Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
I can't wait to sit in the legendary Lotus No. 82 car and start working with the crew.
1. Kanaan lands ride with KV Racing Technology - Lotus
2. VERSUS to superserve INDYCAR fans with more coverage in 2011
3. Tracy returns to Dreyer & Reinbold for Indy 500 with WIX Filters
4. Bell, Herbalife back with Sam Schmidt Motorsports for 500
5. Miller, Team E link up for St. Petersburg
1. Kanaan lands ride with KV Racing Technology - Lotus: Tony Kanaan's off-season of discontent is over. The 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion will contest the 2011 season in the No. 82 GEICO KV Racing Technology -Lotus car.
The No. 82 is in honor of the 1965 Indianapolis 500-winning Lotus driven by Jim Clark. Kanaan will get in some laps on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course March 22 in advance of the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend. Michael Cannon will be his race engineer.
"(Team co-owner) Jimmy (Vasser) and I started talking about joining forces at the end of last season, but the timing was not ideal and I ended up signing with Gil (de Ferran)," Kanaan said. "When I became a free agent in mid-February, calling Vasser seemed like a natural thing to do since KVRT was one of the top teams still looking for a driver. Jimmy and I go back a long way, we were rivals during the CART days, but more than that we have always been good friends, which helped a lot with our negotiations.
"I'm thrilled that we reached an agreement and from the bottom of my heart I'd like to thank KV Racing Technology - Lotus for the opportunity they have given me and especially for taking me under the circumstances I found myself in."
After eight seasons with Andretti Autosport, Kanaan left the organization when primary funding for the No. 11 entry dissipated. He signed with de Ferran Dragon Racing, but that team ceased operations when proper funding didn't materialize by an internal deadline. Kanaan has been attempting to uncover sponsorship since late last year.
"KVRT - Lotus is one of the most successful teams that joined IndyCar from Champ Car and I can't wait to sit in the legendary Lotus No. 82 car and start working with the crew," Kanaan continued. "I've spent the last six months looking for sponsorship and not thinking about racing, so I missed all the pre-season testing. But I really can't complain. With a group of guys like Vasser and his team backing me, plus the help of my new teammates, Takuma Sato and E. J. Viso, the only thing I can say is that I'm ready to do what I do best, drive a race car and push hard to give KVRT - Lotus their first IndyCar win.
"I want to thank GEICO for their help in making it possible for me to join KVRT - Lotus. I would also like to thank all of my fans and supporters that stuck with me during this extra long off-season and invite them to stay tuned on the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series. I can assure you it will be a very exciting one. I can't forget to mention that my son Leo is very thankful that I kept my car green, he was having a hard time accepting any other color."
Kanaan, 36, of Brazil, enters his 14th season of major U.S. open-wheel competition and ninth full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In 132 starts, he has earned 102 top-10 finishes (including 14 victories) and 10 pole starts.
"I think Tony is a great addition to our team," Vasser said. "Tony's knowledge and experience will be extremely valuable to our team. I would also like to thank GEICO for their support and KVRT - Lotus general manager Mark Johnson for his tireless work getting all the parties together."
2. VERSUS to superserve INDYCAR fans with more coverage in 2011: After nearly four decades in motorpsorts, Wally Dallenbach Jr. is adept at adjusting to change. This one is particularly welcome.
Dallenbach, the son of a longtime open-wheel racer and CART chief steward, is among the additions to VERSUS' extensive broadcast lineup of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights for 2011. He'll join Bob Jenkins and Jon Beekhuis in the booth.
"When NBC did not renew the NASCAR deal four years ago, I remember driving to Talladega from the Atlanta airport with (then-NBC Sports coordinating producer) Sam Flood and I remember the conversation like it was yesterday," Dallenbach says. "I looked over at Sam and said, 'Sam, it's time to go after IndyCar. I know they just signed a contract with other networks but it's something we could really have fun doing.'
"It's amazing how it came around and now we're doing it because it's something I've wanted to do for a long time."
VERSUS, which will telecast 12 qualifying sessions and race events beginning with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 9-10, has expanded its broadcast window from three hours to five continuous hours to include live broadcasts of eight Firestone Indy Lights races. Additionally, it has added "Inside the IZOD IndyCar Series" -- a weekly studio show (4-5 p.m. ET debuting May 3), which will be re-aired during the week.
IZOD IndyCar Series race encores will air Mondays, while the network will provide more than 17 hours of qualifications coverage leading up to the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. VERSUS will kick off the season with a one-hour special, "Crashes and Conflicts," at 2 p.m. (ET) April 3.
In total, the network will air more than 140 hours of coverage throughout the season, all in HD.
Mike Wells, a multi-Emmy Award winner for NBC's and Tuner Sports' coverage of NASCAR, is VERSUS' new director for all its IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. Veteran motorsports reporter Marty Snider joins Lindy Thackston (who returns for her third season) and Kevin Lee (pit reporter for VERSUS' Firestone Indy Lights coverage and an IMS Radio Network reporter since 2004) as pit reporters. Robbie Floyd also returns for select races. SPEED correspondent Robin Miller will join the network's pre-race show and will be an in-race reporter for select telecasts.
Flood, who last June was named executive producer of NBC Sports, said the on-air group is an experienced group of storytellers, "which we think will enhance the overall broadcast." VERSUS, part of the NBC Sports Group, serves more than 75 million homes.
"I think the most important thing is that the drivers are the stars and our job is to make sure people know who these stars are and build them bigger and better than before so that there's a rooting interest in every race and people have their favorites," Flood says. "We want to make sure they know as much as possible about these guys and ladies so they have a reason to root. We truly believe in the big-event strategy at NBC and VERSUS, where you'll take an event and make it bigger than it was before and through that growth the sport grows.
"Last year was a really well-done show and we just think with some refinements and some extra elements added in it will take it to another level. The timing couldn't be better. Everything's coming together. Everyone knows it's fast, fun and know there are star drivers who are part of this series that will help it grow on TV and at the racetrack."
Dallenbach, a former CART, sports car and NASCAR driver who has covered motorsports for NBC Sports and Turner Sports since 2001, sees INDYCAR continuing its momentum swing of the past few years.
"My family has been around Indy car racing for a long, long time," he says. "That's where I wanted to go as a driver, but opportunities took me elsewhere. I feel like I've always been a part of Indy car racing because my mom and dad have been there for so long and I follow it. I'm 100 percent convinced that IndyCar is on the upswing. It's our job to show how exciting this racing is, and we have to get the personalities out of these drivers because they're the ones who are going to sell themselves and sell the sport.
"Although I haven't professionally been driving a race car for some time, I do stay current and still drive (this week he's testing a Lola at Homestead-Miami Speedway) so I try to bring a perspective from the driver. I've worked with Jon before and have known Jon and Bob Jenkins for years. There's no doubt that I like having fun and I'm definitely loose, and I hope that rubs off on everybody. We want to be able to tell stories and have fun and make it seem like we're just three guys sitting on a couch, eating a pizza and calling the race."
3. Tracy returns to Dreyer & Reinbold for Indy 500 with WIX Filters: Paul Tracy will pair with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the fourth time to compete in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 in a car with primary sponsorship from WIX Filters.
WIX, whose highly-engineered filtration products have become a staple in auto racing around the country, also will be an associate partner on the No. 22 car of Justin Wilson for the 2011 season.
Tracy, in his 21st year of major open-wheel racing, has competed in 273 Indy car events and is in the top 10 all time in victories (31), pole starts (25) and laps led (4,238). Tracy is the 2003 Champ Car World Series champion.
"Obviously, it feels great to be back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing," Tracy said. "It's been a chaotic winter, but it's good to have the deal stowed away with a competitive program lined up with WIX Filters and DRR for the Indianapolis 500. It's great to be with a team like DRR, they have quality equipment and a solid engineering group with Larry Curry. It's a relief to have this deal done from that standpoint. I'm super excited, and want to thank WIX Filters for placing confidence in me as their brand ambassador at the Indy 500."
