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Racing Notebook: Sato Receives ‘Baby Borg’; Andretti Signs Wheldon Brothers; Road To Indy Recaps and much more

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Plenty of news throughout the paddock at this past weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg including Takuma Sato being awarded a miniature version of the Borg Warner Trophy for his Indianapolis 500 win in 2020 plus Andretti Autosport signs Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon to development deals and the entire ‘Road To Indy’ results from this past weekend.

Takuma Sato Receives ‘Baby Borg’ For Indy 500 Win:

  • 2020 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan received miniature versions of the Borg Warner Trophy on Friday in commemoration of Sato’s 2nd Indianapolis 500 victory last year.

Will Power Signs Contract Extension:

  • Will Power is staying at Team Penske for the foreseeable future.  Power signed a contract extension with the team but the length and terms were not announced.  Power is the longest-tenured driver with Penske, winning the Championship in 2014 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2018.  Power is second among active INDYCAR drivers in wins with 39, trailing only 6-time and reigning Champion Scott Dixon’s 50.

Andretti Autosports Signs Sebastian And Oliver Wheldon:

  • Andretti Autosport is looking towards the future after signing Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon, sons of the late 2-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon, as junior drivers.  The Andretti team will mentor the Wheldon brothers as they compete with JC Karting in three different series: Rok Cup USA, Super Karts USA and United States Pro Kart Series.

Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon with Michael Andretti

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Kyle Kirkwood Wins Saturday’s Indy Lights Race:

  • Kyle Kirkwood beat his Andretti Autosport teammate Danial Frost by 1.3-seconds to win the first of two Indy Lights races on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Frost crossed the finish line 1-second ahead of third place David Malukas. Andretti Autosport just missed out on a podium sweep as Robert Meginnis finished fourth. Indy Light Race 1 Results

David Malukas Wins Sunday’s Indy Lights Race:

  • David Malukas beat Kyle Kirkwood by 0.6829 of a second to win Sunday’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen Interior Contracting. The second win of the season for Malukas was enough to move the rising star from HMD Motorsports into a slender three-point championship lead ahead of Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports stablemate Linus Lundqvist, from Sweden, who finished third. Indy Lights Sunday Results

Braden Eves Wins Saturday’s Indy Pro 2000 Race:

  • Braden Eves led from flag-to-flag to win Saturday’s opening leg of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires. The 21-year-old from New Albany, Ohio, held off s stiff challenge Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen.  Pabst Racing’s Hunter McElrea, from New Zealand, finished third.  University of Pittsburgh student Colin Kaminsky started ninth and finished ninth. Indy Pro 2000 Race 1 Results

Christian Rasmussen Sunday’s Indy Pro 2000 Race:

  • Christian Rasmussen picked up his first Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires victory Sunday morning on the streets of St. Petersburg. The Jay Howard Driver Development wheelman has been knocking on the door of Victory Lane in each of the opening three races of the season. The Juncos Racing duo of Manuel Sulaiman and Reece Gold finished 2nd and 3rd respectively.  Pabst Racing’s Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky rounded out the top 5. Indy Pro 2000 Race 2 Results

Christian Brooks Wins Both USF 2000 Races:

  • Exclusive Autosports Christian Brooks enjoyed a near perfect weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship sophomore claimed a pair of victories today on the unforgiving 1.8-mile street circuit, elevating himself from fifth in the points.

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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.”

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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.

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“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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