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Racers Get Into Super Spirit

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 5 2011

Ryan Briscoe is headed down Texas way this weekend where he will pull for the Packers in the Super Bowl. The Stetson will be replaced by a Cheddar. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Fort Worth, Texas – Cheeseheads, Terrible Towels and seemingly every anchor/analyst drawing a paycheck from ESPN have descended upon Sundance Square in downtown Cowtown in anticipation of Super Bowl XLV.

Diehard fans of the NFC champion Green Bay Packers and AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be joined by a contingent of 10 motorsports stars Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, approximately 35 miles from Texas Motor Speedway.

Led by “naturalized” Packers fan Ryan Briscoe and teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power, Penske Racing will represent the IZOD IndyCar Series. Meanwhile, Wisconsin native and lifelong Packers fan Travis Kvapil of NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series will be among a handful of stock-car standouts at the facility dubbed “Jerry’s World” in honor of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Kvapil, a native of Janesville, Wis., will be joined by Sprint Cup Series regulars Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne; James Buescher of the Nationwide Series and two-time/reigning Truck Series champion Todd Bodine.

Briscoe, a native of Sydney, Australia, became a Packer backer when he was married to longtime girlfriend/ESPN personality Nicole Manske.

“Definitely the Green Bay Packer thing comes from my wife and all of her family there,” Briscoe said during a sponsor-related teleconference earlier this week.  “They’re huge Green Bay fans; always have been. So from this I’ve certainly become a big follower, one of their biggest fans.

“This season we’ve been to four of their games, starting with the one at Lambeau (Field) in December

Travis Kvapil will be cheesy on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

when they beat the Giants. A big thanks to (corporate sponsor) Verizon, actually. They provided the tickets to go to that first game. They’re taking us to the Super Bowl. Will and Helio are cheering on the Packers, as well, because they need all the support they can get. Right, Helio?”

Castroneves:  “That’s right, my friend. I can see who wears the pants in the family over there.”

Briscoe, winner of the IndyCar Series Firestone 550k at TMS last June, added he plans to wear a special Cheesehead Cowboy hat on game day.

Kvapil’s allegiance to The Pack dates to his childhood in Janesville, located approximately 150 miles from Green Bay. “In Wisconsin, you’d go to church on Sunday morning and go home and watch the Packers game,” said Kvapil, the 2003 Truck Series champion. “I remember in the ‘80s the Packers weren’t really good _ pretty bad, really _ but I still cheered for them every weekend and they are still my favorite team. I’ve never got to meet any of them (players). But if they win the Super Bowl, they’re invited to Daytona with me.”

NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 – stock car racing’s “Super Bowl” – is scheduled for Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway.

Never one to miss a promotional opportunity, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has offered the host North Texas Super Bowl Committee the services of its two track jet dryer trucks in the event of more inclement weather on Sunday.

Unseasonably frigid temperatures, and a Friday snowfall measuring up to five inches in some areas, have gripped North Texas all week. Temps nearing 50 finally graced the Metroplex Saturday.

Gossage – a Packers fan from the days of legendary coach Vince Lombardi – has authorized Matt Stolley, vice president of operations at TMS, to have the modified Chevrolet pickups ready to roll. Equipped with a Learjet engine, each truck normally is used to dry or blow debris from TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval. Each truck has a 60- to 80-foot wide coverage area, carries 450 gallons of jet fuel and utilizes six gallons a minute in blowing or drying a surface. Each engine produces 2,250 pounds of thrust, with the air emitted at 500 degrees.

“We have the trucks prepped and ready to go should they need them leading up to, or the day of, the

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage eager to add some heat to the Super Bowl.. But the IRL to Houston? Not for it. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Super Bowl,” Stolley said. “Give the North Texas Super Bowl Committee a lot of credit for their due diligence. They contacted us two to three months ago regarding the jet dryer trucks, so they were planning well ahead for the wide-varying weather conditions that are common for North Texas this time of year.”

No word if Gossage will drive to the game in the fabled “Texas Tire Monster.”

Dale Coyne Racing’s revamped driver lineup for 2011 could include the wild-card entry of Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car World Series champion.

Bourdais joined Firestone Indy Lights race-winner Martin Plowman Monday in a test at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. Team-owner Coyne said if Bourdais signs-on it would be for the series’ road/street course events. Nine of the series’ 18-event schedule currently are booked for road/street courses, with the season-finale to be determined.

“We have talked with Sebastien before and this is an opportunity that has great potential,” said Coyne, whose team ran Alex Lloyd and Milka Duno in 2010. “We are very serious about moving our effort forward and this, coupled with the continuing Boy Scouts of America program from last season, is one of the most important steps in that direction we can possibly make.”

Justin Wilson gave Coyne – an open-wheel team-owner since 1990 – his only IndyCar Series victory to-date at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in 2009.

Bourdais scored his Champ Car titles from 2004-2007 with Newman/Haas Racing. A native of Le

Justin Wilson gave Dale Coyne a victory at Watkins Glen in 2009. (File photo by Ron McQueeney of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Mans, France, Bourdais racked up 31 victories in 72 series starts, including 27 poles and 39 podium finishes. He exited the series to go Formula One racing with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008, a disappointing association that ended with his dismissal in July 2009.

Bourdais also has been competing in the International Le Mans Cup, a series to which he is committed with Team Peugeot Total in 2011. The Frenchman’s lone INDYCAR-sanctioned race was the 2005 Indy 500, in which he finished 12th.

