Indy Racing League News and Notes 2008-04-03

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines 1. Transition drivers back to more comfortable setting 2. Mix of veterans, rookies ready for Firestone Indy Lights doubleheader weekend 3. Select quotes from Honda Grand Prix of St.

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Transition drivers back to more comfortable setting
2. Mix of veterans, rookies ready for Firestone Indy Lights doubleheader weekend
3. Select quotes from Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg media luncheon

1. Transition drivers back to more comfortable setting: The nine drivers transitioning to the IndyCar Series should feel a bit more comfortable this weekend. Gone is the wide open, side-by-side racing at 210 mph on a high-banked oval. Back is the quick acceleration and heavy braking on the twists and turns of a narrow street course.

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be a fresh opportunity for transitioning teams and drivers to measure themselves against the competition in the Honda-Dallara combination used by all cars in the IndyCar Series.

"I'm excited about going to St. Pete," said Oriol Servia, who finished 12th at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 29 to lead all of the transitioning drivers. "I think there's a little bit too high expectations for the transition guys just because it's our kind of track. At the end of the day, we're still fighting these big teams that know this car for five years. We're still quite a bit behind. The lap times we did at (an Open Test at) Sebring, what we learned in the car was very promising. At least we know in a street race, when we go soft at the front what it means to a car. Still we're here kind of guessing a lot."

Servia and Bruno Junqueira competed at St. Petersburg in 2003. Junqueira drove to a third-place finish with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing while Servia finished 12th driving for Patrick Racing. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who joined the IndyCar Series midway through the 2007 season, also competed at St. Petersburg that season, finishing 16th.

As for the teams, Conquest Racing and Dale Coyne Racing fielded cars in the 2003 race at St. Petersburg, finishing fourth and ninth, respectively. Hunter-Reay's current team, Rahal Letterman Racing, finished second in the inaugural race.

"On the road courses, I was very surprised (at the Open Test)," Junqueira said. "Oriol's time, even Will Power and my time, we were competitive to the (IndyCar Series) teams. So, let's see what happens in St. Pete. We'll still be a little bit behind, but closer."

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2. Mix of veterans, rookies ready for Firestone Indy Lights doubleheader weekend: When it comes to racing on the only temporary street circuit on the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights schedule, there is a mixed bag of experience.

Twelve rookies are entered in the event, while six-race veteran Marc Williams, who debuts with Integra Motorsports this weekend, also has never seen the circuit.

Of the drivers with experience on the track, only Chris Festa has started the five previous races, but that doesn't mean that the field lacks success at the track.

Raphael Matos scored his first two Firestone Indy Lights victories on the streets of St. Petersburg, sweeping the doubleheader in 2006 for Guthrie Racing. The AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing driver hopes to duplicate the feat this weekend.

"I won those two races back in 2006 so I want to see if history can repeat itself," Matos said. "We race twice this weekend. I cannot wait to race in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend."

Matos' teammate Arie Luyendyk Jr. finished second in his only start at St. Pete, while Jeff Simmons, who has never qualified worse than third on the 1.8-mile street course, returns to the series with Team Moore Racing. Team E's Bobby Wilson has also recorded a podium finish at St. Petersburg, finishing third in last year's race No. 2.

"Right now, my deal is just for this weekend, but we'll see what happens from there" said Simmons, whose last Firestone Indy Lights race was at St. Petersburg in 2006. "It's hard to say if the car feels different since it's been so long since I was in a (Firestone Indy Lights) car. I could tell that the aero was a lot more powerful than I remembered. But we had a different setup from the car I drove (Tuesday) then, so it's hard to compare."

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3. Select quotes from Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg media luncheon:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske): "It's a place that I enjoy very much. Since unification there are more cars on the racetrack, which can create a different strategy during a race like St. Pete, depending on yellows and other things like that. We need to keep doing our homework. As a team with a successful history at this track, we don't want to change too much because we want to keep winning."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "It's great to be back. It's important for me to do very well in this race because it is my home race. I want to do well just because of the home crowd support, and the last couple of years have been somewhat of a weak race for me. I think I finished seventh or eighth here the last couple of years (actually 9th and 16th) after a crash in practice right before qualifying last year and a bad qualifying the year before that. For me, it's important to do well. And to kick start your championship campaign, it's very important also to get as many points in the bag and really work on going all out for Indianapolis."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps): "We went to Sebring (this week), but it started to pour, so we only got about 16 laps in. It's going to be tough for us, but again this is just another race car. We keep telling ourselves that. In only 16 laps, our times were only about a second off the quickest of the (IndyCar Series) test, so i think we should be OK. I certainly don't expect to run first this weekend, but I think a top-five is a reasonable finish for us."

(About starting his first IndyCar Series race) "I'm looking forward to being part of this. It feels like it's been a long time coming. I know it's only been a couple of weeks, but we're really looking forward to it. It's going to be quite the challenge this weekend, but we should be there. I think qualifying is a good new format. If we can continue on through qualifying and get through the first couple of sessions, there's quite a bit of track time, so hopefully we can do that and get a little more familiar with these cars."

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc.): "It's a very special place for me. I'm hoping to keep my record here. We had a very successful test at Sebring last week. We were able to improve the car quite a lot and were quickest. There's a lot of things we learned at Sebring that we can translate to this track. It's also a very special place for Andretti Green. The whole team feels really, really good about this weekend. We're just expecting big things from this weekend. We definitely need to push on it, because we need to make up some of the points we lost in Homestead.

(About depth of the Firestone Indy Lights field) "It's definitely a deeper field this year. I would say there are probably six or seven guys in the field with a chance of winning races. The performance, at least for our team, is there. We just have to put all the pieces together and do a good job in qualifying, try to start up front and keep your nose clean."

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 6 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast in High Definition live at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 5-6 with a doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg. The race will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) on April 10 by ESPN2.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Oriol Servia , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Will Power , Chris Festa , Bobby Wilson , Dale Coyne , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Williams , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Conquest Racing , Dale Coyne Racing