Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Andretti Green ready to groom Mutoh
2. Castroneves, Hough will dance in Indianapolis
3. Cunningham promoting karting in New Zealand
4. RLR/Andersen Racing tests four over four days
1. Andretti Green ready to groom Mutoh: Five years ago IndyCar Series powerhouse Andretti Green Racing had a hole to fill in its driver lineup. With the impending retirement of team co-owner Michael Andretti, the team turned to a young development driver from Panther Racing by the name of Dan Wheldon.
Wheldon, who had two IndyCar Series starts under his belt in 2002, went on to capture Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors for AGR in 2003 before winning the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in 2005.
Five years later, AGR faced a similar situation with the loss of Indianapolis 500 winner and series champion Dario Franchitti. Once again, they've turned to a young development driver from Panther Racing to fill the void.
Twenty-five-year-old Hideki Mutoh, who won the Lucas Oil Rookie of the Year award in the Indy Pro Series in 2007, will take over the No. 27 machine for AGR.
Mutoh won two Indy Pro Series races and recorded 10 top-five finishes before capping off his first season in the United States with an eighth-place finish in the IndyCar Series season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We believed as a company in the Indy Pro Series since we got involved two years ago," AGR co-owner Kim Green said. "Those race cars are difficult to drive, and a driver that can run up front with those race cars and win can make it to the next step, which is the IndyCar Series. Then it's all about the opportunity.
"Although Hideki did not win the championship last year, he did very well his first year of racing on ovals in a very tough and competitive series. I think that validates him moving up to the IndyCar Series.
"In the (season finale), he was showing he could mix it up with the best side by side, working the traffic and still being sensible in the race car. We're just delighted to have the opportunity to bring him on board and hopefully take him to that next level, which is the winner's circle.
"He starts in our training program right away. He'll be spending a lot of time at the race shop, which is great for him from a communication standpoint. We'll then be trying to get into an in-depth rookie test schedule before the season."
2. Castroneves, Hough will dance in Indianapolis: IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves and his "Dancing with the Stars" partner Julianne Hough will dance in Indianapolis on Nov. 2.
Castroneves and Hough, who are among six couples still competing on ABC's top-ranked show, will perform during "Indianapolis Motor Speedway Night" at the Indiana Pacers-Miami Heat basketball game at Conseco Fieldhouse. Prior to the game, Castroneves and Hough will participate in a pre-game "Campaign Rally" hosted by WIBC-AM in the Ober Parking Lot, located just north of Conseco Fieldhouse off Delaware Street. "Vote for Helio" t-shirts and buttons will be available to fans attending the rally. This event is open to the public and begins at 6 p.m.
3. Cunningham promoting karting in New Zealand: Similar to what Bryan Herta and Bobby Rahal did with the Snap-on Stars of Karting presented by the IndyCar Series, 2005 Indy Pro Series champion Wade Cunningham is seeking to accomplish through the New Zealand Karting Academy.
Cunningham, the 2003 CIK-FIA World Karting Championship title-holder, will be the patron of the KartSport New Zealand's new driver development academy. Cunningham, 23, is championing the initiatives in his native country because there weren't clear paths for prospective drivers early in his career.
"The fist big transformation was in 1998 when Julian Tordoff introduced the International categories ICA and JICA, and for the fist time it gave us drivers somewhere where we could compete domestically and then progress to Australia and Japan using the same equipment," Cunningham said. "The best way to improve is to broaden the competition base and this is exactly what the Pro Series, which Julian created, allowed us to do as drivers."
Karting success led Cunningham to the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Zetec championship, earning the circuit's Rising Star award, and on to the Indy Pro Series with Brian Stewart Racing in '05. He posted one victory and eight other top-10 finishes this past season with AFS Racing.
"The frenetic pace when you are racing karts is so intense that if you are able to understand what the chassis is doing and what changes are necessary to improve the kart, then when a talented driver steps into a car it is easier to understand what the car is doing because there is so much more time to analyze what is going on," he said. "Also, as you move up the ladder in cars, a driver's role is refined and you are able to focus on driving and set-up, not worrying about whether you remembered to tighten the engine mount or the airbox clamp."
KartSport Academy director Graeme Moore said the program seeks "to strengthen and grow the sport in this country" along with identifying and nurturing "our next World Champion."
4. RLR/Andersen Racing tests four over four days: Four drivers recently participated in four days of testing with RLR/Andersen Racing. Andrew Prendeville, Brad Jaeger, Jonathan Goring and Jonny Baker tested the team's Indy Pro Series car at Homestead-Miami Speedway for two days and Sebring International Raceway for two days.
"It was probably one of the best testing programs I've ever had," said Prendeville, who had four top-five finishes with the team in 2007. "We had four solid days of testing. We were able to learn some things about the car that we didn't have time to work on during the season. We had set plans for what we wanted to get accomplished during the tests, and we got through our list. It was very effective."
Jaeger, who was part of Andersen Racing's Star Mazda squad in 2006, tested an Indy Pro Series car one day at both tracks. He competed in the Indy Pro Series with Brian Stewart Racing this year.
"The test went really well at both Homestead and Sebring," Jaeger said. "It was really interesting to see the differences between the car I drove all year long and the car I drove at these two test days. Most people think the cars are all the same because it's a spec series, but they can feel totally different depending on the setup. It's hard to describe the differences, but each setup has its strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed working with the RLR/Andersen Indy Pro Series team, and it was a great learning experience for me."
Goring and Baker, Andersen Racing's two full-time Star Mazda drivers in 2007, got their first opportunity in an Indy Pro Series car during the test at Sebring.
They both received Indy Pro Series tests as part of the team's incentive program. By competing in three series, Andersen Racing is one of the few Indy Pro Series, Star Mazda and F2000 teams that is able to reward its full-season drivers with a test at the next-highest level at year's end. It's the only team that is currently making that offer for all three of those particular support series. It strives to offer rising stars one central home and the very best training available in order to propel them into open-wheel racing's major leagues.
Both Goring and Baker were thrilled with the chance to test cars that compete in the official development series of IndyCar.
"It is a great car," said Goring, who did about 40 laps at Sebring. "I worked with all the RLR/Andersen Racing Indy Pro Series engineers and mechanics. We went over the data and discussed the setup and made progress every time we went out. I want to thank (team co-owner) Dan (Andersen) very much for the opportunity."
"The car was the quickest I have ever driven, but I didn't feel overwhelmed by it at all," Baker said. "I approached this test as a fantastic learning experience that would be great fun. It was definitely both."
The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on 11 ovals, three permanent road courses and two temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ABC Sports/ ESPN. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season also begins on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.