Andretti Adds Viso, Fourth Car To Lineup
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
In what rates as an open-wheel marriage of convenience, Andretti Autosport’s championship-winning organization has signed IZOD IndyCar Series veteran E.J. Viso to drive a fourth fulltime entry for the 2013 season.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Viso will drive the No. 5 Team Venezuela PDVSA Dallara/Chevrolet during his sixth IndyCar season following a three-year stint at KV Racing Technology.
Viso’s entry is the result of an offseason collaboration between team owners Keith Wiggins of HVM Racing, Michael Andretti and recently formed Team Venezuela. Dedicated to the development and support of its native-born racing talents, Team Venezuela was founded by countryman Vicente Tralci. Viso’s team will be supported by Venezuelan-owned petroleum company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).
The three-way deal will see Andretti Autosport returning to its traditional four-car fulltime lineup; Viso joining the team led by reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and HVM Racing securing an arrangement that provides for continuation of its business in IndyCar for a potential return in 2014.
“I could not ask for more than to get the opportunity to drive for a championship team while representing my country,” Viso said during a teleconference on Thursday. “It’s been a bit of a process putting all of this together. But I’m very excited and happy, and honored and proud. The sponsors, they come from my country, and they just pretty much merged together and created Team Venezuela, which created a partnership with Andretti Autosport. I definitely have no words to thank each of the parties.”
Viso, 27, joins a lineup featuring Americans Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti and Canadian James Hinchcliffe. Viso has yet to win a pole or race in 82 series starts, with a career-best finish of third at Iowa Speedway in 2010. Viso placed 20th in points last season, with a best start/finish of fifth at The Milwaukee Mile, where he led 27 laps. Viso has recorded six Firestone Fast Six appearances, 16 top-10s and led a total of 52 laps during his five IndyCar seasons.
Viso will be paired with engineer Mike Cannon, with whom he worked in 2008-09, and Paul “Ziggy” Harcus in hopes of being competitive out of the box.
“Well, I definitely think so, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” said Viso, former winner of the Formula 3 British Championship. “I believe that we’re going to be competing with everything that is needed. Obviously, every beginning is tough, but we need to try to put all the puzzle (pieces) together as fast as we can. Andretti Autosport is going to be putting the best into my program, trying to achieve what we really know that we can. I’ve done it in the past, in other categories, and in other years. They obviously just did it last year with Ryan and Marco and James.”
The 2013 IndyCar Series season will open with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 24.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will field a second IndyCar Series entry in 2013 for reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier. A 23-year-old Frenchman, Vautier will be paired with countryman and 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda.
“I’ve been talking with team-owner Sam Schmidt since the end of last season in Fontana (Calif.), but I just found out late last week that it was actually going to happen,” said Vautier, who won the Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) Championship in 2011 and Indy Lights title in 2012. “I look forward to representing SPM, Honda and all the team’s partners this year, as well as working with the crew and Simon.”
Pagenaud recorded six top-five and nine top-10 finishes last season, including a career-best second on the Streets of Long Beach. His best finish on an oval was fifth at Iowa Speedway after starting 25th. Pagenaud led three races and a total of 63 laps.
“We achieved success with Simon Pagenaud last season as a properly run single-car team, but I believe we’ll be even better with two cars given the chemistry of the package and personnel we have put together for this program,” Schmidt said.
“As a one-car team last year, Simon was often on an island,” said Rob Edwards, SPM’s general manager. “The addition of Tristan will allow Simon to have data and information that was not available in 2012. Tristan will be trying to complete every lap of every race with consistency.”
Vautier, who earned four Indy Lights wins and five poles in 2012, impressed SPM management during an IndyCar test last December on the Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway road-course. Vautier’s best lap time was second only to IndyCar road-racing ace Will Power of Team Penske.
“I was amazed at the team’s ability to work with me and be patient in Sebring because I have so much to learn,” Vautier said. “They gave me the tools I needed to be fast and coached me along the way. At this high level it’s great to have engineers who not only set up the car but also still coach and teach the drivers.”
Englishman James Jakes will drive a second fulltime IndyCar Series entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2013. In addition, countryman Mike Conway will drive a second RLR entry on the Streets of Long Beach on April 21.
Jakes, 25, will drive the Honda-powered No. 30 Acorn Stairlifts Dallara as teammate to another first-year team member, Graham Rahal. It will be the first time RLR has run two full-season programs since 2007 (Scott Sharp and Jeff Simmons, replaced for Mid-Ohio at mid-season by Ryan Hunter-Reay).
“I wanted to put myself in a position where I could get results that I believe I’m capable of and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is a good fit for me,” said Jakes, who has made 31 series starts the past two seasons with Dale Coyne Racing. “I had negotiated with Bobby when I first came to the series but we weren’t able to put a program together until now. It will be great for the team to have two full-season cars to move forward and push us to where Bobby and the team want us to be – at the top of the grid.”
Jakes recorded two top-10 finishes last season, including a best result of eighth on the Streets of Toronto after starting 24th. Jakes is winless and without a pole in 31 series starts.
“For us to be a two-car team is a natural progression,” said Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 champion and co-owner of the team with late-night TV personality David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan. “A year ago we restarted the team to really build toward this time. We positioned ourselves in Indianapolis to take advantage of everything the open-wheel industry can provide us with and obviously, as was proven last year, a one-car team can be competitive.
“But there is no doubt in my mind that a two-car team is a much more efficient and productive way to go racing. James is obviously an aggressive, competitive driver and I think that having both he and Graham on-board raises the performance of the team as a whole.”
Conway – who recorded his first IndyCar Series win on the Streets of Long Beach in 2011 – will drive the No. 30 Dallara/Honda as a companion to Graham Rahal.
Conway, 29, has made 53 IndyCar Series starts with A.J. Foyt Racing, Andretti Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. In addition to his win at Long Beach, he finished on the podium at Toronto in 2012 and Sonoma, Calif., in 2009. Conway’s best finish in 14 starts for Foyt Racing last year was third on the Streets of Toronto. He was released by the team after declining to compete in the season-ender on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval in Fontana, Calif.
Former NASCAR regular A.J. Allmendinger, who lost his ride with Penske Racing last season, reportedly will test an IndyCar Series car for team-owner Roger Penske later this month. Penske reportedly has offered Allmendinger an open-wheel test at Sebring International Raceway on Feb. 18-19.
Allmendinger, 31, was suspended by NASCAR, and subsequently released by Penske, after testing positive for a prohibited substance last summer. After completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery rehab program, Allmendinger returned to NASCAR with Phoenix Racing late last season.
Team Penske’s 2013 IndyCar lineup again will feature Will Power and Helio Castroneves in Chevrolet-powered Dallaras. Allmendinger reportedly would drive a limited schedule, including the Indianapolis 500, if he passes the test. Allmendinger exited the Champ Car World Series after his breakout season in 2006 to join Red Bull’s fledgling NASCAR program.
Austin Cindric, teen-age son of Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, will drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 77 Nightrain Clothing machine for the 2013 USF2000 season. Cindric, 14, raced over 40 times in the INEX U.S. Legends Car Series in 2012 _ a season that included his first feature win at the Indianapolis Speedrome in May. He is scheduled to compete in the USF2000 Cooper Tires Winterfest today and Sunday at Palm Beach (Fla.) International Raceway. The 2013 USF2000 Championship will begin March 14-15 at Sebring International Raceway, before joining all levels of the Mazda Road to Indy on the Streets of St. Petersburg March 23-24.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments