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IRL Notes: New-Car Shopping Spree Almost Over

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 1 2010

The Dallara/Honda IndyCar Series package is about to be replaced. In two weeks, fans will find out what it will be replace with. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Details regarding the “future car strategy” of the IZOD IndyCar Series will be unveiled on July 14 in Indianapolis. And one of open-wheel racing’s icons is genuinely concerned about the engine/chassis package scheduled to debut in 2012.

“There’s not very manufacturers that can afford to go racing right now,” said IndyCar team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr., the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. “The whole world is in a (financial) crisis, and the manufacturers don’t have the money to spend on racing. I guess what I’m saying is, I hate to see them change a bunch of rules and then screw-up what we do have.”

That’s clearly part of the challenge facing Randy Bernard, the Indy Racing League’s chief executive officer, and his nine-member ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee. That group began an extensive review of chassis proposals on June 6, focusing on issues ranging from cost control to applied green technology.

“The ICONIC Advisory Committee continues to work diligently to finalize our future car strategy and a decision is imminent,” Bernard said in news release issued Wednesday. “We look forward to unveiling our plans to our teams, drivers, partners, fans and the media during a special event on July 14.”

With the exception of the 2007 Indianapolis 500, Dallara Automobili of Parma, Italy, has operated as the exclusive supplier of IndyCar Series chassis.

The league has received and reviewed chassis proposals from Dallara, BAT Engineering,

The radical DeltaWing car will learn its fate when the IRL announces its new chassis and engine program.

DeltaWing Racing Cars, Lola and Swift Engineering that range from evolutionary to radical. According to the release, neither IndyCar officials nor ICONIC members will comment on the next generation of chassis until the news conference.

Bernard, the series’ first-year CEO, formed the ICONIC board to aid in the search for a future chassis as well as review, research and make recommendations on the next generation of IndyCar Series engines. In addition to Bernard, ICONIC Advisory Committee members include Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president of competition and racing; Gil de Ferran, former driver and current team-owner; Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, and industry technical representatives Tony Cotman, Rick Long, Tony Purnell and Neil Ressler. The panel is mediated by retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III.

Bernard announced last month the ICONIC board had approved an unprecedented move from normally aspirated V-8 engines to a more flexible, turbocharged-powered formula beginning in 2012. The turbo platform allows for a maximum of six cylinders with displacement of 2.4-cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower, in order to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the IndyCar Series competes.

Honda currently is in its eighth season as an engine partner with IndyCar. This is the fifth consecutive season the manufacturer is supplying its Honda Indy V-8s to every team. Honda joined the series in 2003, competing then against General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and longtime Japanese industry rival Toyota.

“To be truthful…I don’t know why they want to go back to a 4-cylinder motor,” Foyt, 75, said during an interview at Texas Motor Speedway during the Firestone 550k weekend. “You’re talking about going back 50 years in racing. I mean, why do you want to go backwards?

“There are a lot more V-6 (engines), more than 4-cylinders _ a lot more (in the marketplace). And if you’ve got a 4-cylinder motor and you’ve got a V-6, it’s going to take a completely different application to go into the car. You could not adapt a 4-cylinder into a V-6 without a lot of work.”

A.J. Foyt Racing has been competing in various forms of motorsports since 1965. Foyt, who retired in 1993, still holds the records for most Indy-style career victories (67), most national championships (7) and most wins in a season (10).  As team-owner, Foyt has won the national championship five times, including three himself and single titles with Scott Sharp in 1996 and Kenny Brack in 1998. Brack also won the 1999 Indy 500 for the man known as “Super Tex.”

Foyt-owned IndyCar Series entries have earned nine poles and seven victories, but none since Airton Dare’s win at Kansas Speedway in July 2002. Vitor Meira currently drives Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Dallara/Honda.

“The way I look at it, when Toyota first come in, we had a good series,” Foyt said. “Toyota came in, they won the championship and then they left. Honda’s done a great job for all of us, but it’s a very expensive engine program. Very expensive. But it’s real reliable. We’ll have to wait and see.

“These Dallaras have been a very safe car. I know there’s three or four different cars in the mix. So I’d hate to see them jump off into the woods, you know? I kind of wish it was like before, where you could build your own cars or build your own motors. They had some cubic inches (as a limit) and you’d come race that way. It’s just a whole different world.”

Despite his misgivings, and lengthy winless streak, Foyt said he continues to enjoy his open-wheel life. “Yes I am, or I wouldn’t be here,” Foyt said. “Larry, my son (and team director), is taking over more and more (daily duties) and he’s more of a politician than me. I just kind of call a spade a spade.”

Kanaan reinvigorated by win: For the first time in two years, Tony Kanaan is rolling into an IndyCar venue as the series’ most recent winner. Kanaan broke a 31-race winless streak with his victory in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 20.

The Brazilian’s first victory since June 28, 2008 at Richmond International Raceway moved Kanaan up two spots to sixth in the championship standings, and marked the continued resurgence of Andretti Autosport. During the four oval-race stretch that concluded at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway, Andretti Autosport’s four drivers combined to post 11 top-10 finishes.

