Phoenix Friday IndyCar, Indy Lights notes

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – The nature of Friday’s schedule made it to where there was more content that occurred than there was time to write it.

And that’s where this notebook fits in. Here’s the leftovers from Friday:

  • INDYCAR released its penalty sheet. INDYCAR distributed the breakdown of how penalties will be handed out this year. It’s long, but it’s readily available in a PDF. More on this to come. Here’s what INDYCAR vice president of competition, race control, Brian Barnhart, said about how the penalty guidelines were developed: “The penalty guidelines were developed after numerous meetings during the offseason with drivers, team owners and other team principals. All of the stakeholders involved wanted more teeth in the regulations when it came to more serious violations of safety or competition rules. The result is that the stewards now have a more clearly defined set of rulings they can make. That includes immediate penalties for some transgressions that in the past would have been warnings on the first offense.”
  • 192 vs. 143. Cool stat here from the PIR PR staff: the existing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lap Record is Jimmie Johnson 25.147 sec/143.158 mph set November 13, 2015. The Indy cars first surpassed that record 37 years earlier (Bobby Unser in 1978). Helio Castroneves’ two-lap average is 192.324 but the new single lap mark he set is 19.0997 (192.631 mph).
  • “King Helio” channels “The Wiz” from “Seinfeld.” Funniest moment of the day: veteran reporter Bruce Martin of Autosport and other outlets asks Castroneves after he sets the new track record and gets the “Speed King” hat from Luyendyk whether we have to refer to Castroneves as “the king.” In a hilarious reply, Castroneves says, “Yes… servant” to much laughter in the media center. Meanwhile, if you remember “The Wiz” on “Seinfeld” back in the 1990s, you’ll realize Castroneves’ hat matches the one from there.
  • And Mario wins April Fools’. Mario Andretti driving for A.J. Foyt. Mario won April Fools’ Day, 2016, with this tweet. I jokingly told him today, “Well, now you’ve given me another story to write,” to which Mario replied, “Well, write it!” Even funnier was when he posed in front of Takuma Sato’s car just before first practice…
  • One Avondale race returns. Another one won’t as lawsuit gets settled. The Andretti Sports Marketing vs. NOLA Motorsports Park lawsuit’s been settled. Andretti Sports Marketing isn’t that anymore; it’s now LST Marketing. More here from The Advocate out of Baton Rouge on the Avondale (La.) race that is no more.
  • Sam Schmidt drives the SAM Project Car again. He’s driven the SAM Car at Long Beach and Indianapolis, and now at Phoenix. Sam Schmidt isn’t just Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team co-owner. He’s also an inspiration. Tweets are here (one and two).
  • Ser-vi-a! Oriol Servia was here on Friday; the Catalan spotted chatting with Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. The three of us joked at the time that it would only make sense for Servia – whose last two IndyCar starts have come in fill-in roles at Andretti Autosport and Team Penske – to suit up for Ganassi. It remains to be seen whether the popular veteran will find a place on the grid for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
  • Rahal and the T’birds. Graham Rahal flew with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at Luke Air Force Base on Thursday. It was mega. We’ll have a full pre-race feature on this Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but here’s a teaser Instagram photo he posted, and a teaser tweet from the IndyCar on NBCSN account. Rahal told NBC Sports of the experience after a tough qualifying session, “At least you brought a smile to my face! Yesterday was a dream come true in a ride like that. I never thought I’d get a shot at it. When the opportunity came, I was over the moon.”
  • United Rentals joins RLL. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing added another new sponsor, with United Rentals on board as primary sponsor for the No. 15 Honda at Detroit and a major associate sponsor for the rest of the season. More here from the team.
  • T-Bell’s sponsor for Indy is TBA. Team co-owner Michael Andretti said to expect commercial announcements for NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell’s No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda at Long Beach. Figure Robert Graham – Bell’s longtime sponsor – will play some role, with the potential of additional partners joining the effort. We’ll have a separate breakout with him next week.
  • Luca’s oval debut and excitement. Dale Coyne Racing’s Luca Filippi makes his oval race debut this weekend, and his excitement level and desire to learn was palpable. Sincere respect for that, the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
  • Ed Jones on dirt. A fuller breakout on this will come next week, but props to Carlin’s Ed Jones, who tested on dirt in a non-winged sprint car at Perris this week. Jones, who finished third in last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, qualified second for the Indy Lights race tomorrow. He also pulled off one heck of a save in Turn 4.
  • Matty Brabs and Spencer Pigot both here. Two of the rising stars who’ve graduated from the Mazda Road to Indy into IndyCar – Matthew Brabham and Spencer Pigot – are both here this weekend. Brabham of PIRTEK Team Murray told NBC Sports he hopes to test later in April, although his equipment has been pressed into action sooner than expected following KVSH Racing’s transporter fire that was set off in the rear axle. Brabham’s planned transporter was deployed to Phoenix as backup. Pigot raced at the St. Petersburg season opener and Sebring with Mazda.
  • It feels like an IndyCar track. Infield bridges and a lot of signage here at PIR have traditionally featured NASCAR signage. But with Firestone signage over Goodyear bridges and IndyCar partners along the walls – Verizon being the most prominent – it feels as though PIR has gone the extra mile to make it feel an IndyCar track. Props to a colleague, Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33), who alerted me to this and made me realize it when I knew what to look for.
  • Two Coyotes – plus our Rick Allen – take hot laps. Two Arizona Coyotes players in the NHL, Max Domi (left wing) and Connor Murphy (defensemen) took hot laps today in an IndyCar two-seater. Said Domi: “You’re absolutely flying and it goes by really quick. The turns are a little scary, but once you kind of realize and once you trust the driver and the car it’s pretty cool.” They weren’t the only ones: so too did our Rick Allen, who’s hosting this week’s IndyCar coverage on NBCSN (see tweet here from IndyCar on NBCSN account and a tweet from Allen).
  • Cool to see ya. Nice to see ESPN on ABC pit reporter Rick DeBruhl, who’d worked with NBC’s Phoenix affiliate KPNX (Channel 12) for more than 20 years, and past IndyCar driver Didier Theys today – both of whom are locals and two of the nicest, most genuine people in racing. And they’ve forgotten a lot more about this sport than most of us have ever known.

More tomorrow from PIR.

A viewer’s guide to the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What to watch in the debut of GTP

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona could put an unbelievable twist on one of motorsports’ most famous adages: Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?

Money is being burned at an ungodly rate for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, but the correlation between cash and performance might be completely disjointed after 24 hours on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The debut of a new premier hybrid prototype category has some of the world’s largest automakers flocking to the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), where annual budgets have been estimated at $15 million per for the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars.

With nine GTP cars starting the Rolex 24 at Daytona across Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, it’s safe to say the manufacturers have committed at least nine figures to launching what many are calling a new golden age for sports car racing.

But there’s no guarantee that any of the cars will finish the race. In fact, some are predicting it’s inevitable that all will spend at least some significant time in the Daytona garage repairing a high-tech car that never has raced for 24 consecutive hours. And in an era of pandemic-related supply-chain worries, there are major concerns that full repairs will be impossible even if necessary.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

It’s added another layer to the pressure involved with one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“From a manufacturer perspective, this is high-stakes motorsports,” Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura driver Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “This is as big as it gets. To debut at the Rolex 24 is such a high-stakes event and puts such a big test on everybody. The pressure all the manufacturers and teams are under is immense. Once we get through it and survive, there’ll be a sigh of relief. But until then, we all feel the eyes of the manufacturers on us.

“It’s going to be a pressure cooker for sure.”

Along with “unpredictability” and “reliability” being buzzwords the past two weeks at Daytona, there also has been some wistful predictions that this year’s Rolex 24 will be a throwback to a bygone era when endurance races truly were a survival of the fittest instead of the fastest.

After turning into a series of 24 one-hour sprint races for many years, no one is predicting that drivers will punish their equipment with so much at stake and so few safety nets.

“This race is going to be like races from the bloody ‘70s and ‘60s,” pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist of defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be like when you watch that ‘Ford vs. Ferrari,’ and they’re coming into the pits repairing serious things and still going out and coming back. It’s going to be like that, mate.

“Yeah, we don’t know. We are not 100 percent confident that our car is as reliable as it needs to be. We definitely would have liked another year. All season before we came here to this race. But everyone’s in a similar boat. Some manufacturers are further down the line than others in terms of mileage. We’re still finding things popping up here and there that we didn’t see or suspect. It’s going to be a tough race without a doubt. I’m almost certain that we’ll be spending some time in the garage. Hopefully we get lucky, but let’s say we’re not going to be surprised if we are back in the garage at some point. We don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best sort of thing.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud said the race will be “the 24 Hours of the Mechanics. It’s going to be a team that’s able to repair the car the fastest way possible. It’s a little more like it used to be about reliability and making sure you take care of your equipment.

“We don’t have enough time yet to be able control fully the reliability, and we haven’t done enough laps to be able to say what’s going to break first or second. You’re going into it with a bit of jitters not knowing. It’s going to be definitely a very, very different race, I think.”

Here’s a viewer’s guide of some topics to keep an eye on during the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Testing time: Though announced in January 2020, LMDh cars have been on track since only about a year ago. Porsche was the first to commit and has logged more than 30,000 kilometers of testing. Cadillac also has done significant real-world testing, but Acura admittedly has done little endurance testing, and BMW has tried to play catch up since being the last automaker to commit to the project.

Only Porsche and Cadillac can claim to have simulated the duration that cars will face this weekend. Porsche Penske Motorsport conducted a 36-hour test that managing director Jonathan Diuguid confirmed was “slightly higher” than 24 hours consecutively. Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, confirmed the No. 31 Cadillac ran for a full 24 hours at Sebring International Raceway last November. Acura also had attended the session but cut the test short after mechanical problems.

–Tortoise and hare: Every manufacturer has at least two cars, which creates opportunities for divergent strategies. When his team won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nelson said it was pushed hard by Chip Ganassi Racing’s prototypes in this tactic to wear down the competition.

“In old-school endurance racing, they’d call one a rabbit,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “He’d try to run the guts out of everybody to keep up with him, while the other (car) just followed around. There’s potential for something like that. I don’t think it’s in our playbook, but potentially there are people in these corporate offices, these manufacturers coming in, because they advanced through racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they are managing these motorsports programs for these corporations. It’s very possible there’s someone from that era will say we’re going to have one rabbit, one tortoise. That’s very likely.

“We see that, I don’t think we take the bait. I think we stay with the plan.”

–LMP2 overall win? If mechanical problems do crop up for the GTP cars, the door will be opened for a victory by a car in the junior LMP2 prototype class. The LMP2 cars lap a few seconds slower and will need to make roughly nine extra pit stops than the GTP cars.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish, those factors would leave LMP2 cars about an hour behind GTP. That means if major mechanical problems befall all the GTP cars, an LMP2 likely would be leading. Diuguid said it would take over an hour to change out the major components on the hybrid system.

“If you have to change the gearbox, a suspension component or a hybrid component, your opportunity to win is probably over,” Diuguid said.

Nelson also predicted that teams will be more aggressive with making brake changes. Though his car’s brakes made it 24 hours last year, they generally require at least one swap. Nelson believes that will happen anywhere between the sixth and 18th hour – but probably on the early end in a concept similar to short pitting in NASCAR.

“We’re hoping our brakes make it all the way and haven’t seen anything that told us they won’t,” Nelson said. “A few years ago, we were changing brakes on anything between 6 and 18 hours. If everybody had to change the brakes in past years and you’re the last to do it, you have the least amount of time to gain it back.”

–Electric pit stops: Though it’s not IMSA-mandated, teams are using electric power only to enter and exit the pits for myriad reasons. The practice allows for a more efficient acceleration and deceleration that helps ensure hitting the speed limit. And it puts less strain on gearboxes that will be stressed over 24 hours.

–New tire strategies: With teams restricted to about a dozen fewer sets of tires, teams will be double-stinting for fuel only without opting for fresh rubber.

Nelson said the Action Express Whelen Engineering team was planning to make its tire changes coincide with its driver changes (unlike the normal practice of changing tires on most pit stops).

–Three’s the magic number: More than half the GTP teams are employing a trio of drivers instead of the maximum four that has been popular with many teams in past years. Though Colton Herta is listed as the fourth driver on BMW’s two cars, the IndyCar star might only drive one.

The shift comes as Penske and Porsche plan to field full-time entries in the World Endurance Championship, which allows only three drivers per car.

–GTD battles: Mercedes dominated qualifying, but there have been charges of sandbagging by the Ferrari and Porsche GT favorites.

That isn’t the case with defending GTD Pro class winner Pfaff Motorsports, whose No. 9 Porsche struggled to make laps in practice.

Women in racing: Led by the all-female Iron Dames lineup, there will be several opportunities for women to reach the podium or take a class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Sports car ace Katherine Legge is teamed with Sheena Monk on the No. 66 for Gradient Racing.