Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. If You Missed It: James Hinchcliffe teleconference
2. Pagenaud to replace injured Beatriz at Barber
3. Baguette lands Indy 500 ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
4. Ramsey to serve as Long Beach grand marshal
5. Winslow back at Andretti Autosport for Barber, Long Beach
6. Bentham joins Jensen Motorsport as driver coach
1. If You Missed It: James Hinchcliffe Teleconference: IZOD IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe participated in a teleconference today to preview his IZOD IndyCar Series debut at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Below are selected quotes from the call.
Q. James, you have to be pretty excited to get behind the wheel of that No. 06 car.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: For sure. It's a great result, a great accomplishment from a lot of people that have been working really hard to make this deal come together. Incredibly thankful to Newman/Haas for the faith they've showed in me to bring me onboard this year. With Sprott, Inc., sponsoring the car, a Canadian company, it's extra special. Bringing a lot of cool elements together for my first race.
Q. Although you never know what everyone else is doing at an open test, you personally had a very good test with Newman/Haas Racing. Knowing you were quick with some of the front-running cars, you have to be confident entering what is your debut?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think if there is a silver lining missing the first race at St. Pete, I get a debut at one of the only two tracks I've actually driven the IndyCar at. The test certainly went very well.
It's tough. A test day you have five hours to lay down a single lap time, that's all people really see. Race weekend is very different. The practice sessions are only an hour long. That first segment of qualifying is only 15 minutes to go out there and get the job done.
It's definitely a more challenging task. But I think we can certainly be encouraged by the pace we showed at the test. The car was super competitive. Both Oriol and I were setting competitive times there by the end of the second day. I think we have reason to be cautiously optimistic.
At the end of the day, it's still going to be my first race. There's a ton for me to learn, a lot I'm going to be going through for the first time. I think we definitely have controlled expectations heading into the weekend.
Q. You are the latest in a line of drivers who have moved up through the Mazda Road to Indy and Firestone Indy Lights, joining drivers like JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball and Sebastian Saavedra on the grid. Talk a little bit about the preparation that Firestone Indy Lights gave you to make this step up.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I'll tell you, I was so happy when I drove the IndyCar for the first time because it just really proved what the series and what Firestone Indy Lights has done with the Road to Indy because the car drove so similar that it was the first time I've ever really seen a development series be so relevant to the next step.
It had such a similar feel. I was instantly comfortable in the car. It was all because of the time I spent in the Lights car. I've been telling everybody there's a 20percent rule. In terms of the IndyCar, you have 20 percent more power, 20 percent more downforce, 20 percent better brakes, it does everything 20 percent better, but fundamentally it's a very similar feel.
I think that speaks volumes for the level of preparation you get competing in Firestone Indy Lights and I think why you'll see a lot of these drivers that have graduated be successful fairly early on.
Q. I wanted to ask you about landing your sponsorship with Mr. Spott. How did that all come about? Also, why did it happen now instead of two weeks ago?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Good question.
Well, obviously for us, when we're out searching for partners for an IndyCar program, we looked at prominent Canadian companies. Certainly Spott, Inc., is right up there, one of the most successful companies certainly in its industry. The financial industry is a very fast-paced performance-oriented industry. I think there's a lot of parallels there between that and motor racing.
So when we first approached the company, they seemed very open to the idea. Mr. Spott took the idea quite early on. We talked back and forth and went over a bunch of different scenarios. I think ultimately they saw those parallels, that there were a lot of possibilities there for them.
For us it was a great combination. Add onto the fact it's a young Canadian driver, a prominent Canadian company, I think that was a very big factor for them and something that meant a lot to them, being able to support an up-and-coming Canadian athlete.
It took a little while to get it all together, but I think ultimately it was a bit of a no-brainer and a win-win situation for everybody.
In terms of the IndyCar, you have 20 percent more power, 20 percent more downforce, 20 percent better brakes, it does everything 20 percent better...
