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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pagenaud Falls Short In Defense Of Crown

The odds were not in his favor entering the final chapter of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday; however, Simon Pagenaud fought hard to keep his No. 1 plate for another year.

Going off-sequence with an aggressive, four-stop pit strategy to move from the second row of the grid to the top spot by the end of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Frenchman did what he had to do to win his second title. But, the needed luck unfortunately never came about. Despite driving the wheels off his DXC Chevrolet, even going off course on back-to-back laps at the challenging turn nine chicane, the veteran never gave way. Pagenaud managed to reach the checkered flag first, but his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished behind him in second, just enough to take his first series championship by 13 points.

“It was Kyle Moyer’s (race engineer) idea to go with four stops, it was a great call from and probably the only way we could win (today),” said Pagenaud to IndyCar Radio after the race. “We did everything we could do, but Josef did enough to hold us off, he deserves it.”

It is not that Pagenaud has had a bad season in 2017; it is just a step below what he achieved in 2016. In his championship-clinching campaign, the Chevrolet pilot opened the year with an astounding first five races where he either won the event or placed second. With the big surge, not even a two-race skid at Indy and Detroit, nor a similar dominant phase from Australia’s Will Power with six straight podiums could deny the French-based chauffeur from lifting the Astor Cup.

This year, the win count dropped from five a season ago, to just two including Sunday’s win at Sonoma; however, the Frenchman was much more consistent as a front-runner. After claiming 10 top-five’s in 2016, Pagenaud improved the count to 13 in 2017. Unfortunately, the same two rounds that hampered him a season ago, were prevalent in keeping his name off the championship trophy this time around. Despite having a goal to win the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman struggled throughout May, only qualifying on the eighth row and settling for a 14th-place finish. The following weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan was equally challenging, and he was credited with a 16th in the first of two scheduled events.

While Newgarden also was a non-factor at the Brickyard, placing 19th after being collected in a late-race pile-up in llturn two, a similar run of wins and runner-ups in rounds 12 through 15 were enough to top Pagenaud’s results. The Frenchman was equally strong though, posting no finishes worse than ninth in Toronto.

“We won the race. It wasn’t enough,” explained Pagenaud after the race. “It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong at every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year.”

Although the make-up of Team Penske next year is still in question with whether Helio Castroneves will return to contest the full season in 2018 or not, most of the key players are in place for Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Will Power should be back in full force. If the transition to a new look Dallara DW12 causes a few headaches, the experience should keep the Captain’s trio or quartet near the front of the proceedings, and if things work out, Simon Pagenaud may reclaim his title in 365 days time.

Still, when one looks back on his 2017 campaign, a runner-up placing is far from a failure.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Team Penske Left Mark on Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – As reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud scored the victory, the crowd roared with excitement under the lights at Phoenix Raceway. After returning to the track last year after more than a decade, the open-wheel cars put together another spectacular run at the valley of the sun.

On Saturday night, the Arizona oval hosted its 63rd IndyCar race with the second running of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The events not only ushered in larger audiences than the year before, but also rang the end of an era as the track prepares to make significant renovations. The revamp of the historic  facility is slated to be completed by November of next year.

“This track is old, in a sense, and even though there’s nothing wrong with the race track, the facility itself, to really to be able to continue to attract fans, you’ve got to really do more than just put on a show on the racetrack,” legendary IndyCar driver Lyn St. James said. “I think it’ll be great for Phoenix and great for the fans.”

Before it became a staple on the NASCAR circuit, PIR was opened in March of 1964 for open-wheel racing specifically. It’s inaugural event, a 100-mile United States Auto Club race with an average speed of 107mph, was won by A.J. Foyt. Due to this and his many other accomplishments in the sport, the winner on Saturday went home the A.J. Foyt Champions Trophy, a special award crafted with Grand Canyon Onyx and encrusted with a likeness of Foyt.

