IndyCar Birmingham test report 2011-03-15

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Birmingham Open Test

TEAM PENSKE'S CASTRONEVES LEADS FINAL DAY OF BARBER OPEN TEST

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tuesday, March 15, 2011) - Even a spin and trip through the gravel couldn't slow down Helio Castroneves.

The Team Penske driver bettered his best lap time by more than a half-second in the final session to top the two-day IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park course.

Castroneves' best lap (his 48th of 52) of 1 minute, 11.943 seconds in the No. 3 Team Penske car was the quickest of the 24 cars to participate in the lone Open Test before the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next week.

Will Power, who led Day 1 of the test, was second-quickest with a lap of 1:11.9636 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car during the first of the day's two practice sessions. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Newman/Haas Racing's Oriol Servia rounded out the top five.

The IZOD IndyCar Series will open the 2011 season on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The series returns to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 11.

DAY 2 NOTEBOOK:

Watching the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park stirred memories for Felipe Giaffone, though he's content being on the other side of pit wall.

Giaffone has been renewing acquaintances and making new ones this week in his capacity as an analyst for Rede Bandeirantes' (Band TV) coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series races. The Brazilian network, founded in 1967, will broadcast all races live from the venues this season, broadening its commitment.

"Band is very excited about INDYCAR and they're putting a lot of money and more effort into the broadcasts," said Giaffone, who will work with Luciano do Valle in the booth. "Contributing to the broadcasts comes easy for me, and I pretty much know what's happening even though it's been awhile since I've been in the car. I've talked to a lot of people already so I feel prepared."

Giaffone recorded a victory at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 the same year in 61 IZOD IndyCar Series races between 2001 and 2006 with four teams. He also competed in Indy Lights.

At age 36, his racing career isn't over. Giaffone, whose father was the 1987 Stock Car Brazil champion, is a two-time champion and current points leader in the Formula Truck series in Brazil. Yes, they race truck tractors.

"Racing semi trucks is very popular in Brazil and my family runs the stock car (racing) business so I'm pretty much every weekend working somewhere," he said. "I also do all the official testing for the stock car series. I'm busy driving and I enjoy it a lot."

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Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti made two requests of George Barber, whose vision for a world-class motorsports facility has been realized in his hometown, during a preview for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

"I asked him if the curbs could stand out more when they paint them -- red and white as opposed to gray and white," he said. "I also told him I wouldn't mind borrowing the guy who cuts his grass because he does a hell of a job. If my wife sees what he's doing here, planting trees and stuff, it will be very expensive for me. It's a pretty special place."

The IZOD IndyCar Series, which concluded its two-day Open Test at the park-like facility, returns April 8-10 for the race weekend that will blossom into the biggest event in the state, according to Gene Hallman, president of ZOOM Motorsports (the exclusive event promoter for Barber Motorsports Park).

Already, the contract for the event has been extended one year through 2013.

More than 85,000 spectators attended last year, with corporate support and ticket sales up this year leading into the second race on the series' calendar. Hallman attributed much of it to INDYCAR's increasing popularity and the entertaining show put on last April, plus the organization's due diligence in seeking improvements in the fan experience.

"If INDYCAR were a publicly traded stock, I'd buy it now," Hallman said. "The news it's generated in the last year is exciting, and it presents more than a great racing spectacle.

"We had more than 3,000 respondents to an online survey of ticket buyers and then proceeded to do focus groups of spectators and followed up with visits to all our corporate sponsors. We then internally compiled all our notes and put it into a thick document that we're referring to on a continual basis.

"The general sentiment was a resounding success, but there are areas to improve."

A PA system upgrade, larger video boards and additional parking shuttles have been and will be addressed. A Ferris wheel will tower over the backstretch. The interactive INDYCAR Fan Village will set up shop nearby.

"We wanted to hear the feedback and want to make it better," Hallman continued. "This park was built with the spectator in mind and is about perfection. We know we'll never achieve perfection, but we'll make it as comfortable for our fans as possible. It was also built with the promoter in mind to make refinements, to adjust accordingly and move things. It is a canvas to paint on to make it better."

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Team owner Chip Ganassi is nominated for Executive of the Year and Chip Ganassi Racing is among the nominees for Team of the Year in the Sports Business Journal Awards to be presented May 18 in New York.

Ganassi's racing operations won the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series and Grand-Am championships in addition to the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. It added the Rolex 24 At Daytona title in late January.

