1. Indy Lights, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers share seat time
2. Team Penske gets unique tribute at Woodward Dream Cruise
3. Karam to serve as co-host of Ganassi Sound Garage
4. Penske to be honored at Sonoma
1. Indy Lights, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers share seat time: What impressed Spencer Pigot about the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske car? In a word – everything.
Pigot, 21, was among seven Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competitors to drive Verizon IndyCar Series cars Aug. 13 during a shared test day with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on the 2.38-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course.
Per the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook, teams are allowed two additional on-track days to test a current Indy Lights driver. It’s a valuable opportunity for the young drivers short and long term.
With the Verizon IndyCar Series championship to be determined in the season finale — Aug. 30 at Sonoma Raceway – for the 10th consecutive season, six of the 10 drivers eligible in the tight title chase also utilized the valuable on-track opportunity.
Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing, with Indy Lights drivers in parentheses:
* Andretti Autosport – Marco Andretti (Matthew Brabham)
* Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – Scott Dixon (Sean Rayhall)
* KVSH Racing – Sebastien Bourdais (Ryan Phinny)
* Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Graham Rahal (Ed Jones)
* Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – Ryan Briscoe (Jack Harvey)
* Team Penske – Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power (Nelson Piquet Jr., Pigot)
Pigot, who has won a series-high four races this season for Juncos Racing, is six points behind Harvey in the standings with two races left.
“After a few laps I was able to start pushing more and more. I was able to get comfortable fairly quickly,” Pigot said. “We went through a lot of video and data beforehand, and I talked to Will a lot. Team Penske has helped me a lot to get up to speed quickly.
“This car carries so much speed through the corners and carries so much downforce. It’s a new experience and a lot of fun.”
Harvey, who turned about 55 laps in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda set up by Briscoe, agreed.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “In Indy lights last year I won both races (at Sonoma), so I was really excited when I knew this track was going to be my first test. I’m pretty happy with what we’ve achieved.
“This car is so much bigger, so much more power. I mean at the end of the day it’s still a race car, but the power and the weight of the car and the size of it were the things I noticed straight away.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series championship will be decided on a road course and the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma carries double points. Montoya enters the penultimate race of the season Aug. 23 – the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – with a nine-point lead over the surging Rahal.
“Double points will definitely be interesting here with the hairpins and different strategies; you definitely won’t know until the end who’s going to win the championship,” said Dixon, a two-time Sonoma winner who is third in the standings.
Also on the race course was Mikhail Aleshin, who was participating in a refresher test in a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Russian, who sustained injuries in an August 2014 practice crash at Auto Club Speedway, is scheduled to make his return to the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway.
“I feel like I’m home,” he said. “It’s a great team and a very nice car. The difference is very big compared to last year. There’s more downforce now so it’s not very easy, but I have some experience handling it, so I am enjoying it.”
2. Team Penske gets unique tribute at Woodward Dream Cruise: Thousands of spectators lined the east and west sides of Woodward Avenue on a late Thursday afternoon – smart phones at attention for snapping photos – as pace cars representing Team Penske’s record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories formed a uniform line.
With seven Indianapolis 500 winners included in the collection of current and former Team Penske Indy car and stock car drivers behind the wheels, the sun-splashed parade on the opening day of the Woodward Dream Cruise was a quick-moving and burnout-turning 20-mile procession.
“This is like a family reunion,” said Al Unser, who joined another four-time Indy 500 winner, Rick Mears, along with his brother Bobby and son Al Jr. — who combined for another five Indy 500 triumphs — in the salute to speed. “And I’m not talking about just the Unser family, but I consider this the Penske family.”
From team owner Roger Penske taking the pole position in the 1972 442 Hurst Oldsmobile convertible that commemorates the team’s first Indy 500 win with driver Mark Donohue to the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 that paced the field for Team Penske’s most recent win at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with Juan Pablo Montoya in May, the first-ever unification of all the cars and the star-studded lineup of drivers was a unique tribute to the historic race and annual Metro Detroit summer event.
Also along for the ride were three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 2006 winner Sam Hornish Jr. and ’03 winner Gil de Ferran, first-year Verizon IndyCar Series team member Simon Pagenaud, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and current Team Penske NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.
“Each one of these cars has a special place in Team Penske history, along with each of these men that have meant so much to our organization,” Penske said. “To have the drivers in the pace car that they won the Indy 500 with is pretty special and I’m thankful that everyone could make it. The Indianapolis 500 is such a unique event and it is an honor to be able to share these wonderful cars from our victories at Indianapolis, and the great stories that go along with them.”
Many stories were being swapped pre- and post-cruise between the drivers about their favorite 500 Mile Race memories and the importance of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race next May. Penske will mark 50 years in auto racing in 2016.
“When you drive for Team Penske, there is a lot of cool stuff you get to do,” said Pagenaud, who drove the 2002 50th anniversary Chevrolet Corvette C5 on Woodward Avenue. “All these years, all these wins, all these backgrounds are all together. It makes you realize that you’re part of something really special.
“To have 16 wins in the Indy 500 is just incredible to even say that number. I’m not a big number guy, but obviously with a team like this with such history, you do think about it. It would be the biggest achievement in my career to win the 100th Indy 500.”
In its 20th year, the Woodward Dream Cruise rekindles the years when the thoroughfare that connects the northeast suburbs to downtown Detroit was a hub for weekend cruisers. On Aug. 15, more than 1.5 million people will again raise their smart phones to snap a sampling of the 40,000 vehicles from around the globe taking part in the parade.
“The Woodward Dream Cruise is a great event for the City of Detroit,” Penske said. “You don’t need an entry blank, you don’t need to go through inspection. All you have to do is bring your car and go have fun.”
The pace cars will be displayed throughout the weekend at the Art Van Furniture store location on Woodward Avenue, between 13 and 14 Mile Roads in Royal Oak.
3. Karam to serve as co-host of Ganassi Sound Garage: Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sage Karam will again serve as a co-host of a unique promotion by Chip Ganassi Racing this fall.
Ganassi Sound Garage, a popular event for millennials held at Chip Ganassi Racing Team’s headquarters in Concord, N.C., last fall, will feature Big Machine Label Group’s (BMLG) recording artist A Thousand Horses on Oct. 5.
“The return of Ganassi Sound Garage has been met with tremendous support and I’m happy to say this year’s edition will be bigger and better than its debut,” said Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. “With A Thousand Horses headlining, we plan to deliver another unique social media experience focused on attracting millennials and exposing them to our sport, drivers and team.”
CGRT hosted over 200 social media-savvy millennials and influencers last year, and expects to more than triple the turnout this year with a target audience that includes influencers, curators and heavy social media users.
This year’s event will once again be streamed live on www.indycar.com, www.nascar.com and www.ganassisoundgarage.com.
4. Penske to be honored at Sonoma: Roger Penske will be inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame during the Aug. 28-30 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Penske, the founder of Penske Corporation, will have four entries in the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale. All are in the top 10 of the championship standings with two races left. Team Penske has five victories at Sonoma Raceway, a total of 11 podium finishes and five pole positions.
Reigning series champion Will Power, driver of the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, has led the most laps at 250.
“Everyone at Team Penske is proud of our accomplishments at Sonoma Raceway,” said Penske. “I’m honored to go into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame to represent everyone at Team Penske who has contributed to our success.”