The competition for the victory was tense, but there was one team in particular which seemed unfazed: Team Penske.

The team’s success began early on in the weekend as Helio Castroneves won the pole on Friday night, winning the “Speed King” crown for the second year in a row at Phoenix. He was especially proud to reach this feat at a track he’s won at in the past.

“I wanted that crown so bad,” Castroneves said. “I’m not going to give up that crown, so I’m glad it’s still there. It was great, great teamwork.”

The entire Penske team was also able to make its permanent mark on the track on Friday night as all four of its drivers in the series were invited to sign a 30-foot steel beam that will make up part of the new grandstand.

As the race began Saturday evening, all of the Penske drivers managed to avoid getting caught up in the four-car collision on the very first lap of the race going into turn one.

The rest of the race ran relatively smoothly up until Lap 138 when Takuma Sato made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4.  The caution worked out in Pagenaud’s favor as he was able to solidify his place in the top spot and hold off the other competitors all the way through the last lap.

“The car was so strong at the beginning of the race that we were able to save a lot of fuel in traffic you know, following Will [Power] and Helio [Castroneves], so we were able to lift a lot at the end of the straight and saved a lot of fuel so we could go longer,” Pagenaud said. “It paid off with that lucky yellow, I’ve got to say. We’ve had our fair share of bad luck this year too, so it doesn’t hurt sometimes to have a little break for yourself.”

Team Penske managed to take home a one-two finish with Pagenaud and Will Power. The rest of the Captain’s quartet – Castroneves and Josef Newgarden – finished fourth and ninth. Their dominance on the night shines through in laps led, as the foursome led all 250 laps en route to the team’s 189th series victory.

The victory also marked Pagenaud’s 10th career win and put him in the lead in this season’s points standings, with all four drivers in the top-seven.

For Pagenaud, the win was especially surprising being his first ever win on an oval track.

“Oval is not my specialty, I grew up in Europe racing go-karts, and I learned about oval only when I was, I believe 26 years old, 25,” he explained. “I had to re-learn the technique, the skill that I didn’t know. It’s incredible, what a win. That was phenomenal.”

With so many changes being made to the track before IndyCar returns next year, Will Power says he’s unsure of how these modifications, including the relocation of the start/finish line to the dog leg, will affect the racing.

“I’m not sure how they can make it how you can pass easier,” he explained. “It’s so difficult, even when you’ve got a strong car. You push like you wouldn’t believe and you just can’t get people.”

Even with the difficulties that Power mentioned when running at Phoenix, Castroneves summarized the weekend for Team Penske best, saying, “We have the moment with the pole position but Team Penske won with Simon [Pagenaud] and congrats to him. Josef [Newgarden] was right there in it as well. We showed that, even Honda looking a little bit strong, we still have a good car and today was proof.”

The next time Team Penske visits Phoenix Raceway, it will be met with a whole new set of challenges as well as fans. But one thing is for certain: Phoenix is a special place for Penske Racing.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2017 IndyCar Season Preview: The Changes

In our last episode, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season ended with Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud winning the series championship at Sonoma Raceway. Since then, nearly six months have passed, and we are less than two weeks away from the opening race in St. Petersburg.  

In this article, we will review the various changes that have occurred in the IndyCar since we last ran and identify some of the unknowns about the 2017 Indy 500.

 

 

The Schedule

All 16 race events from 2016 have re-upped for 2017. Good news! Also, IndyCar will return to old stomping grounds at Gateway Motorsport Park in late May. The races at Barber Motorsport Park and Long Beach have basically changed places, but both will still happen in April. Angie’s List has withdrawn its sponsorship of what will now be called the IndyCar Grand Prix in May at Indy, at least until another sponsor is found for the race.

 

The Teams

The biggest news of the offseason was the much-rumored closing of KV Racing Technology due to the withdrawal of funding by team co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and James Sullivan. The team has sold its equipment to Juncos Racing, which is expanding its racing into IndyCar for 2017.

