Series news and notes 2011-01-27

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Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1.      INDYCAR and iRacing.com announce Premier Racing Series
2.    USAC National Drivers Champion Clauson to test Firestone Indy Lights car
3.      Firestone Indy Lights champion Vernay to test with Conquest Racing
4.    Milwaukee 225 adds major local sponsor
5.    Karam grappling for success on, off track
6.    Sato to speak to Japan-America Society of Indiana

1. INDYCAR and iRacing.com announce Premier Virtual Racing Series: IZOD IndyCar Series fans and driving game enthusiasts will now be able to take their passion for the sport to a new level by getting behind the wheel in the iRacing.com IZOD IndyCar Premier Series. 

The 18-race, 36-week series begins February 19 and will utilize iRacing.com's virtual version of the Dallara IC 09 IndyCar.  Races will be hosted on many of the same tracks as the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Our current fans are passionate about the sport and looking for ways to get closer to it," INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said. "The iRacing.com IZOD IndyCar Premier Series is an opportunity for our dedicated fans to have an extremely active and relevant involvement with the sport, as well as a unique way to appreciate the skills of our athletes."

Bernard also noted that the new racing series will contribute to the growth of INDYCAR's international fan base by recruiting young driving game enthusiasts and fans of other types of motorsport.

"This series will be very popular with our existing members and we expect it will bring new members to iRacing," said Tony Gardner, iRacing.com's president.  "About 40 percent of our current members are from outside North America.  And the Dallara IndyCar and our current series have proven to be very popular in the U.S. and overseas.  We've designed the schedule to make it easy for IndyCar fans here and everywhere on the planet to participate in this series."

iRacing.com currently organizes more than 1,500 Internet-based races weekly and supports nearly 30 different series. Like its real-world counterpart, the iRacing.com IZOD IndyCar Premier Series will crown oval and road titlists as well as an overall series champion.  The oval and road champions will win cash awards.  The overall series champion will also win a trip (with a guest) to the IZOD IndyCar season finale, where he or she will receive the season trophy and be recognized during driver introductions.

"No other racing series in the world has the combination of heritage and future growth potential of the IZOD IndyCar Series, and we're very excited about being able to be part of it," Gardner said.  "This is a great opportunity for our members who love open-wheel racing and it's a chance for fans of other forms of motorsport to broaden their interests."

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2. USAC National Drivers Champion Clauson to test Firestone Indy Lights car: Bryan Clauson has enjoyed about 10 days at home in Noblesville, Ind., since securing the inaugural USAC National Drivers Championship on Thanksgiving night. He's been on the road, competing in New Zealand for three weeks and in the annual Chili Bowl (fifth place in the main event) in Tulsa, Okla., most recently.

Now the 21-year-old will get behind the wheel of a Firestone Indy Lights car for the first time Jan. 28 at Phoenix International Raceway with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Winning the USAC title includes a scholarship to compete in the six oval races on the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights schedule beginning with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 27 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With his busy schedule, Clauson hasn't had much time to digest the opportunity.

"It's been a whirlwind week of getting the licensing and physical and paperwork," he said, "but I'm excited and can't wait to get out there and get started. I had a short time to relax and reflect on everything we accomplished last year and to look forward to this year, but after that it's been on the go. I left for New Zealand just before Christmas, and that was cool to race over there. I had never been out of the country. Then I came back and it was time for the Chili Bowl. I don't know if it will really sink in until we get to Indianapolis - the place I dreamed about as a kid and where it all starts really."

Clauson, who visited the race team shop in Indianapolis last week to get acquainted with the personnel and car, has familiarity with the one-mile Phoenix oval. Victor Carbone, who will drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2011, and two other drivers will join Clauson at the track.

"I even got a handbook that explained everything," he said. "It will be fun being a rookie again and going through the learning process. If I could pick two places to go, it would be Phoenix and Kentucky because I have thousands of laps at both places. I've raced the Midget at Phoenix and driven a Silver Crown there and it's a place I know fairly well, so it's a nice place to get started.

"I'll be working with a great group of guys who have lots of experience and that's important when you're learning something new."

Clauson wrapped up the USAC National Drivers Championship with a victory in the 70th Turkey Night Grand Prix -- the first back-to-back winner of the USAC Mopar National/Western Midget race since Billy Boat (1995-97). 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).

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3. Firestone Indy Lights champion Vernay to test with Conquest Racing: JK Vernay, the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights champion, will get behind the wheel of an IZOD IndyCar Series car for the first time Jan. 31 when he tests with Conquest Racing at Sebring International Raceway.

Vernay won the title in his first season on the strength of eight podium finishes, including five victories. He totaled 10 top-five finishes in 13 races and led a field-high 172 laps.

"I'm very happy to be taking part in my first IndyCar test and want to thank Eric Bachelart and Conquest Racing for giving me this opportunity," he said. "I'm also glad it is taking place at Sebring International Raceway. I tested there last year with my Indy Lights team so will I will be able to concentrate on driving the car and not have to worry about learning the track.

"I'm looking forward to learning as much as possible about the car and working well with my engineer and the team all while putting in good lap times. It will also be nice to return to a road course. The last road course I was on was in Sonoma about six months ago."

Before joining Firestone Indy Lights with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Vernay competed in Formula 3 Euro from 2007-09.

"We're thrilled to give Jean-Karl his first IndyCar test," Bachelart said. "We're known to help young drivers get their first chance in the big leagues and this corresponds well to what has become part of our team philosophy over the years. JK has proven his talent in the past and I can't wait to see how he does in the IndyCar."

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4. Milwaukee 225 adds major local sponsor: Promoters of the IZOD IndyCar Series race weekend at The Milwaukee Mile announced that MillerCoors and Beer Capitol Distributing will join together to be a prominent sponsor of the Milwaukee 225.

The deal makes Coors Light the official beer sponsor of the June 19 race as the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to The Mile after a one-year absence. In addition to signage and hospitality, the sponsorship also establishes Coors Light as the title sponsor of the race's pole qualifying day.

"We have a long history of supporting great racing at The Milwaukee Mile and look forward to an exciting race this summer," said Jim Wright, MillerCoors general manager-sales for Wisconsin. "Coors Light, The World's Most Refreshing Beer, is the perfect complement to an afternoon spent enjoying hot racing action on the track. And thanks to our outstanding partners at Beer Capitol Distributing, we'll be able to ensure race fans have that ideal experience at the track."

MillerCoors and Beer Capitol Distributing join several other Milwaukee businesses that have signed on to support the event. David Hobbs Honda will sponsor the Firestone Indy Lights race (David Hobbs 100), and will be the official car dealership of Racefest weekend.

Chris McGrath, the Milwaukee 225's promoter, said a title sponsor may be just around the corner.

"The Milwaukee 225 is rich in history, but also about local pride and a promising future," he said. "This is an exciting time for the state as well. With the Packers headed to the big game, Wisconsin will be first on the national stage. When the drivers and teams of the IZOD IndyCar Series come to town this summer, fans will experience the excitement, danger and speed, while businesses can showcase their wares and show support for this once-a-year Wisconsin tradition."

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5. Karam grappling for success on, off track: Sage Karam is one of the top young racing drivers in the United States, but that doesn't matter to the Liberty Hurricanes wrestler the other side of the mat.

To Liberty's wrestler, Karam is the guy wrestling in the 125-pound weight class for the Nazareth Area High School Blue Eagles JV team. He doesn't care that Karam was the USF2000 National Champion for a team owned by local racing hero Michael Andretti.

He doesn't even care that Karam's dad, Jody, is the coach for his school. He's the opposition, and he wants to beat him.

Such is the life in the offseason for Karam, high school wrestler during the fall/winter and professional racing driver for Andretti Autosport during the spring and summer.

"My dad and his brother have been wrestling all their lives, and they ended up being coaches, so I guess it runs in the family," said Karam, who at 15 was one of the youngest champions in any professional auto racing series in the U.S. "I actually started wrestling at the same age as I was when I started racing (at age 4). To be successful at both, you had to be pretty committed, and I had more fun racing, so wrestling is more of a hobby for me now."

For Karam, the routine of training for wrestling translates to racing. Wrestling emphasizes upper-body strength, balance and endurance, but the young racer said it also gives him an advantage over the rest of the drivers he races against.

"Wrestling keeps me really humble," Karam said. "I know there are a lot guys out there who may beat me, so it teaches me the value of hard work. I work out twice a day for wresting. I work out in the morning and I have practice after school. I'm up at 5 a.m. to go running or for weight training and practices are tough. At the end of the day, I may have lost 3-4 pounds. It's very tough in practice and a tough sport but it's a great way to keep in shape."

Karam will need that advantage as he steps up to the Star Mazda Championship in 2011 driving again for Andretti Autosport. Karam had his first taste of his No. 88 Andretti Autosport car in Florida earlier this month and is anxiously awaiting the start of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg in March.

"The tests at Sebring and Homestead went great, but I'm still learning the car quite a bit," he said. "It's a great machine and different car than the F2000). We were right there with (defending series champion) Juncos guys. It's going to be a long, hard-fought season."

Until then, Karam will continue to use his other helmet - his wrestler's protective headgear.

While his Andretti Autosport team prepares his race car for the season, he'll keep training with his Nazareth Area High team early in the morning and working hard in practice after school. 

It's paid off in the wrestling season. He beat Liberty's racer by pin. He hopes to repeat the feat when it's time to go racing.

6. Sato to speak to Japan-America Society of Indiana: Takuma Sato, who competed for KV Racing Technology during the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season, will conduct a Q&A session and sign autographs at a Japan-America Society of Indiana event on Jan. 29 at the Oakhill Mansion in Carmel. 

-source: indycar

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Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS