1. Drivers log valuable track time at Pocono test: With but four races remaining to be completed on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, each one becomes exponentially more important.
It’s why 15 drivers participated in team testing Thursday at Pocono Raceway, in preparation for the ABC Supply 500 weekend at the “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond, Pa., Aug. 20-21. Drivers from six teams logged more than 1,700 laps on the 2.5-mile triangular oval. Because it was a team test, lap times were not reported.
Getting track time was paramount for rookie Max Chilton, making his first visit to Pocono.
“It’s hugely important,” said the driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “You’ve got to leave this being comfortable in what you’ve got for the race. We’re trying to get that, so I’m confident to come back here in a fortnight.”
Even veterans realize the value of testing at Pocono, with its three distinctly different corners.
“This place is so tricky,” said Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “It’s extremely demanding to get the car balance just right. You’ve got to get the aerodynamic trim levels where you’re still fast enough. You can put on a ton of downforce and make it go flat (on the accelerator), but then you might go too slow for the race.
“Any day, any lap you can get around here, trust me, is good because you’re always learning.”
Also participating in the test were Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato of AJ Foyt Racing; Marco Andretti, defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport; Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball from Chip Ganassi Racing; Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing; and Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The ABC Supply 500 weekend consists of practice and qualifying on Aug. 20 and the 200-lap race on Aug. 21. Race-day coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. For ticket information, visit poconoraceway.com.
2. NBC Sports Group sees record viewership for Mid-Ohio race: The July 31 simulcast of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on NBCSN and CNBC delivered 929,000 viewers to rank as NBC Sports Group’s most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series race since it acquired telecast rights prior to the 2009 season. The telecast earned a 0.64 rating.
It was also the most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series race on cable television since the 2008 Richmond race on ESPN (947,000 viewers). Viewership peaked for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, won by Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, in the 3-3:15 p.m. ET quarter hour with 1.326 million viewers.
The race from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was originally scheduled to air on CNBC with a later encore airing on NBCSN, but when Sunday’s NASCAR race at Pocono was postponed, the Verizon IndyCar Series race from the popular permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio, was also simulcast on NBCSN.
NBC Sports Group is on pace for its most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series season. Through seven telecasts, average viewership has been 505,000 viewers, up 28 percent from 2015 (394,000). The 2016 telecasts continue a strong surge that has seen nine of the last 13 races on NBCSN average more than 500,000 viewers, more than the prior six seasons combined (five races).
NBC Sports Group’s five most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series races to date have been: Mid-Ohio 2016, airing on NBCSN and CNBC, with 929,000 viewers; Sonoma 2015, NBCSN, 841,000; Mid-Ohio 2015, NBCSN, 666,000; Edmonton 2011, CNBC, 642,000; and Pocono 2015, NBCSN, 635,000.
Pocono Raceway is up next on the 2016 schedule, with the ABC Supply 500 airing live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET Aug. 21. After that, it’s the completion of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET Aug. 27), the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (2 p.m. ETSept. 4) and the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET Sept. 18) – all airing live on NBCSN.
3. Chevrolet holds 91-point lead in manufacturers’ battle: The Verizon IndyCar Series manufacturers’ championship remains up for grabs with four races still to be completed in the 16-race season.
Chevrolet holds a 91-point lead over Honda (1,255 to 1,164) heading to the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 21. Chevrolet has won the four manufacturers’ championships since engine competition was reintroduced to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012. Chevrolet and Honda have also developed aerodynamic bodywork kits for their respective teams since 2015.
At the most recent race on July 31, The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Chevrolet earned 117 points – led by race winner Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske – but also faced a 20-point deduction when it had to change the failed engine on the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams entry of Max Chilton.
Honda, whose top race finisher was Carlos Munoz in third place, earned 99 points from race competition plus 30 bonus points for seeing the engines on three of its cars successfully reach their 2,500-mile threshold. Cars that had engines “mileage out” over the race weekend and receive the 10-point bonus were: No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal), No. 26 Andretti Autosport (Carlos Munoz) and No. 41 AJ Foyt Racing (Jack Hawksworth).
4. Texas Motor Speedway honoring police at Firestone 600 resumption: Texas Motor Speedway will host “Back The Blue Night” at the resumption of the Firestone 600 on Aug. 27 to display its appreciation for the dedicated service of police officers.
“Back The Blue Night” will honor police officers by providing them and a companion free admission to the Firestone 600, which was suspended by rain June 12 after 71 of 248 laps. The race will pick up Aug. 27 at the point at which it was stopped, with James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the lead.
Police personnel who show a badge or proper identification at the entrance gate will receive free general admission seating. Texas Motor Speedway is also extending the offer to all first responders.
The Firestone 600 begins at 9 p.m. ET Aug. 27 and airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The “Restart Your Engines” schedule for the day begins with gates opening to the public at 5 p.m. ET, a Verizon IndyCar Series practice from 5:30-6 p.m. and an autograph session featuring the entire driver field from 6:30-7:15 p.m. on the main concourse.
All frontstretch seating, including premium sections, will be general admission and priced at $28, with children 12 and under at $10. Tickets from the June race suspension will be honored. For more information, contact the TMS ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com.
5. Iowa Speedway puts 2017 season tickets on sale: Iowa Speedway – which will host a Verizon IndyCar Series race for the 11th consecutive year in 2017 – has opened season ticket renewals and sales for 2017. The schedule for the 0.894-mile oval includes the Iowa Corn 300, the Verizon IndyCar Series race set for Sunday, July 9, 2017.
Fans seeking to renew or buy new season tickets may visit iowaspeedway.com, call (866) 787-8946 or visit the track’s ticket office in person weekdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET. Season ticket prices remain the same in 2017 as they are this year, starting at $99 for seven races over three weekends.
Season ticket holders will have opportunities to win upgrades including garage passes, pace car rides, photographs in Casey’s General Stores Victory Lane with winning drivers, Newton Club passes, premium parking, signature food vouchers, suite upgrades and driver meet-and-greets.
Iowa Speedway’s single-event and weekend ticket packages go on sale Nov. 25 to the general public.
6. Of note: The July 31 episode of “Celebrity Family Feud” on ABC featuring a team of five Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing for charity against a team of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models drew 7.303 million viewers. The drivers — Helio Castroneves, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Will Power — shut out the models and won $25,000 for the Indy Family Foundation. … The epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, won in legendary fashion by rookie Alexander Rossi as he ran out of fuel, has been nominated for two honors by the Sports Travel Awards, including Best Sports Event of the Year. Vote for this historic event by 8 p.m. ET Aug. 15 at http://sportstravelawards16.