There was a changing of the guard with engine manufacturers. Chip Ganassi Racing left Chevrolet for Honda, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing announcing it was leaving Honda for Chevrolet. These changes will help the two IndyCar engine manufacturers with roughly the similar numeric parity.

The biggest team change may be the loss of Target’s sponsorship for Chip Ganassi Racing after 27 consecutive years of support.

 

 

The Drivers

Driver musical chairs is nothing new in many racing series. Here’s how Indy Car’ it played out for 2017:

  • Team Penske hired Joseph Newgarden and demoted Juan Montoya, who will race the Indy 500 only.
  • Dale Coyne Racing – Sebastian Bourdais in, Conor Daly out.
  • Takuma Sato follows the Honda money from Foyt to Andretti. Carlos Munoz has no chair.
  • R. Hildebrand takes Joey Newgarden’s place at Ed Carpenter Racing.
  • Indy Lights champion Ed Jones takes his $1 million prize package to DCR, cashing out the various drivers Coyne ran in 2016.
  • Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly will fill the two open slots at Foyt, replacing Sato and Jack Hawksworth, who appears to have no full-time ride for 2017.

So, to summarize, the following drivers who had full-time rides in 2016 but don’t have them for 2017 are Juan Montoya, Jack Hawksworth, and anyone who ran for Coyne other than at Indy.

The new driver entering the series in 2017 is Ed Jones, the Indy Lights champion. J.R. Hildebrand now has a full-time drive after not having one in 2016. We predict that Ed Jones will win Rookie of the Year.

 

Indy 500

Our 21 full-time drivers will be joined by 12 other drivers in a 33 car field for the 101st running of the Indy 500 in May. Here’s a team by team run down of that field as we go to press:

A.J. Foyt Racing: Munoz and Daly (2) No Indy only drivers.

Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, and Sato. (4) One unannounced driver for Indy. (+1)

Chip Ganassi Racing: Chilton, Dixon, Kanaan, and Kimball (4). No Indy only.

Dale Coyne Racing: Bourdais, Jones. (2) Indy only possible, no announced driver(s)

Dreyer &Reinbold: No full-time drivers. Sage Karam announced for Indy only. (+1)

Ed Carpenter Racing: Carpenter & Pigot share 1 car, Hildebrand (2). No Indy only.

Juncos Racing: No full-time drivers. 1 or 2 unannounced driver(s) for Indy. (+2)

Rahal Letterman Racing: Rahal (1). Servia (+1) announced for Indy.

Schmidt/Peterson Racing: Aleshin, Hinchcliffe(2). No Indy only announced.

Team Penske: Castroneves, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Power (2). Montoya announced for Indy only (+1).

So this leaves up to six of the necessary 12 cars expected or announced, with Karam and Montoya as the only Indy 500 drivers announced. This leaves room for six or more cars to enter and 10 drivers. Should be interesting.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

PIR Announces Groundbreaking Changes to the Track

PHOENIX, Ariz. – After over fifty years of providing the Valley of The Sun with exceptional racing, Phoenix International Raceway announced Monday that significant changes would be coming to the track in 2018. In a project officially Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar, the changes are expected to enhance the experiences of both the drivers and fans alike.

“The track has been here for a while, and I think it’s evolved overtime, but it’s time to really take a huge leap,” said Lesa France Kennedy, Executive Officer of the International Speedway Corporation.

Having opened it’s doors back in 1964 with the primary intention of hosting IndyCar races, the track began as a two and a half-mile road course nestled in the hills of Avondale. Years later in 1991, it was transformed into the mile and a half tri-oval it is today, a venue perfect for NASCAR races. Since then, the only adjustments made to the track have been additions to the grandstands, a repavement of the track, and the installment of solar-powered lights provided by DC Solar, the company that is sponsoring the track’s newest project.

“Parts of the track aged and were below where it needs to be,” said Bryan Sperber, President of PIR. “This was something we started looking at about five years ago.”

