IndyCar drivers open for more NASCAR doubleheaders in the future

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On Thursday’s “Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico on NBCSN, IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske said he would like to see more doubleheaders between IndyCar and NASCAR in the future.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader is scheduled for July 4 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Penske is also the owner of that fabled facility.

IndyCar will stage the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Also scheduled that day is the Pennzoil 150 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

The next day, the Brickyard 400 is scheduled for the NASCAR Cup Series.

Just a few days after he won his second NTT IndyCar Series championship, Josef Newgarden got that conversation rolling when he drove his Chevrolet Indy car around the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

Because real racing has been halted because of COVID-19 pandemic, virtual racing has given fans a chance to see how drivers from one series stack up against those in another.

The fourth race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge is the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi in Japan (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR’s Kyle Busch will be included in that contest. It also marks the return of three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver and longtime NTT IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves.

Newgarden also would like to see more drivers from other series try to compete in different forms of racing when real racing returns.

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

“Oh, definitely,” Newgarden said. “For me as a younger guy in the sport, sort of reaching the middle point, I’ve always wanted to see more crossover from drivers and teams and series. I think most drivers do, to be honest with you.

“We got in this place over the last however long you want to call it, 20 or 30 years, where everyone became specialists. There was less of this. If you’re an IndyCar guy, you can’t run NASCAR, this or that.

“This has provided a really fun push where series can come together and provide more value for the fans, can provide more action for the drivers to really take in or soak in different experiences. Maybe that will lead to more crossovers from different drives.”

So far in the six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have competed in a virtual Indy car. In Saturday’s race, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch will compete in an Indy car.

“Kyle Busch really wants to run the Indianapolis 500,” Newgarden said. “All of us want that. We want to run against the best in the world. I think it’s vice versa. If there’s a guy like Scott Dixon that wants to run in NASCAR for an event, I think those guys want to see that happen, too, because Scott is one of the best.

“Without a doubt, there’s been some positives from this sim racing. I think what they’re proposing in reality as we go back to the real world is quite exciting. I think we’re all pretty excited and confident that Roger is leading that charge and is probably the best person positioned to get something like that done.”

Driver Scott Dixon — Getty Images

Scott Dixon is a five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, a winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and a multi-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner.

Although he doesn’t think the virtual form of racing is the same as the real thing, it does allow drivers from different series to square off with one another.

“The format itself is fun,” Dixon said. “I think having the accessibility and ease to have that crossover is pretty cool, probably more so for the sponsors.

“The way these things drive, it also depends on a lot of things: how long you’ve done it, what kind of car you’ve been driving on the sim for a period of time, trying to get up to speed. Even going from an IndyCar to a GT car, there’s all these tiny little things that you need to mold into your driving pattern and how you use it.

I think it’s cool for a spectacle. It’s been a lot of fun. Even yesterday with Kyle Busch running in the practice sessions, it’s a lot of fun, conversations, everybody is chatting and getting along.

“The reality of it is very unreal in a lot of ways. I think the racing has been a lot of fun. Yesterday I think Motegi leading into this weekend, the multiple lines, what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be pretty cool.

“Last week at (virtual) Michigan, even though I had to watch most of it from my couch, it was pretty cool to watch.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”