Series news and notes 2011-02-09

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Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Wheldon helps save the world in cartoon cameo
2. Star Mazda's top rookie De Phillippi returns with Team Pelfrey
3. USF2000 standout McKenna moves up
4. Finland's Suvanto joins USF2000 National Championship

1. Wheldon helps save the world in cartoon cameo: Could IZOD IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon be a super hero?

The 2005 IZOD IndyCar Series champion got a chance to find out with a virtual adventure in the popular Hot Wheels TV series Battle Force 5 Fused involving death-defying racing, mayhem, good versus evil, and - of course -- helping save the Multiverse lend credence to the title.

"I think being associated with Mattel and Hot Wheels is going to win me some real brownie points with my son because, let's be honest, it's likely that before Sebastian is able to really appreciate what I have accomplished on the racetrack he is going to be able to appreciate that his dad is associated with his favorite toys," Wheldon jokes. "That adds another level of pride in this experience for me."

Furthermore, the futuristic ride and attire fit the character (and real-life subject).

"The producers had done their homework and crafted the Battle Force 5 cartoon character in my likeness," Wheldon continues. "So, needless to say, he has a big personality, spot on style and a winning smile. I can't wait to see Sebastian's reaction when he hears my voice and sees my likeness in the Battle Force 5 cartoon."

The episode, Full Throttle, airs Feb. 12 on the Cartoon Network (10:30 a.m. ET) and subsequently will be available on www.battleforce5.com.

"We built the episode around the idea that Dan is playing ... Dan Wheldon," supervising producer Audu Paden says. "The Battle Force 5, our team of young drivers who use their vehicles and driving skills to save our world from alien invasion, are also big Dan Wheldon fans. We wanted to find a way to let them take their real-world hero and Indy winner on one of their fantastic adventures.

"The storyline is that a mysterious driver is using the desert salt flats to perfect a secret maneuver. Tracking this superfast intruder, the Battle Force 5 discovers that it is their hero, IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon. Later, when faced with a new challenge, an alien 'sonar' pinging the universe to find the location of Earth, they realize that they do not have the unique skills needed to destroy the device. But Dan does.

"They enlist Dan and prove that a secret war is underway, and that only he has the ability to save our world. They teleport down to the planet that houses the device and have to race their way through a high-speed labyrinth to get to the target. Dan's secret maneuver turns the tide and saves the mission."

Wheldon's enthusiasm added to the character's persona, which quickly assisted the production team.

"Bringing Dan into our world was tremendous fun," Paden says. "Getting him into the recording studio with the rest of the voice cast pumped up the energy for everyone. Dan's imagination kicked into overdrive as we talked him through the fantastic adventure and how his character reacted to near death car combat in alien worlds. Hearing his natural patterns of speech also let us rewrite his dialog on the spot to make it more authentically his own way of saying things.

"Since the core of the character that we created for this story was sourced from Dan's natural good cheer, clear focus and courage, he made playing the role seem easy."

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2. Star Mazda's top rookie De Phillippi returns with Team Pelfrey: Star Mazda Championship newcomers Team Pelfrey have signed Connor De Phillippi for the 2011 Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear season.

The Californian joins the Florida-based team, having captured the Rookie of the Year award in 2010, continuing his streak of winning championship titles in every series he has contested, with four karting titles, a Legend Silver State Championship crown; Skip Barber National title and Walter Hayes Trophy win already on his resume.

"I'm so glad to be a part of Team Pelfrey," said De Phillippi, who also qualified for the A-Main at the Turkey Night Grand Prix USAC event. "This off-season has been a lot of hard work, and we really had to make sure every piece of the puzzle was perfectly in place. I feel that here at Team Pelfrey they have the best of the best, and will give me the greatest opportunity to win this year's Star Mazda Championship title. We as a team are going into this season with the same goal, and that is to win the championship. The resources are there for both myself and the team, and now it is time for us to work hard and do our best to accomplish our goals. I'd like to thank everyone at Team Pelfrey for this opportunity, and I cannot wait to begin pre-season testing!"

As part of a multi-car effort by Team Pelfrey, De Phillippi will pilot the No. 11 Oakley/Justice Brothers/Hernan Capdevila/Team Pelfrey Mazda entry, partnering the previously signed Nick Andries, who will contest his first full-season of Star Mazda action, after running selected races last year in addition to a race-winning run in the Skip Barber National Series.

"Our team keeps getting strong every day," stated Team Pelfrey Team Manager Geoff Fickling. "What we've been able to put together in the last couple of months has been quite remarkable and to have a driver of Connor's caliber put his trust in our hands speaks volumes for what we've built. I knew from the first time I saw Connor race many years ago that he was a special talent, which is why it's so special for us to have him join our driver lineup for this season. Our team is shaping up quite nicely and honestly, I couldn't be happier."

With the support of team owner Dale Pelfrey, a former IZOD IndyCar Series team owner, Team Pelfrey enters the 2011 season with a state-of-the-art facility, top-notch equipment and a highly-talented and experienced staff. With the goal of challenging for both race wins and the series title in its inaugural season of Star Mazda Championship competition, the Team Pelfrey crew has been working long hours since moving into their new 6,300 square foot facility in Clearwater, Fla., in December.

