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INDYCAR Racing In The Streets This Weekend At Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is racing in the streets this weekend for the 18th annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The 14-turn, 1.89-mile temporary street circuit that incorporates city streets and part of the Albert Whitted Airport to make up the picturesque course that is a fan (and media) favorite on the schedule.

Josef Newgarden is the defending race winner, taking home the victory when the Series finished their 2020 season on Florida’s Gulf Coast after rescheduling the race due to the global pandemic.

Chip Ganassi’s team enters the weekend with a ton of momentum following the season opening race at Barber Motorsports Park. Three of the four Ganassi entries finished in the top 10 and 2-out-of-3 finished on the podium

Alex Palou won the race in the No. 10 SegiTV Honda. The victory included a couple of firsts for Palou: His first INDYCAR Series win; His first win with CGR and he is the first Spaniard since Oriol Servia to win an INDYCAR car race since 2005.

“Tough to describe how it feels,” Palou said of that first victory. “You feel like all the work that you’ve done the past years, the past months, the past days, it feels amazing that you did a good job and the team did a good job.”

Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda after staring fifth. Dixon has never won at St. Pete but has four runner-up finishes, the most recent coming in 2019.

“It’s just one of those things that hasn’t worked out,” said Dixon about that elusive victory. “This place owes me nothing.  It’s hard. It’s a difficult track. I’ve definitely had races here where we probably should’ve converted to a win and either made a mistake or we missed it on strategy. We’ll work hard, that’s the only way you’re going get to possibly get a win here, and keep knocking on that door.”

Marcus Ericsson finished eighth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda but the finish was hardly indicative of his performance. Ericsson was running as high as fourth late in the race when he had to go into fuel conservation mode to make it to the end.

Three Rivers Karting

The No. 8 team employed the same two-stop strategy as the No. 9 and No. 10 but was the first to come to pit road for the final stop. If a caution would have come out they would have been in the proverbial cat bird seat.

The ‘rookie’ on the team, seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, finished 19th in his first race in the series, 3-laps down after an early spin.

“This weekend again is going to be like starting all over,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I have not been on. A circuit I have not been on. Never been in a street race either, so there are so many new things. I really feel like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to accomplish is nothing short of amazing, something that is not lost on his six-time Champion teammate.

“What Jimmie is trying to do, I couldn’t think of anything more difficult,” said Dixon. “With the limited track-time we get nowadays, you have one maybe two practice sessions and then into qualifying, it’s very difficult on rookies.“

Team Penske’s Will Power is also carrying momentum into St. Pete after finishing second to Palou at Barber. Power was thrilled to start the season with a strong finish.

“I was happy to have a good start to the year,” said Power. “Obviously a win is always great but compared to the way we started last year this is nice. It was a very calm day for me. I’m calm about the season. I’ve been around long enough to know how this ebbs and flows.”

One of the keys at St. Pete is keeping the car on the course. Another key is getting the car to work on multiple surfaces: pavement, concrete, runway, taxiway.

“Typically when you go back to a road course they stay pretty similar from year-to-year,” explained Dixon. “Here turn 9 and turn 10 has been resurfaced since last year, so there’s a different amount of grip and that could be for three or four or five turns through the circuit. Plus, how they build the walls. An apex one year could be in this place and now it’s in a different place. It definitely makes it interesting. The margin of error – you’re talking just inches before you’re slamming yourself into a wall.”

The race is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with coverage starting a Noon on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Jimmie Johnson attacking move to INDYCAR.

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson is attacking his first year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the work ethic you would expect of a Champion.

Johnson is two races into his INDYCAR career and each week presents a new challenge to the veteran racer.

“There’s just many new things,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I’ve not been on. A circuit I’ve not been on. There’s just so many new things it feels like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to do, transitioning from the big and heavy stock cars to a more powerful but lighter INDYCAR, reminds some sports fans of the time NBA Hall-of-famer Michael Jordan played baseball.

Johnson’s CGR teammate, six-time and reigning series Champion, Scott Dixon explained that what Johnson is doing would be like Dixon picking up his golf clubs and trying to go and win ‘The Masters’.

“Jimmie’s learning curve is very steep and very aggressive,” said Dixon. “Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen of anybody trying to do in sport. For him, he’s having to un-learn 20-plus years of what he was doing. I think his work ethic and attention to detail, we’re just going to have to give him some time to get comfortable.”

With a couple of races under his belt Johnson explained to Pittsburgh Racing Now what he’s looking for to go faster.

“Finding the edge,” said Johnson. “Finding it safely and consistently and that edge of grip and traction is two-to-three times what I’ve experienced in a NASCAR vehicle, so I keep reaching and occasionally I reach in the wrong areas but I keep reaching and trying to find it and I’m getting closer.”

Johnson is bringing his legendary work ethic to INDYCAR, spending countless hours trying to shorten his learning curve, impressing team owner Chip Ganassi.

“He’s a damn, hard worker,” said Ganassi. “He’s set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against racing against him in NASCAR. Now I got little feel for it. He’s a hard worker. My hats off to him.”

Ganassi knows there will be up and downs but isn’t setting any expectations for the seven-time NASCAR champ.

“I think some podiums would be considered a success,” said Ganassi. “He has the talent, he has the race craft. Once we get him comfortable I think the racer will come out in him.”

Three Rivers Karting

Johnson is sharing the No. 48 with 2004 INDYCAR Champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.  Johnson will drive the road and street circuit and Kanaan will drive the oval races.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Kanaan of Johnson’s move to INDYCAR. “I think he’s trying to learn as quick as he can. As competitive as he is, he’s trying to go as fast as he can and sometimes mistakes happen. I think after the mistakes he’s been pretty solid.  He finished both races and he was getting a lot quicker towards the end of both races.”

