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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). .

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500