IndyCars - The off-season: Series news and comment until the March 2014 kick-off


#380

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IndyCar driver Alex Zanardi does Daytona…in video…

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In post # 335 we mentioned that the 2-time former Champ Car Champion will be added to the regular line-up for the BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan # 25 BMW M8 GTE squad for the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona - the first of the four endurance races that make up the 2019 Michelin Endurance Cup within the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series.

Zanardi lost both his legs in a horrific accident at the Lausitzring, in Germany in 2001, but once recovered, it didn’t stop the popular Italian from competing, and he has WON several races since then, driving cars with hand controls, similar to those also used by Pro Mazda alum Michael Johnson - a paraplegic since the age of 12 and also a race winner.

Alessandro Zanardi (left) and Michael Johnson

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Recently, Zanardi tested the big GTLM-class M8 at Daytona and this is a quick vid of a lap or two, with Alex explaining the challenges. The special steering wheel that incorporates the accelerator and shift paddles is seen. Zanardi simply pulls back on the secondary wheel behind the primary wheel. The harder he pulls, the more the accelerator is applied, but there are times he has to both steer and down-shift using one hand only, as the other is on the brake lever off to the right of the steering wheel. The Bimmer has a centrifugal clutch that works perfectly for both fast standing starts and slow rolls away from the paddock.

It’s slightly different with Johnson who drives an Audi in the TC class of IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge series. His steering wheel has two extra rings - one in the front for accelerating and one on the rear for braking. That way he can always keep both hands on the wheel at all times.

Take a look at Alex at work

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For Daytona Alex’ co-drivers will be fellow add-on Chaz Mostert, from Supercars, and team regulars Jesse Krohn and John Edwards. The car is also equipped with the regular brake and accelerator pedals they all will use.

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#381

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Speaking of Daytona…

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…as we did in the post above, today it was announced that former IndyCar driver Mike Conway will be added to the Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi V.R. squad for the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona, along with Action Express regulars Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque and fellow add-on Christian Fittipaldi.

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Mike Conway

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Since leaving IndyCars with multiple race WINS for Dale Coyne Racing, the Brit has become something of an endurance car specialist, with more WINS and several podiums, including two podiums for Action Express. Following 2 WINS this season already, Conway is currently ranked second in the LMP1 standings of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship standings with three races remaining.

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Mike’s mount for Daytona - the Mustang Sampling # 5 Caddy for Action Express.

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#382

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Three CONFIRMATIONS for the 2019 Road to Indy grids have been announced…

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Today Juncos Racing has announced that their 2018 Pro Mazda (now called “Indy Pro 2000”) Champion, Rinus VeeKay, will be using his 815,000+ dollar scholarship to run the full season of Indy Lights for the team in 2019.

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Rinus Van Kalmthout - aka Rinus VeeKay - back at Juncos

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VeeKay has twice tested for Juncos in their Lights car since the 2018 season ended, making his best showing at the recent Homestead-Miami Speedway test, where he posted a P1, two P2s and a P4 - the 2nd best Indy Lights score of the test.

Said the much-accomplished 18-year-old from Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, “I really feel at home with Juncos Racing. I think I can improve my performance and get better with this team, and that is extremely important for my next goal, the IndyCar Series. It’s also great to see that the team work extremely hard for me. Last season they proved that, after a setback, they can come back better than ever before and that they do everything they can to be successful. The (Juncos Racing) 2015 and 2017 Indy Lights titles prove that. I’m really looking forward to work together with Ricardo and his team again and to being successful together."

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Juncos WON the Lights title in 2015 with Spencer Pigot and in 2017 with Kyle Kaiser. If they keep to the same every-other-year schedule, VeeKay will likely be the Lights Champion in 2019.

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continued…

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#383

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Three CONFIRMATIONS for the 2019 Road to Indy grids have been announced…(part 2)…

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Also announced this week, 19-year-old Colin Kaminsky will run his sophomore full season of USF2000 for Pabst Racing, driving their # 23 Tatuus USF-17. Though he comes from a racing family - his dad Bob Kaminsky is a grizzled veteran of the SportCar wars - Colin has only been racing for 5 years, and he has been in school for much of the time, at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Colin Kaminsky - driving for the “Speed Boys” at Pabst in 2019

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Kaminsky drove a partial season for Kaminsky Racing in 2017 and a full season for DEForce Racing in 2018, with a best finish of P4 at Road America. He tested for Pabst twice since the end of the season, most recently at Homestead-Miami where he was TOP FIVE in 4 of 5 sessions, with a best of P3.

Said the Homer Glen, Illinois native, “My goal for the 2019 USF2000 season is to compete for wins and ultimately compete for a championship and a scholarship to Pro Mazda in 2020. Pabst is a team proven to win races and compete for championships year in and year out so I know I am in the right place to pursue my goal. With their experience and expertise I am sure that as a team we will be competing for the top step of the podium every weekend.”

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Adding to their roster, Pabst Racing has also CONFIRMED that rookie Yuven Sundaramoorthy will join Colin on the 2019 USF2000 squad. Sundaramoorthy, who will be 16 in February, was born in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where Pabst Racing is based, and has since lived much of the time outside the United States.

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Yuven Sundaramoorthy

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After many years karting, which eventually led him back to the United States four years ago, Yuven switched to USAC’s F1600 Championship in 2017 and 2018, driving for K-Hill Motorsports and earning a 4th and 3rd place in the points chases. He also drove 3 races in USF2000 in 2018 for Exclusive Autosport, whetting his whistle for 2019. Sundaramoorthy tested for Pabst Racing at Homestead-Miami in December and posted 4 TOP FIVES out of five sessions.

Said the 15-year-old, “I am so excited to be driving with Pabst Racing this year and taking the next step in my racing career. I’m really looking forward to the hyper-competitive experience in USF2000, and learning from my new teammates as well. My goal is to get some top-fives early in the season, then improve to podiums and wins later in the year.”

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Pabst Racing is expecting at least two more ‘‘gets’’ for 2019 and one of them is rumored to be a MEGA get. Announcements will be made in early 2019. Stay tuned!!

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#384

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The Race of Champions for 2019 just got better…

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Announced a day ago, IndyCar driver Robby Gordon’s Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks will be both a participant in the main event and also a support race for the 2019 iteration of the Race of Champions, to be held for the first time at Mexico City’s Foro Sol, the amphitheater inside the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez Formula 1 circuit. The plan is to bring both the 650 hp trucks and the SPEED XX UTVs.

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Two Super Trucks at a cross-over in Texas - getting air is no problem

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Robby Gordon

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ROC President Fredrik Johnsson said: “Robby is one of the most colourful figures in world motor sport. At his first Race Of Champions appearance in 2001 he rolled one car, pulled off another spectacular save and set a lap record round our Gran Canaria circuit that still stands… talk about giving the fans value for money!

“But if that sounds good just wait till you see his SPEED XX’s and his Stadium Super Trucks, which are sure to put a smile on the faces of all the drivers – and everyone watching. We have greats racing from Formula 1, Le Mans, IndyCar, NASCAR and RallyX but I bet you will never have had the chance to watch them drive anything like this before. If you’ve never seen a truck fly, now’s your chance.”

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We can’t wait to see Formula 1 drivers trying to make the trucks fly. That ALONE will be worth the price of admission.

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#385

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And in more Robby Gordon news…

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…The indyCar driver will be returning to competition in the DAKAR Rally in 2019, after a two-year absence. The 50-year-old will field three race trucks in the 10-stage / 11-day run in Peru from January 6-17.
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Robby Gordon

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Said Rally director Xavier Gavory, “The Dakar Rally is excited to welcome back Robby Gordon, the most famous American competitor in its history. An absolute legend of the Dakar for his aggressive driving style and showmanship, Gordon and Team Speed will be one of the teams to keep an eye on in the 2019 edition.”

