Watkins Glen notebook: Franchitti, Castroneves recall being short-term teammates

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Between them, they possess six Indianapolis 500 wins and 60 total Indy car victories. Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves are truly legends of Indy car racing.

At one time, they were even teammates – for all of five minutes.

Franchitti and Castroneves were joined Friday at Watkins Glen International by another great, Bobby Rahal, for Verizon’s latest Lunch with Legends series. Select fans and media were regaled with funny and insightful stories about Watkins Glen – a legend in its own right among American racetracks – and the trio of drivers’ racing careers.

Franchitti, now retired and serving as a coach for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, recalled how he and Castroneves were teammates for the briefest of moments in 1995. Franchitti had been rising through the European junior ranks with Paul Stewart Racing which, with the help of Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart (Paul’s father), guided the careers of up-and-coming drivers.

Franchitti drove for the team from 1992-94 but had decided to take up an offer from Mercedes-Benz to drive in the German DTM touring car championship in 1995. As he entered the team shop to tell Paul Stewart, he was introduced to his new teammate for the season – Castroneves.

“The thing I remember most,” Franchitti recalled, “was he was wearing tassled loafers and white socks. I said, ‘It’s really nice to meet you. Excuse me.’ And I went down the upstairs corridor, I turned right, went to Paul Stewart’s office and went, ‘Hey, I’m leaving.’

“And that was it, so we were teammates for five minutes.”

Castroneves laughed hearing the story, adding it got worse for him when he showed up at the first race.

“So I meet this guy (Franchitti, at the shop) and then I show up at the race and they introduce me to this guy whose name was Ralph Firman,” Castroneves said. “He’s a tall guy and I’m like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with me? I didn’t meet this guy.’ I remembered a dark hair guy, real nice guy and this wasn’t him. Anyway, I found out later what happened.”

Castroneves drove the ’95 British Formula 3 season for Paul Stewart Racing before venturing to the United States for a two-year run in Indy Lights and then embarking on his successful Indy car career in ’98. Franchitti drove the ’95 and ’96 campaigns in German DTM before heading to Indy cars in ’97. The rest for both, as they say, is glorious history.

All three legendary drivers appreciate the history of Watkins Glen. Rahal watched his dad race in the six-hour endurance races from 1969-71 before making his professional racing debut at The Glen in 1974 in Formula Atlantics. He also made his Formula One debut in the 1978 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen before going on to an illustrious Indy car career that included three season championships and the 1986 Indy 500 win.

“You really felt like you were coming to the birthplace of (road) racing in this country,” Rahal said of the track in upstate New York. “I think that’s still probably valid to say that today.”

Franchitti loved driving the 3.37-mile, 11-turn circuit despite never reaching victory lane in five tries.

“It’s massively special to come here and race at The Glen,” he said. “I was never very good here. I never won at this track and to this date it really (tees) me off. I finished on the podium a couple times, which I forgot about but (Scott) Dixon reminded me yesterday that I finished behind him.”

Castroneves echoed his appreciation for the track before getting a final jab in on Rahal.

“It’s one of the best tracks that we go racing,” the Team Penske driver said. “Bob talked about racing here in 1974, which I wasn’t even born.”

TAG Heuer names Rossi brand ambassador

Alexander RossiAlexander Rossi, rookie winner of the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May, has been named the newest brand ambassador for the TAG Heuer line of watches.

TAG Heuer is an official INDYCAR partner. The Swiss-based timepiece maker since 1860 debuted two watches to commemorate the historic 100th Indy 500 – the Carrera Heuer 01 Indy Limited and the Formula 1 Indy Limited.

“I'm honored to partner with TAG Heuer and become part of the family,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. “TAG Heuer is a legacy brand and with great history in motorsport.

“There is great synergy in our focus and pursuit of perfection. The timing is ideal and a perfect alignment of brands, and I look forward to a great future as a TAG Heuer brand ambassador.”

TAG Heuer gained notoriety in motorsports circles in the 1950s, drawing the likes of Formula One legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna as company ambassadors. Its racing popularity added Hollywood notoriety in 1971 when actor/racer Steve McQueen wore a Monaco, the first square-cased cosmograph, in the film “Le Mans.”

Rossi joins that elite group of ambassadors.

“Together, we will continue to set milestones,” said Killian Muller, president of TAG Heuer USA. “Alexander made history by winning the 100th run of Indy 500 and we are so happy to welcome him into our family.”

Performance Friction Corporation becomes exclusive INDYCAR brake supplier in 2017

INDYCAR announced a multiyear agreement with Performance Friction Corporation that will make the company the official brake supplier of the Verizon IndyCar Series beginning in 2017.

“Earlier this season the majority of our teams tested the PFC brake package and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. PFC has a long history of building outstanding performance products that we expect to be a great benefit to the competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “We’re excited to kick off this partnership with PFC and appreciate all their efforts and commitment to INDYCAR.”

INDYCAR began using lightweight carbon brakes at all tracks in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012, in conjunction with introduction of the Dallara IR-12 chassis that is still in use today.

“Don Burgoon, PFC Brakes founder and visionary, truly understood the advantages and benefits of PFC’s continuous wound carbon over the competition,” said Darrick Dong, PFC’s director of motorsports. “Open-wheel racing is in PFC’s DNA. It is with a great deal of pride and optimism that PFC is awarded official brake supplier for the Verizon IndyCar Series for many years to come.”

“INDYCAR has always been close to our hearts at PFC,” said Nina Burgoon, president of PFC. “We are excited and honored that this long-awaited partnership is now a reality. PFC is committed to providing the best-performing package for the car and is thankful for the opportunity INDYCAR has given us to exceed their expectations.”

PFC has a successful motorsports heritage and has been a longtime brake supplier in stock car and sports car competition. Previously, the company was an Indy car supplier in the Champ Car World Series and currently is the brake supplier to all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development series sanctioned by INDYCAR.

Samsung sponsoring Pigot for final two races

Spencer PigotEd Carpenter Racing unveiled a new paint scheme today for the No. 20 Chevrolet driven by rookie Spencer Pigot with Samsung sponsorship. The car will carry the Samsung colors for both this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen and the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

"Samsung is thrilled to partner with Spencer Pigot and the No. 20 car for Watkins Glen and Sonoma,” said Matt Smith, vice president of Samsung Business. “It takes passion, grit and pure talent to be great and Spencer clearly has what it takes to be great at racing. We are excited to support Spencer with the help of Rising Star Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing."

Samsung is a global conglomerate based in Seoul. Rising Star Racing, whose clients include Pigot and Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Josef Newgarden, matches corporate sponsors with  open-wheel drivers.

Hitachi named presenting sponsor of Glen INDYCAR race

INDYCAR announced that it has reached an agreement with Hitachi to serve as presenting sponsor of this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. Hitachi has grown into a diverse global corporation with expertise across a wide range of industry sectors and has served as a partner of Team Penske and driver Helio Castroneves for the past five seasons in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“Hitachi is very excited about INDYCAR’s return to Watkins Glen International for the first time since 2010 and for the opportunity as the presenting sponsor for this weekend,” said Robert Sharpe, senior vice president, Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc. “As the primary sponsor of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, driven by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Hitachi is proud to be part of this experience at one of the most prestigious tracks in North America.”

This weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi is the first time the Verizon IndyCar Series has competed on the 11-turn, 3.37-mile permanent road course since 2010. Previously, Indy cars raced at Watkins Glen from 1979-1981 and 2005-2010, with Team Penske driver Will Power – currently second in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings – winning the most recent event.

“We appreciate Hitachi’s continued support of the Verizon IndyCar Series and are thrilled that it will be the presenting sponsor of this weekend’s event at Watkins Glen,” said Rod Davis, chief revenue officer of Hulman Motorsports. “There is a great deal of excitement about INDYCAR’s return to this historic racetrack and this partnership with Hitachi is another key step toward executing a successful event this weekend.”


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