Sebastien Bourdais on course during a team test a Sebring International Raceway — Photo by: Tim Holle
1. Aleshin rejoins Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2017
2. Bourdais savors spoils of Rolex 24 At Daytona class win
3. 7-Eleven returns to INDYCAR as associate sponsor for Kanaan
4. Petro-Canada Lubricants renews with Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson
5. Phoenix Raceway unveils modernization project plans
6. Single-day tickets for Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on sale
1. Aleshin rejoins Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2017: It’s official: Mikhail Aleshin is returning to drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Speculated since the conclusion of the 2016 season, Aleshin’s return was confirmed today. The announcement was made in Aleshin’s native Russia that the 29-year-old from Moscow will drive the No. 7 Honda with sponsorship once again from SMP Racing, Russia’s largest and most successful motorsports program.
Aleshin drove full seasons for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2014 and 2016, as well as the 2015 season finale. For the second year in a row, he will team with James Hinchcliffe, who is driving the No. 5 Honda.
“Thanks to both the SMP Racing program and our American team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, I am to keep fighting for even better results this season in INDYCAR,” Aleshin said. “With the Russian flag on my car, and with James and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew, I will push hard to bring more poles and hopefully victories in 2017.”
Aleshin came on strong in the second half of 2016, winning the pole for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, then leading 87 laps before finishing second in the race. He also finished fifth at Iowa Speedway and sixth on the streets of Toronto. A late-race pit incident at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course cost him a shot at his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
“We are thrilled to have Mikhail back for 2017,” team co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We know he is capable of winning races and competing for the championship. This also means we have maintained continuity across drivers, engineering and team member staffing, which is critical for success.”
2. Bourdais savors spoils of Rolex 24 At Daytona class win: Sebastien Bourdais spent a portion of Monday making room for yet another trophy, one of the perks of winning the GT Le Mans class the day before at the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance race.
Another portion of his day was spent looking forward to the Verizon IndyCar Series season, which begins March 12 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – in Bourdais’ adopted hometown.
“It’s great preparation for the INDYCAR season,” said Bourdais, one of eight confirmed 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers who competed in the annual sports car endurance race around Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course. “I got more than seven hours of driving in the rain. I don’t think your senses can be more practiced than that in trying to gauge what’s available and how you manage the tires.”
Bourdais teamed with Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller – the same three who drove the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT to victory last June at the 24 Hours of Le Mans – to repeat the class win over the weekend at Daytona. Bourdais now sets his sights on his fulltime ride in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Other Verizon IndyCar Series regulars driving at Daytona were: Conor Daly of AJ Foyt Racing, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing, James Hinchcliffe from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, Spencer Pigot from Ed Carpenter Racing and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Not only does the Rolex 24 serve as mental preparation for the Verizon IndyCar Series season, it also helps drivers stay in shape and hone their skills.
“That’s not the reason why I do it,” said Bourdais. “I do it because I enjoy it. … It’s tough to put a value on it, but for me it helps. The longer you stay inactive, the harder it is to get back up.
“It sure helps to get more seat time and keep your feelings sharp,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s a race of touch and feel and sight. If you don’t exercise those skills, they become a bit less sharp.”
3. 7-Eleven returns to INDYCAR as associate sponsor for Kanaan: It’s a pairing that won a Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Tony Kanaan and 7-Eleven are together again in a partnership announced Tuesday by Chip Ganassi Racing.
The convenience retail chain will serve as an associate sponsor on Kanaan’s No. 10 Honda for four Verizon IndyCar Series races this season. Kanaan drove with 7-Eleven primary sponsorship for eight seasons when he was with Andretti Autosport, including the 2004 season when the Brazilian completed every race lap and won the championship.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be back in the 7-Eleven family,” said Kanaan, whose primary car sponsorship this season still comes from NTT Data. “7-Eleven was my home for most of my career in INDYCAR and they were with me for 14 out of my 17 wins. It’s definitely special to have them with me to celebrate my 20th Indy car season and I’m looking forward to getting them to victory circle again like we did many times in the past.”
7-Eleven, Inc., based in Irving, Texas, franchises or licenses more than 61,000 stores in 17 countries, including 10,900 retail outlets in North America. The associate sponsorship will be in place for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, as well as the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Tony has proven himself to be an enthusiastic brand ambassador, both for the sport of racing and for 7-Eleven,” said Joe DePinto, 7-Eleven CEO and president. “Whenever he and the show car made a store appearance, crowds of customers would turn out to meet him. Tony would stay and sign photographs and talk to 7-Eleven customers for hours. He is a winner in everything he does.”
