Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. Twenty-six cars entered for IndyCar Series season opener 2. Transition teams complete second day at Sebring 3. Fernandez made switch look easy 4. Season Preview: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 5.
Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Twenty-six cars entered for IndyCar Series season opener
2. Transition teams complete second day at Sebring
3. Fernandez made switch look easy
4. Season Preview: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
5. Guthrie Racing signs Wieringa for season opener
1. Twenty-six cars entered for IndyCar Series season opener: Twenty-six cars are entered for the IndyCar Series 2008 season opener, the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300, at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 29, marking the first time since 2001 that the season will start with that many cars on track and the first time since 2003 that a race other than the Indianapolis 500 has featured that many starters.
The increase in car count is a result of the IndyCar Series TEAM program that was introduced last October as well as the recent unification of open wheel racing. The TEAM announcement generated a two-car program by Roth Racing. Five former Champ Car teams have entered nine cars for the season.
The IndyCar Series opened the 2001 season at Phoenix International Raceway with 27 starters. That same season CART opened the year in Mexico with 28 starters - the last time that series began a season with at least 24 starters.
The initial entry list does not list any rookies. Eligibility for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year award will be determined following a test on the oval at Homestead-Miami March 24-25 by the drivers transitioning to the IndyCar Series.
2. Transition teams complete second day at Sebring: Oriol Servia paced the final day of testing at Sebring International Raceway for teams and drivers transitioning to the IndyCar Series.
Six drivers completed 354 laps on the 1.7-mile, 11-turn circuit. The start of the day was delayed until noon after strong rains came through the area just before the scheduled start time of 9 a.m. The session also was interrupted for approximately 30 minutes in the afternoon when the No. 18 car driven by Bruno Junqueira made contact with the tire barrier in Turn 5. Junqueira was not injured.
Servia's fastest lap was 52.7035 seconds, 114.072 mph, besting his KV Racing Technology teammate Will Power by 0.2416 of a second. Servia completed 174 laps over the course of two days - most of any of the drivers.
"Honestly, I don't think we should give that much importance to the lap times themselves just because there was just 12 hours of a thousand cars running here, so there's a lot of rubber," Servia said. "I am happy with the balance of the car. Yesterday, we tried some things and I didn't really like the car. But, today we tried some other things that really suit me and I like the car. We ended up fast. I'm very happy that both cars ran trouble-free over the two days. That's a big accomplishment."
The drivers and teams head to Homestead-Miami Speedway for testing under the lights on March 24-25. They will be joined on the oval by transitioning teams HVM Racing, Newman Haas Lanigan Racing and Roth Racing drivers Marty Roth and Jay Howard, who did not participate in the Open Test in February.
3. Fernandez made switch look easy: For the five teams transitioning to the IndyCar Series, a successful season despite the late start is not out of the question. For a case study, they need look no further than Adrian Fernandez.
In 2004, Fernandez announced that the Fernandez Racing team would join the IndyCar Series at Phoenix International Raceway for the second race of the season. The owner/driver had 11 days to get ready.
"My first-ever laps in an (IndyCar Series) car were during practice for the race," said Fernandez, who last competed on the 1-mile Phoenix oval in 1995. "We definitely hit the ground running."
Fernandez didn't stop in the No. 5 car. He won three races and finished fifth in the standings after 16 rounds after an inauspicious start.
"Obviously, there was a lot to get used to -- the car itself, the engine power -- but everyone was very helpful in trying to get me up to speed as quickly as possible," he said. "Unfortunately, our debut didn't go as well as we had hoped. I qualified 13th, but I made a mistake downshifting prior to the start of the race and broke the gearbox (and finished 20th).
"It was all a part of learning in the transition from one series to another without the benefit of some testing, but it was an exciting time and I honestly felt that we would be fighting for the front very soon."
Following is a brief Q&A with Fernandez:
Q: Despite a late start to the IndyCar Series, you and the team quickly became a contender.
A: One test (after Phoenix) later and following the race at Motegi, we entered the Month of May at Indianapolis and were on pace from the start. You definitely benefit from all the track time at Indy and I qualified sixth and finished seventh. From there, the results kept coming even though there were at a lot of circuits that I had never raced on before.
Q: What were your biggest adjustments early in the year?
A: Considering the first time that I actually heard my engine was when I jumped in the car at the Phoenix race, there were quite a few. From big things to little things -- like where the various buttons were (on the steering wheel), the difference in the gearbox, getting used to the responsiveness of the engine. A lot of things that we would have learned had we had the benefit of pre-season testing. I knew I had to work harder than any of the other drivers at every aspect of the racing because I was behind.
On the track, Texas was my first real experience at side-by-side racing and I was thinking ‘This is crazy!' But I just settled in. As I was learning and getting my car better toward the end of the race, I was able to start pushing and we ended up finishing fifth. It was obviously a very satisfying result in only my fourth (IndyCar Series) start. The side-by-side racing for long periods of time was difficult as I had never done that before. My spotter, Jeff McComb, really helped me a lot with that to give me an idea of where the other cars were at all times and if I was giving them enough room. Other drivers also helped me with this. To me, this was the most difficult part but after four or five races, I felt comfortable. It was especially difficult when you are three wide and on the outside. I learned to look at the color of the pavement, etc. so I could see how much space I needed to give the two cars underneath me. I would try to do this as often as possible in the practice sessions to get used to it.
Q: What advice would you offer to drivers/teams making the move from Champ Car to the IndyCar Series?
A: First of all, as a driver, it was nice to see a lot of old friends when I made the transition -- Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Bryan Herta, Darren Manning -- and I didn't hesitate to ask them questions. Obviously, the biggest benefit you can have is track time and I think the Month of May will really help everyone shorten their learning curve. From there, every race will be a learning experience and it helped me to watch video tapes of previous races to have some idea of what to expect going in.
4. Season Preview: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: The 2008 IndyCar Series season could be a tale of two teams within a team for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice is the veteran looking to find his way back to Victory Lane while Milka Duno is the newcomer, hoping to soak up as much information as possible to work herself into a top-10 contender.
Rice is on board full-time to return to the No. 15 entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Duno's deal to start the season includes 11 races. Townsend Bell is signed to compete in some of the races Duno will miss. All three will compete in the Indianapolis 500.
"This off-season has involved a lot of hard work for us, but we're excited," team co-owner Dennis Reinbold said. "As the days count down, we're continuing to get our list of things taken care of. With the off-season testing programs we've had over the winter along with the newly unified IndyCar Series, we're excited for our best season yet."
Rice will be the cornerstone of the effort. The veteran of 80 IndyCar Series races recorded three top-five finishes last season - his first with DRR.
"I definitely think we can improve on where we were at last year," Rice said. "Obviously, we started off a bit rocky, but as things were progressing you could see that we were making headway. I think we stand to be in a lot better situation this year. Our road course package should be better, our short oval package - both of those were very good, but I think we can improve. But, I think the big thing is you'll see us improve on the big ovals. That's our intent right now."
Duno started seven races in 2007 when she made her debut in Indy-style racing. In the three races when she was running at the finish, she improved at least seven positions from the start of the race to the finish. She's looking forward to learning from a former Indianapolis 500 winner.
"I told Buddy already, ‘Be ready, because I'm going to ask you everything,'" Duno said. "I'm going to learn from him. He won the Indy 500, he's a very good driver. You have to be willing to ask the people who have more experience than you. You have to take advantage of things like that. Like everyone when they started here, I had limited experience in the series. I was new. I still have to learn a lot. I learned many things last year, especially from my engineer and from Pancho Carter, my spotter, and I'm going to learn more this year."
The final piece of the puzzle is Bell, who has 12 career IndyCar Series starts.
"It's great to be back," Bell said. "It's been a long sabbatical but I know Dreyer and Reinbold Racing is going to be working hard to give me every opportunity to succeed. I can't wait to get out there and mix it up again. I'm excited."
5. Guthrie Racing signs Wieringa for season opener: Indy Pro Series veteran Tom Wieringa has signed a one-race deal with Guthrie Racing for the season-opening Homestead-Miami 100 on March 29.
"I feel like part of the family again with Guthrie Racing," Wieringa said. "They're the best people I've ever been in contact with, and I've been on a lot of teams over the years. They've all known each other for 20-plus years and are good, honest, hard-working guys. I can't wait to get on the track again because we have a great setup for Homestead."
Wieringa made 12 starts for Guthrie Racing in 2007 with a best finish of 12th at Homestead. He hopes to put together a program with the team to run the remaining oval events.
"It's great to have Tom back," team owner Jim Guthrie said. "He brings a unique perspective to the team and his fun-seeking spirit is contagious, but he is quite a competitor with a desire to win. Tom showed moments of brilliance last year running in the top 10 in many of the test sessions, and I'm looking forward to putting him in the top five this year."
The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2008 schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on ovals, permanent road courses and 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.