Pagenaud continues 2016 tear, wins pole at Barber

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Saturday, April 23, 2016) – Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud continued his 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series hot streak at Barber Motorsports Park, winning the Verizon P1 Award for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a lap of 1 minute, 6.7262 seconds (124.089 mph).

Pagenaud, who won last weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and leads the championship, has finished in the top two at each of the season’s first three races and holds a 14-point edge over Scott Dixon heading into race weekend. The pole position was the third of his Verizon IndyCar Series career and first since last season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Driving the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet, Pagenaud snuck the pole-winning lap in on his final circuit around the 2.3-mile permanent road course in the Firestone Fast Six, outdoing teammate Will Power, a three-time Barber pole winner. It stretched Team Penske’s string of consecutive poles to six races dating to the 2015 event at Pocono Raceway last August.

“It was awesome – the PPG car was just incredible, especially on the red Firestone tires,” Pagenaud said. “I really had a good time just driving it. We put the least amount of fuel in and tried to save the tires by only going one lap in each segment (of qualifying). That last lap, I just dug deep and that was one of the best feelings that I have ever had driving.”

The pole is the 238th in the Indy car history of Team Penske, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016. Pagenaud will be joined on the front row by Power (1:06:9421, 123.689 mph), currently eighth in the championship standings after missing the season-opening race in St. Petersburg with an inner-ear infection.

“At the end of the day, you have to finish ahead of those guys who keep extending their points gap,” Power said. “We’re due for a good result. We’ve had a bit of a slow start to the year obviously, but we’ll have fun out there.”

Josef Newgarden, who captured his first career Verizon IndyCar Series victory at Barber Motorsports Park last year, will start third in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Newgarden posted a top lap of 1:07.0283 (123.530 mph) and will start alongside reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 Coca-Cola Chevrolet, 1:07.2083, 123.199 mph) in the second row.

Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais (1:07.2965, 123.038 mph) will start fifth in the No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais set the track record in Segment 2 of qualifying with a lap of 1:06.6001 (124.324 mph), breaking the standard set by Dixon in 2013 (1:06.7750).

“It’s always screwed up when it goes like that, right?” Bourdais said. “You set the track record and then you get disappointed when you finish fifth. You know, it’s a shame. The guys did a great job.”

After joining Team Penske in 2015 and finishing 11th in points, Pagenaud has begun the 2016 campaign on a tear. The Frenchman finished second in the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg and had another runner-up result at Phoenix International Raceway. He captured his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series victory – and first with Team Penske – edging Dixon in the closest finish in Long Beach history (0.3032 of a second) on April 17.

“I’m just having a lot of fun, but of course, I’m working really hard,” said the 31-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. “I’m still working as hard as I worked before, but suddenly everything is rolling really well and really easily. The whole team is fantastic and we don’t have to really think about it too much to make it work.”

Graham Rahal reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this season in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and will start sixth after posting a top lap of 1:07.6388 (122.415 mph). Rahal led 17 laps at Barber Motorsports Park in 2015 before finishing in second place.

The 90-lap Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the fourth of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule and will be broadcast live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (3 p.m. ET).

Castroneves, Kanaan and Newgarden to compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden – each a champion in his own right – will attempt to conquer a new kind of race when they compete on the NBC obstacle course challenge show “American Ninja Warrior.”

The three racing stars will take part in the hit show’s regional competition April 27 on a specially designed course at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Any of the three who finish among the top 30 contestants or complete the course will return April 28for Round 2. If successful then, they move on to the show’s finals in Las Vegas against qualifiers from other regional competitions. The Indianapolis episode is scheduled to airJune 13 in prime time.

“I’m so excited to be a part of ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and get the chance to run such a crazy obstacle course,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner who has completed the Ironman World Championship and is driving the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, but I think my training that I do on a daily basis will put me in a position to perform well,” Kanaan said. “We’re constantly trying to show everyone that what we do requires us to be athletes, but sometimes it doesn’t translate as well to the general public. This will be our chance to show how physically fit we have to be to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

“American Ninja Warrior,” returning for its eighth season on NBC, will visit five cities, including Indianapolis, leading to the finals. In Las Vegas, competitors will face a daunting four-stage obstacle course that, if completed, will earn a $1 million grand prize and the title of “American Ninja Warrior.” To date, there has been only one grand prize winner.

