Series news and notes 2009-04-06

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines 1. Hunter-Reay unfazed by last-minute deal, finishes second 2. Wilson celebrates podium finish 3. Petty, Andretti partner for Indy 500 effort 4. Summerton shines in hometown effort 5.

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Hunter-Reay unfazed by last-minute deal, finishes second
2. Wilson celebrates podium finish
3. Petty, Andretti partner for Indy 500 effort
4. Summerton shines in hometown effort
5. Public to vote for Firestone "Tire"-rific move of the race
6. Drivers reap post-race awards

1. Hunter-Reay unfazed by last-minute deal, finishes second: The offseason seemed especially long to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who struggled to find a ride for the 2009 season despite a victory on the Fourth of July weekend last year and an Izod personal-services deal.

Finally, Vision Racing co-owner Tony George stepped in to offer Hunter-Reay a seat in the team's No. 21 car. That was three days before the initial practice session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Fortunately, Hunter-Reay was physically and mentally ready while the Honda-powered Dallara was prepped for the grueling weekend. Starting 14th, Hunter-Reay made the most of an opportunity on a Lap 33 pit stop - just before a full-course caution - and remained in touch with the leaders.

After overtaking Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson for second on Lap 86, Hunter-Reay set his sights on Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe. Two full-course caution periods in the final 14 laps bunched up the field, but Hunter-Reay wasn't able to make a pass stick. Still, second place gave the fifth-year team its best finish and promise heading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19.

"It's amazing how things work out," said Hunter-Reay, who won at Watkins Glen last year in a Rahal Letterman Racing car. "A lot of people came together to make this work, and yeah, it was a nail biter for sure. But in the end, the George family, everybody at IZOD, Mike Kelly at IZOD, Colin Dyne at William Rast, and really, the IndyCar Series, I have to thank them a lot for the marketing, commercial side of it.

"We've been working real hard on the business side of making this thing work out, and we threw it together in seven days. I met the team (March 29), didn't sit in the car until Friday here this weekend. I mean, Friday afternoon we were still cutting away at the seat and everything. It's just unreal. It really speaks volumes to the caliber of talent at Vision Racing and what this team is capable of.

"But this is what racing is about. This is why people love it, and this is why IndyCar is so great, because you can put something together in that amount of time, and if you get the right people together, you can challenge for a race win against teams that are spending $15 million a year, $20 million a year. It's a very neat thing, a very cool series."

***

2. Wilson celebrates podium finish: How is Justin Wilson celebrating a podium finish in the season opener?

By spending a few extra days soaking up the sun in St. Petersburg with wife Julia and daughter Jane before heading home to Colorado, where they'll celebrate Jane's first birthday April 12. It's a welcome spring break after a winter of discontent.

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing didn't renew the contract of Wilson, who won on the temporary Belle Isle street course last August, because of a lack of sponsorship. He went shopping for a ride and finally struck a deal with Dale Coyne Racing before the first Open Test in late February.

"This is a great place for me after a long, tough winter," said Wilson, who started an unexpected second for the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.

Wilson was drenched from a champagne spray as he celebrated with race winner Ryan Briscoe and runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay on the podium. The result still was a bit bittersweet. Wilson led a career-high 52 laps, including the initial 35, but was passed by Briscoe in Turn 1 following a Lap 86 restart. Hunter-Reay also slipped by in Turn 4 of Lap 87.

"That last restart the two cars behind got a very good run off Turn 14 and I didn't," he said. "Having led the most laps all race and been so strong and been so fast, I'm disappointed not to get the win," he said. "But, under the circumstances, I'm very pleased with third result for Dale Coyne Racing. We've got some good people and pulled a team together, and that's what allows you to compete. That's the great thing about this series.

"I'm just very pleased that the whole Dale Coyne Racing team has done a great job, and I've just got to be very thankful for them to choose me to drive their car and get a strong first weekend in."

Similar sentiments were shared by the team owner.

"I never thought I would be disappointed with a podium finish," Coyne said. "But we truly had the best car of the weekend and certainly had a well-deserved win in our sights. The team is coming together very nicely and we certainly look forward to the next IndyCar Series race in Long Beach."

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3. Petty, Andretti partner for Indy 500 effort: Petty and Andretti. Two of the biggest names in motorsports will partner to compete in the Indianapolis 500 this May.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty will enter the No. 43 Window World Honda Dallara in partnership with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for Indianapolis 500 veteran John Andretti in the 93rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. It is Petty's first foray into the Indianapolis 500 as a competitor.

