Juncos Racing

Juncos (17, leading) and Harding (88) are mixing it up among IndyCar's regulars, like Penske (22). Photo: IndyCar

Trio of new entrants add intrigue to INDYCAR’s ownership pool

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INDIANAPOLIS – One came to America with almost nothing from Argentina. One has operated a local construction firm and taken his passion from fandom to his own team. And one has been a staple of the sports car scene for more than a dozen years, yet now finally gets to live out his original passion back in the open-wheel world.

Add in an iconic name in McLaren coming back to the Brickyard after a several-decade hiatus and you’ve got three new team owners and one returning major manufacturer name as the team newcomers in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Combined, they field five cars. Ricardo Juncos making his INDYCAR debut with a full two-car effort for Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra. Mike Harding has assembled a new one-car entry on his own for Gabby Chaves. Mike Shank has partnered with Andretti Autosport to run a car for rookie Jack Harvey, while McLaren, Honda and Andretti have combined as branding partners for the Fernando Alonso entry that folks hope will eventually preview a fuller McLaren entry down the road.

The McLaren name is back at Indy, via Andretti Autosport and Honda. Photo: IndyCar

As for the three that are here from a team standpoint, Juncos has the most successful open-wheel pedigree among the three entrants. Any keen-eyed observer of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires will have seen Juncos’ team’s success and preparation showcased in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, championships which they won by the end of their second full season in each. Spencer Pigot won him championships in both back-to-back in the two in 2014 and 2015 and Conor Daly won the Pro Mazda title in 2010; both are Juncos alumni now in IndyCar.

Pigot and Juncos back again. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But stepping up into IndyCar was always going to be a question of timing, opportunity and financial resources with which to do so. Luckily as KV Racing Technology’s era of operation drew down, so its equipment became available, and Juncos was able to acquire what was needed to step up.

All this was occurring while Juncos was prepping a two-car Indy Lights team as scheduled for 2017, and then completed an eleventh hour deal to keep its Pro Mazda team going after selling off that equipment. But this also comes after Juncos moved into his new 44,000-square foot shop in downtown Speedway, Ind. in December.

“A lot’s been going on – like a storm!” Juncos told NBC Sports. “But we put a full IndyCar team together in two months, from zero, in terms of everything. We assembled and put the cars together, and all these people together, without missing anything on the Pro Mazda or Indy Lights teams.

“Last weekend, when we won both races in Pro Mazda, and were able to win the one in Indy Lights, it’s all about the team effort – we are doing IndyCar without making any issues on these teams. That’s the goal. It was a lot of work, but everything is very good. I’m still learning everyday. I’m excited for what the future can give us, for this race.”

Pigot lights it up after a pit stop. Photo: IndyCar

The crew features a number of KVRT alumni, including Greg Senerius (team manager). The engineering staff includes technical director Tom Brown, an open-wheel and sports car veteran, along with past Indy 500-winning entrant Steve Newey and fellow IndyCar veteran David Cripps, who came up frustratingly short of winning when he was with Panther Racing.

Shank, who brings the majority (but not all) of his Acura NSX GT3 sports car crew to the Andretti team, which keeps the band of lifers together from his shop based outside Columbus in Patalaska, Ohio. They got the chance to go with him to Le Mans last year and now get to add Indy, with Shank, to their resumes. Noting how much people love Shank, his longtime friend and Rolex 24 driver AJ Allmendinger and Allmendinger’s friend and current Shank Acura driver Katherine Legge have been here for support this week.

“It’s not about me. It’s always been about my guys,” Shank told NBC Sports. “My guys have been with me from 10 to 23 years, always standing behind me. A lot of guys have been with other teams, but if we want to do Indy, we want to do it as a present group. Whatever happens, we deal with. We fix it. We do it together.

“I try not to micromanage. For me, it’s step back and let (Tim) Keene (team manager) run the show. With the technical background Andretti has, the whole thing is so very good. Let’s see where we land. This could be interesting.”

Harvey and Shank are rolling through the ups and downs of Indy. Photo: IndyCar

Interesting it was – albeit for the wrong reasons on the opening day of practice for Harvey. With the car encountering a steering issue, Harvey was shot into the Turn 2 wall exiting the warmup lane and suffered right front damage. That required a rebuild of the car after it was stripped down and then put back together, but the English driver has made methodical progress forward since that point, culminating with 124 laps run on Monday.

Bad as that day was, it’s still a damn sight better than the potential debut Shank could have had in IndyCar in 2012. Shank’s engine plight was made public as Honda and Chevrolet added extra teams saddled with Lotus engines that wanted to switch prior to Indy, which wasn’t in either manufacturer’s game plan. Yet it also left a bitter taste for Shank, who had gone out, purchased a Dallara DW12 chassis, but couldn’t get an engine to run it outside of the Lotus. Had he debuted with that engine, it’s quite possible Shank in IndyCar could have been one-and-done.

In the five years since, INDYCAR’s leadership structure has evolved and it’s likely that without Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, among others than neither Juncos nor Shank would be racing next weekend in the ‘500. Both owners took the time to thank Frye and INDYCAR as a result.

“To be honest one of the things that surprised me the most is how professional they are,” Juncos said. “Mark Miles, Jay Frye, everyone in INDYCAR, marketing, to the PR guys. Bill van de Sandt invited us to T&S and Race Control so I could have an idea! They pushed me to do this.

“I knew it was probably the right opportunity at the right time. But it was still a big, big task. Jay Frye gave me a bit of confidence and support that this is the right thing to do. I’m so pleased to have those guys. The support is massive, and for drivers to believe in our program.”

“It’s a deep exhale! What we went through, no one should have to go,” Shank explained. “There’s two people I have to thank: Jay Frye and Mark Sibla have championed us. They came and saw me after the 2017 Rolex and said, ‘If you want to come here, let’s work it out with a team since I don’t have a car.’ But they were very instrumental. They always answer their phones.”

Chaves has a chance with Harding. Photo: IndyCar

If Juncos and Shank have been known from their pedigree in other series, Harding’s arrival is more of a surprise because it comes largely out of left field. But that’s not a bad thing.

With a construction background by trade with the Harding Group, Harding had always been a fan of the Indianapolis 500. Yet after last year’s 100th running, he took a big leap of faith in tandem with team manager Larry Curry to turn that fandom into an actual program, and purchase two new Dallaras as a result, complete with Harding’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. fandom producing a stylized No. 88 Chevrolet. And for good measure, Al Unser Jr. is working with the team as a driver coach.

“I had gone away from racing, other than Indy-only things,” Curry told NBC Sports. “I worked for Mike. Mike asked me if I was gonna do last year’s 500. I told him, ‘But I work for you!’ ‘You need to go do it,’ he said. ‘You’ve been there so many years. You have to do it. I’ll give you off whatever time you need.’

“So I did, and the race is over, we’re up in the suite talking. He said, ‘What do you think about doing this? What do you think about us doing our own deal?’ I just said right away, ‘Mike, it’s very extensive.’ He replied, ‘I never asked that. I asked, would you do it for me.’ But you know how it is, there’s a lot of excitement in May… this’ll go away. Guess what, it didn’t!”

Harding backed that up nicely. “Larry worked for me for the last couple years, and he mentored Tony Stewart,” he said. “So I told him, ‘What do you think about starting a team this year?’ And he was all gung ho for it. We didn’t know if it’d really happen for it, but it came through.”

One of the things that’s additionally nice about all three of these entrants is their push to provide opportunities for recent Mazda Road to Indy graduates. Pigot, 23, completes a 15-year journey with Juncos that began in karting together. Saavedra, a seemingly eternal 26, has been in-and-out of IndyCar for parts of seven seasons; this is his seventh team he’s attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with.

Harding runs Chaves, who edged Harvey, Shank’s driver, for the 2014 Indy Lights title on a tiebreaker.

All of the team owners are so thrilled with the upside and potential of their young stars.

Pigot and Juncos are reunited for Juncos’ Indy debut. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s crazy obviously!” Juncos laughed. “These things have only happened a few times in history. For me, 15 years ago, coming from Argentina, in karts and he’s 9 years old. Now we’re living this. Sometimes things happen in humanity, which luckily happened for us. Without losing the focus, enjoy this, because it’s a great story of the team, of Spencer, of both of us together. For whatever reason, it’s happening.”

Harvey and Shank are rolling through the ups and downs of Indy. Photo: IndyCar

“Having Jack, it’s part of the package. We’re all one kit together,” Shank said. “Jack, you’re on my side now. My guys are the same way. They’ll support him good and bad.”

“Mike Hull from Ganassi recommended Gabby Chaves to us, he’s the best one out there,” Harding said. “I set up an interview with Gabby and couldn’t believe how mature this 23-year-old man was. I think we made the right decision.”

Al Unser Jr. and Gabby Chaves. Photo: IndyCar

Naturally, debuting is one thing but future development and staying power is the ultimate goal here.

Juncos has long harbored ambitions of a full-time IndyCar program, Shank has now opened the doors to one in addition to his continued, dedicated sports car presence, and Harding already seems set to race at least twice more this year.

For this race, Chaves has qualified the best in 25th for Harding, with Harvey in 27th for Shank and Andretti, then the Juncos pair of Pigot (29th) and Saavedra (31st) a little further behind. Both of the Juncos cars had slow fourth laps in qualifying; Juncos has pushed through with a rebuild of Pigot’s primary car from Friday to Saturday, working through the night to get the car ready to go for Pigot to qualify.

With only eight full-time owners now, and with three of them in Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti fielding 12 full-time cars of 21 and 15 of 33 at Indy, spreading the car count among other teams is one of INDYCAR’s key goals for 2018 and beyond.

“I think it’s really key,” said Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company Hulman & Co. “I don’t think that’s an economic driver for us, but it’s very healthy to have more diversity in our owner group.

“We love Roger, we love Michael, we love Chip … and we love all the rest of our current paddock. But more owners being invested in the series is a healthier thing. It’s very good.

“Besides these three when you have Zak Brown talking about a couple cars, not just at the Indy 500 but INDYCAR, it’s a very exciting thing.”

Indy 500 qualifying day one game plan, outline, notes

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INDIANAPOLIS – Rain is expected to hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway later today, which would push qualifying back during the day schedule or into tomorrow.

Practice is underway for two groups this morning, with a guaranteed 20 minutes of run time confirmed for each group. Because the session was on a slight hold to start, that pushed the scheduled times back a bit.

The groups are separated as follows:

  • Group 1 (8-8:30 a.m.): 63-Pippa Mann, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya, 10-Tony Kanaan, 12-Will Power, 77-Jay Howard, 19-Ed Jones, 3-Helio Castroneves, 24-Sage Karam, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 9-Scott Dixon, 1-Simon Pagenaud, 40-Zach Veach, 5-James Hinchcliffe, 4-Conor Daly, 15-Graham Rahal, 29-Fernando Alonso, 11-Spencer Pigot
  • Group 2 (8:30-9 a.m.): 8-Max Chilton, 83-Charlie Kimball, 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 98-Alexander Rossi, 27-Marco Andretti, 26-Takuma Sato, 2-Josef Newgarden, 17-Sebastian Saavedra, 50-Jack Harvey, 16-Oriol Servia, 44-Buddy Lazier, 20-Ed Carpenter, 14-Carlos Munoz, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 21-JR Hildebrand, 88-Gabby Chaves

All cars are then eligible to participate from 9 to 9:30 a.m. After that, it goes into qualifying, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.

In layman’s terms, the easiest way to explain qualifying is that from the qualifying draw, it goes in order from there by primary cars (very few teams will qualify a backup car) and then it will shift into whether teams go into a line to make a second attempt. So although Sebastian Saavedra’s No. 17T AFS Chevrolet for Juncos Racing has the first draw, second-drawn Pippa Mann in the No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda would be the first primary car to make an attempt.

The Fast Nine is meant to be set on the first day of qualifying. Speeds from today don’t count for anything, except who makes the Fast Nine and who will slot in in spots 10-33 thereafter, as speeds are wiped out.

However, if rain arrives as expected, INDYCAR will provide updates on the qualifying status as they become available.

The qualifying draw is linked below, followed by the infographic that explains how qualifying works.

In other notes from around the paddock yesterday and this morning:

  • Per Trackside Online, Pippa Mann is the first woman to turn a lap at more than 230 mph around IMS. Mann, who’s already set a record as the first and thus far only woman to have a pole here (2010 in Indy Lights, then driving for Sam Schmidt), seeks to make her sixth start in the Indianapolis 500, fifth consecutive with Dale Coyne Racing in the team’s No. 63 Honda. She also turned the cockpit of her car pink yesterday as part of her Get Involved campaign. Mann noted the lap of 230.103 mph was tow-assisted but it was a good step forward for her heading into qualifying.
  • A.J. Foyt Racing team director George Klotz confirmed to NBC Sports that Zach Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet will not be ready to run until Sunday morning. Repairs were coming together on the car after Veach’s accident in the final 20 minutes of Friday’s running, but with weather coming today and a tight window to shake the rebuilt car down this morning, the decision was taken to run Sunday next at the earliest.
  • As for Juncos Racing, team officials and the crew members worked through the night to repair the No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet for Spencer Pigot after his accident. Although Pigot also wasn’t out this morning, it proved a tireless bit of work and meshing by the Ricardo Juncos-led operation to get the car close to being assembled and back ready to go, ahead of the team’s Verizon IndyCar Series race debut.
  • In a weird note, Pigot and Veach were teammates for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber three races ago, but now had incidents for other non-Carpenter teams on the same day. With Josef Newgarden having an incident on Thursday for Team Penske, the ex-ECR incident roster is long at the moment, while ECR has fortunately – to this point – avoided a repeat of its heavy crash run in practice in 2015.
  • On Friday, the 51st annual Louis Schwitzer Award has been presented to engineers Don Burgoon, James Borner, Darin Cate, Paul Rankin and Mark Wagner from PFC Brakes for the PFC carbon disc brake system. While PFC’s brakes were a story line at the season-opening St. Petersburg race weekend, the overall consistency and improved performance has shown through in the races since – a credit to the work done by the team led by PFC Director of Motorsports Darrick Dong, who was in attendance on Friday as well.

More to follow later today.

Pigot sustains heavy crash in practice; first setback for Juncos

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INDIANAPOLIS – Practice has resumed following a two-hour, 36-minute rain delay on “Fast Friday” for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Unfortunately for Spencer Pigot, his return to the track suffered an early ending.

The driver of the No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet for Juncos Racing lost control exiting Turn 2 and tattooed the wall sideways on exit. He then glided along the wall with significant damage to the nosecone, rear wheel guards and right side.

Pigot said he was unsure of what happened but was OK, as he was checked, released and cleared to drive.

“I’m not really sure. In Turn 2, hasn’t been an issue for us all week, before I knew it I was backwards. I’m fine,” Pigot said.

“The cars are pretty safe. Not that bad of a hit. I don’t think actual chassis is damaged. I think that’s a good sign. We’ll put new parts back on and be back out tomorrow.

“Earlier this afternoon the car felt very solid. We were trying to get more speed out this afternoon. Now we won’t get a chance to do that. You never want to be in this situation. We were comfortable earlier on today. If we put it back together.

“No unfortunately not. I took a bigger (hit) last year. Hopefully this is the last one for a while.”

The session is into the final hour of the day.

Juncos Racing makes successful IndyCar debut Monday at IMS

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Juncos Racing rolled out of the gate with 75 laps complete in the first official practice on Monday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, following on from 23 banked in the Rookie Orientation Program/refresher program.

Drivers Spencer Pigot (No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet) and Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 AFS Chevrolet) had solid days of work, to make Ricardo Juncos’ debut day in the Verizon IndyCar Series a good one.

The full team release is below.

Juncos Racing made its Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series today during the first day of practice in preparation for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 set for May, 28, 2017.

Spencer Pigot in the No. 11 Juncos Racing Dallara/Chevrolet//Firestone car was the first Juncos Racing driver to turn a lap on the fabled 2.5-mile oval. He went out at noon today for an installation lap checking the car to make sure all the systems were functioning properly.

Shortly thereafter, Sebastian Saavedra, in the No. 17 AFS/Juncos Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone car, turned the first laps at speed while doing a “refresher course” (for drivers who have not driven at the Speedway recently), prior to full practice.

Commenting on making his IndyCar debut at the Brickyard Juncos Racing owner Ricardo Juncos said, “It is a honor and a privilege to be here racing IndyCars at the greatest race track in the world. I have so many people to thank for making this dream come true. Mark Miles and everyone at the Speedway as well as Jay Frye and all the staff at IndyCar have been so helpful guiding us through the process. Chevrolet for supplying the power, and most of all the all the drivers, engineers, crew and everyone at Juncos Racing who have worked so hard to get to this point. This is something very special and I am so proud.”

Juncos Racing has debuted. Photo: IndyCar

During the full practice Saavedra, who is making his sixth Indianapolis 500 appearance, led the team with a lap of 222.593 mph placing him 21st on the speed charts for the day. His fastest lap of the day came of the 36th of the 39 laps he turned on the first day of practice.

“Altogether a very positive first day for AFS Juncos No. 17 car,” Saavedra said. “I felt as if I was a riding a bike. It came back to me quickly. I had to mentality ease through it, not put any pressure on myself which allowed us to get the small things out of the way. We focused on the initial setup and I started connecting with my engineer. It’s been awhile since we worked together, so it was good to get to have this time together. It was also good to work back with my teammate Spencer Pigot. That is going to be crucial for us to have a good month of May. So, overall a very positive first day of testing. I’m very pleased.”

Pigot, who is contesting just his second Indy 500, did not run in traffic during any of his 49 laps. His fastest speed, 218.065 mph, came on lap 39 which put him 29th on the speed charts.

“Yeah, it was a good first day,” Pigot said. “We didn’t really have any issues and that’s what we wanted. We didn’t do a huge amount of laps. We just did a few runs to make sure everything was working well and just kind of did our own thing today. As the week goes on we’ll get more aggressive and start running in traffic a bit more, find some people to get tows and go a little bit quicker. Today the goal was to make sure everything ran okay and we did that”

Juncos Racing has previously competed at IMS 17 times in both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Series. The team has made seven starts on the road course (four in Pro Mazda and three in Indy Lights) and three starts on the oval in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. Juncos Racing has four total victories at the Speedway all on the road course (three in Pro Mazda and one in Indy Lights) over five years (2012, 2014-2017). Three of the victories came last weekend when the team captured both the Pro Mazda events and the Indy Lights race.

Saavedra is a veteran of 61 Verizon IndyCar starts. In his five previous Indy 500 starts he has a best finish of 15th in 2014. The 2017 Indy 500 marks Saavedra’s return to Verizon IndyCar competition after a one year hiatus. The 26-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia made his first IndyCar start at the Indianapolis 500 for Bryan Herta Autosport. He has also competed in the Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport, 2012, Dragon Racing, 2013, KV Racing, 2014 (also captured the pole for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix) and Chip Ganassi, 2015

Pigot, the 2014 Pro Mazda and 2015 Indy Lights Champion (both with Juncos Racing) has made 15 Verizon IndyCar starts over the last two years including his first Indy 500 (qualified 29th and finished 25th) last year Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The 23-year-old from Orlando, Florida is scheduled to contest all Verizon IndyCar road and street course events for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2017. He has already notched two top-10 showings in his first four events this year (an eighth place showing at Long Beach and a ninth place finish last weekend in the Indy Grand Prix). .

Alonso leads ROP/refresher session as several others debut

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INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso paced the opening practice session for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – albeit one that only features a handful of the 33 cars scheduled to compete running.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion was back out after arriving Sunday night from the Spanish Grand Prix, and did 35 laps in the session with a best speed of 221.634 mph in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry.

His Spanish countryman Oriol Servia (technically, he’s Catalan) was second in his first IndyCar running since last year’s Indianapolis 500, when he was in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ third car. Servia, now in the No. 16 Manitowoc Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, clocked a speed of 220.759 mph.

Jones good to go. Photo: IndyCar

Ed Jones was first on the day to complete all three phases of his Rookie Orientation Program. The Dubai-based Brit got through easily and in a total of 48 laps, posted a best speed of 219.288 mph, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Jay Howard and Sebastian Saavedra have completed all phases of their refresher program for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Juncos Racing, respectively.

Juncos Racing has debuted. Photo: IndyCar

Both Saavedra and Spencer Pigot completed laps for Juncos in Ricardo Juncos’ maiden run with his Chevrolet-powered IndyCar on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Saavedra did the bulk of them with a best lap of 216.598 mph in 22 laps, while Pigot only did an installation lap in his car.

Harvey’s session is underway. Photo: IndyCar

Rookie Jack Harvey completed the first phase of his ROP program despite a clutch issue for his No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda. Further issues have prohibited him from completing phases two and three as yet.

The fourth member of the rookie group, Zach Veach, is yet to get through ROP. The driver of the No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet was late out, barely out before 2 p.m., owing to late completion of the car’s build.

Additional notes from this morning are linked here.

Buddy Lazier’s chassis is here, and was spotted in the garage earlier today. The Lazier Racing Partners team is building up the car and it remains to be seen when it will first hit the track.

Temperatures have increased from 77 ambient and 106 track this morning to 83 and 122, respectively, later on.

Speeds from this first two-hour session are below, with all cars now available to go on track until 6 p.m. ET.