Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - Day 1

Earlier today, Schmidt Peterson Motosports co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson announced that the team will field an Indianapolis 500 entry for 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve.

Q. Jacques, why come back now after so long being away? I think it will be the longest period between starts for any driver?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: There’s a few reasons. The first one, it’s also a question of opportunity. The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast. The discussions happened at the right time because I’d been watching the IndyCars last year, and it looked extremely exciting with the new cars, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn’t racing. So that got me going again.

I’ve been active ever since leaving IndyCar in ’95, anyway, with Formula One. I did some NASCAR racing, some other forms of racing, in Australia, different places. I just wasn’t considering going back to something I’d already done mostly because there’s been a few dark years for IndyCar.

But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it’s getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again.

Q. Jacques, over the years you weren’t a big fan of the old IndyCar. When was it that you decided this new model and the way the series was set up was going to be leading them out of their ‘dark days’, as you called it earlier?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I guess it started when they started going back to road racing, going back to a mix of tracks, going back to the IndyCar that I knew basically. They saw it was time to react, and they did.

Then came this new car, which was quite a surprise with the spoilers and everything. I was dubious until the first time I saw it racing, then I realized how amazing it was, how close the racing was, open-wheel racing that was never heard of. It wasn’t accepted anymore in modern days. That’s how racing used to be.

When I started seeing that last year, I started getting excited again, just because the racing was amazing, the cars looked fast and aggressive, it looked hard on the drivers, and the battles were fierce, which is all what I love about racing.

Q. You mentioned earlier that things happened pretty fast. You’re not young by a racer’s standard. You have young kids now. You haven’t been in an IndyCar for 20 years. Talk a little bit about the things you considered when you were making this decision to go back to Indy.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Just that it is the biggest race in the world and that it was exciting. It was a great opportunity. It’s a great team, a great car that will be well-prepared. It was a chance to do something good.

You say I’m older in racing, got kids, and actually that’s another drive. I’m a racer at heart and I will always be. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me alive.

I don’t want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race that they can see in books. I want them to see and live what I’ve already lived, to see it through my doing it actively.

It’s actually a positive effect to have kids.

Source: IndyCar

Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images

 

February 26, 2014 IndyCar

Sam Sunderland Dakar

KTM announced that Dakar’s 
future prospect Sam Sunderland has signed to race for the Red Bull KTM Factory Rally Team for the next three and a half years.

Sunderland, a 24-year-old former motocrosser turned rally racer, is pleased to be joining the factory squad in a bid to unlock his Dakar potential with the ultra-competitive crew that has won the last 13 editions of the notorious rally.

British-ace Sunderland has enjoyed both success and disaster following his Dakar debut in 2012 at just 22 years of age, with competitive results on the days he’s completed during the rally. Sunderland has also achieved success in the British youth championships, UAE MX2 & MX1 Championship titles, UAE National Baja Championship titles in 2010/2011, an Abu Dhabi Desert challenge podium in 2012, a Merzouga Rally win in 2013 plus a stage win in this year’s Dakar event before retiring from the race.

With KTM’s Dakar know-how and Sunderland’s motivation it is hoped that he will develop into one of the future greats of the sport as he gains experience with the factory squad amongst more established riders. His main goal for year one will be to complete the rally in the top five with consistent results throughout the stages, and he’s particularly excited about working with Marc Coma, who enjoyed his fourth Dakar victory last month.
Dubai-based Sunderland, who is the first British rider for 15-years to win a Dakar stage, will race the all-new 450 Factory rally machine that made its debut in 2014. The youngster will contest some rounds of the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship throughout this year as he builds his confidence and speed ahead of the 2015 Dakar race.

Sam Sunderland: “I’m really excited for this new chapter in my career and very grateful for the opportunity from KTM. It’s going to be great to work with the huge experience of the team and I hope I can prove myself with good results to return the confidence they’ve put into me. The team has won for 13 years in a row and it’s a huge opportunity for me to race with a team with that much experience. When I met the team I had a great feeling, like friends straight away, which is a huge part of the whole deal, because in the Dakar it’s stressful and tiring, so the relationships are important to be able to work together in the toughest times. The bike is proven; I’ve not ridden it yet, but I’m really excited and looking forward to that. It looks great and with first and second this year it’s obviously great for the job. I am working really hard with my training right now and I can’t wait to get started.”

Pit Beirer: KTM’s Head of Motorsports: “It’s definitely a big pleasure that we are able to bring Sam over to KTM, thanks to the friendly relationship we have had with him through Kini and myself. We’ve been following his riding over the last few years and he’s a young, talented rider with great skills. I’m sure if we combine this with the strength of our team and the training opportunities with Marc, he will make our package stronger for the future. As Sam is still very young it’s now our job to keep him calm; it’s not that we expect results straight away, but we will give him time to learn the secrets of the desert. He’s a proven stage winner, he has the skill and speed, but I don’t want to put him under pressure. The key is to put him with our experienced riders and he will learn and help them. In my opinion he is already maybe podium contender, but for us it’s not about the results today or tomorrow, it’s about building a good, competitive long-term Dakar future.”