"John and I have been talking about this for three or four years, and I finally came up to the (Indianapolis 500) for the first time last year," said Petty, wearing his customary black cowboy hat and sunglasses. "I remember as a kid growing up I used to listen to it on the radio while I was under a stock car back home getting ready for a race. I came up here for 10 or 15 years with STP for Pole Day. It was one of those things where you came and got all excited but then had to go home and go back to work on your stock car. John invited me up here (last year). I came up and had a good time. We finally got things put together."

Andretti has made nine starts in the race, recording four top-10 finishes, including a fifth in 1991. He drove Petty's famed No. 43 in NASCAR in 1994 and from 1998-2003.

"It's fantastic to come back to the Speedway," said Andretti, who started seven times from 1988-94 before returning for the last two years. "This has been coming together for a long time. I'm the second-longest driver of the 43 car (in NASCAR). For me to be part of this again and have Richard to be part of it and to get to drive the 43 again is a big thing for me. It's exciting for me. I can't wait for May to get here.

"I get to start from opening day, which is good for me. To do it like this, is the way to do it at Indy if you're going to be a contender."

The car will feature the traditional "Petty Blue" and "Day-Glo Red" from Petty's stock cars in his debut as a team owner in the Indianapolis 500. Richard Petty Motorsports currently campaigns four Dodge cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

This year's Indianapolis 500 also will be the 10th for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, co-owned by Dennis Reinbold and former driver Robbie Buhl. The team finished eighth last year with Buddy Rice.

"Co-ownership of this entry by Richard Petty is the icing on the cake," Reinbold said. "That's something that's going to make this entry a very special car and a very special month of May entry for us. We're really excited about this."

Window World makes its debut in the Indianapolis 500 in 2009. The North Wilkesboro, N.C., corporation has locations in 46 states with more than 200 dealers. Each outlet is locally owned and operated.

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4. Summerton shines in hometown effort: Last month, Jonathan Summerton signed with RLR/Andersen Racing, knowing he would race in the doubleheader at St. Petersburg.

After posting a second and fourth-place finish in the two races on the tricky street circuit, the combination hopes to continue that success for the rest of the season.

"It was awesome, tons of fun," said the 20-year-old Floridian. "We went from 16th to fourth after finishing second on Saturday. I don't think you could have asked for much more. My goal (Sunday) was a top-five, and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It's just a shame we couldn't get clear air to run the lap times (in qualifying Saturday), because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure."

Summerton had never competed on St. Petersburg's street course before, despite living an hour away in Kissimmee, Fla. Still, he gave the home state fans something to cheer about when he finished second in his Firestone Indy Lights debut.

"It was just great following Junior (Strous) through the field," Summerton said. "He did a great job. We were able to keep up with him. We had a car that was very good. And really happy with everything that went on. Just a consistent car throughout the race, and was able to keep pressure on Junior, but he didn't make any mistakes, so good job to him."

Summerton lies second in the point standings, 28 markers behind Strous as the series heads to the streets of Long Beach April 19. Summerton, who finished fourth in his only start at Long Beach in Atlantics hopes to build on the momentum at the track.

"Allied Interior Products and RLR/Andersen Racing have done a good job putting the car together," he said. "I really thank them this weekend. We started off rough and ended on a high."

***

5. Public to vote for Firestone "Tire"-rific move of the race: Fans will have the ultimate say in who receives a $10,000 race bonus from Firestone each week. After each IndyCar Series race, Firestone executives pick three "Tire"-rific Moves of the Race, on-track moves where the drivers had to rely on their Firestone Firehawk tires. Fans can vote for the winner at www.indycar.com.

From the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, fans can choose from:

* Justin Wilson for leading the first 35 laps on a set of alternate tires.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose charge from 14th to second included a 37-lap stint on the reds.

* Ryan Briscoe, who made the decisive pass for the lead on Lap 87.

***

6. Drivers reap post-race awards: Ryan Briscoe collected an IndyCar Series timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the IndyCar Series, for winning the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece valued at $1,000 to the winner of each IndyCar Series event. Briscoe also collected the $1,000 Bosch Award.

Graham Rahal won the PEAK Performance Pole Award and its $10,000 prize.

***

The 2009 IndyCar Series season continues April 19 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 126. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 19 at Long Beach. The race will be telecast at 4 p.m. (EDT) on April 20 by VERSUS.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers John Andretti , Justin Wilson , Graham Rahal , Richard Petty , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Tony George , Jonathan Summerton , Dale Coyne , Mike Kelly
Teams Team Penske , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing , Dale Coyne Racing , Richard Petty Motorsports