Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Dixon honored on stamp
2. Brian Stewart Racing signs Sergey Mokshantsev
3. Firestone Racing honored for environmental efforts
4. Construction begins on Long Beach circuit

1. Dixon honored on stamp (Image can be downloaded at indycar.com/media): Reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is among five New Zealand race car/motorcycle drivers featured in a New Zealand Champions of World Motorsport stamp series released this week by New Zealand Post.

Dixon, who earlier this month was recognized as New Zealand's Sportsman of the Year, is featured on a 50 cent stamp (the going rate for regular posts).

"It's crazy. I can't believe I am on a stamp," Dixon said. "I would never have thought I would have the honor. I can't wait to see them and I will be using them for as long as I can."

Dixon prevailed as the IndyCar Series champion for the second time, winning the 92nd Indianapolis 500 among a series record-tying six races along the way. He'll participate in the first Open Test of the season next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for the opening race April 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"His success is the culmination of 15 years' hard work - a career that we've been following ever since we first saw him at age 13 with a pillow strapped to his waist to help him see over the wheel," said Ivor Masters, General Manager Stamps.

Also being recognized in the series are Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and motorcyclists Ivan Mauger and Hugh Anderson.

"Kiwis are known for their competitiveness, so it's no surprise that we've produced a long list of motorsport champions," Masters said. "For this stamp issue, we have selected five greats who performed with distinction on the world stage."

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2. Brian Stewart Racing signs Sergey Mokshantsev: Sergey Mokshantsev, a 26-year-old Russian, has signed to drive for Brian Stewart Racing for the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season. He'll drive team owner Brian Stewart's familiar No. 3 car this season and be the series' first driver from Russia.

"It takes a lot of desire to be a high-level racer, especially if you come from a country like Russia," said Stewart, whose teams won back-to-back Firestone Indy Lights entrant championships in 2005 and 2006. "Sergey has shown he has that desire and he has been successful in series he's raced in throughout Europe."

Mokshantsev has competed in Formula 3 in Russia and Italy as well as the International Formula Master and Italian Formula Masters. He was a standout in the entry-level Formula Rus (Russian-built race cars similar to Star Mazda) after racing in karting series in his home county.

"I looked at racing tracks and series in Europe but I'm intrigued about racing on ovals," Mokshantsev said. "NASCAR and IndyCar Series races are shown a lot (in Russia) and so that's what brought me to test at Kentucky last year. It was a lot of fun."

Mokshantsev had a successful Firestone Indy Lights test with Brian Stewart Racing at Kentucky Speedway last fall and will be among the rookie drivers testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Feb. 23-24.

He hopes to follow past Brian Stewart Racing drivers such as Paul Tracy, Bryan Herta and Cristiano da Matta into the top levels of motorsports.

"The Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series is growing (in popularity) in Russia," he said. "I hope to be the first Russian to race there as well."

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3. Firestone Racing honored for environmental efforts: Firestone Racing received recognition Feb. 18 during an event at the Chicago Auto Show as a partner in the Environmental Protection Agency's National Partnership for Environmental Priorities.

Al Speyer, Executive Director of Firestone Racing, and Greer Tidwell, Director of Environmental Management, accepted the award.

The NPEP highlights environmental leadership through voluntary reduction of priority and hazardous chemicals such as lead. During 2008, Firestone Racing permanently replaced the use of alllead wheel weights with non-toxic composite wheel weights and became a charter member of the National Lead Free Wheel Weight Initiative.

Additionally, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Tires Plus, ExpertTire and Wheel Works service centers also voluntarily chose to install non-toxic steel wheel weights.

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4. Construction begins on Long Beach circuit: Construction began on the 11-turn, 1.97-mile Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach race circuit on Feb. 18. Over the next two months, more than 14 million pounds of concrete blocks that line the race circuit will be set in place, turning Shoreline Drive in downtown Long Beach into a 200-mph straightaway for the inaugural visit by the IndyCar Series April 17-19.

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach director of operations Dwight Tanaka and his staff of 40 will put in more than 30,000 working hours installing concrete blocks, three miles of fencing and 16,000 bolted-together tires, along with 15 spectator grandstands, seven pedestrian bridges and eight giant-vision boards for full-circuit TV coverage.

"It's like we build a small town for a weekend," said Tanaka. "With more than 175,000 people expected to attend the race, they'll need everything from hospitality suites to rest rooms to trash containers to a hundred other little things.

"And building it is only half our job. On Sunday night, when the last race engine is switched off, we'll start taking everything down, inspect all of it and start getting it ready again for 2010."

"Every year, Dwight and his staff, with the help of our suppliers and the City of Long Beach, do a tremendous job constructing a circuit which is challenging for the drivers and provides a variety of spectacular viewing areas for our fans," said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. "They're able to do this while making a strong effort to minimize the impact on downtown businesses."

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Firestone Indy Lights teams will test Feb. 23-24, while IndyCar Series teams will test from 4-10 p.m. Feb. 24-25.

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The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.

-credit: irl