The $178 million project will include a variety of amenities to not only create a more fan-friendly atmosphere but also make the track more accessible. Elevators will be added, and tunnels that were previously out of use will be reopened to make it easier for all fans to enter the grandstands and enjoy the races. A first-of-its-kind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Garage Fan Zone will also be added to the infield to give fans a special face-to-face experience with their favorite drivers.

The most talked about change, though, is the new location for the start/finish line. Races will now start and end in a section of the track that has become somewhat of a trademark for PIR: the dogleg.

With this new location, PIR will also be moving the grandstands to surround the dogleg and provide audiences optimal views of the most interesting section of the track.

“I talked to about 30 NASCAR drivers about a year and a half ago about this idea just to see what the feedback would be. Universally, it was very positive. ‘Cool’ and ‘awesome’ were used the most and that gave us the confidence that we might be onto something,” Sperber said on the decision to move the start/finish line in such a unique spot.

One such driver to provide support for this particular change was the driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Joey Logano, who was in attendance when the project was announced.

“I think the racing gets better where the start/finish line is,” Logano said. “If I could put it anywhere I wanted that’s where I’d put it to make the most exciting, craziest thing happen as we go into turn one on a restart.”

Though the new location of the start/finish line in the dogleg will provide more room for stock cars to make passes for the finish line, the same can’t be said for IndyCars, the other machines that take over PIR each year.

Reigning Indy 500 Champion Alexander Rossi said that though he isn’t yet sure of how the change will affect competing at the track in the IndyCar Series, he agrees with Logano that the beginning and end of the race will be more exciting.

“It’s unlike anything else, so I don’t think any of us really know exactly what it will be because [PIR] is the first track to be doing this and it’s very inventive and I’m excited to get started,” Rossi added.

Fans can learn more about the Phoenix Raceway Project Powered by DC Solar and obtain news, updates, and alerts by visiting www.phoenixraceway.com.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

A Career in Motorsports Journalism and PR

For more than 40 years, Michael Knight has been in the motorsports field as a journalist and public relations representative. He’s worked with a variety of people in the auto racing industry and has developed friendships with some racing legends along the way.

In the 1960s, he grew up rooting for his racing hero, Jimmy Clark, a two-time winner of the Formula One World Championship. He remembers watching Clark win the Indianapolis 500 with Team Lotus.

“At the time, what you did was go to major movie theaters, which showed the Indy 500 on a closed circuit TV,” Knight said. “So there I saw Jimmy Clark win the 1965 Indy 500.”

Later in the 1960s, Knight’s interest for motorsport grew from F1 and IndyCar and extended into other forms of racing.

“By this time, I was following Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, and sports car,” he recalled.

In 1974, he became a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He grew up in the city and got his degree in journalism at Temple University, so it was only fitting he would be a reporter there.

He covered motorsports for the newspaper and wrote many stories about a local racing champion from Nazareth, Pa. named Mario Andretti.

“One of the first names I became aware of was Mario’s,” he said. “Nazareth is an hour and a half to the northeast of Philadelphia. When I started at the Daily News, the coverage from a motorsport standpoint treated Mario as a local story.”

Over the years, he got to know Andretti as a friend and said he wrote many news pieces about him throughout his career.

“I spent a lot of time with Mario and wrote a lot of stories about him,” Knight said. “I was covering when he won the World Championship of Formula One in 1978 and wrote a lot of stories in that year, especially.”

When the CART Series formed after the split from USAC in late 1978, CART co-founder Roger Penske helped Knight get a prominent role in the newly-formed series.

Knight was hired to be the first ever director of communications for CART in 1980 and relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Mich. to accept the position.

In 1983, Andretti signed with Newman/Haas Racing and Knight became involved with the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, which sponsored Andretti’s car.

