Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Mutoh returns to series for Motegi
2. Rice, Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka team up with Panther for Kentucky, Vegas
3. INDYCAR return at Auto Club Speedway set for Sept. 2012
1. Mutoh returns to series for Motegi: Hideki Mutoh will drive the No. 17 Honda Formula Dream AFS/SSM car in the Indy Japan: The Final on the road course at Twin Ring Motegi next week.
Mutoh, a Tokyo native who has made 52 IZOD IndyCar Series starts, will team up with Alex Tagliani, who drives the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
"I am really looking forward to working with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Motegi," said Mutoh, who has competed in Super GT this year. "Though this is only one race, it means a lot to me to be able to race in front of my home crowd again. This has been a tough year for Japan and I hope we can bring some excitement to the many fans.
"I am determined to do well and put up a strong performance for the team. It will also help having Alex Tagliani as a teammate and I really cannot wait to get started."
Mutoh, the 2008 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, has a high finish of second at Iowa Speedway in two seasons with then-Andretti Green Racing. He produced eight top-10 finishes in 17 races in 2009. Last year, he competed in all 17 events with Newman/Haas Racing. Mutoh was the Firestone Indy Lights championship runner-up in 2007.
The No. 17 car is a joint entry between SSM and AFS Racing, which is owned by Gary Petersen. Martin Plowman drove the car to 12th- and 11th-place finishes in the past two events -- on the Infineon Raceway road course and the Baltimore street circuit.
"I'm thrilled we're able to give Hideki Mutoh the opportunity to get into an IndyCar this season," Schmidt said. "After showing so much promise in the series last season, and being able to compete at a circuit he has experience at, I can't wait to see what he can do on the road course at Motegi."
2. Rice, Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka team up with Panther for Kentucky, Vegas: Buddy Rice will return to Panther Racing in the No. 44 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka entry for the IZOD IndyCar Series races at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion ended a two-plus-year series hiatus in May, making his first career start for Panther in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 (qualified seventh; finished 18th). He will team with JR Hildebrand, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader, who drives the No. 4 National Guard car.
"Everybody at Panther is extremely excited to have Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka and a champion like Buddy Rice back with us for the last two races of the season," team managing partner and CEO John Barnes said. "Those guys bring so much to this team and we owe Buddy and Fuzzy's Vodka a ton of credit for the success we had this year at Indianapolis, and we feel we've put together a race-winning package for both Kentucky and Las Vegas.
"Buddy worked so well with JR in May and I'm glad they'll get the opportunity to work together again because I can't ever remember a pair of teammates working together as well as those two did at Indianapolis."
The IZOD INDYCAR World Championship on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be Rice's 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start. The Phoenix resident has three victories and was a career-high third in the championship standings in '04.
"I'm just excited to be back at Panther Racing and thankful that Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka has made it possible for us to run some more races together," Rice said. "Like I said before we ran Indianapolis, I've had a lot of chances to get back into IndyCar but at Panther we know we've got a package together that can win races.
"I know Panther was really strong at Kentucky last year (Ed Carpenter earning the pole position and finishing second) and they've got one of the best oval programs in the series, so I know JR and I can work together to get these cars towards the front. I'm thankful to John Barnes and Fuzzy's Vodka for giving me this opportunity and I'm excited to get back out there."
The Kentucky Indy 300 is Oct. 2 (2 p.m. ET on VERSUS). The IZOD INDYCAR will be broadcast live on ABC at 3 p.m. (ET).
3. INDYCAR return at Auto Club Speedway set for Sept. 2012: Auto Club Speedway announced that the IZOD IndyCar Series will return to the 2-mile oval for a 200-lap night race on Sept. 15, 2012.
Tickets go on sale Sept. 12 (that's 2011 to avoid confusion) and are priced at $60 (Reserved Club), $50 (Reserved), $30 (General Admission). Children 12 and under are free in General Admission with Lefty's Kids Club membership. Camping packages will be available from $255 to $330.
Dario Franchitti was the race winner in October 2005 - the most recent IZOD IndyCar Series event at then-California Speedway. The series had a four-year run on the oval that also played host to CART from 1997-2002. Current IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani and Franchitti were all pole sitters over the years.
Sam Hornish Jr. won the inaugural IndyCar Series race in 2002 in an exciting finish that saw him beat Jaques Lazier to the finish line by 0.0281 of a second.
Other highlights include:
Oct. 28, 2000: During qualifying, Gil de Ferran set the track record for fastest lap at 241.426 mph. This was also a world speed record for the fastest lap of a closed course.
Nov. 3, 2002: Jimmy Vasser won the final 500-mile race in CART/Champ Car history. The race also set the track record (at the time) for average race speed at 197.995 mph.
Sept. 21, 2003: During the IndyCar Series race (Toyota Indy 400), Sam Hornish Jr. set the track record for fastest average speed during a race at 207.151 mph -- still the track record.
Sept. 20, 2003: During qualifying, Helio Castroneves sets the track one-lap record of 226.757 mph.
To purchase tickets, call 800-944-RACE (7223) or visit www.autoclubspeedway.com. Visit the website to subscribe to the speedway's monthly newsletter to receive pre-sale information, updates and enter to receive a driver-autographed article.
The speedway is a D-shaped oval that features 14-degree turns and a 3,100-foot fronstretch. It sits on 568 acres that once was the site of the first steel mill west of the Rocky Mountains and was completed in 1997 after Penske Motorsports Inc. purchased the land and oversaw construction. In 1999, Penske Motorsports Inc. merged with International Speedway Corp. The track was renamed in February 2008.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Indy Japan: The Final on Sept. 18 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be televised live at 11:30 p.m. (ET), Sept. 17 by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Kentucky 100 on Oct. 2 at the Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised by VERSUS.