 

Source: KTM

Photo: Red Bull

February 23, 2014 Dakar Rally, Off-Road

Carlos Muñoz IndyCar 2

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined by IndyCar Series rookie Carlos Muñoz.
Carlos, last year you started second and finished second in the Indianapolis 500.  Now you’re going to be in a full season.  Talk about your thoughts about making the transition to the full-time ride with Andretti Autosport.
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  Yeah, Michael give me the opportunity to race for his team this year a full season.  It’s my first year.  Last year I did the Indianapolis 500 and replaced E.J. Viso for Fontana, and for one race I replaced Ryan Briscoe for Panther Racing.  So first year.
THE MODERATOR:  We just had Sebastian Saavedra here.  He was mentioning with you, him and Juan Pablo Montoya how excited your country is.  Could you talk about that, how you see that.
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  What can you say, me and Seb, we’re lucky to have Juan.  Is great for us.  For media star, for name, a lot of Colombia people follow him in Colombia.  He’s been one of the best drivers Colombia ever have.
A lot of people are going to follow IndyCar.  Maybe there’s going to be another Colombian, too.  People start to talking a lot that there’s three Colombians on IndyCar, like back to Juan Pablo.  When he won the Champ Car, the Indy 500, there were a lot of people following him.  It’s going to be great for me and Seb, for sure.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions.
Q. Did you ever race against Juan?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  We did a go-kart race in November for his foundation, but I never race against.
Q. You were a fan of his when you were younger.  Before the Indy 500 he called you and you got to talk to him.  What will it be like for you now racing against him, somebody you idolized?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  I don’t like the word ‘idolized,’ but he was a symbol for me when I was a kid, an example for me and many Colombian drivers, to follow him.  He was the only Colombian whoever won a Formula One race.
We have a great relationship.  He called me last year.  We have known him a lot, giving me some little tips about the race and everything.  I have some pictures of him when I was small.  He was at a go-kart race with his brother when I was small.  It’s a strange feeling when you’re small, you’re looking at him as a big driver.
But once I’m here, you just put your helmet on, everyone is the same.  You don’t think, Who is this guy, or what he’s done.
Hopefully going to be great.  Hopefully we going to be fighting in the top position.  For sure it will be great for us to be fighting each other in the top positions.
Q. On the NASCAR side there’s a lot of talk about the younger drivers.  Do you think your participation and Sebastian’s participation, the way you drive with reckless abandon, do you think it can bring a younger fan base to help build this thing up?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  Definitely.  I hope that we can help to bring young people and more fans.  IndyCar, as you say, like me and Sebastian, are kind of aggressive.  IndyCar wants drivers really constant that don’t do a lot of mistakes, to finish all the races.
But now they’re giving the opportunity to young drivers, the people in Colombia are following the IndyCar again.  We can attract more people.  That’s the goal not only for me, but all the drivers, to build IndyCar as it was back then.
Q. Not many drivers had their first IndyCar Series start go as well as you did.  When you look back on the Indy 500, what do you think about how well that went and how it almost turned out to be a victory in the biggest race?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  That race just give me the opportunity to be here, no, in a full season.  It was an awesome race.  I didn’t cross the finish line first, so I never will know what would happen without the yellow flag.  That was 2013.  Now is 2014.  I have another chance to go get that race.
I’m focused on this year.  For sure all last year race going to be in my mind for all my life.  But now I have my chance and I have to think and work for it.
Q. What is the working atmosphere like at Andretti versus last year when you were with a smaller team?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  All the drivers, we are really close.  We see a lot each other when we go to lunch, the hospitality or something.  I have great teammates, three teammates.  All of them, they are really nice.
If I ask him, they will say the true, no?  Not a lot of driver does that.  But we help each other a lot.  If they ask me, I also say the true.  Ryan is an IndyCar champion, Marco has a great feeling, and James also is a great driver.  We’re going to have fun this year.  I’m going to learn from them this year.  We’ll see what happen in the end of the year.
Q. About your teammates and Andretti.  It seems to me they have been known to play practical jokes on each other.  You seem to be a serious guy that wants to learn.  How do you fit in with the other guys?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  Yeah, I’m really quiet guy.  I’m really shy.  That doesn’t mean I’m – how you say – bad person.  I’m quiet and shy compared to James.  He’s always talking, making jokes, completely different mind.
But they treat me as one of them.  They treat me really well.  After Indy they treat me really well (laughter).  But it’s great to have this combination of drivers, no?
James talks a lot.  Ryan is in between.  Marco, I think we’re more quiet guy.  I think it’s a great combination for all the team.
Q. They haven’t played any practical jokes on you yet?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  After Indy, no (laughter).
Q. Last season you had the opportunity to take the ride and replace Ryan Briscoe.  You came to the media center in Toronto and seemed very serious because you were basically thrown in the fire to work on a street course.  Do you think you have learned things from that experience at Toronto to be in the IndyCar race and will that help you for the start of the season at St. Pete?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  It was a crazy idea to go straight to the race, but the main goal was to learn.  Even though doing this race, I was not really competitive because I went straight to the race.  I learned from black tires to red tires.  In testing we are not having any red tires.  That give me an idea what I’m going to feel in the pit when I’m going to have these red tires for the race.
Give me a lot.  I learn a lot, that race.  I knew was going to be a long race.  You have to really think when to push, when not to.  On that race I learn a lot.  Everyone say was a crazy idea, but the main goal was to learn, and I did.
Q. You mentioned James as a joker, talks quite a bit.  When does he switch modes into race mode?
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  I think he gets serious when he puts his helmet on.  Even if you have bad session or something, but when he puts his helmet on, he’s a serious person.  You see last year, he won a couple races.  He know how to change the mind, the mentality.
I’m not really good at it.  I like to stay focused because I lose a lot of concentration.  When he puts his helmet on, he’s another guy.
THE MODERATOR:  Carlos, thank you.
CARLOS MUÑOZ:  Thank you.

Photo: Chris Jones, IndyCar Media

Source: IndyCar Media

February 19, 2014 IndyCar

Sebastian Saavedra IndyCar

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined by Sebastian Saavedra.
Sebastian, the team has been joined by Gary Peterson.  Tell us a little bit about that relationship and how it has transferred now to the IndyCar Series.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Well, it’s something that has been working for a while now.  When I came from Europe in 2009, Gary was pretty much like my second dad, having my first dad present here of course.
We built a very strong relationship.  He took me below his wing to develop me inside his driving development program.  We come through since then.  Last year, of course, having a great sponsor.  Dragon Racing was one year we got slightly separated.  As soon as the season was over, we wanted to continue the great path we have.
Together with Jimmy Vasser, we got stuck on a flight going on our way to Toronto.  We were side-by-side speaking for everything, future plans.  Since then everything start to move forward.
Very happy that the KV AFS Racing program has come together.  Now to put it in papers and make it a reality is something that makes me very excited and, of course, gives us a lot of positive energy going into the season.
THE MODERATOR:  Moving from the IndyCar Series to the Firestone Indy Lights help you?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Totally.  It was not an option.  It was that or doing nothing at all.  But it came the opportunity to make our stronger with AFS and Gary Peterson, trying not only to prepare, but keep learning.  At that time, being 20 years old, I had the opportunity to take chances, and still can.
Now looking back, this is a reality because of those days.  Because of the not only trust that the Indy Lights Series had in me, but, of course, the trust of Gary Peterson and Michael Andretti.  Everything is just a building structure.
THE MODERATOR:  You made your Indianapolis 500 debut when you were 18.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I was just turning 19, yes.  I think I was the first driver from 1990 to be in the great Indy 500.
I think that first time, maybe being young, it was everything a bit too overwhelming, not understanding where I was in.  But the second time everything becomes so clear and so real.
I’ve been blessed to be able to do this for a while now.  This is actually going to be my second full season.  I already had a long round with Conquest Racing.  It’s something that makes me very proud to be around this great series, seeing its development throughout the years.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions for Sebastian.
Q. Were you getting nervous at all as time was going on that you weren’t going to have a ride for this year?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I think as soon as I knew that Dragon Racing was not going, it was a bit late for sure.  I had a three-year contract with Dragon.  This was something that give us a little bit of relief, knowing I had somewhere to be in.
When they decided not to go, it was a late call.  But fortunately enough, as I said, something was brewing very slowly inside KV and AFS.  I was nervous in a way of not being able to race, but how quick could we make it happen.  Now that the series has opened up testing a little bit more, I wanted to be part of that.
But at the end I think I knew I was in the hands of great people and that things were going to come through, the question was when.  It came right at the time that we were expecting.
Q. The flight you were next to Jimmy, was it to the Toronto race?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I’m pretty sure it was.  We got stuck in New York.  We had to change flights and go somewhere else.  It was just a big mess.
So we had a good six, seven hours side-by-side.  Then we arrived to Toronto.  He took me to the track.  I had to go to the track to sit fit.  He was ready to go to the hotel, but he took me in the worst traffic ever of Toronto.
We had an interesting relationship there.  Before it was, Hey, Jimmy, bye, Jimmy.  That was as long as our conversations went.
But we learned a lot from each other that day and opened what we are building today.
Q. Do you like working with Bourdais?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I’m actually being forced to (laughter).
No, we built a really great relationship last year.  I think I respect Bourdais a lot and he respects me.  I think that’s the key to building a great partnership with your teammate.
I think we were able to understand each other and see development-wise that we needed each other to move forward.  So I think it makes it a lot easier to have somebody by your side.  As Jimmy said, you broke those barriers of who the heck is by my side.  Definitely it’s a plus to have him on my side, something that is already natural.  We already get along very well.
Q. I know Juan is a lot older than you.  He’s told us in the past he’s not that popular amongst Colombian racers.  Did you watch him when you were growing up?  Was he not someone that you followed?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  He’s one of the reasons I’m here.  I was only eight years old when he won Indy 500.  I was just starting my go-kart career by then.
It surely gave a little bit of, Hey, if you’re a Colombian, you can make it happen.
Since then we’ve had a couple of contacts.  I raced in the 500 miles of Brazil.  He was there.  That was actually the first time we actually get to speak.  I was 13.  Since then we never spoke again until the Race of the Stars at the end of the year, when we became a lot closer.
I do accept that he’s one of those guys that came through on a very important time of my life, thinking, Is this what I want to do for my whole career?  And it was, and of course, Roberto Guerrero was another guy that came through on my first Indy 500.
I’ve been very blessed with very good people around.
Q. What have you learned from Bourdais?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  He’s a very technical guy.  I think we’ve learned from each other a lot.  We do not have the same driving styles, so that’s something that leaves us to develop different paths throughout the course of the weekend.  We are pretty much able to see what works, what doesn’t, pretty much adapt it to our specific cars.
What I’ve been able to learn from him is just experience.  He has plenty of experience.  He just portrays that very easily.  It’s good when we were sitting with all the engineers for me to say my thoughts, listen to his thoughts, of course complement on those lines.
It’s been a good relationship.  I’ve pushed him to different limits.  It’s good that you don’t feel comfortable at all anytime.  You always start to push when you have somebody behind you all the time.  That’s the development; that’s how it works.
Q. Just looking at your team, times standing, people looking at data.  Will you sit together with Sebastien’s engineers to look over the car data at race weekends?  Will it be independent with separate engineers?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  That’s definitely one of the key points for this season:  we’re going to be one team sharing completely everything.  Very good relationship between our engineers.  That’s something that helped to see what is the next step in every session that we are out.
I live in Indianapolis.  I’m pretty much every day bothering the mechanics and engineers at the shop.  That also makes a huge help.  But we are meant to be just one.
Q. Sebastien also tested yesterday at Sebring and Sonoma late last week.  You mentioned about Bourdais.  Have you received any information or had conversations with Vasser on his input, on his style of management, how he relays information to the drivers?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Jimmy sees Bourdais with a lot of respect, of course.  He saw me as the youngster that pretty much still has no limits.  So that’s great to keep the development and pushing Bourdais.
He has a lot of positive attitude around us.  Demanding a lot, of course.  That’s something we’re very welcome to.  When he says he wants to see trophies in his trophy case, that’s something we’ve heard a lot, not only in a couple interviews.  That’s, of course, one of the opportunities that KV AFS Racing is giving us.
We just need to keep focused.  We know what we have.  We know what we’re capable of doing last part of the season last year.  We just need to continue that same path, already having knowledge from two sides.  Having the great oval package from KV, then having great knowledge from street courses from Dragon Racing.  That’s what we’re trying to combine and make a strong overall performance.
Q. Have you raced against Montoya before?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Non-professional events.
Q. What do you think it’s going to be like?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I think it’s going to be interesting, mostly for Colombia, for our country.  Now having three Colombians already signed.  I don’t see it definitely.  When I put on my helmet, I don’t care who is by my side.  I just focus on the cars, the track.
But it’s something definitely very big for history as Colombia has never had three Colombians ever in the same series or ever in the professional level.
It’s going to be a very proud moment for all of us.
Q. It has to go through your head that you watched that guy growing up.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Definitely.  But I also watched Helio, Dario, T.K.  I’ve had the opportunity to work by their sides the past three, four years.  So I think that moment passed 2009, 2010.  That was the moment of saying, Helio is by my side.
I’ve been able to build a great friendship with them and not look at them as the professionals as they are, but more as friends and competitors.
Q. Is it a big deal in Colombia to have three Colombians in the series?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  It’s insane.  It’s huge.  Sports in Colombia has been growing exponentially in the past 10 years.  Last year we won our first gold medal in BMX actually.  It’s something that we’re very proud of our athletes.
It’s starting very slowly to portray the support from the government, from the public and private enterprises.  So it is huge to have three Colombians in the same roof, the most professional series in America at IndyCar.  There’s a possibility of having a fourth.  That’s something that has never been even thought of in the past.  We have Roberto Guerrero.  Right now we have something like about 50 Colombians worldwide trying to make it.
Q. When you compete you want to do well for yourself.  That’s pressure for you to win for yourself and your sponsors.  Do you ever feel that you have to do well for your country?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  I think in general you just want to be the best of the best.  That’s my thinking, just winning the race or the season.  In the end you want to be the best.
In this case, yes, you want to be the best of your country, but you also want to be the best in North America.  I see the big picture more than just this regional goal.
THE MODERATOR:  Sebastian Saavedra, thank you very much.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA:  Thank you.

