Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Manufacturer testing pushes forward
2. INDYCAR Ironmen compete with purpose
3. IMS Open test offers taste of Mazda Road to Indy
4. Talented teens sign up for 2012 USF2000 season

Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi Racing
Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi Racing

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

1. Manufacturer testing pushes forward: Dario Franchitti was buckled into the 2012 IndyCar to commence the second round of manufacturer testing for Honda at Sebring International Raceway, but he was a million miles away.

The reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, physically weary from travel and mentally spent from the emotional upheaval of Dan Wheldon's death, wanted to be anywhere else.

But, like Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Chevrolet car 200 yards down pit lane, the program must push forward. It's what, both acknowledge, Wheldon would have wanted. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 series champion was the test driver for the seven-week Dallara chassis validation program through late September.

Now the engine manufacturers' program, which began at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in early October, is in full swing with testing almost every week through mid-December.

Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, who drove the Honda car at Mid-Ohio, will do the lion's share of the engine development work for Honda. Series championship runner-up Will Power tested at Mid-Ohio, with the remainder of the program being spread out among other teams. Hunter-Reay drove the two days at Sebring, while Tony Kanaan will be in the car next week.

"Right now, I would rather have another couple of weeks," Franchitti said during the lunch break. "But our job is to do this so here I am. It's tough for everybody on the team; it's tough for everybody in the INDYCAR community right now. The timing is not good right now, but if we want to show up next year in the best position possible we have to be doing it. I definitely want to do my part."

The on-track program, according to INDYCAR director of engine development Trevor Knowles, isn't only about proving out the engine that's "quite a departure" from the one utilized through this season.

"It's gone from 8 cylinders to 6, naturally aspirated to turbocharged, so there are a lot of new things that need to be proven out," Knowles said. "Also, they're learning about the chassis. Does it meet the targets that were set and validate the information they got from Dallara on the chassis in terms of aero and chassis setups. So it's the whole car that is the focus."

Development, as Roger Griffiths of Honda Performance Development and Mark Kent of GM Racing said, will be ongoing.

"Even when the manufacturer testing finishes it won't be the final product," Knowles added. "It will be close to it, but there will be refinements to make and they'll be working with their teams in the early part of next year."

Manufacturers have a homologation date of 30 days before the March 25 opener in St. Petersburg. Teams are scheduled to take delivery of their first chassis in mid-December.

"I'm really appreciative of Dallara naming the car after Dan; he did put a lot of work into it and he did a really good job of not telling us anything," Franchitti said. "He was very secretive about what went on so he didn't give anyone an advantage, and a few of us tried to tap him for information.

"We're at the beginning of a long development process. It will be a busy couple of months."

2. INDYCAR Ironmen compete with purpose: Tony Kanaan would have rather treated his body to a long weekend off from training, but that just wouldn't do given the circumstances. So he'll join fellow IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Vitor Meira and Alex Lloyd in competing in the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami on Oct. 30 in honor of former teammate Dan Wheldon.

He's the one honored to participate, weariness notwithstanding.

The trio will wear matching triathlon Pearl Izumi jerseys with Wheldon's logo on front that will be donated to the ongoing eBay auction of sports memorabilia and other items, with all proceeds being directed to the Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund.

Kanaan, who will wear jersey No. 77 (Wheldon's car number in his final two races), will ride a custom-built Trek Concept Speed bike with the Lionheart logo that was part of Wheldon's helmet scheme that also will be donated to the auction.

Kanaan and Meira competed in the Ford Ironman World Championships three weeks ago in Hawaii and, compounded by the IZOD IndyCar Series race weekend Oct. 14-16 and the mental anguish of Wheldon's death from injuries suffered in a race crash, they've had little time to decompress let alone grieve.

The 70.3 is a 1.2-mile swim in the Atlantic Ocean, a 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile run - all half distances of their Kona adventure. Firestone Indy Lights driver Gustavo Yacaman also is scheduled to compete.

"I hadn't decided if I was going to do it or not because of Kona being so close to it. I'm tired," said Kanaan, who competed in the inaugural event in 2010. "But the more attention we can catch for the cause - the auction - is great. Then I had the idea to do the bike, and the thing about doing the bike is you can't just put it up for auction. The bike needs to race so it explains why I'm doing it."

Meira was going to gauge his body before committing to the event, but now there's a purpose to participating.

"We have to go in hammering as best as we can for Dan," said Meira, who joined Kanaan for the 2010 Miami event as a warm-up for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Fla., last November. "Our legs are still recovering a little bit from Kona.

"I was planning to do it anyway for fun. Now easy is just a matter of how fast we want to do it, and we always want to do it as fast as we can and fast as we can means going to the limit."

3. IMS Open test offers taste of Mazda Road to Indy:More than 30 cars from the three Mazda Road to Indy series are expected to participate in the two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Testing will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Oct. 28-29 with each series receiving a 60-minute session in the morning and in the afternoon sessions. Fans can watch the test from the infield stands in the South end of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The test will be the first opportunity for Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship drivers Petri Suvanto and Tristan Vautier as well as Skip Barber National champion Scott Anderson to sample the cars they will race in 2012.

