Series news and notes 2009-09-25

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines 1. Rearview mirror: Classic IndyCar Series championship races 2. Teams Testing at Homestead, Indy 3. IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights drivers race in karting event 4.

Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Rearview mirror: Classic IndyCar Series championship races
2. Teams Testing at Homestead, Indy
3. IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights drivers race in karting event
4. Firestone Indy Lights teams begin preparations for 2010

1. Rearview Mirror: Classic IndyCar Series championship races: Just eight points separate IndyCar Series championship leaders Scott Dixon (570 points), Dario Franchitti (565) and Ryan Briscoe (562) entering the season-ending Firestone Indy 300 on Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It will be the 10th time in 14 IndyCar Series seasons that the title will be decided at the final race. This is the third of a six-part series looking back at some of the classic championship races in IndyCar Series history. Today: 2003: the five-man fight

When: 2003

Who: Scott Dixon, Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish Jr.

Where: Texas Motor Speedway (Oct. 12, 2003)

The story:

Five drivers entered the season-ending Chevy 500 on Oct. 12, 2003 at Texas Motor Speedway with a legitimate chance to win the IndyCar Series title, and each had different stories behind their title charge.

Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves were tied atop the standings with 467 points entering the finale. Dixon won his first IndyCar Series start, in March 2003 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which moved solely into the IndyCar Series full time from Champ Car. It was his first of three victories entering Texas. Castroneves had two victories so far in 2002 for Team Penske and looked to avenge losing the 2002 title by just 20 points to Sam Hornish Jr.

Tony Kanaan was third entering Texas -just seven points behind Dixon and Castroneves - driving for another Champ Car convert, Andretti Green Racing. He had just one victory in that season but used consistency to stay near the top.

Hornish was fourth with one race to go at 448 points with Panther Racing, 19 behind co-leaders Dixon and Castroneves. He started the defense of his two consecutive IndyCar Series titles with a significant power disadvantage, but Chevrolet introduced a new engine after the Indianapolis 500 that helped Hornish win three of the last four races before the Texas finale, including the Toyota Indy 400, the second-to-last race of the season.

De Ferran was fifth in the points entering Texas, 30 behind Dixon and Castroneves. De Ferran missed the race in Japan due to injuries suffered in a crash in Phoenix, but victories in the Indianapolis 500 and at Nashville kept him in contention with Team Penske. But he was a longshot for the title after finishing 15th at the Toyota Indy 400 at California.

The Chevy 500 at Texas was filled with mathematical possibilities for all five drivers, as the Ganassi, Penske, Panther and Andretti Green teams kept an eye on their drivers and each other. Dixon, Hornish, Kanaan and de Ferran all led significant numbers of laps during the race, and the tension grew.

Hornish's chances at a title evaporated when his engine failed on Lap 176, relegating him to a 17th-place finish. Just three laps later, two more contenders were weeded out when Castroneves and Kanaan made contact. Castroneves finished 13th in the race, Kanaan 14th.

De Ferran did everything possible that weekend, winning the pole and the race in his final IndyCar Series start. But Dixon finished second, enough to claim his first IndyCar Series title by 18 points over de Ferran, 507-489. Castroneves ended up third at 484, Kanaan fourth at 476 and Hornish fifth at 461.

What They Say Now:

Scott Dixon: "The championship chase always seems to involve quite a few of us, but 2003 was definitely a standout. It was a big year for us because it was the first year we came into competition in the IndyCar Series with the team and myself. We won quite a few races that year and were looking pretty strong. But when you go into a final race and there are five people and it's Texas, anything can happen. There was the big accident at the end, and for Gil to win his last IndyCar race and me to win the IndyCar championship was fantastic."

Gil de Ferran: "I was very much the outsider. Reason being was that I had a big accident in Phoenix and missed scoring any points in that race. And because of the accident, I broke my back and my neck, and I had to sit out round three, in Japan. Effectively, I missed two races. The race I came back was the Indianapolis 500, which I won. From there on, we were looking good and always up front. We were not particularly strong on the mile-and-a-halfs, and I had a terrible race in Chicago with one round to go. That put me in kind of an outside position with an outside chance. We had a test in Texas prior to the championship, and it was a three-day test. I remember having a conversation with Tim (Cindric) and saying really that the team should focus on Helio. Helio went to the test; I didn't go to the test. He did all the setup work. We really focused on trying to give Helio the best chance possible. It was a funny thing. I remember having a conversation with Tim, and I said, 'What do you think?' He said: 'Helio had a good test. I think we should put everything exactly like Helio found best. The whole setup, from top to bottom." So the only change I made the whole weekend was adding half a turn of front wing or something like that. The car was awesome. I qualified on the pole and won the race."

Helio Castroneves: "It was a tough championship. We had five drivers that had the possibility to win the championship. It was amazing, and Texas is an especially tough track. We were right there. I was in third place, and Gil (de Ferran) was in first. Tony Kanaan was in second place and on one of the restarts, I was trying to take advantage and push Gil, and the car slid up a little up. Tony probably came a little bit down, but it was one of those races. We got too close and our wheels got tangled. And both of us at that time lost the championship."

Sam Hornish Jr.: "It was a big year for us. Even after we beat Penske (in 2002), a lot of people were saying, 'Well, It was only Penske. It wasn't all these other guys.' It was kind of tough for me because I knew I was leaving Panther (after 2003 season). I was leading at Texas, and the engine blew up. We had the exact same thing happen at both Indianapolis and Texas, which was burning a hole in the top of the piston. At Texas, all we needed to do was go out and lead the most laps and win, and we were on track being able to do that. With 50 laps to go, we ended up having the same problem. It was a frustrating year for us, but we kept our heads up and felt, in a lot of ways, that it was about as good as it got as far as having an opportunity to win the championship."

***

. Teams Testing at Homestead, Indy: Testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway next week will occupy some of the free time IndyCar Series drivers have until they report to Florida for the season-closing Firestone Indy 300 on Oct. 10.

Three-time defending Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves and IndyCar Series championship contender Dario Franchitti will join Vitor Meira, Marco Andretti, Tomas Scheckter and E.J. Viso at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 29-30. Seven drivers will test Sept. 30 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Meira's track action will be his first since being injured in a multi-car crash during the Indianapolis 500 in May.

"We're not going for any track records. I just want to give him some seat time so he can adjust to being back in a race car after being out for so long," team owner A.J. Foyt said.

Foyt, though, didn't give the go-ahead for Meira to compete in the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"I don't have the people to put together the proper effort for both Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Vitor," he said. "When I made the deal with Ryan, I had told him he'd have a ride for the rest of the season because I didn't really know if Vitor would be ready. And even though Vitor has been cleared to drive, the more I thought about it I don't think having his first race back being at Miami is the best thing for Vitor. There's a lot of risk and not that much to be gained. We want to get a good start on 2010 with Vitor and do more testing over the winter so I think it's in all of our interests to have him focus on next year."

Looking to 2010 is the objective of Firestone Racing and IndyCar Series testing at the Brickyard. Castroneves and Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 winner, will participate in testing various Firestone Firehawk compounds on the 2.5-mile oval.

Meira, Andretti (Andretti Green Racing) and Viso (HVM Racing) are scheduled to test the effects of the removal of the rear wing end fences and the caution light between the rear wing posts on trailing cars. The yellow caution light adds about 20 pounds of drag to the car, according to Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart. He's seeking to improve the wake of the car so a trailing car can run closer at the Speedway.

Testing (9 a.m.-5 p.m. EDT, Sept. 29 and 30) is free for spectators to watch from the stands south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

"With more Indy 500 victories than all other tire manufacturers combined, the Firestone brand has become synonymous with the Indianapolis 500," Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer said. "I believe the key to that success is that Firestone Racing has never become complacent. That's why we test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a yearly basis. The environment is always changing - even if it is a lot of small things, the changes add up. The cars change a little bit, and the track surface changes.

"So it's imperative that we go and track test to make sure we've got the best product possible since during the month of May, all eyes are on the IndyCar Series and its drivers, teams, partners and suppliers. And in 2010, the winner of the Indy 500 will cross the finish line on Firestone brand tires for the 61st time in the race's 94-year history."

Fans also can watch testing Sept. 30 (11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.) free at Homestead-Miami Speedway from the fourth floor of the Speedway Club. It'd be an opportune time to purchase tickets to the Firestone Indy 300, which will decide the IndyCar Series champion, and the Firestone Indy Lights race Oct. 9. Scott Dixon, who won from the pole at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval in 2008, holds a five-point lead over Franchitti, his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate. Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe is eight points off the lead.

