Road America notebook: Le Mans success a result of INDYCAR competition

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Verizon IndyCar Series drivers experienced resounding success in last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance sports car race. It’s a testament, say those who competed, to the depth of talent within the INDYCAR paddock.

KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais was part of the historic winning Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team in the GTE Pro class, with Ganassi Indy car driver Scott Dixon co-driving the third-place Ford GT. Townsend Bell, who finished 21st in May’s Indianapolis 500, co-drove the winning Ferrari in GTE Am. Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports placed seventh in the LMP2 class.

During a media availability Friday at Road America to discuss their Le Mans experience, the drivers said they aren’t surprised with their achievements. Bourdais, a native of Le Mans, who had finished runner-up three times in the prestigious race, credited the weekly push he receives from fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers with making them all better in “one-off” competitions in other racing disciplines.

“I think there is no arguing that this paddock is filled with very talented drivers,” Bourdais said. “Obviously, Scott has been at the top of the charts here in INDYCAR, showing every time he steps in anything else (that) the level of competition from INDYCAR, how good drivers are around here.

“Every time you get signed up for these kind of events, basically (it) recognizes you're up for the job,” Bourdais added. “After that, you don't want to look stupid and make a fool of yourself. But I think there's a reason why we end up in the positions we end up here, and that's because the level here is strong, and there's no arguing that.”

Dixon, who has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona driving for Ganassi, echoed Bourdais’ thoughts.

“I think the depth of the field we have in the Verizon IndyCar Series is like no other,” Dixon, the four-time series champion and winner of 39 Indy car races, said. “It's extremely close. A lot of great talent from all around. I think, as Sebastien kind of said, anybody that has driven up against the best drivers in the world, other formulas as well, have found their way here now.”

The Ford GT triumph added to the lengthy list of major racing accomplishments for cars owned by Ganassi. His team is the only owner to win the Indianapolis 500 in Indy cars, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in NASCAR, Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring in U.S. endurance sports cars, and now a class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Stoked for Chip,” said Dixon, who has driven for Ganassi since midway into the 2002 Indy car season. “To win all these marquee events, to go and win for Ford in his first trip to Le Mans is pretty impressive. What he's achieved in his career already, it's impressive compared to some of the guys he's been compared against.”

Aleshin had hoped to run up front in LMP2 in the BR01 Nissan he helped develop throughout 2015. Mechanical issues added time in the pits and eliminated any possibility of a podium finish for the 29-year-old Russian.

“The team (ran in) good shape during all the distance,” Aleshin said. “We had some technical issues in our car in the middle, but still managed to finish the race. (To finish) seventh, not too bad result.”

Newgarden helps launch children’s book at Road America

Josef Newgarden is an inspiration this weekend at Road America as he battles a fractured right clavicle and fracture in his right hand to compete in the KOHLER Grand Prix.

Josef NewgardenThe 25-year-old Verizon IndyCar Series driver is also inspiring children with this weekend’s release of “Josef, The Indy Car Driver,” a children’s book authored and illustrated by Chris Workman with Newgarden as the subject. The 50-page book traces Newgarden’s story about rising from the karting ranks to being an Indy car driver, with the goal of teaching youths about motorsports and piquing their interest in the sport.

Workman and Newgarden held book signings Friday and this morning at the Road America Paddock Shop, where the book is available.

"The book is all about Josef and his real story, but with a little added context about the sport,” said Workman, who previously authored a book about a father and son’s trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “There aren't any books out right now for kids explaining IndyCar – how it works, what it's like to be a driver. So the book is designed to do that.

“It's one part fan perspective, but also goes through Josef's real story rising from riding on a motorized scooter in his neighborhood to being an Indy car driver,” Workman continued. “It's really designed to show any kid that likes racing or not some inspiration that if you want to do something, you can make a path to achieve it."

The book may also be purchased online at http://apexlegends.com/, with $1 from every purchase donated to Racing For Kids.

INDYCAR drivers visit Boys & Girls Club in Sheboygan Falls

Racing For KidsVerizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires drivers Zach Veach, Shelby Blackstock and Dalton Kellett made the day for many youths in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., when they visited the Boys & Girls Club on Thursday.

The four drivers presented a video about the Indianapolis 500, signed autographs and posed for photos with the children and gave out souvenir hats. The visit was part of the Racing For Kids program that makes stops at children’s hospitals and youth organizations in INDYCAR race markets.

Schmidt missing Road America to take on Pikes Peak in SAM car

Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights team co-owner Sam Schmidt is missing a race weekend for a rare time, but with very good reason. Schmidt, a quadriplegic since sustaining injuries in an Indy car testing crash in 2000, is in Colorado this weekend to drive the Arrow Electronics Semi-Autonomous Motorcar (SAM) on the bottom half of the challenging Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Using only head and eye movements to accelerate and brake the modified 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Schmidt will drive the car on the lower half of the twisting 12.42-mile, 156-turn course up the mountain. He will then lead the parade of race cars, four-wheelers and motorbikes back down. The SAM car utilizes cutting-edge technology to enable disabled drivers to experience driving again in an effort to deliver more independence.

“Arrow Electronics is proud to sponsor the 100th anniversary of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Climb,” said Joe Verrengia, director of Arrow’s corporate social responsibility program. “This longstanding Colorado tradition captivates auto enthusiasts around the world and is the perfect place to showcase the inspiring capabilities of Sam Schmidt and Arrow’s SAM car project.”

Last month on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, Schmidt achieved a top speed of 152 mph in the SAM car. As at Indy, will have as his co-pilot Robby Unser, the former Indy car driver who has been a four-time “king of the mountain” at Pikes Peak. The iconic hill climb is celebrating its 100th anniversary and 94th running this year.

The SAM project is a collaborative venture among Arrow Electronics, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Schmidt’s nonprofit organization Conquer Paralysis Now and Paravan GmbH, a world leader in innovative automobile conversions for drivers with severe disabilities. For more information on the project, please visit http://arrow.com/SAM/.

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