 

Photo: IndyCar Media

Source: IndyCar Media

February 19, 2014 IndyCar

Juan Pablo Montoya IndyCar 2

THE MODERATOR:  We have Juan Pablo Montoya rejoining the IndyCar Series.
Juan, going through some testing already, your thoughts?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I’m really excited.  I mean, I feel like I’m not where I want to be yet with the car.  I feel we have come a long way.
It’s weird.  Sometimes we’re really good, some we’re average.  The first Sebring test was horrible.  I feel like Sonoma was pretty good.  I was really happy.
It’s hard because the new tires are different than the ones I’ve been used to the last three years.  I’m starting to get it, but the problem is I don’t get to put it all together.
If you look at my laps, if you put my fast three laps together, everything is there, it’s just a matter of putting it together in a lap.  I think it’s just experience.
I feel like we gaining on it.  I think I drive the car a little bit different than the other two.  I think Helio drives a little bit more like me.  Will just got used to driving the car in an awkward way to be quick.  We’re just trying to make the car drive a little better.
You’re always on the limit, but to be more comfortable at the limit.  So we’ll see.
THE MODERATOR:  We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Juan, how odd does it feel to you when you see a red car now on the track?  Does it feel odd?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  It’s kind of weird.  I mean, a lot of the mechanics worked with me at the 24 Hours, especially when I was in the 02 car, it was all the Indy crew.  It’s okay.  They’re good people.  That’s it.
Q. You’re rivals now.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Right now I’m my biggest rival.
Q. Why?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Because I feel like I got to do a job, push myself.  It’s good to have a guy like Will on the team that’s really quick and gets the job done.  Helio has a lot of experience.
If I have my experience plus what they do, I think it’s pretty good.  I felt like I brought a few things to the team already to make the cars better.  We’ve gotten a little bit better, so I’m pretty happy.  No complaints.
Q. Can you reflect a little bit on the NASCAR journey?  What are your thoughts with Speedweeks going on?  Does it feel odd at all that you’re not there?  Do you feel like you’re where you belong?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  It’s a feeling that I wasn’t missing it probably.  It was weird actually.  A month ago when they did their first set, I was with my son racing at Homestead.  I got a text from Chevy, We’re missing you.  I’m like, Why are you missing me (laughter)?
I had no idea they were even testing.  It’s nice to do what I’m doing right now.  I feel really happy.  I’m really excited to be part of Team Penske.  It’s a tough challenge ahead of me.  I know that.
It seems weird because it seems like race speed is really good when we’re in race trim.  Our pace is really good.  I was telling my guys, like my race engineer, If you really look at it, even on new tires, I’m not missing corners.  There’s a lot of room there for improvement and I know that.  It’s not bad.  It’s a process, I guess, I hope.
Q. You were talking about it being a difficult challenge.  Obviously it was a difficult challenge when you moved over to NASCAR.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  It’s completely different.  The NASCAR one was one that it was like, Where the hell am I?  The cars were very different.  There was a lot of movement.  This is the opposite because in NASCAR the limit of the car is very easy.  You can get to the limit of the car very easy.  The big thing is you’re driving it too hard.  In IndyCar, you can’t drive it hard enough, or at least I can’t yet.  I’m leaving a lot on the table.  I think that’s the biggest thing.
Q. Having been successful in virtually every motorsports field you have taken part in, how do you look back and judge NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  When we had good cars, we did good.  When we had bad cars, we did bad.  I think as a team we threw a lot of races away.  It’s part of the thing you always do.
The point is when you’re winning races, you throw a lot away and you still win a few.  When you’re not winning races, you notice the things you throw away.  I think that’s the biggest difference.
The focus for me now is IndyCar 100%.  I’m pumped about it.  I feel like a complete rookie right now, so it’s pretty cool.
Q. Kurt Busch is talking about wanting to come and do the Indy 500.  For somebody who has your experience in open-wheel, trying to get up to speed from that point, after running NASCAR to now, how difficult do you think it’s going to be for him to jump in there for the month of May and get the job done?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I think the configuration, the low downforce configuration of these cars, it’s not too bad.  I haven’t driven around Indy.  But like Fontana, I was up to speed in five laps.  When I went to Phoenix, it took me half a day to get up to speed, it really did.
It’s hard because, Helio went out, ran wide open.  You think, It’s wide open.  Your brain says it’s wide open, but your body says, Hell no!  You’re going into turn one wide open, you say, No, not happening.
It’s hard to get comfortable.  Three and four wasn’t so bad in Phoenix.  One and two were hard.  That’s the high downforce.  The high downforce, it’s just a matter of learning how far you can go with the car.
Low downforce, I think anybody would get used to it a lot easier.
Q. Roger said with the right funding, he’d like to see you run the Brickyard 400.  Is that something else you want to do?  A fan on Twitter wants to know if you have any interest in running the NASCAR road courses as well?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I think the Brickyard would be a good thing.  I’ve been so close so many times, it would be a good way of closing that chapter with a good win there.  I know Roger hasn’t won there.  If we could get the opportunity to do it, I think it would be pretty cool.
Q. Juan, comparing the IndyCars that you drove previously, what are the biggest changes you have noted?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  The biggest thing is braking.  The braking is unbelievable.  Used to have a lot more power.  But the initial acceleration is very similar.  It’s when you go through the gears…
The braking in the corners, it’s unbelievable.  The grip level of these cars, it’s like an eye-opening, to be honest.
Q. Would you have thought a couple years ago that you would ever be returning?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  At that point, no, because I felt comfortable with what I was doing and everything.  But if I look back at everything I’ve done, the most fun and best racing I’ve done in my career, it’s been in IndyCar.
This was the perfect time to do it.  I felt like two years from now, wouldn’t be able to do it.  Timing-wise, it was ideal.  So we’ll see.
