Series news and notes 2009-02-24

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines 1. IndyCar Series Open Test underway 2. Duno, Wilson late additions to test 3. Wheldon participates in Challenge Champions Gala 4. Mann tops Firestone Indy Lights test 5....

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. IndyCar Series Open Test underway
2. Duno, Wilson late additions to test
3. Wheldon participates in Challenge Champions Gala
4. Mann tops Firestone Indy Lights test
5. Herrington's test cut short

1. IndyCar Series Open Test underway: The IndyCar Series opened the 2009 season with an Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Twenty drivers began a five-hour practice session at 4 p.m. EST on the 1.5-mile oval, including four past champions, nine race winners and four rookies. The 20 cars and drivers on track is the most at an Open Test since the Test in the West Feb. 6, 2002 at California Speedway.

2008 champion Scott Dixon paced the field at the dinner break with a best lap of 25.2919 seconds, 211.372 mph. Dixon recorded the first of six victories in 2008 at the facility.

"Homestead is such a particular track," 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan said. "Although it's an oval, you can't test at Homestead for Richmond, you can't test at Homestead for Iowa, so it's definitely just to get the team motion going, the team working together, teammates adapting to new engineers, different engineers, different stuff that we learned over the course of the winter. It's going to be great just to be back on the racetrack."

Testing continues until 10 p.m. EST and resumes from 4-10 p.m. Feb. 25.

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2. Duno, Wilson late additions to test: Two drivers who are still finalizing their racing plans were late additions to the list of drivers for the Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Milka Duno tested the No. 23 Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry, while Justin Wilson drove the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing entry.

Duno made 18 starts for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2007-08, recording a best finish of 14th at Chicagoland Speedway where she led five laps.

"It's a good opportunity for me to test with this championship team," Duno said. "It's always a driver's dream to be with a good team. I learned a lot with Robbie Buhl and everyone at Dreyer & Reinbold (Racing) last year and I'll miss talking with them every day. The plan is to do the whole championship (season). It's now up to me to do a good job. They know how to win a race. When you work hard and have the right conditions, good things will come. It was a small team but we had big potential. Every day I learned something new."

Wilson made 16 starts in the IndyCar Series in 2008 as a rookie with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, recording a victory on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit.

"Obviously, we're looking forward to joining Dale Coyne Racing for this test and hopefully for the season," Wilson said. "We're still working on finalizing things."

"The main thing is take it easy, one step at a time. There are no prizes for the test. We'll build up to speed, work on our car and take it from there. It's more getting to know each other than prove ourselves right now. I'm excited to be working with a great engineer in Bill Pappas. We feel that we can do a lot with a little provided everything goes ahead."

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3. Wheldon participates in Challenge Champions Gala: Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon joined fellow race car drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, entertainer Julianne Hough and other celebrities in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24 for the fourth annual Challenge Champions Gala.

The event honors advocates of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, a 17-month voluntary intervention program established to provide training and education for high school dropouts interested in pursuing higher education, attaining employment or joining the military. The Youth Challenge program operates 35 programs in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia and has graduated more than 77,000 former high school dropouts since being founded in 1993.

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4. Mann tops Firestone Indy Lights test: During the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season, there may have been no better team on ovals than Panther Racing.

Based on the results of the first Open Test of the 2009 season, Panther may not be so willing to give up that title.

Pippa Mann topped the speed charts for a second consecutive day at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a lap of 28.4776 seconds, 187.726 mph, on the 1.5-mile oval.

"I'm really, really pleased," said Mann, who topped the rookie testing session on Feb. 24. "My Panther Racing Firestone Indy Lights car has been really fast every time I've been in it on both days. It's been a huge learning experience. I got better running in traffic. I can't not be happy with how we ran. I hope when we get to the race weekend, we have a similar performance."

Irish rookie Ali Jackson was second fastest after leading most of the morning session with a lap of 187.488 mph. Rookies Sebastian Saavedra (187.437 mph), Martin Plowman (187.172 mph) and Mario Romancini (187.136 mph) rounded out the top five cars.

"We had a good start of a day," Jackson said. "I got a good tow off of Mann and then Pippa, pardon the pun, pipped us at the end. Then we had a mechanical issue. We broke an input shaft and lost a lot of time, but that's not the fault of the team. It's just one of those things. But we're still quick, so I'm happy."

Overall, 20 drivers turned laps over the two-day test. Ana Beatriz was the fastest veteran driver, recording a best lap of 186.418 mph.

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5. Herrington's test cut short: Daniel Herrington had the only incident of the session, making contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 with the rear of the car. The car was not seriously damaged, but ended the test for Bryan Herta Autosport a bit early.

"We had made two pretty big changes to the car and went out hoping it would be better," he said. "I think we got caught out by the wind. It had picked up quite a bit since we made the changes. In retrospect, maybe we could have been more conservative and not made such a big change, but we got away with not too much problem."

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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

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Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS