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Exclusive: 10 Questions with Robby Unser

If it has wheels, there’s a good chance that Robby Unser has raced it.

The New Mexico native (pictured right) and a member of an American premier racing families is a nine-time Pikes Peak International Hillclimb winner and posted top-10 finishes in both of his starts in the Indianapolis 500. Unser was also the 1998 Indy Racing League rookie of the year.

Nowadays, Unser competes for Team Speedway with cousin Al Unser Jr. in the highly competitive Goodguys autocross circuit where in 2016 Robby captured the series championship.

The autocross competition features a low-speed, tight course marked off by a series of cones that drivers must negotiate. It requires incredible precision because if a driver misjudges a single corner, his or her run is essentially ruined. And with up to 60 cars per event, the competition is tight.

PopularOpenWheel.com caught up with Robby at the Goodguys Southeastern Nationals at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he’s racing this weekend.  Following are excerpts from our exclusive interview.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Perfect Penske Day Ends with Pagenaud Race Win, Newgarden Championship

SONOMA, California (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017) – For Team Penske, it was the perfect day at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud won the race to conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to wrap up the championship.

Pagenaud, the 2016 champion driving the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, beat Newgarden to the finish line by 1.0986 seconds to win the 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway. It was the Frenchman’s 11th career victory and second straight on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. A year ago, Pagenaud won from the pole position at Sonoma to sew up his first championship.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Box score

This year, it was Newgarden who clinched his first title and the $1 million champion’s prize by finishing second in the race. The 26-year-old Tennessean held off Pagenaud by 13 points in the final standings to become the first American driver to win the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay five years ago.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who made his 100th career start today. “It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske.

“To finally get it done is a dream come true.”

The championship is the 15th for Team Penske, the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden joins the likes of Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Will Power and Pagenaud as Team Penske drivers to win an Indy car title.

“I’ve had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don’t have a favorite,” team owner Roger Penske said. “I can’t compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He’s an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting.”

The race ran caution-free for the first time in Sonoma Raceway history, which now spans 14 Indy car events. Newgarden and Pagenaud each led 41 laps. Pagenaud opted for a four-stop strategy to Newgarden’s three pit stops, but the Frenchman made up the extra time in pit lane by turning faster laps on an open track.

The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64. He returned to the track just ahead of the charging Newgarden and held on to first place as the teammates battled around the track. From there, Pagenaud kept Newgarden in his mirrors to the finish.

Pagenaud completed all 2,331 laps this season, becoming just the second driver to finish every lap in a season. Tony Kanaan was the first, when he completed all 3,305 laps when he won the 2004 championship.

“We did what we had to do,” Pagenaud said. “We tried. We won the race; it wasn’t enough. It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong in every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year, so we’ll come back. Thirteen points. Next year we’ll come back and give him a hell of a competition again.”

Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, gave Team Penske a race podium sweep by placing third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske. Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to clinch third in the standings, 23 points behind Newgarden. It is the 11th time in his 17-year career that Dixon, a four-time champion, has finished in the top three in points.

Helio Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth in the race driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Completing his 20th year racing Indy cars, the 42-year-old Brazilian is still in search of his first series championship.

By finishing third in the race, Power – the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion – earned fifth place in the standings.

An hour-long special documenting the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and Newgarden’s championship will air at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN.  

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Sonoma

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma means one final decision is in the way of Firestone Fantasy Challenge players for 2017.

In the previous 16 events of the Verizon IndyCar Series, most of the drivers were on the same agenda to win outright. However, in the California Wine Country, the scenarios are mixed. The quartet from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are vying for a season championship. Others, such as J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz for instance, need a result to maintain employment for 2018. In the case of both, neither pilot has a ride in the cards for next year.

So while some in Sunday’s 22-car lineup may choose a more conservative tact, others will view the action as a nothing to lose offering and maybe take risks that one would otherwise opt against. With those matters at hand, picking a team capable of raking in a large sum of points to close out the fantasy year could be tough.

Yours truly has thrown caution to the wind for the 17th and final outing and features a quartet of participants who have each had their own moment in the sun during the current campaign. Heading the list is current championship leader Josef Newgarden, attempting to become the first American driver to win the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so in 2012. Although the Tennessean arrives at Sonoma Raceway off a bad race at Watkins Glen when he came home in 18th, his ability to top the speed charts in both sessions on Friday, shows to me that he is ready to fight all out for the required crown-earning result.

