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Johnson’s IndyCar Career To Come Full Circle

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 6 2022

The IndyCar Series will visit Texas Motor Speedway on Monday for a test session. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

FORT WORTH, Texas – The road to Jimmie Johnson’s highly anticipated open-wheel oval track debut tops the list of story lines expected to play-out Monday during an INDYCAR Open Test at Texas Motor Speedway.

The session on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile layout will serve as a prelude to the XPEL 375 NTT IndyCar Series race in Cowtown on March 20, Round 2 of the 17-event 2022 schedule. In addition, the race here will be the series’ only oval-track event contested before the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. 

TMS served in the same capacity last season, when it played host to a unique doubleheader weekend on May 1-2. Those races were won by six-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Pato O’Ward, who scored his first series victory with Arrow McLaren SP.

Johnson and Dixon are scheduled to be joined by Ganassi teammate Alex Palou _ the reigning series champion _ and Marcus Ericsson in their Honda-powered Dallaras. 

Representing Team Penske and Chevrolet Racing will be two-time series champion Josef Newgarden; 2014 series champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power and Scott McLaughlin, winner of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 27.

Ed Carpenter Racing, also powered by Chevrolet, is scheduled to test with Rinus VeeKay, the 2020 series Rookie of the Year, and Conor Daly.

McLaughlin, a three-time champion of the Australian Supercars Series, posted his first INDYCAR win after qualifying on-pole on the 1.8-mile/14-turn Streets of St. Pete layout. The series’ 2021 Rookie of the Year finished a season-best second to fellow-New Zealander Dixon in the first race of last year’s TMS doubleheader. McLaughlin placed eighth in the second race to cap his oval-track racing debut for team-owner Roger Penske.

Jimmie Johnson will take to an IndyCar oval on Monday.

With the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway looming, McLaughlin said he plans to approach the race here with a business-as-usual approach. “Yeah, thankful that we’re going to have a test day before then, too, at Texas,” McLaughlin said during his post-race presser in St. Pete. “We’ll be able to fine-tune some things before we go there. We’re going to have a little bit of a different downforce package from INDYCAR, as well, so it will be interesting.

“Yeah, I’m fully-prepped. If I’m not on the pole I’m going to start 20th, and I don’t want that to happen, so I’m going to work hard. It’s business as usual. It’s just head down, bum up, and make it happen.”

Live coverage of the XPEL 375 is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC and simulstreamed on Peacock Premium. Coverage also is available from the INDYCAR Radio Network with audio available via the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.

Johnson will contest the entire series schedule this season after competing on only the temporary street circuit and permanent road-course events as a rookie. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is well-acquainted with TMS in a car with fenders, having made 35 Cup starts and registering a track-record seven victories in Chevrolets fielded by Hendrick Motorsports.

Dixon put together a dominant weekend during last season’s TMS doubleheader, and in the process became the speedway’s all-time INDYCAR victory leader with five. Dixon led 206 of 212 laps in the opening race en route to the win and paced 163 of 248 laps in the second event while finishing fourth.

Scott Dixon headed for Texas.

Dixon also owns sole possession of the INDYCAR track records for most laps-led (1,043) and top-five finishes (13) and is tied for first in top-10s (16). With 51 career victories, “Dixie” needs one more to tie icon Mario Andretti for the second-most wins in INDYCAR history, and one more championship to tie native Texan A.J. Foyt Jr. for the all-time record.

Palou became the seventh-youngest IndyCar Series champion and first from Spain in 2021. In his second season and first with Ganassi, the 24-year-old earned the first three wins of his career (Barber, Road America and Portland) and recorded 10 top-five finishes in 16 starts.

Palou scored a pair of top-10s at TMS last season, finishing fourth in the opener and seventh in the finale. When inclement weather washed-out qualifying, Palou was awarded the pole position as a result of leading the championship points heading into Texas. Palou secured his first career pole later in the season at Portland. Palou placed second to McLaughlin in the season-opener at St. Pete.

A former Formula One regular entering his fourth INDYCAR season, Ericsson is looking to build off the momentum of a career year in the series. In 2021, the native of Sweden earned his first two career wins (Detroit, Nashville) and finished a career-best sixth in the championship.

