Helio Castroneves wins the Indy 500 for a 4th time

INDIANAPOLIS — Written off as too old to race full-time, too old for a fourth Indianapolis 500 win, Helio Castroneves at long last joined that exclusive club in a popular victory for the old guys.

Then Spiderman scaled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fence for his trademark victory celebration at the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

Castroneves wasn’t done yet.

At 46 and one of the oldest drivers in the field, he sprinted along the frontstretch of the speedway for a victory lap without a car for the 135,000 fans in attendance. He pumped his arms in the air and waved to the ecstatic crowd, his explosion of emotional energy stopped every few feet by a flood of rivals who rushed onto the track to congratulate Castroneves.

Almost every member of Team Penske rushed out to meet Castroneves, including former teammate Will Power, who saw the final scoring pylon and had no idea his longtime friend won.

“I was looking up and down ‘Who is the 06?’” Power told Castroneves in a victory hug. “You’re a legend.”

Castroneves became the fourth-oldest winner in Indianapolis 500 history, behind Al Unser (47, 1987), Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).

Castroneves spent more than two decades driving for Team Penske and won three Indy 500s with the team. But he was eventually phased over to the sports car program, where he won the IMSA championship last season before Roger Penske shuttered the team and made the business decision to cut Castroneves loose.

Spiderman insisted he was not done racing yet and Michael Shank agreed.

He hired Castroneves for the Indy 500 to complement the one-car Meyer Shank Racing team. Maybe Castroneves would have a shot to win, but he’d also boost a team that needed some veteran leadership at one of the most challenging tracks in the world.

Castroneves had been trying since 2009 to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, his former mentor at Team Penske, as the only four-time winners of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Mears was the last driver to join the club in 1991.

“I love Indianapolis! You guys don’t understand it! The fans, you give me energy,” Castroneves said.

Castroneves was also part of the winning Rolex 24 Daytona sports car team in January, taking the prestigious sports car event for the first time.

“I’ve run two races this year and won two races, I’d say that’s pretty good,” said Castroneves, who noted this might be the year for aging veterans.

“I don’t know if this is a good comparison, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl and Phil Mickelson won the golf so here you go. The older guys are still kicking the younger guys’ butts.”

Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, capped his first season with Tampa Bay by leading the Bucs to their first championship in 18 years at 43 years old. Mickelson at 50 became the oldest major winner last week.

Castroneves’ win was a stark contrast to the recent theme of young drivers taking over IndyCar, which now has six different winners through six races this season. Three of them have been first-time winners and four are drivers aged 24 or younger.

Castroneves found himself in a closing duel with one of the young stars, 24-year-old Spaniard Alex Palou, but he passed Palou for good with two laps remaining and beat him by 0.4928 seconds for the victory.

When he finally made it to the real victory lane — after a kiss from Mario Andretti, a hug from Johnny Rutherford, well wishes from just about every Indy 500 great — Castroneves sipped from his bottle of 2% milk and then dumped the rest over his head.

When he climbed into the back of a convertible for his true victory lap around the 2.5-mile speedway, most of the fans were still in the stands cheering Castroneves.

Former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indy winner, was third, followed by Pato O’Ward, the 21-year-old budding IndyCar star.

A year ago, no fans were allowed for the race that was delayed from May to August. This year, celebrities were back and fans were everywhere and they were treated to a win by one of the most popular drivers in Indy 500 history.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

Lamborghini Urus pair completes 4,000-mile trip across Japan

Two Lamborghini Urus crossovers have completed a month-long journey across Japan. Conceived as a marketing stunt, the pair traveled over 4,000 miles, collecting some truly breathtaking scenery along the way.

The idea of a long-distance drive to promote a new vehicle has been a long-held tradition in Japan. It was a much bigger achievement back in the 1960s, when Japan’s expressway system was just getting underway. Many local roads were still rough, and it was considered uncommon for cars to drive all-out at high speeds for sustained lengths of time.

Nowadays, it’s not particularly difficult for any modern car to complete such treks, especially when you’re talking about a 641-horsepower, 626-pound-foot luxury SUV. In fact, it must be quite the exercise in restraint in modulating the 4.0-liter V8, capable of a 190 mph top speed, since the highest speed limit in Japan is about 75 mph and speed cameras are everywhere.