Also on a bit of a roll entering Northern California is home state native, Alexander Rossi. With a win in New York and four other top-six or better placements in the last five races, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda chauffeur has to be viewed as a legit challenger on Sunday. The second-year veteran finished fifth at Sonoma a season ago.

While he has yet to return to the form he presented before his horrific accident suffered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is worth the risk of selecting this weekend, having finished sixth at this venue for the Windy City runners in 2011. Although the St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit he won upon to open this year, lacks the elevation changes present at Sonoma Raceway, the Frenchman’s talents on road courses are well documented in previous stints in both ChampCar and Formula One.

Rounding out my squad for race number seventeeen is Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion may have encountered the worst luck of any regular entrant in 2017. Mechanical failures have denied him chances at top-ten placements; however, the ECR group are in major need of a good result, in hopes of a significant boost in performance for 2018, when the American young gun will contest every event on the calendar.

Even though just one player in the hunt for a title is featured on Sunday’s lineup card, the group presented may take advantage of the overaggressive nature of others to close out 2017 with a better than expected climax.

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

Points Leader Newgarden Wins Sonoma Pole With Record Lap

SONOMA, California (Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017) – Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden withstood constant pressure from his nearest championship competitors, setting a track record to win the Verizon P1 Award in GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying.

Newgarden earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a scintillating last lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) on Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. The championship bonus point Newgarden collected for winning the pole stretched his advantage to four points over Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s season finale that offers double race points.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Qualifying results

The pole-winning lap from Newgarden in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet edged teammate Will Power for qualifying honors. It was the 11th pole position won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team’s Indy car history.

“I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year,” said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. “We’ve been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn’t get it done.

“It’s cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I’ve been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven’t been able to get it in its place.”

Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.

“You start going back through the lap in your head,” Power said. “I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It’s tight, it’s just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got.”

Simon Pagenaud’s track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917), but Pagenaud reset the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120) in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

It set up the dramatic run for the pole. Newgarden – the only Team Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round – was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.

“We were behind the eight ball there, for sure, after the first round,” Newgarden said. “We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn’t run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run.

“We knew we’d be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal.”

Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.

Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.

Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.

“The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners,” said Dixon, seeking his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. A win Sunday would accomplish the feat.

“Good to make it through to where we did,” Dixon added. “It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you’d want to be a little further up, but that’s the way it goes.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to hone in on race setups. A special pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race winner earns 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.

The 85-lap race on Sunday will mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season’s last race.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: 2018 Driver Change Analysis

Since the posting of my latest Ultimate Silly Season update last week, several suggested moves have turned heads.

If beliefs about other deals being inked are indeed on target, there could be as many as four new pilots joining the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet in 2018. Interestingly, however, is the chance of two of the circuit’s most dominant teams being destinations.

The addition of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport was a move that was a long time coming, for perhaps the most patient prospect in recent memory. Since the 2016 silly season, the Ohioan has been a realistic target for multiple rides, but was minus the funding and the experience desired to be able to sign on the dotted line.

While the inclusion at an organization that has won the last two Indianapolis 500s will provide a fair deal of expectations in the long term, the pressure to succeed will be a reduced rate next season. With Michael Andretti’s quartet featuring a pair of championship contenders in Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the goal for year one may be to at worst match the outputs from Marco Andretti, who has endured a difficult 2017 campaign.

Veach had two chances to gain IndyCar familiarity in 2017, and he fared well on short notice at Barber Motorsports Park, one of the series’ most demanding layouts. He also made his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt, and while he suffered a crash before qualifying, he mostly kept his nose clean on race day, when mechanical failure sidelined him at the three-quarter mark.

Spencer Pigot’s promotion to full-time service at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 was based on the potential shown, if not by the results sheet. While the 23-year old showed solid pace in several road races in 2017, he was often plagued by car trouble or being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment. Still, if the former Indy Lights champion did not get the bump up at ECR, other suitors may have snapped up the Pasadena, California resident.

The move gives the Speedway, Indiana squad its most strong driving cast for non-oval track competition since when Mike Conway was at the controls in 2014. With several potent road racing prospects on the free agent market, pairing another talented shoe with Pigot will show a desire from Ed Carpenter to improve his product in all events, rather than banking on solely the high speed runs.