"It's great to be recognized for all the hard work the teams put in," Ganassi said. "You have to remember that motorsports is one of those businesses that as great a year that 2010 was, and it was an unbelievable year and one that any car owner dreams about, that was last year and this is this year. It's a zero-based game.

"We're starting back at zero and the points are all tied for all the championships. It's a new year and no one is going to forget about last year faster than our competitors that want to beat us. It's going to be a lot of hard work and to accomplish anything close to what we did last year, but that's why we are back here. That's the kind of challenge that we like and what attracts us to the sport -- the challenge."

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Mike Conway's test came to an early end when his No. 27 Andretti Autosport car made contact with the tire barriers early in the morning session.

Conway, whose team had been practicing live pit stops, lost control of his car after the team put on a new set of tires to begin its test day.

"The car handled a little differently than it did yesterday, and it just caught me out," Conway said. "I got on the grass coming out of (Turn) 15 and it was so wet, it took me straight into the barrier. It's a shame, but fortunately, it's just a test day."

Panther Racing rookie JR Hildebrand missed the full day of testing after the team determined his car could not be repaired at the track.

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For a rookie driver like Josef Newgarden, watching IZOD IndyCar Series cars testing at Barber Motorsports may have seemed like he was a kid waiting for Christmas Day.

The young American is one of 12 drivers - and nine of whom are rookies -- who will participate in the

Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 16.

While he spent the day wandering the pit lane, he's ready to take the first step in becoming an IZOD IndyCar Series driver by driving his own car.

"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow and getting in the car and learning this track," said Newgarden, who will drive the No. 11 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

While Newgarden is a newcomer to the series, Gustavo Yacaman is the most experienced driver in the championship, even though he just turned 20 a few weeks ago.

"Preseason testing has gone really well and we've improved the car every time we've been out this winter," said Yacaman, who will drive the No. 2 car for Team Moore Racing in 2011. "I don't see why we can't be quickest tomorrow. It's the first official event of the season and it's good to scare everyone before the first race."

By scaring the competition, Yacaman hopes to show he has the speed to be considered the favorite to win not only his first race, but also the Firestone Firehawk Cup and the series championship.

"This is the year that I have to get things done," Yacaman said. "I have two years in the series. I know the cars, I know the tracks and I know the league. I have the best team, the best engineer and the best car. I have everything behind me. It's up to me to get it done."

DAY 2 QUOTES:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, fastest of the day): "I was expecting something different from the car because it kept changing throughout the day based on the track. I was expecting the car was going to push but it went the opposite way. The good news is that nothing was damaged. The field is so competitive; we have some new teams up at the top giving us a hard time. Also my teammates, they are two great talents - Ryan (Briscoe) and Will (Power) - pushing each other but I'm glad we were able to put the No. 3 up at the top at the end of the day."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske): "This was a really good couple of days of testing and our Verizon car was very good. We did a lot of work and learned tons of valuable information about our car here at Barber. Today we practiced pit stops, which are every bit as important as speed on the track with how tight the competition is in this series. I am definitely ready to get this season started."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "Team Target had a good couple of days with lots of big and good changes. The No. 9 Target Honda has been decent, remaining in the top-3 both days. We're just going through the motions and making necessary adjustments before we start the season in St. Pete."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 IZOD Team Penske): "It was a really good couple of days here at Barber for the No. 6 IZOD Team Penske car. We are very happy with the car we finished with today. We even did a long run, which compromised our chance to do a sticker tire run for time, but we did a lot of great race prep and we should be in good shape for the race here in a few weeks. This is an exciting track and I'm very happy to be back in an IndyCar."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 02 Newman/Haas Racing): "I'm so happy! Obviously it's great to be in the top-five, but I'm just so happy. When you are running in the top-five, there is a reason. I felt good in the car, with the team. I was a blast when I looked at the scoring board an hour before the end and we were one and two. That's the way Newman/Haas has always been, and that's the way it has to be and it just felt great that we got there with two days of testing. There is still a lot to come from myself and the car. We progressed big stages to get where we are and there is still more. I feel very happy; everybody is super motivated. James was super helpful all day yesterday and today with him knowing the track and I really hope we can be teammates. The two cars worked together really well and we made a lot of progress together. I'm very happy with the team and myself. When you are a year out of the car, of course you still think you can drive but it is just so great knowing it is true."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 06 Newman/Haas Racing): "We made more progress today which was great. I was personally a little surprised with the pace we had yesterday; I wasn't quite expecting it. I woke up this morning hoping it wasn't some sort of flash in the pan. Luckily, we ran quick this morning; I think we were fourth quick behind the Penske boys and this afternoon the focus was going to be a little more on some longer runs. We did one new tire run which was good and put us right at the top for that time of day. And then I had a little moment on track again which ruined another set of tires, so it compromised the strategy a little bit for the rest of the day. That was it for new tire runs. We went back out to get some long runs in for the first race. We know we can run quick on a set of sticker tires so we need to see what we can do over a stint."

