Andretti announces Honda, Hinch, UFD and Brabham to Indy Lights

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Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosport team returns to its longtime engine partner, Honda, for 2014. The team announced the move Saturday ahead of the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – one of a series of moves announced by the team.

“It’s like going back to family,” Andretti said. “Team Green was one of the factory Honda teams in the mid-90s. I do want to thank Chevrolet, awesome to work with, them and Illmor. Won a championship with them and a lot of races. The way everything came down. Honda was the best option going forward.”

Added Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development: “We have a long history with the Andretti name. Clearly Andretti has been very strong. It is important to have teams and drivers that can complement each other.”

Had Andretti stayed with Chevrolet, it would have meant the three preeminent teams in IndyCar, Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, would be part of the “Bowtie brigade.”

A statement from Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, read:

“We’d like to thank Michael Andretti and the entire Andretti Autosport organization for their partnership in IndyCar Series competition during 2012 and 2013. Michael, J-F Thormann and John Lopes lead a quality organization that resulted in Ryan Hunter-Reay winning the 2012 IndyCar Series driver championship. We would like to thank the Andretti Autosport drivers for their on-track achievements that contributed to Chevrolet clinching the 2012 manufacturers’ championship.  They are all true professionals on and off the track. We wish them well and look forward to spirited competition in the future.”

As it is, Andretti’s team has shifted as a counterpunch to Ganassi’s switch the other way. Andretti achieved great success with Honda from 2003 through 2011, and prior to that as Team Green from 1998 through 2002. Andretti’s team won three series championships (2004, Tony Kanaan, 2005, Dan Wheldon, 2007, Dario Franchitti) and scored two Indianapolis 500 victories (2005, Wheldon and 2007, Franchitti).

Andretti’s team also won races with sister brand Acura from 2007 to 2008 in the American Le Mans Series P2 class.

On the driving front, faced with the choice of testing the open market, and a new situation, or returning where he’s taken his IndyCar career to the next level, Canadian James Hinchcliffe decided staying put at Andretti Autosport made more sense for his future. He’s re-signed for a one year deal with a team option for a second year.

“We’re doing an encore performance,” said Hinchcliffe. “The last two years have been tremendous. To keep the band together so to speak is huge.”

Hinchcliffe, who’s won three races this season, will stay with Andretti after other media reports (RACER’s Robin Miller, Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer) had linked him to potential moves to either KV Racing Technology or perhaps Chip Ganassi Racing.

The other major announcement was the official confirmation of GoDaddy’s departure from IndyCar ahead of a planned drawdown from all forms of motorsports, and United Fiber & Data replacing GoDaddy as primary sponsor of Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 Honda. UFD, which has served as an associate sponsor for the team this year, will serve as an associate on the No. 25 (Marco Andretti) and No. 28 (Ryan Hunter-Reay) cars next year.

“We saw how great with he was as a brand ambassador,” said Bill Hines of UFD. “We want to piggyback off that. Hinch is a hilarious individual. He’s not such a great golfer. The face of UFD should be this one.”

Honda Canada support has not been confirmed for the team, contrary to rumors suggesting it would be.

“There’s talk but we haven’t done anything with them yet,” Michael Andretti said. “There’s a possibility with Hinch.”

The other UFD bit of news was the confirmation it would be primary sponsor for Matthew “Matty” Brabham, the 2013 Pro Mazda champion who will step up to Andretti’s Indy Lights team in 2014. Brabham will team with Zach Veach, who qualified on the pole for today’s Lights race.

The one bit of news not touched on was E.J. Viso’s absence this weekend. Andretti Autosport released a statement Saturday regarding that:

“Andretti Autosport was notified Thursday evening of E.J. Viso’s illness by both Viso and his health care provider. Viso made every attempt to make the trip to Fontana to take the track for his crew and sponsors. E.J.’s illness was too great and it was advised by his medical team that he remain home to recover. While we are disappointed that he will not be able to join us for the 2013 IndyCar Season finale this weekend, we are more concerned with his health. We will miss having E.J. around the track with us and wish him a speedy recovery.”

F1 aggressive on COVID-19 testing, social distancing enforcement

F1 COVID-19 testing
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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With big hugs and wide smiles, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown exuberantly celebrated the first podium finish of Lando Norris’ Formula One career. His exuberance earned a warning from Formula One and FIA officials during the era of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent F1 testing.

“Obviously I got excited with Lando on the podium and embraced him after the race,” Brown said with a laugh during a news conference Friday. “You get caught up in the emotion and excitement of the event, but it was suggested maybe I don’t do that again if we get a podium anytime soon.”

MASK WARNING: NASCAR tells teams to avoid ‘complacency’

Now in its second race weekend of 2020, F1 has taken an aggressive approach to maintain a paddock free of COVID-19. Before teams hit the track last week for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, F1 and FIA officials said more than 4,000 tests were conducted over a week with no positive tests.

In order to enter the track, any F1 personnel (which includes drivers and team members) must have a negative COVID-19 test. Private testing was used ahead of those traveling to Austria. After entering the track, personnel are tested every five days with private medical teams at events along with extra screening.

The results of F1 COVID-19 testing also will be made public every seven days. More than 8,000 tests were conducted through Saturday.

It’s a much different tack from NASCAR and IndyCar, neither of which is conducting COVID-19 testing (and with NASCAR recently distributing that warned teams of “complacency with protocols).

Though Brown, who also oversees Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports in IndyCar, demurred when asked whether the U.S.-based series should be taking a cue, he praised F1 COVID-19 testing for being a best-in-class example.

“I don’t know exactly what every other racing series is doing, so it would be difficult for me to say they’re doing it right or wrong,” Brown said from Austria. “All I can really do is speak to what Formula One is doing, and they’re doing an unbelievable job with 5,000 tests, and people flying in from different parts of the world. The minute that someone — and there’s not been many instances – has taken a mask off, you’re getting a letter or a phone call saying put your mask back on.

“I think all sports should be looking at all sports and seeing who’s doing what and what are our best practices, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about how the FIA and Formula One and the countries they’re racing in are executing because it feels extremely safe here.”

Brown said it’s unlikely the European-based circuit will do F1 COVID-19 testing at races in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Canada because the events likely will be scrubbed. Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, was scheduled to play host to F1 on the Oct. 23-25 race weekend but just canceled its MotoGP race.

“We’d very much like to race at all those circuits,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, my opinion is it’s probably unlikely we’ll race at any of those venues this year. That’s obviously due to the COVID situation. … Let’s see what happens, but certainly it seems like the spikes in Texas are pretty severe and Brazil and Mexico and Canada a little less so. But if we miss them this year, we certainly look forward to going back to those venues next year.”