Newgarden _ championship runner-up the last two seasons _ scored a victory at TMS in his most recent championship-winning campaign of 2019. He sandwiched that TMS victory with pole positions in 2018 and 2020. Newgarden was typically solid in Fort Worth last season, finishing sixth in the opener and runner-up to winner O’Ward in the second race. Newgarden began the 2022 schedule working on a streak of seven consecutive seasons with at least one victory and multiple-win seasons in his last five.

Power started the 2022 schedule with a streak of 13 consecutive seasons with at least one win, including victories at TMS in 2011 and 2017. The native Australian is four pole positions shy of tying Andretti’s all-time INDYCAR record of 67. Power also is tied for first at TMS with three career poles (2013, ’14, ’15). Power opened the season with a third-place finish at St. Pete.

VeeKay, a native of The Netherlands, earned the first win of his career in 2021 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course. He also recorded one of his career-high six top-10 finishes at TMS, taking ninth in Race 2.

Daly will contest the full season for Ed Carpenter Racing, marking the first time since 2017 he will run an entire campaign for one organization. Last season, the second-generation driver competed in the road/street-course races and Indy 500 with ECR and the other oval events with Carlin.

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Due to ongoing global supply chain challenges with some hybrid system components, INDYCAR has adjusted the debut of its 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine with hybrid technology to the 2024 season.

After consultation with engine partners Chevrolet and Honda, the IndyCar Series will continue to use the current 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 powerplant during the 2023 season.

“We are pleased with the pace of the technical development of the 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 hybrid as we prepare it for competition,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said in a statement. “We are very encouraged by the progress our team and our partners have made, but an immediate decision needed to be made to ensure we are prepared for the 2023 season utilizing our current 2.2-liter engine package.

“Thanks to our great partners at Honda and Chevrolet for working through this challenging supply chain situation. We are going full-speed ahead with the 2.4-liter hybrid engine and cannot wait to have it on-track in 2024.”

Development of the 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 with hybrid technology involves cutting-edge innovations unique to INDYCAR. The new engine will give series teams approximately 800 horsepower as a baseline. Addition of the hybrid system will give an additional boost of 100 horsepower to ultimately produce 900.

“We are proud of the hard work and level of commitment by our engine group, along with our teams and partners, in the development of the Chevrolet 2.4-liter engine for our INDYCAR program,” said Mark Stielow, director, GM Motorsports Competition Engineering. “We were certainly excited to have it on-track next season. Chevrolet remains fully committed to the NTT IndyCar Series, and we look forward to debuting our future engine package in 2024.”

First on-track test of the package is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30, and Thursday, March 31, at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Development, testing and work to incorporate the hybrid component will continue throughout the year.

“We are very excited to get the electrified era of INDYCAR racing underway,” said David Salters, president and technical director, Honda Performance Development. “We have finished development and dyno testing of our new internal combustion engine, and once the hybrid system component supply chain issues are sorted, we’ll begin track-testing of the new hybrid power unit.”

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Reigning Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves unveiled his likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy for the fourth time last week at the Indiana Statehouse.

2021 Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves is back on the Borg.

The popular Brazilian became the fourth four-time 500 winner when he captured the 105th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 30. Helio etched his name alongside open-wheel superstars A.J. Foyt Jr., Al Unser and Rick Mears while joining the exclusive club of four-timers.

“I’m beyond lucky to get to have another face added to the Borg-Warner Trophy,” Castroneves said. “It’s an exciting time to get to celebrate this special moment at the Indiana Statehouse, as well. It’s been such a great experience making my full-time return to INDYCAR with Meyer Shank Racing. Last year was just the start of a really great partnership together, and now we begin the ‘Drive-for-Five.’^”

Among guests at the unveil were Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, Penske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles and BorgWarner Inc. Global Director of Marketing and Public Relations Michelle Collins.

“This is one of the most historic unveilings of a likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy we’ve ever had, as Helio’s image now appears for the fourth time on this beautiful trophy,” Boles said. “It’s exciting to get to celebrate something that only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have done and place Helio alongside those iconic names. While Helio isn’t from Indiana, he definitely knows what it means to be a Hoosier, and we are proud to stand in the Indiana Statehouse today for this very special occasion.”