In terms of why it could have happened a couple weeks earlier, when you're dealing with any company in any sort of potential sponsorship, certainly the magnitude of sponsorship required to go IndyCar racing, it's a lengthy process. It's not just somebody pulling out their wallet out of their left pocket, taking out a bit of cash. There's a lot of things to go through, a lot of due diligence to be done by all the parties involved.
Ultimately the big thing is you don't want to rush something and get it wrong or push someone into a certain time frame and ultimately scare them off.
So, you know, for us, what we're trying to do between Newman/Haas and myself and our partners is build a long-term program, hopefully something that can be successful for a few years. We wanted to make sure that all the groundwork was laid, all the pieces were in place to do that, not jumping out of the car every other weekend not knowing when we were going to be racing again. If that meant we had to sacrifice some time at the beginning of this year to make sure we had a long-term plan in place, that was a risk we were willing to take and a sacrifice we were willing to make.
I think that was the right choice. It's paid off now. I think the damage was limited. We only missed one event. Hopefully we can just build on this for years to come.
Q. The last time Newman/Haas had a rookie driver miss the first race, he went out and won the next race. You're not feeling any pressure from what Graham did at St. Pete, are you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Thanks a lot for driving that one home (laughter).
No, it's quite a statistic. It would be very, very tremendous if we were able to repeat that. But I'm certainly not going in there thinking that's something we have to do, no.
2. Pagenaud to replace injured Beatriz at Barber: Surgery to repair the scaphoid bone (wrist) last week will keep Ana Beatriz from competing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.
Filling the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing seat will be reigning American Le Mans Series champion and former Champ Car driver Simon Pagenaud, who will be making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut.
"I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to drive Bia's No. 24 IndyCar this weekend," said Pagenaud, 26, of France. "It's an awkward situation and not the best for a driver to race in circumstances like this, but I wish her the best and hope she has a very quick recovery and I will work hard for a good finish for DRR, Bia and Ipiranga/Blazemaster.
"I've been looking to get into IndyCar for several years and now is my chance, so I just have to say thank you to everyone for giving me the opportunity."
Beatriz, 24, of Brazil, suffered the injury on Lap 5 of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 when her car made contact with the No. 38 car driven by Graham Rahal. She soldiered on, advancing six positions to finish 14th.
"I could feel that my hand was sore and as the race went on it started to bother me more and I was in a lot of pain," she said. "I was just focused and determined on finishing the race. I really wanted it knowing that I wasn't 100 percent. Fortunately, I was able to finish the race and I got some good experience under my belt.
"It wasn't until after the race that I realized that something was actually broken. I was pretty upset, but the team and the league have been great. I'm putting a lot of effort in being ready for Long Beach (April 17)."
Pagenaud, a teammate of Will Power in the 2007 Champ Car World Series season, finished eighth in points. He moved to ALMS for the 2008 season with de Ferran Motorsports, finishing 14th and second in the standings over two years. Pagenaud competed with the Patrón Highcroft team in 2010, co-driving with David Brabham to the LMP1 title. The Highcroft team of Pagenaud, Brabham and Marino Franchitti finished second in the 12 Hours of Sebring three weeks ago in the Honda Performance Development ARX-01e.
"We wanted to put Bia in the car for this race, but it's more important that she heals properly and has a quick recovery," Dreyer & Reinbold Racing co-owner Dennis Reinbold said. "She's working hard and headed down the right track so that she can be ready for Long Beach. While she recovers we are happy that Simon can fill in for her this weekend."
3. Baguette lands Indy 500 ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced the expansion of its Indianapolis 500 plans to a two-car effort by adding Bertrand Baguette to its driver lineup.
Baguette, who will look to make his second start in the Indy 500, joins the joint effort between RLL and Sam Schmidt Motorsports to field the No. 88 Service Central entry for Jay Howard. It will mark the first time since 2008 that RLL will field two cars at Indianapolis.
Baguette will drive the No. 30 entry with the support of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium and Aspria.