MARCO ANDRETTI, #26 TEAM VENOM "I think we improved the Venom car today - we found a couple positive changes, but others are making bigger jumps than us. This is IndyCar racing and it's competitive so we'll keep reviewing our notes and be as ready as we can for St. Pete in a couple weeks."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 Z-Line Designs): "It was an up and down couple of days. We had times when we were quick and times where we struggled a little bit. I think that we need to go back and analyze all of those changes. We got lots of information and we need to make sure that we pick out the good ones. It's just part of testing, you can't always be quick at the right time. We were pretty good on old tires so that's encouraging and we found some things there. We just need to go and continue to work hard."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop): "We've got some questions we need answered in the data. We're not happy with it yet. We made some gains, but right now the car is just a little too loose. The sweet spot for getting the lap time we want is just a little too small for us right now. We just need to look at some things and we will, and we will come back prepared. I'm just really looking forward to getting to the street circuit in St. Pete."

MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 Team Andretti Autosport): "I was braking into turns 14 and 15; the rear got very, very loose. I corrected it once, corrected in twice, but the second time the rear just kissed the grass and that was it. With the wet grass, it just went straight off. It's disappointing because we had a lot to get through today. I feel sorry for the guys; it's a shame. But, I think we got through some good stuff here yesterday, so hopefully we'll come back here strong."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com): "Another good test day for the GoDaddy.com car. We were able to build on the data that we collected from yesterday's sessions and found some more speed today. We still have work to do, but I believe we have a solid starting point. As I said yesterday, any amount of track time we can get is beneficial."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 HVM Racing): "We didn't end the day like we wanted to, but we made a couple changes near the end of the day and we're definitely starting to figure it out. We'll make the right changes and be good for the first race in St. Pete."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "I think we struggled from the moment we got here. Scott has been fine and we need to work on our setup. It's up to myself and the engineers on the Target team to get this figured out. We'll go back to the drawing board. They put a lot of tires in the right places since last time I crashed here so I'm thankful they took our advice from a safety standpoint. Thanks to Mr. Barber and everyone here and I look forward to coming back for the race."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing): "Overall, really good day for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing. The No. 38 Service Central Honda ran great, we just didn't get to have a new tire run there at the end. We're looking forward to starting the season."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Levemir and Novolog FlexPen): "Today was another productive day for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. We ran a lot of miles, made a lot of changes today and continued to make progress in the No. 83 Levemir FlexPen and NovoLog Honda. We're ready to head to St. Pete."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 B&W Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "It was a good test for us, overall, and I think we learned a lot this afternoon. There were some pretty interesting things that came out of it for us that are going to be really valuable for St. Petersburg. This morning, we tried something and we were obviously pretty out to lunch. But we recovered this afternoon with a much faster car. I went quicker right away on old tires, which was a good sign. It was an indication that our afternoon was going to be good. After that, we did some more trials on some different things. Some worked, some didn't. And by the end, when we decided to do our new tire run, we did a 12.8 on old tires, I thought we could end up in the top-five or the top-six, but things got crazy out there with a couple of yellows, and we ran out of time without the chance to lay down that lap that I felt we had in the car. It's a shame because it's always good to put a good lap time on the board. But we come out of this test with a lot of information and good knowledge about what to do and what not to do. I think we learned what kind of a car we're going to need when we come back here and our weekend will be more about fine-tuning rather than changing the car a lot. And, I feel we're a lot more ready for St. Pete."

ANA BEATRIZ (No. 24 Ipiranga): "I think it was a very productive two days for me to understand the circuit, it's a very hard track for me. We improved a lot from yesterday and I think we could have gone a little bit faster, but it can always be like that. The most important thing is that we improved a lot and I think that is very good."

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The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 12:30 p.m. (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season opens on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 27.

-source: indycar

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Series INDYCAR
Tags barber motorsport, birmingham, castroneves, indycar, penske racing