Castroneves’ latest likeness was created by sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the sterling silver, bas relief images of all winners for the trophy since 1990. Helio previously won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009 driving for Team Penske.

The annual event showcases past winners of the Indianapolis 500 dating to 1911, when Ray Harroun drove to victory. “Helio and everyone at Meyer Shank Racing performed flawlessly on Race Day last May to put their names atop the record book,” Collins said. “Helio is a wonderful ambassador for the sport, and everyone at BorgWarner is proud to be associated with him. We recognize his greatness and never-ending smile on and off the track.”

As part of the unveiling ceremony, Holcomb presented Castroneves with the flag flown at the Indiana Statehouse on the day of his historic win. Castroneves reciprocated by giving Holcomb an iconic bottle of milk, the drink enjoyed by all Indy 500 winners in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Commissioned by BorgWarner in 1935, the trophy stands more than 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighs approximately 110 pounds.

Later this year, Castroneves will receive his fourth BorgWarner Championship Driver’s Trophy, also known as a “Baby Borg,” a miniature replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy that will feature a duplicate of his sterling silver image. Meyer Shank Racing also will receive a memento commemorating the victory _ its first BorgWarner Championship Team Owner’s Trophy. Castroneves’ Indy win also was the first in NTT IndyCar Series competition for the team.

Tickets for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the GMR Grand Prix and all Month of May events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are on sale at IMS.com.

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Open-wheel stars Wally Dallenbach and Danny Sullivan comprise the Class of 2022 set for induction into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. The drivers will be honored at the 2022 Induction Ceremony and Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Dinner hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers on Thursday, May 26, in downtown Indianapolis.

Dallenbach and Sullivan were selected from a ballot of 14 nominees by a distinguished panel of more than 140 auto racing journalists, participants and historians.

“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame voting panel has selected two outstanding honorees for this year,” said Joe Hale, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which houses the Hall of Fame. “Wally Dallenbach’s success on the track as a driver led him to be a champion for driver safety as an official. Danny Sullivan had an impressive career as a driver and what sticks with many of us is his memorable win at the 1985 Indianapolis 500.”

Dallenbach, the 1973 Ontario 500 winner, came close to winning the 1975 Indianapolis 500. He led 96 of the first 161 laps, at which point he was forced out with a burned piston. Less than 15 minutes later, the race was halted permanently by a heavy rainstorm. Dallenbach drove in 180 Championship events between 1965 and 1979, winning five races and finishing within the first five 58 times. Dallenbach was runner-up in the 1973 USAC National Championship standings and was third in 1976. Additionally, he logged 13 starts in the Indianapolis 500.

Dallenbach served as the highly respected Chief Steward for every Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) sanctioned event held between 1981 and 2004.

Sullivan is best-remembered for his “spin-and-win” victory in the 1985 Indy 500, when he spun directly in front of Mario Andretti on Lap 120, regrouped, and then passed Andretti again at Lap 140 for the win. Sullivan also dominated the entire first half of the 1988 Indianapolis 500, seemingly headed for a second victory until a handling problem caused him to hit the wall after he had led 91 of the first 101 laps.

Sullivan won 17 CART-sanctioned events between 1984 and 1993, including three at Cleveland and two at the Pocono 500 and the Laguna Seca road-course. He won the season title in 1988 and was third in 1986. In sports car racing, Sullivan won the late-season Can-Am event at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, in 1981 and 1982; and in 1994 shared the third place-finishing Dauer 962LM Porsche in the 24-Hours of Le Mans. In 1983, he partnered with Michele Alboreto on the Tyrrell team as one of the few drivers competing for the F1 World Championship with a non-turbocharged engine. He placed fifth at Monaco and was second to Keke Rosberg in the non-points-paying Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, England.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame honors and celebrates the contributions and achievements of an exclusive group of individuals at the Speedway. It was founded in 1952 as the Auto Racing Hall of Fame under auspices of the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA). The Hall of Fame was moved to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum under direction of then-Speedway president Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. in 1962.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 6 2022
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