Series news and notes 2011-12-21

IndyCar Series press release

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Franchitti, Ganassi reflect on 2011 title
2. New number, race engineer for Briscoe's car
3. Foyt chooses Conway for 2012
4. Newgarden secures award from Gregory & Appel
5. INDYCAR fans pick favorite drivers

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

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

1. Franchitti, Ganassi reflect on 2011 title: Dario Franchitti, who earned his third consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series title in 2011, provided Target Chip Ganassi Racing its fourth in a row and ninth overall in Indy car racing (since 1994, only Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR has more major Motorsports titles with 10).

On Dec. 20, team principal Chip Ganassi and Franchitti talked about the season and the outlook for 2012.

All competitors driving the new Dallara Automobili chassis and the season will feature engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Franchitti and two-time series champion Scott Dixon, along with Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing driver Graham Rahal and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball, will utilize the Honda 2.2-liter, turbocharged V6 engine.

"All titles are a year-long battle," Ganassi said. "Each one of them, you feel like there's some point in the year when you've just blown it all. We come into each year wanting to win the championship. We talk about that often. You have so many people that work so hard putting this thing together.

"I can look back and remember times when I thought, 'Oh, we're not going to win it in 2011, seems like it's over.' But somewhere, somebody in the team picks you up and says, 'Hey, we can still do this.' That's what's great about having a great team of people, whether it's having a great driver, having a great team manager, having a great engineer, having a great crew chief. It takes a whole team these days to win these things.

"I couldn't be more proud of our people."

Franchitti, who needs one victory to tie Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais for seventh (31 wins) on the all-time list, outdistanced Verizon Team Penske's Will Power for the second consecutive season for the championship.

"The ups and downs, like Chip said, the way the season ebbs and flows, I think one thing I've learned is to keep a very open mind," said Franchitti, who recorded four victories in 2011. "There's not been a point in any of these championships where I thought, 'Yeah, we've got this,' or on the other side where, 'We're out of this thing.' I've just kept an open mind and tried to each week, each moment in the car just get the most you can, make that next pass, make that next move.

"That's kind of the way I've dealt with things, trying to keep it balanced, not to get too crazy excited when we had a big points lead or get too desperate and upset when that lead eroded or we were behind. That seems to have worked very well. One of the reasons I can do that, I have so much faith in every single person that works for Team Target."

2. New number, race engineer for Briscoe's car: Team Penske will switch from No. 6 to No. 2 on the car that will be driven by Ryan Briscoe in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Additionally, Jonathan Diuguid has been named the race engineer for the Chevrolet-powered car.

Diuguid has been with Penske Racing since 2005 when he joined the organization as a member of the Penske Porsche sports car team. He has served as a data acquisition engineer, a design engineer and race engineer in the team's Porsche American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Series Daytona Prototype programs. Most recently, he worked as a data acquisition engineer for the Team Penske No. 6 car with Briscoe for the past two seasons.

"We always like to promote from within our organization and Jonathan has done a terrific job for us and he is ready to take over as Ryan's race engineer," team owner Roger Penske said. "We are making the switch to the No. 2 for 2012 because our organization has considerable history and tradition with that number and we felt this was the right time to make the change."

Penske Racing has 142 starts in the No. 2 entry among five different drivers in its open-wheel racing history. The 2012 sponsor lineup for the No. 2 Team Penske car is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

3. Foyt chooses Conway for 2012: AJ Foyt Racing has hired Englishman Mike Conway to drive the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series.

Conway, who won the 2011 Long Beach Grand Prix in his 26th IndyCar start, brings strength on the road courses to the team. In 2011, he qualified in the top-10 six times on the road and street circuits, which is also where his four top-10 finishes came.

"With the Series having twice as many road courses as ovals, we looked for a driver who is fast on those tracks and Mike has certainly proved himself in that area," said A.J. Foyt. "I'm looking forward to working with him," adding with a chuckle, "I may even be able to give him a little advice when it comes to the ovals."

"First of all I'd like to thank 2MB Sports Management and AJ Foyt Racing for making this deal come together. I can't wait to start work with the AJ Foyt Racing team and to drive the No. 14 ABC Supply Car. It's going to be an exciting season with the new cars and multiple engine manufacturers. Hopefully we can hit the ground running with off season developments and be quick out the box. I'm counting the days until the first test and the start of the season," commented Mike Conway.

Conway made his first start in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2009 driving for Dreyer-Reinbold. Towards mid-season he began capitalizing on his brilliant potential with several top-10 finishes before scoring his first podium -a third place finish at California's challenging Infineon Raceway.

In 2010, he was in position to post his fourth top-10 finish in six starts but on the final lap of the Indianapolis 500, he sustained season-ending injuries to his leg and back in a scary accident.

Signing with Andretti Autosport in 2011, Conway dispelled all doubts about his return to the cockpit with a strong fourth place qualifying run in the season opener in St. Petersburg and an incredible drive in the Long Beach Grand Prix. In that race, he qualified third but dropped to 21st after a problem on the first pit stop. Conway fought his way back to lead the final 14 laps after executing a couple of textbook passes on frontrunners Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti, who finished second and third.

The British Racing Drivers Club recently awarded the Innes Ireland Award to Conway in recognition of his inspiring comeback from his 2010 Indy 500 accident. The award is given to the driver who best displayed the qualities of courage and sportsmanship epitomized by the late Innes Ireland, a British Formula 1 driver who was badly injured in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. He recovered to win three Grands Prix the same season including the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

"We all have big expectations for the upcoming season, and Mike shares our passion for getting the team back in victory lane," Larry Foyt said. "There is no doubt he has a ton of talent and, when combined with A.J.'s experience, I think we can accomplish great things together."

Foyt's ABC Supply team will take delivery of its 2012 Dallara this week and expects to start testing in early February.

4. Newgarden secures award from Gregory & Appel: 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion and recently signed IZOD IndyCar Series driver Josef Newgarden has been awarded the 2011 "Securing Tomorrow" Award by Gregory & Appel, a nationally-recognized Motorsports Practice that serves as insurance brokers for drivers, teams, race promoters and other entities with direct Motorsports involvement.

The award is given to the driver with the most victories during the Firestone Indy Lights season.

"The 2011 season was very exciting and we all enjoyed watching the close competition," said Vice President and Motorsports Practice Leader at Gregory & Appel, Darren Hickey. "Josef was consistently fast all season and is a great champion of the series. We are thrilled to see him earn an opportunity in the (IZOD) IndyCar Series for 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing."

The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season had 14 races on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. Newgarden captured five victories during the 2011 season, including the Firestone Freedom 100 race that ran on Carb Day during the week of the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500.

"We had a wonderful year at Sam Schmidt Motorsports," Newgarden said. "It was a fantastic team effort where everyone put something into each race. For me to come out with the most wins at the end of the year was a great bonus and an experience that I'm grateful for having. I want to thank Gregory & Appel for their continued effort to support young drivers, and it's an honor to receive this award for the 2011 season." The "Securing Tomorrow" Award is in its sixth year of recognizing Firestone Indy Lights drivers for their on-track achievements.

5. INDYCAR fans pick favorite drivers: INDYCAR fans have spoken and selected their favorite drivers of 2012.

In balloting conducted on the INDYCAR Nation microsite on indycar.com, fans selected the late Dan Wheldon as their favorite IZOD IndyCar Series driver, Jacob Wilson as their favorite Firestone Indy Lights driver, Sage Karam as their favorite Star Mazda driver and Zach Veach as their favorite USF2000 driver.

Wheldon garnered 41 percent of the vote for the IZOD IndyCar Series honor, while Wilson, who competed in the final two Firestone Indy Lights events won the closest battle, edging 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden by just a few votes.

"Thanks to everyone who voted for my bro as Favourite IZOD Indycar Series Driver," Wheldon's sister Holly wrote on Twitter. "Really appreciate it."

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Series INDYCAR
Tags briscoe, conway, franchitti, ganassi, izod, newgarden