Q. Are you surprised that you haven’t just jumped back into the IndyCar and it’s like riding a bike again?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  No, no.  I mean, the speed was there right away.  Once I pushed the car, the speed was there.  The problem is, if you try to be too greedy too early, let’s say we got to Sonoma and I tried really early to push really hard, throw the car off, you spend the rest of the day repairing the car, you don’t learn anything.
Laps I think are very important at this point.
Q. You said you want to go back to IndyCar because you want to win again.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Yeah.
Q. If it takes you time to win…
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  It’s going to take me time to win.  How much time, I don’t know.  I’m not expecting to go out the first race and win to be honest.  I have to understand strategies and everything.
If the team does a good job of that, it’s good.  There’s a lot of things with saving fuel.  There’s a lot of strategy that goes in that that I know of, but I haven’t experienced it.
Q. Your reputation and legacy being what it is, is the expectation and the pressure on you to be good immediately, to turn this series upside down quickly?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  My expectations?
Q. Not for yourself, from the outside.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I don’t care what the outside thinks.  I really don’t.  I put myself enough pressure to perform and do whatever it takes to get it done.  I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else.
For me, it’s all about winning.  You know me, I never really care what people think of me.  I care what I think of me.  I know when I do a good job and a bad job.
I feel I’ve done a really good job with the IndyCar so far, that I’ve done a good job getting up to speed.
It’s funny because a lot of it is, let’s say you run through the day, at the end of the day you look at the data, you look at what Will or Helio are doing, Oh, I got to do that.  I go out there and just do it.
That’s going back to, okay, you could probably run wide open through here, nobody done it.  If I tried and get it wrong, then I throw away half a day of testing.
I’d rather look at what they’re doing, copy what they’re doing.  Then they do something different again.  You go, Oh, next time I got to try this.  It’s just a matter of doing that.
Q. Roger told us after the Sebring test it seemed you struggled, at least on paper.  He said everything was going to be fine, that your biggest concern was getting him in the black pants.  Is that accurate (laughter)?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  The first Sebring test was a struggle.  It was a struggle for all of us.  The new motors, the old motors.  It’s hard to judge how far behind are you.  You say, I did that corner great.  Coming down the straight, Oh, there you go.
At this point it’s been tough to really compare and know.
I would say, looking at Sonoma data after the test, I felt I could have been a little quicker than Helio.  If I would put a lot together, I would be a 10th or two behind Will.  I know there’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s not like, He’s so much better everywhere.
It’s just two corners.  One of them, I screw up.  Like I went in, got a huge moment.  I know I can do that.  The other one was like, Wow!
The good thing with me, when I go, Oh, wow, I just go and try it.  I always have had the attitude, if somebody can do it, it can be done.  What the heck, give it a try.
Q. Are you wearing the black pants now?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Absolutely.  Proudly.  I told them today actually white shirt, the Verizon white shirt looks better than the black shirt.  But they say, White shirt is management.  Again, I’m not management, I’m just a driver.  Black shirt for me (laughter).
Q. How familiar are you with the St. Petersburg track?  What are your thoughts on it?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I’ve seen about a hundred videos of it.  I watched the races.  I will start watching the races again just to figure out how to drive the car, see what they do and stuff.
That’s one of the hardest challenges, the first time on a street course, St. Petersburg.  I think it’s going to be eye-opening.  I think it’s going to be a slow-building weekend, getting comfortable in the car.
It’s something I’ve been getting better at, work on the car.  Going fast, it’s easier.  If you’re not comfortable in the car, first of all the chances of getting it wrong are big and you’re never going to be good enough.
I’ve been working hard on things that I like about the cars, things I don’t like about the cars.  Setup-wise we’re a little different at the moment.
Q. Given the fact you’ve had so much success throughout your career, but also you’re kind of a rookie again, what would be a successful season for you?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Winning the Indy 500 and fighting for the championship.  You would say that would be a good season.
Q. You think those are realistic expectations?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  You look at my oval experience in NASCAR, it’s huge.  I did ovals before.  You have to figure out again in IndyCars what you can do and what you can’t do.  It will be fine.
Going back to the same thing:  if you can get the car to do what you want, you’re going to be really competitive.  Is it going to be easy?  No.  If it was easy, anybody would do it.
Q. In the 2000 Indianapolis 500, it was said you weren’t impressed with the car.  How much have you seen this car evolve?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  This car is more of a CART car than an IndyCar.  They’re completely different, I think, personally.
Q. Is this a hard car to drive?  What makes them different?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  When it’s bad, it’s a horrible car to drive.  When it’s good, it’s really, really good.  When we did the Sebring test, it was awful.  My first test was there.  My first test I ran half a second quicker than I was running there.  I ran a half second quicker without any effort.  When we went back, What the heck is wrong with this?
We’ll see.
Q. Is there any consideration this year to try to run the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, to be the guy to win them both?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  No, unless Roger asks me.
Q. Have you asked him?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  No.  I got enough things going on.  No, no, no, no, no (laughter).
Q. What did you think of the pace car fire?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  Which one?
Q. Not yours.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:  I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t see it.  I was in a car.  Sebastien was racing.  We came back from a dinner.  Actually my wife turned it on because she saw a tweet about it.  They were interviewing Stewart after the crash.  She wanted to watch the race and I fell asleep.  I’m not saying I fell asleep because it was boring, I was just tired.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.

