Acura Team Penske, Wayne Taylor Racing keep trading punches at Sebring

Sebring 12 Hours qualifying

The top two contenders in the premier division of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship were 1-2 in the same order for Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring qualifying Friday, setting up a fierce 12-hour battle for the DPi title at Sebring International Raceway.

Ricky Taylor captured the pole position for Acura Team Penske with a 1-minute, 46.874-second lap around the 17-turn, 3.74-mile road course, beating Renger van der Zande of Wayne Taylor Racing (1:47.125).

Penske’s No. 7 Acura, which is being driven at Sebring by Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi, will enter Saturday’s season finale leading the championship by two points over the No. 10 Cadillac that is bring piloted by van der Zande, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

The championship contenders have spent the past two days at Sebring trading best times with van der Zande setting the quick time Thursday while Castroneves and Rossi also paced morning and afternoon practices.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Full field rundown l Breakdown by class

SEBRING DETAILS: How to watch the 12-hour season in finale on NBCSN, NBC

With Sebring’s annual endurance classic being held in November instead of its traditional mid-March date, the race will feature more laps under darkness than ever in its 68-year history, and Taylor was relieved after pacing Thursday night practice over the Cadillacs, whose track record and pace at Sebring is formidable.

Ricky Taylor celebrates his pole position with teammate Helio Castroneves (IMSA).

“On these bumpy tracks, the Cadillacs are very strong, and having driven the 10 car before at Sebring, I know it’s always good at night,” said Taylor, who raced for his father’s No. 10 team before joining Penske in 2018. “This year, we’re going to have a lot of night time (racing), and so I just don’t think we can rest. I think we showed a lot of pace in night practice yesterday.

“I think the track changes so much, you’re just going to have to adapt on the fly, whether it’s changes inside the car, tire pressure, whether it’s nose changes or whatever the team can do, you’re just going to have to make sure you keep up with it all the way through and have that track position with a couple hours to go.

“The way the practice went, we definitely haven’t looked so great. We came to the track thinking we were pretty refined after being here already once this year (for a July 18 race). But yeah, this time of the year with the wind and all that’s going on, it’s thrown a bit of a curveball at everybody. So I think it’s forced everyone to adapt. I think difficult is good. I think difficult is going to make everybody work harder.”

In a team release, van der Zande was optimistic. “That’s a great start, being on the front row,” he said. “It’s going to be a long race. Qualifying isn’t that important for a long race, but it shows where you are in terms of the speed of the car compared to the others.”

The wildly different conditions are just one of many storylines to follow. Of the full-time drivers in the top two cars in DPi, only Castroneves has announced his 2021 plans. Briscoe and van der Zande are out of full-time rides as WTR moves next season to Acura, the manufacturer it’s trying to beat for its swan song with Cadillac. Ricky Taylor is believed to be a strong candidate to return to his father’s team in the switch next year.

Also in the mix for the title is the No. 31 Cadillac of Pipo Derani, Felipe Nasr and Gabby Chaves that is nine points out of the lead and also could claim the crown with a victory and some help. Taylor, who was involved in a memorable fight for the lead with Derani at the Petit Le Mans, said that “as dramatic as it is between the top two, you just throw the 31 in there, and it is a 12 hour at the most difficult track in the world as far as reliability. I think anything can happen.”

“It’s just such an amazing way to end a championship,” Ricky Taylor said. “If you’re a fan, you want it to come down to the last race and whoever wins the race, wins the championship, and I don’t think you could have scripted it any better, and to be racing against the 10 car of all teams, it’s really weird. But it’s fun, I wouldn’t rather be racing against anyone else.

“To start a 12 hour literally next to the championship contender is pretty intense. I think it’s going to be a case of not relaxing and not taking the pressure off and full focus for the whole race. We have to manage our race and control it as best we can.”

In qualifying for other divisions

GTD: Entering the finale seven points out of the lead, the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3R of Wright Motorsports qualified first with driver Jan Heylen, seven spots ahead of the No. 86 Acura of Meyer Shank Racing with Cub-Agajanian that leads the championship.

GTLM: Already having clinched the championship, Antonio Garcia won the pole position for Corvette Racing’s No. 3 C8.R with a track-record 1:55.456 lap that bested the field by over a half-second.

“It was a perfect lap,” Garcia said. “We gambled on something different, and it seems to be working. … I’ve always enjoyed this race. Since we found out about the date change, I knew that finishing at Sebring would have been very tough. Fighting for a championship at such a hard event would have been difficult. I’m glad we got it out of the way.”

LMP2: Patrick Kelly put the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 on top with a lap of 1:51.373.

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500