“It’s a crazy cool opportunity because I don’t think a lot of people get the chance to try that obstacle course,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, 2011 Indy Lights champion and a two-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner. “I’ve had one day to really prepare for it. We’ve been on the road traveling so much, and you can’t just go into the gym and do pull-ups; that’s not how you train for that type of competition. It’s very specialized. It’s all technique, it’s all specific obstacles.”

The drivers were able to train at gyms in Indianapolis and Florida that specialize in preparation for the show, but they won’t know what obstacles await them until they arrive. No matter, they know it will be grueling.

“I realized that to become a Ninja, wow, you have to sacrifice a lot,” said Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 winner and driver of the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet. “That’s not my day job so I’ve got to be really careful. You throw yourself through a lot of the areas that, if you are not prepared, you can actually hurt yourself. I was very cautious about that and do have some blisters, bruises, but right now it’s been fun.”

The 40-year-old Brazilian, an admitted “American Ninja Warrior” fan,┬áis grateful no races are scheduled for the two weekends after the competition in Indianapolis.

“I don’t have anything the week after,” he said with a laugh. “If something goes wrong, at least I have a week to recover. Hopefully we don’t (fall into) the water, we just keep going and have a good time.”

Added Newgarden, “I don’t know how we’re going to do. Maybe one of us will miraculously do really well and represent INDYCAR. I’m hoping that’s the case, but I don’t know.”

Servia to drive third Schmidt Peterson entry in 100th Indianapolis 500

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced that Oriol Servia will pilot the team’s third entry for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the Schmidt Peterson with Marotti Racing No. 77 Honda.

Servia, the 41-year-old Spaniard, has driven in 197 Indy car races since his debut season in 2000. He finished second in the 2005 Champ Car World Series championship for Newman/Haas Racing, collecting his lone Indy car win that year at Montreal.

The 1999 Indy Lights champion, Servia has driven in seven previous Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of sixth in 2011.

“I am very pleased to have this opportunity at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” said Servia. “This year’s Indianapolis 500, the 100th running, will be the most special in our era, maybe of all time, and I wanted to make sure I was in a team that can give me a program to contend for the win. I have no doubt that together with SPM and Honda, we will at least do that.”

Servia will team with fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series drivers James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin for the Indy 500. Practice for the 100th running begins May 16, qualifying is May 21-22 and the historic race is scheduled for May 29 (11 a.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

“We’ve competed against Oriol for several years now and have always looked for an opportunity to get him in one of our SPM entries,” Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “He is a true professional and is highly respected within the motorsports community. Interestingly enough, we shared the front row with him in 2011 and know that he can get the job done for all of our team partners.”

Marotti Racing was founded by Will Marotti, who plans to use his business startup and building skills to strengthen the team. Marotti is an avid racing fan who has not missed an Indianapolis 500 since 1969 and is a graduate from the Skip Barber Racing School. He also drove in autocross and SCCA events.

“We are thankful and excited beyond measure to be able to participate in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a team of the quality and caliber of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” Marotti said. “This is the fulfillment of a 47-year-old personal dream and we hope just the first of many years that Marotti Racing will be in the paddock and part of the INDYCAR community.”

KVSH Racing tests special LED wheel lights

For a brief time in Friday’s opening practice at Barber Motorsports Park, the Chevrolet logo brilliantly glowed inside the wheel well of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing car. If developers of the light-emitting diode (LED) displays have their way, all Verizon IndyCar Series cars will have that capability and more in the future.

Speed of Light Media used the practice as a test of the LED system in real-time conditions and to see how well the display would show on NBCSN’s live telecast of practice. They were pleased with the results and said they’ve only scraped the surface of possible uses.

“We can run multiple images,” said Guy Margetson, a director of the British company, “and soon, very soon, we can ‘talk’ to the car if the series wants us to during the race. We could put P1 (running position in a session), push-to-pass, anything the series wants.”

Margetson and company co-director Patrick Wallace said they’ve logged more than 100 hours testing the system on the race car. They’ve worked with tire supplier Firestone to make sure the displays do not add improper balance to the tire-wheel combination.

The long-term goal is to supply every car in the paddock so teams can run individual sponsorship messages and INDYCAR can display competition information messages.

“We’ve had tremendous support from KVSH Racing and INDYCAR as well,” Wallace said. “We’re hoping to have a discussion with INDYCAR and, with a little bit of luck, we can launch it. It’s an added advertising space and means more revenue for the series and the teams.”

Margetson jokingly pointed out another advantage, since Bourdais was fastest in the practice session when the displays were on the car.

“It doesn’t seem to slow the car down and, arguably,” he said, “it might make it quicker.”