Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. IZOD IndyCar Series Q & A - March 2
2. Firestone to sponsor IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas
3. Herbalife to back Bell's Indianapolis 500 effort
4. SFR adds Kansas to Howard's 2010 schedule
1. IZOD IndyCar Series Q & A - March 2: IZOD IndyCar Series driver Simona De Silvestro, HVM Racing owner Keith Wiggins and Team Stargate Worlds principal Imran Safiulla participated in a Q&A session to discuss their entry in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Below are select quotes from their interview.
Simona De Silvestro
* 21-year-old native of Thun, Switzerland will compete as a rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010.
* Will drive the No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing car.
* Won five times in the Atlantic Championship, including four wins in 2009 when she finished third in series point standings.
Wiggins, a former driver, joined Lola Cars in 1998, serving as vice president and then president of Lola Cars International Inc. in America. Wiggins joined Bettenhausen Motorsports in mid-2000 as managing director and part-owner. Wiggins purchased Bettenhausen Motorsports in 2001, renaming it Herdez Competition (2001-03) and then HVM Racing (2004-05) as it competed in Champ Car. Mario Dominguez and Michel Jourdain Jr. of Mexico as well as Brazil's Roberto Moreno all drove under the Herdez banner.
Q. Imran, welcome to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Can you talk about how the partnership with Keith Wiggins and HVM Racing came together for Team Stargate Worlds?
IMRAN SAFIULLA: Keith and I have known each other for many years and with Simona's evolution through the system, this was sort of the next logical step for us to get into the IZOD IndyCar Series. And Keith was probably the top of the step with the spectrum of creating an environment which Simona could be successful in and be able to sort of continue to mature our commercial program that we've worked very hard in trying to put together.
So it was just sort of an obvious fit. And we started talking about it a few months ago, and there's been a lot of stuff behind the scenes. But until we got out on track in December, I don't think most people didn't know what we were up to, and we still have our challenges ahead. But here we are, and hopefully it's going to bring successful times ahead.
Q. Keith, HVM Racing has been in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the last couple of seasons. And you have a history of giving young drivers from Junior Formula their start in top--level racing. How excited are you to give your driver with the credentials like Simona her start in the IZOD IndyCar Series?
KEITH WIGGINS: She's looking at me so what can I say (laughing). No, I've always been much in favor in Europe for picking young drivers who have excitement, talent, and drive to do it. Bringing on new talent is always exciting. Of course you want some continuity, and the longer you can do a program with consistency with the drivers you inevitably can build a strong program.
But we've had an opportunity here. And as Imran said, we've known each other for a while and we've watched (Simona) progress. And they've done a great job together both in developing what she's done and also the program they've put together.
Having said all of that, of course, we always want to be as competitive as we can. So I think the key for me was when we tested and the first day we tested. The first 10 minutes we tested it was clear that I could see she instantly had the confidence and the speed.
So, like as she said, she's new to it. We came in with a new driver a couple of years ago and we've had our challenges, so we're all going to do better. Of course there is a climb to do together. But I think the thing is we're excited. She has the right attitude, and we're looking forward to the challenge.
Q. What are your realistic goals the first couple of races?
SIMONA De SILVESTRO: For me, everything is new. The races are much longer. I think the goal for me for this season is to learn as much as I can and try to help the team. I think my speed is getting there, but I am really working towards having good results at the end.
Q. I think the last Swiss driver in Indy car racing was Joel Camathias, and he had been racing over here for two years and living over here. Do you see any more interest over there? What do you hear from back home about your career?
SIMONA De SILVESTRO: I actually came here to the U.S. in 2006 to race in Formula BMW. I think a lot of people are watching now because I'm kind of the second driver who is in a big series right now next to Sebastien Buemi who is in Formula 1. So I think it's turning some attention. And I'm sure if we have good results it's going to get even bigger.
Q. The obvious question to me is you don't have experience on ovals. How are you going to approach that?
SIMONA De SILVESTRO: HVM wanted to give me the opportunity to do my first laps in an Indy Lights car three weeks ago. It was a good experience. I don't have any real goals for it for me. I think it's going to be finish the races and to learn as much as I can. I'm actually really looking forward to it because I had a lot of fun in the Indy Lights car, so I can't wait to get out with the big car.
2. Firestone to sponsor IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas: Texas Motor Speedway and Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations announced that the Firestone brand will be the title sponsor of the IZOD IndyCar Series event at the 1.5-mile oval June 5.
The race, the Firestone 550k, has been a staple at Texas Motor Speedway since the venue opened in 1997.
"The Firestone brand has been a tremendous supporter of the IZOD IndyCar Series throughout the years, and we are extremely pleased to announce this partnership," Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. "The brand has used its assets in the series to actively promote the sport and attract fans, and we look forward to working together with representatives of Firestone to promote and further enhance the newly titled Firestone 550k."
Firestone is the Official Tire of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The Firestone brand also is the title sponsor of the Firestone Indy Lights developmental series and Firestone Freedom 100 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
3. Herbalife to back Bell's Indianapolis 500 effort: Herbalife, a global nutrition and direct-selling company, announced that it will serve as the primary sponsor for the No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Chip Ganassi Racing entry in the Indianapolis 500 driven by Townsend Bell.
Bell, 34, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., returns to the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in the bright green HERBALIFE SSM/CGR car after recording a fourth-place finish in 2009.
Bell, the 2001 Indy Lights champion, started 24th in last year's event and drove his way through the field to score his highest Indy 500 finish. He also finished 10th at Indy in 2008 and was the fast qualifier on the second day of time trials. Bell will be making his fourth Indy 500 start on May 30.
"Teaming up with Townsend again and the strong team of Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing gives the Herbalife team a great chance to get to the winner's circle this year," said Herbalife Chairman and CEO Michael O. Johnson. "Townsend is a talented driver and a terrific athlete who personifies our message of living an active, healthy life. Millions of Herbalife independent distributors around the world are rooting for him."
The SSM/CGR connection was established in 2009 when Alex Lloyd drove the No. 99 to a 13th-place finish. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has qualified nine entries in the Indy 500 since 2001 with driver Richie Hearn recording a team-high sixth in 2002.
"Bringing Herbalife on board for this year's Indy 500 is very exciting for our effort in 2010," said team owner Sam Schmidt, a three-time Firestone Indy Lights champion team owner. "A worldwide nutrition company such as Herbalife gives our SSM/CGR program a strong foundation to prepare a winning machine for Townsend. Again partnering with Chip's operation puts us in a position to qualify well and race for the ultimate motorsports prize, the Indianapolis 500. We have an excellent team led by Chris Griffis and I am very proud to enter a solid effort for the Indy 500."
Bell has international racing experience in addition to his North America open-wheel competition. The San Francisco-born driver competed in the 2003 International Formula 3000 series, finishing in the top 10 on six occasions in 10 events. His best finish was third at Hungaroring. Later in 2003, Bell tested for the Formula One team, British American Racing, before returning to the IndyCar Series.
"With the announcement of Herbalife as our team's primary sponsor for the 2010 Indy 500, we have all of the elements to produce a winning effort," Bell said. "Teaming Herbalife with two championship operations, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing, gives this program a tremendous combination to race for the victory. After last year's limited schedule at Indy, I am confident about the Herbalife team's chances when practice runs open on May 15."
4. SFR adds Kansas to Howard's 2010 schedule: TBC Retail Group announced its sponsorship expansion between Jay Howard and Sarah Fisher Racing to include the May 1 race at Kansas Speedway. The 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion also will compete at Indianapolis, Texas, Mid-Ohio and Chicago in SFR's No. 66 Service Central car.
"We added this race to our schedule because of the optimism the entire SFR team demonstrated during the recent practice sessions and we think this is a great kick-off to Jay's race season," said Bob Crostarosa, Senior Vice President Marketing and Advertising, TBC Retail Group. "Jay is the driver to watch this year."
Fisher also will compete in the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway - the first oval race on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.
"TBC Retail Group has become a great marketing partner of our No. 66 program this year and to be adding Kansas is a huge plus for our 2010 efforts," said Howard, who participated in the first IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test last week at Barber Motorsports Park. "The track time at Kansas prior to heading into the Month of May for the Indianapolis 500 is huge for our growing program. I've competed at Kansas before and I'm grateful that TBC has added that to my schedule to start out the season."
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season begins March 14 with the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The race also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season opens with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 28 on the streets of St. Petersburg. The race will air live on indycar.com.