Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Power out to 'seal the deal'
2. What's at Stake: IZOD INDYCAR World Championships
3. IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Belle Isle in 2012
4. Firestone Indy Lights drivers look to impress in Las Vegas 100
5. Hildebrand gets thrill from Thunderbirds
6. Lupe Fiasco To Perform At IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Kick-Off Party At Wet Republic
1. Power out to 'seal the deal': "Win the race," Will Power says matter-of-factly.
Yes, that would solve everything for the Verizon Team Penske driver in his multi-season pursuit of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. Win the season finale on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 16 and with a little help, he wrests the title from Dario Franchitti, who has held it the past two seasons and three of the past four.
The plan is simple enough. The execution, of course, is another matter. And with 33 other cars on the oval running inches apart, Power can't get lost in the pack.
"We need to win the race," says Power, who has one career oval victory (at Texas in June). "Whatever else happens is totally out of our control. So we're just focused on doing that and also getting the other two (Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves) up there as well because, at the end of the day, if we finish one, two, three as a team we win the championship.
"I think the biggest difference for me this year is just I'm a lot further along on ovals. I feel as though every time I go into a weekend I have a chance of winning them. Obviously, we're coming from behind this time, but at the end of the day I feel as though we've done everything as a team to prepare for this race. I think that we're in very good shape."
Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, has an 18-point margin as the IZOD IndyCar Series title will be decided in the finale for the sixth consecutive year. He's been involved in four.
"I think there was a little more tension (in the midpoint of the season) with some of the stuff that went on, but at this point it feels very, very similar to me," he said. "I see Will and the Penske boys as very, very difficult opponents, and that was the same last year. It's no different now. But our job is to go out and to beat them."
2. What's at Stake: IZOD INDYCAR World Championships: Oriol Servia is in a championship points no-man's land.
He can't challenge for third or higher and can't fall out of fourth place no matter the outcome of the Las Vegas Indy 300, which is the marquee event of the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16.
Given that Servia didn't compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, it's not all that disappointing to be locked in the top five. It's security in the knowledge that Newman/Haas Racing and the 37-year-old Spaniard have overachieved this season. He has four top fives, highlighted by a pair of runner-up finishes.
"It has been an amazing comeback year story," said Servia, who leads the laps completed category with 2,103 of 2,111. "Newman/Haas has always been a top front-runner team and I feel proud to have been part of this great season. Clinching fourth with still one race to go and with one of the toughest fields of the last 100 years shows how well and how hard the whole team worked and delivered. We have savored IndyCar at its best and it tastes great."
Servia, driving the No. 2 Telemundo entry, still has plenty to gain in the 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval. No. 1 on the list is his maiden victory in the series. He's competed twice on the oval in Champ Car, placing second to Newman/Haas Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais in '05 the better of the finishes.
"I knew how good the team always is and I had confidence in my abilities but I really didn't know what to expect in terms of final standings," Servia said. "To be up there at the end of the championship requires a lot of consistency at all types of tracks and I wasn't sure what our weak points would be. It turned out that we had some great races on all types of tracks plus great strategy and, more importantly, superb reliability.
"You need all that and a bit of luck to finish in the top five and I am very proud because we actually did all that and a bit more."
There's fluidity in every other ranking pending the race results of the 34 cars entered. The series championship duel between Dario Franchitti and Will Power marks the sixth consecutive year that the title will be decided in the season finale. Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, has an 18-point lead over Verizon's Team Penske's Power.
Franchitti's teammate, two-time series champion Scott Dixon, can arrest second place, while Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe has been charging to fifth place currently held by KV Racing Technology-Lotus driver Tony Kanaan (plus-two points). Not to be counted out of the top five are Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick, plus Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing.
There's an 18-point gap between six drivers seeking to crack the top 10. Patrick slid into the 10th spot with a 10th place at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2 and leads Helio Castroneves of Team Penske by a mere two points.
Hinchcliffe, of Newman/Has Racing, takes a six-point advantage over Hildebrand into the final race in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award chase.
3. IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Belle Isle in 2012: There's definitely a good vibe in Detroit, and the Motor City received another shot of good news Oct. 13 with the announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series will return to Belle Isle.
The first Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will be held June 1-3, 2012 -- a week after the Indianapolis 500. Tony Kanaan (2007) and Justin Wilson ('08) won IZOD IndyCar Series events on the picturesque 2.1-mile street course.
"Chevrolet has a long, storied history in Indy car racing," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America at a news conference. "This year we celebrated the shared centennial of Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500. We're excited to see that history continue with the help of Penske Corporation and INDYCAR bringing back open-wheel racing to Detroit in 2012.
"This city is a natural for racing - it put the world on wheels and the roar of engines is something that simply belongs here."
The Chevrolet brand, which celebrates its 100th anniversary Nov. 3, re-enters IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 with a V-6 twin turbocharged engine to compete against Honda and Lotus. The 2.2-liter, direct-injection engines running on E85 will propel the new, sleek chassis. On-track testing of the Chevy engine began last week at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"It's a great time for INDYCAR by the fact that 16 months ago we set out with a plan on how we bring relevance, innovation and technology back to IndyCar racing and showcase what we see on the racetrack in the showroom of tomorrow," said Randy Bernard, CEO of INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
"It's been an exciting time. We created a strategy where we went from a V-8 to a V-6, we went to turbochargers and direct injection, and we were able to reduce fuel consumption by 33 percent on road and street courses.
"Chevy has come to the plate and said this is exactly what we need to deliver to show our product. To have them step up to the plate at Belle Isle is just one more very positive move for Chevy and INDYCAR. If you're going to showcase your relevance, there's not a better city that the Motor City."
On Oct. 14 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, and GM Racing Director Mark Kent will hold another news conference with the four IZOD IndyCar Series teams aligned for 2012. The next day, the Chevy car will take a few demonstration laps on the 1.5-mile oval as part of the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda.
"Chevrolet has been instrumental in bringing motorsports back to Detroit," said Penske Corp. Chairman Roger Penske, whose Team Penske is one of the Chevrolet teams for 2012. "The Grand Prix will draw international attention and visitors to Belle Isle, which is one of the most-scenic race venues in the United States. We believe the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will be one of the most-popular races in the IZOD IndyCar Series and will play a major role in continuing the renaissance of Detroit."
4. Firestone Indy Lights drivers look to impress in Las Vegas 100: The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Championship is decided, Josef Newgarden made sure of that at Kentucky. But don't think for a second that there isn't anything left for drivers to race for going into the series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Series veteran Stefan Wilson and rookie Esteban Guerrieri are in a tight battle for second in the points championship. Guerrieri led Wilson by 26 points going into the Kentucky 100, but lost that lead after he was swept up in a first-lap collision that ended his race.
Wilson, who announced a primary sponsorship with solar electric systems provider Citizenre Corporation for the Vegas race, vaulted ahead by winning that race from the pole. It was his second win of the year following his victory in Toronto, and also his first career pole.
There are also several drivers knocking on the door of the top five. Victor Carbone, Duarte Ferreira and Anders Krohn are only four points apart in sixth through eighth positions, respectively. Jorge Goncalvez is in fifth within a reachable 30 points.
No matter where they rank in the points standings, each driver in the Firestone Indy Lights series always has something to race for: attention from IZOD IndyCar Series teams. The final race in Vegas is their last chance to shine before plans for the 2012 season start taking shape, which can add a lot of pressure to the situation.
"Knowing that all the IZOD IndyCar guys are watching is a great thing," said Sam Schmidt Motorsports road/street course driver Conor Daly. "It just adds a bit of pressure, but it's kind of good to be able to deal with that pressure, and it's a good learning experience for sure."
The outstanding competitiveness of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights series is only matched by its diversity. There have been six different race winners and five different pole winners. Of the 31 different competitors that have raced throughout the season, 17 have finished in the top five in at least one race.
Full-time drivers in the series range from ages 18-26, and represent a multitude of countries. Guerrieri was the first driver from Argentina to win a Firestone Indy Lights race when he won this season in Milwaukee. The United States, Colombia, England, Canada, Norway, Brazil, Venezuela and Angola are all represented in the series. The tracks that the drivers race are consistent with that diversity.
"It's such a challenging set of courses that we go to," Newgarden said. "We go to everything, and it's only upped my learning curve, and I know it's upped everyone else's, as well."
The competition, the tracks, the diversity of backgrounds…all these components only serve to continue to train the Firestone Indy Lights drivers to move up to the next level.
"It's the best training ground you can get if you want to drive in IZOD IndyCar Series," Newgarden said. "It's the same deal for those guys. They've got to be very diverse, especially if they want to win the championship, not just single races. You've got to be able to tackle all sorts of different types of weekends and know the mindsets and setups of the car and how you have to approach things. As far as putting a driver in the right mindset and learning for the future, you can't beat it."
5. Hildebrand gets thrill from Thunderbirds: National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand knew he was in for the ride of his life at Nellis Air Force Base on Tuesday, where the United States Air Force Thunderbirds gave the 23-year-old rookie the opportunity to fly in one of their F-16 fighter jets. What he didn't realize, however, was that nearly as soon as they'd taken off that Captain Nick Holmes, fittingly the Thunderbirds pilot No. 4, was going to allow the reining Indy 500 Rookie of the Year to fly the plane himself.
"It seemed like soon as we got up on the air, the pilot says, 'Hey man, you wanna fly the plane?" Hildebrand said. "I was thinking, 'Are you kidding me?'"
While Hildebrand was allowed to maneuver the jet during the ride, the real flying was done by Capt. Holmes, who took JR on a ride that included barrel rolls, a full loop, aileron rolls, flying inverted (upside down), a mock bombing run and pulling a 9-G turn - a move that earned Hildebrand a 9-G pin, a commemorative pin for the few who have pulled 9 Gs in an aircraft. The flight average roughly 500 mph while they reached a speed just under Mach One flying over the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountains.
"I was freaking out when we pulled nine Gs; you feel like your eyes are popping out of your head," Hildebrand explained. "This what just an unbelievable experience that far exceeded my expectations. And what was cool about this too was being able to fly in the No. 4 jet, we're proud of that number and it's pretty cool to see the other side of that here with Captain Holmes and all these guys with the Thunderbirds who work so hard on all this equipment."
Capt. Holmes, who is referred to simply as "Number Four" around Nellis Air Force Base, is the Slot in the Thunderbirds lineup, meaning his flies in the position directly behind Pilot Number One, who is the lead - or point - of the Thunderbirds historic diamond formation.
"He did an awesome job," Capt. Holmes said of Hildebrand afterward. "It was such a thrill to show the other Number Four how our team works. It's always an honor to be able to showcase the pride, professionalism and teamwork embodied by America's Airmen every day."
It was the thrill of a lifetime for Hildebrand, the self-described "adrenaline junkie", who told Panther officials at the time of his signing last December that two things he wanted to do this season was fly in an F-16 and jump out of a plane. He marked the first off the list on Tuesday and National Guard officials have already agreed to arrange for him to jump out of a plane after he recovers from ACL knee surgery which is scheduled shortly after the season concludes this Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Many of the Thunderbirds were quick to inform Hildebrand that when NASCAR driver Carl Edwards flew with them earlier this year, he won the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that weekend and gave them the trophy to put on display at Nellis.
"So no pressure, right?" Hildebrand joked with the pilots and crew. "I'd be happy to take Rookie of the Year this weekend, for sure. I'm just not sure I'll get the same adrenaline rush standing up there with the trophy as I got from these guys."
6. Lupe Fiasco To Perform At IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Kick-Off Party At Wet Republic: GRAMMY® Award-winning platinum hip-hop recording artist Lupe Fiasco will perform at the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Kick-off Party at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino's WET REPUBLIC Thursday, Oct. 13.
Fiasco, whose chart-topping single "Out of My Head" from his latest album, Laser, joins "Good Charlotte," "Los Lonely Boys," "Nuttin' But Stringz" and "82nd Airborne All-American Chorus" in a recently announced line-up of musical entertainment designed to please fans of all genres during the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda.
The party begins at 9 p.m. following the IZOD IndyCar Series Parade Presented by Verizon which takes place on Las Vegas Boulevard starting at 7 p.m. The 34 drivers featured in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships will drive their race cars up and down Las Vegas Blvd. and then make their way to WET REPUBLIC to join Fiasco and fans in the kick-off celebration.
"Las Vegas hasn't seen action like INDYCAR in a long time," said Fiasco. "I wanted to get in on the celebration so hosting the kick-off party is my way of turning it up."
Fans who present either their Lupe Fiasco ticket from his Sunday, Oct. 9 performance or an INDYCAR race-day ticket at the door can mingle with their favorite INDYCAR drivers and enjoy WET REPUBLIC's spectacular saltwater pools, VIP bungalows, hip party cabanas and supreme poolside amenities.
The IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda takes place Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and encompasses the season finales for the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights. Additionally, Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon will race to claim $5 million in the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge. If Wheldon, who will start from the rear of the field, wins the race, he will split the $5 million prize with the winning sweepstakes entrant.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Las Vegas Indy 300, the headline 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.