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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.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: St. Pete, Sebring wrap, Melbourne prep

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Veteran driver and manager Stefan Johansson has posted his latest blog, which recaps the last two race weekends in Florida as the Verizon IndyCar Series tackled the streets of St. Petersburg and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed the grinding Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

In his latest conversation with Jan Tegler, Johansson looks back at these couple events while also looking ahead to this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, which kicks off the 2017 Formula 1 season.

At St. Petersburg, while Sebastien Bourdais won, Scott Dixon among others was caught out by the timing of a yellow flag which closed the pits. Dixon eventually rebounded to third in the IndyCar opener, but it was a result short of another possible win thanks to the bad timing.

Johansson writes this will continue to be an issue as long as this rule is in play, but hailed Dixon’s comeback.

“Every time you have a closed-pit rule when there’s a full course caution, you’ll end up with the same problem,” he wrote. “The race often falls into the lap of guys who started at the back or are running at the back as they have more freedom to roll the dice in a situation like that, and the guys up front are basically screwed. It’s just part of the game in IndyCar or any other series using the same rules. On the whole though, it tends to even out over the course of a season.

“It’s frustrating at the time for the guys who get caught out, and especially if you know you have a winning car, which was definitely the case for Scott. His car was really fast all weekend, in every session and the race. None of the guys who were on the same strategy as him finished in the top ten positions. Interestingly, no one – not even the media – seemed to notice but I think he drove one of his best races ever. He had to save fuel for most of the race after the second caution and his first pit stop to get onto a different strategy. As usual, he managed to stretch his fuel for a lap or two compared to the other competitors and he was still passing cars along the way. He literally drove his way back up to 3rd, by going faster than the guys in front.”

Sebring also took place; Dixon’s team finishing just off the GT Le Mans class podium in fourth after contact on the final lap while the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 team (Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Matteo Cressoni) finished second in the GT Daytona class.

“Overall, I think it was a very good race. The new prototypes definitely look great on-track and they sound great. The Cadillacs were good and their teams are very good and definitely make a difference as well.

“With the Ferrari (Scuderia Corsa) we had a pretty decent race finishing 2nd. It looked like we could win it for a while but we didn’t quite have the pace of the Mercedes there at the end either.”

For Melbourne this week, Johansson says Ferrari looked strong in testing, but also ponders why the regulations were changed as they were.

“Predictably, as we mentioned before the launch of the cars, they all look pretty much the same with minor variances here and there. That’s just the way it is now because the regulations only allow teams to work within in a small window.

“When you look at these new cars and the new rules, you have to ask, why? Was it really necessary to have these new rules? The cost of creating these new cars is mind-boggling for every single team. I’m not sure what the exact reasoning was for these new rules to be put in place to begin with and I’m not so sure anyone else really does.

“Was it because the racing was not exciting enough, did they think the old cars were too slow. Did they not like the look of the cars? Were they too easy to drive?  Whatever the reason, I don’t think these new rules have been particularly well thought out. They feel like another band aid solution to some knee jerk reaction based on a few minor issues rather than a big picture solution to the complete philosophy of what a modern F1 car should be.”

You can read the full blog post here, for even more insight.

A 2016 archive of Johansson’s blog posts is linked here.

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Hinchcliffe’s DTM test with Mercedes an ‘amazing blast of a lifetime’

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The second half of the James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens “ride swap” took place last week at the Vallelunga circuit in Italy, as Hinchcliffe stepped aboard Wickens’ usual No. 6 HWA AG Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM car for his first few laps in the tin-top beast.

After shaking off a tough end to what had been a dynamic weekend for both himself and the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener in St. Petersburg – he’d led early but was caught out on a yellow flag timing and dropped back – Hinchcliffe arrived in Italy on Wednesday to prepare for his run in the DTM car. Wickens tested Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar prior to the St. Petersburg season opener.

The ordinary challenges of getting acclimated to a new car – getting a seat made and adapting to the different driving position – were erased because of a quick and easy fit right into Gary Paffett’s seat.

“It’s funny when we saw the three-week gap between St. Petersburg and Long Beach we thought there’d be down time, and that clearly hasn’t been the case,” Hinchcliffe laughed when speaking to NBC Sports.

“I flew over to arrive a day early, meet the team, and get the lay of the land for the following day. Luckily I fit right into Gary Paffett’s seat. There were very few adjustments needed and it was pretty straightforward. It led into an amazing blast of a time the following day, to rip around Vallelunga.”

The two-hour session that followed saw Hinchcliffe learn a lot, in what is a rare opportunity for North American drivers to have a chance to race in a DTM car.

Hinchcliffe has had some closed-top car experience, but limited outings in either Mazda’s previous Lola Multimatic chassis or Mazda RT24-P prototypes and the Mazda RX-8 aren’t quite comparable to what he saw in the Mercedes.

“Yeah I’d done the RX-8 back in ’12 and the prototype off and on, so it was a very different feel,” he explained. “The seating position is very unique, sitting back in the center. The visuals are very different. Very wide. I think I missed most apexes in right-hand turns the first couple laps, getting used to it.”

But with Wickens as his de facto engineer and driving coach, Hinchcliffe quickly got the hang of it for what would be an intense couple hours.

He’d have a mix of running qualifying simulations, long runs to see how the tires degrade and just general pushing once he got the hang of it. Hinchcliffe being a professional race car driver, it didn’t take long.

“They’ve done such a good job here; you there’s a lot of money spent to make the car magic, and that’s what they’ve done,” Hinchcliffe said. “The tires were very different. We had tire warmers, then did quali sims, did a long run and saw what the (tire) deg could be like. For only two hours of running, it was a pretty nice test.”

“We wanted each other to have a blast,” he added of Wickens’ input and advice. “At Sebring, I gave him some pointers, and we did a track lap in the rental cars. He did the same thing here.

“He’d just been there testing. He did a baseline run in the morning to dial the car in. He was great. He was my engineer for the test, to be honest. He’d pull out the laptop and show data comparisons; look for what to do different and better. It was a lot of fun.”

Hinchcliffe had always tried to keep DTM on his radar from afar, watching the races he could while trying to get to at least one per year. The same goes the other way for Wickens, who tries to make it to at least one IndyCar race per year too, and fully enjoyed his own day in Hinchcliffe’s car.

“When it got announced, I had a bunch of guys say they’d had a chance to test a DTM car. I understand now why it’s one of the most fun series,” he said.

“I’ve followed it more closely with Robbie driving. Having had a taste of the machinery, now you get it even more.”

First IndyCar test on IMS oval moved up to Friday

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For the first time in 2017, the sounds of the Verizon IndyCar Series cars will be live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. And it will occur a day earlier than planned.

A test originally scheduled for Saturday on the 2.5-mile oval will now occur Friday owing to impending poor weather on Saturday. This test, which is both a Honda and team test, will come only three days after the full field of competitors ran at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham.

Those scheduled to test on Friday includes this group of competitors:

  • Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball of Chip Ganassi Racing
  • James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
  • Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  • Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power of Team Penske

Fans can watch the test for free from the Turn 2 mounds.

“The sweet sound of engines this Friday on the IMS oval will be yet another sign that the Month of May is right around the corner,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a release. “The weather forecast looks warm for Friday, so we encourage fans to come to the track to enjoy seeing and hearing the cars.”

This bit of news takes IMS back on track after a couple noteworthy items of late off-track:

The “Behind the Bricks” series has premiered, featuring last year’s champion Alexander Rossi. Here’s a link to that:

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Alexander Rossi of the United States pumps his fist as he crosses the finish line to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in 2016 was nominated for the Sports Event of the Year award to be presented at the 10th annual Sports Business Awards, the leading recognition for the North American sports industry.

Sports industry leaders will gather Wednesday evening, May 24 at the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square for the ceremony, presented by Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal. This year’s event features 87 nominees across 17 categories.

