Today’s IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Will Power joins Team Penske
2. Dollar General returns as sponsor of Sarah Fisher Racing
3. Drivers descend on Indianapolis for preseason meetings
1. Will Power joins Team Penske: Penske Racing announced that driver Will Power will join the Team Penske IndyCar Series program in preparation for the 2009 racing season.
Power, 27, a native of Toowoomba, Australia, will drive the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda during preseason test sessions.
The balance of the year's driving responsibilities for the No. 3 car, including the IndyCar Series season-opening race at St. Petersburg on April 5, will depend on the timing and outcome of Helio Castroneves' pending court case.
"We remain hopeful that Helio's situation will have a positive outcome and the team is fully behind him," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "While Helio prepares for his court case, we're excited to welcome Will Power to the team. Will has already proven that he's a terrific racer and we think he's going to be a good fit with Team Penske."
Power will work closely with fellow Aussie driver Ryan Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. In 2008, Power won on the streets of Long Beach in Champ Car's final race, and after joining the IndyCar Series he earned his first series pole in front of his home crowd at Surfers Paradise, Australia.
"It is a tremendous opportunity for me to join one of the best teams in all of racing," Power said. "I'm looking forward to the start of the season and assisting Team Penske in its preparation for 2009."
Beginning his rise up the open-wheel ranks by emerging as one of Australia's top young talents, Power also excelled in European competition. He produced strong performances in the British F3 and World Series by Renault championships before moving to the United States in 2005 to compete in the Champ Car World Series. He captured the series Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and claimed three wins and six pole positions in two-plus seasons.
"We support Helio Castroneves and Penske Racing's decision to allow Helio to focus on his upcoming court case," said Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations division of the sanctioning Indy Racing League. "Helio has played a significant role in the continued growth of the IndyCar Series on and off the racetrack. He is a true star in every sense of the word. His two Indianapolis 500 titles and 14 career IndyCar Series wins, combined with his infectious personality and widespread popularity, have made him a real fan favorite and we appreciate all he has done to promote the league.
"Few of us will forget his late-season charge in 2008 on eventual series champion Scott Dixon as he fell just short of his first IndyCar Series championship in Chicago after a dramatic last to first run. We wish Helio and Team Penske the best during this process and hope to see Helio competing for the championship in the near future."
2. Dollar General returns as sponsor of Sarah Fisher Racing: Dollar General will extend its sponsorship of Sarah Fisher Racing into 2009 by serving as the primary sponsor of the No. 67 Honda-powered Dallara for four races, one each at Kansas, Indianapolis, Kentucky and Chicago, driven by IndyCar Series owner/driver Sarah Fisher.
"Dollar General is excited about being a part of IndyCar racing for a second season by sponsoring Sarah Fisher in four races," said Rick Dreiling, Dollar General's Chairman and CEO. "We look forward to cheering for Sarah and SFR as her team continues to grow and succeed."
Dollar General sponsored SFR for two events in 2008 at Kentucky and Chicagoland Speedway, rounding out Fisher's first year as an owner of an IndyCar Series team.
"It has been a pleasure to work with Dollar General, and they have quickly become a great sponsor, as well as a trusted friend to the SFR team," Fisher said. "I enjoyed racing for them last year and am thrilled that they are back for four more races. With Dollar General behind us, we are planning on a very successful season."
Fisher opens her 2009 season with her fifth start at Kansas Speedway, which will be her first at the speedway as a team owner. Fisher returns to Indianapolis where she will attempt to set a women's record of eight starts in the 93-year-old race. Fisher is still the youngest and fastest female to ever qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Her return to Kentucky Speedway will also be her eighth appearance at the track, where she owns the track qualifying record. It was at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 that Fisher made history by becoming the first woman in the world to win the pole position for a major open-wheel race.
"Kansas Speedway will be a great start for us this year," Fisher said. "We began our 2008 season at Indianapolis, and to have the opportunity to be on track prior to Indy will be a great benchmark for our season."
The team hopes to expand from the team's three-race effort in 2008 to a six-race effort in 2009 and is in the contract stage with additional partners.
3. Drivers descend on Indianapolis for preseason meetings: The fourth floor of the media center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can accommodate more than 250 journalists. There was hardly an empty seat to be found Jan. 13 as IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers and team officials gathered for the annual preseason meeting with Indy Racing League officials.
Brian Barnhart, the league's president of competition and operations, kicked off a series of presentations by league and manufacturer representatives regarding continuing safety initiatives and technical packages.
While in Indianapolis, each driver also completed a comprehensive fitness examination, which included eye and audiology testing, bloodwork and a head-to-toe physical. An electrocardiogram and a 30-minute computer test that measures reaction time also were administered to get a baseline. Drivers also provided immunization records.
"The emphasis more is on getting driver physicals and paperwork completed before any preseason testing and Open Tests take place," Barnhart said. "The physicals used to rotate on an annual basis around the ‘500,' which made May so busy.
"Secondly, it gives us an opportunity with everyone in the room to explain any rulebook, operational or technical specification changes."
Preparations for the 2009 season also took place Jan. 10 when the Delphi Safety Team conducted its annual training session regarding how to approach different situations on the racetrack. Because of the IndyCar Series' and Firestone Indy Lights' diverse schedules, a one-approach-fits-all plan isn't prudent.
"We have to approach road courses different than we do ovals or street courses," said Mike Yates, the Indy Racing League's assistant track safety coordinator. "We used to have one tactical approach to a race car; everybody had a responsibility when they came off the truck. Guys who took a fire extinguisher or oil dry container to a scene now on a road course they might not need those but might need to just start the car. So they'll probably come off the truck with our electric starter and a quick jack. It might save the driver a lap or prevent a full-course yellow."
Every member of the 16-person race crew (firefighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses) assigned to one of four Honda vehicles also reviewed protocols, usage of the Holmatro rescue power tools, wrecker hookups and practiced driver extraction and stabilization.
"We wanted each person to go through each station four times - once as a crew leader, once as firefighter 1, once as firefighter 2 and then to the paramedic position," Yates said. "That way they get a better overall understanding of the scenarios. The more diverse our racing gets the more you have to keep on top of this stuff. Fortunately, we have really good and experienced people."
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.