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.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”