IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-02-19

INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 19, 2007 Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. Homestead-Miami Open Test set to begin 2. Indy Pro Series testing hits track at Homestead 3. Rahal to speak at ethanol conference 4. South ...

INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 19, 2007

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. Homestead-Miami Open Test set to begin
2. Indy Pro Series testing hits track at Homestead
3. Rahal to speak at ethanol conference
4. South African driver joins Kenn Hardley Racing
5. Guthrie partners to form new team

1. Homestead-Miami Open Test set to begin: Scott Dixon has had five months to contemplate what could have been in the 2006 IndyCar Series season. Now he's ready for 2007. Dixon is looking forward to the Feb. 21-22 Open Test on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval.

"I think the (IndyCar Series) done the right thing in trying to compress the season with getting as many races in as possible, a lot of back-to-backs that keeps the audience watching," said Dixon, the 2003 series champion who posted two victories last season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

IndyCar Series drivers had two days of testing on a modified Daytona International Speedway road course in preparation for five road/street courses -- an increase of two -- on the 17-race schedule. The two six-hour sessions on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval will be the only opportunity to go through a long checklist of items before the March 24 prime-time opener at the speedway.

"I'm excited for Homestead," Dixon said. "It's going to be good to see how our cars are going to do on the ovals." Four things that highlight the two days of testing:

*Under the lights: The IndyCar Series will open its season with a night race -- a first in major open-wheel history. The testing from 4-10 p.m. on Feb. 21 and 22 will allow teams to get a baseline on evening conditions.

*100 percent fuel-grade ethanol: All IndyCar Series competitors will employ the 3.5-liter Honda Indy V-8 engine fueled by 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol. The series is the first in motorsports to embrace a renewable fuel source. Drivers at the Daytona test reported no interface concerns and were praising the additional low-end torque with the move from the 3.0-liter engine used in '06.

*Top five contenders return: Every driver expects another close championship race, with some new teams challenging for the top five. Three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. returns, along with Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves, Dixon and Vitor Meira. Hornish, who tied with Wheldon in points after 14 rounds but won the first tiebreaker (four victories to two), is a three-time winner at Homestead.

*Faces in new places: An off-season game of musical chairs has produced an interesting lineup of driver-team pairings.

After two years of IndyCar Series competition with Rahal Letterman Racing, Danica Patrick moves to Andretti Green Racing looking for her first career win. Patrick joins the team's returning lineup of Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan.

Scott Sharp joins Rahal Letterman Racing for his 12th season of competition. Sharp has made 129 starts and scored nine victories.

Panther Racing expands to a two-car effort with the pairing of Kosuke Matsuura, the 2004 Bombardier Rookie of the Year, with Meira.

After naming Larry Foyt to team director at the end of last season, A.J. Foyt Racing has hired Darren Manning to drive the No. 14 car. After a two-year absence from the IndyCar Series, Manning looks to rebound under the watch of racing legend A.J. Foyt.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing expands to two cars with Sarah Fisher and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice in the seats. Fisher made two starts in 2006 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, while Rice spent the past three seasons competing with Rahal Letterman Racing.

***

FAST FACTS:

WHAT: IndyCar Series Open Test

WHERE: Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1.5-mile variably banked asphalt oval

WHEN: 4 p.m. -- 10 p.m. Feb. 21-22

CARS: Dallara chassis; Honda Indy V-8; Firestone tires; 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol

SCHEDULE (All times local; subject to change): Wednesday, Feb. 21 Noon -- 3 p.m. IndyCar Series Media Day activities (transcripts available at www.indycar.com/media) 4 p.m. -- 10 p.m. IndyCar Series testing

Thursday, Feb. 22 Noon -- 3 p.m. IndyCar Series Media Day activities (transcripts available at www.indycar.com/media) 4 p.m. -- 10 p.m. IndyCar Series testing

THE TRACK: 1.5-mile asphalt oval; 55 feet wide Frontstraight: 1,760 feet banked at 4 degrees Backstretch: 1,760 feet banked at 4 degrees Turns: 650 feet variably banked at 18, 19 and 20 degrees

2. Indy Pro Series testing hits track at Homestead: Twenty-five cars representing 17 teams are included on the participant list for two days of testing on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course (Feb. 20) and 1.5-mile oval (Feb. 22). Six hours each day for drivers new to the series and veterans alike are the only opportunities to test before the season opener on the speedway's oval only a month away.

Obviously, there's a long checklist for teams. Bobby Wilson, Jaime Camara, Alex Lloyd, Chris Festa, Sean Guthrie and Mike Potekhen are among the familiar faces scheduled to be in seats for the start of the 16-race season. Wilson, who finished fourth in the 2006 standings, will be driving the No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing car. Camara, sixth in the standings, returns in an Andretti Green Racing-prepared car. Lloyd (seventh in 2006) will compete in a Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, and Festa (eighth in 2006) will be driving a Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared car. After debuting as an oval-only series in 2002, the Indy Pro Series added several road courses in 2005. Last year, the schedule was half ovals and half road courses. This year, the schedule features nine races on road courses and seven on ovals. Prize money was increased to almost $4 million.

"We worked hard the past two seasons to develop an infrastructure that will appeal to racing teams at all levels," Indy Pro Series executive director Roger Bailey said. "IndyCar Series teams are attracted to the Indy Pro Series because they can develop young talent and earn bonus test days. Teams from other series see our business model as something they can succeed in, and then there's always the fact that we race three times at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It comes together to form a very attractive package."

3. Rahal to speak at ethanol conference: Rahal Letterman Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal will serve as a featured speaker on Feb. 20 at the 12th Annual National Ethanol Conference in Tucson, Ariz. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the three-day conference, which is hosted by the Renewable Fuels Association and focuses on timely discussions on important policy and marketing issues in the ethanol industry. Rahal fields the No. 17 Team Ethanol entry in the IndyCar Series, which will require all cars to use 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol beginning with the 2007 season.

4. South African driver joins Kenn Hardley Racing: Kenn Hardley Racing will campaign driver Stephen Simpson in the Indy Pro Series in 2007, the team announced Feb. 19. Simpson, who was born in Poole, England, has lived in Cape Town, South Africa, for most of his life. The 23-year-old ran three races in the Champ Car Atlantic series in 2006 before concentrating on driving in the A1 Grand Prix representing South Africa.

"We are elated to have Stephen with us for the 2007 season," team owner Kenn Hardley said. "Stephen is a young talent who we are very impressed with and who has driven in many types of open wheel race cars around the world. I don't believe it will take him long to acclimate himself to the Indy Pro Series or our team. The 24 car has finished second and third the last two years in the series with Jeff Simmons and Bobby Wilson, and I believe this will be another banner year with Stephen as our driver. Our team has worked very hard over the winter to put together another solid product."

Simpson will be a rookie in the 16-race Indy Pro Series that competes on seven ovals and nine road courses throughout the United States. "I'm very excited about the chance to race in the Indy Pro Series and to join Kenn Hardley Racing for this season," Simpson said. "They are a great team to be with and we will be pushing hard to run up front this year."

Simpson began his racing career in karting at age 8 and won his first race in a 60 cc kadet kart. He went on to win two Western Province karting championships before progressing to Formula Ford where he won the South African championship at the age of 16. He also represented South Africa at 2000 Elf Masters karting in Paris on the Ford team with Danica Patrick. Simpson then left South Africa to pursue his racing career in Europe, initially running his own Formula Ford team with fellow-South African Trevor van Rooyen. He was named Motoring News "Race Ace of the Year" in Britain in 2001. In 2002, he spent a year based in Italy and raced for Benetton Durango in the Formula Renault EuroCup and was promoted to international F3000 in 2003. In 2004, Simpson was the British Formula Renault Winter Series runner-up, and in 2005 he competed in the British Formula Renault 2000 championship before joining the A1GP, making his debut in the opening round of the series, the A1 Grand Prix of Nations Great Britain at Brands Hatch, finishing sixth. Last year, Simpson competed in nine of the 11 A1GP rounds, recording a best finish of third in the feature race in Dubai.

