IRL: Indy 500: IMS Media Tour notebook, day one

2007 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK Drivers, officials excited about Month of May; AGR braces for five-car assault INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 4, 2007 -- The thrust of the first day of the 91st Indianapolis 500 Media Tour on April 4 ...

2007 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK
Drivers, officials excited about Month of May; AGR braces for five-car assault

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 4, 2007 -- The thrust of the first day of the 91st Indianapolis 500 Media Tour on April 4 represented the questions about what changes and what stays the same.

100 percent fuel-grade ethanol will be used for the first time in the race and will have an effect on pit stops. Danica Patrick comes to Indy with Andretti-Green Racing, a new team. Michael Andretti decided to run the "500" again, giving his team five cars bidding for spots in the 33-car starting field.

It's A.J. Foyt's 50th year at Indy as a driver and/or owner. Englishman Darren Manning is back, and learning to speak Texan with Foyt's team. Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves come back with Penske Racing and three victories among them, the last being Hornish's breathtaking win at the wire last year. And Sarah Fisher said the difference in her approach to Indy now is, in a sense, "growing up."

All of them talked about it Wednesday as the month of May approaches for the annual Memorial Day weekend classic.

"A lot was said about Danica two years ago," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joie Chitwood, "but we had 27 lead changes in that race, and 22 were on the race track, not in the pits. Last year, the '500' had never had a lead change on the last lap, and we had one in the last 200 yards. I'm not sure what the 91st Indianapolis holds for us, but it's up to us to set the stage."

The ethanol fuel, according to Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations division of the Indy Racing League, could present a new change in scenarios on pit stops, although it probably won't change the number of them.

"In oval-track mileage, they get 3.1 to 3.3 (miles per gallon) on ethanol compared to 1.8 to 2.0 on methanol a few years ago," Barnhart said. "With the smaller fuel cell (22 gallons instead of 30), it may take longer for the tire changers than the fueler."

Les Mactaggart, the Indy Car Series senior technical director, said the switch to ethanol was "seamless."

"I don't think it really could have gone better," Mactaggart said. "It was about this time last year when we started to look at it seriously as an alternative fuel source. The major burden was on Honda to run the fuel and really, it just became an adjustment rather than major changes. They had to do simple adjustments in mapping to run the way we wanted it to. We've adjusted the size of the fuel tanks because we're using 30 percent less fuel. The other major change is we're putting a little more heat in our water so we had to look at cooling system efficiency. Really, that's the sum total of the changes.

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Five cars for AGR: Andretti-Green Racing has some changes, but co-owner Michael Andretti said the chemistry the team has strived for is still in place. Danica Patrick is added to the driver lineup of Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Marco Andretti, and Michael will run a fifth at the Speedway.

Michael Andretti said it wasn't much of a decision to return as a driver.

"After everything that happened last year, I had a lot of fun doing it," he said. "Five cars affected the team in a positive way. I think we're coming up with a better team than last year, and we'll be even more competitive.

"I think it (the team) has changed a little because for some it's still all new. Danica's been accepted. I see Marco getting texts from her and to her from him. They're all talking, and that's the big thing. Danica being new, it's a little harder.

Said co-owner Kim Green: "We've established an additional team on the outside of Indianapolis with the American Le Mans Series, and they have Indy car experience. My brother Barry will run Michael's pit this year.

With five drivers, there's more information, so I think we'll be even better on Race Day. Marco has matured so much in the last 12 months. It'd take most guys to reach where he is in three years. Danica is now in a completely different situation. She's getting to know the engineering group. It's really all about teamwork."

Michael said the well-known team pranks have died down.

"It's really calmed down a little bit," he said. "You'll notice one driver (Bryan Herta) is running another series (AGR's ALMS team), and that's a big part of it."

***

Manning gets the call: Darren Manning said he's happy to be with A.J. Foyt's team. He said he was "with his mates" in England when the call came from team manager Larry Foyt to ask about a drive.

"With A.J., it's all about who can communicate with him," Manning said, smiling. "Even though we both speak English -- well, I still say I speak English properly."

***

Fisher ready for return: Sarah Fisher is returning to the Speedway with the Dreyer & Reinbold team, with 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice as a teammate.

"When I started in Indy cars at 19, I was just out of high school," Fisher said. "As a high school kid, I never got to flip burgers. I came to run the Indianapolis 500. It's called growing up, and I'm really enthusiastic about getting a second chance at it.

"I'll have a bit more knowledge of what to expect and I'll have a teammate who's won it, and we work very well together.

"Everybody forgets how incredible it is to do this for a living. I had a real job last year and it was not fun. I'm just a country girl who gets to race Indy cars."

***

Sinking in for Hornish: Winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500 will start to sink in soon for Sam Hornish Jr.

"I don't know what it's like coming back to Indy after winning," Hornish said. "There're probably a lot more questions. The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for me. Sometimes I wake up and can't believe it's even true. I don't know if it's really set in yet. The ring came from the Speedway and the Baby Borg. I think the first laps of veterans' practice this year is when it'll really set in."

***

Castroneves tries Foyt's winner: Two-time "500" winner Helio Castroneves sat down in the beautiful front-engine Sheraton-Thompson Special that A.J. Foyt drove to victory in 1964, on display in the main media tour room for pictures.

"I have to say it's an incredible machine," Castroneves said, "but I'm glad I was born later than that."

Would he like to drive it?

"Maybe a ceremonial lap, but that's it," he said.

After winning April 1 at St. Petersburg, Castroneves did his unique fence climb but didn't go up too far.

"I remembered last year (when he also won at St. Pete), it was pretty soft," Castroneves said, laughing, "so I took it easy. It's nice to win but I prefer the fence here at Indianapolis."

***

Mears has no regrets: Four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears was asked if he had any second thoughts about what some considered an "early" retirement.

"I'd be lying to say I didn't miss it (to start)," he said. "But then, if I missed it, would I be able to do it at the level it should be done? That answer became greater and greater as time went on, so it wasn't long.

"The main part for me was laying down a good lap. That was the fun part, that limit. That was my payback to the team, to pull in to the pits and see the team members smiling and Roger (Penske) smiling."

***

2007 Indianapolis 500 tickets: Tickets are on sale for the 91st Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 27.

Tickets can be purchased at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Web site, www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, by phone or at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Ticket Office. The IMS Ticket Office can be contacted at (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or (317) 492-6700 locally. Ticket Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Parking and camping permits for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" also can be purchased online, by phone or at the Ticket Office.

-credit: ims

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Series INDYCAR