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Gordon knows only one speed - full on, whatever he’s doing. Good luck, Robby!

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#386

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Harding Steinbrenner to come into the Honda fold…

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When the Harding Racing team became Harding Steinbrenner Racing at the end of the 2018 season of IndyCars a lot of the other teams became worried about cross-contamination of engineering. It was well known that Andretti Autosport - a Honda team - was helping the new team with engineering expertise, as well as giving it their two best Road to Indy drivers - 2018 Indy Lights Champion Patricio O’Ward and 2018 Indy Lights Vice-Champion Colton Herta. Both young talents drove in Harding Racing Chevrolets at Sonoma, for the season finale.

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Pato O’Ward wheels a Harding Chevy at Sonoma

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The FEAR was that the Chevy team would be telling the Honda team all their secrets, and vice-versa. That fear was erased earlier this month, as Harding Steinbrenner Racing will become the latest Honda team in 2019. That means Andretti can - and will - make Harding Steinbrenner a satellite team for Andretti Autosport and no one will complain about it - at least from an engineering secrets perspective.

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What this also means is that Harding - which struggled with some outdated engineering in 2018, principally in the shock absorber area - will likely become much better contenders in 2019…and isn’t that better for racing fans?

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#387

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It’s no surprise to us…

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…That today the SportsCar authority and racing journal, “SportsCar 365”, has named Pro Mazda (now “Indy Pro 2000”) alum Will Owen as their pick for the best bronze- or silver-rated prototype driver of 2018.

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Will Owen

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In 2018 Owen drove his 2nd season for United Autosport in the LMP2 class of several events, including the 2018 iteration of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, co-driving with Hugo de Sadeleer and IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya in the # 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson. It was Owen’s wonderful quadruple stint in the overnight hours that is largely credited with getting the Ligier from a P14 start to its P3 finish, besting several ORECA 07 teams that were expected to out-perform them. This was Will’s 2nd Le Mans podium in a row.

The reward for that great showing - and several others in 2018 - was the invitation we noted in post # 284 for the 23-year-old to drive the whole 2019 season of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Juncos Racing in their brand new DPi-class Cadillac DPi V.R.

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Way to go on this nod from “SportsCar 365” Will. Proud of you!

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#388

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And in more SportsCar news, Kris Wright is coming to Daytona for the Rolex 24…

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The 2018 Champion of the IMSA Prototype Challenge series, Pro Mazda driver Kris Wright, will make his P2-class debut at the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona, having been confirmed in Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson for the iconic event.

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Kris Wright

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The St. Petersburg, Russia-born 24-year-old American drove in several Pro Mazda (now “Indy Pro 2000”) races for BN Racing in 2018 while simultaneously dominating the LMP3 class of Prototype Challenge, where he WON 2 out of 6 races and podiumed in all races, driving a Ligier JS P3 for Extreme Speed Motorsports.
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Wright’s co-drivers for Daytona have yet to be announced, but it is highly likely that they will include former Indy Lights driver James French and former IPC Champion Kyle Masson - 2 very successful Perf Tech drivers in 2018 and before.

James French (left) and Kyle Masson - two of Brent O’Neill’s favorite pilots

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It doesn’t seem possible, but we are only 9 days away from the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona - the big test for all participant’s in the 2019 Rolex 24.

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#389

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A BIG congrats to our guy, Victor Franzoni, for an impressive WIN last weekend…

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…as the Brazilian Indy Lights ace and 2017 Pro Mazda (now “Indy Pro 2000”) Champion drove to victory at the 500 Kilometers of Sao Paulo at Interlagos in the # 19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for Via Italia Racing, with co-drivers Marcos Gomes and Chico Longo.

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The Via Italia Racing Lambo at the start of the multi-class race.

