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.”

Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”