INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- March 5, 2007 Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. George accepts award from National Farmers Union 2. Sneak Peak 2007: Rahal Letterman hopes to rebound 3. Season Preview: RLR Andersen Racing 4.
INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- March 5, 2007
Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. George accepts award from National Farmers Union
2. Sneak Peak 2007: Rahal Letterman hopes to rebound
3. Season Preview: RLR Andersen Racing
4. Schmidt offers test to Star Mazda drivers
1. George accepts award from National Farmers Union: Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO and Indy Racing League founder Tony George received the inaugural Friend of the Family Farmer Award during opening ceremonies of the National Farmers Union annual convention in Orlando, Fla. The honor recognizes those outside of agriculture who are contributing to the livelihoods of America's family farmers and ranchers, according to National Farmers Union president Tom Buis, who made the presentation March 3.
This year, the IndyCar Series is the first in motorsports to utilize a renewable and environmentally friendly fuel. Its high-tech and high-speed Honda Indy V-8 engines will be powered by 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol during the 17-race season that kicks off March 24 and includes the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.
"Since 1909, we've been about speed and innovation," George said. "Ethanol is about innovation." George said the world's largest single-day sporting event is the perfect showcase for ethanol, which can help American passenger cars burn cleaner and more economically responsible fuels. Ethanol, which is made from renewable agricultural products, is unlike gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. Cleaner-burning, non-toxic and biodegradable, ethanol also is boosting local economies and expanding tax bases with production plants going online. Ethanol, which is blended with gasoline in 46 percent of retail outlets in the United States, is growing in acceptance as both a renewable fuel as well as a means to decrease America's energy dependence on other nations. Currently, ethanol-enriched fuel reduces the need for more than 600,000 barrels of oil per day.
In 2005, Congress approved a fuel standard that called for increasing ethanol use to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The president is seeking to more than quadruple the amount of alternative fuel produced -- to 35 billion gallons -- by 2017. By the end of the year, about 140 facilities across the nation will be producing almost seven billion gallons of ethanol. "Ethanol is going to help provide part of the solutions to the problems we face in our environment and our dependence on Middle East oil," George said.
2. Sneak Peak 2007: Rahal Letterman hopes to rebound: After a trying 2006 season, Rahal Letterman Racing hopes a series of off-season moves are a change in the right direction in 2007. The most visible change is in the driver lineup where 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp joins returning driver Jeff Simmons as the team focuses on a two-car effort for the first time since 2004. Sharp, who brings new sponsor Patron Tequila to the IndyCar Series, failed to build on a solid debut season with Fernandez Racing, slipping from fifth to 12th in points. He sees the move to Rahal as a new beginning.
"I am excited to be with a team in Rahal Letterman Racing that is approaching the season from the same point I am," Sharp said. "RLR didn't enjoy the kind of success last season that they have been accustomed to, so we are both hungry to excel and to win and to accomplish something. RLR has a great track record, and for me to come to this organization at this stage of my career is a great situation for my sponsor Patron Tequila and myself."
But not everything is new for Sharp, who is paired again with engineer Jeff Britton. The pair worked together at Kelley Racing in 2001 and 2002, scoring two wins and the pole for the 2001 Indianapolis 500. Simmons, meanwhile, returns to the same No. 17 Team Ethanol entry in 2007, but the pieces around him have changed. Engineer Neil Fife steps up to be Simmons race engineer while Ed Daood, who oversaw Danica Patrick's car the last two seasons, will serve as his chief mechanic. Still, the changes are welcome from Simmons as he prepares for his first full season in the IndyCar Series
"It has been a blessing to have a full off-season of testing to get ready for the IndyCar Series season," Simmons said. "I have never had the opportunity to spend as much time testing as what I have had this off-season. When I first raced in the IndyCar Series in 2004 at Indy, I was literally in the car one day and qualifying the next. Last year of course everything happened so suddenly that I really didn't get much of an opportunity to prepare before we were racing."
Simmons finished the year strong with six top-10 finishes in his final seven starts. The former Indy Pro Series standout hopes to build on that success this season. "We had a difficult season last year with the chassis change, but I think everyone has worked really hard in the off-season," he said. "I think the payoff will be evident at the first race."
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING
Car numbers: 8 (Sharp), 17 (Simmons)
Drivers: Scott Sharp, 39, of Norwalk, Conn., and Jeff Simmons, 30, of Hartford, Conn.
Team manager: Steve Dickson
Technical director: Jay O'Connell
Chief engineer: Ray Leto
Race engineers: Jeff Britton (Sharp), Neil Fife (Simmons)
Chief mechanic: Ricardo Nault (Sharp), Ed Daood (Simmons)
CO-OWNER'S OUTLOOK FOR 2007: Bobby Rahal "I am optimistic about the outlook for RLR in 2007. The addition of Jay O'Connell as our technical director and the chance to properly test with the Dallara chassis has given us a solid base for this season. I think the addition of Scott Sharp, a driver whom I nearly signed a decade ago when he was coming out of the Trans Am ranks, will bolster our team in a number of ways. Scott is a proven leader and a driver who knows what he wants at this point of his career. A great deal of credit has to go to him for assembling the Patron Tequila sponsorship, and in my conversations with him, I sensed a hunger after he endured a difficult season last year. Pairing him with a young driver like Jeff Simmons in the Ethanol car we think will be a winning combination. Jeff did an admirable job under some difficult circumstances last season and I see a bright future ahead for Jeff."
3. Season Preview: RLR Andersen Racing: Leading up to the season-opening Homestead-Miami 100 on March 24, we'll preview the teams and drivers that will compete in 2007 for the Indy Pro Series' Firestone Firehawk Cup. Today, is series newcomer RLR Andersen Racing.
Owners: Dan Andersen, John Andersen
Drivers: Andrew Prendeville (No. 5), Joey Scarallo (No. 15)
Team Manager: John Andersen
Chief Mechanics: William Paul, Dan Conner
Overview: RLR Andersen Racing is new to the Indy Pro Series in 2007, but don't expect them to be running at the back of the pack. A partnership between Rahal Letterman Racing, which fields two cars in the IndyCar Series, and Andersen Racing, which also fields cars in Star Mazda and Formula Ford, means the team will have many resources to draw upon in pursuit of race victories. In the past, Andersen Racing has worked with drivers such as Graham Rahal, Jonathan Klein (the 2006 Indy Pro Series runner-up) and Robbie Pecorari, a two-time Star Mazda winner.
Behind the wheel for RLR Andersen are two rookies, Andrew Prendeville and Joey Scarallo. Prendeville drove for the team in 2004, finishing second in the Formula Ford championship, while Scarallo is a Trans-Am veteran, a background he shares with IndyCar Series champion Scott Sharp.
Watch For--Bonus Testing: The partnership between Rahal Letterman Racing and Andersen Racing will translate into some bonus test days for the IndyCar Series program. The upside for Prendeville and Scarallo is much bigger than that however. In addition to participating in the bonus tests, Prendeville and Scarallo will be teammates with Sharp, the IndyCar Series' "iron man," and Jeff Simmons, a seven-time Indy Pro Series race winner who has moved up to the IndyCar Series.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Dan Andersen, co-owner: "We're looking forward to an exciting season, and are very happy with our decision to expand into the Indy Pro Series. We have much to do as we learn this car, but I have confidence in the leadership the Capes have demonstrated thus far, and the entire Rahal Letterman organization has been terrific with their support."
Andrew Prendeville, driver: "I'm looking forward to working with (engineer) Dominic Cape, and I'm looking forward to racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's always been a dream. I'm really happy to be with RLR Andersen Racing. It's an opportunity I jumped on. The series is very organized. I've been impressed with everything so far."
Joey Scarallo, driver: "This is a new team, but I've known Dan Andersen and his brother for a long time. I know that whatever they attack they do very, very well at it. I'm sure we'll at least be championship contenders toward the end of the year maybe even sooner than that."
4. Schmidt offers test to Star Mazda drivers: Sam Schmidt Motorsports will offer a test in an Indy Pro Series car to the highest-finishing driver from Northwest Autosport's Star Mazda team, SSM team owner Sam Schmidt announced March 5. Schmidt is employing a Northwest Autosport graduate as one of his drivers for 2007. Ryan Justice, who finished third in the Star Mazda championship last year, will drive the No. 38 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in the 16-race Indy Pro Series season that begins March 24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He recorded top-10 times on both the road course and oval at February's Open Test.
"We are extremely excited to make this test available to Northwest Autosport and their highest-finishing driver," said Schmidt, whose team has fielded two of the past three Indy Pro Series champions. "The Mazda Series is an obvious feeder program to the Indy Pro Series that is ripe with future talent, so it is a natural fit to have this test."
Northwest Autosport is beginning its third season of Star Mazda competition. "This test really helps to solidify our team and the Mazda series as logical steps in the ladder to being a professional driver in open wheel racing," said Mike Hernandez, Northwest Autosport team manager.
"Northwest Autosport is a championship contending team and now we can offer a little something more to our drivers beyond the series' prize package."
The 2007 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 24. The race will be telecast live by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition begins with the Miami 100 on March 24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast on at 5 p.m. (EDT) on March 28 by ESPN2.