"We anticipate an exciting month at Indy with a pair of young drivers that are hungry to make their own marks in IndyCar," said RLL co-owner and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal. "Adding Bertrand to our lineup gives us a chance to make both entries stronger. Bertrand has shown throughout his career that he is a proven winner and he improves every time he gets into the car. We look forward to giving both Bertrand and Jay a great opportunity to compete and show their skills at the Indianapolis 500."
Baguette, who won the Formula Renault 3.5 World Championship in 2009, made his first Indy 500 start a year ago, qualifying 24th and finishing 22nd. He competed in the final 15 races of the 2010 IZOD Indy Car Series season with Conquest Racing, placing in the top 15 in five of the year's final seven starts.
"This is a very good opportunity for me and it is important for me to compete in the 100th anniversary of this great race," said Baguette, of Belgium. "To be there with a team of the caliber of Rahal Letterman Lanigan is very exciting. They have great people and a rich history and I know we can do great things.
"Last year was my first time at Indy and it's a big place and the speeds are high, but once you get used to that you just focus on improving the race car. We qualified pretty easily on the first day and had a car that was running as fast as the top-10 guys in the race, but we had some misfortune with a broken mirror that set us back. I look forward to joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan and showing the world that I have the ability to run up front there."
Rahal Letterman Lanigan has earned 11 top-10 finishes at the Indianapolis 500 since its inception in 1992, punctuated by a victory in 2004 with Buddy Rice.
4. Ramsey to serve as Long Beach grand marshal: "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares" host/chef Gordon Ramsay will be the grand marshal of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17.
Ramsay, who owns and operates high-profile restaurants around the globe, will welcome IZOD IndyCar Series drivers to a dinner service taping of "Hell's Kitchen" on April 15 in Los Angeles.
One of four chefs in the UK to maintain three Michelin Stars, Ramsay was awarded an OBE in 2006 for services to the hospitality industry.
Tickets for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, featuring the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, are available from the Grand Prix ticket office by calling (888) 82-SPEED or at www.gplb.com.
Lee Bentham is one of the best driver coaches in open-wheel racing.
5. Winslow back at Andretti Autosport for Barber, Long Beach: Englishman James Winslow will continue to drive for Andretti Autosport as team officials confirmed that he will race for the team at Barber Motorsports Park and Streets of Long Beach.
The 27-year-old native of Witham, England rallied for an early race incident to finish 10th at the season-opening event at St. Petersburg and is focused on bringing the No. 26 Andretti Autosport car back to the front of the field.
"I'm looking forward to building on our strong start at St. Petersburg," Winslow said. "The team did a great job and we showed that we are going to be a strong in the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship. It will be great to get back in the car on Friday at Barber to see what we can do."
6. Bentham joins Jensen Motorsport as driver coach: Jensen MotorSport announced that Lee Bentham will re-join the team as Driver Coach on its Firestone Indy Lights program.
Bentham, a native of Toronto, previously managed Driver Development for Jensen MotorSport during the 2007 ChampCar Atlantic season, working with drivers Tom Sutherland and Frankie Muniz.
"I am proud to announce that our team has been bolstered with another extremely talented person joining," said team owner Eric Jensen. "Lee Bentham is one of the best driver coaches in open-wheel racing, and I am certain his guidance will further enhance the competitiveness of our drivers Juan Pablo Garcia and David Ostella."
Bentham's resume also includes his Head of Driver Development role at Forsythe Championship Racing, where he developed successful drivers including Robert Wickens, John Edwards and James Hinchcliffe.
Bentham also has an impressive resume as a driver, winning the 1998 Toyota Atlantic Championship driving for the Player's / Forsythe Racing Team, and also won races in the 1997 Firestone Indy Lights Championship en route to a fifth-place overall finish in the season standings.
"Jensen MotorSport has quickly established itself as one of the most competitive teams in Indy Lights," Bentham said. "David Ostella's pace in pre-season testing and his strong fourth-place finish in the first race at St. Pete bode well for a very successful season. It's an exciting time to re-join the IndyCar community, and I am thrilled to be doing with the talented Jensen squad many of whom I've previously worked with at the team."
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. 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 continues April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park with the Barber 100. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 1 p.m.. (ET) by VERSUS