Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. IZOD IndyCar Series fields to be capped at 26 cars
2. INDYCAR adds fan-friendly features at track, re-launches INDYCAR Nation
3. Sam Schmidt Motorsports adds Guerrieri to driver lineup
1. IZOD IndyCar Series fields to be capped at 26 cars: In an effort to provide more consistency across its events this season, INDYCAR announced that it will cap starting fields at a maximum of 26 cars for all IZOD IndyCar Series races, excluding the Indianapolis 500 and the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
During those 15 race weekends, 24 starting spots will be filled through qualifications based on time, with two provisional positions available if needed.
"This new procedure will ensure that our fans see the best drivers and teams in every race we stage, while adding more drama to the qualifying process," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for INDYCAR. "Many of the tracks we compete at can only accommodate a maximum of 26 cars and that is our limit when traveling to overseas events, so those two factors are what really helped us land on this number. We feel that a consistent starting line-up number will help our tracks and teams better prepare for events, improve conditions on pit road and elevate the level of competition on track."
The two provisional spots will be available to drivers not making the field after the completion of qualifying. The provisionals will be assigned based the following criteria (in order):
· 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series champion driver.
· 2009 IZOD IndyCar Series champion driver.
· 2010 Indianapolis 500 champion driver.
· Highest-ranking driver among the current top-22 driver point standings prior to race weekend.
· Leader Circle entry with the best practice lap time at the event, as deemed acceptable by INDYCAR.
· Entry with next best qualifying lap time, as deemed acceptable by INDYCAR.
The Indianapolis 500 will maintain its traditional 33-car starting field. The field at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be expanded to 30 to accommodate additional entries participating in the $5 million challenge. The 30-car field includes two provisional starting positions based on the standard criteria.
Provisional spots will not be available for the IZOD IndyCar Series events at Sao Paulo and Twin Ring Motegi, but the field will have up to 26 cars at both races. INDYCAR will determine at its discretion the procedure by which non-Leader's Circle teams are selected to travel to and participate in these two events.
2. INDYCAR adds fan-friendly features at track, re-launches INDYCAR Nation: It takes a village to attract and grow the masses, which is what INDYCAR's racetrack fan initiatives are addressing for 2011.
An interactive INDYCAR Fan Village and garage area stage, plus additional large infield video screens will entertain and inform spectators at IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights race weekends. Combined with fans as young as 9 years old having the opportunity to go behind the scenes, the re-launch of INDYCAR Nation and the complimentary ticket program to the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships, the sport will instantly jump on the fan- and family-friendly meter.
The INDYCAR Fan Village -- in cooperation with series partners IZOD, Verizon, National Guard, Mattel Hot Wheels and Honda - will showcase the latest communications products from Verizon, a social media network lounge, opportunities to test skills on iRacing.com simulators, Q&A and autograph sessions with the current stars and Indy car racing legends, photo opportunities with a "green screen" background, and redemption of IZOD INDYCAR World Championship tickets.
A stage in the garage area will allow fans to chat with IZOD IndyCar Series and Holmatro Safety team officials, along with drivers and team principals to address race preparations. Youngsters will benefit from both initiatives. INDYCAR is working with each of its racetrack partners to allow minors to hold garage passes during event weekends for the opportunity to see the stars and preparation of cars up close.
"Our current fan base became fans of our sport by attending races with their parents, and we want to keep that tradition alive with the next generation," INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said. "One of the greatest assets we have in enhancing the fan experience at the racetrack is access to our garage. We want our fans to get close to the action and excitement that defines the IZOD IndyCar Series.
"We are trying to make our events more family-friendly and allowing minor access to the garage is a great way to accomplish this."
From their seats, spectators will receive racing information such as leaderboard changes, pit times and lap times via 12-foot-tall video panels suspended 37 feet off the ground and supplemented by an increased number of portable video screens. Also, IZOD IndyCar Series drivers will be introduced before the race individually by country.
At the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village and at home, fans will have the opportunity to further enhance their experience by joining INDYCAR Nation. The fan community is comprised of a two-tiered system: The Rookie level (free) featuring exclusive stories, videos, fan polls and contests and the Championship (pay) level, which also includes exclusive member benefits such as discounts and offers from sponsors, merchandise specials, tickets and credentials, pace car and two-seater rides, travel packages and more.
3. Sam Schmidt Motorsports adds Guerrieri to driver lineup:Esteban Guerrieri, who won six races in the 2010 World Series by Renault, will compete in Firestone Indy Lights this season for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
"Well, coming to race in the U.S. is a big change of direction in my racing career," said Guerrieri, 26, of Argentina. "I take it as a new big challenge for myself. I want to learn as much as I can from every single new experience, and I am with the right team to do that. Sam Schmidt Motorsports' record speaks for itself. I am looking forward for the season to kick-start with many test days during the coming weeks and the first race at St. Pete at the end of the month."
Sam Schmidt Motorsports has produced four Firestone Indy Lights champions and has visited Victory Lane 37 times.
"Esteban knows the feeling of winning, and there's nothing like it," team owner Sam Schmidt said. "We look forward to giving him a race car and team that will allow him to continue his winning ways."