"The boys have been flat-out over the past two months not only re-building the cars, but outfitting our new shop as well," added Fickling. "Our facility is state-of-the-art, and Dale's provided us with top-notch equipment in order to contend right out of the box. It's great that we've been able to assemble such a talented driver line-up, so we can properly showcase what we've assembled."

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3. USF2000 standout McKenna moves up: Team GDT announced it has signed Irish racer Patrick McKenna to compete in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear.

McKenna, 23, was runner-up in the 2010 USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda and was voted Dunlop Motorsport Ireland "Young Racing Driver of the Year" for the second consecutive year.

He will join drivers J.W. Roberts and Carlos Conde as the team aims to expand on its championship-winning effort in 2010. Team owner/driver Roberts won the Star Mazda Expert Series championship for drivers age 30-44 and Conde won the Master Series championship for drivers 45 and older.

"I am really looking forward to taking the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy with a championship-caliber organization like Team GDT," McKenna said. "The team proved what they were capable of in 2010 and they have a very accomplished group of people in place for 2011. Everyone is extremely motivated for the coming season and I can't wait to get working with the guys. 2010 was a strong year for me in USF2000 and I am confident I can build on from that in Star Mazda this season. I just want to thank everyone who's helped make it happen."

McKenna, a native of Dublin who now lives in Indianapolis, scored two wins (Lucas Oil Raceway, where he won from the pole, and New Jersey Motorsports Park) and six podium finishes last year. His resume also includes the 2008 All-Ireland/Northern Irish Formula Ford Champion and the prestigious Martin Donnelly Trophy.

He also is a college graduate, having studied manufacturing engineering at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

"As a team owner I am very pleased to have a driver of Patrick's talent on board," Roberts said. "He has shown last year what he can do by finishing second in the points in the USF2000. I expect big things this year. I am very excited to start the 2011 and go for an overall championship. I expect to see him on the podium many times standing next to myself this year."

As part of Team GDT's "championship upgrade," engineer Eric Purcell also has been added. Purcell, who engineered John Edward's Star Mazda Championship-winning car for AIM Autosport in 2008, is an MIT-trained engineer with more than 30 years of experience in Europe and the U.S. as a driver, engineer and team manager. His experience includes road courses, street circuits and ovals, as well as such series as Formula BMW, Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights. He also had a major role in the early development of the Formula Mazda series.

Adding to the championship mix at Team GDT for 2011 will be team manager Paul Mata and driver coach and nutrition/lifestyle consultant Chuck West, a championship-winning open-wheel driver - including the 1992 Star Mazda Championship -- and founder of the championship-winning Worldspeed Motorsports team.

"I'm very excited to have Patrick on board for 2011 season," Mata said. "With Eric Purcell as our engineer I expect Patrick to be a front-runner from the get go. In my discussions with Patrick over the last month he displayed the exactly the attitude we are looking for; he's confident, but with the willingness to learn more. Which was exactly what we are looking for at GDT."

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4. Finland's Suvanto joins USF2000 National Championship: Finnish karting standout and 2010 Formula BMW scholarship winner Petri Suvanto will join Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for the 2011 Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda.

In signing the talented 18 year-old Finn, the Florida-based team believes it has taken the first step towards reaching its goal of taking home the USF2000 National Championship title in

"Everyone at Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing is delighted to have Petri in our USF2000 program," Team Principal Dominic Cape said. "He is a young very talented driver who competed right at the front of a very competitive European Karting Championship over the past several years. He has also shown great ability adapting to the USF2000 car, which immediately suited his driving style. He has impressed everyone on the team over the course of the test days with his natural ability his determination and desire to succeed. We are very confident he will be competing for the championship, and we believe it will be a breakthrough year for him in the Road to Indy Program."

Suvanto joins the squad following a successful three-day test, and having met Team Co-owner Wayne Taylor during the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"I'm very excited about the chance to be racing with such a successful team as Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing," Suvanto said. "I stayed with the team for two weeks, and I was impressed with their mentality and professionalism right from the start. After 12 years' experience in European karting and a year in car racing, it was time to make the next step. It was four months ago when I heard about USF2000 and Road to Indy Program for the first time, and since then I've been working towards what now can finally be confirmed. It was a big decision for my career in racing as well as for my whole life, but now that it's been done I'm more motivated than ever before. I can't wait for the first race at Sebring, but between now and then, I need to work hard in order to be fully prepared for the season."

Suvanto will be part of a multi-car effort by Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in the 2011 USF2000 series, with further driver signings expected shortly.

"I am really excited about signing Petri," Wayne Taylor said. "I believe with his natural talent and CMWT experience, I feel strongly that this could end up with a championship in his first year. I believe he has all the credentials to go all the way to the top. Not only is he fast, but also gives great feedback. I really am looking forward to a potentially long, successful relationship."

-source: indycar

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Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS