2008 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK George pleased with series momentum entering May; Nabors to return to sing at Indy INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, April 8, 2008 -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chief Executive Officer Tony George gave an overview...
2008 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR NOTEBOOK
George pleased with series momentum entering May; Nabors to return to sing at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, April 8, 2008 -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chief Executive Officer Tony George gave an overview of the past and a look to the future April 8 during the opening day of the Media Tour for the 92nd Indianapolis 500.
The IndyCar Series and Champ Car World Series unified under the IndyCar Series banner Feb. 22, with the season opening March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"The first couple weeks (after the Indy Car Series and Champ Car blended), there was an anxious feeling among the Champ Car teams having to prepare for a season with new people, new faces, new equipment and on track and off-track abilities," George said. "When we actually got equipment in the hands of the teams, things started to settle down.
"We had a great race last weekend (in St., Petersburg), great crowds, lots of energy, great fields and a lot of interest in unification among sponsors. It's setting up for an exciting month of May."
The 92nd Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 25. Opening Day is Sunday, May 4.
News day: Among other announcements made Tuesday:
* Jim Nabors will return to sing "Back Home in Indiana", a longtime "500" pre-race tradition which he missed a year ago, IMS President and Chief Operating Officer Joie Chitwood said.
"Jim had gone to the doctor and had a heart ailment, nothing serious, but living in Hawaii the doctor did not want him to be on a plane for 12 hours where no one could get to him," Chitwood said. "But we've spoken to him, he is planning to be here. So there were no serious health issues that will preclude him and, goodness, with our Centennial approaching, there is only one person I would want to be up there singing "Back Home Again in Indiana."
* Julianne Hough, who teamed with two-time "500" winner Helio Castroneves to win the "Dancing with the Stars" competition over the winter, will sing the national anthem before the start. She's also a Universal Music Group Nashville recording artist.
"I think it's great," Castroneves said of the overall experience. "There's going to be a lot more people here to cheer for me because a lot more friends from 'Dancing with the Stars' are coming out. I was the one who pushed for Julianne to sing, and I'm glad it worked out. That night (that we won), I was told the biggest number of viewers came from Indianapolis. Every time I come here, it's special."
Roth Racing raring to go: Toronto native Marty Roth has followed a long line of Canadian drivers to the "500," among them Cliff Hucul, Ludwig Heimrath Jr. and Paul Tracy. For this year, Roth is fielding a two-car team with rookie Jay Howard in the saddle of the second mount.
"Everyone thinks I've been bringing a knife to a gunfight," Roth said. "This year it's a knife, but it's a sharper knife. After last year, we bought out Sam Schmidt's equipment, then later picked up Fernandez's program, and we saw a lot of stuff we needed to be competitive. We've got four cars here, two for Jay and two for myself. It took four years of collecting pieces to realize what we needed."
Howard moves up from the Firestone Indy Lights series.
"I'm still learning," Howard said. "Like Marty said, we have the ability to go fast. The way you drive the car is pretty similar (to the Lights car). Everything just happens a little faster."
Howard has a significant spotter for his machine. Ron Dixon, father of former IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, is on the headset atop the grandstand for him.
Solid tires: Firestone Racing Executive Director Al Speyer said Firestone was not changing its tire compound from 2007 for Indy.
"There are two different stagger options, but only one compound setup," Speyer said. "In '06, we weren't too happy with the tire, and we had a whole new one for '07 and were happy with it."
Speyer added that Firestone's reintroduction to the Indy car community, in which it has shod 58 winners at Indy, has been a success for the company.
"Between '93 and '99, we gained 20 percent a year in customer sales, and that's unheard of," Speyer said. "Sales just doubled over that time. There's no question the racetrack has allowed us to sell more Firestone tires."
Aussie power: Ryan Briscoe, now with Team Penske, is joined by ex-Champ Car driver Will Power as Australians bidding for starting spots in the "500" field. Before Briscoe came to Indy, the last Aussie to make the show was Geoff Brabham in '93.
"It (interest) has been increasing a little bit (in Australia), and with the growth of the series and two Australians in the field, it should get bigger and bigger," Briscoe said. "My showing last year (fifth) helps with that.
"It's always special coming back here. The more I learn about it, the more special it becomes. And coming with Team Penske is as special as it comes."
Dancing to new fans: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was asked various questions about winning the "Dancing with the Stars" title last fall.
"I never thought it'd be such a big deal," Helio said. "But we want to capture new fans, and with the (unity) it's even better, so I think we can do that (grow)."
Remembering young Rahal: Penske Racing chief Tim Cindric recalls his days with Team Rahal and Rahal-Hogan Racing before joining Penske, which has won the Indianapolis 500 a record 14 times. And he remembers Graham Rahal, who became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history, at 19, on April 6 at St. Petersburg.
"I think my wife was his first crew chief," Cindric said with a laugh, "building Legos on the bus. I think my kids still have his go-kart in the garage. It might be putting it on eBay."
Cindric said this "500" is special for another reason.
"We're trying to give Roger (Penske) the title of the first to win Daytona and Indy and win them in the same season," he said.
Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in a Penske entry.
Rahal, Wilson eager for Indy: Newman/Haas/Lanigan standout Graham Rahal was candid about the upcoming month at Indy.
"I'm really looking forward to coming here for the month of May," he said. "We're really looking forward to coming here to run on the oval. To say I'm nervous is an understatement.
Rahal, 19, now is competing against the Rahal Letterman Racing team co-owned by his father, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
"The relationship with my dad hasn't changed," Graham Rahal said. "I've always been his son. As a kid growing up, we were always together, whether it was testing at Sebring or at the races."
Rahal and his teammate, Justin Wilson, are getting along well in their first season as teammates. Wilson replaced four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, who moved to Formula One.
"We hang out together," Wilson said. "It's hard to think he's my younger teammate."
Englishman Wilson, 29, started following the Indianapolis 500 during the early 1990s, and he's also eager for his first start in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." He raced in the United States Grand Prix in 2003 for Jaguar Racing and can become only the fourth driver to race in the Indianapolis 500 and USGP.
"It all started for me when Nigel Mansell came over here," Wilson said. "It was on TV in the UK, and you could stay up and watch it. It produced some great racing. That captured my imagination.
"The first time I was here was 2003 for the Grand Prix. I was amazed how long the straightaways were. I can't imagine what they'll be like at 225 miles an hour. I imagine it can be quite intimidating on Race Day."
Rahal and Wilson will be trying to give Newman/Haas/Lanigan its first Indianapolis 500 victory after a long and storied career at Indy.
"These guys have been so close so many times to win this thing," Rahal said. "The amount of preparation these guys put in is more than any other team. That gives you great confidence."