2007 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK
Panther opening Education Center; Vision emphasizes teamwork
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, April 5, 2007 -- Three new words are affixed outside the front of the Panther Racing shop: Panther Education Center.
Those words represent the start of a new educational program for science, math, physics and engineering that is being launched by the IndyCar Series team. The program is the brainchild of Panther co-owner John Barnes and his wife, Jane.
"We had this idea, and we're building this program," John Barnes said.
Said Jane Barnes: "The curriculum has been written for middle grade students. It's a very important part of what we're doing. Students will learn about science and logistics in a very interesting way. The architectural drawing has been completed. It will operate something like a field trip, with pre-trip information. They'll spend three hours here, and they'll have post-trip information and use our Web site from the classroom and do some of the things they do at the center.
"We've had calls from all over, and we're really excited about it. The program will be starting in the fall, and the facility will be ready for booking in 2008."
Panther already has a relationship with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), with three interns working with the team.
"We have a great relationship with IUPUI," John Barnes said. "They want to take this road show to each race and show gifted students what interns are doing in an effort to get them to come to IUPUI."
On the racing side, drivers Vitor Meira and Kosuke Matsuura think they have their best chance to win at Indy for the 91st Indianapolis 500. Meira finished second two years ago, and he's in his second season with Panther.
"I've been thinking about that for two years," Meira said. "The win is going to come when it's going to come. It didn't, but it will. Thanks to Delphi, we're going to be able to focus more on development than just getting to the track. I've finished second (here). I only have one more place to get."
2004 Chase Rookie of the Year Matsuura figures the Panther opportunity is the best he's had at Indy.
"In 2004, I had a great month of May," he said. "I had really good speed. But I think this will be a good car for Indianapolis. I have a good owner in John Barnes, a good teammate in Vitor and a good team. We're going for the top five."
Vision working as team: Ed Carpenter, Tomas Scheckter and A.J. Foyt IV are looking toward their best assault on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Vision Racing, team manager Larry Curry is looking to pull them all together, and team owner Tony George hinted he may add another car to his stable during the second day of the "500" Media Tour Thursday.
"My vision's always been winning at Indy," Carpenter said, "but you have to get to Indy first. I started in quarter-midgets, I got more serious in my high school years, then when I got to USAC, I set my sights on Indy, for sure. The goal is to win. There's no other reason to do it."
Foyt joined Vision this year after making three Indy 500 starts from 2003-05 for the team owned by his legendary grandfather, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.
"I came to Indianapolis last year and didn't get to race all month," Foyt said. "I'm just glad Tony gave me the chance. I've only had two races this year, but being in the Busch Series (last year), I really didn't get into it as much. I think it's good for me and my grandfather. Our relationship is so much better now that I'm with a different team."
Curry has the job of pulling all resources together.
"We have a very open policy," Curry said. "We don't want to be three one-car teams. We want to be one three-car team. The only difference in these race cars are the seats and driver preference. I think Tomas can share information on the road courses, and Ed's information on the ovals is critical. Anthony's just getting started in it and can draw on all of that."
Vision may field a fourth car for the "500," George said.
"We do plan on deploying a fourth entry this year," he said. "I don't know what form that'll take but we need to decide before we go to Japan. We're building this team for the future. Townsend Bell is working on some things and there are a couple of other opportunities in the mix."
Standouts enjoy Indy Pro Series: Wade Cunningham and Alex Lloyd won Indy Pro Series races last year at the Speedway, and both seem to be enjoying the U.S. experience.
"There's a good balance among the teams," said Englishman Lloyd, winner of the 2006 Liberty Challenge during the United States Grand Prix. "Everyone seems to have fun. In Europe, everybody is really stressed. I came over and couldn't believe everybody was really friendly. Dan Wheldon said the same thing, that he couldn't believe the atmosphere here. Whatever everybody's doing, it seems to be enjoyable."
New Zealand native Cunningham, winner of the 2006 Freedom 100, said he has enjoyed his first taste of oval racing.
"On a superspeedway, and you're racing with guys together, I love fighting for inches, especially when you have a good car on an oval," Cunningham said. "I watched Formula One, as most do in New Zealand. When you kind of realize that Formula One might be too difficult (to find a seat), you think about American racing. The minute I saw the Indianapolis 500, I realized that's the race I wanted to win."
Indy Racing Experience popular: Sinden Racing Services, which developed the Indy Racing Experience "two-seater" program for high-speed rides in an IndyCar Series car, has a new project that has the phone ringing off the hook.
The innovative racing group has built four G Forces and two Dallara chassis with Honda six-cylinder engines that the public can drive at Indianapolis. Four laps around the fabled Speedway at the wheel of an IndyCar Series car cost $399. Business has been brisk -- only a few April and August dates remain for this year, said SRS owner Jeff Sinden.
Carnegie on the mend: Retired legendary IMS Public Address announcer Tom Carnegie, who suffered a shoulder injury Dec. 6, was released by doctors April 2 to start using a walker again. He's working toward the goal of returning to the Speedway on Opening Day to interview A.J. Foyt on his 50th year at Indy.
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.