Series news and notes 2009-04-16

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines Milestone marks Kanaan's return to Long Beach Unser Jr., Rahal inducted into Long Beach Walk of Fame Wheldon named national spokesperson for National Guard Youth Foundation Dreyer ...

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
Milestone marks Kanaan's return to Long Beach
Unser Jr., Rahal inducted into Long Beach Walk of Fame
Wheldon named national spokesperson for National Guard Youth Foundation Dreyer
Reinbold renews partnership with Emu Australia

1. Milestone marks Kanaan's return to Long Beach: Andretti Green Racing driver Tony Kanaan will make his 100th IndyCar Series start this weekend when the series makes its first visit to the Streets of Long Beach, Calif.

"It shows you that I'm getting old," Kanaan joked.

Well, older anyway (he's 34), but he has at least five seasons remaining in the Andretti Green Racing-prepared No. 11 car thanks to an extension signed in August. Kanaan also will be making his 99th consecutive start -- the leader among active IndyCar Series drivers. He's also the series leader with 67 top-five finishes, which is further testament to his skills and staying power.

Kanaan burst onto the IndyCar Series scene fulltime in 2003 with Andretti Green Racing, winning the pole for the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and then winning from the pole three weeks later at Phoenix International Raceway. The next season, he became the first IndyCar Series driver to complete every lap (3,305) and set a then-series record with 889 laps led on the way to the championship (three wins, 15 top-five finishes).

He's been second or third in the championship standings three of the succeeding four years (sixth in '06), and is coming off a fifth place at St. Petersburg in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven entry. A victory on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn Long Beach circuit -- or any of the remaining 16 events -- will give Kanaan at least one win in seven consecutive seasons (the fourth driver to do so).

Kanaan has had success on the Long Beach temporary street course. He recorded his first podium finish in his second race in Indy Lights (second to David Empringham) in 1996 and won his first Indy car pole in 1999 (finished fifth).

"I can't forget that one," he said of the CART pole. "We had a problem with the gearbox on our primary car in the morning, so we switched to the backup car and we were 0.5 seconds quicker. So, about 10 minutes before qualifying, we decided to withdraw the primary car and take a chance with the backup car. It was a gamble, but it paid off. I bet my engineers and the crew their wristwatches that I could do better than a 62.5 (seconds) and I did. They all lost their watches."

***

2. Unser Jr., Rahal inducted into Long Beach Walk of Fame: Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Rahal were inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Thursday in the fourth annual ceremony to recognize legends from the 35-year history of the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Bronze plaques were unveiled in the sidewalk alongside the course. The duo joins Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney among others on the Walk of Fame.

Unser Jr., a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, won six times on the streets of Long Beach. Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 champ, recorded four second-place finishes at Long Beach.

JIM MICHAELIAN (CEO, Grand Prix Association of Long Beach): "A lot of people have performed admirably on these streets going all the way back to 1975, but the two individuals we're recognizing today performed especially significant feats here. Not only in Long Beach but throughout their history in motor racing. Al Unser Jr., who is known to a lot of you as ‘Little Al,' has always been known to us as ‘King of the Beach,' and deservedly so. He's a six-time winner here. Bobby Rahal spent a number of years driving around the streets of Long Beach. He came here in 1978 in what was then the Formula Atlantic Series, graduated to CART. He ran extremely well not only here but the rest of the schedule, too. He finished second here four times, so he really knew this course well. These two guys have both contributed to our success."

AL UNSER JR.: "It truly is an honor to be mentioned with the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk. To be in their company is very, very special."

BOBBY RAHAL: "It's a great pleasure and honor to be here, especially with my friend Al. I first came here in 1977 and sat on the top of a motorhome and watched Mario (Andretti) pass Jody Scheckter with a couple laps to go. I loved coming to this race and came back in 1978 to run the Atlantic race. Even though I never won here, it was fundamental to my progress and success as a driver. Maybe my one great regret in my career, if I have one, is that I never won here, but I told Graham (Rahal) he'll have to do that for the Rahal family."

***

3. Wheldon named national spokesperson for National Guard Youth Foundation: Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, was joined at the Grand Prix of Long Beach by cadets from the California Sunburst Youth Academy as he was announced as the national spokesperson for the National Guard Youth Foundation and the National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

"Today makes me very proud to be a national spokesperson for the Youth Challenge Program," said Wheldon, who returned to Panther Racing for the 2009 season for the first time since making his debut with the team in 2002. "I'm new to the program, and I'm new to the National Guard, but both are entities that do an unbelievable job for the community. Today is about the cadets. When you hear some of the stories, it puts into perspective what we do on track. This really gives you a reality check. I'm eager to be part of this program. These cadets inspire me, and I'm incredibly proud to be part of the program."

Wheldon's role will be to bring more awareness to the high school dropout epidemic that sees 7,000 students drop out of school each day through speaking engagements, personal appearances, public service announcements and media availabilities.

"I've leared a few things about Dan," said Gail Dady, National Guard Youth Foundation board member. "Dan makes the major decisions in his life with a very compassionate heart, and I think he executes those decisions with a very determined mind. He is a good fit for us. Dan is going to be an excellent role model for the participants in this program because he knows what it takes to succeed in life, hard work and dedication, and that's exactly what it takes in this program."

The National Guard Youth Challenge Program is 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 program operates in 27 states and Puerto Rico and has graduated more than 85,000 students since its founding in 1993.

***

4. Dreyer & Reinbold renews partnership with Emu Australia: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will renew its relationship with Emu Australia as the primary sponsor on the No. 24 car driven by rookie Mike Conway beginning with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Australian company originally joined forces as a sponsor partner with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last year.

"Dreyer & Reinbold's commitment to quality and winning parallels our endeavors at Emu Australia," said Emu Australia's CEO Ted Houston. "Their growth and success in the IndyCar Series is reflective of that commitment, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to support their efforts. Our association has brought significant recognition and value to our brand."

Emu Australia is an Australian premium lifestyle brand that uses 100 percent Australian sheepskin and wool. Founded in 1994, Emu is recognized around the world for its tradition of offering premium products ranging from sheepskin boots, leather sandals and casual slippers to premium merino wool and sheepskin apparel.

"This announcement says a lot about the product we offer," team co-owner Robbie Buhl said. "Emu Australia joined us as an associate sponsor partner at the start of 2008, and to see them continue to make the leap up to a primary role again for the race in Long Beach is great. We hope to assist Emu Australia in maximizing their name and brand."

***

  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 211. 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

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Bobby Rahal , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , David Empringham , Mike Conway , Jody Scheckter
Teams Panther Racing