power in 2014, Scott Dixon in 2015 and Simon Pagenaud in 2016).

Specific highlights also include the two Indianapolis 500 victories delivered by Tony Kanaan in 2013 (below) and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 27: 2013 Indianapolis 500 Champion Tony Kanaan of Brazil, driver of the Hydroxycut KV Racing Technology-SH Racing Chevrolet, sits in his car as he poses at the yard of bricks during the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Trophy Presentation and Champions Portrait Session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kanaan earned his first Indy 500 victory by winning the 97th running of the race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“We were excited to return to IndyCar in 2012, and basically aligned with great teams, drivers and partners,” Jim Campbell, vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, Chevrolet, told NBC Sports. “So we’ve really put together a strong track record of accomplishments, poles and podiums that are meaningful for us. Partnering with great teams, drivers and technical partners has been key to that success.”

A win either today at Watkins Glen or in two weeks time at Sonoma will ensure Chevrolet hits double digit wins in a season for a sixth straight year.

The manufacturer is also poised to capture its sixth straight Manufacturer’s Championship, with its early season reliability now paying dividends later in the year.

Through 10 races, Honda had won six of them from all five of its teams, including three that loom large as lost opportunities to Chevrolet. Takuma Sato captured the Indianapolis 500 and Graham Rahal swept the Detroit weekend in GM’s backyard.

Chevrolet has countered by sweeping all three races Honda sponsors in Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio for the second straight year, courtesy of Josef Newgarden in all three races. And overall, Chevrolet and Team Penske have won the last five straight races, with Helio Castroneves in Iowa, Newgarden in Toronto and Mid-Ohio, Will Power in Pocono and Newgarden again last week in Gateway.

Penske has delivered all nine of Chevrolet’s wins this year – Newgarden has four wins, Power three, and Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud one apiece.

“This has obviously been a year where Penske has delivered the wins – 60 percent of the wins with 40 percent of the field, coming from four of our eight cars, and four of the 21 cars overall,” Campbell said. “It’s been a special year for Team Penske. It’s been a tougher year for our other Chevrolet teams. But the passion and ‘never give up’ attitude has benefited us for the future.

“We have two more races and anything that can happen. It’s been a little bit below our average this year, but it’s not too far off.”

Castroneves (3), Newgarden (2) and Pagenaud (1). Photo: IndyCar

That reliability, durability and productivity has helped move Chevrolet to the head of the Manufacturer’s Championship standings, 1309 to 1236 over Honda, with two races remaining.

Per INDYCAR, Honda has seven of its full season cars on its fifth engine or more, which means those cars (Car Nos. 5, 9, 15, 18, 27, 28, 83) are ineligible to score manufacturer points. Chevrolet, by contrast, has only one – Castroneves’ No. 3 car – which means all remaining cars except the No. 3 are eligible.

That has swung the battle around. In this five-race stretch since Honda’s last win, with Scott Dixon at Road America, Chevrolet has outscored Honda 471-331, which has seen Honda’s lead overtaken in the points. Coming out of Road America, Honda led 905-838.

Chevrolet and technical partner Illmor worked to correct some issues that occurred last year, and this year, reliability has been a key component to Chevrolet’s success. And as Campbell noted, it’s been a big part of why they’ve won the last five manufacturer titles.

“Over that time frame we’ve had very good reliability to allow us to score consistent manufacturer points,” Campbell said. “That’s been one key. Certainly there are moments with development issues. But part of our success has been the reliability overall relative to the competition.”

While this year sees the end of the three-year manufacturer aero kit era, a period dominated by Chevrolet, the manufacturer is still thankful for the road car vehicle performance and technology gains made by the IndyCar program.

Chevrolet has also continued its success following the reassignment of former IndyCar program manager Chris Berube to the company’s road car side. Berube made a welcome visit to check in with the IndyCar teams at Mid-Ohio, where Newgarden won.

Campbell described the preparation on the Chevrolet aero kit and engine, the actual engine development of its small displacement, boosted direct injected V6 engines, and the teamwork required to win races as three key tenets that provided the greatest benefit from the IndyCar program.

Chevrolet generally announces its plans for the lineup for the following season only when the current season concludes. Campbell did confirm though Chevrolet could up its capacity for 2018 if needed from its current allotment of eight cars in the grid.

Juan Pablo Montoya in the new 2018 IndyCar. Photo: IndyCar

There was also a key long-term, multi-year extension Chevrolet – among other partners – confirmed with INDYCAR at St. Petersburg to kick off the year. Chevrolet also looks ahead to the new 2018 aero kit with optimism at it looks to continue its success past the 100-start mark.

“We had a high level of engagement with INDYCAR about what to do on aero kits,” Campbell said. “We did support them going to the new 2018 kit. We think it’s an incredible design. There’s been a lot of good reaction from the fans. We have elements to keep the enthusiasm high.

“And then we really like the racing. It’s edge of your seat. We’re seeing an overall positive trend with a lot of different metrics. Fan engagement and customer engagement… and we see activation as another side. We show off our cars and trucks for owners. INDYCAR also features people that don’t own Chevrolets, that we can expose the brand to.

“For us it’s a great platform and area. For those reasons, we felt like it was time to do an extension. We’re really excited about that.”

Among teams, both Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing have been with Chevrolet each of those 100 starts since its return, and Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter have been exclusively in the Chevrolet lineup as drivers over that same time period. Each of those three also reflected on the accomplishments Chevrolet has achieved in that time frame.

FONTANA, CA – AUGUST 30: Will Power of Australia driver of the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet celebrates after winning the IndyCar Championship during the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

“When I think of Chevrolet, my thoughts immediately turn to horsepower, but it’s more than that. It’s the whole package of power, reliability, research and technology,” said Power, who has 17 wins and 26 poles with Chevrolet. “They put as much pride into winning as any driver or team. There’s a ‘whatever-it-takes’ attitude. There are ebbs and flows to everything, but Chevrolet continually takes their INDYCAR program to the next level. They’re never satisfied or willing to rest on their laurels. For that, I thank and congratulate them.”

Castroneves added, “They are the epitome of success and professionalism. Their desire to be the best is the required mind-set in motorsports. Everyone has great tools and resources, but what is the work ethic. I think that’s one of the things that sets Chevrolet apart. The power and reliability of the INDYCAR program over the years has been incredible.”

And Carpenter affirmed, “It is quite an honor to know that we are one of two teams (along with Team Penske) that have been with Team Chevy for all 100 races since they have been back in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” he said. “Chevrolet really embraced us when we were a brand-new team in 2012, when others wouldn’t even talk to us. It has been such a great partnership up to this point, knowing that all of our accomplishments and milestones as a team have been with the backing of the Bowtie. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together over the next 100 races.”

FONTANA, CA – SEPTEMBER 15: Ed Carpenter, driver of the #20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara Chevrolet, and his son Ryder celebrate after winning the IZOD IndyCarSeries MATV 500 World Championship by ringing a bell at the Auto Club Speedway on September 15, 2012 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Mexican GP to go ahead as planned, facilities unharmed by earthquake

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Next month’s Mexican Grand Prix is set to go ahead as planned after facilities at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez were unharmed by the earthquake that struck Mexico City earlier this week.

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico on Tuesday, claiming the lives of over 200 people as well as toppling dozens of buildings in the capital.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is set to host the third-to-last round of the 2017 Formula 1 season on October 29, and will go ahead as planned after facilities were unharmed by the earthquake.

“It’s been inspected twice already from the track surface and also the buildings, and it’s OK,” marketing chief Rodrigo Sanchez told Reuters.

“We’ll continue doing the assessments as we go but so far there’s really no concern. We’ll have a race.

“We’re trying to put out there all the information relevant to how people can help. Right now the concern is really getting everything back to moving from the city perspective and supporting any way we can.

“If things stay the same, we’ll just keep working on what we’re doing.

“The track is fine so we just need to re-focus and get this show done.”

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has donated $170,000 to support those affected by the earthquake, while the Carlos Slim Foundation is set to match every donation made five-fold.

IndyCar delivers its second-best season on NBCSN in 2017

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In the ninth year of its 10-year contract with the Verizon IndyCar Series (formerly as Versus and now as NBCSN), NBCSN produced its second-best season on record this year.

With a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 507,000 viewers per race, the 2017 season of races on NBCSN was just 1 percent off the best mark of 510,000 viewers per race in 2015.

This season’s viewership on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app exceeded the 2016 TAD of 492,000 viewers by 3 percent (excludes Texas and Pocono races in 2016, which were rescheduled due to weather), and was just 1 percent shy of NBCSN’s record TAD in 2015 (510,000).

TAD measures consumption across multiple platforms, combining the average minute audience (AMA) for television and digital. The 2016 release details are linked here.

