Bits and pieces on the Milwaukee IndyFest

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Helio, Dario are the hard chargers: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti certainly earned their paychecks yesterday at Milwaukee, as each jumped 15 positions from where they started at the drop of the green. Castroneves came from 17th to a runner-up finish, while Dario Franchitti moved from 23rd to eighth at the finish.

Franchitti, a two-time winner on the Mile, overcame an engine penalty that had dropped him 10 spots on the grid from where he qualified on Friday. However, he complained of how tough it was to cut through traffic and wondered if INDYCAR officials needed to step in and possibly make some changes.

“The cars are so close, so the series might be a victim of their own success right now,” said Franchitti. “We need to start allowing something to differentiate when guys get it right and wrong.”

– Chevy dominates: At a flat one mile in length, Milwaukee isn’t necessarily a power track, instead putting the emphasis on handling and how you deal with lapped traffic. Nevertheless, Chevrolet can still crow a bit after securing its second consecutive sweep of the Top 5 positions with winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, E.J. Viso and James Hinchcliffe. The Bowtie Brigade also locked out the Top 5 one weekend ago at Texas Motor Speedway.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon led the Honda camp with a sixth-place showing despite having to deal with understeer issues.

– Off to Le Mans for Briscoe: The Milwaukee IndyFest started a very busy week for Ryan Briscoe, who made his third start of the season in the No. 4 Panther Racing Chevrolet. Briscoe, who finished 15th on Saturday, is a full-time American Le Mans Series driver for Level 5 Motorsports, and he’s competing with them in next weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He took part in the official test day last weekend at Circuit de la Sarthe and then arrived in Milwaukee for his Panther duties on Thursday. Shortly after racing on Saturday, he was heading off back to France to continue preparing for his rookie run in the famous sports car race.

“The travel hasn’t been that bad,” Briscoe told IndyCar.com. “It’s not that big a time difference and the flight is about the same as going out to the West Coast…For me, this is a lot better than sitting home and watching, so I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I’ve got at Panther.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”