With the 2017 Indy Lights championship now in the bank, expect Kyle Kaiser to use the advancement scholarship money earned to compete in at least three events, if not a full-run for Juncos Racing. The title promotes not only the number one driver, but also the best Mazda Road to Indy entrant into the IndyCar Series. Ricardo Juncos made his top tier debut at this year’s Indy 500, fielding two Chevrolet-powered entries for Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.

Kaiser was initially pointed toward taking one of the Indy rides this past May; however, Juncos elected to hold off on moving the 21-year old forward in favor of gaining further experience. The decision has returned positively as the Californian has won three times and placed in the top-three in six of 16 Indy Lights races this year.

The final newcomer is still in the yet to be confirmed at the time POPULAR SPEED went to press, however if reports are accurate, the addition of Brendon Hartley as a teammate to fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi is the ultimate boom or bust scenario. The former Formula One test driver and Porsche LMP-1 Hybrid competitor has a boat load of experience and a ton of speed, but the 27-year old does come with a “buyer beware” message. Hartley also has shown a case of over-aggressiveness during his time in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and while he may show incredible pace in IndyCar, he also could run up a substantial accident bill for Ganassi if confirmed for next season.

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

Zach Veach Completes Andretti Autosport Line-Up

After spending the last couple of years looking for a ride, Zach Veach has found his home at Andretti Autosport as he will complete their driver line-up for 2018. Veach will drive the No. 26 Honda entry next season.

“I’ve been thinking about this day since St. Petersburg in 2010 when I sat beside Michael Andretti announcing that I’d be competing in USF2000 for his team,’’ Zach said. “To be driving in the Verizon IndyCar series with them is a dream come true.”  

The 22-year-old made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in April for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park, finishing 19th, followed by a 26th in the Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Veach made himself known in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, scoring a career-best third in the standings in 2014 with Andretti Autosport. Last year, he scored three victories driving for Belardi Auto Racing en route to placing fourth in the points.

“We are excited to give Zach the opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him home, so to speak, as he completes our all-American lineup,” said Michael Andretti, CEO, Andretti Autosport. “Zach started his INDYCAR career with us in USF2000 and has driven in every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport. He’s a driver that has always impressed me. Zach works hard, and he takes something away from every time he’s in the car – he’s constantly improving. He’s put the effort in, found success at every level and now his dream has come full circle.”

The announcement completes the “all-american” line-up at Andretti Autosport as Veach joins Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Alexander Rossi. 

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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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pigot to Race Full-Time for Carpenter in 2018

Spencer Pigot just received a status upgrade at Ed Carpenter Racing. No longer will he just race the road and street courses, as he is set for the full Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in 2018 behind the wheel of the No. 21 Fuzzy Vodka entry. The team announced the news on Wednesday morning.

“To say I am excited about 2018 would be an understatement. I have really enjoyed my time so far with Ed Carpenter Racing and this is the next step in what I hope is a long, successful partnership with the team in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Pigot. “I am very thankful to Ed Carpenter, Tony George, Stuart Reed and everyone at ECR for their confidence in me to deliver the results the team deserves. It is a privilege to represent Fuzzy’s Vodka, Preferred Freezer Services, Direct Supply and all of the other partners of ECR in 2018.”

Pigot collected multiple Mazda Road to Indy championships before making the move up to IndyCar in 2016, running three events with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Following the Indianapolis 500, he moved over to ECR to split the rest of that year’s schedule with team owner Ed Carpenter. He was then re-signed for 2017 to run the road and street courses, while Carpenter runs the ovals.

“I will still have a lot to learn as 2018 will be my first full season in Indy car, but I know I have the team and teammate with Ed to help me as I get used to regularly racing on ovals again.” 

Pigot has shown speed in his sophomore season, running up front, with bad luck and mechanical failures limiting him to three top-10’s to date. 

“It is very exciting to be announcing that Spencer will be competing in a full-time role for ECR in 2018. Spencer made significant strides from his rookie season into his sophomore year and we see much more potential in his ability,” stated Ed Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Carpenter continued, “Spencer has worked very hard to improve in all areas of his driving and we feel the time has come to give him a chance to compete for the championship. I look forward to his continued development and reaching the top step of the podium in 2018.”

ECR does once again plan to field the No. 20 at the ovals with Carpenter behind the wheel, with their road/street course program “still under consideration.”

This past season, JR Hildebrand piloted the No. 21 entry full-time, currently ranked 15th in the standings with two podiums. His plans for 2018 have yet to be announced.

