Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:<pre> 1. Conway to join Andretti Autosport
2. Team Penske expands sponsor lineup
3. Plowman, Bourdais complete test with Coyne
4. Vernay passes test with Conquest
5. Liberty Engineering to partner with Belardi Auto Racing </pre>
1. Conway to join Andretti Autosport: Mike Conway never doubted getting behind the wheel of an IZOD IndyCar Series car again after suffering back and leg injuries in a crash late in the Indianapolis 500 last May.
"I'm on the road to getting back in the car, not think about what happened before," Conway said in a September interview with indycar.com. "You just have to focus on what you need to do."
That's included rehabilitation and a strenuous exercise program. Through it all, he's retained the fortitude and mental attitude needed to again be fit for the rigors of the diverse IZOD IndyCar Series season.
He'll get the opportunity to compete in 2011 for Andretti Autosport. The team announced that Conway will be its fourth driver -- joining Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay -- with sponsor details to be announced.
"I was driven to get back into the series," Conway declared a few hours after the announcement, "and to get back in with a team like Andretti Autosport is really something. I've been working hard since May of last year with the goal of returning and I'm all set to go. It's great to announce what we'll be doing; it's been a long time coming. The season is not too far away and I can't wait to start working with the team."
The 27-year-old Englishman has 23 IZOD IndyCar Series races under his helmet -- all with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing -- over the past two seasons. Conway recorded a career-best third place at Infineon Raceway in 2009 and posted three top 10s in six races in 2010 before being sidelined. He qualified 15th and was running ninth in the 500 Mile Race when he was involved in a Lap 199 crash.
After the initial recovery period in Indianapolis and then back in England, Conway set out to return to competition. His management team, headed by former Indy car driver Mark Blundell, had been exploring options the past few months.
"This is a really exciting moment in my career to be racing for Andretti Autosport," Conway said. "It's going to be an honor working with some great people and great teammates, and I can't wait to get started. We've already started to chat with each other about things to come. These are exciting times. I don't think I've been in this kind of position for a while."
An IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test is scheduled for March 14-15 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Andretti Autosport also has a test day scheduled the week before at Sebring International Raceway that Conway expects he'll be a part of. The season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is March 25-27.
"The more days we can get in before the season the better shape we'll be in," he said. "Since May was the last time I've driven an IndyCar, I just want to get back in."
Hunter-Reay won at Long Beach and had five other top-five finishes last year in driving to seventh in the championship standings. Patrick recorded a pair of runner-up finishes as highlights to her season, while Andretti had four top-five finishes.
"Mike is a great addition to our team," chairman, president and CEO Michael Andretti said. "He is talented, has a lot of potential and should really fit in well with our team here. He was off to a good start last year and had started to show what he is really capable of in the IndyCar Series.
"He's got great credentials, has raced in some very competitive formulas and is a proven winner. We're really excited to be able to bring him to Andretti Autosport."
2. Team Penske expands sponsor lineup: Penske Racing announced that it has reached a mutl-year extension of its partnership with PPG Industries and that Guidepoint Systems has joined Team Penske's partnership lineup.
Both companies will serve as primary and associate sponsors of the Nos. 3 and 6 cars during the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
Guidepoint Systems, an industry-leading vehicle tracking service available through more than 2,5000 new and pre-owned dealerships, will be the primary sponsor of the No. 3 entry driven by Helio Castroneves at five races this season -- including the opener at St. Petersburg on March 27 -- and Ryan Briscoe's No. 6 car at two events. Additionally, Guidepoint Systems will be a full-season associate sponsor on the No. 3 car.
"It is a great opportunity to partner with Penske Racing to showcase the safety, security, convenience and pin-point accuracy of Guidepoint Systems location-based services," said Rand Mueller, founder and CEO of Guidepoint. "Team Penske is a proven winner and we look forward to working with Helio, Ryan and the entire team beginning this season."
Beginning its 32nd season working with Penske Racing, PPG is the world's leading coatings and specialty products company. It will be the primary sponsor of the No. 6 car at the races at Milwuakee, Iowa and Kentucky. It also will be an associate sponsor on all three Team Penske cars.
"PPG has such a great history with Penske and we are excited about the opportunity to grow and develop this unique partnership even further," said Bill Shaw of PPG. "We look forward to being a part of Penske Racing's winning teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar this season as we continue our very successful relationships with the other Penske business properties."
3. Plowman, Bourdais complete test with Coyne: The IZOD IndyCar Series driver lineup would gain an interesting storyline if four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais and former champion Paul Tracy -- who have had run-ins in the past -- land full-season rides.
Tracy has been working on a sponsorship package, and Bourdais joined Firestone Indy Lights race winner Martin Plowman Jan. 31 in testing with Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring International Raceway.
Team owner Dale Coyne said if Bourdais signs with the team it would be for road/street course races.
"We have talked with Sebastien before and this is an opportunity that has great potential," said Coyne, whose team ran Alex Lloyd and Milka Duno in 2010. "We are very serious about moving our effort forward and this, coupled with the continuing Boy Scouts of America program from last season, is one of the most important steps in that direction we can possibly make."
Bourdais, who has 31 Champ Car victories, has been away from Indy car racing for three years, during which he competed in Formula One as well as the International Le Mans Cup (to which he is committed to continuing with Peugeot in 2011). His lone INDYCAR-sanctioned race was the 2005 Indy 500 in which he finished 12th.
"The car was very good and it really felt good to be back in an IndyCar," Bourdais said of the test. "I was not sure what to expect, but I was impressed with the way the car handled, and look forward to putting together the pieces to get back into IndyCar racing. I really believe in what Dale is doing with his team and it can be a great workable opportunity for both of us this year."
Plowman, who a week earlier returned from the 11-day Indy 500 Centennial Tour of military bases in the Middle East and Europe and an aircraft carrier, competed the past two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights with Panther Racing (2009) and AFS Racing Andretti Autosport (2010).
"I am very pleased that everything went exceptionally well," said Plowman, who was third in the Firestone Indy Lights championship last year. "The car was very stable and quick right out of the box, allowing me to improve our times all day long."
An IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test is scheduled for March 14-15 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. The season opener is March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Coyne, who plans to run two cars again, didn't rule out Lloyd -- the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year -- returning.
Added Coyne: "We have tested a lot of new drivers over the years, and you generally know what you have on the first day. Martin is one of the best that we have seen and we look forward to a positive growth curve with this aspiring young talent. When all is said and done, 2011 will be a stronger year for our team."
4. Vernay passes test with Conquest: J.K. Vernay had a productive first IZOD IndyCar Series test with Conquest Racing at Sebring International Raceway on Jan. 31.
The team was able to run flawlessly through its testing plan while allowing the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights champion to acclimate himself with his new environment as well as gain driving experience and knowledge of the Honda-powered Dallara.
"It was a great day. I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel," Vernay said. "It's the most powerful car I have driven so it was definitely different to what I am use to but everything went very well. In the morning we focused on getting myself familiarized with the car and then in the afternoon we were able to work on different things. Overall, I'm happy with the test. I enjoyed working with the team and driving such a powerful race car is a great feeling."
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.
Conquest Racing is looking to enter two cars again in the IZOD IndyCar Series, which kicks off the season March 27 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"JK did a good job at the test," team owner Eric Bachelart said. "He accustomed himself to the car fairly quickly and we were able to do everything we had planned, so it was a very productive test for us. It's not always easy to accomplish everything we wanted to in a one-day test but the crew was well prepared and it was nice to be back at a racetrack."
5. Liberty Engineering to partner with Belardi Auto Racing: Liberty Engineering, a provider of turn-key engineering solutions primarily for the food manufacturing industry, will be a primary sponsor of Belardi Auto Racing beginning in the 2011 season. The company plans to use its sponsorship of the race team as a promotional vehicle.
"Certainly the brand attributes of INDYCAR's Firestone Indy Lights align well with our mission here at Liberty Engineering. Innovation, technology and speed are all key components to our success in providing service to the biggest names in the food industry," said John Akelaitis, Liberty Engineering General Manager. "But beyond branding, it's truly the business-to-business opportunity offered by the team in the motorsports environment. The ability to allow our customers to leverage the many tools of motorsports marketing, i.e. trackside sampling and interaction with customers, hospitality for entertaining, and utilizing showcars at tradeshows and retail locations, are tremendous resources to be able to pass on to our customers."
Founded in 1940, Liberty Engineering is recognized today as a leading manufacturer of proprietary machinery, conveying equipment, candymaking equipment and paper test machinery. Located in the Rockford, Illinois area, Liberty has provided exceptional engineering and manufacturing services for candy, cheese and dairy products, pizza, fruit, vegetables and liquid handling, conveying, filling, packaging, labeling, cartooning, and palletizing. Brach, Gimbal Brothers, Kellogg's, Albanese, Just Born, Ferrara Pan and Kraft are just some of the customers that Liberty works with on a regular basis.
As a team partner, Liberty Engineering will have a presence in both the Firestone Indy Lights effort as well as the US F2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Powered by Mazda.
According to Belardi's Director of Marketing LeeAnne Nash, "There is a new energy at INDYCAR. An openness and a willingness to truly work with teams and their partners to grow business in a beneficial way for all involved. This partnership will not only provide Liberty Engineering a great branding experience but also provide access to a plethora of diverse new markets as well as the opportunity to network within the INDYCAR arena and extend those opportunities to their customers. "