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Wheldon, Herta Land Jobs In IndyCar Series

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 24 2011

Dan Wheldon is going back to work in the IndyCar Series. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The nation’s unemployment rate dropped a tick Thursday, when two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon landed a job.

INDYCAR officials announced in Indianapolis that Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport have been selected as test organization for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series prototype chassis.

“Dan, Bryan and (co-owner) Steve Newey have extensive experience in testing and development programs so we know our prototypes will be in the best hands as we finalize the chassis aspect of the program,” said Tony Cotman, project manager for the 2012 IndyCar Series car. “This verification testing furthers our commitment to ensure that our new car meets all the performance criteria promised to our drivers, teams and fans.”

The comprehensive testing period for the chassis being built by Dallara Automobili will take place in August and September of this year. IndyCar Series teams are scheduled to receive their first new chassis by Dec. 15.

“Obviously I am very excited to continue with everyone that formed the Indianapolis 500 winning team at Bryan Herta Autosport,” said Wheldon, the Englishman who won “The Greatest Spectacle in
Racing” on May 29 in a one-off ride. “This is something that we are going to take very seriously and approach in a very professional manner. It‘s very important for the growth of the series that the testing is done in a way that will create an even better product at the start of 2012.

“For me to not be racing is obviously something that I am disappointed about, but being able to do the testing program will put me in a fantastic position for the future and I am thankful to the IndyCar Series, Honda and Firestone for the opportunity.”

Bryan Herta Autosport was founded in 2009 by former driver Herta and noted engineer Newey. Already a winner in Firestone Indy Lights competition, the team fields a fulltime entry in the developmental series and made its IndyCar Series debut in 2010 at the Indianapolis 500.

“Our goal is to confirm reliability and performance targets as set forth by the series to ensure that all teams will receive a proven, track-ready car in December,” said Herta, who hinted about this program after Wheldon’s win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We plan to put the chassis through its paces with a rigorous program to prepare for the various types of tracks the series visits and a variety of conditions. I’ve always had an interest in the technical side of the sport and the process of constantly improving the car, so I’m looking forward to this opportunity to have our team test the new chassis.”

Both Wheldon and Herta have extensive time behind the wheel as IndyCar test drivers for Honda. Herta also was active in testing and development for Acura’s sports car projects. Newey was involved setting up the Firestone Test Team with Patrick Racing for the tire manufacturer’s return to IndyCar racing in 1994.

Second-generation driver Graham Rahal has found his stride at Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing. Rahal finished second to Dario Franchitti last Sunday in the Milwaukee 225 at The

Graham Rahal appears to be on the move in IndyCar.

Milwaukee Mile, Graham’s third top-three and fourth top-10 result in the last five IZOD IndyCar Series events.

“I feel like I’m driving as well as I ever have, and you know, right now we need to,” said Rahal, fifth in series points with 176 after eight events. “We are in a heavy points chase here and we need to make up some points. Now we have to set our sights on Mr. (Oriol) Servia and see what we can do.”

Will Power of Team Penske and Franchitti, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, are tied atop the points table at 271. Servia, of Newman/Haas Racing, is third with 198 points after a third-place finish in West Allis, Wis. Scott Dixon of TCGR is fourth with 195 heading into Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

The 250-lapper at Iowa Speedway is the last of four consecutive oval events, leaving three on the schedule  – New Hampshire on Aug. 14, Kentucky on Oct. 2 and the IZOD INDYCAR World Championship at Las Vegas on Oct. 16. Saturday’s race 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, SiriusXM Channel 94 and www.indycar.com.

Rahal, 22, began his streak with a second-place finish on the Streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and followed with a third-place result in the 100th anniversary Indy 500. He finished ninth in Race 1 of the inaugural Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11, but placed 30th and last in Race 2.

“Texas is a place that I never really cared for that much,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 38 Dallara/Honda. “It always made me extremely nervous to race there, and we raced there. We competed. We were right up-front and should have had two top-10 finishes there if the fuel pump had not broken. Before that, you look at Brazil, you look at Indy, both of those were on the podium. I think our team is starting to gel, hopefully get a little momentum behind us, hopefully going to get back on to a road course and carry this back on to Iowa.”

Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, did not hesitate when asked where his first-year team needs to improve to remain a podium contender with the Ganassi and Penske powerhouses. “To be honest, qualifying up-front,” said Rahal, whose best qualifying effort this season is fifth at Sao Paulo. He started 12th at The Milwaukee Mile.

“For some reason, qualifying is our weak link,” said Rahal, who recorded seven top-10 finishes in 12 races with four different IndyCar teams in 2010. “You know, when I was at Newman/Haas in 2009, qualifying was our strength and here it’s been a role-reversal. I mean, we have raced up-front pretty well everywhere but to have to pass at Indy, you know, 27 cars, or to have to pass even just 10 (at Milwaukee), it’s challenging.

“And to put ourselves in that position week-in and week-out is tough. Now, if we could start up-front, we could run up-front, do their strategy and play their game, then I think we can compete with them. But we’ve got to work on our qualifying and we’ve got to start right with them.”

Oriol Servia’s lone IndyCar start on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway resulted in a 16th-place finish in 2008, creating a lasting impression for the Spaniard.

“I was very surprised how that oval is, because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Servia, driver of the

Oriol Servia ready for Iowa. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

No. 2 Telemundo Dallara/Honda fielded by Newman/Haas Racing. “I knew it was a short oval, but the high banking (12 to 14 degrees) makes it still like a superspeedway, but with no straightaway. I thought it was very difficult with the high banks and it’s very intense. It’s like you’re on it all the time.”

Servia is enjoying a rebirth with NHR, the team he drove for in 2005 and 2009. Servia began the season with a run of five consecutive top-10 results, a streak that ended with a 21st-place finish in Race 1 of the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway. His third-place finish Sunday at The Milwaukee Mile was a nice rebound from a 15th-place result in Race 2 at TMS, and left him 73 points behind co-leaders Will Power of Team Penske and Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It’s just a lot of hard work,” Servia said. “We all know Newman/Haas has always been a great team with a lot of success, and last year when things didn’t work out and they decided to hire me, that was the goal – bring it back to the front. We didn’t know how soon we were going to be able to do that, and to be honest, we’ve been a little surprised to be third in points at this point in the championship.

“There’s still a big step to go to catch Ganassi and Penske and we know that, but we are very encouraged of the work done so far and ready to keep doing it. To catch those two guys, we need to start winning races. It’s not about being consistent, being in the top-five and being on the podium. Those guys are on the top teams and they win every weekend. The only way to catch them even if they have a bad weekend – it’s to win races.

“I think on my end, we are really getting close to that point but we haven’t yet won one. So until we do that, we cannot really think seriously about challenging for the championship, I think.”

Dario Franchitti denied being “distraught or down” after exiting Texas Motor Speedway 21 points behind Will Power of Team Penske on June 11. “I think I was pissed-off. I think that’s a big difference,” said Franchitti, the three-time/reigning IndyCar champion. “I was definitely angry at the situation.”

Franchitti won the opening 114-lapper around the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval after qualifying second to Alex Tagliani of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. But Franchitti started 28th in the 30-car field for Race 2 under a blind draw lottery format fit for the Game Show Network. Franchitti rallied to finish seventh in a race won by Power, and openly lamented a worst-case scenario come true.

But Power, too, was among several drivers to strongly suggest that Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, get rid of the blind draw.

“As things have gone, basically Randy called me the next morning and said, ‘Yeah, we screwed-up on that one, we won’t do it again _ and sorry,’ ” Franchitti said. “So I absolutely believed that we could _ if we did our job right – we could win at Milwaukee, the same as we could win at Iowa this weekend if we do our job. And what happened in Texas just served as extra motivation.”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 24 2011
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