The first round of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers testing in the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2017 will take place tomorrow at Road America, Andretti Autosport has confirmed on Tuesday.
Two of the team’s four Indy Lights drivers, Nico Jamin and Dalton Kellett, will be in two of the team’s IndyCars for their first runs this season.
In Jamin’s case, the Frenchman adds his maiden IndyCar test to his resume in a year where he’s won races in all of Indy Lights, IMSA Prototype Challenge in a Ligier JS P3 car, and Pirelli World Challenge GTS in a KTM X-BOW GT4.
Kellett, the Indy Lights sophomore, will have his second day in an IndyCar after testing last fall at Watkins Glen for the first time.
They’ll be joined by Carlin Indy Lights driver Matheus Leist, the Brazilian who won the Freedom 100 last month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Leist won last year’s British F3 title and like Jamin, will have his first run in an IndyCar.
The tests run alongside a current Verizon IndyCar Series driver, in this case Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, as part of INDYCAR’s rule that allows for rookie test days for Indy Lights drivers (Rule 184.108.40.206).
Kellett will take over Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda, Jamin Andretti’s 27 Honda and Leist Rossi’s No. 98 Honda.
“Coming back for a second test in an Indy car is exciting,” said Kellett. “I can’t wait to get back on track. I intend to build on what I learned at the Watkins Glen test last year and I’m very thankful for this opportunity from Andretti Autosport. It’s one of the amazing parts of this program, getting a chance like this to test in the Dallara IR-12 at Road America. I’m honored to work with Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and the rest of the No. 28 crew – being able to use this experience as a guide will be a valuable asset during the test. The overall goal of this test is to create a learning opportunity that I can use as a stepping stone in the future.”
Jamin said of his first test, “I am extremely thankful and excited to have the opportunity to test an Indy car for the first time. As a driver in Mazda Road to Indy, it is something I have been looking forward to for the last four years, and I am only a few days away from it now. I definitely feel ready for the challenge, and I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible and making it a great experience. it will be really cool to drive the bigger sister of my No. 27, and to share the car with Marco [Andretti].”
Leist added of his, “I’m really looking forward to the testing and Indy car with Andretti Autosport. This is going to be a mega opportunity for me. It has been a dream since I was young to drive an Indy car. Hope to have fun and learn as much as I can from the team.”
Besides these three, fellow Indy Lights driver Zachary Claman De Melo will test again for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, as he did last year at Mid-Ohio. He’ll share the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda with James Hinchcliffe.
In a collective large-scale move never before seen in motorsports or any other form of professional sports, NHRA drag racing team owner Don Schumacher and all seven of his drivers have pledged in writing to donate their brains upon death to the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk has learned exclusively.
The pledges were all signed this afternoon at suburban Denver’s Bandimere Speedway, site of this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals.
Don Schumacher Racing is the second-most successful team overall in NHRA history, with 11 Top Fuel and five Funny Car championships, as well as over 300 combined nitro national event wins by all seven of its drivers (as well as retired driver Gary Scelzi).
This is the first time an NHRA driver, owner or team has announced they will donate their brains to science for further study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be detected and diagnosed after death.
However, more than 3,000 current and former athletes in other sports have already pledged their brains to research post-mortem, including NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., U.S. Women’s Soccer Team star Brandi Chastain, and several former NFL Pro Bowlers including Randy Cross, Keith Sims, Shawn Springs and Gary Fencik.
While concussions are not a widespread problem in the NHRA as in, for example, the NFL, they still happen from time to time.
With the g-forces, high-speed explosions and crashes and intense vibrations Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers endure while exceeding 330 mph in 1,000 feet, concussions are always a threat, but that threat is usually mitigated by the safety equipment found in the race cars.
In pledging their brains, Schumacher and his seven drivers will also “immediately begin a comprehensive brain monitoring process to ensure an in-depth brain profile upon donation,” according to a team statement.
