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Castroneves takes crown and track record in Phoenix qualifying

AVONDALE, Ariz. (April 1, 2016) – Helio Castroneves was awarded a crown for being the speed king following a record-breaking qualifying performance at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. It was an appropriate bestowal considering Castroneves’ qualifying prowess.

Driving the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet, Castroneves earned the Verizon P1 Award at Phoenix International Raceway with a two-lap average speed of 192.324 mph. His first lap of 19.0997 seconds (192.631 mph) established the new track record for the 1.022-mile oval that stood for 20 years prior to the qualifying session.

It gives Castroneves 46 career pole positions, the fourth most in Indy car history, and 28 on ovals. The 2002 PIR race winner will lead the 22-car field to the green flag for the 250-lap race under the lights (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

“It’s an honor to be breaking the record, which has been holding for 20 years, and now we’re able to show that Verizon IndyCar Series cars are fast,” Castroneves said after receiving the crown in pit lane from former track record-holder Arie Luyendyk, now an INDYCAR race steward.

“The REV Group car was really on rails,” Castroneves said. “We came here in the preseason, we showed that and we kept going. The temperatures were really difficult because of the temperature and you’ve got to push to the limit, and we definitely pushed to the limit.

“My first lap was pretty good and the second lap was a little bit of a moments in Turns 3 and 4, which I was not expecting that. That’s probably why it was huge. But at the end of the day, we were able to put the No. 3 in the pole position and now have got to focus for tomorrow.”

Tony Kanaan, Castroneves’ longtime friend and rival from Brazil, qualified second at 191.511 mph in the No. 10 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. It marks the 41-year-old’s first front-row qualifying effort since Iowa Speedway last July.

“If you look at the results, I’m always being extremely competitive at the mile ovals,” said Kanaan, who won at PIR in 2003 and ’04. “You look at Milwaukee, you look at Iowa, you look at here – I think this is a little bit of both. Obviously I can’t make miracles if I don’t have the car, but I think my engineer described it the best to me.

“Todd (Malloy) has been with me for two years now, and he was saying that in his opinion, in his point of view, my ceiling for this type of tracks is a little bit above that of people he worked with before. So I think that is a pretty good compliment.”

Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the season opener March 13 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, qualified third at 191.366 mph.

The only incident in qualifying came when Carlos Munoz spun and crashed in Turn 1 on his first qualifying lap in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. It mirrored a pair of incidents in which Takuma Sato (No. 14 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing Honda) and James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) crashed in morning practice.

Neither Sato nor Hinchcliffe was able to make a qualifying attempt as their crews repaired their cars. All three drivers were cleared to drive in the race. Sato will start 20th, Munoz 21st and Hinchcliffe 22nd based on entrant points.

The Verizon IndyCar Series makes its return to historic Phoenix International Raceway following an 11-year absence. From 1964 to 2005, 61 Indy car races were conducted at the oval in the desert.

INDYCAR streamlines competition penalty guidelines

INDYCAR, the sanctioning organization for the Verizon IndyCar Series, has taken the next step in competition rules enforcement by streamlining and making public the penalty process.

The three race stewards announced prior to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season – Arie Luyendyk, Max Papis and chief steward Dan Davis – have at their disposal a simplified penalty system for on-track infractions in the Verizon Indy Car Series Rule Book, the result of a collaborative effort from drivers, team owners/managers and league officials.

The penalty guidelines were in place for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend March 11-13 and made available to all this week in INDYCAR’s desire for rules transparency to media and fans who follow the Verizon IndyCar Series. The penalty guidelines will be in place again for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix and the remainder of the 16-race schedule.

“The penalty guidelines were developed after numerous meetings during the offseason with drivers, team owners and other team principals,” said Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR vice president of competition, race control. “All of the stakeholders involved wanted more teeth in the regulations when it came to more serious violations of safety or competition rules.

“The result is that the stewards now have a more clearly defined set of rulings they can make,” Barnhart continued. “That includes immediate penalties for some transgressions that in the past would have been warnings on the first offense.”

Among the infractions that now incur an immediate penalty rather than a warning are: jumping a race start or restart, lagging back on a restart, blocking and avoidable contact.