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The boys took both the GT3 class WIN and the overall, after starting the race on the front row in P2.
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On the podium, left to right, Marcos Gomes, Chico Longo and Victor Franzoni

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No word yet where the very popular and talented driver will be in 2019. It may be a return to the Indy Lights. It may be another season of Indy Pro 2000, to get another title and the scholarship that goes with it, or it may not be open wheel at all. Time will tell. Proud of you, Victor!

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#390

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As we close out the year. let’s do the final "Speedy Award’’ for 2018…

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The folks who keep the statistics all year for IndyCar get to see the trends and performances that casual fans cannot see, without the numbers to crunch, on things like speed through a trap, or number of times a pass was attempted by any particular driver. Thus, THEY know what we can only know when they tell us. They award those performances with the informal “Speedy Awards”, and we have been chronicling the Speedys for 2018, with the last one in post # 338.

It’s now time to award the final Speedy - the Driver of the Year Award. The number-crunchers determined that three finalists for the award were the top three drivers in the championship point standings – Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Will Power - all of whom showed up a number of times in various categories. But the big award has to go to the driver who not only WON more than one Speedy but was also TIED for the series lead in the more better-known categories, with three WINS, four poles and 11 races led - plus, he got the BIG apple, the Indy 500.

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The Speedy Award for Driver of the Year goes to Will Power of Team Penske. Some will say, “Well, he was only 3rd in the points!!” But the numbers guys say, "Yes, he managed to be 3rd in the points DESPITE rotten racing luck that had him not finishing 4 of the 17 races!"

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Will Power with Liz and Beau

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Take a look at Will’s incredible year:

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Congrats, Will and Liz and little Beau Power on a great 2018!

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#391

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Gabby Chaves just made the best decision of his life…

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…as the American / Colombian IndyCar driver has this Christmas day finally asked long-time GF Gabby Piccarreta to marry him.
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Gabby and Gabby - the proof is in the ring

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One of the most popular ladies in the paddock , Gabriella Piccarreta met Gabby Chaves some 6 years ago and on a race podium, following a Star Mazda WIN by Chaves. Gabriella was then a Cooper Tires girl - a duty she happily still performs whenever asked to do so.

The first to congratulate the couple was Gabby’s best friend, fellow IndyCar driver Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport. The two, and their ladies, are often found mountain climbing together.

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Left to right, Zach Veach, his GF Kate McConnell, Gabby Piccarreta and Gabby Chaves

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We add our congrats to Gabby and Gabby - a GREAT start to the new year!

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#392

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If you don’t believe in fate, check out this episode of “You Don’t Know Jack”…

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In episode 4 of IndyCar driver Jack Harvey’s get-to-know-me series Jack introduces the Kennedy family, which Jack met on a visit to the gym one day. The Kennedys have since “adopted” Jack as their English son and the relationship has also led to Jack finding Jim Meyer who became a co-owner with Mike Shank of Meyer Shank Racing for whom Jack drives.

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Check it out:

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#393

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Big change at Heinricher / Meyer Shank Racing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona…

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Back in post # 222 we spoke of the all-female super-squad of ladies who will drive the Meyer Shank Racing # 57 Acura NSX GT3 Evo sponsored by Caterpillar in the 2019 Rolex 24. That was to be Jackie Heinricher and IndyCar driver Katherine Legge as the GTD-class seasonal team in the car with IndyCar drivers Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro added in for Daytona.

Today it was announced that Jackie Heinricher will have to bow out of Daytona due to a back injury that she suspects will not be healed in time for the January race. Replacing her in the car for the iconic event will be two-time IMSA GTD-class Champion Christina Nielsen.

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Christina Nielsen

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As co-owner of the # 57 team it was Heinricher’s decision. Said the Lamborghini Super Trofeo driver, "It was a tough decision to step out but it’s what’s best for me, the drivers and the team. I’ll be right there with everyone from the pit stand and ready to get back in the car for the rest of the season.”

Jackie Heinricher

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Nielsen has to be considered a wonderful “get” for the squad, with her record of two titles, 4 race WINS and 19 podiums in IMSA racing. She is available because her 2018 team, Wright Motorsports, was unable to secure sufficient funding to continue its GTD class program with Porsche in 2019.

Said Nielsen, “The whole program that Jackie has put together is a great initiative and something that I’m very excited to be a part of. It is amazing what she has done with Caterpillar and bringing them into sports car racing. Mike [Shank] is somewhat of a legend in the paddock and I have had the pleasure to race against him for many years. He runs a very professional program and they showed their strength in 2018 with a near championship. MSR is a team that you want to be with and I am grateful for the opportunity.”
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Christina’s co-drivers, left to right, Katherine Legge, Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro - IndyCar gals all:

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The big test for Daytona - The Roar Before the Rolex 24 - is a week away.

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#394

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Speaking of Daytona, as we did in the post above…

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Daytona International Speedway is going to host the Roar Before the Rolex 24 next weekend, but THIS weekend they are hosting the big WKA Daytona Kart Week and the Margay Sprint Nationals - two big karting events - and there are a lot of IndyCar guys there, staying sharp in the off season, including Zach Holden, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, James French and Juan Piedrahita.

On Friday the TOP TIME in practice out of 44 entries for the Margay Ignite Dash was turned in by newly-minted fiancee Gabby Chaves:

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Ready to go, IndyCar driver Zach Veach

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left to right, Juan Piedrahita, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach and James French - kart buds

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We’ll keep abreast of the action.

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#395

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Let’s get back to Pato O’Ward’s video series, “Behind the Visor”…

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…wherein the 2018 Indy Lights Champion chronicles his season - the highs and the lows - by narrating the description of each and every race that brought him to his title. We last saw the two triumphant races at Barber Motorsports Park - races 3 and 4 of the season - in post # 341.

Now, it’s on to Episode 3 - races 5 and 6, the two Grands Prix of Indianapolis, where fortunes changed for the young Mexican:

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Great stuff!

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#396

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Daytona Kart Week closes out…

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…and the IndyCar guys competing had a ball and did some fine racing, with a number of TOP TENS in the 44-strong field in the Margay Ignite Senior class over the three days of kart racing.

Something like this:

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Best IndyCar driver in practice on Friday was Gabby Chaves in P1 for the final practice.
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Gabby Chaves

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Best IndyCar qualifier on Saturday was Gabby Chaves in P4, while Indy Lights driver Juan Piedrahita was P7 and IndyCar driver Zach Veach was P8

left to right, Gabby Chaves, Juan Piedrahita and Zach Veach

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Best finish in the pre-final on Saturday was by IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves who WON the pre-final, with Zach Veach pulling in P8

Gabby Chaves (left) and Zach Veach

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Best IndyCar finish in the Saturday final was Zach Veach in P4, while Indy Lights driver James French pulled in P5

Zach Veach (left) and James French

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And today, the best IndyCar qualifiers were James French in P1 and Zach Veach in P4

James French (left) and Zach Veach

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The best IndyCar finish in the pre-final today was James French in P5, while Gabby Chaves posted a P9 and Zach Veach made P10.

left to right, James French, Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach

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Finally, in today’s final the best IndyCar finish was Gabby in P6 while Juan Piedrahita stuffed it into P8 at the end.

Gabby Chaves (left) and Juan Piedrahita
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That’s a bunch of TOP TEN showings for the boys, but the BIG WINNER of the weekend had to be Evan Stamer who WON both the Saturday final and the Sunday final.
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Evan Stamer (right) with Sunday’s P2 finisher, Charlotte Lalonde

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Evan at work in the Saturday final

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That’s it for any kind of racing at Daytona International Speedway for 2018. Next up for the track is the Roar Before the Rolex 24, this next weekend - the big test that all 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona participant cars MUST attend to be in the January classic.

