INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- March 21, 2007
Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. If you missed it: Bobby Wilson and Dan Wheldon teleconference
2. Lawmakers honor IndyCar Series' use of ethanol
3. Expanded Vision Racing hopes to continue momentum
4. Klein to contest road course races for Team Moore Racing
5. Indy Pro Series Season Preview: Brian Stewart Racing
1. 2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon. and Indy Pro Series driver Bobby Wilson were guests on today's Indy Racing League teleconference.
Wilson, who is expected to compete for the series title in the Indy Pro Series, the stepping stone to the IndyCar Series, was asked about his thoughts on some open-wheel drivers changing to stock car racing.
Q. For somebody that's on the way up, what do you think open wheel racing needs to do to keep its talent in open wheel racing?
BOBBY WILSON "You kind of pick the path you want to go, and I knew at a young age that I wanted to go race Indy cars, so living the dream, and hopefully keep it going in the same path. So my dream is to run in the Indy 500 some day, and it could be possible in the next few years. "
Wheldon, who has won the last two races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, spoke about the upcoming IndyCar Series season and who he thinks will be the top favorites for the title.
Q. Obviously it seems like the Team Penske had everyone's number a little bit at the beginning of last year and the end was up for grabs, so to speak, but in the testing you have done, have you been able to figure out whether you have their number now, or is Friday and Saturday purely a crapshoot as to who has what?
DAN WHELDON: I would not 100 percent agree with your answer. I thought definitely we I think we performed very well throughout the season, and it seemed to me that it just the Ganassi cars and the Penske cars were both very competitive. It was the team that made the least mistakes or the car that made the least mistakes that won the race that weekend. I think it's still difficult to judge, because we've only had two days on the road course and two days on the oval, and it seems very competitive. I wouldn't like to predict who right now is the quickest.
What I can say is I was happy with the way my car performed in testing and, you know, in particular I'm much happier on the road courses now that I'm in a Dallara, and you can get involved in all kinds of things.
But all I know is what I'm in control of, and I think we made improvements, and I think it makes a big difference when you have a second year on a team, personally. Because of that, I think there will be an improvement from the No. 10 car's standpoint, but, you know, I have to say, I think both Penske cars will be strong, I think both Ganassi cars, and I think a couple of the Green cars are going to be strong, and one of the Panther cars.
So as you say in America, it's going to be a "barn burner" of a season.
2. Lawmakers honor IndyCar Series' use of ethanol: On the first day of spring, Capitol Hill was a little greener.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined U.S. Senate colleagues Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh during a news conference to honor the IndyCar Series for its transition to 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol for the 2007 season. The series is at the forefront of "the greening of racing" -- the first in motorsports to embrace a renewable and environmentally-responsible fuel source.
The Congressional leaders, who joined Team Ethanol driver Jeff Simmons, Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George and Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen in waving green ethanol flags in front of the No. 17 Team Ethanol car to signify the start of the groundbreaking season, are in accord with President George W. Bush's call for large increases in American production of renewable fuels such as ethanol.
The senators recognized the IndyCar Series in a Congressional Record statement for sending a strong message to race fans and Americans about the benefits of using ethanol and other renewable fuels. The green ethanol flag signed by George, Simmons, Dinneen and senators will be used to start the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300 on March 24.
"This is the kind of leadership we need -- from both the public and private sector -- if we are going to begin reducing our dependence on oil," Bayh said. "With its decision to switch to 100 percent ethanol, the Indy Racing League has taken the lead in encouraging all Americans to use renewable fuels."
George recognized the Indiana lawmakers, who recently joined a coalition of senators to introduce the DRIVE Act -- a comprehensive, bipartisan plan to reduce dependence on oil by 7 million barrels a day in 20 years -- for their steadfast support of renewable fuel production.
"I want to thank Senators Lugar and Bayh for their support of the ethanol-IndyCar Series partnership and the support of everyone on Capitol Hill for renewable fuels," said George, noting that Lugar earlier this week was recognized for his leadership by having the new renewable energy center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis named in his honor.
"Since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was founded in 1909, innovation has been a hallmark of our tradition. Today, the IndyCar Series carries that tradition forward with ethanol. This Saturday night, the IndyCar Series will conduct the first major all-ethanol-fueled race when the green flag is dropped at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, the world's largest single-day sporting event, are the perfect showcase for ethanol, which can help American passenger cars burn cleaner and more economically responsible fuels.
"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. We urge consumers to follow the lead of our national leaders and support the country's focus on renewable fuels.
