IPS: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2008-03-24

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. New era in American open-wheel racing begins March 29 2. Viso to drive for HVM Racing 3. New IndyCar Series Safety Car to be unveiled March 29 4. South Florida residents look for hometown ...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. New era in American open-wheel racing begins March 29
2. Viso to drive for HVM Racing
3. New IndyCar Series Safety Car to be unveiled March 29
4. South Florida residents look for hometown win
5. Gregory & Appel to sponsor "Securing Tomorrow" Award

1. New era in American open-wheel racing begins March 29: A new era in American open-wheel racing begins March 29 when the 2008 season opens with a unified IndyCar Series.

The GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300, which will be contested under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will reunite former competitors such as Helio Castroneves and Bruno Junqueira as well renew family rivalries with next-generation drivers Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal.

"I'm extremely excited about having one series again," said Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who made 79 starts in CART before his 97 career starts in the IndyCar Series. "I have always been outspoken about that. One strong open-wheel series is going to be the best for everyone, not only for the drivers, not only for the teams, not only for the press, but especially for all the fans."

Fans will be rewarded when 26 cars take the starting grid for the 2008 season opener. The count represents 17 cars from teams that previously competed in the IndyCar Series and nine cars from five teams transitioning to the series.

The favorite in the 200-lap, 300-mile season opener - Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon will be looking for a record-setting fourth consecutive victory on the 1.5-mile, variable-banked oval. Last year, Wheldon, who recently got married, beat teammate Scott Dixon by more than six seconds at Homestead-Miami, but in 2006, he edged Castroneves by just 0.0147 of a second in the closest race in track history.

"One fan did tell me the more I keep winning the less likely each year I come back to be a repeat winner," Wheldon said. "I kind of ignored that one."

Following the Homestead-Miami race the unified series embarks on a schedule that is the most diverse in motorsports. The 2008 schedule will take the teams and drivers to short ovals, superspeedways, road and street courses, and of course the Indianapolis 500.

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2. Viso to drive for HVM Racing: Ernesto Viso, who most recently competed in GP2, will drive the No. 33 HVM Racing car during the IndyCar Series season.

Viso, from Caracas, Venezuela, won twice and had six podium finishes in GP2. He also was a Formula 1 test driver for Spyker in 2006, and raced in British F3 and Formula Renault after winning the Skip Barber Dodge championship.

"I am thrilled to join HVM Racing and the 'new' (IndyCar Series), though it has been a long winter for me," Viso said. "I tested with the guys while they were still in the Champ Car World Series, and we were very close to signing a deal just before Christmas. Then the reunification came, and while I think it is fantastic it was quite late so we had to start from scratch again."

Viso's Champ Car test at Sebring International Raceway impressed team co-owner Keith Wiggins.

"Ernesto showed maturity and professionalism well beyond his years, and not only was he quick in the car he was a very useful tool for the engineering staff," Wiggins said. "He gives good feedback and was quick to learn the DP01, and because of this I believe he will adapt to the Dallara very quickly as well."

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3. New IndyCar Series Safety Car to be unveiled March 29: The IndyCar Series will unveil its new safety car - a 2008 Honda Accord Coupe - at its season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29. The Honda Accord Coupe has been redesigned for 2008, giving it a sporty new stance to go with its V-6 engine and independent multi-link rear suspension. The safety car will also sport a new paint scheme this year - the result of a six-week design contest hosted on www.indycar.com that saw a team of Indy 500 legends select a red, white and blue design submitted by Ojai, Calif.-based artist Robert Clark.

Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr. and Rick Mears, who have 13 Indy 500 victories between them, unanimously chose Clark's design from three finalists. Not only will Clark's safety car design pace the IndyCar Series field all season, but Clark and a guest will be flown to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a VIP race weekend at the IndyCar Series season-opening race, the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 on March 29.

"It was kind of a free-form layout," Clark said. "Then I said let's submit it red, white and blue and show our colors. I've always been a big fan of IndyCars. The competition has been great and it inspired me to make the design as best as possible."

Indy car racing legend and three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford will return as the driver of the safety car in 2008. Rutherford has driven the Safety Car since the IndyCar Series' first race in 1996.

"It looks racy," Rutherford said of Clark's winning design. "The red, white and blue splash presents the car well."

As part of his VIP trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway, Clark will meet Rutherford prior to the race for an official "handing over the keys" photo opportunity to kick off the new safety car's 2008 season.

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4. South Florida residents look for hometown win: The South Florida climate not only makes for a great place to open the 2008 racing season, but 10 IndyCar Series drivers have found it makes a great place to call home. On March 29, those 10 drivers will take aim at their first trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway's Victory Circle in the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300.

Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Milka Duno, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bruno Junqueira, Tony Kanaan, Mario Moraes, Marty Roth, Oriol Servia and Ernesto Viso call South Florida home. None of them have won at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Castroneves and Kanaan, with 24 career wins between them, have come the closest, combining to lead 190 laps at Homestead-Miami. Castroneves has two second-place finishes at the track, while Kanaan has a pole and a best finish of third on the 1.5-mile, variable-banked oval.

"I have lived in Miami for 10 years and have a lot of friends here, so it was very exciting in front of my hometown crowd," Kanaan said. "I think the track suits my style, even though I've never won here. I would say the variable banking makes racing here more competitive and fits my driving style and my car."

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5. Gregory & Appel to sponsor "Securing Tomorrow" Award: Gregory & Appel Insurance will reward the Indy Pro Series driver who wins the most races during the 2008 season with a $5,000 award.

The Gregory & Appel Insurance "Securing Tomorrow" Award has previously been presented to Wade Cunningham in 2006 and Alex Lloyd in 2007.

"The Indy Pro Series has arguably the most talented young drivers found anywhere in the world and continually produces the future stars of the Indy Racing League," said Darren Hickey, Vice President and Head of the Motor Sports practice at Gregory & Appel. "To see Alex Lloyd win our award in 2007 and secure an IndyCar (Series) ride for 2008 is fantastic."

Gregory & Appel is an Indianapolis-based insurance agency with a nationally recognized professional racing practice that is one of the largest in the nation, representing drivers, teams, marketing firms, transportation/logistics companies and other professional racing-related entities.

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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 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.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Milka Duno , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Rick Mears , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Skip Barber , Marty Roth , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Wade Cunningham , Mario Moraes , Robert Clark , Johnny Rutherford , Al Unser , Ernesto Viso
Teams HVM Racing