INDYCAR News and Notes — Feb. 15, 2017

1. Ed Carpenter Racing hits road course at Sonoma
2. Steak ‘n Shake returns as Rahal Letterman Lanigan sponsor
3. Karam, Wilson enjoy IMS Night at Indiana Pacers game
4. Indy car legend Andretti named honorary Daytona 500 race official
5. Of note

1. Ed Carpenter Racing hits road course at Sonoma: Ed Carpenter Racing tested Tuesday on a road course for the first time in 2017, as teammates JR Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot completed a one-day session at Sonoma Raceway, home to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma that will conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season in September.

It marked Pigot’s first time in an Indy car this year. The 23-year-old Floridian is driving ECR’s No. 20 Chevrolet at road- and street-course events this season, with team owner Ed Carpenter in the car for the six oval races. Hildebrand is driving the entire season in the No. 21 Chevy and tested Feb. 10-11 on the oval at Phoenix Raceway.

The Sonoma test also served as a homecoming for Hildebrand, a native of Sausalito, California, who got his start at Sonoma Raceway driving karts and formula cars before making the jump to professional racing in 2010.

“It feels great to be here. I grew up racing here, grew up watching races here and went through the whole system; pretty much everything I’ve ever raced, I’ve raced here at some point,” said Hildebrand, who has a best finish of eighth in four Verizon IndyCar Series starts at Sonoma Raceway. “This is our first road course test of the season, so it’s a nice familiar place for us to be doing that, and it’s one of the most difficult tracks on our schedule so it’s a great place for us to be collecting a bit of data.”

Pigot returns for his sophomore Verizon IndyCar Series season. After winning the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship, Pigot drove in three Verizon IndyCar Series races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing last year before joining ECR for eight road/street races.

“It’s been a while since we were here and it’s been since September since I drove the car, so I’m excited to be back in an Indy car and so far, so good,” said Pigot. “We had a really productive morning, and we’ve been sticking to our test plan, which we spent a lot of time going over before we got here in order to maximize our day.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March. 12 (noon ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma concludes the season on Sept. 17 (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). For tickets to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, call (800) 870-7223 or visit SonomaRaceway.com.

2. Steak ‘n Shake returns as Rahal Letterman Lanigan sponsor: Steak ‘n Shake will return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for a third season of sponsorship of the team’s Verizon IndyCar Series effort.

Steak ‘n Shake, a classic American brand and home of the original Steakburger and hand-dipped milkshake, will be the primary sponsor of Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda at four Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2017: the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and a new venue for the partnership – the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis, a key market for the company.

Maxim Magazine branding will also continue to be prominently featured on the race car. Steak ‘n Shake and Maxim are owned by Biglari Holdings Inc.

“The partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan has exceeded all expectations. We’re excited to support such a legendary team in its efforts for another winning season,” said Sardar Biglari, founder, chairman and CEO of Biglari Holdings Inc.

The sponsorship will build on the successes of previous years with the return of Rahal’s Steak ‘n Shake bowtie-themed firesuit and continuation of the signature “Graham Rahal Milkshake.” This season will also include in-store fan events with appearances by Rahal and the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.

Additionally, fans will be able to enjoy a new event in St. Louis to celebrate the return of Indy car racing to one of Steak ‘n Shake’s largest markets for the Aug. 26 race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“It’s great to have Steak ‘n Shake on board for another season,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.  “Since the beginning of the partnership, it has been a great pleasure working with Sardar Biglari and everyone at Steak ‘n Shake.

“The pride they have in their company and their enthusiasm for Indy car racing is impressive. The fan support also continues to be a source of pride for the team and we can’t thank the fans enough for all of the positive reinforcement.  We are going to do everything in our power to produce another race-winning season for Steak ‘n Shake as well as our other partners.”

3. Karam, Wilson enjoy IMS Night at Indiana Pacers game: Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Sage Karam and Stefan Wilson spent Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as the Indiana Pacers hosted Indianapolis Motor Speedway Night. The Indy 500 drivers traded race helmets to Pacers players C.J. Miles and Georges Niang in exchange for signed basketballs prior to the game, waved the green and checkered flags for a children’s tricycle race during a game timeout and threw T-shirts to excited fans in the fourth quarter of the tightly contested game, where the Pacers fell to the visiting San Antonio Spurs, 110-106.

Wilson was offered a surprise early in the night when he was brought on the court to play “Deal or No Deal,” where he won a $1,000 donation from Key Bank for the Indiana Donor Network, which helped support his effort in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil through its #Driven2SaveLives campaign for organ donation. Wilson has become an organ donor proponent since his brother, Justin, helped save lives by donating his organs following the 2015 crash that took his life.

“I didn’t know I was going to be competing for the Indiana Donor Network,” said Wilson, “but I guess it paid off. I gambled a little bit and managed to win them a thousand dollars, which is really cool to get money donated to that charity for the great work they do.”

Wilson is still working to secure a ride for the 101st Indianapolis 500 this May. Karam was announced Feb. 2 to return with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the epic race.

“It’s been good,” the 2013 Indy Lights champion said of the preparation for his fourth Indy 500 and third with Dreyer & Reinbold. “We got that deal done pretty early, so it’s always good to get it out of the way and just start focusing on the race. I’m really happy with what I’m doing and I can’t wait for the month of May. That race, in general, is just always so special, and if you can somehow pull out a victory there, it’ll be one that you never, ever forget.”

4. Indy car legend Andretti named honorary Daytona 500 race official: Indy car great Mario Andretti, who went into the heart of stock car territory 50 years ago and won the Daytona 500, has been named an honorary race official for the 59th annual race on Feb. 26. As part of his duties for the NASCAR season opener, Andretti will be introduced at the drivers’ meeting, participate in prerace ceremonies, ride in a parade cars and take part in question-and-answer sessions in fan hospitality areas. In addition, a replica of Andretti’s 1967 winning No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford will be on display.

Andretti is considered by many to be the greatest driver in the history of motorsports, having been named Co-Driver of Century by the Associated Press in 1999. He won the 1978 Formula One World Championship, four Indy car championships and the 1969 Indianapolis 500. His 52 Indy car wins rank second only to A.J. Foyt’s 67. Andretti and Foyt are the only drivers to have won both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.

5. Of note: INDYCAR has scheduled an open test for all Verizon IndyCar Series full-season entries April 12 at Texas Motor Speedway, site of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on June 9-10. The test will provide the first opportunity for teams to run on the 1.455-mile oval following the offseason completion of a complete repave of the track and reconfiguration of Turns 1 and 2 that will see the banking in that area decreased by 4 degrees. … Neil Alberico will return to Carlin for a second season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. The Californian finished 11th in the 2016 championship as a rookie. “The entire team has invested a lot of time and energy into my career, and I couldn’t be happier to continue our relationship together in 2017,” said Alberico, who finished second in both the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda to the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires as he climbed the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. … Pabst Racing announced that Lucas Kohl would drive for the team this year in USF2000. The 18-year-old Brazilian finished 12th in the 2016 point standings with a best finish of sixth place on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

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