Series news and notes 2011-10-04

IndyCar Series press release

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Record number of entries to compete at Las Vegas
2. 2012 IndyCar Series car testing moves to Phase 2
3. Success on 1.5-mile ovals will decide title

Dan Wheldon tests the 2012 Dallara Indycar
Dan Wheldon tests the 2012 Dallara Indycar

Photo by: IndyCar Series

1. Record number of entries to compete at Las Vegas: With 34 entrants for the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16, they're not many drivers who've competed this season who won't be running at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Of course, that's overstating it, but the 1.5-mile oval will be crowded with IZOD IndyCar Series cars traveling 215-plus mph in the season finale and the sunset race for the current Dallara chassis.

The next generation car, which will have three engine manufacturers supplying the turbo power, makes its competition debut March 25, 2012, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

It's the most entrants for a non-Indianapolis 500 in IZOD IndyCar Series history, and the previous mark of 31 cars in 1997 also was for a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In addition to the championship duel between Dario Franchitti and Will Power, who trails by 18 points, and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year chase that features James Hinchcliffe holding a six-point advantage over Indy 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand, is the storyline of reigning 500 Mile Race champion Dan Wheldon shooting for a $5 million prize (which he'll split with an entrant in the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge sweepstakes).

There's a catch naturally. Wheldon will have to come from the rear of the field to win to collect. Helio Castroneves holds the distinction of winning from the furthest starting position (27th in the 2008 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway).

Four of Franchitti's 15 Indy car oval victories have been on 1.5-mile racetracks (Chicagoland twice, Homestead and Texas). Power's lone oval victory came at Texas Motor Speedway in June.

Some notable non-full-season names on the roster for Vegas:

• Paul Tracy back in the No. 8 Dragon Racing car. The driver with 31 Indy car victories will compete for the seventh time this season.

• Firestone Indy Lights graduates Jay Howard and Pippa Mann competing for Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Howard last competed at Texas, while Mann started her second IZOD IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2.

• Davey Hamilton and Townsend Bell in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing cars. Hamilton will be making his fourth start, and Bell will be making his third. Bell, filling in for the injured Justin Wilson (back), advanced 15 positions to finish 11th at Kentucky.

• Buddy Rice, who popped in ninth at Kentucky in his second start of the season.

• Tomas Scheckter driving a second entry for Sarah Fisher Racing, which earned its first IZOD IndyCar Series victory Oct. 2.

• Alex Tagliani driving the No. 98 William Rast/Bowers & Wilkinsc car for the combo of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian/Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He had been driving the No. 77 car through Twin Ring Motegi.

2. 2012 IndyCar Series car testing moves to Phase 2: Dan Wheldon climbed into the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia car for a Kentucky Indy 300 seat fit, he quickly made a stark observation. He could only see the front wheels.

Driving the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car the previous seven weeks of validation testing, in which the sightlines are broader because of driver positioning and chassis architecture, gave the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion a keen perspective.

"Safety is something we've worked hard to make a lot better, which includes the driver's seat and padding underneath and behind them," said INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips, who oversaw phase 1 of the test program. "We'll learn more as we start to fit more drivers into the car and we'll get more feedback as new drivers start the manufacturer phase."

That 10-week block began in earnest Oct. 4 as Honda (Scott Dixon driving) and Chevrolet (Will Power) transitioned from testing the 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines from the dynamometer to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in their own Dallara Automobili-built chassis. A second two-day test is scheduled for the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway following the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16.

In the meantime, data gathered during the chassis tests at three road courses and two ovals will be digested and assimilated in the first production order scheduled to be delivered to IZOD IndyCar Series teams in mid-December. They'll start testing with associated manufacturers after the first of the year as the series will have engine manufacturer competition for the first time since 2005. The season opener is March 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Phillips, 2012 car project manager Tony Cotman and INDYCAR director of engine development Trevor Knowles watched Wheldon ease the new car off of the Mid-Ohio pit lane Aug. 8 during its maiden on-track activity. They would have liked seven months instead of seven weeks for the homologation.

"Quickly the collaboration between INDYCAR, Dallara, the test team, Bryan Herta Autosport, and Dan was established and has done a really good job," Phillips said. "He's focused on what's been needed from him to provide the feedback to Dallara and be consistent and concise. You couldn't have asked for more in that respect.

"Have we achieved every single goal? Most of them. Have we achieved the speeds at each track that we wanted to? No, simply because it's so early in the development of the engine program and the car itself. Are the indications good on what we've done? Yes. We're happy that the car has the potential to meet and or exceed the expectations that we will have. Do we expect lap times to be quicker on the road and street circuits? Yes. On the short ovals? Yes. Indy is the hardest one to predict where it's going to be, but we were very pleased with the test there."

Three days were dedicated on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - a capricious 2.5 miles of asphalt that has tested man and machine for more than 100 years - last week.

"Our first goal was to go out and get the car flat and make sure the car was capable of doing that," Phillips said. "Once we did that, we started to trim the car a little bit and then went up and down various aero levels to give us more than one data point. We didn't try to do anything to make us go faster than we were. We were running around 211 mph as the ave7rage and were looking at our top speeds were and what our deltas were between top speed and corners and comparing that to the current car.

"So it wasn't out there to set a particular time; Honda is six months away from their race engine."

Weather, production schedules and track availability during the validation period conspired to erase a few items that were on the checklist.

"Some of the instrumentation we'll be using to monitor boost and engine functions we still have a test program that we'll work with the manufacturers in Phase 2 of the testing to run those and collect the data so we'll know we have the resources in place to effectively monitor and control what we need to do as the series," Phillips said.

Also included in the Speedway program was the placement and functionality of four HD camera mounts on the car for 2012 - the rotation camera on top of the roll hoop, one on the right rear wing endplate, another on the right intake duct looking through the suspension and another in a rearview mirror looking back at the driver.

"If one car is using the camera, every other car will be running a dummy camera," Phillips noted. "We needed to check that there were no vibration issues, safety issues."

Overall, Phillips said he's pleased with the program, which is on schedule as laid out in July 2010, though there are many long days ahead.

"The process I think we went about it the right way, working with Dallara very closely in trying to make sure we ran through all the different aero configurations that potentially we're going to race and the boost levels that are required to set those aero levels at each of the circuits," he said. "As we're aware, we didn't run at a one-and-a-half-mile oval and that's just a variance of the test program and track availability. We'll go back with the manufacturers as they go there post-Vegas for example. We have the basis to go forward and start filling in the holes we have.

"Everyone is excited and it's been fun. When you're working hard and enjoying it, it's double the bonus."

3. Success on 1.5-mile ovals will decide title: For the third straight season, the IZOD IndyCar Series championship will be decided on a 1.5-mile oval, but for the first time the title will be decided at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

While neither Dario Franchitti nor Will Power has raced on the 1.5-mile oval at LVMS, both have had recent success at a similar oval - Texas Motor Speedway - where they split the Firestone Twin 275s in June.

Franchitti has the upper-hand in oval wins (15-1) with four of those victories coming on 1.5-mile ovals. In championship-deciding races, Franchitti has also shined, clinching his first two IZOD IndyCar Series titles in 1.5-mile events (Chicagoland 2007 and Homestead 2009).

But both drivers have the same goal at Las Vegas. Do the best they can and try to beat the competition to win the title.

"You never give up," said Franchitt, who leads Power by 18 points entering Vegas.. " Until it's mathematically impossible, you haven't lost it or you haven't won it. Just kept our head down and did our job."

***

The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Las Vegas Indy 300, the main event of the IZOD INDYCAR World Championship Presented by Honda, on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live by ABC at 3 p.m. The race will be broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on XM 94. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Las Vegas 100 on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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