Seven of the 12 races aired on NBCSN had a TAD of more than 500,000 with the most coming at Pocono with 624,000. In terms of household ratings, Indianapolis was the top local market with Richmond-Petersburg, Greenville, West Palm Beach and Greensboro coming in the top five.

The full 2017 release details are linked here.

Veach, Andretti, Group One Thousand One able to build for future

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Rare are the words “American,” “young driver,” “multi-year” and “IndyCar” assembled within a sentence in modern day Verizon IndyCar Series racing.

But for young American driver Zach Veach, he’s got a multi-year IndyCar contract at his disposal thanks to Group One Thousand One at Andretti Autosport, and with it, an opportunity to build, grow and develop over that three-year time period through 2020.

It’s hard to believe Veach, the Stockdale, Ohio native, is only 22 considering his history in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires between 2010 and 2016, competing every year save for one (2015) due to injury and a lack of budget.

But throughout that period he gradually improved year-by-year, first in USF2000, then in Pro Mazda and finally in Indy Lights. Over his three years and with two different cars in Indy Lights, Veach grew into a race winner and bulked up from his already slender frame.

Veach is also the first driver in MRTI history to have been with the same team in all three levels, and graduate into IndyCar. He detoured to Belardi Auto Racing in 2016 but otherwise, was part of Andretti Autosport’s lineup from 2010 to 2014, and will now come back “home” for 2018 in IndyCar.

Veach and Michael Andretti before Star Mazda debut, Sonoma, 2011. Photo: IndyCar

“I think he was 14 or 15 when we met the first time… and he looked like he was 10. Now he’s 22, and looks like he’s 15!” Michael Andretti laughed.

“But he’s always impressed me. OK, he’d come out of the box not bad. But the next race, he got better, and you could see it. It wasn’t by mistake. You’d see how he’d work, take the information, study it for hours, and then come back so much more prepared the next day.

“I gotta say, I don’t think there’s as many drivers I’ve known outside the car who’ve worked that hard to make themselves better, and he did that all the way up the ladder system. There’s a lot of confidence in big cars, and now he’ll have more tools and will use them to his advantage. So he might start here, qualify top-18, then it’ll start to go up, up, then qualify top-10 by the end of the year and I believe the next year he’ll be more of a contender. That’s how I envision it.”

Setting reasonable and realistic expectations will be key for Veach, who should look at drivers like Josef Newgarden or Charlie Kimball for inspiration.

Newgarden’s first year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was littered with rookie errors, not a single top-10 finish, and ending 23rd in the championship. But knowing he had two more years to build off of, Newgarden was a podium finisher each of the next two years and had leapt 10 spots in the standings. By his fourth year and his second contract in 2015, he was a race winner.

Kimball was the same way with Chip Ganassi Racing. Barely in the top-20 in points his first year with only a couple top-10s, he ascended to podiums in year two as well, and scored his first race win in year three – when he also cracked the top-10 in points.

Given Veach’s years of preparing for this moment, he’s happy to have gotten to IndyCar now, rather than rushing it years earlier.

“I was one of those kids who thought he would be in IndyCar at 18. That’s so dumb! Looking back, I’m so glad that’s not how it happened,” Veach told NBC Sports.

“It’s hard to be patient when you’re young. I know I’m saying that at age 22, but at 15 or 16, all you care about is getting to IndyCar.

“Luckily, life forced me to be patient in some things. I would much rather have this deal at age 23 than at 18, because now I feel I can deliver what these people have put on my shoulders.”

Veach, Towriss and Andretti. Photo: IndyCar

The key person to have come through with the deal is Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One. Veach, his pastor and Towriss all connected in the run-up to the Indianapolis 500, with Veach’s program for that race announced at Long Beach with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Towriss explained first off that Group One Thousand One is a separate insurance company from Guggenheim Life, which was the presenting sponsor of Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet in Indianapolis.

“Group One Thousand One is a group of insurance companies based in Indianapolis, and again, we’re growing our business, and we’re excited to be associated with Andretti and with Zach in this newest venture of ours,” Towriss explained.

“His story is one of perseverance and continuing to work hard. It resonates with us very well; helping people help themselves, and so we will help him continue on that journey. During May, we noted the way he was able to persevere, and work with his engineers when things weren’t able to work.”

Veach at Indy 500 this year. Photo: IndyCar

Veach is one of the smallest drivers in the series, at 5 and a half feet and hovering around 130 pounds. But outside the cockpit he’s developed a love of mountain climbing, and has been able to scale several cliffs over the last couple years.

His upper body strength is something he’s focused on building and he has come a long way from his early years in the MRTI. Manhandling an IndyCar is difficult, particularly as they don’t have power steering, but it’s something Veach has been working on.

“I think the first couple of tests will be hard, but they’ll be hard for everyone after the three-month offseason,” he said. “But we’re already 10 pounds heavier than we were at the Indy 500 and I’m proud to say there’s not a lot of fat!

“We’ve been busting our butts at St. Vincent’s to get stronger. Our numbers to now from where we started are night and day. We’ll keep working hard and as we get closer to the season, we’ll shift to more cardiovascular work. I’m at 128, 130 pounds now and I’d like to be at 135 when the season starts. I think it’s well within reach.”

Veach described the challenge of advancing up the ladder despite not winning a single Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for winning any of the three rungs on the ladder.

Veach (12) with longtime friend Gabby Chaves (7) in 2013 Freedom 100. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not something I’m proud of. But one thing I am very proud of is that I’ve been very honest,” he said. “I had some success in USF2000, it was hit and miss in Pro Mazda, and in Indy Lights, I really came into my own. I proved to people that I could run up front and win races.

“What got me there was having that work ethic, trying to learn as much as I could from teammates who were quick and put that to use. Working with drivers like Felix Rosenqvist really helped. He showed me just how deep a car can go into the braking zone, with all that Formula 3 experience!

“He’s such a good driver and I hope to see him over here. He’s one of my closest friends and I don’t know anyone who deserves an IndyCar ride more than he does.

“It was a completely different set of skills and I think that’s why we didn’t hit our stride until the last part of the year. We won Road America, but winning at Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca showed me where I wanted to be all year.

“It wasn’t until then that the team and I felt comfortable with what we were doing. There was added pressure when I became the team leader but that’s when things started turning around because the setups went in the exact direction I wanted them to go. That’s when things really started to click.”

Veach with USF2000 veteran Ayla Agren and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman at Sonoma. Photo: IndyCar

The final element of Veach’s perseverance was his continued presence at the races. He found a home as a regular analyst and occasional pit road reporter for the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network in 2015, and made regular appearances there in 2016 and 2017 as well. He also drove a two-seater for the Indy Racing Experience in the same time frame.

“I think it was extremely important just from the standpoint of showing people I wasn’t going to go away,” Veach said.

“I think I got a little criticism from others involved sometimes just saying, ‘Well, why are you there if you’re not doing anything and not driving?’ You have to stay relevant, and that’s just what we were trying to do. Luckily enough, IndyCar Radio gave me a great opportunity. It’s the first kind of real job I ever had with them.

“I owe them many thanks, and of course the Indy Racing Experience with the two-seater. Even though it’s a two-seater I still got to run at places I’ve never raced at before. So I’m going to a few new tracks next year. It’s not the same thing but at least I know which way to go. I think that’s going to help us be a little quicker.

“It’s just never giving up on the dream. It’s learning every day. It’s never taking no for an answer.”

Boullier: Honda F1 deal ‘a proper disaster’ for McLaren’s credibility

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McLaren’s three-year stint with Formula 1 engine partner Honda has been a “proper disaster” for the team’s credibility, according to racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last Friday in Singapore it would be parting company with Honda at the end of the season, switching to Renault power units for 2018.

The confirmation put an end to months of uncertainty surrounding the future of the McLaren-Honda partnership, which has seen the British team struggle towards the back of the field since 2015.

McLaren faces a big task to recover the lost financial support from Honda while also trying to attract new sponsors, but Boullier is confident the decision to change engine partner will help its cause.

“When you look at the last three years, it’s been a proper disaster for us in terms of credibility and getting new sponsors,” Boullier told the official F1 website.

“And then you have to take the long-term view: in the next five years I am absolutely sure that we will go back to where McLaren belongs.

“And with this bouncing back we get our credibility back and it will rebuild our sponsor portfolio. It might take two to three years.

“We are ninth in the championship – with a top engine I think we would be fourth right now and just on the FOM money we could cover the engine side, so it will not be a big risk on the monetary side.

“Thanks to the shareholders who have been brave enough to take a sporting choice and not hurt McLaren. They could have said: ‘Let’s wait until Honda wakes up’.”