IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-12-12

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INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- Dec. 12, 2006 Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. Panther Racing names driver for Indy Pro Series 2. Andretti to test Honda F1 car 3. Schmidt foundation part of federal campaign 4. Texas...

INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- Dec. 12, 2006

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Panther Racing names driver for Indy Pro Series
2. Andretti to test Honda F1 car
3. Schmidt foundation part of federal campaign
4. Texas race gets bigger

1. Panther Racing names driver for Indy Pro Series: Super Aguri Panther Racing announced today that it has signed 2003 Formula Dream Champion Hideki Mutoh to drive its Indy Pro Series^Ù entry for the 2007 season.

Mutoh, a 24-year-old from Tokyo, is a veteran of the Formula Ford, Formula Dream, Asian Formula 2000 and the Japanese Formula 3 series. In 2006, Mutoh competed in both Formula Nippon and the Super GT Championship, where he started from the pole and won his final race at Fuji Speedway.

"In addition to Kosuke Matsuura, we're excited to have Hideki Mutoh, who has lot of experience in some of Japan's top racing categories, to our team," Panther Racing CEO and co-owner John Barnes said. "His addition will allow us to return to the Indy Pro Series and strengthen our partnership with Super Aguri. We hope that Hideki adjusts to his new environment quickly, and we look forward to him showing us 100 percent in the races. We've already hired some great people for our IPS program so he's going to be in great hands here at Panther. "

The announcement marks Panther Racing's return to the Indy Pro Series. The team won a dominant championship in 2003 with Mark Taylor, who won seven of the 11 races in which he competed. Mutoh will drive the No. 55 entry, with sponsorship details to be released in the near future.

"I am very excited to race in the Indy Pro Series this year with Super Aguri Panther Racing," Mutoh said. "This year, I was racing in Formula Nippon and Super GT, which are the top categories of Japanese racing. I am very happy to get this great opportunity but at the same time I am very nervous to reach my expectations. Everything will be a new experience for me but I am ready to learn as much as possible, and I will do my best next season."

2. Andretti to test Honda F1 car: Marco Andretti turned a lot of heads during his debut season in the IndyCar® Series. He'll get a chance to impress a whole new audience later this week.

The 2006 IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year will test a Honda RA106 Formula 1 machine on Dec. 15 at Circuit Jerez in Spain. The Honda Racing F1 team granted the test is in recognition of Andretti's accomplishments in a Honda-powered IndyCar Series car over the past season. The test drive is a part of the final test in 2006 for the Honda Racing F1 team as part of its winter development program.

"I'll drive anything with a motor and this definitely ranks at the top of the list," the 19-year-old Andretti said. "I still have my sights set on the IndyCar Series; there are still some things I need to accomplish. But to have the opportunity to put in some laps in an F1 car is an opportunity that you don't pass up, and I have to thank Honda for that."

Andretti, the son of two-time IndyCar Series championship-winning team owner and former Formula 1 driver Michael Andretti and the grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti, became the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel race when he won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway this past August.

He finished second in the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 and posted a seventh-place finish in the final IndyCar point standings while earning the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award as well as the Rising Star Award.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Marco to experience a different type of race car," Michael Andretti said. "I definitely encourage him to take advantage of opportunities such as this and to learn from them. He's young, fast and has a great future ahead of him."

3. Schmidt foundation part of federal campaign:The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, founded in 2000 by Indy Pro Series team owner Sam Schmidt, will become part of the Combined Federal Campaign for 2007 (CFC 1750). The campaign, which is the world's largest annual workplace charity campaign, encourages employees of the federal government, including members of the military, to donate a portion of their paycheck to organizations of their choosing from a pre-qualified list.

While SSPF issues dozens of grants every year to worthy organizations, one of its most visible programs is 'Day at the Races'. SSPF hosts approximately 70 people at many Indy Pro Series events with activities that include lunch in the Andretti Green Racing hospitality tent, tours of the garage and pit areas, meet and greets with IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series drivers and team owners and, most importantly, providing resource materials and the chance to interact with other individuals having disabilities.

Since its inception, SSPF's biggest fundraiser has been the 'Racing to Recovery' Gala each May in Indianapolis prior to the Indianapolis 500. This year's gala raised $330,000

4. Texas race gets bigger: Everything is bigger in Texas, including the IndyCar Series' stop at Texas Motor Speedway.

Speedway and IndyCar Series officials announced 50 kilometers have been added to the Bombardier Learjet 500k beginning in 2007 and the race will now be known as the Bombardier Learjet 550k.

The June 9 race, originally scheduled as a 200-lap event, will be lengthened by 28 laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval and adds more side-by-side racing that IndyCar Series events are known for at Texas Motor Speedway.

"We always want to give our fans more, and now they are getting 10 percent more with no additional increase in ticket prices," Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. "I just hope the fans have the energy and can stand more of that action."

The Bombardier Learjet 550k is slated to begin at begin at 10 p.m. ET and will be telecast on ESPN2. It is one of five prime-time races on the 2007 IndyCar Series schedule.

"Fans dig nighttime races because the cars appear even faster, the temperatures are cooler and strange things seem to happen when the stars come out as darkness falls," Gossage said. "This start time will ensure that the entire event will be run under the lights. It should be magic."

-credit: irl

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