Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Legge's long journey pays off
2. USF2000 Champion Suvanto joins Team Pelfrey
3. Israeli driver to compete in Firestone Indy Lights
4. Iowa Corn returns as race sponsor for sixth year
1. Legge's long journey pays off: Katherine Legge re-adjusts the diamond ring on her left hand and smiles when talking about her fiancé. Among former DTM driver Peter Terting's qualities are patience and support, which she appreciates more than can be expressed with an interviewer.
"We haven't done anything about the wedding really because I've been so focused on racing," says Legge, who earlier in the week was confirmed as the teammate to Sebastien Bourdais with Lotus Dragon Racing. "It's really difficult to take your focus away from something, and I'm not one of those people who won't do everything properly. When I do something, I have to commit to it 110 percent, and I've just been committed to racing."
So any invitations to the wedding back in the UK won't be sent until after the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
"Priorities, right?" she says. "He understands."
Competing in the top level of motorsports has been Legge's priority - her passion, really - for as long as she can remember throughout her 31 years. Achievements and notoriety came swiftly in open-wheel racing in Europe, and continued in the Atlantic Championship in North America. She graduated to the Champ Car World Series in 2006 with PKV Racing (Oriol Servia of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was her teammate) and competed the next year with Dale Coyne Racing - both seasons garnering mixed results.
When Champ Car came under INDYCAR sanction for the 2008 season, Legge found herself on the sidelines. When doors shut and phone calls went unreturned, she returned to Europe to begin a new chapter in touring cars. But throughout her three years in DTM, Indy car remained the goal.
At the beginning of January 2011, Legge moved back to the States to pursue opportunities.
"I thought I'd come back and was sure I would get a ride," she says. "I didn't realize how difficult it would be."
Undaunted, she teamed up with new sports management and consulting firm GRand Solutions to re-introduce herself to the INDYCAR community at race venues and team headquarters. A wry smile in the paddock masked disappointment of not competing on the racetrack.
"Once I decided that I was going to come back to INDYCAR, I had to find a way to make it happen," she says. "I've had a very hard year of work and I had sleepless nights, but it's my dream and I've followed it and I'm very happy it's paying off.
"There have been a lot of people I respect that have given me advice to the contrary because they didn't know it was going to be possible (to race in Indy car). Nobody really expected it of me, but when I set my mind to something I'm like a dog with a bone and don't let go. I laser focus in on that point. My all-time favorite saying is if you want something badly enough you'll find a way to make it happen."
She realizes it's only the beginning to making the most of the opportunity.
"It's a change of focus now," Legge says. "You concentrate on the business side and you tend to put the driving side almost away a little bit. It will take me a few days to get back into it since I haven't been in an open-wheel car for four years. But all I can do is take out all the unknowns by preparing myself as well as I can and do the best job I can inside the car and out."
Bourdais, who won his fourth consecutive Champ Car title in 2007 and has 31 Indy car victories, will be a major asset, according to Legge, in her transition from DTM and developing the new Dallara chassis for the diverse set of road/street circuits and ovals on the calendar.
"I am so lucky to have Sebastien as a teammate," she says. "I will try to learn as much from him as I can. There are probably only three or four drivers in Indy car that I would have loved to have as my teammate and he's definitely one of them. His experience and talent in developing a car will be a massive advantage for us."
Legge also has the backing of primary sponsor TrueCar, an online automotive solutions provider that publishes new car transaction data, through its Women Empowerment motorsports initiative. It also sponsors Ashley Freiberg (Star Mazda) and Shannon McIntosh (USF2000) in the Mazda Road to Indy program, Shea Holbrook (Pirelli World Challenge), Verena Mei (Rally America) and Emilee Tominovich (MX-5 Cup).
Legge, the FIA female driver ambassador, says the program "comes from a deep-seated belief and want for the girls to do well."
"This idea has evolved into something I would say is groundbreaking and very special," she says. "There hasn't really been anybody that's been given the opportunity, apart from Danica (Patrick), who was in really good equipment. No other female has been in top equipment and been given the opportunity to win races.
"They've given me and all the girls throughout the ranks the opportunity to shine. We don't want it to be a gimmick. We don't want it to be the 'girl' driver. We want to be competitive race car drivers, taken seriously in what we do. And the only way we can do that is compete with the guys, and the only way you can compete with the guys is if you're given the opportunity on a level playing field.
"It is empowering to women, and it should stand as an example that you can do anything you put your mind to and not limited by anything."
Much like Legge's return to IndyCar racing.
"I have a very never-give-up attitude and now here I am," she says.
2. USF2000 Champion Suvanto joins Team Pelfrey: Team Pelfrey announced the addition of 2011 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion Petri Suvanto to compete in the Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear.
The team made a stunning series debut last March when Connor De Phillippi won the opening race at St. Petersburg, Fla., just a few miles away from its home base. De Phillippi maintained the momentum by adding three race wins, and together with teammate Nick Andries claimed a total of three poles and 13 podium finishes en route to second and third positions in the drivers' championship. The team also finished first and second in the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to clinch the Team Championship.
Suvanto will join American Gustavo Menezes, who finished eighth in the 2011 Star Mazda series as a rookie with Juncos Racing, and Englishman Jack Hawksworth, a race winner in last year's Formula Renault 2.0 UK Championship.
"Winning is our obsession, so who better to drive for us than the defending USF2000 champion," said Team Pelfrey team manager Geoff Fickling. "Petri is the perfect driver for a results-oriented team. He's extremely focused, self-motivated, and bloody quick! Some of his wins last year were shockingly impressive. We know the step up to Star Mazda is a big one and there's a learning curve that needs to be met in order to even utter the word championship, but I've laid out the most extensive preseason testing program I've ever been a part of in order to get all three of our young drivers' learning curves accelerated as quickly as possible prior to the opener at St. Petersburg. Jack, Gustavo, and Petri, I couldn't be happier with our lineup."
Suvanto was impressive in winning last year's Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda title as a rookie and is now able to reach one step closer to his goal of competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, courtesy of the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship ladder.
"It feels great to finally announce that I will be racing for Team Pelfrey," Suvanto said. "It's been very difficult to hold back the exciting news for so long while we finalized all the details! I have had a chance to get to know the team a little bit over the winter and I'm very excited to work with such a professional group of people again.
"Moving up to Star Mazda isn't going to be easy but I'm welcoming the challenge with open arms. The theme of the year is learning, and the more I learn the better the results are going to be. Things have changed a lot over the last 12 months. Last year at this time I was wondering whether I would be able to ever race again, but from the moment I learned about the Mazda Road to Indy, I knew what I wanted. It worked out pretty well. 2011 changed my life and I'm very thankful to all the people who were part of it, especially everyone at Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Now it's time to start a new chapter full of new challenges. I'm already counting the days until the first race."
Suvanto, 19, is currently completing his mandatory military service in his native Finland. Once his National Service is completed, he will join the team in a busy schedule of testing in preparation for the first race of the season, which will be held in conjunction with the IZOD IndyCar Series opener, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on March 25.
3. Israeli driver to compete in Firestone Indy Lights: Belardi Auto Racing created motor racing history by signing Alon Day, the first Israeli driver to compete in the United States, to its Firestone Indy Lights roster for the 2012 season.
"I am very excited to welcome Alon to the Belardi Auto Racing family for the 2012 Indy Lights season," team owner Brian Belardi said. "Alon really blew us away when he came down to test with us at Palm Beach in December. His very first time in an Indy Lights car could not have gone better, and we are very lucky to have him join our program. I think with Alon's natural talent and determination, he will have a really great season as a rookie in the Firestone Indy Lights series."
Day started his driving career, like many others, by karting. After earning more than 60 titles and trophies, he moved up to the 2-liter cars in Formula Renault in Asia and Hungary. In 2009, the 17-year-old clinched the Asia Formula Renault Championship with 13 podiums, eight poles and six wins.
In March of the following year, however, Day's racing career was halted when he was asked to join the Israeli Army for three years. After being pardoned because of his unique career and accomplishments, he competed in the German Formula Three Championship in 2010. It was that year, following a promising season, that Day was selected by ex-Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz to be one of 12 FIA Ambassadors as part of the FIA Institute Academy Initiative.
Signing with Belardi Auto Racing will mark Day's first race season in North America, where the 20-year-old will compete in 12 events across the U.S. and Canada.
"I am so delighted to announce that I will be competing with Belardi Auto Racing for the 2012 Indy Lights Championship," he said. "I had a great test with Belardi in December, and I got to have a real think about things over Christmas, and I decided to make a commitment with Belardi in the Lights Championship. Brian (Belardi) and John (Brunner) have been great; they have accommodated for us on every level.
"I'm really excited with the package that we've got to enter the season. We certainly feel that we're going to be in a great position to fight for the championship, which is why we're all here. I'm absolutely delighted and very much looking forward to working with everyone at Belardi and look to try and bring them the championship."
Day and the team will test at MSR Houston on Jan. 23-24.
4. Iowa Corn returns as race sponsor for sixth year: The Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board will be the title sponsor of the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway for the sixth consecutive year.
The IZOD IndyCar Series race on the 0.85-mile oval will be held under the lights June 23.
"This year will be exciting as INDYCAR moves to E85," said Craig Floss, CEO of Iowa Corn. "Consumers can fill up their flex fuel vehicles with E85, and drive just like the pros, except with a speed limit of course."
IZOD IndyCar Series cars have been fueled by ethanol since 2006, with an estimated savings of 20,000 gallons of fuel per season. In 2012, the new 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines of Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus will utilize E85 fuel - another way the series is relevant to motorists.
"Iowa Corn has been sponsoring this race since our inaugural season, a sponsorship which is now entering its sixth year," Iowa Speedway president Stand Clement said. "It's been a tremendous relationship, and we value their partnership, both with us and our race fans."