“The drivers in particular wanted more strict penalties for these types of infractions,” Barnhart said. “They believe, and INDYCAR agrees, that these updated penalty guidelines will create cleaner, more exciting racing that is easier to officiate and easier for fans to understand and enjoy.”

Any of the three stewards or Barnhart, the race director, can call for a stewards’ review if one believes a competition infraction has occurred. At that point, the race stewards examine all information available to them, including video replays, timing and scoring and other electronic data, audio communications and more.

A majority vote of the race stewards then decides whether a competition infraction occurred. If so, the chief steward relies on the penalty guidelines to mete out warnings or penalties.

Rahal gets a real thrill ride in USAF Thunderbirds F-16

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal stepped out of the cockpit of a Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon with an ear-to-ear grin – having just been sideways, upside down and rolled in it – and pronounced his ride with Maj. Kevin Walsh the coolest thing he’d ever done.

Rahal became one of a small number to experience the thrill with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds on March 31. Normally the driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Indy car, Rahal took the ride in the F-16 at Luke Air Force Base, not far from Phoenix International Raceway.

“You climb to 15,000 feet, literally in seconds … all the maneuvers are really cool,” Rahal said. “We got up to 9.3 in G-force, which is incredible. The sensation and the way it pushes the weight down on your body is so extreme.”

Rahal and the other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers are used to about five Gs at Phoenix – that’s the maximum they’ll pull in the April 2 race as they scream around PIR at more than 180 mph.

“When you’re pulling heavy G-forces, at eight Gs you can’t breathe,” said Rahal. “That’s similar to what we do. Here in Phoenix, through Turn 1, I’m not going to breathe.”

The ride, which swooped and swirled into blue Arizona sky and white clouds over the desert, had been on Rahal’s bucket list since his childhood when he heard about the experience of his father, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, piloting an F-18.

“He flew an F-18 and they drove his Indy car on the runway,” said Graham, 27. “He had this massive picture of him vertical over Edwards Air Force Base (in Southern California) and I just loved it and thought it would be so cool.”

As far as Graham is concerned, he was right. Walsh even gave him the F-16 controls for a few minutes and he flew it into a fluffy cloud and rolled it.

“I might have missed my calling,” he said, still grinning.

Andretti Autosport adds Bell to driver lineup for 100th Indianapolis 500

Andretti Autosport confirmed that veteran driver and NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell will drive its fifth entry for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. The 40-year-old American will drive the No. 29 Honda.

Bell has made nine career Indianapolis 500 starts with a best finish of fourth in 2009. He won the 2001 Indy Lights championship and has victories in a pair of prestigious sports car endurance races, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

“Driving in the 100th Running of the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport is a great opportunity,” Bell said. “I think I’ll benefit from being part of a strong, multi-car team with a winning pedigree at Indy.

“It’s such a well-oiled machine, so professional from top to bottom in every facet of business, and not only in INDYCAR. I always have to remind myself that they’re a Global Rallycross championship team and in Formula E, there’s so many exciting things going on in this organization.”

Team owner Michael Andretti was pleased to add Bell to the driver lineup that includes Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi.

“If you look at his record at Indianapolis, he does very well there,” Michael Andretti said. “He hasn’t been with the top teams, but it seems like he’s always there in the top 10 and I feel like if we can put a good car under him, he has a good shot at winning the race.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing adds United Rentals as sponsor

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced that United Rentals Inc., the largest equipment rental company in the world, will be the primary sponsor for the No. 15 Honda of Graham Rahal at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, June 4-5, as well as a major associate sponsor on the car for the entire 2016 season.

“We are excited to not only welcome a new sponsor to the Verizon IndyCar Series but also one that is the largest in the world in its respective industry,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with former late-night talk show host David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Michael Lanigan. “The equipment services they offer fit well with the needs of many including the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock and we are proud Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will lead the charge with United Rentals in the series.”

United Rentals offers expert construction and industrial equipment rental, trench safety, temporary power, climate control, fluid transfer, tool management and technology services through the largest customer service organization of its kind in North America, with 897 rental branches in the United States and Canada.