Scheduled to be on the track are Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing), Sarah Fisher (Sarah Fisher Racing), Alex Lloyd (Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing), Raphael Matos (Luczo Dragon Racing), Mario Moraes (KV Racing Technology) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing).

"Our first year of hosting the IndyCar Series championship and we get the second-tightest points race in series history," Homsetead-Miami Speedway president Curtis Gray gushed. "Three drivers, eight points, one trophy -- and tickets for just $30 while kids under 12 are free.

"And rest assured Miami knows how to throw a championship party -- here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, up on South Beach, down in the Keys. C'mon down and see IndyCar Series history, but plan on staying a while to soak in all the racing, the tailgating, the music and the parties."

***

3. IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights drivers race in karting event: Dan Wheldon and Ed Carpenter lead a group of IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights competitors into the Mazda Robo-pong 200 Presented by Bridgestone on Sept. 27 at New Castle (Ind.) Motorsports Park.

The endurance karting event that includes pit stops and driver changes begins at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) at the facility visible from I-70 owned by former IndyCar Series driver Mark Dismore. The race is free for spectators.

Wheldon, a former winner of the event, will again team with Mark Dismore Jr. in the No. 4 Cometkartsales.com kart. Carpenter will co-drive the No. 20 Vision Racing entry with Nathan O'Rourke, an assistant engineer with the IndyCar Series program.

Also entered are 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion Jay Howard (No. 0 Screaming Talent/H Power/PBIR/Maranello with Joe Paterson), Firestone Indy Lights competitors Brandon Wagner (No. 99 Wagner Racing with Travis Iles), James Davison (No. 21 Vision Racing/Bryan Herta Autosport with Brandon Newey), Gustavo Yacaman (No. 00 Crepes & Waffles-Yacaman Racing/D-Power Engines/sponyoungathletes.com with Camilo Echevarria), Martin Plowman (No. 9 Zanardi Kart USA/Sharing Success Racing/Plowey.com with Eric Morrow), and Bobby Wilson (No. 51 DFR/Supertune USA with Conor Daly).

Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart's son, Eliott, will compete in the No. 76 Codalta/Bachelart entry with Matt Codalata.

***

4. Firestone Indy Lights teams begin preparations for 2010: Even though the 2009 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is a few weeks away, some Firestone Indy Lights drivers and teams have already begun their plans for the 2010 schedule.

Bryan Herta Autosport, RLR/Andersen Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing tested potential drivers on Sept. 15-16 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while Bryan Herta Autosport also tested Sept. 23 at Indiana's Putnam Park.

Firestone Indy Lights rookie Martin Plowman and Star Mazda frontrunner Adam Christodoulou drove for BHA during the two testing sessions.

"We were very happy to provide Adam his first experience in an (Firestone) Indy Lights car," Bryan Herta Autosport co-owner Bryan Herta told junioropenwheeltalent.com

"He has shown this year in Star Mazda that he is a driver with great potential, and he demonstrated his speed and maturity again at the test. Adam is clearly on several teams' short list of drivers for next season, and we will be watching him closely as he tries to win the Star Mazda Championship.

Plowman, who has raced for Panther Racing this season, used the test day with the most-recent race-winning team as a gauge as he evaluates his options for next season.

"Not every team has the same philosophy, so I was able to learn a lot from the test (with BHA)," Plowman said. "It's nice to get a different perspective on things sometimes, and I was able to learn some things while getting a little more experience behind the wheel. I want to do another year in Indy Lights and this was a chance to learn from others teams on where maybe I was lacking this year and how a different team does things."

***

The 2009 IndyCar Series season concludes Oct. 10 with the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 4 p.m. (ET) Oct. 10 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. A one-hour qualifying show will air on VERSUS at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 9. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season concludes with the Homestead-Miami 100 on Oct. 9 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast live by VERSUS at 6 p.m. (ET).

-credit: irl

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Justin Wilson , Sarah Fisher , Mark Dismore , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Sam Schmidt , Ryan Briscoe , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , James Davison , Bobby Wilson , Jay Howard , Brandon Wagner , Martin Plowman , Eric Morrow , Dale Coyne , A.J. Foyt , Gustavo Yacaman , Adam Christodoulou , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira , Camilo Echevarria
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Bryan Herta Autosport , KV Racing Technology , HVM Racing , Dragon Racing , Conquest Racing , Dale Coyne Racing