Juncos’ year ends on high with wins, shop opening ahead

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Considering its pedigree as one of the top teams in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, and discussed by many as a potential Verizon IndyCar Series entrant down the road, it was surprising that Juncos Racing more or less was not in realistic championship contention most of the 2016 season between its Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires programs.

Indeed, Ricardo Juncos’ Pro Mazda program – which debuted in 2009 and nearly won the championship from the off before Peter Dempsey, now one of that program’s race engineers, got speared by Joel Miller at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – almost went through its first winless season in the category, before Nicolas Dapero broke through this weekend to keep the streak alive.

The quartet of Garett Grist, Will Owen and rookies Dapero and Jake Parsons had flashes of success but rarely toppled both Team Pelfrey and Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and Grist’s midseason departure from the team after the month of May left them down an experienced veteran in one of the four cars.

In a similar scenario, the Indy Lights program lost its most experienced driver as well, in the form of Spencer Pigot. The talented 22-year-old American captured both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights titles back-to-back for Juncos in 2014 and 2015 and properly advanced into the Verizon IndyCar Series this year.

Kyle Kaiser had a good second season in the championship and dominated at a couple events, including this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where he secured his second win of the season.

Meanwhile Zachary Claman De Melo made the rather significant climb from karting into Indy Lights and spent the year learning and making his fair share of mistakes.

In spite of any challenges, Juncos has a lot going for him, and his team. The Argentine who came to the U.S. with hardly any money back in the day is finishing completion of his team’s new $3 million, 41,000-square-foot facility situated at the corner of Gilman Street and Allison Way in Speedway, with groundbreaking having occurred in mid-January. The new shop, which will mark the team’s relocation from Brownsburg, Ind., is scheduled to open in mid-October.

“Yes, it’s still on target. It’s like mid-October, I think October 15,” Juncos told NBC Sports. “There’s another month to go. We’re fine tuning the little things and we should be ready to move late October.”

And the Indy Lights team did still win races in a year when the competition level increased. Kaiser’s wins kept Juncos in the win column along with other teams including Belardi Auto Racing, Carlin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian and Andretti Autosport – only Team Pelfrey failed to win among the full-time teams in a field that featured as many as 16 cars.

Juncos reflected on the 2016 campaign, one that was tough but ended well with both Kaiser and Dapero scoring wins this weekend, and with the new shop opening in slightly over a month.

“Yeah, it’s been difficult. It’s been a little bit harder this year than last,” Juncos said. “There’s been more good quantity and quality of drivers. For us, it’s been pretty similar. We’ve done some development. You see how many winners and drivers in the championship there’s been.”

Juncos said both Indy Lights drivers he’s had this year have been solid.

“Kyle last season may have been a bit early to jump to Indy Lights. But having Kyle alongside Spencer was good, and you can see how much better he’s been this year with that experience.

“With Zach, it’s hard. He has no experience, coming from go-karts. He has speed that he’s shown in the championship but when there’s mistakes… that’s where he’s paying the price.”

Claman De Melo could return for a second season as part of a two-car or potentially three-car Indy Lights lineup next season.

The Pro Mazda season was tougher. Dapero won at Mazda Raceway and his three podiums this weekend gave him five for the year. Owen grabbed eight podiums, Grist had three before he left, and Parsons added two more.

Juncos hailed Dapero’s improvement over the course of the season.

“Nico Dapero coming from go-karts did a very good job,” Juncos said. “He was fast in Mid-Ohio and he’s been good here. He doesn’t fully know how to maximize qualifying yet… depending on how he uses the tires and faces a little bit of pressure in races. But that will come with time.

“I wish we could restart the championship this weekend! But it sort of took us the whole championship to learn how we worked as a group and how the new kids drove the car.”

For 2017, Juncos wants the Indy Lights team to get better and that, coupled with the shop move, may put a potential IndyCar program on the backburner.

At the same point, Juncos has taken a sense of pride with the success Pigot and Conor Daly have had in IndyCar this year.

“I’m happy. We try to focus on what we do every day, but yeah as you said, Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot are doing well and having come through our team at one point… and going back, we had Spencer in go-karts,” he said.

“Yes, we are where we are today and we never expected it like this, but we have to keep going and get better.”

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout. Saturday morning practice brought another five red flags.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)