RC Enerson waiting to go out. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Indy Lights test complete in Phoenix; Thursday IndyCar notes

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s already been a busy morning for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, which is testing today at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Dallara IL-15 Mazda chassis is hauling the mail. With timing & scoring up, RC Enerson in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car is the first driver to clock a lap sub-22 seconds, and as of 11:00 a.m. MT and local time, has a best lap time of 21.872 seconds – or 168.214 mph.

The session runs til noon local time. Rookies were out first, then veterans only, then all cars of the 16 cars entered.

Juan Piedrahita, driver of the No. 2 Team Pelfrey car, sustained a small fire which brought out an extended yellow flag. A heavy amount of oil was laid down and put the session under yellow.

Piedrahita reported he was OK and didn’t get a warning, but pulled off course once smoke was detected at Turns 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other early nuggets gleaned from the first morning of three during this week’s series test:

  • Gabby Chaves is on site, in the first round of his “making the rounds” and working to secure an Indianapolis 500 program. Chaves told NBC Sports he hopes to have that program sorted within the next several weeks, and from there, will be able to determine what other future races – IndyCar or elsewhere – he hopes he can participate in this year.
  • Most, but not all, of the IndyCar transporters have loaded into the track on the inside of Turns 1 and 2. Team Penske’s four transporters were getting a typical washdown to make them seem even cleaner.
  • Expect a number of new liveries to be revealed this week, including from Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing. Josef Newgarden teased a hint of his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka entry on Wednesday, with the full reveal set for Thursday.

7:00 p.m. ET (UPDATE 2): Enerson’s morning time stood as the fastest lap of the day and, by default, of the one-day test.

In the afternoon, Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao led the way in a 1-2 in two other Schmidt Peterson cars. Urrutia, the Pro Mazda champion, also broke into the sub-22 second bracket at 21.986 seconds, 167.341 mph.

Negrao, Felix Serralles and Dean Stoneman were next up. Stoneman tested earlier this week for Andretti Autosport to complete his maiden oval test.

Team Pelfrey’s challenging day continued with Scott Hargrove also having an engine issue in his entry, which sidelined him for the remainder of the day. Piedrahita returned to the track in the final hour.

Not as lucky was Dalton Kellett of Andretti Autosport, who had a “bigger than he realized” accident off Turn 2 in the No. 28 entry. Kellett’s car didn’t appear that bad upon returning to the paddock area; however, he told NBC Sports it was heavy contact that cracked the bell housing.

In other IndyCar nuggets:

  • In the new livery department, there are a total of 14 of 21 cars testing this weekend that have a new livery compared to the final race of last year. They are: the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, all four Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolets, all four Andretti Autosport Hondas, the two Dale Coyne Racing Hondas, the No. 11 KVSH Racing Chevrolet and the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Without giving too much away before cars hit the track tomorrow, some of the new liveries seem to fit or look better than others.
  • Alexander Rossi is here, although he won’t be testing this weekend. Rossi, who will take the reins of the No. 98 Honda for the Bryan Herta/Michael Andretti partnership, will have his first oval test in a private session at Phoenix prior to the April 2 race. A date is yet to be revealed. He’ll also likely need to undergo a test at a bigger oval prior to the month of May at Indianapolis, similar to what Max Chilton did at Auto Club Speedway earlier this month.
  • Ed Carpenter told NBC Sports he is “running out of time” to make the second car run on road and street course races this year, the team’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, although there remains a possibility the car could run all events. Carpenter said he doesn’t want to detract from the team’s primary program for Newgarden. The No. 20 car, along with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 16 Honda for Spencer Pigot, are set to alternate as the 22nd car at selected races this year.
  • On that front, INDYCAR is expected to reveal its 2016 Leaders Circle entrants likely early next week, per an INDYCAR spokesperson. The Leaders Circle entrants receive financial assistance over the course of the season.

More to follow throughout the weekend on NBCSports.com.

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 RACER.com “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).