 

Source: IndyCar

Photo: Chris Jones, IndyCar Media

February 19, 2014 IndyCar

Long Beach IndyCar Start

The 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, set to take place April 11-13, will feature a standing start for the IndyCar Series race, the first time a standing start will take place for the featured race in Long Beach since the final Champ Car World Series race ran here in 2008 and just the second time since the Formula One era ended in 1983.

“One of the unique parts of IndyCar racing is its different formulas – racing on short ovals, superspeedways, street and road courses – and standing starts is another one of those components that in the right place at the right time is good to showcase,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations. “It’s a great location and I think the fans will like it. Long Beach has a history of standing starts, and in its 40th anniversary race this ties in with that tradition.”

Since the IndyCar Series’ arrival in Long Beach in 2009, the series has incorporated a rolling start to each race, where the drivers take three warm-up laps in their qualifying order behind a pace car then continue through the start line to begin the race. Under the standing start procedure in the official INDYCAR rule book, the drivers will take two formation laps on the 1.97-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit and then line up according to their starting order. When all cars are in position, a five-second signal will be given by illuminating one pair of red lights. A countdown to the start will illuminate a pair of red lights every second. After a random delay of between 0.5 and four seconds, the race is started by all the red lights being extinguished.

“This is fantastic news for our fans,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “They will love hearing the sounds of the IndyCar engines revving up and then the cars roaring down Shoreline Drive. Thanks to IndyCar and especially to Derrick Walker for granting our request. This is a great addition to all of the other activities we have planned as we celebrate 40 years of racing in the streets of Long Beach.”

In addition to the IndyCar Series race, which will start at approximately 1:45 p.m. PT, the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will feature the Tequila Patrón Sports Car Showcase with the cars of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Pro/Celebrity Race, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pirelli World Challenge, SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks and Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.

Fans can select and pay for their 2014 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach seats, parking and paddock passes online at gplb.com. Ticket orders can also be placed by calling the toll-free ticket hotline, (888) 82-SPEED. Also featured on gplb.com is the latest Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach news, downloadable ticket brochure and racetrack information, photos and ongoing announcements of special race week activities.

Ticket prices range from $28 for a Friday General Admission ticket to $135 for a three-day ticket that includes Sat./Sun. reserved seating in grandstand upper levels. Pre-paid parking packages are also available, along with handicapped seating, IndyCar Paddock passes, Super Photo tickets and a wide variety of Hospitality Club packages.

Fans can also follow the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Facebook at GrandPrixLB, Twitter @ToyotaGPLB (#TGPLB40) and Instagram at ToyotaGPLB.

Source: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Photo: John Cote, IndyCar Media

February 19, 2014 IndyCar

Jann Mardenborough Gran Turismo

Jann Mardenborough will compete in Formula One feeder series, GP3, in 2014 with the championship-winning Arden International team.  The 2011 GT Academy winner also joins an intensive driver development programme with Infiniti Red Bull Racing, the most successful Formula One team of recent times.

In the last two seasons Mardenborough has competed and excelled in GT cars, Le Mans Prototypes and single-seaters, his most recent efforts earning him the runner-up spot in the New Zealand-based TRS single-seater championship.  His podium finish at Le Mans in 2013 came two years to the day after he reached the final stages of GT Academy in 2011.

“I feel ready for GP3,” said Mardenborough. “I’ve prepared well and I have all the right people around me to help my development so I can fully focus on my racing.   Formula 3 has taught me so many things, both in the car and out of the car, both mentally and physically. It was a great stage in my development and I’m sure the skills I’ve learnt there will help me in GP3 and beyond. I’m excited to work with Arden. My initial impressions of them are excellent; they have a lot of experience and great success over the years. I’m looking forward to working with my race engineer Sean (McGill).

“I haven’t raced the GP3 car yet,” he continued. “But going on initial testing, I prefer the GP3 car to an F3 car. The power is very addictive! This season is my opportunity to impress more people in the sport who make the decisions on who makes it into F1 and who doesn’t and I’m going to give it my best shot.”

Arden International was selected for its championship-winning pedigree.  The team’s most recent success story is that of Russian racer Daniil Kyvat who won the GP3 title with Arden in 2013 and will now race in F1 with Toro Rosso in 2014.

A crucial element of GT Academy is Nissan’s driver development programme, which helps the winners switch from the virtual world of gaming to the reality of the race track.  This is where Jann learnt his craft.  He will now add on a bespoke development programme with Infiniti Red Bull Racing to push his talent as far as it will go.

“We’re delighted to welcome Jann onto our programme,” said Andy Damerum, Red Bull Racing’s driver development manager. “We have been tracking Nissan’s innovative approach to motorsport and in particular GT Academy that challenges the status quo of motorsport. The traditional route to F1 of karting and single-seaters is a tried and tested success but Nissan and PlayStation have gone down a very different road and started to find some very talented drivers who have been doing all their practicing on a games console.  I’m very interested to see how Jann fares on our programme and in GP3 this season and I look forward to taking him under the Infiniti Red Bull Racing wing to further progress his career. ”

The mentor for the UK finalists of GT Academy 2011 was none other than Johnny Herbert, who has kept a close eye on Jann ever since.

