2008 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK Fittipaldi excited about return to Indianapolis; drivers predict intense competition INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 9, 2008 -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi returned to...
2008 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK
Fittipaldi excited about return to Indianapolis; drivers predict intense competition
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 9, 2008 -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi returned to Indianapolis Wednesday for his tour of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in the new Chevrolet Corvette Z06 E85 concept Pace Car, which he will drive while leading the 2008 Indianapolis 500 field to the green flag on Race Day, May 25.
In addition to media interviews at the Indianapolis 500 Media Tour, Fittipaldi took members of the media on "hot laps" around the Speedway.
Fittipaldi came to the United States in 1984 after championships in Formula One (1972, 1974) and started a new career in American open-wheel racing, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and 1993. It started a focus in his home country of Brazil on Indy, and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Vitor Meira and several other Brazilians are among the favorites to win the "500" this year.
Fittipaldi said adjusting to oval racing was a major challenge. When he ran his first oval race, at Phoenix International Raceway, he said it was the most traffic he had ever seen in a race.
"I was surprised," he said. "The learning curve was very difficult but at the same time, it was a challenge for me. Then later I got with the right teams with Patrick and Penske.
"The first time I came to the Speedway, A.J. Foyt took me around in a golf cart and showed me what to do and what not to do."
The Corvette Z06 E85 concept Pace Car is powered by high-octane, environmentally-friendly E85 fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is derived from a variety of crops grown across the United States. Fittipaldi has been a leading refiner of ethanol in Brazil for more than 30 years.
A deeper field: Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon said they expect the former Champ Car teams that recently joined the IndyCar Series to be contenders by Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
"The first run I had here in 2004 was incredibly strong," Wheldon said. "Newman/Haas/ Lanigan and KV (Racing) will be incredibly strong. If you're a touch off, you might have been able to get away with it in the past couple years but you won't be able to this year."
Dixon said he expects the list of candidates for a "500" victory to be lengthy.
"With the field this year, you're not going to have five or six cars which can win, you're going to have 10 or 12," he said. "With the '500,' you run the whole month and it's one day. You put so much effort into it. So much of it is out of your grasp. You can get taken out by a lapped car or have a blown engine or anything. But it ("500") happens early in the season. If you win, it gives you momentum for the rest of the season. If you don't, you get more determined."
Cheever joins the Indy 500 broadcast team: Eddie Cheever, the 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, will be in the broadcast booth with Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear on Race Day, ABC/ESPN officials announced today.
"I watched TV as a child and I wanted to know what the drivers were like, what they were doing," Cheever said. "This race is about the drivers. With Scotty, I hope to be able to add color to the '500.'"
The 92nd Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast on ABC at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday, May 25.
Bernoldi enjoying 'family' reunion in IndyCar Series: Brazilian Enrique Bernoldi competed in the 2001 F-1 race at Indy, but will be back racing against some childhood competitors when he makes his first appearance at the Speedway for Conquest Racing.
"I remember watching the Indy 500 and watching Emerson (Fittipaldi) win here," he said. "This will be the fastest speed ever in my life. At Hockenheim, you reach that speed, but just for a second. On an oval, you stay over 200 miles an hour all the time. I wasn't used to it (at Homestead). It was a new sensation for me and it wasn't easy for me in the beginning.
"But I'm enjoying it even more because I'm racing with guys I raced against 15 years ago. In fact, in St. Petersburg in the rain, it was Tony (Kanaan), me and Helio (Castroneves) at one point and I thought, 'Hey, we've done this before'--me, Tony, Helio, Vitor (Meira), Bruno (Junqueira)."
Panther saluting true heroes with "Hero Card:" Many racing teams produce "hero cards" for their drivers to sign at autograph sessions. For 2008, the card that Panther Racing's Vitor Meira will sign will be a "Hero card" in every sense of the word.
Members of the the Indiana National Guard were out in strength Wednesday as Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes, Meira and Major General Martin Umbarger, Adjutant General of the Indiana National Guard, announced a special program.
Meira's hero card will feature his likeness and the No. 4 Panther Racing car, sponsored by the Army National Guard, on one side and an honored guardsman from every state on the other. When SSG Patrick Shannon of Indianapolis was announced as the Indiana hero card honoree, everyone in the building -- media tour attendees included -- stood and applauded.
Shannon was injured in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in his third deployment and received the bronze star with valor.
"I just feel honored to be out there and representing the Indiana National Guard, said Shannon. "I also appreciate everyone who helped my wife and I."
Meira, who has yet to win in IndyCar Series competition but has compiled an impressive eight runner-up and 50 top-10 finishes in 78 career starts, is optimistic about May.
