Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. IZOD IndyCar Series prepares for side-by-side restarts debut in St. Pete
2. Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing promoted to INDYCAR Leader's Circle
3. Mazda Road to Indy Summit expands with St. Petersburg seminars
4. INDYCAR's Van de Sandt to serve as Star Mazda race director
5. indycarworldchampionships.com Launched
1. IZOD IndyCar Series Prepares For Side-By-Side Restarts Debut In St. Pete: Drama will be intensified on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., when the IZOD IndyCar Series debuts side-by-side restarts during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Officials of INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, have worked with teams and competitors to refine the procedures. Based on input from fans and teams, the series has opted to not adopt a "free pass" system for the first car a lap down during caution periods.
Side-by-side restarts will be utilized at all 17 events. Once a race is under caution, all cars will line up nose-to-tail behind the Safety Car. When the running order is confirmed, the pits will open for service for all cars, regardless if they're on the lead lap or not. Pits will remain open throughout the caution.
"After weighing all the options, we felt this is the best solution to allow our teams the widest platform and the most flexibility in employing varying strategies," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for INDYCAR. "We don't want to reward a lap back to a team. We want to give the teams the mechanisms to earn laps back through performance and strategic decisions.
"Racing has evolved so much over the years, and it is extremely difficult for a car to earn a lap back when the pits close under caution. By keeping the pits open throughout entire caution periods we are providing an opportunity for teams and drivers to capitalize on strategy and pair with on-track performance to remain in contention."
Before the restart, any cars between the race leader and Safety Car will be waved around to the rear of the field. After the starter gives the one lap to go signal and prior to the restart, cars line up double file. The race leader will have column/lane selection, with all other cars lining up according to relative position on track. All cars must maintain their respective track position until they cross the start-finish line.
2. Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing promoted to INDYCAR Leader's Circle: The IZOD IndyCar Series announced today its 22 confirmed full-time Leader's Circle entries eligible for TEAM (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) financial foundation for the 2011 season.
"Credibility on the track remains top priority as we strive to continue to deliver the best racing to our fans," said Randy Bernard, chief executive officer, INDYCAR. "Once we confirmed we had 21 of the 22 Leader's Circle entries returning full-time this season, we began to look at other full-time entrants based on a variety of criteria including commitment, stability and performance. We decided to award the final Leader's Circle spot to the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing car with driver Graham Rahal."
TEAM is limited to the top 22 entrants in the final IZOD IndyCar Series entrant points from the 2010 season. Should an entrant from the previous season not take its place fulltime on the grid the following season, INDYCAR can award the remaining spot at its discretion. Each Leader's Circle entrant is assured approximately $1.2 million through the program.
3. Mazda Road to Indy Summit expands with St. Petersburg seminars: The Mazda Road to Indy, INDYCAR's official development ladder system, expands its Mazda Road to Indy Summit in 2011. Seminars will be held at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend and in May during preparations for the Indianapolis 500 and Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Night Before the 500 at O'Reilly Raceway Park.
Drivers and teams from Firestone Indy Lights, Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda will participate in seminars at St. Petersburg that will focus on developing skills off the track.
"One of the goals of the Mazda Road to Indy is to help drivers to develop skills needed to be successful off track and having opportunities like this is key way for us to reach that goal," said Tony George Jr., manager of business development for Firestone Indy Lights and a key figure in the development of the Mazda Road to Indy. "Every Mazda Road to Indy participant will be racing this weekend, but the valuable lessons they learn off the track this weekend may be as important as finishing on the podium."
Included in the program at St. Petersburg are a media training session with Bob Goodrich and Annie Hoffman Goodrich of SportsCast Stars Training, a seminar presented by Mazda focusing on the business of motorsports, which is designed to help improve the off-track performance of the drivers, and a professional development seminar hosted by Mike Hull, managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
"Athletes in motorsports need more help than any other kind of young talent," said Gary Rodrigues, founder of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. "Drivers not only must hone remarkable physical ability and incredible powers of concentration. They must also develop an infrastructure around them that will meet the engineering and business challenges of organizing a winning racing program. The Mazda Road to Indy launches a system that will identify talent and train drivers how to successfully function in the sport and in the business."