Still, it was a chance for Lamborghini to capture some beautiful photos along the way. The Urus almost looks out of place against ancient shrines and lush bamboo forests. They even paused to shoot at Himeji Castle in Bizen City and Shirakawa village in Gifu Prefecture, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. From snowy mountains to rocky coastlines, cherry blossom-lined avenues to massive steel bridges connecting Japan’s islands, the variation in backdrops is something to behold.

The two Urus vehicles used in the trip were finished in Giallo Inti (yellow) and Blu Astraeus (dark blue), both featuring a customizable Lamborghini paint option called Pearl Capsule. Created by Lamborghini’s Centro Stile design department, it basically adds a black finish to the roof, spoiler and front air dam. Cabin-wise, Pearl Capsule adds two-tone coloring, hexagon stitching on the seats with carbon fiber and black anodized aluminum details throughout the interior. The option can also be paired with Arancio Borealis (orange) and Verde Mantis (green) exterior colors.

The trip started in far western Japan on the island of Kyushu, then traced the country’s northern coast along the Sea of Japan up to the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Then it snaked down the Pacific coast to its final destination of Tokyo.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

San Francisco residents debate whether to reopen car-free streets

San Francisco residents walk along John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the roadway being closed to cars. (AP)

 

SAN FRANCISCO — For Vanessa Gregson, the four-lane highway that borders the beach along San Francisco’s Pacific Ocean is now an automobile-free sanctuary where she can blissfully ride her bicycle and enjoy the quiet.

“You hear the beach. You hear the waves,” said Gregson. “You feel like you’re in nature, and you’re in San Francisco.”

Like cities from Paris to New York that shut roads to motorists when the coronavirus hit, environmentally friendly San Francisco closed miles of streets to automobiles so people could exercise and socialize safely.

Now, pedestrian advocates want to keep some of San Francisco’s most prominent streets off-limits, like the main road into Golden Gate Park. Others are pushing back, saying they need to drive to work, drop off kids and get around.

  • Related: Removing highways could improve cities without increasing traffic

The debate has been marked by dueling rallies and strident arguments over safety and climate change in the densely packed city. On social media, customers threatened to boycott a bakery whose owner expressed support for reopening the main oceanside thoroughfare known as the Great Highway to cars; others came to her defense.

Shamann Walton, president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, was mocked for likening the closure of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to the Jim Crow South, including by fellow African Americans who call his accusations of segregation silly. Walton says he worries that closing the street and its free parking will affect low-income families that can’t easily bike or take transit to the park.

For Tim Boyle, who lives near the four-lane beachside highway, life has been anything but peaceful. Unable to use the main road, massive delivery trucks, gangs of motor bikes and impatient drivers now hurtle through his once-sleepy neighborhood.

Boyle, whose son has cerebral palsy, says taking out their wheelchair-equipped van has become a nightmare. “Essentially I’m stopping traffic on any given day, four to 10 cars backed up on each side just so I can pull my own car into my driveway,” he said.

San Francisco officials started turning streets into pedestrian-friendly promenades in April 2020 after the mayor declared an emergency. Officials closed more than 45 miles (72 kilometers) of neighborhood corridors and are studying which ones could be permanent.

They also sealed off a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) portion of JFK Drive, the main thoroughfare through Golden Gate Park, which sees more than 24 million visitors a year, and a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch of the Great Highway — now renamed by some as the Great Walkway — that carried more than 18,000 vehicles a day before the pandemic.

San Francisco’s streets are scheduled to reopen 120 days after Mayor London Breed lifts the COVID-19 emergency declaration, which could come next month. Various agencies are navigating the public debate before deciding whether to fully reopen the Great Highway and JFK Drive, open them in part or keep them closed to vehicles. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say, said Tamara Aparton, a city parks spokeswoman.

Normally in Golden Gate Park, “There’s cars double-parked and rage drivers through the park, honking at kids, and now that it’s shut down, it’s so much better.”

Seattle and New York are also among U.S. cities looking to make temporary auto-free streets permanent. In Europe, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced plans to ban most vehicular through-traffic in the city’s center, with exceptions for public transit, delivery trucks and residents.

Pedestrian advocates say there are options to ensure that people who can’t easily bike or walk can still visit Golden Gate Park, including designated drop-off sites and programs for low-income families. They also want more so-called street calming measures to slow traffic and improve safety on affected neighborhood roads.

San Francisco is no stranger to shedding auto infrastructure for green spaces. Leaders chose not to replace the Embarcadero freeway after it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, replacing it with a boulevard that now doubles as a popular tourist destination.