DSR’s pledges coincide with CLF Project Enlist, a new program launched this week by CLF and Infinite Hero Foundation (IHF) a non-profit organization (and a partner of DSR) that assists military veterans returning from battle and their families. IHF’s main goal is to “accelerate research on traumatic brain injury (TBI), CTE and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in military veterans.”
DSR and Project Enlist are conducting recruiting and outreach to military and veteran communities to increase participation in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank brain donation registry.
The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is the world’s largest CTE brain bank specializing in research into concussions, ALS, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Schumacher, who was one of the sport’s most successful drivers in the 1960s and 1970s, has since gone on to build a vast business and racing empire that employs over 2,000 individuals. He is also regarded as one of the top innovators in performance and safety in drag racing.
“Donating my brain for research to help other individuals in this world is something that I’m more than willing to do,” said Don Schumacher, who was recently named to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Class of 2019. “It surprised my wife, Sarah, but she also agreed to me doing this based on its potential to help drivers, soldiers, business people and the population of the world.
“I support (the CLF) 100 percent and was thrilled that my seven drivers agreed to donate their brains.”
Here are comments from all of Schumacher’s seven drivers who have pledged to donate their brains to research post-mortem:
Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “I think any athlete donating their brain is a great idea once you’re done with it here on earth. If people can come up with a better system, and a better way to keep future drivers safer, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to improve our world. The doctors and the technology with all athletes right now, they’re diving in deep to come up with concussion research, and as a driver that goes through 11,000-horsepower, 2.5-Richter scale shaking every single run, I think we’re good candidates to research.”
“Fast Jack” Beckman, driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “My wife didn’t take the news that I was pledging my brain quite the way I thought. Apparently, she wants to have me stuffed and put in the corner of our living room (he said with a laugh), but (growing serious) I’ve been an organ donor since I was 16. My thought is, if it can help somebody else, that’s fantastic. When you see these veterans coming back with traumatic brain injuries and PTS, and there’s no one cure for this, it makes you realize how much more we still need to learn about the human brain to have effective treatments for the majority of the injured vets. To be a part of that in some small way; well, I can’t take my brain with me, haven’t used it since I started driving a Funny Car (he said with another laugh), so someone else might as well take advantage.”
Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “When approached with the chance to help the Concussion Legacy Foundation and have an opportunity to help with advancing the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes as well as other at-risk groups, we said ‘yes’ without hesitation. The Concussion Legacy Foundation is a group of dedicated people doing great things to help the next generations to come, and we’re proud to help in any way we can.”
Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “We always want to do whatever we can to help elevate the safety in our sport, and be proactive in bettering the safety for all.”
Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car: “I think it’s pretty cool to donate anything to science. My brain is kind of mush anyways (jokes). Anytime we can do something to help is a good thing and being able to have research off of how your brain is affected by g-force and things like that, is interesting. Driving a nitro Funny Car is not something just anybody gets to do. There are only maybe 50 people in the world that really, truly experience the g-forces we do on a regular basis. These cars are extreme, we put on a show, and we put our bodies through elements that most people will never even understand. If we can help with the research of concussions and saving lives, that’s a great thing, and I’m all about it.”
Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “I elected to donate my brain because of all of my years of racing, suffering explosions and experiencing tire shake. If the Concussion Legacy Foundation can learn something that would help the next generation, I would be very proud to be a part of that. Tying it in with the soldiers who experience traumatic brain injuries, if we can work together and help one another, I think it’s a great opportunity for the road to recovery for everyone.”
Leah Pritchett, driver of the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster: “When I was first asked if I would be open to donating my brain for future research, there wasn’t even a question in my mind at all. All of us are safer in our passenger cars and safer in our race cars because of what we’ve been able to learn from the past. We get to do what we do and are safe because of technology and science. If I have a legacy to leave behind, and it can benefit anybody in any way, from the sports community to the military to a child that wants to play football, whatever it may be, once I’m gone, I won’t need my brain so I’m proud to know that it will benefit others.”