Photo: IndyCar

Juncos Racing makes successful IndyCar debut Monday at IMS

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Juncos Racing rolled out of the gate with 75 laps complete in the first official practice on Monday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, following on from 23 banked in the Rookie Orientation Program/refresher program.

Drivers Spencer Pigot (No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet) and Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 AFS Chevrolet) had solid days of work, to make Ricardo Juncos’ debut day in the Verizon IndyCar Series a good one.

The full team release is below.

Juncos Racing made its Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series today during the first day of practice in preparation for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 set for May, 28, 2017.

Spencer Pigot in the No. 11 Juncos Racing Dallara/Chevrolet//Firestone car was the first Juncos Racing driver to turn a lap on the fabled 2.5-mile oval. He went out at noon today for an installation lap checking the car to make sure all the systems were functioning properly.

Shortly thereafter, Sebastian Saavedra, in the No. 17 AFS/Juncos Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone car, turned the first laps at speed while doing a “refresher course” (for drivers who have not driven at the Speedway recently), prior to full practice.

Commenting on making his IndyCar debut at the Brickyard Juncos Racing owner Ricardo Juncos said, “It is a honor and a privilege to be here racing IndyCars at the greatest race track in the world. I have so many people to thank for making this dream come true. Mark Miles and everyone at the Speedway as well as Jay Frye and all the staff at IndyCar have been so helpful guiding us through the process. Chevrolet for supplying the power, and most of all the all the drivers, engineers, crew and everyone at Juncos Racing who have worked so hard to get to this point. This is something very special and I am so proud.”

Juncos Racing has debuted. Photo: IndyCar

During the full practice Saavedra, who is making his sixth Indianapolis 500 appearance, led the team with a lap of 222.593 mph placing him 21st on the speed charts for the day. His fastest lap of the day came of the 36th of the 39 laps he turned on the first day of practice.

“Altogether a very positive first day for AFS Juncos No. 17 car,” Saavedra said. “I felt as if I was a riding a bike. It came back to me quickly. I had to mentality ease through it, not put any pressure on myself which allowed us to get the small things out of the way. We focused on the initial setup and I started connecting with my engineer. It’s been awhile since we worked together, so it was good to get to have this time together. It was also good to work back with my teammate Spencer Pigot. That is going to be crucial for us to have a good month of May. So, overall a very positive first day of testing. I’m very pleased.”

Pigot, who is contesting just his second Indy 500, did not run in traffic during any of his 49 laps. His fastest speed, 218.065 mph, came on lap 39 which put him 29th on the speed charts.

“Yeah, it was a good first day,” Pigot said. “We didn’t really have any issues and that’s what we wanted. We didn’t do a huge amount of laps. We just did a few runs to make sure everything was working well and just kind of did our own thing today. As the week goes on we’ll get more aggressive and start running in traffic a bit more, find some people to get tows and go a little bit quicker. Today the goal was to make sure everything ran okay and we did that”

Juncos Racing has previously competed at IMS 17 times in both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Series. The team has made seven starts on the road course (four in Pro Mazda and three in Indy Lights) and three starts on the oval in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. Juncos Racing has four total victories at the Speedway all on the road course (three in Pro Mazda and one in Indy Lights) over five years (2012, 2014-2017). Three of the victories came last weekend when the team captured both the Pro Mazda events and the Indy Lights race.

Saavedra is a veteran of 61 Verizon IndyCar starts. In his five previous Indy 500 starts he has a best finish of 15th in 2014. The 2017 Indy 500 marks Saavedra’s return to Verizon IndyCar competition after a one year hiatus. The 26-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia made his first IndyCar start at the Indianapolis 500 for Bryan Herta Autosport. He has also competed in the Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport, 2012, Dragon Racing, 2013, KV Racing, 2014 (also captured the pole for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix) and Chip Ganassi, 2015

Pigot, the 2014 Pro Mazda and 2015 Indy Lights Champion (both with Juncos Racing) has made 15 Verizon IndyCar starts over the last two years including his first Indy 500 (qualified 29th and finished 25th) last year Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The 23-year-old from Orlando, Florida is scheduled to contest all Verizon IndyCar road and street course events for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2017. He has already notched two top-10 showings in his first four events this year (an eighth place showing at Long Beach and a ninth place finish last weekend in the Indy Grand Prix). .

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly-timed move to race side-by-side with Herta going into Turn 1. By Turn 2 of the first lap of the race, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by one-full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished third three of the four times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the frontstraight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle, but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash just as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution. Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties like with Honda. Both him and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that. After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500? In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races 10 years from now and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, that is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist. Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”