“I have been mightily impressed with what Jann has achieved since winning GT Academy,” said Herbert. “For someone with Jann’s experience doing so well is very rare to see. Last year he raced in the European F3 series which is hell of a tough challenge during your first season; the fact that it was Jann’s first season in any kind of single-seaters is incredible.

Whilst he has had a very successful first year in GT racing and he has now got an amazing result at Le Mans 24 Hours under his belt, he is competing against drivers that have grown up with seasons of karting and single-seater experience behind them.

His talent has not only impressed me, but has now got experienced figureheads in motorsport talking about what Jann, Nissan and GT Academy is achieving,” continued Herbert. “The world of motorsport is recognising that GT Academy is helping bring talented young blood into the sport. The success of Jann and other GT Academy winners is also inspiring a new legion of gaming and motorsport fans by giving them a new route to becoming a professional racing driver.  The only question that remains unanswered is ‘Can a gamer make it all the way to F1?’”

“Jann’s progress is just the tip of the iceberg for the success of the graduates of GT Academy,” said Nissan’s Director of Global Motosport, Darren Cox. “Last year we took 41 podiums around the world including Le Mans, the Spa 24 hours and the Dubai 24 hours and won two championships in the GT-R Nismo. The innovation is now obvious to everyone who looks into the detail, however like most innovations this was not the case when we kicked the programme off six years ago. Nissan and Playstation have bought motorsport to a new generation of digital fans and now we are expanding even further geographically. Recent additions to our core markets of Europe, Russia and USA are India and the Middle East and more new markets will be announced in the coming weeks.”

February 17, 2014 GP3 Series

Allan McNish Loic Duval Tom Kristensen Audi Le Mans 2

We have 56 cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans! Here they are. The list of 56 cars is set by number, team, car and nominated driver.

LMP1-H (7 Cars)
1 – Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Lucas di Grassi
2 – Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Marcel Fassler
3 – Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Filipe Albuquerque
7 – Toyota Racing – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Alexander Wurz
8 – Toyota Racing – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Anthony Davidson
14 – Porsche Team – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Romain Dumas
20 – Porsche Team – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Timo Bernhard

LMP1-L (3 Cars)
9 – Lotus – Lotus T129 AER – Christijan Albers
12 – Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R-One Toyota – Nicolas Prost
13 – Rebellion Racing – Rebellion R-One Toyota – Mathias Beche

LMP2 (17 Cars)
21 – Strakka Racing – Dome Strakka S103 Nissan – Nick Leventis
22 – Millennium Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Fabien Giroix
23 – Millennium Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Stefan Johansson
24 – Sebastien Loeb Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Rene Rast
26 – G-Drive Racing – Morgan Nissan – Roman Rusinov
27 – SMP Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Kirill Ladygin
33 – OAK Racing Team Asia – Ligier JS P2 HPD – David Cheng
34 – Race Performance – Oreca 03 Judd – Michel Frey
35 – OAK Racing – Morgan Nissan – Alex Brundle
36 – Signatech Alpine – Alpine A450 Nissan – Paul-Loup Chatin
37 – SMP Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Sergey Zlobin
38 – Jota Sport – Zytek Z11SN Nissan – Simon Dolan
41 – Greaves Motorsport – Zytek Z11SN Nissan – Tom Kimber-Smith
43 – Newblood by Morand Racing – Morgan Judd – Christian Klien
46 – Thiriet by TDS Racing – Ligier JS P2 Nissan – Pierre Thiriet
47 – KCMG – Oreca 03 Nissan – Matthew Howson
48 – Murphy Prototypes – Oreca 03 Nissan – Greg Murphy

GTE PRO (12 Cars)
51 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Gianmaria Bruni
52 – Ram Racing – Ferrari F458 Italia – Matt Griffin
71 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Davide Rigon
73 – Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Jan Magnussen
74 – Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Oliver Gavin
89 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Bruno Senna
91 – Porsche Team Manthey – Porsche 911 RSR – Patrick Pilet
92 – Porsche Team Manthey – Porsche 911 RSR – Marco Holzer
93 – SRT Motorsports – SRT Viper GTS-R – Rob Bell
94 – SRT Motorsports – SRT Viper GTS-R – Jeroen Bleekemolen
97 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Darren Turner
99 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Stefan Mucke

GTE AM (16 Cars)
53 – Ram Racing – Ferrari F458 Italia – Johnny Mowlem
58 – Team Sofrev ASP – Ferrari F458 Italia – Fabien Barthez
60 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Peter Ashley Mann
61 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Luis Perez Companc
62 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Yannick Mallegol
67 – Imsa Performance Matmut – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Erik Maris
72 – SMP Racing – Ferrari F458 Italia – Andrea Bertolini
75 – Prospeed Competition – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Francois Perrodo
77 – Dempsey Racing-Porton – Porsche 911 RSR – Patrick Dempsey
81 – AF Corse – Ferrari F458 Italia – Stephen Wyatt
87 – Craft Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Frank Yu
88 – Proton Competition – Porsche 911 RSR – Christian Ried
90 – 8Star Motorsports – Ferrari F458 Italia – Vicente Potolicchio
95 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Kristian Poulsen
96 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Richie Stanaway
98 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage – Paul Dalla Lana

Garage 56
0 – Nissan Motorsports Global – Nissan ZEOD RC – Lucas Ordoñez

 

Reserves

LMP (5 Reserves)
50 – Larbre Competition – Morgan Judd – Jacques Nicolet
30 – Signatech Alpine – Alpine A450 Nissan – Nelson Panciatici
42 – Caterham Racing – Zytek Z11SN Nissan – Chris Dyson (withdrawn)
40 – Boutsen Ginion Racing – Oreca 03 Nissan – Vincent Capillaire
29 – Pegasus Racing – Morgan Nissan – Julien Schell

GTE (5 Reserves)
66 – JMW Motorsport – Ferrari F458 Italia – George Richardson
70 – Team Taisan – Ferrari F458 Italia – Matteo Malucelli
76 – Imsa Performance Matmut – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Raymond Narac
79 – Prospeed Competition – Porsche 911 GT3 RSR – Xavier Maassen
57 – Risi Competizione – Ferrari F458 Italia – Tracy Krohn

 

Source: Sportscar365

Photo: Audi Motorsport

February 17, 2014 World Endurance Championship

Martin Plowman Plowey IndyCar

IndyCar rookie Martin Plowman will do the “Indy Double” this May, thus taking part in the IndyCar Series’ newest race and, two weeks later, its most historic competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 26-year-old Englishman will drive the No. 41 Al-Fe Heat Treating Honda in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda in the Indianapolis 500 it was announced by the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team today.

The venture marks the first time that Al-Fe Heat Treating will be the primary sponsor of an Indy Car. The company began as an associate sponsor of the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team in 2011. The Ft. Wayne, Indiana-based company has continued to build its involvement in the IndyCar Series over the past three seasons; Al-Fe started as an associate sponsor of the No. 41 car in the Indy 500 and became a season long associate sponsor on the No. 14 car in the IndyCar Series.

“We, at Al-Fe Heat Treating, are very excited about being a primary sponsor with AJ Foyt Racing for IndyCar’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in our home state and before our home crowd!” said Kurt Westman, President of Al-Fe Heat Treating. “Larry [Foyt] and I have discussed this possibility over the last season and we feel this is the perfect venue for us to step-up with the team.

“Being part of bringing Martin back to IndyCar is special and having him run both races at Indianapolis will allow us to build momentum and teamwork going into the ‘500’. I am looking forward to meeting Martin at this Wednesday’s practice at Sebring,” Westman added.

Plowman, who will test for the team at Sebring International Raceway Feb. 19th, is thrilled about the prospects of returning to the IndyCar Series.

“Once my career took me to sports cars I was concerned that I would never get the chance to race at and win the Indy 500,” Plowman revealed. “Winning at Le Mans last year was an incredible feeling that can only be beaten by one day adding my face to the Borg Warner trophy. I’ve lived in Indianapolis for the last five years, and winning there is what I dream about.

“I have to say a massive thank you to Larry and A.J. Foyt, ABC Supply, Al-Fe Heat Treating and all who have made this opportunity possible,” Plowman added. “A.J. Foyt is one of the greatest drivers to have lived and someone who I look up to a lot. It will be an honor to represent his team in May.”

Plowman, who will make his Indy 500 debut, has competed on the 2.5 mile oval twice in the Indy Lights Series, finishing fifth in 2010 for Andretti Autosport. He went on to finish third in the series championship that year. In 2011, he competed for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in three IndyCar races, all of which were on road and street courses. His best finish was 11th in the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Team Director Larry Foyt is anticipating a smooth return to the Series by Plowman, who spent the past two years competing in sports cars. In 2012, Plowman finished second in the American Le Mans Series LMP2 division and then won the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship along with the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans, also in the LMP2 division.

“I always kept an eye on Martin ever since I got to know him on the Indy 500 Centennial Tour,” said Foyt, who attended the 10-day visit to U.S. military bases in Europe and southwest Asia along with an IndyCar contingent of drivers, team owners and officials in 2011. “Martin did a nice job without much seat time in the few IndyCar races he participated in, and has had great results in a tough sports car division. I think he is a great fit for Al-Fe Racing and the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team–he brings the kind of attitude that helps everyone succeed. I’m looking forward to working with him and I think we can achieve good results for car 41.”

Plowman will test the Al-Fe Heat Treating Honda on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course along with regular ABC Supply driver Takuma Sato on April 30 when the IndyCar Series hosts an open test for all participants.

 

Source: A.J. Foyt Racing

Photo:  Chris Jones, IndyCar Media

February 17, 2014 IndyCar

Daytona 500 - Qualifying

Austin Dillon, driving the historic No. 3 car in its return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition for the first time since 2001, won the Coors Light Pole for the 56th running of the Daytona 500 – NASCAR’s most prestigious race and season opener. “The Great American Race” is scheduled to take place on Sunday, Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway (1 p.m. on FOX, Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The late Dale Earnhardt, whose excellence in the No. 3 elevated the number to iconic status, was the last to drive the No. 3 – a car number he drove to six of his record-tying seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. A last lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 took Earnhardt’s life, and the No. 3 car had not been run since.

“You want to perform with the No. 3; everyone wants to see it perform,” said Dillon, who won the pole with a lap of 196.019 mph (45.914 seconds). “It’s a long season … and this is one of the top points. You want to carry that momentum going forward. I just have to stay grounded and have fun.”

It was announced last December that the No. 3 Chevrolet would return to full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup competition this year, with Dillon driving. Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress Racing owner Richard Childress, who also ran the No. 3 as a driver from 1976-81, and was car owner for all six of Earnhardt’s series championships driving the No. 3 car.

Earnhardt, a member of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class, was the last driver of the No. 3 car to win a Coors Light Pole, at Watkins Glen in August of 1996. Earnhardt also won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500, the last time the No. 3 started on the pole for The Great American Race.

This is the fourth time the No. 3 has won the pole for the Daytona 500, and its 67th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole, overall.

In addition, Dillon, who won last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, becomes the fifth Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender to win the pole for the Daytona 500. He joins Loy Allen Jr. (1994), Mike Skinner (1997), Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Danica Patrick (2013).

Today’s Coors Light Pole Qualify set the front row for the Daytona 500; Martin Truex Jr. will start second in the race. The remaining starting positions will be determined Thursday night in the Duel at Daytona.

 

Photo: JARED C. TILTON/NASCAR VIA GETTY IMAGES

February 17, 2014 NASCAR

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