"I also want to take this opportunity to salute former IndyCar Series driver Paul Dana for his efforts in bringing ethanol to the IndyCar Series. It was Paul's vision and diligence that matched up the ethanol industry with the IndyCar Series. And Paul's legacy will forever be bringing a renewable fuel to the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500. In many respects, he has changed the face of motorsports and brought energy awareness to our arena."
In his State of the Union Address and revisited during speeches across the country, President Bush said that it's in the country's "vital interest to diversify America's energy supply, and the way forward is through technology." The president is seeking to more than quadruple the amount of alternative fuel produced -- to 35 billion gallons -- by 2017. There are more than 110 ethanol production facilities across the country, producing more than 5.4 billion gallons of ethanol annually, with more in various phases of development and construction.
Currently, ethanol blended with gasoline at retail outlets reduces the need for more than 600,000 barrels of oil per day. Ethanol, which is made from renewable agricultural products such as corn, is unlike gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. Cleaner-burning and biodegradable, ethanol also is boosting local economies and expanding tax bases with production plants going online.
"While ethanol not only displaces oil and is better for the environment, the Indy Racing League has chosen ethanol for a more fundamental reason," Lugar said. "Ethanol is a high-performance fuel. It is time to increase the availability of E85 pumps and flex-fuel vehicles so that all Americans have access to this high-performance, renewable fuel."
The Ethanol-IndyCar Series partnership dates to 2005 and has advanced from ethanol being a team sponsor to working with the sanctioning body to introduce an ethanol-methanol blend in 2006. The use of 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol in the Honda Indy V-8 engines, developed over the past year by IndyCar Series and Honda Performance Development officials, has performed flawlessly in extended testing on and off the track.
"When we take the green flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend and all 33 cars are running in the Indianapolis 500 at 230 mph, we will show that you can have environmental responsibility and high performance at the same time," Simmons said.
As part of its marketing activation, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council has created a mobile marketing unit that will be located in the midway area at the 16 domestic IndyCar Series events. Additionally, EPIC will continue its pump tours, allowing consumers to buy E10 fuel in race markets at a reduced price. The tours include IndyCar Series drivers and serves as an initiation for many consumers to an ethanol-enriched product.
"There is no better way to showcase ethanol's performance aspects than with a car going 220 mph," EPIC senior director of marketing Reece Nanfito said.
A Team Ethanol show car will be on display this weekend at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel/conference center in Florida.
3. Expanded Vision Racing hopes to continue momentum: For the second straight year, the IndyCar Series off-season has yielded growth for Vision Racing. After adding a car to the effort and several personnel in 2006, the the team will add another entry and debut a three-car effort for the season opening XM Satellite Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Joining regular team drivers Ed Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter will be A.J. Foyt IV. The move to add a car to the stable also saw growth in team personnel with a current roster of nearly 50 employees.
The new kid on the block at Vision Racing is no stranger to IndyCar Series competition. Foyt, the grandson of IndyCar legend, A.J. Foyt, will return to full-time to the Series for his fourth full season and will participate in his fifth season overall.
"I had been talking to Tony for a while about joining the team, so I'm really happy that we could work something out," Foyt said. "I'm very thankful to everyone for the opportunity and look forward to achieving some great things."
Foyt's most recent IndyCar action came last season when he drove in the season finale for Andretti Green Racing in place of the injured, Dario Franchitti. Foyt has started 48 races in his IndyCar career, with three top-10 finishes.
Rounding out the Vision Racing effort will be the No. 2 and No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone machines, which will once again be piloted by Scheckter and Carpenter, respectively. The pair had a breakthrough season for the team in 2006, including 15 top-ten finishes, three top-five finishes and a third place finish.
Scheckter, who is entering his sixth IndyCar Series season, gave the team its best championship points finish last season when he earned the 10th spot. He also scored the team's highest race finish with a third place run at The Milwaukee Mile. Not to mention, he also put a Vision Racing machine in the lead for the first time, leading a total of 20 laps last season; increasing his total career laps lead to 1,351.
"Last season, Vision Racing showed a lot of promise," Scheckter said. "Each race we got better and better and began to challenge for the top spots. We must carry that momentum forward into 2007, and when we do, then I believe we can start winning races."
Carpenter scored his best career finish with a fifth place run at Chicagoland Speedway. In addition, Carpenter earned a career-best qualifying effort of fourth at Michigan International Speedway last season.
"Once we started hitting stride last season, I wasn't ready to stop racing," Carpenter said. "I'm eager to get back on track and produce even better results this year. We are all ready to start challenging for race wins."
Car number: 2 (Scheckter), 20 (Carpenter), 22 (Foyt)
Drivers: Tomas Scheckter, 26, of Cape Town, South Africa, Ed Carpenter, 26, of Indianapolis and A.J. Foyt IV, 22, of Hockley, Texas.
Team manager: Larry Curry
Race engineers: David Cripps
Assistant engineers: Matt Curry and Al Bodey
Chief mechanic: Keven Kukulewicz (all cars)
Tony George: "We have done a lot to grow and improve the team this off-season and we have taken advantage of the opportunities available to continue to develop Vision Racing into the most competitive team it can be."
4. Klein to contest road course races for Team Moore Racing: Team Moore Racing completed its 2007 Indy Pro Series driver lineup on March 21, signing Jonathan Klein to contest the nine road courses/street races in it No. 2 entry.
"We're real happy to have Jonathan coming on board," said team co-owner Mark Moore. "He has a lot of experience in these cars, and he's really hungry. I watched him all last year and never saw him go backwards. That's the mark of someone with real ability and talent. Our hope is to do a good job for him and win some races with him.
Klein, a 19-year-old from Long Grove, Ill., finished second in the Indy Pro Series, as a rookie missing the championship by four points. He'll make his debut with the team at the Indy Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg doubleheader on March 31-April 1.
"For a while it was looking pretty grim for the year," said Klein, who will share the entry with team co-owner Tom Wood, who will contest the oval events. "It was getting down to the wire. I'm really glad that I was able to put a deal together with Tom Wood and Team Moore Racing.
"Bobby (Wilson) showed last year that the cars last year were up to par, so there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to be competitive. We're going to be the competition to beat."
Though Klein will only be running a partial schedule, he expects to run up front, race hard and 'not worry about the championship."
"I can be like Wade Cunningham last year," he said. "I only need to worry about winning races week in and week out. Last year, we never finished out of top 5 on road courses -- we showed well. I hope to improve on that. I'm glad to be back in the series. Look to have as many wins as possible."
5. Indy Pro Series Season Preview: Brian Stewart Racing: Leading up to the season-opening 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 Brian Stewart Racing.
Owner: Brian Stewart
Drivers: Brad Jaeger (No. 3), Jesse Mason (No. 33), Bobby Wilson (No. 1)
Team Manager: Stephanie Arnold
Chief Mechanics: Mo Larsen, Dave Metcalfe
Overview: There's no slowing down at Brian Stewart Racing. The team that has won the past two Indy Pro Series entrant championships with driver Wade Cunningham has re-loaded with race winner Bobby Wilson in the No. 1 car. Wilson won on the road course at Watkins Glen last year and recorded five top-five finishes. He'll be joined by rookie Brad Jaeger, who has two seasons of Star Mazda competition under his belt. Wilson topped the speed chart on the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the February Open Test, and he ranked third on the oval. Jaeger was eighth-quick on the road course.
Watch For--Wilson to shine: Wilson, who admits he needs more experience on ovals, goes to a team that turned Cunningham, a world karting champion with no oval experience, into an Indy Pro Series champion and a three-time winner on ovals. Wilson won the Stars of Karting championship in 2003 and the Formula Ford championship in 2004. He should be a strong contender for another title in 2007 with nine races on road courses and seven on ovals.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Brian Stewart, owner: "I'm looking forward to the coming season. I know that Ganassi Racing will be tough. I know that Andretti Green will be tough, Panther. They've all got a proven track record as do we. We'll all fight it out, and may the best man win."
Brad Jaeger, driver: "I really don't have any concrete expectations as far as finishing so well at these races, but mainly bringing my experience level up and learning how to drive and race on an oval. I have hardly any experience on ovals, and that's one thing that's great about Brian Stewart Racing. They really know how to bring a driver along and teach him how to drive ovals, how to stay in there and win championships. Look at Wade Cunningham's rookie year. They started off with the same goal -- just get in there, learn the ovals, be consistent, bring your comfort level up. The next thing they knew they were in the lead for the championship, so that's my one expectation for the ovals. For the road courses, I definitely have higher expectations for myself, but there's still that transition that you have to go through learning a new car. Every car is different, especially how it handles bumps, how it handles different types of corners. Just learn the car and hopefully be running up front on all of the road courses."
Bobby Wilson, driver: "I'm really comfortable here at Brian Stewart Racing. The cars are really fast. I feel very comfortable, and I can put out a quick time and be consistent. I'm looking forward to dominating this year."
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 at 5 p.m. (EDT) on March 28 by ESPN2.