Photo courtesy of IMSA

Action Express adds Albuquerque, Nasr to full-time roles in 2018

Leave a comment

Three-time defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype champions Action Express Racing has evolved its lineups for the 2018 season, with two new full-time drivers.

In the wake of Dane Cameron’s departure to Team Penske’s new Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program, the team adds Brazilian Felipe Nasr in his stead.

Nasr will race in North America full-time following at least a month of exploring his options. He was a guest of Helio Castroneves at the Watkins Glen International Verizon IndyCar Series race.

He’ll join Eric Curran in the team’s No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, the team joined by Mike Conway in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Motul Petit Le Mans. The Sunoco Challenge winner traditionally joins the lineup as a fourth driver in Daytona; Nasr was that Sunoco Challenge to earn the opportunity to race in the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona and did so with Michael Shank Racing, before Nasr returned to the event with Action Express Racing in 2013.

Meanwhile Christian Fittipaldi has been phased out of a full-time seat in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, moved into the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races as third driver with Filipe Albuquerque moving into a full-time role next year. The rapid Portuguese driver was installed as the closing driver for Action Express’ win pursuit at Daytona but lost the win to Ricky Taylor in somewhat controversial fashion. As it is, Albuquerque’s enjoyed a busy year racing three of the four LMP2 spec chassis between IMSA, the FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series, in the Dallara P217 (base chassis for the Cadillac DPi), the Oreca 07 and the Ligier JS P217.

New team performance coordinator Tim Keene is another key addition, having left his post at Michael Shank Racing as that team evolves from an Acura factory-backed effort to a privateer one next season. Keene has been in Prototype for quite a while, working with both DeltaWing Racing Cars and Chip Ganassi Racing.

“As a team, the 2017 IMSA season has been a solid one, but we are all working hard to make 2018 an even better year,” said Action Express Racing Team Manager Gary Nelson. “We are happy to have Eric (Curran) return in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac and to have Felipe (Nasr) come back to race with us for the full season.

“We have had the same driver line up for the Mustang Sampling Cadillac for the last two years, and that consistency will be an advantage. Christian (Fittipaldi), Filipe (Albuquerque) and Joao (Barbosa) have all been racing with us but we are just changing the roles that each will have next year. Adding Tim (Keene) to the 31 side is also something that we are excited about and we are looking forward to his contributions to our team effort here at Action Express Racing.”

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500