Photo: Tony DiZinno

IndyCar media day 2016: Rolling updates

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INDIANAPOLIS – We are off and rolling at the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series media day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Contrary to last year, it’s semi-warm for February and there isn’t snow on the ground. The coffee is both good and needed.

The first press conference of the day has concluded and featured the four confirmed drivers with the least amount of combined experience: Mikhail Aleshin, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly.

Daly, who had his firesuit all ready to go, was told he needed to put it on in advance for some of the media commitments today. Seeing as the other three did not have a suit on, one could be forgiven for thinking Daly had been the setup of some “rookie hazing” as a practical joke.

Quick quotes from the four of them:

  • Aleshin on missing the 2015 season while in the European Le Mans Series: “It was an interesting experience. I tried to watch every race when I could. But of course, I missed IndyCar a lot. It’s one of the best series out there and I’m so happy to be here.”
  • Chilton on his conversations and dialogue with Ganassi: “It all kind of came up in July at Iowa, to win my second ever oval race was something. I’d had (conversations) with every team bar one. I got it down to two (teams) pretty quick. I had signed a few weeks ago.”
  • Pigot on whether he has any further confirmed races beyond the three he is already set with: “The plan is to do as many races as we can. I’ve been patient answering all the questions. I’ve been to testing with Graham Rahal at Sebring. I’ll only have one or two days testing before the first race.”
  • Daly on the power of Jonathan Byrd’s: “We were having fried chicken and then we thought, maybe we can put this deal together. So fried chicken and meat loaf for everyone this year. We’re gonna have a lot of American-ness this year, even though my suit is in Irish colors.”

The next batch of four drivers came through were branded as the “young guns and future legends,” and featured Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe and a slightly delayed Marco Andretti. Hinchcliffe took the opportunity to joke that considering he’ll turn 30 in December and heads into his sixth season, he’s appreciative of still being called a “young gun.”

There weren’t a ton of season-worthy items discussed, more so their obvious presence on social media. Much laughter was exchanged. Quotes will follow later today.

Honda was next up and has confirmed their extension with INDYCAR. The big news isn’t that they have extended, but rather that they disclosed the length. Usually, “multiyear” is the de rigueur term used in these type announcements.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles is now up and discussing the updates thus far at IMS, for “Project 100,” as the Speedway continues to improve and innovate the iconic, historic facility heading into 2016. Again, quotes will follow later today.

Four words about the livery reveal for Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 9 Chevrolet at IMS: The Bolt is Back.

A separate post will follow on this for the car that ran from 1995 to 2001, and won IndyCar or CART championships four years in a row from 1996 to 1999, and the 2000 and 2001 Indianapolis 500s.

Here’s a gift from IMS to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and an unusual one at that.

A new season means new firesuits. Here’s one from Josef Newgarden, who will start the year in a Fuzzy’s Vodka livery in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power are reliving the finish of the 99th Indianapolis 500. I’m not 100 percent sure why.

Mark Miles had his comments and didn’t reveal anything Earth-shattering.

We went onto more informal press sessions, one-on-one, after that. Ed Carpenter took time to elaborate on the change in the ownership status within Ed Carpenter Racing, now back to ECR after the end of CFH Racing last week.

“It’s not huge internally,” Carpenter told assembled media. “We’d operated as ECR from 2012 through 2014. We merged with SFHR in 2015 to form CFH Racing. As we got into this offseason, all sorts of things we don’t need to get into, happened. Some partnership changes precipitated us going back to ECR for 2016.

“The important thing for me to have everyone understand, is that plans are the same now as for CFH. We’re running Josef full-time, I’ll run ovals, and hopefully have the 20 on roads. There’s still a little time to make it happen. That’s the biggest thing. We’re in good shape. Have all our people back in key positions.”

Carpenter didn’t rule out a return for Luca Filippi but said all options remain on the table for the second car on road and street courses, if it happens. He also maintains continual dialogue with JR Hildebrand in hopes of the young American continuing for another season. The tentative plan for the Indianapolis 500 for ECR is two cars, although that could change.

Regarding a strategist for Josef Newgarden, absent one with Andy O’Gara’s departure, Carpenter said it has been determined but not publicly named. The strategist, who currently resides within the team, would provide continuity rather than if it was Carpenter himself doing it on occasion.

We banked a number of interviews during the day and will roll those out in the days and weeks to come. Thanks for following.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).