Johnson’s transition is just like when open wheel Champions Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr climbed into stock cars.

“Some of the drivers had a hard time when they made the switch from INDYCAR to NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “That proves that INDYCAR is tough as well.”

Off the track Johnson has had success bringing a new sponsor, online automotive retailer Carvana, into the sport. What’s even more impressive is that he brought a new sponsor into the sport in the middle of a global pandemic.

“We were out working hard trying to find a sponsor through all the traditional means,” explained Johnson. “Literally through my wife (Chandra) and some friends in Oklahoma that she grew up in and around, led me to a phone call with Ernie Garcia (CEO) from Carvana. He instantly had a vision of the transition I’m trying to make and could grasp it.”

Carvana has embraced joining the sport and is not wasting any time activating the partnership with Johnson and the Ganassi team.

“Although he’s (Garcia) new to motorsport and they’ve never sponsored anything in auto racing, he could see this opportunity crystal clear,” said Johnson. “Very thankful to bring a new sponsor in and how they are activating is second to none and I’m really excited about the relationship.”

Part of Carvana’s activation is giving fans the opportunity to pick the color schemes that Johnson will campaign at various races by visiting their website and casting a vote: www.carvana.com/racing/indy/vote.

Attracting a new sponsor to your first year competing in the highest form of open wheel racing in the United States may surprise some people but those who know Jimmie Johnson aren’t surprised at all.

“He’s relentless,” said Kanaan. “He’s the type of guy, he’s going to make this work. I wouldn’t count Jimmie Johnson out just yet.”

Johnson and the No. 48 Carvana Honda return to the track with the GMR Grand Prix, May 15 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Three-time Indianapolis 500 Winner Bobby Unser Dies At 87

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

(Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser died Sunday, May 2 of natural causes at his home in New Mexico.  He was 87.

Unser won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” in 1968, 1975 and 1981 and is one of just 10-drivers with 3-wins in the event.

“There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser,” said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Team Penske. “Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track, and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen. Bobby brought so much to Team Penske during his time with our team, including a memorable victory in the 1981 Indianapolis 500.”

Unser’s last ‘500’ win in ’81 put him in elite company as he joined Rick Mears as the only two drivers to post ‘500’ wins in three different decades. Unser produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career “500” starts and led 440-laps in 10 races, still 10th on the all-time list.

“When you mention icons in racing, and particularly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bobby Unser was a legend,” said J. Douglas Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “He could drive, and win, in any type of car and on any type of track. Over the last several years, I have seen the true Bobby Unser – the man who loved our sport, loved the Indianapolis 500 and loved to be with the fans. He would go out of his way to do whatever he could to be here in May to help us keep motorsports growing.”

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Prior to his success at Indianapolis, Unser dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, claiming a record 13-victories.  Unser also won in USAC Sprint Car, Midget and Stock Car competition, earning seven career USAC Sprint Car feature victories and placing third in the standings in 1965 and 1966. He also won six USAC Stock Car races and three USAC Midget features.

Unser climbed out of the cockpit and into the broadcast booth where his uncompromising style and matter-of-fact delivery provided some of the most entertaining commentary in open wheel racing history simply because he knew what he was talking about.

Unser was highly regarded for his technical prowess and keen engineering mind.  Unser was also widely sought as a test driver because he would always push the car to the limit.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

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Pato O’Ward gets first INDYCAR win in race 2 at Texas Motor Speedway

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Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

FORT WORTH, TX (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Patricio O’Ward has been knocking on the door of winning in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and he finally knocked that door down by winning race two of the doubleheader on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

O’Ward passed Josef Newgarden with 24-laps remaining  and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory.  The win was his first in the INDYCAR series and the first for a Chevrolet, that is not a Team Penske entry, since 2016.

“Finally!” exclaimed O’Ward in victory lane. ” I feel like we truly earned our win today. The pit stops were fantastic. The car was very well-balanced. I was able to attack. I didn’t feel like I was in defensive mode. I felt like if I was let loose, I could attack and I could get the job done.”

“It was a decent day for us,” said Newgarden. “Can’t be too disappointed with the second place. Obviously we were in the catbird seat there at the end. The only thing I was worried about, just seemed like we were lacking some speed for whatever reason. Pato’s Chevy seemed to be performing a little bit better than my Chevy.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal came home third after trading the lead with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in the midpoint of the race.

“Solid day,” said Rahal. “I think last two stints I got just way too loose. But before that, I thought we did an excellent job. The guys, one heck of a pit stop there on the second-to-last stop, which really got us into, what, from fifth to third. From there I thought we could attack pretty hard. Great work by them.”

Dixon, winner of the Genesys 300 on Saturday night, finished fourth after starting from the pole in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Three Rivers Karting

“Huge congrats to Pato,” said Dixon, who extended his lead in the Championship standings to 22-points over O’Ward. “I was watching from back a few spots there, and what he did there at the end was a tremendous drive, especially against one of the best guys in the field.”

Several cars failed to make it to the first turn of the race after Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda hit the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet when the back of the pack approached the green flag, triggering a melee that involved seven cars and eliminated six.

“When someone checks up in front of you, you should still be in control of your car,” said Bourdais after leaving the infield care center following a mandatory checkup. “It’s still no excuse.”

Conor Daly took the wildest ride in the crash turning over after contact and sliding down the track on the roll hoop and Aeroscreen before turning right-side-up when it touched the infield grass. Daly climbed from the car without assistance.

“On our Bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next,” lamented Daly. “I really hope we can just start turning things around. It’s been a rough start. But I’m good. I’m all right.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is off next weekend and the following week the Month of May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway begins with the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course on Saturday, May 15.

INDYCAR Texas Race 2 Results

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