Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Road to Indy
1. Fisher turns wheel over to Carpenter
2. Clauson claims Firestone Indy Lights scholarship
3. Meira on podium, Kanaan fifth in karting event
4. Baguette shines at Race of Champions
1. Fisher turns wheel over to Carpenter: When the IZOD IndyCar Series raced at Kansas Speedway earlier this year, someone asked Sarah Fisher about her car.
Fisher, whose Sarah Fisher Racing team was fielding two cars for the first time, responded with a detailed report on the No. 66 car, which had been damaged in a practice crash and not her own No. 67 car.
And as the year went on, Fisher found it more and more difficult to separate her jobs as owner and driver for Sarah Fisher Racing.
So she made the decision to step out of the seat of the No. 67 Dollar General car and focus on her role as team owner. On Nov. 29, she announced her retirement and that she'd hired Ed Carpenter to drive the car for at least nine events in 2011.
"Being both an owner and a driver is both time consuming on both sides," said Fisher, who recently turned 30. "I really want to see this team move forward and to have one driver who does all the races - ovals and road courses. It's just very hard to do both. "
Fisher's 25-year driving career includes 11 years as a competitor in the IZOD IndyCar Series with Walker Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Kelley Racing and Sarah Fisher Racing, which she started Sarah Fisher Racing in 2008. Fisher, who was voted the IZOD IndyCar Series' most popular driver three times, has driven a part-time schedule the past three seasons. She had seven starts this year, increasing her career total to 74 since her debut in 1999 at Texas Motor Speedway.
A former competitor in USAC and World of Outlaws sprint cars, she won one pole, in 2002 at Kentucky Speedway, and was runner-up in the 2001 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In hiring Carpenter, she found a driver who fits the image she built her team around.
"I really like Ed," she said. "He's all-American and we have the same background. We're very much similar on all fronts, so it seemed like a natural fit to move forward with him as the driver. I think in the big picture for the team, we didn't want to introduce a new driver with a new team right before the new car came out. It gives us a year to figure things out and when the new car comes out, we'll be even more prepared."
Carpenter will compete in the domestic oval events except for Milwaukee and the road/street events at St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio and Baltimore. Fisher hopes to find additional sponsorship for the car which will allow it to compete in the full season.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we nail that down," Fisher said. "We're not there yet. We have nine events and I think we can go after the oval championship and we need to lock down the international races. I think we're headed in the right direction to make that happen. (Finding a sponsor to run the full season) is a huge focus for us. It's really hard to accomplish that and drive the car. I didn't get a lot of time to spend with our partners this year and I think that's a lot of the reason why we are where we are."
Carpenter, 29, was limited to part-time duty in 2010, running four races through a joint venture between Vision Racing and Panther Racing. The Indianapolis native won his first career pole in September at Kentucky Speedway, where he finished second for the second-straight season.
"It really came together quickly over the last three weeks," Carpenter said. "I'd been working on some things with Panther and trying to carry over some of the momentum from what we did in 2010 but wasn't sure where that was going, so I called Sarah about her plans.
"In a lot of ways, I feel like we had a deal done after that first phone call. I was blessed that I called at the right time. Working with Sarah and Andy (O'Gara) up to this point has been great. I'm excited to work with Dollar General. Seeing the work they've done with Sarah, I'm excited to be a part of it."
2. Clauson claims Firestone Indy Lights scholarship: Bryan Clauson says he might need a few days to fully grasp the accomplishments of the 2010 USAC season. On Thanksgiving night at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., he was truly thankful for the bounty.
The 21-year-old from Noblesville, Ind., wrapped up the inaugural USAC National Drivers Championship, which includes the $300,000 Firestone Indy Light scholarship to compete in the six oval races on the 2011 schedule.
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard and Firestone Indy Lights team owner Sam Schmidt were among the spectators at the one-third-mile racetrack as Clauson charged to the overall national championship and the Mopar National Midget title by winning the 70th Turkey Night Grand Prix. Clauson overtook Cole Whitt on Lap 9 of the 98-lap feature and went on to take the checkered flag in a national Midget race for the sixth time this season.
In the process, Clauson became the first back-to-back winner of the USAC Mopar National/Western Midget race since Billy Boat (1995-97) and will be associated with the likes of A.J Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Stan Fox, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Mel Kenyon, Ron Shuman, Rich Vogler, and Robby Flock.
"To be mentioned in the same sentence with a lot of great drivers who have won this race is pretty special," said Clauson, who accepted the "Road to Indy" scholarship check from Bernard.
The Firestone Indy Lights program begins with the Firestone Freedom 100 on Carb Day (May 27) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I'm really excited about it," Clauson said. "It's been a long time since that door has been open for the short track racer. A lot of us grew up at Indianapolis watching the Month of May and knowing how special a time that is and dreaming to be a part of it. Now to have that opportunity is pretty unbelievable and I don't think that will fully set in until get to the track.
"Everyone at INDYCAR has put me in a situation to go out and have some success. It will be a completely new venue for me with the rear-engine open-wheel car, but I tell people all the time when they ask how we're going to adapt I don't think there's anything tougher than running USAC. You have to run a mile dirt track in Illinois on Friday with the Silver Crown car and come back on Saturday and run a quarter-mile paved track in a Midget. I think we'll be able to adapt to the Firestone Indy Lights car pretty quickly."
The National Drivers Championship is based on the best 25 races of each driver in one of the three national divisions (Silver Crown, Sprints, Midgets). Clauson outpointed Levi Jones of Olney, Ill., 1,108-1,094 in the standings. Jerry Coons Jr. (1,044), Tracy Hines (1,030) and Damion Gardner (1,001) followed. Overall, Clauson posted 10 feature victories, two runner-up finishes and seven thirds.
"I've been chasing the national championship for a couple of years and it's really something I wanted to accomplish as I moved up the racing ladder," said Clauson, who is a first-time nominee for the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team. "Growing up in USAC, it was the pinnacle of racing and it meant a lot to me and my family. To win it is special, and to do it with our Midget team that we kind of hand-built over the last couple of years is a lot of fun.
"To win the drivers championship - being the best overall in all three series - was pretty cool, too."
The USAC season, which kicked off Feb. 19 in Arizona, was another learning experience for Clauson, who made his USAC National Sprint Series debut two days after his 16th birthday on June 17, 2005, at Limaland Motorsports Park (Ohio) with a third-place finish. Four months later, he won the Open Wheel Oktoberfest Midget race at Columbus Motor Speedway (Ohio) to become the youngest driver in USAC history to win a National feature event.
Clauson pointed to a weekend in August as a turning point in the national drivers champion race with Jones, the Silver Crown and Sprint Car champion who joined Clauson on the Short Track AARWBA ballot.
"In the scheme of the championship, the night I really made a statement that he would have to do some work to beat us was at Eldora Speedway," Clauson said. "It really wasn't a place that I had a lot of success in the past, but I ran second in the Midget and second in the Sprint Car (races) and won in the Silver Crown car. That was pretty big because it was a place nobody expected us to go and make up ground in the championship and especially have the win in a Silver Crown car."
Clauson, who joined Tony Stewart Racing in the off-season, said being associated with the 1996-97 Indy Racing League and multi-NASCAR series champion has been a big plus in his development.
"I've learned so much from him over the years - not only on the racing side of things but also off the track," Clauson said. "He's a huge guy to have in your corner when it comes to racing. I could go to him tomorrow and ask him about IndyCars, and though it's been a while he's been there and could probably help me out a little bit.
"To have somebody like that who is so well-versed in so many forms of motorsports is a big advantage to a young guy like myself."
3. Meira on podium, Kanaan fifth in karting event: IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira came up short in their bid to win Brazil's biggest karting race Granja Viana 500.
The Brasilia-based team of C & L Motorsports -- Luiz Rodriguez, Yann Cunha and Lu Boesel - won their first race by a lap over the team of Meira, Nelson Piquet Jr., Christian Fittipaldi and former Firestone Indy Lights driver Felipe Guimaraes .
Eight-time race winner Kanaan, who teamed with his longtime friend and Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello and former IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone, finished fifth, four laps behind the winning kart after numerous mechanical issues.
Mario Romancini and Ana Beatriz also competed in the endurance karting event.
4. Baguette shines at Race of Champions: IZOD IndyCar Series driver Bertrand Baguette wasn't the biggest name in the galaxy of racing stars competing at the Race of Champion but the Belgian driver showed he was deserving of being voted Belgium's official driver.
Baguette and Dutch driver Jeroen Bleekemolen earned the top seed in their pool with four wins in the preliminary phase --including Baguette's win over Team Germany's Michael Schumacher. However Baguette couldn't repeat his success in the semifinals, losing to Schumacher as Germany won the nation's cup.
"I had a lot of fun and for me racing against Michael Schumacher, Sebastien Loeb and Alain Prost is a dream," said Baguette, who was eliminated by Andy Priaux in the quarterfinals after advancing from his group in the individual competition. "It went quite well but unfortunately we didn't make it to the final. I have to say I am happy for the people who voted for me to be here as part of Team Benelux. I am really proud to be here and very happy I could be here thanks to them."