WIX designs, manufactures and distributes products for automotive, diesel, agricultural, industrial and specialty filter markets. Its product line includes oil, air, cabin interior, fuel, coolant, transmission and hydraulic filters for automobiles, trucks and off-road equipment.
"Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is extremely happy to welcome WIX Filters to the team for the Indianapolis 500 and for the 2011 season," team co-owner Robbie Buhl said. "We have worked hard to maintain a strong relationship with our sponsors and to build new ones. We couldn't be happier to have WIX Filters on board with us and we look forward to growing with them in the future.
"We are also very excited to have Paul drive the WIX Filters car. He's a great personality and driver and we believe he will be very competitive during the Indy 500."
4. Bell, Herbalife back with Sam Schmidt Motorsports for 500: Townsend Bell will reunite with Sam Schmidt Motorsports to drive the No. 99 Herbalife car in the Indianapolis 500.
Bell will attempt to earn a spot in the 33-car lineup for a fifth time. Last year, he qualified 10th and finished 16th in the 500 Mile Race. In '09, he started 24th and finished fourth.
"Being in competitive equipment has always been important to me in my career," said Bell, the 2001 Indy Lights champion. "With this being the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, I am excited that I'll be returning to the Speedway with a team and sponsor that will allow me to run up front. Partnering with Herbalife allows Sam's team to prepare a great race car, and I can't wait to climb back in it."
Herbalife is a global nutrition and direct-selling company headquartered in Los Angeles.
This year is Sam Schmidt Motorsports' 10th anniversary of fielding cars in the Indianapolis 500. SSM was formed in 2001 after Schmidt's own driving career ended in a 2000 testing accident in Orlando, Fla.
"It's a thrill to be partnered again with Herbalife and Townsend Bell for the Indianapolis 500," Schmidt said. "This will be the first time competing in the Indy 500 that our team will be returning with the same driver, sponsor and engineering combination. The continuity will be fantastic and, hopefully, we can improve on our great performance last year."
5. Miller, Team E link up for St. Petersburg: Joel Miller will join Team E for the opener of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The 22-year-old native of Hesperia, Calif., who made his Firestone Indy Lights debut in 2010, will drive the No. 17 Team E - Skip Barber car at St. Petersburg.
"I have not given up all winter in trying to make the grid at St Pete," Miller said. "There were definitely some disappointments when previous negotiated deals did not materialize, but when (team owner) Neil (Enerson) came to me regarding St Pete I put that all behind me and focused on making this deal happen. I have to thank the combined efforts of Neil Enerson, the people at the Skip Barber Racing School, as well as all the other smaller supporters that made this coming weekend a possibility. I cannot wait to get to Florida and begin working with the team and putting the car on the front row."
After winning multiple national karting titles, Miller won the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Series title in 2007 with five wins and 10 podiums finishes. Miller then moved up to the Star Mazda Championship the following year as both a MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development driver and Team USA Scholarship racer, finishing as the series runner-up via one win and seven podium campaign. Following another season of Star Mazda action, Miller made his Firestone Indy Lights debut in 2010, finishing ninth and 11th in two outings.
"I have known Joel for quite some time and know his passion as a driver," Enerson said. "He is a great fit for Team E. We are very pleased to have Joel in the seat of the No. 17 and want to thank Skip Barber Racing for all of their support to make this happen."
Based just outside of St. Petersburg, Fla., Team E wasted little time in established itself as race-winning outfit. Formed in 2008, Team E won its sixth-ever race (Milwaukee Mile with Bobby Wilson) and added a runner-up finish at the Nashville Superspeedway in its inaugural season, earning the Indy Lights New Team of the Year award.
Running limited campaigns the past two seasons, the team continued to show it has the tools to succeed, finishing second in 2010 season-opener on the streets of St. Petersburg with driver Jan Heylen.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 12:30 p.m. (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season opens on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 27.