“The (Coyne) car was very good and it really felt good to be back in an Indy-car,” said Bourdais, who will turn 32 on Feb. 28. ”I was not sure what to expect, but I was impressed with the way the car handled, and look forward to putting together the pieces to get back into IndyCar racing. I really believe in what Dale is doing with his team and it can be a great, workable opportunity for both of us this year.”

Plowman – who a week earlier returned from an 11-day Indy 500 Centennial Tour of military bases in the Middle East, Europe and an aircraft carrier – competed the past two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights with Panther Racing (2009) and AFS Racing Andretti Autosport (2010). Plowman finished third in the championship last year.

An IndyCar Series Open Test is scheduled for March 14-15 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., with the season-opening Honda Grand Prix scheduled for March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Coyne, who again plans to run two cars, did not rule out Lloyd – the 2010 IndyCar Rookie of the Year – from returning to his lineup.

“We have tested a lot of new drivers over the years, and you generally know what you have on the first day,” Coyne said. “Martin is one of the best that we have seen and we look forward to a positive growth curve with this aspiring talent. When all is said and done, 2011 will be a stronger year for our team.”

Reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay recorded a productive initial IndyCar Series test for team-owner Eric Bachelart and Conquest Racing at Sebring International Raceway on Monday.

“It was a great day. I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel,” Vernay said of his first experience with the team’s Dallara/Honda. “It’s the most powerful car I have driven so it was definitely different to what I am used to, but everything went very well. I enjoyed working with the team and driving such a powerful race car is a great feeling.”

Vernay won the Lights title in his first season on the strength of eight podium finishes, including five victories. He totaled 10 top-five finishes in 13 races and led a field-high 172 laps.

Conquest Racing again is looking to enter two cars in 2011. The team employed Bertrand Baguette, Mario Romancini, Tomas Scheckter and Francesco Dracone in various combinations during 2010. Conquest originally competed in IndyCar fulltime in 2002, with Laurent Redon earning Rookie of the Year honors.

“J.K. did a good job at the test,” said Bachelart, a native of Belgium whose team rejoined IndyCar in 2008 after the reunification with Champ Car. “He accustomed himself to the car fairly quickly and we were able to do everything we had planned, so it was a very productive test for us. It’s not always easy to accomplish everything we wanted to in a one-day test, but the crew was well-prepared and it was nice to be back at a racetrack.”

Graham Rahal’s new-for-2011 association with Chip Ganassi Racing paid its first dividend last weekend.

Rahal, who will wheel the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing entry in the IndyCar Series

Graham Rahal made a nice debut for Chip Ganassi.

this season, co-drove the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley to victory in the 49th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. The win came 30 years after his father, Bobby, joined Brian Redman and Bob Garretson in Victory Lane of America’s most prestigious endurance race.

“Most drivers who compete in this event, and there have been thousands, will never get the opportunity to win this race,” Rahal said. “And to have the chance to win it, and to have that chance at 22 with a great team, this is pretty sweet.”

The 1981 twice-around-the-clock enduro was Bobby Rahal’s breakthrough victory in a career marked by his 1986 Indianapolis 500 title and Championship Auto Racing Teams crowns in 1986, ‘87 and ‘92. The elder Rahal posted 24 open-wheel racing victories and 88 podium finishes. He watched from pit lane as the No. 01 car, co-driven by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Joey Hand, held off the No. 02 Ganassi Racing entry by 2.46- seconds.

The victory gave team-owner Ganassi consecutive victories in the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 500 and the Rolex 24 dating from February 2010.

IndyCar Series stars Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon co-drove the No. 02 BMW Riley with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray to the runnerup finish.

Meanwhile, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Dallara co-driven by Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske finished fifth overall. The No. 6 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Ford Dallara co-driven by Justin Wilson, of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, was seventh.

Also, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice co-drove the No. 5 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley that finished ninth. And Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport teamed with 2009 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Raphael Matos to finish 11th in the No. 95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley.

Here’s a list of IndyCar Series winners of the Rolex 24, and their subsequent season highlight:

2011 _ Graham Rahal (TBD)

2006 _ Scott Dixon (Finished fourth in IndyCar Series points with wins at Watkins Glen and Nashville)

2006 _ Dan Wheldon (Finished second in IndyCar Series points with wins at Homestead-Miami and Chicagoland)

2002 _ Max Papis (Ran selected CART events with best finish of third at Long Beach and Milwaukee)

1998 _ Arie Luyendyk (Finished eighth in IndyCar Series points; won season-finale at Las Vegas)

1996 _ Scott Sharp (Shared IndyCar Series co-championship with Buzz Calkins)

1989 _ John Andretti (Ran selected CART events with best finish of 12th at Laguna Seca)

1988 _ Raul Boesel (Finished eighth in CART points, with best finish of fourth at Milwaukee)

1987 _ Al Unser Jr. (Finished third in CART points)

1986 _ Al Unser Jr. (Finished fourth in CART points, won season-finale at Miami)

1985 _ A.J. Foyt Jr. (Ran selected CART events, with best finish of 20th at Miami)

1983 _ A.J. Foyt Jr. (Finished 31st at Indianapolis, his only start of the season)

1982 _ John Paul Jr. (Made his Indy-car debut at Road America, started eighth/finished 21st)

1979 _ Danny “On the Gas” Ongais (Finished sixth in CART points; best result of fourth at Indianapolis)

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 5 2011
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