“At that time, Budweiser was a major sponsor in a variety of racing series and had primary sponsorship for Paul Newman and Carl Haas,” Knight said. “I was looking out for almost all the Budweiser racing involvements, and my primary responsibility became that program with Newman/Haas.

“It wasn’t just because of my background with IndyCar racing and CART but it was because it was Paul Newman and Mario.”

1985-paul-newman

(Knight and Newman at the 1985 Indianapolis 500)

Knight worked with the team through the 1980s into the 1990s. In the late ‘90s after Andretti’s retirement from racing, Knight took interest in the marketing boom that was occurring in NASCAR.

He felt it was the right time to leave American open-wheel racing and venture into stock car racing. Sponsorship was deemphasized in CART and thriving in NASCAR.

“I had the opportunity in 1999 to become the national motorsports media consultant of Valvoline so I was working on the NASCAR program with Roush Racing and Mark Martin as the driver,” Knight said. “That was a big deal … It was obvious to me the situation in IndyCar was on a decline.

“It was just a good time to get involved in another series on an active basis.”

Today, Knight lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. and does motorsports coverage for the state’s largest news publication, The Arizona Republic. In 2016, he wrote about all events happening at Phoenix International Raceway, including the two NASCAR race weekends, the return of the Verizon IndyCar Series after an 11-year hiatus, and the $178 million renovation plan for the track.

He is also the chairman for the Jim Chapman Award of Excellence in Motorsports Media Relations. The award honors a public relations person in motorsports annually and is considered the highest honor in racing PR.

Chapman was a journalist for The New York Times before serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He then became the PR director for Ford Motor Co. in 1946 and became a prominent PR figure in IndyCar racing starting in 1967. He created the award in 1991, five years before his death.

“Jim was a very dear friend of mine,” Knight said. “Some people have mistakenly characterized Jim as a second father to me or my mentor, but the best way to say it is that we were very close friends and I learned so much about the business of public relations not just from a motorsports standpoint but PR from an industry-wide basis.”

Originally, the award was given to people who worked specifically in CART, but it’s now eligible for anyone in racing PR. Knight won the first award in 1991.

He also unveiled a permanent Jim Chapman award in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. A 30-pound, bronze-casted plaque is on display in the building.

“If you’re going to have something with Jim Chapman’s name on it, you couldn’t put a piece of junk up on the wall,” he said of the plaque. “Jim would’ve come down from heaven and smack me on the head for doing that.”

Knight hopes that it will be seen by all media people in the years to come, and one day hopes that other displays will be made so he can be honored at other tracks nationwide.

He believes excellence in public relations and journalism in racing is crucial to the sport, and it has served him well throughout his distinguished career.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Indy 500 Still a Possibility for Vickers

Brian Vickers has dreams of running both the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans. And this year’s 100th running of the 500 could still happen for the 32-year-old driver.

“I would love to have something to announce. Unfortunately, there is nothing to announce at this point,” Vickers said. “It is still on the table.  It’s not done, but it’s not off the table yet either. We will continue exploring that and if it happens great, if not, move on to the next opportunity and maybe next year.”

This season, Vickers has been running the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, subbing for Tony Stewart. Vickers is back in the car this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway following his season-best finish of seventh at Martinsville.

Vickers was brought up in conversations surrounding Indy following comments by Sam Schmidt to RACER. Schmidt added, though, that Vickers is the least likely of the available candidates.

“I’d think Brian is the least likely only because he hasn’t done it before and we’re unsure if he’ll still be driving for Tony [Stewart], so with that unknown, it’s hard to figure out the costs and the logistics,” Schmidt said. “Granted, he’s very experienced and very mature, so I’m sure he’d get the job done, but I’m not sure we need any distractions with a rookie.

“He’s an option, though, and we aren’t ruling him out. I know how badly he wants to be in the race.

Schmidt reiterated that finances will play a part in who fills the seat.

“We’re still trying to find money for all of them, they’re all trying to find money, but it’s not completely there,” said Schmidt.

