MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE PREPARES FOR THE OPENING OF 2006 SEASON This Sunday, Marlboro Team Penske will take the first green flag of the season as the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCarÂ® Series kicks off with the Toyota Indy 300 at...
MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE PREPARES FOR THE OPENING OF 2006 SEASON
This Sunday, Marlboro Team Penske will take the first green flag of the season as the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar® Series kicks off with the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The twin Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Hondas will once again be piloted by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and two-time IndyCar Series Champion Sam Hornish Jr. as the Team returns with Honda power, after a four year absence.
Looking for the first win in his own backyard will be Miami resident Castroneves who has finished second once (2004) and third twice (2002 & 2003) at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hornish Jr. will be looking for his fourth victory in six years of competition in Miami. The Ohio native became the only driver to ever win in his debut with Marlboro Team Penske in 2004 and also took the checkered flag in 2001 and 2002.
The Team will be intent on starting the 2006 season with a bang as they set their sights on their 12th National Championship and first Championship in IndyCar Series competition.
"Homestead-Miami Speedway is a track where I've always had a lot of luck, so I'm looking forward to going back," said Hornish Jr. "There are some tracks at which you feel like you always run well, and Miami is one of them for me. During the race, it's going to be important to have a car that handles well in traffic. The IRL made some rule changes for 2006 that affect the amount of downforce we're able to run; so we focused on working in traffic during the test in Homestead earlier this month, and we feel pretty good about our chances come race day. Getting the season started on a positive note is key because you don't want to find yourself trying to make up a lot of ground in the Championship standings moving forward."
"The track is a lot like the other 1.5-mile ovals we run at, so there aren't a lot of surprises going into this event," explains Castroneves. "We were pretty happy with the work we were able to do at the spring tests, but there are still some things we want to work on during the practice sessions this weekend. It seems like we've been hovering around the top five in the last four races in Miami, so I'm going to approach this race like I have in the past and hope I'm in the right place at the end to go for the win. It would mean a lot for me to win at my home track because I have a lot of family, friends and fans in the Miami area who will be attending the race."
A FULL FORTNIGHT
Over the next two weeks, Marlboro Team Penske will have their hands full as they prepare to compete on a 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, March 26th and on a temporary street circuit at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the following weekend on Sunday, April 2nd. How does the Team switch gears from running on an oval one week to a temporary street course the next?
"It's night and day between an oval car and a road course car," explains Marlboro Team Penske Team Manager, Clive Howell. "On an oval, the drivers are going flat out, so you don't have to worry about wear on the brakes as much. On a temporary street course, the drivers are turning right and left, and braking plays a key role in each lap so it's important that all systems are functioning at top performance to insure a well-handling car."
Until the checkered flag drops at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday afternoon, the Team will be focused solely on the first race of the season. Next Monday, the Team will spend the day changing the cars over to run on road courses and will have Tuesday's Open Test on Homestead's road course to iron out the kinks.
"The Team does a great job focusing on the task at hand so they'll be doing everything they can to insure a win this Sunday," continues Howell. "It's my job to look ahead to St. Petersburg to make sure everything has been taken into account so we can get right to work next Monday to begin preparation for the race in St. Petersburg."
On Monday, March 27th Marlboro Team Penske will switch the cars from an oval set-up to a road course set-up, which requires virtually changing everything. The crew will replace the wings, radio systems, suspension, gear boxes, fuel system and switch from carbon brakes to iron brakes. In addition, each driver requires a different seat for the temporary street course as they will need more elbow room in order to accommodate right and left turns and be sitting more upright to improve their field of vision. In addition to the change in hardware on the car, the race strategy from an oval race to a temporary street circuit will also change. On an oval, speed will be the important factor, but on a street course, pit strategy will play the role of the "X-Factor."
"On road courses, there are few chances to pass," says Rick Rinaman, Chief Mechanic for the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda. "The biggest change in track position will most likely result from effective pit stops. In St. Petersburg, the cars will be coming onto pit road from the opposite direction that they did in Miami so the crew will have to adjust to fueling on the other side of the car. We practice all winter to prepare for pit stops on both sides of the car so we make sure to get it right no matter where we're competing."
CASTRONEVES TAKES TIME OUT TO PLAY TENNIS WITH MARTINA HINGIS
Five-time grand slam Women's Tennis Champion Martina Hingis and twotime Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves will share their expertise in tennis and racing Wednesday at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. First Hingis and Castroneves will have a practice session on the tennis court, and then Castroneves will give Hingis a few racing pointers before she takes a ride in the Indy Racing Experience 2-Seater, a streetworthy IndyCar Series car, stretched 30-inches to accommodate a back passenger seat.
The event will serve as a warm up for Castroneves and Hingis, both scheduled to compete in major sporting events in the greater Miami area this week. Castroneves, a resident of Coral Gables, will race in the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26th, the first race on the 2006 IndyCar Series 14-race schedule.
Hingis will participate in the NASDAQ-100 Open, played March 22nd - April 2nd at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. The NASDAQ-100 Open is the largest non-Grand Slam tennis event in the world, featuring 96 of the top men and 96 of the top women's tennis players on the ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tours.