IndyCar Notes: Tracy Back And Ready For Barnburner

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 3 2010

Paul Tracy will be back on the track this weekend in Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout technically classifies it among the “cookie-cutter” intermediate superspeedways on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.

To open-wheel veteran Paul Tracy, however, Kentucky Speedway qualifies as uncharted territory. That will change Saturday night, when Tracy returns to the series with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the Kentucky Indy 300.

Tracy – who has competed in 270 Indy-car style events – will be making his 10th career IndyCar start but first at Kentucky Speedway, which was added to the series schedule in 2000. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing announced Tuesday the Canadian will drive for the team in Sparta, Ken., and at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on Sept. 19.

Tracy is replacing the recuperating Mike Conway in the team’s No. 24 Motegi Racing Wheels/DRR Dallara/Honda.

Tracy, who drove for team co-owners Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold on the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road-course in July, spent last Saturday night watching Dario Franchitti score a strategic victory on a 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval similar to Kentucky Speedway.

“You know, from what I saw from Saturday night,” Tracy said, “it was pretty wild racing – a lot of wheel-to-wheel, a lot of action, a lot of really close racing, a lot of tactician stuff going on where you’ve just got to make the right move at the right time and have a partner to do it with.

“Whether that happens at Kentucky – a little bit more of a bumpy track from what I hear, has a little bit less banking – we’ll see on Saturday night. But I’m expecting a barn-burner.”

Kentucky Speedway’s trioval features turns banked at 14 degrees. The D-shaped Chicagoland Speedway, in Joliet, Ill., has turns banked at 18 degrees.

The focus figures to remain on the championship battle between point-leader Will Power, of Team Penske, and two-time/reigning champion Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Power holds a 23-point lead over Franchitti following a season-worst 16th-place finish at Chicagoland. Power, the series’ road-racing ace in 2010, dropped 36 points to the Scotsman on the first of four ovals to close the season.

Tracy, meanwhile, believes he and DRR teammate Justin Wilson, who finished seventh at Chicagoland, can compete with the Indy Racing League’s big boys this weekend.

“You look at the qualifying order, where cars qualify, and it really doesn’t give you an indication,” said Tracy, the 2003 Champ Car World Series champion and winner of 31 career races. “Obviously, Penske and Ganassi always seem to be towards the sharp end of the grid on those type of tracks. But from the standpoint of watching and analyzing the race, seeing that even when the Penske and Ganassi cars, when they got back in the middle of the field, they weren’t really as strong as they were when they were at the front end of the field.

“It’s the type of racing that can be done if you get the car right. I’ve just got to do what I can do. Obviously, I’ve talked to the team. They said, ‘Our cars are pretty solid. We don’t do anything that’s way outside of the box. Mile-and-a-half cars when you’re out there qualifying, running, not too difficult.’ There’s quite a bit of banking at Kentucky. The cars are fairly stable with the bigger wings on them.

“You know, they’ve got a couple of ideas for qualifying. I talked to my engineer, Yves Touron, a couple times at D&R. They have some things they learned from the final practice and the race that they think are going to help the car in qualifying trim. Hopefully we can have Justin and I have good starting positions and race well together and both get solid top-10 finishes.”

DRR has not announced who will drive for the team in the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2.

Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske is the defending event champion at Kentucky Speedway. Saturday’s race, scheduled for 200 laps/300 miles, will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race also will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 212.

Rahal rejoins Sarah Fisher Racing: Owner/driver Sarah Fisher watched from the pit lane timing stand as Graham Rahal drove her IndyCar at St. Petersburg, Fla., Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and through the famed Streets of Long Beach earlier this season.

Rahal now will run as Fisher’s teammate for the first time this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Rahal will drive SFR’s No. 66 Service Central Dallara/Honda in partnership with Service Central – the automotive service available at Tire Kingdom, National Tire and Battery, Merchants Tire and Big O Tires.

Rahal drove for Rahal Letterman Racing, the team co-owned by his father Bobby, in the Indianapolis 500 in May and for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Iowa Speedway in June. He also has competed in four races with Newman/Haas Racing, recording a 10th-place result at Chicagoland Speedway last Saturday night.

“We are very appreciative that Newman/Haas Racing gave us the go-ahead to bring Graham on-board for this race,” said Fisher, who will drive the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara/Honda. “He should be in a car as often as he can, and with the support of our partners we were able to pull that off for him this weekend. Graham works very hard outside the car to be in the car, and he always takes that next step to make sure he is as prepared as anyone out there.