Also expected to participate in the test is rising Indian talent Armaan Ebrahim, who will test for Jensen MotorSport over the two days as he looks for prospects in the U.S. after racing in Asia and Europe.

"India is an interesting market for everyone involved in the global motorsport industry, Jensen MotorSport owner Eric Jensen said. "With a population more than three times greater than the United States, India offers enormous potential to corporate sponsors. We are excited that Armaan and his supporters have chosen Jensen MotorSport, and we look forward to achieving success together both on and off track."

The Mazda Road to Indy was created to provide career-minded drivers a path from karting to the top level of Indy car racing. As the title partner of the Mazda Road to Indy, Mazda provides scholarships to the champions of the three series in INDYCAR's development ladder system to graduate to the next level.

In 2012, Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda champion Suvanto will receive a scholarship to compete in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. Star Mazda champion Vautier will receive a scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights, while Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden will receive a scholarship to race in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

INDYCAR and Mazda's strong support of the ladder series extends beyond the racetrack with an expansion of the highly successful Mazda Road to Indy Summit program this year, which offered media, social media and business/sponsorship training amongst other topics as well as networking and promotional opportunities to its drivers. In addition, the first Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic was held in May.

4. Talented teens sign up for 2012 USF2000 season: Rising open-wheel talents Thomas McGregor and Zac Silver will compete in the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda in 2012.

The 19-year-old McGregor has signed with two-time defending USF2000 team champion Andretti Autosport while the 15-year-old Silver will join JDC Motorsports

McGregor, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, spent a year and a half competing in Skip Barber and secured the Skip Barber Racing School Formula Southern Series Championship title in 2011. He was the runner up in both the Skip Barber Formula 2000 Western Series and the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED MX5 championships in 2011. He then moved on to compete in a partial schedule of the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda Championship collecting two wins and a third place podium finish. To date, McGregor has accumulated a total of 17 wins, 33 podium finishes and 11 pole positions in 56 starts in the formula car.

"I am honored to have signed with Andretti Autosport for the 2012 USF2000 season," McGregor said. "The team has had success in every level of the Mazda Road to Indy program, from USF2000 all the way up to IndyCar. Being with Andretti Autosport gives me the best opportunity to develop as a driver and progress through the Road to Indy program. I am grateful for this opportunity and have to thank Exclusive Management Inc. and Andretti Autosport for giving me this chance. I am looking forward to the upcoming season."

McGregor began racing at the age of 11 when he first raced Rotax Karts at the Saskatoon Kart Club. In seven years of karting in Canada, he recorded 15 karting championships before moving on to open-wh eel and sports car racing at age 18.

McGregor will participate in the Mazda Road to Indy open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 28 and 29 with Andretti Autosport. He will also compete in the USF2000 Cooper Tires Winterfest in February 2012 at Sebring International Raceway and Palm Beach International Raceway. The first rounds of the 2012 USF2000 season will begin in March at Sebring.

"We're really pleased to welcome Thomas to Andretti Autosport next year in the USF2000 car," said Michael Andretti. "We've had a lot of success the past few years in this first step of the Mazda Road to Indy, and with Thomas' experience, I think we have another strong season ahead of us."

Silver joins JDC Motorsports having already shown the speed and skill to win championships, capturing multiple karting titles and a sedan championship crown. With multiple test days already under his belt, where he impressed the race-winning JDC crew, Silver now has his eyes firmly set on steering his No. 93 JDC MotorSports/Red Line Oil backed Mazda-powered Van Diemen into victory lane this coming season.

"I am obviously excited to be running with JDC MotorSports next year," said Silver. "I already tested with my future teammates Scott and Mike earlier this year with JDC at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, and think it will be a great year with a great group of people around me. I know both of them from running at Skip Barber and we work well together.

"JDC MotorSports is one of the most successful junior formula teams in the US. They have won championships in F2000 and Star Mazda in the last couple of years, so there is no question they know how to win races and championships. That's the team I want to be with hopefully for a long time to come."

Silver will make his USF2000 debut having impressed many in both the karting and car competition ranks. The Hinsdale, Ill.-based driver has won over 100 races in his kart career, capturing the 2006 and 2007 Great Lakes SuperKarts USA! titles, and the 2009 Championship Enduro Series crown in the process. Silver made the transition to cars in 2010, and was quickly up to speed, finishing on the podium in the Skip Barber Winter Series.

This past season, the young racer further showcased his talents, earning two podium finishes in a limited Skip Barber National program, as well as winning a round in the Formula Car Challenge, finishing second in the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) National Championship race in the Formula Mazda class, and winning the NASA Midwest Region Spec Miata title, earning the Midwest Rookie of the Year award.

"Zac impressed us the very first time he tested with us in July," commented JDC MotorSports principal John Church. "He is mature beyond his years and certainly knows how to use the loud pedal. I am really looking forward to the 2012 USF2000 season."