Jeremy Milless. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi, Milless gelling early together at Andretti

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – This time last year, Alexander Rossi wasn’t even fully confirmed for any full-time ride, although by the end of February he’d been signed to a new Andretti-Herta Autosport entry ahead of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Ahead of the 2017 season, not only has he been signed for several months following his win in the 100th Indianapolis 500, but he has three exciting new elements for his program surrounding his No. 98 Honda this season.

The 25-year-old Californian has NAPA AUTO PARTS sponsorship for seven races, building on the relationship established at Indianapolis last year.

But on the box, he has a new engineer in Jeremy Milless and a new strategist in Rob Edwards.

Milless, who spent the last three years as Josef Newgarden’s engineer at Ed Carpenter Racing, switches to Michael Andretti’s team this year and replaces Tom German as Rossi’s race engineer.

Meanwhile with Bryan Herta moving to become race strategist for Marco Andretti’s No. 27 hhgregg Honda, even though the No. 98 car is still an Andretti-Herta entry, Andretti Autosport chief operating officer Rob Edwards now moves from what was the No. 26 car for Carlos Munoz to Rossi’s No. 98 as strategist there.

Milless’ strengths last year were evident at a number of circuits.  In particular, Milless helped Newgarden deliver on short ovals, with Newgarden’s beatdown in Newton, Iowa where he led 282 of 300 laps standing out.

Rossi has only had a couple tests to work with Milless thus far, but has already praised his new men on the stand.

“I’m pretty excited about Iowa,” Rossi said. “I think we all are, to kind of have that bit of information.

“But no, Jeremy has been awesome from day one of working with him at the one Sebring test we did, we were kind of up to speed with each other right away, and we’ve done some work in Indy together. I mean, it’s been a pretty seamless transition. We’re still kind of trying to learn each other’s likes and dislikes, but (it’s) the first session and it wasn’t terrible.

“It’s been a real positive having Rob Edwards as strategist on the radio; that’s also fantastic,” he added. “If Bryan is going to go to Marco, I think Rob is probably the best replacement in the year.

“I’m really happy with the team I have right now, and hopefully we can continue to move forward and develop ourselves.”

Rossi missed driving at this test last year as he’d only just finalized the deal to join the Andretti-Herta organization. He made his first oval race start here and was poised for a debut top-10 finish, prior to a puncture and a slip up the course in Turn 4.

A Rolex 24 winner whose love of Daytona began as a NASCAR fan

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Like many foreign-born drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nick Tandy’s first trip to the United States was to Florida in wintertime.

The native of Bedford, England, though, didn’t come to race a sports car at Daytona International Speedway. He journeyed to watch stock cars at the World Center of Racing – as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500.

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“I’ve been watching racing at this place since I was 3 or 4 years old,” Tandy, 35, said a few weeks ago while back at Daytona during the Roar before the Rolex. “I’m still a huge NASCAR fan. When I was a kid, Monday mornings were for watching the stock-car racing in America. I haven’t missed a Cup race for probably 15 years.”

The Porsche driver, who will be driving the 911 RSR-19 in the GTLM class this weekend in kicking off a full 2019 season n IMSA, has carved out quite a niche in sports cars as a factory driver since 2013.

Porsche driver Nick Tandy (courtesy of IMSA).

Tandy was part of the team that won the overall title in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, has a GTLM class victory in the 2014 Rolex 24 and 13 class wins in IMSA (including the 12 Hours of Sebring the past two years and three Petit Le Mans victories).

But he remains a major NASCAR fan at heart. After the Oct. 12, 2019 IMSA season finale, Tandy took his Porsche directly to Talladega Superspeedway, where he turned a few demonstration laps and executed a burnout before the Cup race.

“It was organized through Mr. France; he invited us,” said Tandy, referring to NASCAR CEO Jim France, who also helped spearhead the rebirth of IMSA in recent years. “It didn’t feel as banked as Daytona because it’s a lane wider and is just enormous.

“I’ve driven the oval here (at Daytona) lots and lots (in a sports car). Sometimes we have a bit of fun in testing but never 100 percent flat out.”

It’s a throwback to the start of his career, which began on his home country’s many short tracks. A loose confederation of grass-roots series on asphalt and dirt offer several points championships in race cars that resemble the Modified series (BriSCA F1 is among the most well known sanctioning body).

“There’s a big quarter-mile short oval scene in the U.K.” Tandy said. “This is what I grew up racing. Me and my brother raced stock cars and knew all about the Winston Cup long before I knew what a Formula One car looked like or even what Le Mans was. That’s my background.

“Of course in Europe, there is no professional oval racing scene. If you want to be a professional racer, you go road course racing. So that’s what I did.”

But his passion for NASCAR didn’t wane. After racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 25, 2014, Tandy stayed in Indy the next two days to watch the Xfinity race and Brickyard 400 as a fan.

“I got my kids some Kyle Busch clothes,” said Tandy, who also counts himself as a fan of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt. “Got myself a Kyle Busch hat and went and sat in the stands and watched the race.”

Now he’ll be racing this weekend against the driver has been cheering for years.

“I think it’s cool that he wants to come over here and has got the opportunity to race with us, especially after he’s just won his second championship,” Tandy said. “It gives the whole race and our side of the sport a little bit more coverage and turns out some other people who might not have noticed.

“If I see him, I’d like to shake his hand and say congratulations on a good job last season.”

The Porsche 911 that Nick Tandy will drive with Matt Campbell and Fred Makowiecki this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).