“The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was an incredible success that created lifelong memories for our fans and generated significant momentum for the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re grateful to the SportsBusiness Journal for its recognition of the hard work that went into years of planning and execution for this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Indianapolis 500 champions have quenched their thirst in Victory Lane with a bottle of milk since 1936, and a growing number of celebrities and corporate and civic leaders are sharing that same winning feeling through the #101Bottles program leading into the 101st Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is delivering one commemorative bottle of milk per day to prominent individuals for 101 days leading up to Race Day for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 28.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi started the program Feb. 16 by presenting a milk bottle to Cummins, Inc. CEO Tom Linebarger at the Cummins Distribution Headquarters in downtown Indianapolis after the ticket for this year’s race was unveiled at the facility.

“This is a great way to bring the Indy 500 countdown closer to both racing fans across the nation and our community in Central Indiana,” said Allison Melangton, senior vice president, events, Hulman Motorsports. “Everyone wants to take part in celebrating the Indy 500 and one of its most iconic traditions, and these bottles have become more of a hot commodity each and every day as we get closer to May.”

Rossi also presented a bottle to the hosts of the NFL Network program “Good Morning Football” in New York during an appearance on the show March 7, sharing a toast of milk live on the air. Milk bottles also have been presented to these prominent individuals:

  • Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, during a recent visit to the IMS Hall of Fame Museum
  • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, during the annual flag-raising ceremony at Gate 1 of IMS
  • Kentucky Derby Museum President Patrick Armstrong, during a Town Hall at the museum featuring three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and IMS President Doug Boles
  • Indiana Black Expo Inc. President Tanya Bell, to mark 89 days from Race Day
  • Susie Wheldon, wife of late two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend
  • Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr., during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend
  • Former NFL player and Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Grand Marshal Mark Schlereth
  • Indiana State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, at the Statehouse and delivered by driver Stefan Wilson

Montoya returns to natural IndyCar habitat, back at Barber test

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For the first time in more than 20 years, Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t racing full-time. One of the greatest drivers of his generation is in a transition phase between a full-time seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series and a potential seat with Team Penske’s likely-if-not-officially-confirmed future sports car program.

But Montoya is still staying plenty race-sharp in a year where he’ll compete in a variety of machinery. He won the Race of Champions in January, tested the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at Sebring in February and was back in his natural habitat of a Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar on Tuesday, in preparation for his month of May outing in the team’s fifth car for both IndyCar races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Times don’t mean much for a test day but Montoya was immediately on pace in fourth yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park, working with Team Penske veteran Ron Ruzewski and engineer Raul Prados on the box for his No. 22 Chevrolet, per Trackside Online and IndyCar.com.

This was Montoya’s first day in an IndyCar since he finished third at the 2016 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in September.

“I feel like I drove the car yesterday,” Montoya said, via an IndyCar release. “It’s kind of fun. I’ve been out of the car since September, but I feel fine. I have a new crew, new guys, new engineer. It’s working really well.”

The shift for Montoya this year comes after his first two seasons in F3000 in 1997 and 1998, the latter of which he won a championship and propelled him into CART in 1999 when he won that year’s title on a tiebreaker over Dario Franchitti. After another year with a few wins in 2000, notably his romp on debut at the Indianapolis 500, he was off to Formula 1 where he raced for five and a half years from 2001 through 2006. His abrupt F1 ending produced the start of his NASCAR career, which stretched from the end of 2006 through 2013 before coming back to IndyCar, where he had been full-time the last three years and probably should have won the 2015 title had he not lost that one on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon.

Home life is the way forward for Montoya now, who’s overseeing son Sebastian’s burgeoning kart career of his own and racing when he wants to rather than when he has to. And given he’s already back on pace in his first day back in an IndyCar in six months, it should come as no surprise given his ability level.

Seeing the fun side of Montoya has been evident on social media; he and Tony Kanaan both posted a pair of Instagram stories last night as they chronicled their flight delays getting out of Birmingham and back to Florida in the wee hours. And yes, Montoya did make it home before sunrise.