IndyCar notes: Filippi closing on deal; Andretti engineering shift

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Many IndyCar folks have been here on the ground in Austin at Circuit of the Americas this weekend. To wit, we’ve already touched on Simona de Silvestro visiting with Sauber for a photo op, the series president of competition and operations Derrick Walker’s possible series changes, and circuit ambassador and racing legend Mario Andretti’s opinions on IndyCar’s 2014 schedule and Heikki Kovalainen’s settling into Lotus.

But, there’s even more bits and pieces that are emerging:

  • Luca Filippi, who starred in his cameo appearances for Bryan Herta Autosport/Barracuda Racing this year, is close to a full-time deal with the team for 2014 per multiple sources. The Italian made an incredible and indelible impression on the team at Mid-Ohio, Baltimore and Houston. He’s here this weekend with TV work with English broadcaster Sky Sports.
  • Michael Andretti joins his father Mario on the premises. The middle Andretti confirmed a RACER report that Craig Hampson will move into a team R&D role, with Nathan O’Rourke moving over from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to become James Hinchcliffe’s engineer. Hinchcliffe, who was scheduled to test Monday in Sebring, will not test now and that leaves just Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz to test.
  • Charlie Kimball was also here today, in the midst of a whirlwind offseason, as a guest of the Mercedes F1 Team. Kimball said any rumblings about who could enter the Chip Ganassi Racing fold to replace the retired Dario Franchitti was “above his pay grade.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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