Despite the testy debate, most people are probably in the silent middle, wanting both open space and clear transportation routes, said Connie Chan, a supervisor whose district is affected by the closures along the beach and in Golden Gate Park. “They just want to be able to go where they need to go, and not be stuck in traffic,” she said.

Katharine Lusk, co-director of the Boston University Initiative on Cities, said more than 90% of 130 U.S. mayors in 38 states surveyed last summer reported they created more space for outdoor dining by using parking spots or closing streets. Nearly half closed some streets to through-traffic; a smaller portion shut streets entirely to autos. While only 6% said they plan to make those changes permanent, Lusk wonders if that might change with rising demand.

On a recent sunny weekday, a few dozen people organized by Walk San Francisco toasted the one-year anniversary of the street closure in Golden Gate Park. Charles Oppenheimer said his daughter Olivia, 11, once feared riding through the third most-visited city park in the United States.

“There’s cars double-parked and rage drivers through the park, honking at kids, and now that it’s shut down, it’s so much better,” he said.

Near the west end of Golden Gate Park, more than 100 people gathered before blockades on the highway earlier this month, waving signs calling to reopen the road. Passing drivers honked in support as a musician blew tunes on a bright pink sousaphone.

The highway runs two lanes each way, with sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean on one side and a protected pedestrian path edged by succulents on the other. A parallel two-lane street has homes on one side, many with placards pleading to “Open the Great Highway.”

Since the neighboring streets began absorbing displaced traffic, Judi Gorski has documented numerous crashes. The car fumes, speeding, noise and near-wrecks make her feel trapped in her home of four decades, where she says “the traffic goes on all night long.”

For photographer Steve Rhodes, who walked one recent day along the nearly empty Great Highway after visiting the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, it is liberating to have the space to move around.

“The intersections with the cars are just a nightmare,” he said. “There should be more streets closed and it’s going to have to happen, because people are going to have to rely less on cars.”

Source: AutoBlog.com

Removing highways could improve cities without increasing traffic

So you might’ve noticed that infrastructure is very much in the news right now, as well as how, exactly, it should be addressed. The New York Times recently put together a look at a relatively new infrastructure strategy that’s starting to play out in cities around the country: removing highways. The report shows there could be some major benefits for local residents, and traffic might not be a problem. But there are ways the strategy could backfire.

The report spends some time focusing on Rochester, N.Y., where the city has already removed a major section of freeway around the city’s downtown. After decades in the planning stages and a few more years for removal, the city now has more walkable areas and is working on developing newly available land. And there haven’t been any signs of traffic in and around the area getting worse.

It’s not a complete or overnight success, as some residents have noted it’s taking some time for the area to rebuild and fill up. The story also notes some disappointment in a lack of public spaces.

And this touches on something that concerns people in areas where highways are under consideration for being torn down: not doing so in an equitable way. As the story highlights, many of these highways caused a lot of displacement and tended to cut through and cut off thriving minority communities. While tearing them down could present an opportunity to revitalize these areas, there are concerns it could also lead to gentrification that could push out locals.

Highway removal seems to be a strategy with a lot of potential, but doing so without doing more damage is going to be a difficult thing. Check out the full story for more insight on the possibilities and pitfalls.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

Take a retro road trip in this 1988 Dodge Caravan

Perhaps, like millions of Americans, you’re planning a road trip this summer. Rather than setting out in your soulless SUV, wouldn’t it be cooler to travel the way families did a generation ago? By that, we mean at the wheel of an original Chrysler minivan. Grab this remarkably preserved 1988 Dodge Caravan, up for auction right now on Cars & Bids, and you can do just that.

The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were introduced for 1984, their transverse engine, front-wheel-drive layout (based on Chrysler’s K-car chassis) setting the template for minivans to come. This 1988 Caravan still carries all the hallmarks of those first-generation models, with its single sliding door, short wheelbase, and two rear bench seats. It does, however, have the updated front-end styling with more smoothly integrated rectangular headlamps. This one features the optional engine upgrade, a 3.0-liter V6, hooked to a column-shifted automatic with three forward speeds.

Believed to be a lifetime California car, this Caravan appears to be rust-free. Its cream-colored cloth interior also somehow managed to have escaped the ravages of spilled juice boxes and crushed Cheetos. The odometer shows just over 91,000 miles.

These minivans are a rolling cultural touchstone for a generation of Americans, and despite their widespread popularity, are almost never found in this condition. To paraphrase former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, “If you can find a better vintage minivan, buy it.” We’ll bet you can’t.

