Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Indy Lights: Herta, Steinbrenner look to build on 2017 season

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The 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season started out with a bang for Colton Herta and George Michael Steinbrenner IV in their No. 98 Dallara IL-15 Mazda entered under the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing banner. In their first weekend together, at the season-opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Herta and Steinbrenner asserted themselves as forces within the field by finishing second in race one and winning race two.

It was an authoritative debut for for driver and team owner, one that made a lasting impact on the latter, as Steinbrenner grew up in the area and considers it his home town.

“That was definitely the moment that stood out,” said Steinbrenner of their debut in a piece on IndyCar.com. “It was so unexpected to win so early and, to get it in what is essentially my hometown race in St. Pete, it was something special. It’s a race that I’ve gone to for the past 10 years or so, so it was really something special for me.”

From there, however, the year became defined by the phrase “feast of famine.” At Barber Motorsports Park, Herta finished tenth in race one after getting together with Kyle Kaiser in Turn 1 and damaged his front wing, though he rebounded to win race two – the 400th race in Indy Lights history since 1986, well before either Herta or Steinbrenner was born!

However, a pair of mechanical issues relegated Herta to finishes of 12th and tenth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and he crashed out of the Freedom 100 on Lap 1 with teammate Ryan Norman, leaving him 13th.

Race one at Road America wasn’t much better as he finished 12th, though he ended up third in race two and and back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Iowa and Toronto (race one). However, race two at Toronto saw him suffer suspension damaged after wall contact while leading, leaving him tenth again at the checkered flag.

The final four races of the year saw more consistency, however, as he finished second and sixth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, third at Gateway Motorsports Park, and third at Watkins Glen.

All told, it amounted to nine finishes of sixth or better (including two wins and four additional podiums), but sixth finishes of 10th or worse, leaving him third in the championship at season’s end.

Herta, who is still only 17 years old, describes the year as a success and on in which he grew a lot.

“A year of learning. I think we exceeded our expectations. We were third in the championship, so I’ve been third the last three years!” quipped Herta, who finished third in the F4 British Championship (2015) and the Euroformula Open Championship (2016) in the two previous seasons.

What’s more, he took the heat for any mistakes this, asserting that the Andretti-Steinbrenner team gave him everything he could’ve asked for. And their speed together was evidenced in qualifying, as took seven poles in his rookie Indy Lights season, one shy of a single season record held by several drivers – including his dad Bryan.

“I never doubted what the car was doing,” Herta described. “A lot of the things that happened, some was in my hands – crashing vs. getting taken out – but the team was perfect all year. So I can’t blame them. The car was always good. Doug (Zister, engineer) knows what he’s doing.”

Colton Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing showed a lot of speed in 2017 and took two race wins. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography.

And while there isn’t much he would do differently, Herta did acknowledge he needs to settle down and a little and better harness the raw speed he possess. “We had a lot of speed. I need to settle down more in races,” he said of his development.

Steinbrenner, who at 21 years old is quite young himself, expressed similar sentiments and revealed that he is seeing Herta learn from his mistakes.

“He’s always had the speed, but as it is with a lot of drivers, he’s learned a lot from his mistakes,” Steinbrenner explained. “He’s matured a lot over even the past eight or nine months, since the beginning of the season. It’s good to see that and he’s grown stronger with each mistake he makes or each bad weekend we had.”

And as far future plans, Steinbrenner says Indy Lights is definitely in the cards for 2018 with an eye toward moving to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the future. The Herta and Steinbrenner partnership hasn’t been confirmed for a return yet, but it is something they both want to continue with.

“We’re planning on making the jump whenever we all think we’re ready. Whether that’s 2019, 2020, we’re not sure yet,” Steinbrenner added. “We know for sure that in 2018 we’ll be in the Indy Lights series.”

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NHRA: Dodge/Mopar to unveil new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car today in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
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If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that makes its debut today at Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

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