4. Petro-Canada Lubricants renews with Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson: Petro-Canada Lubricants announced a renewed partnership Tuesday with Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe and an increased relationship with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The renewal covers the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and will see enhanced Petro-Canada Lubricants branding featured on Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Honda, as well as additional team assets to create more brand awareness for the supplier of more than 350 lubricants, specialty fluids and greases to more than 80 countries.
“We are very excited to announce our renewed partnership with James and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. His and the team’s performance throughout the last racing season clearly demonstrated our shared values,” said Howard McIntyre, vice president of lubricants for Suncor, which operates Petro-Canada Lubricants. “Technology, innovation and dedication are the cornerstones of Petro-Canada Lubricants and perfectly align with their approach to racing.
Hinchcliffe, a native of Toronto, Canada, is entering his seventh season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 30-year-old has four race wins and captured the pole position for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last May.
“From the outset last year, one of the drivers behind my partnership with Petro-Canada Lubricants was being able to proudly represent a Canadian company which has a unique reach across North America,” Hinchcliffe said. “It showed me that Petro-Canada Lubricants shares my ambitions to exceed expectations, break barriers and set new bars for excellence. Petro-Canada Lubricants’ motto is ‘beyond today’s standards’ and that is a mantra I really subscribe to.”
5. Phoenix Raceway unveils modernization project plans: Phoenix Raceway, together with its parent company, International Speedway Corp., announced Monday details of a $178 million modernization for the track that hosts a Verizon IndyCar Series race, with a variety of enhanced amenities for fans, teams, sponsors and other stakeholders.
Among the highlights is the repositioning of the start/finish line to Turn 2 in the 1-mile oval’s famous dogleg. Other upgrades include a completely redesigned infield featuring a first-of-its-kind fan zone, greater fan access to victory circle and a new pedestrian tunnel connecting the infield to new seating areas featuring in-seat wifi connectivity.
“When our project is completed, we will have a venue that delivers amazing fan experiences to go along with our reputation for great racing action,” said Bryan Sperber, the track president. “By shifting the start/finish line to Phoenix Raceway’s famed dogleg, fans will be perfectly positioned to watch one of the most exciting turns in motorsports. We are confident the Phoenix Raceway Project powered by DC Solar will put racing in Arizona in a whole new and exciting light.”
The project will not be completed until November 2018, so will not be in place for this year’s Phoenix Grand Prix weekend April 28-29, the fourth race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Among those attending the project announcement were Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, and Alexander Rossi, the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver and winner of the 2016 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race who could see race strategy changing with the movement of the start/finish line.
“For the Indy cars specifically, I think it will change the end of the race,” Rossi said. “Because we don’t really use the dogleg (for overtaking), it won’t have that big of an impact on restarts, I think. But at the end of the race if you have two guys fighting for the win, coming side by side into Turn 1, it will be an event, no doubt. I think it’s very cool that the fans will be so close to that and it’s unlike any other track. I think they’re really doing a good job being creative and inventive.
“Anytime you can get the fan experience higher and anytime we can engage the fans and be with them, it’s only a positive for everyone,” Rossi added. “It’s better for us, it’s better for the track, it’s better for the sport. … The winner’s circle, which is normally such an exclusive environment, to be able to open that up and share at least a piece of that with the fans who spent all evening with us is super positive and something I look forward to.”
The modernization project also includes the installation of new/upgraded seating and hospitality areas near the current Turn 2 location. A new grandstand will be built alongside upgraded seats in the existing Bobby Allison Grandstand (both featuring individual chair-back stadium seats with armrests), complete with modern amenities such as new escalators and elevators, additional restrooms and concessions and a redesigned midway conveniently located near the seating areas.
6. Single-day tickets for Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on sale: Single-day tickets to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the opening event on this year’s 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – went on sale today. The race weekend scheduled March 10-12 marks the 14th time that Indy cars will race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as a runway of Albert Whitted Airport. It will also be the seventh straight year that the race opens the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Single-day tickets start as low as $20 for Friday, $35 for Saturday and $50 for Sunday. A weekend general admission ticket offers the best value at just $55. A single-day reserved seat is available for $100 in upper rows and $75 in lower rows. Junior pricing is available for ages 12 and under. For full pricing information and to buy tickets, visit gpstpete.com or call (877) 725-8849.
In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series, all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder – Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – will open their seasons with doubleheader races at St. Pete. Also on the weekend schedule are Pirelli World Challenge and Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks.
Graphics & Photos Courtesy of Indycar