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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

2017 GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Preview

Momentum?  Momentum has been all over the place in 2017. But regardless of how the race and championship turn out, this has been the year of Josef Newgarden.

Look Out For?  While eight drivers have a mathematical possibility of winning the Astor Cup, we should look out for Scott Dixon and Newgarden. If either or both go out and finish towards the back , the variables for a win will all change rapidly.

Sentimental Favorite?  The two drivers who have multiple wins, Will Power and Dixon, are both enormously popular in Sonoma.

Challenges?  That depends. Because it’s the last competition of the season, there is more pressure than usual as drivers scramble for rides in 2018. Since it’s a very tight championship, at times it can be easy to emphasize it rather than the race.

Quotes:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “Sonoma is a beautiful place and the track is one of the best on the circuit. It’s also where I won the race last year and won my first championship, so it’s definitely a place that means a lot to me. We’ve worked hard this season in the No. 1 DXC Technology Chevy and have some things we’re excited to try at Sonoma. We have a great shot at the title, and we’re ready to challenge Scott Dixon and my Team Penske teammates for it. My team has worked hard to get to this championship fight, and they put together a strong car for Sonoma. I feel great about our chances. We’re ready to get on track and put everything we can into the race.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The whole hum by Verizon Chevrolet team is looking forward to Sonoma with the championship on the line. The Watkins Glen weekend wasn’t the best, but we’ve quickly moved on from that. A great thing for us was to get back on the track last week for a Sonoma test. Our session was great. We were able to gain some information and start to formulate our plan of attack. We have another (series open) test day later this week which will help us as well. Overall, we’ve been good on the road courses. I really like the Sonoma course and the No. 2 team is definitely capable. The points are tight. It’s going to be a fun weekend with all of the scenarios that are out there. We have a championship-caliber team, and we’re going to do everything we can to bring another title to Team Penske.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) : “It all comes down to this. We had a strong car at Watkins Glen and were able to run toward the front of the pack. We’re ready to take what we learned at that race and all season to apply to the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet. I want a championship so bad and all of my guys definitely want one, too. We’ve worked hard to have strong finishes this season and know if we have a great race and win, we just might win the championship, which is really exciting. Sonoma is always a great race, and it will definitely be a challenge with (Scott) Dixon and my Team Penske teammates also battling for the title. We got some track time last week with a test day and some more this week. Every team’s goal at the beginning of the season is a championship and we’re in a position to realize ours.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda) : “I think it’s been a total team effort for the No. 9 NTT Data team all season. I think Chip Ganassi Racing is very strong at these high-pressure, coming-down-to-the-wire situations, and not just for myself, but other championships they’ve won through the years. I remember being right there for many of Dario Franchitti’s, too, that worked out in similar fashion. I think it’s not necessarily a situation we thrive on. We would clearly like to be many points ahead and not having to worry about the last race, and you can go into a final just having to start or something like that. I don’t really speak to my competitors on that front or hear what they have to say or read up on it. For us, we’ll just go out there and try and get the job done and treat it as an ordinary race, even though there is a lot on the line.”

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

Gommendy Teams Up With Schmidt Peterson for Indianapolis 500

While discussions continue about who will drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports full-time in 2018, another question has been answered by the organization on Tuesday. Tristan Gommendy has signed a one-race deal with SPM for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 next May.

“Competing in the Indianapolis 500 is a dream come true; it was a career goal when I was racing in Champ Car,” noted Gommendy. “Even though I grew up driving open-wheel cars, everything is completely new when you get to Indy. The Speedway and this race demand a lot of respect. Racing at 230 mph with four 90° turns is far from the European motorsport culture. I know I’ll have to work very hard to get ready for next May.

“The first steps, including my first simulator test, went well, but much more work needs to be done. Everything so far has shown me that this partnership between Calmels Sport and SPM is extraordinary. In the United States, everything is possible … provided you earn your spot. It’s up to us to write a beautiful French story in Indiana!”

The Frechmen will pilot the No. 77 Honda with support from Didier Calmels, owner of Calmels Spor. His first oval Verizon IndyCar Series test scheduled for October ahead of the rookie orientation program. 

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt commented, “Ric and I are pleased to announce this partnership with Didier Calmels. Compared to him, we are relative newcomers to team ownership but have similar backgrounds of success in the business world. We look forward to learning a tremendous amount from Didier regarding the business of racing and his innovative approaches which have resulted in great success in European formulas. In addition, SPM has already shown results with French drivers such as Pagenaud and Vautier, so we look forward to having the talented and experienced Tristan Gommendy join our team for 2018. He has a similar background to Simon, so we have very high expectations.”

