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Cindric keeps door open to Indy, sports cars for JPM – if he wants it

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The natural question with today’s official confirmation that Josef Newgarden will be in Team Penske’s fourth full-season entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017 was what comes next for Juan Pablo Montoya.

And while Montoya is testing the waters from a full-time IndyCar perspective – he has been linked to a couple different possible teams and scenarios, including replacing Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing – Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the door remains open to him at Penske if he wants it.

Cindric publicly acknowledged that Montoya could be run in a fifth IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 or, more crucially, in a potential Team Penske sports car program.

New prototype regulations are on the horizon in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Daytona Prototype international platform entering in 2017 – teams will run one of the four homologated LMP2 chassis with manufacturer branded body styling. Meanwhile, the FIA World Endurance Championship remains a tantalizing prospect in LMP1 as well, although the hybrid class there is subscribed only by full factories.

“When we sat down with Juan at Toronto, we weren’t prepared to do what we did until the end of the season,” Cindric told reporters in a media teleconference. “We were up front with him about the whole situation.

“We’d like him to be part of the team… it just doesn’t mean the 2 car full-time. We have a seat for Indy if he wants one. If we do a sports car program, we want him to be involved.

“But he wants to drive another season in IndyCar. He said, ‘This year, I feel I have some unfinished business.’ So he’s exploring different options… he’s trying to find out if there’s a full-season ride available.

“We’d love for him to continue with our team… but do we position ourselves for another year with him and miss the opportunity to have Josef for us? Juan has been a big part of our success. He’s been a great guy to work with.

“The ball is in his court. It’s not the first choice for him… but we’d like to continue if it makes sense for him.”

The greater sports car component comes after Penske himself touched on the possibility at the Sonoma season finale, while also tiptoeing around the driver situation.

“I’ll say what Tim has said, we’ve wanted to run sports cars for a number of years when we were in with Porsche,” Penske said.

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to talk to two or three different manufacturers. That has some bearing on what we might do, vis-a-vis with the IndyCar also.”

It’s very interesting that Montoya, 41, and Newgarden, 25, will be linked in IndyCar history because of this decision.

Montoya is one of the drivers of his generation, having won in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR with two Indianapolis 500s and the 1999 CART title among his many racing accolades.

Newgarden is the prime up-and-comer in the championship, having won three races with Ed Carpenter Racing between 2015 and 2016.

This year, the two raced head-to-head on a number of occasions, notably at Road America battling over seventh, and then with Montoya hopeful he could have been in Newgarden’s zip code at Iowa before a mechanical issue.

“I felt we’d be really strong. But I don’t know if we had a car for Josef,” Montoya told NBC Sports at the time. “I would have liked to find out. We race each other clean. We have a lot of respect for each other.”

Cindric, too, is wary of the prospect of needing to beat Montoya if he finds another full-time seat.

“Replacing Juan Montoya with anyone is a difficult call. If he doesn’t end up racing for us… he still may beat us,” Cindric said.

“He’s not done. But we have to do what’s best for us, short- and long-term. This is where we are.”

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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