 

Source: AutoBlog.com

The Ford F150 Lightning may have more range than you think

Underpromise and overdeliver. That’s a strategy that product planners rely on, even in the automotive world. Back in muscle car days, automakers would install huge high-compression V8 engines that actually produced a lot more power than was advertised. More recently, BMW is believed to have underrated the turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engines used in many of its vehicles, and Porsche’s Taycan electric vehicle is known to deliver significantly more range than its official rating. Now, according to well-known tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee, the Ford F-150 Lightning’s range is likely to be way better than advertised.

Ford is quoting the range of a fully charged Lightning at 300 miles, but, according to Brownlee, that’s with 1,000 pounds of payload in the bed. We have zero confirmation of this fact from the automaker (though we’re keenly interested to hear it for ourselves), but to back up this claim, Brownlee shows on video that the truck he toured displayed 367 miles of available range with about 80% of full capacity available. Do the math and that means the Lightning Brownlee sat in ought to boast around 460 miles or range on a full charge.

The truck featured in the video above is a high-end Platinum-grade model that is fitted with the extended-range battery pack. The base battery in the Lightning carries a manufacturer-estimated range of 230 miles, so it will be interesting to see if this additional actual range could extend to the standard-range pack, too. In any case, the Lightning looks to be an impressive product from the Blue Oval, and one that could potentially be one of the vehicles that finally tilts the buying equation in the direction of electricity in the minds of new-car buyers.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

Rivian could seek a value of about $70 billion when it goes public

Rivian, the electric-truck startup backed by Amazon, has selected underwriters for an initial public offering that could come later this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

Rivian is working with advisers including Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Morgan Stanley, said the people, who asked to not be identified because the matter isn’t public. Rivian could seek a value of about $70 billion when it goes public, according to the people. Bloomberg News previously reported it could seek a valuation of about $50 billion.

No final decision has been made and the details of its potential listing could change, the people said.

Representatives for JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley declined to comment. A representative for Goldman Sachs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rivian was worth $27.6 billion when it announced in January that it had raised $2.65 billion from backers including T. Rowe Price, Fidelity Investments and Amazon, Bloomberg News reported at the time. Amazon shares briefly reversed losses on Bloomberg’s report and were most recently trading down 0.5% up at $3,230.03 at 3:21 p.m. in New York.

Rivian is among several electric-vehicle startups trying to bring new vehicles to market and take on industry leader Tesla. Rivian is aiming to make tens of thousands of vehicles in its Illinois plant over the course of the next year, even as it potentially goes public.

On Thursday, Rivian said delivery of its debut vehicle — a battery-electric pickup called R1T — would be delayed to July from June, without saying why.

The company has experienced delays in receiving parts from suppliers due to backlogs at U.S. ports that are affecting the entire auto industry, according to people familiar with the matter. The later date also gives the company more time to iron out details and logistics for its first deliveries to customers, one of the people added.

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Indy 500 party time: Pandemic’s biggest sporting event is sold out

The Indy 500 crowd will be more spaced out this year than in this photo from 2018, but there will still be 135,000 fans at the Brickyard. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — The milk is on ice, celebrities are in the house and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is buzzing again both with the roar of engines and the largest crowd at a sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

The Indianapolis 500 will welcome a sold-out 135,000 spectators on Sunday — nine months after the race ran without fans for the first time in its 105-year history — and drop the green flag on a packed house and a party not seen since early 2020.

“We’re just excited to be opening up America,” said Roger Penske, who bought Indianapolis in January 2020, roughly two months before the pandemic shut down the country.

The speedway has 240,000 permanent grandstand seats and space in the infield and suites to accommodate nearly 400,000 on race day. But Penske couldn’t open the gates until October, when only 10,000 a day were permitted into the landmark facility over a three-day weekend for an IndyCar race.

Americans are eager to return to some sort of normalcy. They want their traditions and their sports back, none more so than “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which withstood world wars, the Great Depression and the now the pandemic.

Through vaccinations, more than 90,000 done at the speedway, Penske got the clearance to at last permit 40% attendance.

“The good news is, it’s started to roll here and I think with opening America we can be the premiere event,” he said. “It’s an honor for us to even be in a position to execute something like that. We’re going to continue to fine tune it. I would do the same transaction again. I just see the benefits on a longer term basis. I really want to run as big as my anticipation and not my exception.”

And so it is with expectation and not anticipation that six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon starts from the pole Sunday for the fourth time at the Indy 500. Dixon is considered the best driver of his generation and trails Mario Andretti by only one victory for second on IndyCar’s all-time wins list. He has just one Indy 500 victory, in 2008, and three runner-up finishes.

“It’s the biggest race in the world and the most difficult race in the world. I feel very lucky and privileged to have won it once but that also drives you into a deeper will to want to win it again,” Dixon said. “Would I trade some championships for 500 wins? Maybe. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on IndyCar championships but the Indy 500 is the Indy 500.”

Dixon and the four Chip Ganassi Racing entries are the most consistent at Indianapolis leading into the 500. The group includes Tony Kanaan, who at 46 is the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou, who wrecked in Saturday qualifying but rebounded Sunday to qualify sixth alongside Kanaan.

This season has seen a changing of the guard with five different winners through the first five races of the season, four of them 24 years or younger. Three are first time winners and Dixon is the only veteran so far to represent in the win column.

He starts on the front row alongside Colton Herta, a 21-year-old four-race winner who earlier this month earned a two-year contract extension from Andretti Autosport, and Rinus Veekay, at 20 the youngest front-row starter in race history.

VeeKay earned his first career win earlier this month on Indy’s road course and the Borat-loving Dutchman said the victory has allowed him to show more of his playful personality. He’s pursued a professional race car career for more than half his life and shortened his last name from van Kalmthout to VK help ease his transition for United States sponsorship negotiations before finally settling on the current form of VeeKay.

A butterfly landed on his shoulder in the last two weeks, some of his Ed Carpenter Racing crew members spotted red Cardinals for luck, and VeeKay now believes he’s got as good a shot as any other youngster in the field to pull off an Indy 500 upset.

“We grew up in the computer era, the digital era,” VeeKay said. “That helps the simulators are very normal to us, help us feel comfortable in the simulator. That maybe translates to better results.”

The impressive youth group includes Pato O’Ward, the 22-year-old Mexican who has shot to popularity with Arrow McLaren SP and is teammates in the 500 with two-time race winner Juan Pablo Montoya. McLaren brought Montoya back to the race for the first time since 2017 and isn’t overly concerned with this crop of young kids.

“At the end of the day you look at how many young guys have won the 500 the last few years?” Montoya said. “Do they have a shot? For sure, no question. I think Pato and Herta and all those kids, they’ve got a lot of talent and everything. You’ve got to make it to 200 laps, you know? So we’ll see.”

Nobody knows what’s up with the Team Penske cars after a questionable qualifying effort. Will Power won in 2018 and Simon Pagenuad won in 2019, but Power barely qualified for the race.

“Our cars are good every Sunday,” said an unconcerned Penske, winner of a record 18 Indy 500s.

Marco Andretti, last year’s pole-sitter, is back for the only race on his IndyCar calendar and hated his car the entire week. A change made right after qualifying last Sunday settled him down and now he thinks he might have a shot to win from 25th.

Andretti is one of six Andretti Autosport entries but Herta has become the star. Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th running back in 2016 as a 24-year-old rookie, is closing in on a two years without an IndyCar Series win. He was second in the 500 in 2019, fourth in 2018 and still trying to recapture the joy of that surprise victory.

“Every year that goes by and you watch someone else win, it’s like a knife in your heart because you know how special Indy is because you got to taste it,” Rossi said. “It’s like having the best dessert in the world and then you don’t get to have it anymore.”

The race includes nine former winners, including two-time and reigning race winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan. But so many young new drivers plan to contend Sunday and Dixon cautions against getting too confident at one of the most daunting tracks in the world.

There’s a difference, Dixon noted, between champions and race winners and Josef Newgarden said it took him several seasons to figure that out. Newgarden is now a two-time IndyCar champion but still seeking his first Indy 500 victory.

“There are guys who are fast and have elements of the whole package, but they don’t have everything,” Newgarden said. “There’s a difference between someone who is really good and flashy and entertaining and wins races and never wins a championship.

“When you look at the 500 and what it requires, versus what the championship requires, they are different. There’s an argument of which would you prefer. And that’s a very different question.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Scott Dixon is the 13-4 favorite to win the Indy 500. The last driver to win from the pole was Simon Pagenaud in 2019.

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Source: AutoBlog.com

Indy 500 veterans still going strong as their racing careers wind down

Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, is congratulated by Alex Palou, of Spain, after Dixon won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Kanaan sat in Chip Ganassi Racing’s suite one day this May, savoring a rare second IndyCar farewell tour.

At age 46, running a part-time schedule with no future guarantees and a talented crop of young drivers chasing them, Kanaan and his fellow veterans can see the sunset approaching for one of IndyCar’s greatest generations.

Four of the 33 starters in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 are listed among the top 12 in career wins. Ryan Hunter-Reay is tied for 24th. Kanaan needs one win to tie Hunter-Reay with 18 wins, and Juan Pablo Montoya is just two behind Kanaan despite spending 13 seasons in Formula One and NASCAR.

These magnificent seven, all in their 40s, have combined for 207 victories, 14 series championships and nine Indianapolis 500s since emerging as the series’ most revered stars over the past two decades. And their passions and personalities from around the globe have changed the sport.

“Every year that goes by, I realize how special those years were,” Kanaan said Thursday, referring to the four drivers who suited up in Michael Andretti’s garage in the 2000s. “What we had, what we did is we showed that you could race against each other and still have a lot of fun with your teammates.”

It became a blueprint for repairing the damage from the years-long split of American open-wheel racing series.

Andretti’s team featured Kanaan, the bubbly Brazilian; Dario Franchitti, the resolute Scotsman; Bryan Herta, the laid-back American; and beloved British driver Dan Wheldon.

On the track, they were a powerhouse.

Franchitti won 31 races and three 500s before a horrific crash forced him into retirement in November 2014. The beloved Wheldon won 16 times, twice at Indy, but died at age 33 from injuries suffered in a 2011 crash at Las Vegas. Herta, whose son Colton qualified second for this Sunday’s race, had four series wins. And Kanaan captured the 2004 series title and the 500 in 2013.

Off the track, they goofed around, became close friends and played pranks like hiding all of Wheldon’s driving shoes or sawing Kanaan’s mountain bike in half while he was doing a television interview, changing Gasoline Alley forever.

“I think it speaks to the camaraderie in the series,” two-time series champ Josef Newgarden said when asked about the pranks still being pulled today. “We’re just as competitive as any other sport, but off the track there’s this casualness among us. We all get along.”

It explains why every driver lined up to congratulate Marco Andretti on pit row when he captured the Indy 500 pole last year and why those who raced against Wheldon, who helped test drive the Indy car of the future before his death, or against the late Justin Wilson can’t hide the grief in their eyes at the very mention of their names.

And with all those budding young stars starting to catch up to IndyCar’s elder statesmen, others continue to outrun Father Time.

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is a six-time series champ, the points leader and Sunday’s pole-sitter. Should he win a second 500 this weekend, Dixon would tie Mario Andretti (52) for second all-time in wins and stay in position to join A.J. Foyt as only the seven-time IndyCar champion. If he leads 82 laps, Dixon would break Al Unser’s career mark for most Indy 500 laps led (644).

There’s a reason the 40-year-old New Zealander has remained on top.

“I love what I do. I think that passion is at the forefront of it,” Dixon said. “Chip and Mike Hull are two of the most competitive people I know, and that push is definitely at the forefront of it.”

It’s also true of the others in this generation, which made physical fitness a priority.

Kanaan competed in triathlons. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves incorporated weight training, biking, swimming, even dancing into his fitness routine. Hunter-Reay took up free diving.

There’s little doubt it helped.

Hunter-Reay, age 40, hopes to claim his second Indy 500 crown after qualifying seventh last weekend. He’s one spot ahead of Castroneves, the exuberant 46-year-old Brazilian with Michael Shank Racing who again is chasing a record-tying fourth race win.

“It’s a great group of guys and I learned a lot from them,” Castroneves said. “That’s what makes you better, and I probably wouldn’t have been as successful without them pushing me.”

They haven’t stopped.

Two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya, the 45-year-old Colombian, will make his first IndyCar start in four years from the No. 24 spot with Arrow McLaren SP.

If France’s Sebastian Bourdais puts Foyt back in victory lane, the four-time series champ and 37-race winner will become the third-oldest first-time 500 winner at 42 years, 91 days.

Will Power, the 40-year-old Aussie with Team Penske, faces the most daunting task after qualifying 32nd. But a win would move him ahead of Al Unser (39), breaking a tie for fifth on the career wins list.

“It’s actually really cool to be a driver in this era because it’s kind of like the first era after the split,” Power said. “It’s really the highest quality field in history because of the parity, the data, the on-board stuff. You’ve got nine winners in this year’s race and you probably haven’t seen that since the ’90s. But it’s more now about the drivers and the engineers and getting it right down to the simplest, smallest details.”

And if one thing is clear, it’s this: Kanaan’s not ready to park his car even though he can see a changing of the guard coming even in his own garage with teammates like Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou.

“They remind me a lot of what we had with Andretti,” Kanaan said. “You can see it. I think we showed people something special. You look at the world now, and it’s pretty cool, pretty cool to see people getting along.”

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Source: AutoBlog.com

IndyCar courts Black fans, drivers, crews in push to diversify

Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black driver to race in the Indy 500 in 1991, and only the second Black driver ever, attends the 2018 race. (Reuters)

INDIANAPOLIS — Rod Reid ran a program full of young, Black kart racers locked out of a venue because of the pandemic and needing a track to race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway had spent millions on upgrades on the historic property at the same time last year when the coronavirus had a steely grip on the nation. There was no guarantee — even if gates were open — that there would be room for NXG Youth Motorsports ’ usual spot teaching kids STEM classes in a makeshift classroom in the paddock, or for their drivers to race around the cone-lined course in a parking lot.

The suggestion was made to Reid: Why not dial up the speedway’s new boss?

His plea for help last June to Roger Penske — Reid noted the 2,300 kids from 11 to 15 years old who have passed through the school over 15 years looking for a path into motorsports — turned instead into a startling revelation for the Captain.

Yes, the NXG kids needed a place to learn and hone their craft. But the blossoming drivers also represented a rare chance for a minority group severely underrepresented in racing to feel at home inside the sprawling, 111-year-old speedway.

“We told him what we were about and he was really surprised,” Reid said. “He did not know we existed. The reason we started, especially the idea of exposing the Black community to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, surprised him because he said he couldn’t believe people don’t feel welcome here. I told him, you’re talking years and years and years back to when a person of color couldn’t even go to the speedway.”

The 84-year-old Penske offered NXG space at IMS to resume the program and, essentially, a new start. He helped NXG start a working relationship with Chevrolet, and the program secured loans to purchase a truck for its trailer. The talks with Penske happened to come not long after the death of George Floyd, a catalyst that in part led to IndyCar’s “Race for Equality and Change” initiative supporting diversity and inclusivity across the industry.

“I think the idea that a group of people would not feel welcome in a place he purchased, and a sport he loves, like I do, totally didn’t make sense to him,” Reid said.

“How successful could you be as a person of color if you don’t see people who are successful? So it’s telling that story and going out to different communities to say, not only do we want you here, but there’s different paths of success for you, and your race doesn’t matter. This is a great place to work.”

Much like NASCAR dealt with its own racial reckoning last year, IndyCar moved to create a more diverse workforce throughout all levels of a series that has had just two Black drivers race in the Indy 500, its showcase annual event that dates to 1911. Willy T. Ribbs, who became the first Black driver to start the race in 1991 (and again in 1993), and George Mack in 2002 are it.

“Isn’t it sad, all these years and not another Black driver?” Reid said.

Ribbs, 66, who drives this summer for the Superstar Racing Experience series, said he never cared much for his role as Indy 500 trailblazer.

“It did not matter. I didn’t care about it,” he said. “Still don’t. It meant nothing. I was focused on going fast and trying to win. If you focused on anything other than that when you were there, you were going to get hurt or get killed.”

Programs launched over the last several months are designed to reach far beyond the cockpit, but an anchor of IndyCar’s plan was the creation of Force Indy, an all-Black race team led by Reid that competes in the IndyCar ladder USF2000 Series. Force Indy hired and developed Black mechanics, engineers and drivers throughout its entire team. Myles Rowe, who turns 21 in June, drives for the team and has been pegged as a potential Indy 500 driver.

Jimmie McMillian, chief diversity officer for Penske Entertainment, is the architect intent on designing a new era in the open wheel series. He said members of the Black community who live near IMS treat never having attended an Indianapolis 500 as some sort of badge of honor. They have an up-close look at one of the most famous venues in sports and don’t really see anyone who looks like them, certainly not on the starting grid.

“We want to make sure our paddock represents the fan base that we hope to have,” McMillian said. “My No. 1 goal, I feel every day, is to get rid of the concept that this is a white sport and that people are not welcome here.”