"The Mazda Road to Indy Summit is exactly the type of assistance career-minded drivers need and want as they climb the ladder, and it is why the USF2000 National Championship is aligned with INDYCAR," said Dan Andersen, co-owner and chief executive officer, Andersen Promotions, administrator of the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda. "We are very pleased to have this opportunity for our participants, and it will certainly be beneficial for them and for the series. With the involvement of Mazda as well, this will be a terrific event."
The Mazda Road to Indy is INDYCAR's developmental ladder system for drivers who wish to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. Mazda provides scholarships for the champions Firestone Indy Lights, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda to move up the ladder, which is designed to create a defined career path for young, career-minded race car drivers and to teach them the skills needed to advance to the highest level of open-wheel racing on and off the track.
4. INDYCAR's Van de Sandt to serve as Star Mazda race director: Star Mazda race control will have a distinct INDYCAR flavor in 2011.
Bill Van de Sandt, who serves as INDYCAR's director of operations and a member of the INDYCAR Race Control team, will serve as the race director for the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear.
"I don't see it will be any different than officiating an IZOD IndyCar Series race or a Firestone Indy Lights race," said Van de Sandt, who has helped officiate IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights events from race control for the past two seasons. "We'll use the same procedures across all three series and hopefully, there is a consistency in the way we officiate the races across the board.
"After two years with Brian (Barnhart) and Tony (Cotman) in race control, I understand what to look for when you are directing a race. Brian and Tony keep it very consistent between them and what they've taught me is the proper procedures to use, whether it's working with the Safety Team or Timing & Scoring or pit techs or situations on the race track. They've taught me the right way to officiate and when to implement hard rules or when to be lenient."
Van de Sandt first learned of the position when INDYCAR officials as he helped Cotman and Tony George Jr. identify the right person to serve as Star Mazda's new race director. It turns out that he was the right person for the job.
"Tony Cotman and Tony Jr. asked me if I'd like to do it and I said absolutely," Van de Sandt said. "But I only wanted to do it if I could give it the attention that it deserved while not taking away what I need to do for INDYCAR. We came up with a solution, delegated some the duties and figured we could do it and move forward."
Van de Sandt has already implemented several procedures that mimic those used by INDYCAR officials with the idea that drivers will learn the right way to act when they move up. At Star Mazda's Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park, series officials used the alternate start/finish line that is often used on road and street courses by the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights
"It's my goal that a Star Mazda driver will know what to expect when they move up to Firestone Indy Lights or the IZOD IndyCar Series," Van de Sandt said. "The rules will be the same. The procedures are the same. The drivers will be used to it and it should be consistent all through their career in INDYCAR and the Mazda Road to Indy."
5. indycarworldchampionships.com Launched: A microsite (indycarworldchampionships.com/) has been created for spectators to to receive information where to redeem IZOD IndyCar Series race tickets to be eligible to receive a complimentary ticket and for fans seeking to purchase tickets to the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.
The IZOD IndyCar Series champion will be crowned following the 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval. For the past five years, the title hasn't been decided until the season finale. Based on driver predictions, that's likely to be the case again in 2011.
Fans purchasing a ticket to any IZOD IndyCar Series race during the season are eligible to receive a complimentary ticket (limited to the first 80,000 tickets) by stopping by the IZOD IndyCar Series Fan Village or other designated locations on race day, at racetracks in the U.S. and at Toronto.
An alternative for obtaining free tickets will be to visit locations in Las Vegas during the week leading up to the season finale. INDYCAR will provide more information closer to the date.
The race also includes the $5 million challenge issued by INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, to any non-IZOD IndyCar Series driver. Five drivers from all submissions will be approved to compete for the prize by a selection committee consisting of INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard, INDYCAR president of competition and operations Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR commercial division president Terry Angstadt, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and Al Unser Jr.
"We are going to provide ample testing time at Las Vegas for the five selected drivers to make sure by the time they get to Las Vegas they are up to speed," Bernard said.
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.