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IndyCar Notes: Dixon Says Three Would Be Charming

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2009
Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team are going for a third championship this weekend in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team are going for a third championship this weekend in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Show me a race car driver who says he is not just a little bit selfish, and I’ll show you a race car driver who is (1) a liar and (2) unemployed.

IndyCar Series teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have ridden their open-book/good-buddy policy at Target Chip Ganassi Racing to the top of the championship standings heading into Saturday’s season-ending Firestone Indy 300.

Dixon – series champion in 2003 and 2008 – has a five-point (570-565) lead over Franchitti, series champion in 2007 while driving for Andretti Green Racing. And Dixon is just eight points ahead of Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe as the second-closest three-driver championship in series history descends upon Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Historically, Dixon could join Sam Hornish Jr. (2001, 2002, 2006) as the series’ second three-time champion at the finish of the 200-lapper. That item has not escaped “Dixie,” the 29-year-old native of New Zealand, who qualified on-pole and won last year’s race at HMS.

“I think for me, definitely trying to go for records and going for three would be fantastic,” said Dixon, who finished 17 points ahead of Penske’s Helio Castroneves last year. “Obviously, that is the reason I’m pushing. Dario’s (motivation) would be from winning the championship in ‘07 and trying to come back and do the same thing once he has a full season in IndyCar again.

“Obviously, with Ryan, it would be his first (title). So I think all of us have the motivation. That’s definitely not lacked by all means. For me it’s more about records. I think agendas from all of us are a little different. But ultimately I think the goal is by all means the same.”

Franchitti won the ‘07 title by 13 points over Dixon, capping the Scotsman’s 12 seasons at the top level of North American open-wheel racing.

“Yeah, it’s great to have won it once in 2007,” said Franchitti, 36, who passed Dixon in the final turn of that season-ender to clinch. “But my focus is really just on this championship as a one-off. Whatever has happened before, it’s great to look back on sometimes, but right now’s not the time for doing that for me. My focus is what’s going to happen this weekend, and what I have to do to make it, to come back with the trophy. And it’s going to be tough to do that.”

Briscoe, meanwhile, has emerged as a player in a championship chase that has seen the points lead change hands a record 14 times in 16 races.

“It’s just a phenomenal feeling being where I am right now,” said Briscoe, a 28-year-old native of Australia. “I wouldn’t have thought it a few years ago. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity that’s been given to me, especially by (team-owner) Roger Penske and (team president) Tim Cindric getting me to where I am now. It’s just amazing. And to win the championship is really just an added bonus for everything that’s happened. But win or lose, it’s been a great year and I’ll be back next year to try to do it again.

*Tire-testing for Firestone Racing occupied Dario Franchitti for two days last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he ran the equivalent of nearly five full races…basically in seclusion.

“I didn’t see a car on the track the whole two days I was there,” said Franchitti, who shared test duties with three-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. “For me, it was a very busy test. I did 950 miles in two days, so I was pretty flat-out doing the tire works for Firestone.”

To his surprise, Franchitti discovered a bump exiting Turn 2 of the 2.5-mile oval. “It’s the first time I’ve ever felt a real bump at the Speedway,” Franchitti said. “I was quite shocked, actually. It’s normally just absolutely billiard-table smooth. As far as the tires, I’m not really allowed to talk about that. We were just trying some new stuff. Firestone has done a fantastic job and they’ll continue to do that. No doubt about it.” The 94th Indy 500 is scheduled for May 30, 2010.

*Vitor Meira says his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series test at Rockingham Speedway next week is not a prelude to an exit from the IndyCar Series.

Meira and fellow-Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr. are scheduled for a single-day test with Red Horse Racing at the North Carolina facility on Monday. It will be Piquet Jr.’s first track appearance since his involvement in a messy Formula One crash scandal. The Brazilian, son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet, was cleared of any wrongdoing in a Renault plot that saw Piquet Jr. ordered to crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win the race.

Renault team principal Flavio Briatore has been indefinitely banned from F1 for his part in the scam. Fired by Renault in August, Piquet Jr. announced on his Web page that he planned to use the test “to evaluate a future career among the NASCAR ranks.”

Recall that Meira tested the No. 14 IndyCar fielded by open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 30 _ Vitor’s first time in the cockpit since suffering two broken vertebrae in a crash during the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

The confusion involving Meira apparently stems in part from a remark attributed to Tom De Loach, owner of Red Horse Racing, who was quoted as saying the Toyota team was looking forward to helping Meira and Piquet “make the transition into NASCAR.”

Not exactly, Meira said. “I plan to run in the IndyCar Series as long as it is possible to do so,” Meira said. “I love racing the Indy cars and I hope to do it for as long as I am able. The opportunity to test a truck along with Nelson Piquet Jr. came up and it sounded like fun. I thought I might be able to give Nelson some pointers on running an oval because this will be his first time on an oval track. Before I agreed to do it, I asked both A.J. and Larry Foyt about it, and they gave their permission. It doesn’t mean I’m looking to go NASCAR racing now because my priority is racing with A.J.’s team in the IndyCar Series. And we have some unfinished business at Indy.”

