Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
* Franchitti caps return with second title
* Rahal, Hildebrand honored with Firestone's legacy awards
* Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Tickets on sale
1. Franchitti caps return with second title: Dario Franchitti left the IndyCar Series following his 2007 championship looking for new challenges. He returned to the series this season learning the grass isn't always greener and those lessons helped him claim his second IndyCar Series title.
"In '07 there was a lot of satisfaction in getting that one done," Franchitti said. "And now to come back from where we were a year ago, I think that's what makes it sweeter."
Where he was a year ago was out of a job after his effort with Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team was shut down. A meeting at the IndyCar Series event at Detroit's Belle Isle led to dinner in Detroit where Franchitti agreed to contract terms written on a napkin that would see the 2007 champion drive for Ganassi's IndyCar Series team in 2009. In returning, Franchitti felt he could win races but not the title so quickly.
"I didn't think I'd win five races and a championship in my first year back," Franchitti said. "I knew driving for Team Target, I'd have good equipment, it just a question of could I get back into it and compete at a level that I had (before)."
But those fears were quickly cast away. The No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing team claimed the first of its five wins at Long Beach, the second race of the season.
"From that second win at Long Beach, the winner in the second race at Long Beach, I knew we could get it done," Franchitti said. "If there were any regrets, I guess it was at Indy. We felt Scott (Dixon) and I had winning cars and we didn't execute, so it took us some weeks to make up for that."
Wins followed at Iowa, Toronto, Infineon and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I'm just glad they invited me back to come and play," Franchitti said. "I really enjoyed it. I wanted to be part of the unified series, the places we get to race at and the people I get to race against and the cars I get to drive. It's pretty cool."
And cooler was the site of his title-clinching win - Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Franchitti's good friend Greg Moore claimed his final victory in 1999.
Moore was fatally injured in a racing accident at California Speedway later that season in the 1999 CART series finale. Franchitti was involved in the championship fight, but lost to Juan Montoya on a tiebreaker.
``I don't think of that as a day I lost a championship,'' he said. ``I think of it as a day I lost my best friend.''
Franchitti said he thinks of Moore often, but especially when he returns to Homestead. Had Moore still been here, Franchitti said in tribute, ``We'd have been racing for second. We wouldn't have seen him for dust.''
2. Rahal, Hildebrand honored with Firestone's legacy awards: Graham Rahal and J.R. Hildebrand never got the opportunity to race with either Tony Renna or Greg Moore, but the two rising stars will have their names Indy Racing League drivers will be linked with awards given in their honor.
Rahal, driver of the No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, was named the winner of the Tony Renna Rising Star Award on Sunday night at the W Hotel in South Beach. Hildebrand, who claimed the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship for ARPRO/Andretti Green Racing/AFS Racing, was honored with the Greg Moore Legacy Award.
"Greg and Tony competed only on Firestone tires at the top levels of open-wheel racing - in Firestone Indy Lights, CART and the IndyCar Series - and both were a close part of the Firestone family," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing, which presented both awards for the second consecutive year.
"They were on the cusp of stardom when they died doing what they loved. The things I remember most about Greg and Tony were their sheer talent, enthusiasm and willingness to help everyone. I have a deep and lasting respect for them, and am very proud that Firestone Racing continues to honor their memories with these meaningful awards to current-day drivers."
The Tony Renna Rising Star Award is presented to an up-and-coming IndyCar Series driver who embodies the qualities of the late Renna, an IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights competitor who died in a testing crash in October 2003 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Past winners of the award include Vitor Meira, Patrick Carpentier, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh.
"It means a lot to me," Rahal said. "I didn't know Tony, but I know what he represented. Obviously it's nice for me to get any sort of recognition after the trying year that we had, but certainly a good one. It's pretty cool that I was picked for the award. As the years go on, hopefully we can live up to being chosen a rising star."
The Greg Moore Legacy Award originated in CART/Champ Car, but Firestone assumed sponsorship when that series unified with the IndyCar Series last year. It is presented to the Firestone Indy Lights driver who best personifies the late Moore, who was a CART standout and Firestone Indy Lights champion who died in a racing accident in October 1999 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
"I was surprised to win the award," Hildebrand said. "Greg Moore was one of the brightest stars coming up through North American road racing. When he won the championship in Indy Lights and made his way to CART and was a winner right away. To be in the same category as Greg Moore and have my name alongside his is really quite an honor for me."
3. Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Tickets on sale: Barber Motorsports Park and Zoom Motorsports announced that tickets are now on sale for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Spectators can select from variety of tickets for the April 9-11 event weekend, ranging in price from $15 to $600 and are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance as prices will increase the week of the race. In addition to tickets, spectators can also purchase tent camping, motorhome camping and on-site parking. Limited quantities of these options as well as the Speed Pass ticket and Billy's Sports Grill Club ticket are available
One ticket option is the 3-Day Admission, which provides one general admission ticket for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Spectators can select to sit on a hillside or in a grandstand; both options are first come, first serve. The 3-Day Admission tickets are available for $70.
A second option is the Speed Pass, which provides three-day general admission with paddock and hot pit access. This is the only option that includes the exclusive hot pit access. The Speed Pass is available for $450 and quantities are limited.
A third option is the Billy's Sports Grill Club, which provides three day general admission and paddock access as well as access to a tented facility located at Turn 14. On-site parking and food and beverage (breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks as well as beer, wine and other specialty drinks) are also included with the ticket. The Billy's Sports Grill Club tickets are available for $600 and quantities are limited.
Daily general admission tickets are also available. Friday tickets are available for $15, Saturday tickets for $40 and Sunday tickets for $50. Each option can be upgraded to include paddock access for an additional $30 per day.
Throughout the weekend, children 12 and under receive free general admission when accompanied by a ticketed adult. Youngsters will need tickets to access the paddock area and Billy's Sports Grill Club.
For additional information and to purchase tickets, camping or on-site parking, visit www.barbermotorsports.com or call 1-800-240-2300.