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IndyCar action picks up on, off track 1 month into season

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — IndyCar champion Will Power has a new contract with Team Penske, and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson wants an extended deal from Chip Ganassi.

Colton Herta split with his race strategist — who happens to be his father — as Andretti Autosport moved Bryan Herta to second-year driver Kyle Kirkwood.

Callum Ilott is frustrated by only a minimal offseason increase in speed from his small IndyCar team, which could jump-start talks between the young British racer and larger organizations.

It’s been nearly a month since IndyCar’s sloppy season-opener on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and with Sunday’s race looming, the action on and off the track is already booming.

The Texas Motor Speedway is the first oval race of the season, a warmup of sorts for next month’s Indianapolis 500. It’ll also be the season debut for oval specialists Ed Carpenter and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.

Team owner A.J. Foyt is also at his first race of the year after skipping the IndyCar opener as he had a pacemaker installed two days after St. Pete, where both his cars were involved in a race-ending crash in the third turn of the first lap.

CONTRACT TALKS

Power, who won his second IndyCar title last season, said at the season-opener that his future with Team Penske was secure and the two sides were hammering out the final details on an extension.

By the time he got to Texas, the multi-year deal was done and the Australian will likely close his career with Roger Penske and longtime sponsor Verizon. Power’s new deal is likely through 2025, when he will be 44 years old.

“I’ve been at Team Penske a long time and feel bloody fortunate to be able to drive for Roger Penske for that long,” Power said. “The older you get, the more you realize how blessed you are to be in this situation.”

Ericsson, who earned the fourth win of his IndyCar career with a late pass of Pato O’Ward in St. Petersburg, brings sponsorship to Chip Ganassi Racing and is in a contract year. Ganassi said before Ericsson’s season-opening win he wants to retain the Swede.

“It’s up to him,” said Ericsson, the points leader headed into Sunday’s race. “He needs to give me an offer for ’24 onward. The ball is in his corner. I really enjoy it at Ganassi, and we’ve done a lot of great things together and would love to continue … He knows very well what I want.”

Ilott, meanwhile, finished an IndyCar-best fifth at St. Pete for Juncos Hollinger Racing, which has expanded to two cars this season and had a decent opening race. But he was hugely disappointed in the pace of his car and felt the Juncos organization just doesn’t have the speed to compete for podiums and wins.

But he was vague on the length of his contract with Juncos, and signed an extension last year to return for a second season.

“I’m quick enough to be on the front end a lot of these weekends,” Ilott said. “It’s pretty obvious that I’m quite interested (in bigger teams). People are interested in me as a driver, but I need to focus on the job that I’ve got here. I’m confident whether it’s in one year, two years, three years, four years — if I’m wanted now, I’ll always be wanted. I’m a good enough driver that I don’t need to learn confidence.”

HERTA’S SPLIT

Andretti Autosport made an internal personnel change after the season-opening in switching the strategists for Herta and Kirkwood. Both drivers said Saturday they did not request the change, nor were they given a reason for the swap.

Herta’s strategist has been his father, who is also his manager, since 2021. Although the two occasionally sniped at each other, Herta was adamant he did not request the change. He’s now paired with Scott Harner, a former longtime Ganassi executive who spent half of last season as Kirkwood’s strategist and moved to Andretti from A.J. Foyt Racing with Kirkwood.

“I don’t know why they changed it, but do I think a needed change would have changed the result of the race? No,” Herta said. “It was a team decision, that’s all I’m going to say.”

The four Andretti cars were fast in the season-opening race and capable of contending for the win, but all four drivers ended up crashed out.

Kirkwood said he asked why the strategist change was being made but was not given an answer. There’s some speculation that Andretti believes Kirkwood can have a breakout season and would benefit from Bryan Herta’s steady leadership.

Herta was the winning strategist on two Indianapolis 500 wins. Colton Herta, although he just turned 23 on Friday, is the most veteran Andretti driver on the roster in his fifth season. He’s also the youngest driver on the team.

“It’s really good for me because (Bryan Herta) is a driver, right?” Kirkwood said. “He knows exactly what a driver wants to hear and what he doesn’t want to hear. To have him on the stand is a huge asset for me.

“I don’t what it is with the family deal, I don’t know if they want to separate that, but they just said this was best for the team and they think it’s going to be really good for me, and they feel Colton is ready for Scott.”

ODDS AND ENDS

Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren won the pole for the second consecutive year. He was followed by Scott Dixon, new McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi, defending race winner Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward, the third driver in the McLaren lineup. Sato qualified sixth for his season debut. The Japanese driver currently only has Texas and the Indy 500 guaranteed with Ganassi. … IndyCar held a Saturday afternoon “high line practice” in which all 28 drivers were sent out on the track to attempt to create a second lane for passing on the top of the speedway. … O’Ward bought three suites and sold out all 191 ticket packages he presented to fans for a two-day experience at the track. He also gave away 600 grandstands seats to anyone who purchased a single item from his merchandise store. O’Ward is from Monterrey, Mexico, but grew up in San Antonio and considers Texas Motor Speedway his home track.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press





 

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