INDYCAR Photo by James Black
INDYCAR Photo by James Black

Andretti signs Rossi, Honda to multi-year contract extensions in INDYCAR

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – The most sensational combination in the NTT IndyCar Series will stay together for at least the next three years as Alexander Rossi and Honda both re-signed with Andretti Autosports.

The agreement was finalized Friday morning at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. It will be publicly announced at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday.

Watch the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on NBC on Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

Team owner Michael Andretti has been working diligently with Pieter Rossi, the driver’s father and agent to get a multi-year deal completed by the end of July. But several other things had to happen before that could be finalized.

“We’ve been working hard on this, and I’m happy to see everything come together,” said Andretti Autosport Chairman and CEO, Michael Andretti. “Since 2016, we’ve built a strong relationship with NAPA AUTO PARTS – they’re such a natural fit for the series, Alexander and for the team and we’re pleased to be able to continue working with them into 2020 and beyond. We first met AutoNation through Ryan Hunter-Reay – and we can’t thank Ryan enough for his support and efforts in helping the continued growth of that relationship. It’s been exciting to see AutoNation grow within the sport, and to see them now welcome Alexander to their family is just great.”

The most important was reaching a new agreement with Honda Performance Development (HPD) to supply engines to the team. Honda wanted Rossi to sign a four-year deal instead of the standard two- or three-year agreement because Honda wants Rossi to be the lead driver in the development of IndyCar’s new engine 2.4-liter engine formula that is currently set to debut in 2021. The new engine platform will feature an increase to 900 horsepower.

The Rossi’s wanted a two-year or three-year deal because the 27-year-old NTT IndyCar Series star is about the begin the prime years of his career.

Ultimately, they agreed to a three-year deal with one option year being held by the driver.

That means Rossi could be with Andretti until 2024 before a new contract would need to be negotiated.

“It feels good to continue with Andretti Autosport,” Rossi said. “Over the past four years, we’ve built a very strong team with great chemistry and I believe that we have the tools necessary to win races and championships. I’m looking forward to not just calling this my team, but my home in the IndyCar Series. Michael [Andretti], J-F [Thormann], Doug [Bresnahan] and the entire team have been working very hard to put all the pieces of this deal together and it’s definitely a relief to have the future settled and be able to focus on the championship fight ahead of us.

“It’s fantastic to have NAPA AUTO PARTS, AutoNation and Honda supporting the 27 program. I’ve had the pleasure of developing a great relationship with both NAPA and Honda and couldn’t imagine not having them in my corner. AutoNation has always had a strong partnership with the team through Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to represent the Drive Pink campaign and getting to know the AutoNation team better.”

Andretti was considering a move back to Chevrolet, which would have helped the team align with McLaren on a potential full-time IndyCar Series program. Honda and McLaren cannot do business together because of an edict from Japan after McLaren’s acrimonious departure from Honda in Formula One.

The balance of power in the NTT IndyCar Series is very important and currently Chevrolet features the powerful three-car combination at Team Penske with points leader Josef Newgarden, reigning Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud and 2014 IndyCar champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power. Ed Carpenter Racing is Chevy’s No. 2 team with Carlin and AJ Foyt Racing the other Chevrolet teams in the series.

Honda features the four-car effort at Andretti Autosport led by Rossi, 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay along with Zach Veach and Marco Andretti. Chip Ganassi Racing is another Honda power team with five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist. Other Honda teams including Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing.

Rossi won the 100thIndianapolis 500 as a rookie driver in 2016. Counting that initial victory, Rossi has seven victories, including two this season. He is currently 29 points behind Newgarden entering Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Together, Andretti Autosport and Honda Performance Development have captured three championships and five Indianapolis 500 wins. In addition, the team has collected 55 Indy car wins with Honda power. In 2018, Honda won the NTT IndyCar Series manufacturers championship with 11 wins in 17 races. Honda currently leads Chevrolet in a tight battle for the 2019 championship – Honda with 976 points and Chevrolet with 930.

“This is an important moment for Honda Performance Development,” said Ted Klaus, President, Honda Performance Development. “Andretti Autosport is unquestionably one of the premier teams in the NTT IndyCar Series, and we are gratified to earn their confidence for the foreseeable future. At HPD, our first goal every season is winning the Indianapolis 500, and Andretti Autosport has won more ‘500s’ for Honda than any other team.  That said, HPD is fortunate to work with multiple high-caliber racing organizations.  This commitment from Andretti Autosport strengthens our entire effort, as we move into the next era of Indy car competition.”

Andretti also spoke of the team’s long and successful relationship with Honda.

“We have a longstanding relationship of success with Honda and we’re happy to continue to build accolades together” Andretti said. “All five of our Indy 500 wins have come under Honda power, and I’m looking forward to working with the entire HPD team to add to that count.”

With only five races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season, Rossi continues his quest to capture his first championship at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend. NBC will cover Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio live at 4 p.m. ET.

 

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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