"I'm always sn/real excited to be here for the '500,'" he said. "I finished second in 2005. If you have a good car and do things correctly, you have a chance. The more you live this race and the history of it, the more you learn and it becomes really important to you. We've proved eight times that we can do it. I always see this as a positive. It's a matter of time.
"Every year (at Indy) I feel this way. It grows on you. You see peoples' lives are in this and you keep carrying their dreams with you. If I'm waiting, it's going to be something really good. And if it comes, it's going to be really, really special.
IndyCar Series "odd couple" getting along just fine: They couldn't be more different in upbringing, but Darren Manning reports that his working relationship with legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt is going just fine.
Manning, who will drive the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises entry at Indianapolis for the second year, is an affable native of North Yorkshire, England. His boss, a native of Houston, Texas, is famously known for his "tell-it-like-it-is" persona.
"It's actually a pretty good combination," Manning said. "I'm kind of entertaining him as much as he's entertaining me. It's great fun. Never a dull moment. You go to the garage here and there's always people around. It's informative. It's one of the best places to be here."
Manning said that he and the team spent much of 2007 learning how to better communicate and work together.
"A lot of the big parts last year were A.J. having to get the best out of me and me having to get the best out of the team. They got me a new car for Indy last year and we're going to use it again this year with all new components."
Perera ready to take first oval experience to Indy: While IndyCar Series veteran Scott Dixon took the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29, Conquest Racing driver Franck Perera considered his 14th-place finish a "victory," given his steep oval-racing learning curve after recently joining the IndyCar Series along with other Champ Car veterans.
"Homestead was different for the rookies," Perera said. "I was able to finish second among the Champ Car drivers. It was good for the team and myself, and for the next ovals.
"Two hours and 200 laps is a lot. Now, this (Indianapolis 500) is even longer. In the IndyCars, you're completely flat and it was really difficult for me. At that speed so often and so close to other cars, those are difficult things to do. The way drivers do this in America is so much different than in Europe and I want to continue my career here."
Indy's gaining in Spain: Oriol Servia will attempt to become only the second Spaniard to make a "500" field, following the late Fermin Velez' first start in 1996. Servia said interest in Spain is gaining.
"When Fermin did it, it got some exposure," he said. "Since I came to the U.S. in 1998, interest has been increasing (in Spain). Now, there are a lot of expectations back there.
Servia tried to make the field in 2002 with Walker Racing but did not qualify.
"It's always been a big race," Servia said. "Even when I was a kid, I followed Indy. I think it has more following than your (NFL) Super Bowl back home. Indianapolis, if you come here once or 100 times, it always impresses you."
His teammate with KV Racing Technology, Australian Will Power, ran an oval with Champ Car at Milwaukee before his IndyCar Series debut at Homestead.
"I really enjoyed Milwaukee because it was different than what I had been doing all my life," Power said. "A couple of years ago, I came here and went to the museum, watched the video and took the bus ride."
Power joins veteran Ryan Briscoe as Australians listed on entries.
"With two Australians in the series, it's going to get a lot more coverage," Power said. "And it's live on TV down there, so a lot more people are going to know about it."
Rahal giving another rookie a chance: Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, will have two rookies bidding for starting spots with the announcement that Alex Lloyd to join Ryan Hunter-Reay as teammates. Lloyd is under a driver development contract with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, but Rahal approached Ganassi about the idea of running Lloyd at the Indianapolis 500 in a joint effort.
In announcing that Lloyd had been named to the No. 16 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry, Rahal said: "This may be the greatest rookie class in the history of the race."
Ganassi replied quickly, "I'm going to have to disagree. 1982 was better."
Everyone laughed. Both Ganassi and Rahal were rookie drivers at Indianapolis in 1982.
As for Lloyd, the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion, it is a chance to move up.
"I got to grips with the ovals in Indy Lights," Lloyd said. "You need to be patient and not as aggressive as on a road course. Now, ovals are a lot of fun and I would miss them if I was told I couldn't do them any more. I'm thrilled. I must thank Chip, Mike Hull (Ganassi team managing director) and Bobby for putting this together. I'm excited to move up and see what we can do in the greatest race in the world."
Ironically, Rahal's son, Graham, will be a candidate for 2008 Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the Year honors, but he will compete in a car fielded by Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
"I'll try to impart the wisdom of taking every day one at a time," Rahal said of his two Rahal Letterman Racing. "I'll give them everything I know. Graham's career is his career, not mine. If he beats us, I'll congratulate him. For Graham, I always felt it was better for his own sense of credibility to drive for somebody else. He earned the opportunity with Newman/Haas and he's seen in a different light than if he were driving for me. Maybe after he's 30 and his credibility is well established, he can drive for me."