“It’s a long way to go, but when I said all along this year that we were better than last year a lot of people twisted their noses and didn’t believe it. But we are,” said Kanaan, a 14-time series winner. “We got to keep working on it and we have now a few road and street courses coming up, which we were really strong in, and we’re there.”

Five road/street/airport circuits loom from July 4 to Aug. 22, beginning with the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International Friday through Sunday. Andretti Autosport recorded a victory at Long Beach with Ryan Hunter-Reay in April, and Kanaan posted a top-10 in each of the four street/road course events earlier this season. The team is scheduled to add Adam Carroll to its lineup at WGI.

“I think we got to keep digging, and we’re still not up there yet, we’re still not at the place that I want us to be as far as a team,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. “But all we can do is get our heads together and keep working on it.”

The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC.

Tracy to sub for Conway at The Glen: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has hired Paul Tracy to wheel the No. 24 Honda Indy Toronto entry in place of the recuperating Mike Conway for this weekend’s Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen.

Tracy previously had announced that he would drive in the Canadian races in July _ the Honda Indy Toronto on July 18 and Honda Indy Edmonton on July 25. Tracy, the 2003 Champ Car World Series champion and winner of 31 career races, will be making his ninth IndyCar Series start and second at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s obviously a good feeling to get more races, especially being able to race at The Glen and

Paul Tracy

building up momentum before going into the Canadian events,” said Tracy, whose sponsorship package for The Glen includes wheel manufacturer Motegi Racing. “It’s also great to have the support of Honda Indy Toronto and Motegi Racing for this race as well.

“I’m really excited about working with (team co-owner) Robbie Buhl again and to get to work with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. I’ve known Robbie from our early days in racing back when we competed against each other in the Indy Lights Series. It’s very exciting to branch out with another team I haven’t been with before.”

Conway is recovering from multiple leg and back injuries suffered during a spectacular last-lap crash involving Ryan Hunter-Reay at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30. Conway, a 26-year-old native of England, has been fitted with a back brace. He is recuperating in the United Kingdom.

Tomas Scheckter filled in for Conway on June 5 at Texas Motor Speedway, where the South African started 18th and finished 13th in the Firestone 550k. Graham Rahal replaced Scheckter at Iowa Speedway, where he started 17th and finished ninth.

“We’re very happy to have Paul drive for us,” Buhl said. “He’s a great driver and a big personality and we are thrilled to have him driving for us in Watkins Glen. With Paul’s racing experience and him being teamed up with Justin Wilson, we feel that we’ll have an extremely strong package for the weekend.”

Wilson hopes to repeat “perfection”: A year of reflection has allowed Justin Wilson to reiterate that his victory at Watkins Glen International last summer capped the proverbial perfect race. Wilson led a field-high 49 of 60 laps, including the final 15, and went on to present Dale Coyne Racing a popular and emotional first IndyCar Series victory.

Wilson will attempt to go back-to-back at WGI during the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen on Sunday. “It was just a great day to go out there and be quick,” said Wilson, who has recorded a pair of runnerup results this season in the No. 22 Z-Line Designs Dallara/Honda. “The car felt great. Everything went right – apart from we couldn’t get a full tank of fuel.

“We could only get 19 gallons in the car every pit stop, so that meant we were saving fuel like crazy the whole day until finally there was a yellow with 10 laps to go. That allowed us to save enough fuel so I could run flat-out to the end. That’s why I managed to pull away from the rest of the field (to a 4-second victory over Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe). That’s what I was working with the whole time, but it worked for us as well.”

Wilson won on the Belle Isle street circuit outside Detroit in 2008 with Newman/Haas Racing in his first IndyCar season.

“(The Glen) was more rewarding because I was able to overtake on-track and be able to control the field as well,” said Wilson, one of six drivers involved in eight lead changes last year. Wilson said he enjoys the 3.4-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen course that has played host to various formulas for more than 50 years _ mainly because it’s similar to courses he competed on in Europe. Offseason modifications have replaced the tire barriers in Turn 11 and the Inner Loop section with the SAFER Barrier, and paved additional runoff areas.

“I think it’s one of the best tracks in the world,” said Wilson, a native of England. “Having won there last year I’m going to say that, but it’s just a great, fun track. There are a lot of fast corners and it hasn’t lost any of its character with the safety improvements. That’s key. When you come out of those fifth- and fourth-gear corners, you know when you’ve got it right. It’s like, ‘That feels good.’ ”

Wilson recorded three top -10s, including a pair of runnerup finishes, in the four early season road/street course stretch. He is eighth in the championship standings.

Franchitti earns ESPY nod: Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti is one of five champions nominated for Best Driver at the 2010 ESPY Awards. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner is joined by NASCAR champions Jimmie Johnson (Sprint Cup), Kyle Busch (Nationwide) and Ron Hornaday (Camping World Truck) as well as NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher. Voting for the award, scheduled for presentation on the network on July 14, is underway at ESPN.com.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 1 2010
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