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#397

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It’s officially 2019, and we’re enjoying Pato O’Ward’s video series, “Behind the Visor”…

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…so much that we wanna do another episode, following Episode 3 in post # 357, where the 2018 Indy Lights Champion recounted his disastrous weekend at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

In Episode 4 the Mexican phenom speaks of the 2018 Freedom 100 - the Indy Lights equivalent of the Indy 500 - run on the same 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Take a look:

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Such a good-looking series!

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#398

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The first 2019 major weekend for American SportsCar racing is close upon us…

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This weekend IMSA will hold the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be the REQUIRED test for any WeatherTech SportsCar Championship car that wants to be in the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona, later in the month. Also testing will be all the cars that will race the same weekend in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series. Lastly, this weekend we will have the FIRST race of the year, as the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series holds their Round 1 of their season, making The Roar a true competition weekend.

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We follow IMSA racing because a LOT of IndyCar drivers - past and present and from all four IndyCar series - will be SportsCar racing this year, as in every year, but never so many as during the Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend - to say nothing of the fact that it is simply great racing. So, let’s get reacquainted with the series that IMSA sanctions, and the changes from 2018 to 2019, starting with the big one - the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship:

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The WeatherTech series has one big change for 2019, as it goes from 3 classes back to 4 class - two prototype classes and two GT classes - by taking the 2018 P class and dividing it into the DPi class and the LMP2 class. This is deemed a whole lot better than trying to “even up” the performance differences between factory-designed DPi prototypes and off-the-shelf LMP2 prototype cars. Since their inception, DPi cars have grown hugely in stature as an endurance and sprint prototype and so has the size of the field. There will be no less than 11 different DPi cars at Daytona and for much of the season, compared to 4 LMP2 cars.
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the 2018 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi car of IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya

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the 2018 AFS / PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports LMP2 of IndyCar driver Sebastian Saavedra

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The two WeatherTech GT classes remain the same - GTLM class is the highly-competitive factory-backed class with home-grown engineering and all pro drivers while GTD class cars are the more off-the-shelf GT3-spec machines with at least one silver or bronze-rated driver in each car - “amateurs,” but in name only.

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The GTLM-class Ford GT of IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais for Ford Chip Ganassi

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The GTD-class Acura NSX GT3 of IndyCar driver Katherine Legge for Meyer Shank Racing

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continued…

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#399

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The first 2019 major weekend for American SportsCar racing is close upon us…(part 2)…

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The street car series that in 2018 was called the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in now called the Michelin Pilot Challenge series, due to the fact that Continental is out and Michelin is now THE tire for IMSA. The MPC series has also changed in one more respect, as it goes from 3 classes down to only 2 classes. Dropped is the small Street Tuner class, but surviving is the top GS or Grand Sport class, filled with GT4-spec machinery. The other class is the TCR or Touring Car class, which is growing in participation this season. There will be 31 GS class cars and 9 TCR class cars at the Roar.

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the GS-class McLaren 570s GT4 of IndyCar driver Jesse Lazare for Motorsports in Action

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the TCR-class Audi RS3 LMS TCR of IndyCar driver Michael Johnson for JDC-Miller Motorsports

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Finally, the IMSA Prototype Challenge or IPC series returns for 2019, but without the MPC class that was populated by the older open-bodied Elan DP02 cars that were the genesis of this prototype feeder series many years ago. The series will be only the closed-bodied LMP3 class in 2019, and the shortest IPC races will now be 1 hour and 45 minutes, while two of the 6-race calendar will be a full 3 hours - This weekend at Daytona and the early July race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. All entries must have at least 2 drivers for each race, though a 3rd driver is allowed.

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The LMP3-class Ligier JS P3 of 2018 IPC Champion, IndyCar driver Kris Wright for Extreme Speed Motorsports

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IMSA is set to begin revealing driver line-ups on Wednesday for all series at the Roar and when we get them we will post the names of the IndyCar folks.

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