Years before Penske assumed stewardship of the series, IndyCar had a diversity committee that worked on recruitment and retainment for both the series and IMS. While McMillian viewed the number of women involved on the corporate side as a positive for the series — roughly 35% to 40% of the workforce are women — the minority makeup “was where we probably struggled.”

“We tried to figure out why we were so monolithic in our employee base,” McMillian said.

IndyCar’s solution was an attempt to become more aggressive and creative in its outreach efforts — how does it find the best and brightest in urban communities and persuade them to seek a career inside the paddock. Yes, there was a greater presence on social media and ticket drives, and some of the usual promotional pushes like working with key stakeholders in the community such as the Indianapolis Urban League.

For McMillian, it was the 1-to-1 connection, the personal stories that could be shared with kids and adults that Indianapolis Motor Speedway was as welcoming to them as any other fan enjoying a pork tenderloin sandwich as cars zip past at 200 mph on race day.

“How successful could you be as a person of color if you don’t see people who are successful?” McMillian asked. “So it’s telling that story and going out to different communities to say, not only do we want you here, but there’s different paths of success for you and your race doesn’t matter. This is a great place to work.”

“I knew that I was not dealing on a level playing field. I was not getting the same opportunities based on one thing, and not because I couldn’t win. I was not getting support because I was African-American. Support meaning from corporate America.” — Willy T. Ribbs, who raced at Indy in 1991 and 1993

McMillian changed tires and performed oil changes working at a Bloomington, Indiana, tire dealer in the late 1990s when his co-workers invited him to a NASCAR race at the Brickyard. He was instantly in awe at the scene of packed crowds and fast cars — but Confederate flags and “South Will Rise Again” T-shirts made him uncomfortable and sowed doubts about pursuing a career in motorsports.

He’s now leading a charge for change.

IndyCar didn’t necessarily have a moment like NASCAR faced last year when Black driver Bubba Wallace led the demand for the stock car series to finally ban the Confederate flag from its races and venues.

IndyCar kept an eye on how NASCAR added minority owners like Michael Jordan and Pitbull, and McMillian said there was even more to study from NHRA: The drag racing series has long been a leader in diversity and essentially made gender, race — and even socioeconomics — nonfactors in pursuing a career in motorsports.

That hasn’t always been the case in IndyCar.

“I knew that I was not dealing on a level playing field,” Ribbs said. “I was not getting the same opportunities based on one thing, and not because I couldn’t win. I was not getting support because I was African-American. Support meaning from corporate America.”

With few exceptions for drivers born into legacy families, pursuing a career in racing is as much about sponsorship, cash and connections as talent, and the hustle is part of the job. IndyCar took a deeper look at identifying businesses willing to support developmental teams or help in securing equipment for up-and-coming programs. That also means developing a career path in racing for women and minorities in a variety of jobs outside the cockpit ranging from race engineers to public relations and sponsorship selling and beyond; Reid is a former member of the whistle-blowing, yellow-shirted security team.

“Some people say having a driver in a car is going to make all the difference in the world but if you listen to Lewis Hamilton, he’s very adamant about the fact that when he gets out of the car and goes to the Mercedes paddock, all the faces don’t look like him,” McMillian said, referring to the seven-time Formula One champion, who is Black. “His success has not changed that. I have the same concern, quite frankly, that if we were successful enough to have the Lewis Hamilton of IndyCar, that alone would not be the thing we need to really bring the change into the sport that we need.”

IndyCar created incentives for teams and track promoters that pushed diversity efforts. NXG students will race karts in Detroit as part of a pilot program that could lead to a full-season schedule in 2022 and expansion of the program is planned across the country.

NXG, funded in part through Lucas Oil sponsorship, has yet to send a student to IndyCar, though there may be no better time for kids to feel like they can succeed in some capacity at IMS.

Penske is engaged at every level and, yes, diversity can be good for the bottom line, but he has taken a hands-on approach with ideas that could spark fundamental change in the sport.

“He says, what can we do, let’s get it done,” McMillian said.

Look around IMS and tangible culture change is happening now. USF2000, the first rung on the road to IndyCar, raced at IMS during the IndyCar Grand Prix weekend ,and more Black fans seemed to visit the track and watch the race than McMillian could remember.

“They said, ‘I didn’t know so many Black people came to races,’” he said. “The narrative now is, there are a lot of Black people here. We have to make sure all the folks in our community, for one reason or another can say, ‘I’ve been to the track.’”

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Online: https://apnews.com/hub/indycar

Source: AutoBlog.com