In wake of scandal, Venezuela freezes support money for drivers

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The government of Venezuela has frozen all disbursements of hard currency for race car and motorcycle drivers who compete internationally, according to a report from Jorge Rueda of The Associated Press.

One of the drivers affected is Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso, who was said to have been “ill” and mentioned trying to recover from food poisoning in a tweet yesterday. Colombian driver Carlos Munoz has taken over Viso’s No. 5 Chevrolet – which features backing from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA – for tonight’s MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

According to Rueda’s report, Venezuelan officials are investigating a sports currency scandal stemming from its Cadivi state agency, which is in charge of helping Venezuelan businesses abroad obtain currency.

Sports Minister Alejandra Benitez told a local newspaper that an initial investigation of the disbursements found that one unnamed driver received $66 million and that her signature had been forged on 60 disbursement files for hard currency.

The freeze on these disbursements could have a major effect on many Venezuelan racers around the world, as according to Rueda, Benitez mentioned that more than 98 percent of her foreign competition budget goes toward motor sports efforts.

Venezuela helps support programs in a variety of disciplines such as IndyCar, sports car racing, and Formula One, where Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, like Viso, also receives support from the PDVSA oil group.

The death of longtime Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in March had been seen as potentially having severe consequences for Venezuela’s drivers, and the country’s economy has gone on a downward slide since then. However, PDVSA noted shortly after Chavez’s death that its support of Maldonado would continue.

Bob Fernley announced as president of McLaren IndyCar

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Bob Fernley will bring his experience as former deputy team principal at Force India F1 to McLaren Racing’s IndyCar effort in 2019.

Fernley will report directly to McLaren Racing’s CEO Zak Brown.

“Heading back to the Brickyard will be a very special experience for me,” Fernley said at IndyCar.com. “I am proud to be leading this McLaren project and team. The 500 is a hell of a challenge and we have incredibly strong competitors to overcome if we’re to be successful. We will need to prepare well for the month of May and that work starts now.”

Fernley’s appointing come of the heels of last week’s announcement that McLaren will create a brand new team to compete in the 2019 Indy 500.

MORE: Fernando Alonso to return to Indy 500 in 2019

For now, Fernley’s responsibility is to create an entry that is capable of allowing two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso to win the Indy 500 in just his second start. But speculation has been widespread that the entry will be a jumping off point for a much broader involvement in IndyCar.

In 2017, Alonso qualified on the middle of row two (fifth), led 27 laps and succumbed to mechanical failure. His effort was impressive enough to be name Rookie of the Year for the Indy 500.

“Bob is a fantastic operator and someone I respect greatly,” Brown said. “His experience and leadership will be essential for us on this project. He is particularly talented at putting effective teams together and extracting maximum performance with finite resources. The Indy 500 is no easy race and Bob’s is a key role, so I’m delighted he’s on board.”