The 38-year-old currently competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship, placing third overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He has previous experience in Champ Car, GP2, World Series by Renault, Formula Renault, and French F3.

The partnership includes support from French television networks throughout the month of May, including a 52-minute documentary about the creation of Calmels Sport IndyCar program. 

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.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from the Grand Prix at the Glen 2017

The Big Picture:  The Verizon IndyCar Series and Watkins Glen International have a kind of understudy relationship with one another. Back in 1979, the series began to race at the iconic road course. By 1981, Formula One was turning its nose up at the Glen due to low attendance. So, IndyCar stepped in and filled F1’s traditional October date. In 2016, Boston was yet another US city who thought starting a street race would be easy. Upon the Boston contest circling the drain when instant riches were not forthcoming, Watkins Glen stepped in on a moment’s notice to return to the IndyCar schedule on Labor Day weekend.

Event:  And so the Grand Prix at the Glen was reborn. Of course, drivers love the natural terrain road course spanning 3.377 miles in length. It has the famed bus stop and the boot to make it unique in North America, and maybe the world. The series regularly fills the grandstands, but is also perceived to have “low attendance.”

Qualifying:  Alexander Rossi took his first series pole of his career with Scott Dixon starting next to him on Row One. Andretti Autosport had the best set up with Honda having the advantage on this track.

 Race:   As with most road course competitions, a great deal of this contest was decided in qualifying. The first and second place qualifiers also finished that way in the race. The third and fourth place starters were unable to continue this as Newgarden choked on a pit exit and Sato had a spin that threw him way down the leader board.

Biggest Surprise:  When Rossi was able to recover the race lead by Lap 29 after he had a fuel probe issue. Great recovery.

Biggest Disappointment:  The bad call made by Team Penske to go with a wet set up when the rain was over.

Best Team:  Andretti Autosports because they took the pole, the win, and the final spot on the podium and the Penskes didn’t.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  NAPA is good to motorsports. They just re-signed Rossi, and he delivered a win within days.

What We Learned:  That even Team Penske can make bad calls on set up. That Scott Dixon must be setting record for finishing second in so many races this year, and this may win him the championship

Schedule:  The season finale is in Sonoma, on September 17th!

Quotes of the Weekend:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “The Hitachi Chevy was so awesome today, and it was a great job by the No. 3 car guys. We were really fast out there – it’s been a long time since I was able to go flat out through the carousel in the race, but we were doing that today. We had some issues on the black Firestone tires, but we were able to recover and really pushed hard there to finish fourth. I feel really bad for Josef (Newgarden) with his incident. It’s unfortunate for the team, but it’s mixed feelings for me because it tightens up the championship. We definitely have a good chance heading into Sonoma and I feel really good about our setup there. We’ll be ready to go for it and finish strong.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “It was definitely an exciting day for the No. 9 NTT Data car. I locked up the tires on the first stop and I don’t think we got any fuel. We had to save fuel on the next stint as a result and battled our way back. I think we passed a lot of cars today and it was fun to contend with (Alexander) Rossi there for the win. Big congrats to him and good to see Honda run strong at Watkins Glen.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “We made a good start. Coming up to the hill P2, we were all set very nicely and I felt, basically, no power. We tried to figure out what was going on. I tried to reset the car on the track, it failed. Everything went zero. We pitted, then came back a few laps down and found a waste gate problem. After that, we were back up to speed, but I think at the time we were three laps down. Nothing we could do, but at the end of the day, we had one of the fastest laps. Big congrats to my teammate Alex (Rossi) for his win on the road course and to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for getting a strong showing. It’s a shame, but as a team, I think we showed trim in the speed so that was a good weekend.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda): “An amazing job by the whole team today. We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel (probe), but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked so much about how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.” (About battle with Scott Dixon at end of race): “We had a fast car. I knew we had a fast car because we were hitting a fuel number before the final stop and we had pace. I knew he was going to be pushing like hell at the end, and so it was really 12 qualifying laps, and I had the car to do it. We had time, we had the pace, the performance, the tire life, everything was going our way. A huge hats off to Andretti Autosport. Thank you to NAPA Auto Parts, thank you to Honda. We’re coming really hard for 2018.”

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