Stewart-Haas hasn’t announced whether Vickers will be back in the No. 14 after this weekend in Texas, or if Ty Dillon will return to the seat.

For more IndyCar Series coverage, check out Popular Open Wheel.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Development Journalists

FIVE MINUTES WITH… A.J. Foyt

A.J. Foyt, one of the most legendary racecar drivers, achieved success in both NASCAR and open-wheel racing throughout his life. In recent years, he has been the team owner of A.J. Foyt Enterprises in the Verizon IndyCar Series and has dealt with health issues, which has forced him to spend time away from the racetrack.

Foyt, 81, holds the record of 67 career USAC wins and had seven career NASCAR wins, including four Indianapolis 500s and a Daytona 500. He and Mario Andretti are the only drivers in history to have won both races, but Foyt’s fondest memory from his racing career was merely qualifying for his first Indy 500 in 1958.

“My happiest moment in my life was just making the race,” Foyt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was my goal, and I was fortunate enough to qualify for the race. Back then, there would be 75 or 100 cars [trying to qualify] and only 33 of them made it.”

In 1963, the seven-time USAC champion qualified for his first Daytona 500, which was only his third career NASCAR start. Foyt never competed in more than seven Cup Series races in a season but attested to the difference between driving a bulkier stock car versus driving a smaller open-wheel car.

“It’s two different types of cars,” Foyt said. “It’s like a little car against a big Greyhound bus, and they drive different altogether, but the name of the game is always trying to win.”

Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 in the No. 21 Mercury for Wood Brothers Racing. He started on the front row alongside Bobby Isaac, led 167 laps, and lapped the entire field by the race’s end.

“It was a great race and we kind of ran away with it all day after sitting on the pole and all,” Foyt said. “Anytime you win, it’s great — I don’t care if it’s a little race or a big race.”

Recently, the Texas native has struggled with multiple health problems. He spent a lot of 2015 recovering from surgeries on his heart and his right knee.

“The last three of four years, I’ve spent so much time in the hospital,” Foyt said. “I had both knees [replaced] and then I had a staph infection, which was terrible.”

In 2015, Foyt had a PICC Line inside his body leading to his heart because of the infection, which lasted about six months. Along with the infection, he has undergone three operations on his left knee, two on his right, a hip replacement, and triple bypass heart surgery, which occurred in late 2014.

The heart surgery forced him to miss the first five races of the 2015 IndyCar season. He had an operation on his right knee done later that year and missed the last two races of the season.

“It’s been kind of rough, but I’m getting better,” Foyt said. “Every day, I’m getting stronger and stronger, and I finally got rid of the wheelchair and the cane. It’s been a great career, and I’ve been very fortunate throughout the years.”

Categories
Commentary

CALINOFF: I’m Not Abandoning NASCAR

I know the title doesn’t match the photo. That was actually by design – but stick around and you’ll see where it comes into play.

One of my favorite idioms is “Letting the Tail Wag the Dog.” (There’s the connection to the picture — that’s Leo)

To paraphrase, it means allowing something small to have a significant influence on something much bigger. I’ve been guilty of it for most of my business career. I take a little idea, and I let it consume me until I can gain control and put it back into the correct perspective. That’s when I do the wagging.

If you know me, you’ve figured out that I’m rarely at a loss for things to do. I’m never bored – always on the move. I keep the plates spinning and the balls in the air. Spare me the balls in the air jokes. I wrote most of them anyway.

When we started PopularSpeed.com three years ago, it was quite an undertaking – finding the right name was a project in itself. Then we had to figure out who we wanted to be and what we would stand for. And then there was the design and finding writers and getting photographers. (We have Nigel Kinrade and his group – it doesn’t get better than that. No charge for the plug, Nigel.) And then we had to make sure we deliver engaging content and maintain our momentum.