“The whole team believes in Graham’s abilities, and I am truly looking forward to working with Graham as a teammate on-track.”

Rahal returns to Kentucky Speedway for the third time. He started 10th and finished with a top-five run in 2009. “I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity,” Rahal said, “and I’m hoping we can give Service Central a great result in the No. 66 machine.”

Kanaan, Dixon tire-test New Hampshire: Downforce numbers dominated the conversation during a two-day Firestone tire test at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Former series champion Tony Kanaan drew a comparison between NHMS, where he completed the first segment of the two-day test, and Chicago Motor Speedway, where he competed in CART, in helping to decide downforce parameters for IndyCar’s return to the 1.058-mile oval in 2011.

“We have a big responsibility,”  said Kanaan, of Andretti Autosport, ”because if we don’t find a good package we’re going to get yelled at.”

A similar conversation between Kevin Blanch, series technical director, and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing was just what Dale Harrigle, Firestone Racing senior project manager, wanted to hear as Firestone engineers went through their due diligence to discern the Firehawk tire specification.

“Especially coming to a track we haven’t run at in a long time, we want to bring veteran drivers who can tell us what they feel in the car and give us a direction,” Harrigle said. “We want guys who have driven different downforce levels and different racetracks that can help us hone in on where we want to be for this race.”

Nearly 400 tires of 20 different compounds were brought to the track, which last played host to the IndyCar Series in 1998. IndyCar will return to NHMS in Loudon, N.H., on Aug. 14, 2011.

“Obviously we had a history here from ’96 through ’98, but the closest track we ran at most recently was Milwaukee, and this track is similar to Milwaukee,” said Harrigle, referring to The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis. “Our baseline tire is the 2009 Milwaukee tire. We took that construction, put some current compounds on it and brought it here as our control tire. We also have some compounds that are a little softer and a little harder to give us a good range.

“We completed our runs on the control tires to get the guys comfortable, give both teams time to work on their car setup and then we’ll go through our range of compounds to see where we are.”

Kanaan and Dixon agreed that the aero package used at The Milwaukee Mile as a baseline initially was comfortable for the variably-banked (2 to 7 degrees) oval.

“Out of the box we were very close,” Blanch said. “In qualifying, with the package we have now, the drivers can probably get flat (on the accelerator) if the car is really good. In the race, there will be no way you’re going to get flat. They’ll have to constantly work the throttle, which is what you want. The track is going to lend itself to really good racing when we get the numbers right on the downforce.”

Dixon, a two-time series champion, said he was excited about adding another “short track” to the schedule. “The track is very suitable for these cars,” said Dixon, who was more than 1.5 seconds quicker out of the box than the 1998 IndyCar pole speed and six seconds quicker than the NASCAR Sprint Cup track qualifying record. “The key points are picking the tire and an aero package that is going to be good for the racing and the fans.

“I can’t wait to get back here for the real thing.”

The 200th Race…did you know?: The Kentucky Indy 300 will go into the record book as the 200th IZOD IndyCar Series race. There have been 86 IndyCar Series (and its title predecessors) races with a margin of victory of less than one second. That’s through 199 events. Of those, the pole-sitter has won only 28 percent of the time.

The first series race was run on Jan. 27, 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where Buzz Calkins emerged as the winner. The 100th race was Aug. 29, 2004, at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway, and won by Dan Wheldon.

The 200th Race…by the numbers: 182 – Different drivers to start an IZOD IndyCar Series race; 24 of those have started only one series race.

147 – Most starts by a driver (Scott Sharp).  Helio Castroneves can tie the record by starting the rest of the races this season.

94 – Different drivers to lead at least one lap.

51 – Most drivers to start at least one race during an IndyCar season (2001).

31 – Different tracks to have hosted an IndyCar event. Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth has been the site of the most series races (21).

22 – Different states where IndyCar has competed.

4 – Countries other than the United States (Brazil, Canada, Japan, Australia) where IndyCar has competed. The October 2008 Australia race was a non-points exhibition.

2 – Women to have started on-pole at the same series track (Sarah Fisher in 2002 and Danica Patrick in 2005 at Kentucky Speedway).

37,076 – Laps run in the 199 IndyCar races contested to-date.

343 – Most consecutive laps-led by one driver. Scott Dixon led the final 84 laps at Pikes Peak International Raceway, all 206 laps at Richmond International Raceway and the first 53 laps at Kansas Speedway during the 2003 season.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 3 2010
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