IPS: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2008-02-25

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. 2008 season opens with Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway 2. Hunter-Reay will return with Rahal Letterman Racing 3. Conquest Racing to field two cars in IndyCar Series 4. IndyCar Series ...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. 2008 season opens with Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway
2. Hunter-Reay will return with Rahal Letterman Racing
3. Conquest Racing to field two cars in IndyCar Series
4. IndyCar Series announces course change at Infineon Raceway
5. Brian Stewart Racing inks Juan Manuel Polar
6. Castroneves honored by Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida

1. 2008 season opens with Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway: The IndyCar Series officially opens the 2008 season Feb. 27-28 with the first Open Test of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Drivers will test on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval from 4-10 p.m. (ET) both days in preparation for the season-opening race at the facility under the lights on March 29.

"We're very much looking forward to getting back to the racetrack and preparing for the 2008 season," said Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations division of the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series. "Homestead-Miami Speedway and Sebring International Raceway (where teams will test March 3-6) both offer first-class facilities in warm-weather venues to allow our teams and drivers the opportunity to get ready for another season of outstanding racing."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon, who will be seeking a series-record fourth consecutive victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will use the track time to work out off-season kinks and work on race craft.

"After the end of the season I had in '07, it makes you even more determined to get in the car," said Wheldon, who recorded two early victories in 2007 but had only one top-five finish in the second half. "Anytime I'm in the race car I'm incredibly happy."

Darren Manning, who enters his second season with A.J. Foyt Racing, is looking to pick up where he left off in 2007.

"I'm super excited ever since the last race really to get back going again for a second year with A.J.," Manning said. "We had quite a lot of good showings last year and a lot of good improvements, but the most exciting thing is most race weekends we'd finish and say, 'Oh, I wish we could start the race weekend now with what we've learned,' because there's no testing once the season gets going.

"We generally came away with knowing what we need to do next time we're going to race. We're really looking forward to getting back to the racetracks we've raced on before together, and Homestead is going to be another step forward for us giving us more track time."

Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe will use the test to further acclimate himself with a new team.

"It's going to be a very special experience for me to race for Team Penske this season," said Briscoe, who finished fifth in last year's Indianapolis 500. "They are certainly one of the most successful organizations in all of motorsports and to be able to put on that firesuit and climb into the car is truly an honor.

"I'm fortunate that I live near the race shop in Mooresville, N.C., because I've been able to spend a lot of time there during the off-season to get to know the team as much as possible so we're on the same page when the season starts."

Drivers will be adapting to a new paddle shift system as well as an optional variable assist steering rack.

"As far as getting ready for the year, something important that you can't really do necessarily at the test is hope that your off season R&D that's been done at the shop and by the engineers works and pays off and gives you an edge," Andretti Green Racing's Danica Patrick said. "If not, then you need to work hard to try to find other ways to go faster because everybody's working in the off season to find speed.

"That and then just as a driver pushing yourself really hard to get into that zone where you get comfortable for the season."

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2. Hunter-Reay will return with Rahal Letterman Racing: Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2007 Bombardier Rookie of the Year in the IndyCar Series, will return as the driver of the No. 17 Ethanol entry for Rahal Letterman Racing, the team announced Feb. 25.

Hunter-Reay joined the team in July, driving to a seventh-place finish in his debut at Mid-Ohio.

"It's great to make this official," Hunter-Reay said. "Driving for Rahal-Letterman Racing and Ethanol is a huge honor and a great opportunity. Together I am certain we are going to make the most of it. Since I first jumped in the No. 17 Ethanol car at Mid-Ohio, our goal has been to establish a solid foundation so we could build for a competitive 2008 season. Over the course of six races and six tests we have created a great chemistry within the team and made substantial progress in developing the car around my driving style and setup preferences. My motivation and the confidence I have in the team allows me to be very optimistic as we focus forward."

Hunter-Reay recorded three top-10 finishes in 2007, including a best finish of sixth at Michigan.

"Ryan brought a new energy to the team last year, but more importantly he raised our competitiveness on the road courses immediately," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "He came in and gave our team a much-needed boost on confidence, showing that we had the ability to run up front given the right combination of driver and team input. With IndyCar Series races on ovals and road courses under his belt, I fully expect that Ryan will give us every opportunity to do well in 2008."

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3. Conquest Racing to field two cars in IndyCar Series: Conquest Racing will participate as a two-car team in the IndyCar Series, the team announced Feb. 25.

Competing for the team in its return to the IndyCar Series will be Frenchman Franck Perera and a teammate who will be named at a later date. Perera finished second in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2007 and was also named Rookie of the Year. He ended the 12-race season only 31 points out of first place, and earned eight consecutive podiums while finishing in the top five in all of his races. Perera also completed every lap, leading 116.

"I am excited that my managers at CJMotorsport were able to work a deal for me to continue with Conquest into the new merged series," Perera said. "American open-wheel racing will be so much stronger and exciting for the fans having the teams back together again. I look forward to going to Homestead this week for the media activities and then back to Indy to start preparations for the start of the IndyCar Series season. For sure it will not be an easy start for everyone to learn a new car and new tracks, but after our great test in Sebring last month I think we have developed great relations within our team to show some strong results very quickly in the Dallara."

Conquest Racing previously competed in its first full IndyCar Series season in 2002 with Laurent Redon, who earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"Finally, we have come together as one," Conquest Racing co-owner Eric Bachelart said. "It's been a long time coming and we can now all move ahead in the same direction under one roof. The work is only starting but now that there is solidarity in open-wheel racing it will make it that much easier to take this sport to where it needs to be. It's a great moment for open-wheel racing in general and for the fans and our sponsors. We are happy to be competing under the Indy Racing League banner with our other fellow 'Champ Car' competitors against established IndyCar Series teams and we are also looking forward to the new challenge that this unification brings us."

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4. IndyCar Series announces course change at Infineon Raceway: The IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series will utilize a slightly modified road course when the series return to Infineon Raceway Aug. 22-24 for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County.

On the 12-turn course, the cars will now exit Turn 6 and go directly onto the track's drag strip into Turn 7 instead of looping to the left on the road course.

"By staying on the drag strip and then heading back into the Esses, we create a harder braking area and thus a better passing zone going into Turn 7," said Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations divisions of the sanctioning Indy Racing League.

The new configuration, which will shorten a lap around the circuit from 2.26 miles to approximately 2.245 miles, was evaluated by IndyCar Series drivers Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay during a test last December in Sonoma.

"I think it's going to make an improvement for the race," said Dixon, who won the Motorola Indy 300 at the track in 2007. "Hopefully, it's going to create a passing opportunity for some people. I think it's a good choice and will make a great addition to the weekend."

"Eliminating the bend to the left and now going up the drag strip makes for a wider passing opportunity, and I think that's good," said Hunter-Reay. "Any passing opportunity is great for the series and good for the fans who come out and watch."

Since the IndyCar Series began competing at the facility in 2005, race winners include Dixon (2007), Marco Andretti (2006) and Tony Kanaan (2005).

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5. Brian Stewart Racing inks Juan Manuel Polar: Brian Stewart Racing announced Feb. 22 that Peruvian driver Juan Manuel Polar will compete in the Indy Pro Series during the 2008 season.

"The Indy Pro Series is a very high-level series and it's very, very competitive," Polar said. "I want to say thanks to Brian Stewart Racing for giving me the opportunity to participate in the series. I'm very happy to be here, and I hope I can do very well."

The 24-year-old has competed in various ladder series in Europe and has spent the last two seasons racing in Spanish Formula 3's Copa de Espana division, finishing as the series' runner-up in each season.

"There are certain places you look for drivers, and you know if they've done well there, they'll do well here," said team owner Brian Stewart, whose team won the Indy Pro Series entrant title in 2005 and 2006. "If a guy has done well in British F3, Italian F3, French F3 or Spanish F3, you know in any one of those series, you know you have a good driver."

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6. Castroneves honored by Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was presented with the 2008 Annual Excellence Award from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida (BACCF) on Feb. 22.

The BACCF Excellence Award was created in 1999 to be presented to outstanding, visionary and accomplished leaders recognized for their contributions to the growth and development of Brazilian-American business relations and partnerships. Castroneves is the youngest recipient to date. Past honorees include executives from Jet Blue Airways, FedEx Express, Varig Airlines, BankBoston International and Embraer and Formula 1World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

"I'm honored to have received this award," said Castroneves. "Not only is it fantastic to be recognized for my accomplishments; it's also wonderful to be thought of as a person who is bridging the gap between my native Brazil and my new home in Florida. I can tell you that this is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life and this award will always hold a special place in my heart."

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on 11 ovals, three permanent road courses and two temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ESPN. All races in 2008 will be telecast in High Definition. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season also begins on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Darren Manning , Helio Castroneves , Bobby Rahal , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Laurent Redon , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Ryan Briscoe , Emerson Fittipaldi , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Juan Manuel Polar , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Danica Patrick , Franck Perera
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Conquest Racing