Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Lloyd, Franchitti honored at AARWBA banquet
2. Ana Beatriz to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports
3. Indy Pro Series-backed team fifth at Chili Bowl
4. Peterson guiding AFS Racing to the top

1. Lloyd, Franchitti honored at AARWBA banquet: Reigning Indy Pro Series champion Alex Lloyd was among the drivers honored by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association at its 38th Annual All-America Team Dinner in Indianapolis.

Lloyd, who was honored for his record-setting 2007 season in the Indy Pro Series, earned first-team honors in the at-large category.

"It's an honor to receive the award," Lloyd said as he accepted the first award of the evening. "It just adds another highlight to what was a very good year for me. "

2007 IndyCar® Series champion Dario Franchitti was honored with a first-team award in the open-wheel category. The reigning Indianapolis 500 winner also won the Jerry Titus Award as the All-America Team's top vote-getter. It is the third time in the last four years that the IndyCar Series winner has won the Titus Award, which is AARWBA's highest honor.

"I'd like to thank everyone for voting for me," Franchitti said. "2007 was really a special year for me."

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2. Ana Beatriz to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports: Twenty-two year old Brazilian Ana Beatriz will drive one of Sam Schmidt Motorsports' entries in the Indy Pro Series, team officials announced Jan. 11.

The São Paulo native, who is nicknamed "Bia," has raced since she was eight years old and has had years of success in Brazil's karting championships and formula car ladder.

"We're excited about bringing Bia on-board with us for this next season," team owner Sam Schmidt said. "She is very focused on succeeding in the Indy Pro Series. With the tools we'll provide her along with her own determination to learn, we're confident she'll do a great job this year."

Beatriz has three years of experience in the Brazilian Formula Renault series, highlighted with earning rookie of the year honors in 2003 and scoring three wins and four pole positions in 2005.

She earned the São Paulo Citizen Driver Award in 2006, and she has been awarded three coveted "Gold Helmet" awards -- an award considered to be one of the highest honors in Brazilian racing. She has also competed in A1GP for Team Brazil, driving in the rookie practice session in China in 2007.

"I'm really happy to be in the U.S.," Beatriz said. "I've always kept up with Andre Ribeiro, Tony Kanaan, Vitor Meira and Helio Castroneves. They've told me how great it is over here and how very competitive it is.

"I'm extremely happy to be here in such a competitive series with the best team there is in Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Hopefully, if things go well, there could be a possibility of running Indy next year. I'm just very proud right now, and I can't thank these guys enough."

Beatriz is in the process of relocating to Indianapolis to be closer to her new team.

Since beginning competition in the Indy Pro Series in 2003, Sam Schmidt Motorsports has become the dominating force having won three of the last four driver championships along with holding the series record for most wins (23).

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3. Indy Pro Series-backed team fifth at Chili Bowl: Jon Stanbrough drove an Indy Pro Series-sponsored machine to a fifth-place finish in the 22nd Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals Jan. 12.

Stanbrough was part of a four-car effort of Loyet Motorsports that also included Danny Lasoski, PJ Jones and Brad Loyet.

The main events were contested in front of a capacity crowd at the Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Center and were shown live for the first time on HBO Pay-Per-View.

Lasoski, a veteran sprint car ace, kicked the weekend off for the team when he drove his way to a 14th-place finish in the Jan. 9 feature event -- securing a spot in the second B-Main race on Jan. 12. Stanbrough and Loyet navigated through a difficult field on Jan. 10 to secure positions in the A and B-Main events, respectfully. Two-time Indianapolis 500 starter PJ Jones participated in the Jan. 11 qualifier event, resulting in a starting spot in the D-Main.

Jones was the first team member to compete on Jan. 12, racing to a dominating victory in the D-Main and advancing through half of the field in the C-Main, finishing 11th.

"I want to thank the Indy Racing League and the Indy Pro Series for its sponsorship," Jones said. "Obviously, the Indianapolis 500 is something that's very important to my family, so it's great to come out here and represent them. I'm just disappointed we didn't make it to the feature."

Loyet raced his way to a ninth-place finish in the B-Main, missing a pass to the A-Main feature event by only three positions while Lasoski finished seventh, just one position shy of transferring to the A-Main.

"We were so close to making it," Loyet said. "My Indy Pro Series car was good, but it was just so tough to pass out there. With a few more laps I think we would have transferred. I'm just very proud to have carried the Indy Pro Series colors this weekend. It's a great series and the place I want to be in the future."

Stanbrough represented the Indy Pro Series and Loyet Motorsports in the A-Main feature event. Starting sixth, Stanbrough battled amongst the leaders throughout the race. Plagued by inconvenient caution flags and tough track conditions, Stanbrough came home fifth.

"We had a fast car," Stanbrough said. "It seemed like every time we would pass someone the caution would come out and they'd put us back behind the guy we had just passed. We just had some tough luck."

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network reporter Kevin Olson competed in the 22nd Annual Chili Bowl Nationals as well. Olson, a veteran midget competitor, got the attention of everyone when he lined up for his race sporting an open-faced helmet and t-shirt instead of the traditional racing uniform.

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4. Peterson guiding AFS Racing to the top: For the first three seasons of Indy Pro Series competition, Gary Peterson found himself behind the wheel of the 420-horsepower race cars, racing side-by-side with other drivers in 22 races. For the past three seasons, Peterson has focused on team ownership, watching from pit lane as his cars competed for race victories.

Even as the 2008 season approaches and the scale dips further in the direction of owner rather than driver, Peterson is still driven by a passion for racing.

"As a driver becoming a team owner, it's taken me quite a bit of time to get used to it," said Peterson, who founded AFS Racing in 2002. "I still miss driving. It's much better to be a driver than a team owner."

That being said, Peterson is aggressively continuing a plan to build a team that can win an Indy Pro Series championship and eventually move up to the IndyCar Series. The team is closing in on the former of those two goals, finishing fifth in 2006 and third in 2007.

"Bringing Alex (Lloyd) over here - that was our first start," said Peterson about the young Englishman who recorded AFS Racing's first two victories in 2006 before winning the championship with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2007 and signing an IndyCar Series deal with Target Chip Ganassi Racing for 2008. "I'm pretty proud of him, where he's ended up."

The team built upon that success by signing 2005 Indy Pro Series champion Wade Cunningham for 2007. Cunningham won one race, earned two pole positions and recorded eight top-five finishes. A relationship between AFS Racing and Andretti Green Racing afforded Cunningham an opportunity to test an IndyCar Series car and get one step closer to competing in the Indianapolis 500.

"The biggest thing is that Gary gave Alex (Lloyd) and myself an opportunity," Cunningham said. "He's very successful in business, so he's able to support young drivers. He gave Alex an opportunity, and that springboarded Alex into the Sam Schmidt Motorsports seat and then on to Target Chip Ganassi. For me, it gave me the chance to work with Andretti Green Racing and get an IndyCar Series test."

The team is still looking for drivers for 2008 -- young, talented drivers who can bring that first championship and carry the momentum forward into the IndyCar Series.

"Gary is a good businessman and he's also a passionate racer, which are two key ingredients to becoming a successful team owner," said IndyCar Series team owner Michael Andretti. "His operation is competitive and, for that reason, it's a good place for a young driver to develop his skills and put himself in a position to advance his career."

"I still want to step the team up to the IndyCar Series, but we need to win a championship in the Indy Pro Series," said Peterson, who owns California-based Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. "Once I win a championship in the Indy Pro Series, I know I've got this under control. Because it's tough, the competition is tough. Hopefully next year, if everything goes right, we want to step up. I love the Indy Pro Series. I'm pretty proud to be one of the initial drivers and owners."

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the SpeedJam Indy 300 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.

-credit: irl