Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Barber Open Test sets stage for 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season
2. If you missed it: Graham Rahal teleconference
3. Newgarden to race for Sam Schmidt Motorsports
1. Barber Open Test sets stage for 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season: IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights teams continue preparations for the season with an Open Test March 14-16 at Barber Motorsports Park.
IZOD IndyCar Series teams will be on the 2.38-mile circuit March 14-15. Firestone Indy Lights teams will be on the track March 16, and Star Mazda cars will have track time each day.
Twenty-four IZOD IndyCar Series driver/car combinations are expected to participate, including former Champ Car title-winner Sebastien Bourdais, two-time IZOD IndyCar Series starter Sebastian Saavedra and Oriol Servia, who was on the sidelines last year.
"When we have these Open Tests, what it does is make it way more competitive because everyone has a good setup," said Verizon Team Penske driver Will Power, who won five races in 2010 on the way to a runner-up finish in the series championship. "I know that track well and I know what the car should feel like so any things we need to develop we should get a read on it. The circuit itself is one of the most technical tracks we go to. With a smooth, fast line and the complexes of corners, you have to give some to get some somewhere else. It can be tough to pass, but we proved last year you can pass."
Teammate Helio Castroneves won the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series event at the track in Birmingham, Ala., last April, holding off two-time series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing by 0.5703 of a second. The first four races of the IZOD IndyCar Series will be competed on road/street courses, including the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10.
"It's always good to test at a track you'll race at to get those finer details down," Power added.
Servia is looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the No. 02 Newman/Haas entry for the two days (10 hours) of testing.
"I will have my first real taste for the Barber course at the test," said Servia, who tested with the team in December at Sebring International. "I am really happy that spring training is taking place here so I will have chance to learn before we come back for the race.
"We do have a lot to accomplish at this test. The season gets really busy quickly and it will be important to find the best car setup to ensure we can be competitive right away. I haven't raced in a year so the more miles I can do the better. This year, there are more cars and it will be more competitive than ever. It will be great for the fans and extremely challenging for all of us. I expect the tightest field we have ever seen in the IZOD IndyCar Series. After having a year off, I have never been so ready to work as hard to achieve our goals."
An oval Open Test will be conducted May 9-10 at Kentucky Speedway before the first oval race of the season -- the Indianapolis 500.
2: If you missed it: Graham Rahal teleconference: IZOD IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal participated in a teleconference today to preview the Barber Open Test and the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Serie seasons. Below are selected quotes from the call. A full transcript and MP3 audio of the call is available at www.indycar.com/media.
Q. This off-season has been pretty eventful for you. Obviously you signed with a new team, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, went out in January and won the Rolex 24 with Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Scott Pruett. How excited are you to get the chance to get behind the wheel of a Ganassi car?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it feels like it's a long time coming now. For me, since announcing it I guess in early December, knowing about the deal far before then, it feels like it's been a long time. There's a lot of anticipating, anxiety growing to get out in the car, get running for the first time.
Charlie (Kimball) has had a couple of tests. Our side of the team is up and running, so to speak. So I'm excited to get out in the car for the first time. I think it's been a really good start to the year for the whole Service Central group, the Ganassi group in general. So I'm looking forward to getting out there for the first time beginning of next week.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the Barber test. How important is it for you to go out there and have a good test knowing you're going to be back at that track for a race in a few weeks?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's important for us to have a good test. But I think it's more important for us to have a good test because that's going to be our only test before the start of the season. We haven't done any running yet. Certainly before St. Petersburg we need to make sure all systems are go and the car's running well. Certainly not only do you focus on that, but we're going to be back at Barber only a couple weeks after that.
It's important for us to make sure that we have a really successful test because we need to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts, not only for the Barber race, but St. Pete, which is a week and a half afterwards.
There's a lot of stuff on our plate, a lot of stuff we need to get through. We've already looked over the test plan. It's going to be a busy couple of days for us. Actually, the testing time is fairly limited. It's only a few sets of tires a day. We can blow through those pretty quickly. So we need to be a little cautious.
Q. You mentioned having a busy couple days at the test. I know Service Central has been keeping you busy the last few weeks with some appearances. Talk a little bit about Service Central, their involvement with you. You're in Gainesville for the NHRA race, but you've been doing other appearances, as well.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Absolutely. First, it started off, Service Central sponsors a TV show called Beyond the Battlefield. In essence what we did is we went to a lodge in Dublin, Georgia, we took a couple of war veterans, one of which his convoy had been blown up in Iraq. He showed us a lot of videos, footage, stuff like that. Pretty intense what they'd gone through.
Both of the guys, Steve and Tracy, are both fantastic guys. We had a lot of fun. We went quail hunting, did some things I'd never done before. I've never hunted before. I can tell you, it was a lot of fun. We certainly hope they have us back on more shows because it was really good.
One of the cool things is that Service Central is based in West Palm, and right there is the Honda Classic every year, which is kind of fitting that Honda is also the sponsor of our series. I was fortunate enough to play in the ProAm. It was a lot of fun. I played with Nick Price. For those of you who know anything about golf, you know who Nick Price is. He was just an awesome guy. We won the ProAm, so that was a lot of fun. He was a great guy, extremely talkative, extremely friendly, very open about information. I mean, we just had a really good time overall playing with him.
Of course, winning was great. I have a nice trophy to show for it, so that was good fun.
Then we're here this weekend at the Gator Nationals, which I think is really the start of our season as a team, as a Service Central racing team. They sponsor this event. As we just talked about, St. Pete is not too far from here, only a couple of weeks away. So it's really kind of kicking it all off this weekend, so it's an important event for them.
3. Newgarden to race for Sam Schmidt Motorsports: Josef Newgarden will return to race in his home country after signing with Sam Schmidt Motorsports for the full Firestone Indy Lights season.
"I am thrilled to be joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports at this important stage of my career," said the 20-year-old native of Nashville, Tenn.
"I felt that Sam's organization would give me the best chance to be competitive this season; hopefully scoring race wins and competing for the championship. Sam has made me feel very welcome in his team and I really appreciate that. Now, I just can't wait for St. Pete to get on the racetrack."
Newgarden, the first American to win at England's famed Formula Ford Festival, has spent the past two seasons racing in Europe in British Formula Ford, Formula Palmer Audi and GP3. He will drive the No. 11 car.
"I have been watching Josef's career closely for the last four seasons and I thought we had lost another great American prospect to the European system," team owner Sam Schmidt said. "However, I believe the level of competition in those series will only strengthen his ability to perform in the U.S. going forward. We are very much looking forward to the opportunity of developing and promoting this young star into the IZOD IndyCar Series."
Newgarden's program will receive associate sponsorship from Robo-Pong, an interactive ping-pong robot that he uses as part of a daily conditioning program. The FIA Foundation's MAKE ROADS SAFE campaign for global road safety will also be featured on Newgarden's car.
The progam is dear to Newgarden, who adopted the cause after his Formula Ford team owner, Joe Tandy, was killed in a road accident in the UK.
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.