The wind-up? It’s become bigger and better than I had ever imagined. We didn’t get to this point by accident. We’re here because of the people. Everyone who has his or her fingerprints on this site makes a difference. And I’m grateful to have each and every one of them.

After I launched the site, I made a promise to myself – and everyone around me – that this will be the extent of my website business. I’ll just stick with this.

I lied. It was totally unintentional.

abc123pow
A few months ago I was looking for information about Formula One. I don’t even remember why. But, aside from what you can get from the series page, there weren’t any independent sites, and nothing much to speak of for IndyCar either.

When I say “independent” I mean sites dedicated to those premier worldwide disciplines of motorsports. There are plenty of, what I call, “tab sites” which are all things to all people. Nothing wrong with that – but I’m not inclined to sift through NASCAR  INDYCAR  F1  NHRA  SCCA  RALLY  SPORTS CAR  MOTOGP  POGO STICK and UNICYCLE tabs to find the information I’m looking for.

So today, I’m pleased to introduce PopularOpenWheel.com.

We’re only covering IndyCar and Formula One – as well as their support series, IndyLights and GP2, respectively. There’s also something called “The Road to Indy” which serves as a feeder system. I know, I’m a little confused myself.

Aside from the lack of information, I figured two things:

  1. a) IndyCar has made some changes in the off-season to management and the rules package. The racing is supposedly going to be as good as it used to be. I know this because someone told me. I’m confident there will be a heightened interest. So, that was appealing.
  1. b) Gene Haas is fielding a U.S.-owned Formula One team for the first time. I figured that not only will there be more interest by Americans, but from NASCAR fans as well. Stewart-Haas has four marquee drivers with lots of fans, and you know how that goes — we all support each other. So I thought that was attractive. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong – but I love risks. I love starting new things. It motivates me to have a kick-ass day. I do it for sport.

Many of you may ask, “Calinoff, what do you know about IndyCar or Formula One?” It’s a valid question. I know nothing about this stuff. That’s the truth. But I know Roger Penske. And Chip Ganassi. And Dario Franchitti. And Nelson Piquet, Jr. – and those people know people who also know people.

But really, I found the magic bullet.

Lewis Franck, who has covered motorsports for over 30 years, including 22 years at Reuters news service, is the guy. I don’t need to know anybody – just Lewis. Because he, too, knows Roger Penske. And Chip Ganassi. And Mario Andretti. And everyone else in that world. I know nothing. Lewis knows everything. So, he’s the Executive Editor and will be hands-on. He has assembled a great staff of editors and writers.

Lewis is funny. (Actually, he’s quite comical) But funny, because he calls and sends me emails about all these things he’s doing and relationships he’s leveraging. To that, I respond, “Great job, Lewis,” and “That awesome, Lewis” and “How did you possibly pull that off, Lewis?”

I have absolutely no clue what he’s talking about. But it must be really good because he’s excited. And that makes me excited.

That brings us to the title of this story.

NASCAR is my first love. It always will be. It’s given me a career and a level of success far beyond my wildest dreams. My life is great as a result of NASCAR. I have been blessed with the opportunities that have come my way over the years. And while I’m not spotting regularly, much of my business is in the NASCAR arena. I’m not going anywhere.

That’s the deal. I invite you to check it out. If you like what you see, tell someone. If you don’t like what you see, tell everyone – because people are curious by nature. If you tell them not to do something, they tend to want to know why. Tell a kid not to touch a hot stove or wet paint.

So, this is it. I’m done with the website business. I have one that’s great and another that’s destined to be great. I’m officially satisfied.

Wait. I’m lying again.

I have another site launching on May 26th. There’s nothing like it. Not even on tabs. Get excited. I mean, really excited.

Do you want a hint? Too bad.

The plates are spinning, and the balls are in the air.

I gotta go. I have things to do. Hold my calls.

 

Email Mike at mike@mikecalinoff.com

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Categories
IndyCar

Graham Rahal Excited for 2016, Mentor Role with Spencer Pigot

INDIANAPOLIS — Graham Rahal isn’t accustomed to being the senior driver within a race team.

At least, not until this year.

For at least three races, Rahal has a new teammate in 2015 in Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot. The 22-year-old top prospect is the only change that has come to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the 27-year-old anticipates playing the role of mentor over the next several months.

“These things are going to happen, right,” Rahal said. “I mean over time, you’re going to get that. Yeah, they call me a young gun but I’m not anymore. I’m 27 and there’s a lot of guys who are younger than me. I have high expectations for him and what he can accomplish.”

Despite the addition of a second car at RLLR, Rahal is adamant that he and his team will not experience a drop-off in performance after a very successful 2015.

“We’re going to keep it as it’s been,” Rahal said. “We’re going to keep the group of people that we have, make no changes or as few as possible. You know we had a great year, and you don’t fix what’s not broken. We’ve strengthened the team in a couple of areas but truthfully the core of the team will be the exact same.

“The operations will be the exact same and I’m looking forward to it.”

Rahal hopes that adding Pigot will benefit both cars over the course of the year.

“When when we were looking at a second car, it had to add on to what we were doing on the No. 15. It can’t be a distraction, and that will be the biggest key for Spencer. I think this year, he needs to figure out how he fits into that role, and I’m sure he’s going to do a great job.

“He’s a good kid and you know we’ll just see how it all unfolds here.”

Honda faced an uphill climb in order to be competitive last season, but Rahal isn’t entirely sure where his manufacturer stands compared to Chevrolet — at least not yet.

“Our plan is to beat them and that’s what we’re here for,” Rahal said. “So I think they’ve progressed quite a ways, but I would also fully anticipate that Chevrolet has too. We don’t do this to finish second and that’s the long and the short of it.”

EMAIL CHRISTOPHER AT christopherdeharde@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @CDeHarde

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
IndyCar

Josef Newgarden Relaxed Despite Radical 2016 Changes

The world of Josef Newgarden was suddenly turned upside down during the off-season.

His car owner at CFH Racing, Wink Hartman, sold his stake in the team last month when the decline of oil inhibited his ability to participate in the Verizon IndyCar Series. This left the team solely in the hands of Ed Carpenter and the organization has been rechristened Ed Carpenter Racing for the 2016 season.

With that said, Newgarden has been retained and he remains confident that he can contend for wins and the championship this season.

“There’s definitely been a difference in the team this year, but I think I’m probably more relaxed this year than any season before for one reason or the other,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because we had a couple of wins last year and it’s amazing what that does to you to relax you and bring you into a better place mentally.

“So for me, I feel comfortable.”

Carpenter will continue to pilot the No. 20 on ovals this season, but without funding, his team will only focus on Newgarden on road and street courses. While that could be viewed as a detriment for Newgarden, he believes they have a good enough notebook to continue improving.

“I know the guys have been working hard on making this a two car, full-time effort, but I’m not too worried about running one and a half cars either,” Newgarden said. “I like having a strong teammate. Last year, Luca Filippi was a fantastic teammate, really great to work with, always providing something to learn and build upon and I think it was a source of strength.

“But I think going forward, I’m not concerned either way it swings.”

Despite all the changes for Newgarden, an otherwise stable off-season gives him confidence that the team will remain a threat to win from week-to-week.

“We always go through a big process in the off-season of how are we going to improve everything,” Newgarden said. “That starts with what I’m doing in the car, what the engineers are doing and how we’re interpreting the data.

“We’re looking and everything we can do to develop the car, and I think each of those processes have been refined and made better with the same core group. I think that’s been the big difference for us is having the same core group of people to work with (and that’s) made it easier to make gains.

“For us, we try to refine that process. We work a lot with simulation and the engineers and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference for us going into this season.”

EMAIL CHRISTOPHER AT christopherdeharde@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @CDeHarde

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.