Meira will attend the IndyCar season- finale at HMS Saturday atop the ABC Supply pit box watching Ryan Hunter-Reay finish out the season. Meira will continue testing the No. 14 Dallara/Honda over the winter in preparation for the full 2010 season.

*Second-generation American driver Graham Rahal is anticipating his belated first start at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday. Rahal, lead driver at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, was absent from the starting grid for last year’s event on the 1.5-mile HMS oval, site of the 2008 season-opener marking the ballyhooed unification of open-wheel racing.

Indy Racing League officials allowed the so-called “transition teams” from Champ Car to test at HMS on Monday and Tuesday of race week.  Rahal, who never had run or competed on an oval, crashed in Turn 2 near the end of the test.  He was uninjured but the team did not have enough time to repair his No. 02 Dallara/Honda before the event. Rahal subsequently watched the race from the spotter’s stand.

“Last year was a challenge for everyone on the team, and certainly I didn’t make it any easier in testing,” said Rahal, 20. “I really started to get comfortable on-track and started trying to get in a tow and make some passes. I loved the track initially and the car was working well. I happened to just get by Oriol (Servia) then I lost it. I got a little high, the car bottomed and around it went.  This made it really hard for everyone because we had just thrashed to get a car together, and then we needed to do it again for St. Pete.”

Rahal is seventh in series points with 366, only 15 behind fifth-place Danica Patrick (381).

*Englishman Alex Lloyd will make his IndyCar Series debut for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing  at Homestead-Miami, site of one of his Firestone Indy Lights victories in 2007. The Firestone Indy 300 will be Lloyd’s second series start of 2009 and third overall.

Lloyd’s only previous start of ’09 was in the Indianapolis 500, where he qualified 11th and finished 13th for Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I don’t think you can get any more pressure than Indy, but for sure there is pressure when you only compete on a very limited schedule and when your experience level in the IndyCar Series is very low,” said Lloyd, a 24-year-old native of Manchester, England. “Having said that I feel well-prepared for the race and I know I have a great team behind me. I think our goals are to run up front and I believe we can do that.”

Driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Lloyd won eight of 15 Lights races en route to his 2007 title. Lloyd signed a long-term developmental contract with Chip Ganassi Racing after winning that championship and first tested an IndyCar Series car with Ganassi at Sebring in August 2007. He made his IndyCar debut in the 2008 Indy 500, where he qualified 19th and finished 25th for Rahal Letterman Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing.

To prepare for this race, Lloyd logged over 200 trouble-free test miles at HMS on Wednesday, Sept. 30. “I view this race as the beginning of my 2010 season,” said Lloyd, whose hero is fellow-Brit Nigel Mansell, the former Formula One champion who won the CART title driving for NHLR in 1993.

“It is very surreal for me to be racing for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing,” Lloyd said. “I have been a huge fan of the team since I was a 9-year-old watching Mansell race for them. I never would have imagined then that I would be driving for this team. It is certainly a dream come true and a real honor.”

*Double duty awaits Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is scheduled to become the first driver to compete in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series and IndyCar races on Saturday. In addition to his final scheduled start for A.J. Foyt Racing in IndyCar, Hunter-Reay will drive the No. 95 Supercar Life Racing/Level 5 Motorsports Riley/BMW as teammate to owner/driver Scott Tucker.

“I saw this as a very unique challenge,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was very interested in working with Bill Riley and the Level 5 Motorsports team. I drove with Bill in two SunTrust 24-Hour races at Daytona and he is going to be running the second Supercar Life Racing DP car this weekend for Scott.

“My first priority is the IndyCar team. IndyCar racing is No. 1 for me, that’s my goal, it’s where I want to stay and nothing comes before that. But at the same time, the opportunity was offered to do something that nobody has done at that track _racing both the oval and the road course on the same day. I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun this weekend. Hopefully we can come out with two great finishes.”

*Indy Racing League drivers and officials will demonstrate their support for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month during the IndyCar Series’ championship event weekend at HMS.

All IRL officials will wear pink uniform shirts provided by IZOD Saturday as a statement of solidarity in the fight against breast cancer, and will form a special pink ribbon human chain for a photo to be taken in Victory Lane on race-day morning.

In addition, several teams will extend the platform with their own efforts. Sarah Fisher Racing is conducting a multi-faceted initiative in conjunction with primary sponsor Dollar General and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research.

Fisher will “go pink” for the race with a pink race car, pink fire suit and a specially designed pink-themed helmet created by Dean Ackerman, a fan from West Bloomfield, Mich., whose family has been touched by breast cancer. Fisher’s pink race gear will be available for fans to purchase during an online auction that will be held on eBay’s philanthropic website, Mission Fish, following the race.

And in another series first, Firestone Racing will provide specially-made pink Firehawk racing tires for use on Fisher’s No. 67 car.

Meanwhile, Alex Lloyd’s car will feature the No. 40202, signifying the “text to donate” number for “Stand Up To Cancer.” Fans can donate $5 to help raise funds for cancer research by texting the word “Stand” to 40202. SU2C’s goal is to bring together the best and brightest in the cancer community, encouraging collaboration instead of competition.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 9 2009
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