5. Guthrie partners to form new team: Guthrie Racing, which won two Indy Pro Series events in 2006, will bring in a new business partner and change its name to U.S. Pro Racing, the team announced Feb. 16. The team will field cars for Sean Guthrie and Tom Wieringa in the 16-race season that begins March 24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jim Guthrie, who formed Guthrie Racing in 2005, will join forces with Colorado businessman Mike Lee, who has been involved in racing for many years.

"This will be my first time since the Blueprint Racing days with a partner," said Guthrie, who won IndyCar Series rookie of the year honors as a co-owner of Blueprint Racing in 1997. "That worked out well, so we'll try it again. Mike brings some unique skills to the team. He brings sponsorship and sales skills to the team where I'm more on the operations side -- making the car go faster."

Lee grew up racing, yearning for an opportunity to drive in the Indianapolis 500. His on-track career peaked in 2000 when he won the American Indy Car Series championship. He's currently involved with filming a racing reality show for TV.

"I had the chance to race some smaller Indy cars, but never got to the top," Lee said. "Now I'm trying to create some opportunities for younger drivers to get where I couldn't go. I needed to partner with someone with experience in Indy car racing, and Jim was a perfect match. He and his team have great experience, a history of winning and they're not done yet."

Guthrie Racing entered the Indy Pro Series for the first time in 2006 and wasted no time in making its mark. Driver Raphael Matos won the pole at the season's second event and then proceeded to sweep the doubleheader race weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Overall, the team recorded four top-five finishes campaigning nine drivers, including Sean Guthrie (5 starts) and Wieringa (1). "Sean got five races under his belt last year," Jim Guthrie said of his 18-year-old son, who recorded a fifth-place finish at Kentucky. "He has been working very hard during the offseason. He's got a tough workout regimen, and he's driving all the time. I think he's got a great shot at the championship.

"Tom is a wily veteran. He started dead last last year at Chicagoland, and he made it up to sixth and right into the thick of things. He seems to be a really good fit for our team. We have similar goals, personalities and drives."

Sean Guthrie won several karting championships before advancing into cars in 2004. After one season each in SCCA Formula Ford and Star Mazda, he debuted in the Indy Pro Series last year in the Freedom 100 on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished 11th.

"I'm super excited about coming back for the full season," Guthrie said. "I think we can win a couple of races and go for the championship. I don't think too many things will change with the partnership. It's the same crew. It'll maybe just create a more relaxed environment, which should help our chances to win."

Wieringa has been racing competitively since the last 1990s and made two Indy Pro Series starts in 2006. "I'm looking forward to running with Jim Guthrie and his team this season," Wieringa said. "I ran for the team at the season finale at Chicago last year and was pleased with the caliber and quality of the team. The history and background in Indy cars of the team owner, engineer, mechanics, and spotter is awesome. We gelled very well at our last outing, so I'm sure that the continuity of the season will bring great results."

***

The 2007 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 24. The race will be telecast live by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition begins with the Miami 100 on March 24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast on at 5 p.m. (EDT) on March 28 by ESPN2.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Darren Manning , Sarah Fisher , Scott Sharp , Jim Guthrie , Helio Castroneves , Bobby Rahal , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Larry Foyt , Dan Wheldon , Sam Schmidt , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Roger Bailey , Chris Festa , Stephen Simpson , Bobby Wilson , Tom Wieringa , Sean Guthrie , Mike Potekhen , A.J. Foyt , Danica Patrick , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing