Texas IndyCar Test Sparks Rumors
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Testing of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ new Dallara DW12 chassis at Texas Motor Speedway has re-ignited long-standing concerns over the inherent dangers of pack racing.
And while rumors of a possible boycott by series drivers created buzz on several websites, former champion Tony Kanaan said he is confident team engineers and sanctioning body officials will figure out an aerodynamic downforce fix before the annual night race in Fort Worth on June 9.
TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval – which has played host to INDYCAR since its inaugural 1997 season – is the only track of its size on the 16-race 2012 schedule. The track’s 24-degree banked turns have produced some of the series’ most breathtaking side-by-side racing, close finishes _ and spectacular crashes. From a marketing standpoint, TMS president Eddie Gossage’s promotional prowess widely has been recognized as a key component in the series’ growth.
Still, drivers remain skittish in the aftermath of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash at sister 1.5-mile track Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011. Wheldon, the 2005 series champion, died as the result of head injuries suffered when his car was catapulted into a fence post during a 15-car wreck in the season-ender.
INDYCAR officials reportedly recorded an “oval baseline” for the DW12 chassis – named in honor of test driver Wheldon – during last Tuesday’s test featuring Kanaan of KV Racing Technology, Ryan Briscoe of
Team Penske and Alex Tagliani of Team Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosport. The cars driven by Kanaan and Briscoe are powered by Chevrolet’s new twin-turbocharged, 2.2-liter V-6 engine while Tagliani’s car is supplied by newcomer Lotus.
The teams reportedly ran individual programs during the morning before multiple lapping stints in the afternoon specifically featuring side-by-side and drafting situations.
Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, described the test as the first step in determining an aero package. “Nothing negative has really stood out, and none of the drivers had any real complaints. Now we’ll decide what our next step is for the test in March,” Phillips said.
But Kanaan, as driver’s representative, respectfully disagreed in a report on Speed.com. “After Dan ’s tragedy, INDYCAR told us there would be no more pack racing,” said Kanaan, series champion in 2004. “I can tell you after the test that there’s going to be pack racing with this aero package unless the downforce is reduced. But we’re hoping that INDYCAR can make some changes before we go back as a group and test again at Texas. Having said that, we don’t think boycotting is the right thing to do at this time.”
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and rookie Josef Newgarden will contest the full 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule with Honda power, beginning with the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St
Petersburg on March 25.
The deal was brokered by rival team-owner Bobby Rahal, who will field Takuma Sato in the series, after agreeing to transfer Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s second full-season engine lease to SFHR. Otherwise, the team’s No. 67 Dallara would have been sidelined until the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Everyone at SFHR is ecstatic about competing in the entire 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season with Josef behind the wheel and with Honda engines,” Fisher said in a release. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of our loyal fans, who mobilized on our behalf through email, social media, texting and phone calls. Their voices were heard.
“We had been in discussions with Honda since last season, and I’m delighted that it finally came together. Honda saw an opportunity and has given our team a chance to be on the grid in St. Petersburg. I’d also like to give special thanks to Bobby Rahal for helping us initiate our 2012 partnership with Honda. Bobby once again personified the definition of a gentleman and sportsman, remembering how we helped his son Graham. This is a wonderful example of paying it forward.”
Fisher vacated the cockpit of her team’s car for four IndyCar Series races in early 2010 so Graham Rahal would have a drive. That helped Rahal stay on a career arc that landed him a seat with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2011 and eventually make the introduction to his current sponsor, Service Central.
“Sarah Fisher is a class act and so is everyone at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing,” Bobby Rahal said. “The team did great things for Graham when he didn’t have a program, and I’m happy we were in a position to help her. We are disappointed that we couldn’t put our second program together in time for the start of the season and hope to have that resolved by the Indianapolis 500. Either way, like the many fans of the team, we are happy that SFHR and Josef Newgarden will compete for a full season in 2012.”
Newgarden, the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion, will participate in the IndyCar Series Open Test March 8-9 at Sebring, Fla., with other private tests also scheduled before the season-opener.
SFHR, formed in 2008 as Sarah Fisher Racing, earned its first IndyCar Series victory in 2011 with Ed Carpenter at Kentucky Speedway. The Indianapolis-based team announced last December a partnership with businessman Wink Hartman, the hiring of Newgarden as its driver and plans to build a new race shop and offices in Speedway, Ind., in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Barring late sponsorship deals for Rubens Barrichello and Paul Tracy, the “engine wars” lineups for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season have been set. Brazilian Barrichello, a former Formula One regular and race-winner with Ferrari, has tested a Chevrolet-powered Dallara DW12 for KV Racing Technology. Tracy, a native of Canada, is hopeful that fledgling open-wheel team-owner Michael Shank can find funding to secure a customer engine lease before the season-opener.
Here are the current lineups:
Target Chip Ganassi Racing (Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon)
Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing (Charlie Kimball)
Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (Graham Rahal)
A.J. Foyt Racing (Mike Conway)
Dale Coyne Racing (Justin Wilson)
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Takuma Sato)
Sam Schmidt Motorsports (Simon Pagenaud)
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (Josef Newgarden)
Team Penske (Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Will Power)
Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay)
KV Racing Technology (Tony Kanaan)
Panther Racing (JR Hildebrand)
Ed Carpenter Racing (Ed Carpenter)
HVM Racing (Simona De Silvestro)
Lotus Dragon Racing (Sebastien Bourdais, Katherine Legge)
Bryan Herta Autosport (Alex Tagliani)
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Oriol Servia)
Two-time Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series this season as one of three race stewards. Beaux Barfield recently introduced Luyendyk, former Indy-car driver Johnny Unser and Gary Barnard, longtime CART/Champ Car senior manager of competition, as stewards. The three will replace Brian Barnhart, whose decision-making came under fire on several occasions last season.
Barfield said most Race Control personnel relating to operations roles in 2011 will return, with the functions of the stewards to be altered. “It takes a group of eight or nine people to do specific jobs, whether that’s communicating with corner workers or dispatching the safety team,” Barfield said. “The stewards will really take a step back from being so involved in what the Race Director does.
“There have been several schools of thought over the years whether there should be one person making the decisions or three. Should there be a vote? It’s my job in a drivers’ meeting to communicate exactly what my expectations of the drivers are, so it should be one person. That leaves the stewards to be more in a role of a safety net.”
Luyendyk, 58, was the CART and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 1985 with Bettenhausen Motorsports and a three-time pole-sitter at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Luyendyk has coached IndyCar Series drivers the past few seasons and will be a mentor again in 2012. Unser, who competed with Luyendyk on the racetrack and has officiated alongside Barnard, will assist.
“We don’t have to really coach those guys on how to drive,” said Luyendyk, Indy 500 champion in 1990 and 1997. “We have to coach them on how to go about dealing with certain situations and keeping calm. It’s more mental coaching than driving coaching. We’re going to follow Beaux’s lead and we’ll be another set of eyes looking at the race and trying to keep it safe for everybody.”
Unser, 53, a nephew of Al and Bobby Unser, was Race Director of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2008. He made five starts in CART in 1993 and 1994 with Dale Coyne Racing and competed in 15 INDYCAR events. He is a five-time Indianapolis 500 starter, most recently in 2000.
Barnard, who has held various duties in Race Control for more than 15 years, was a race steward alongside Chief Stewards Wally Dallenbach, Tony Cotman and Chris Kneifel in CART/Champ Car. He also worked in Race Control with Barfield in Champ Car.
Downforce Racing has been selected by Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake as new promoter for the Baltimore Grand Prix, starting with the second edition of the street race on Labor Day weekend 2012 and continuing through 2016.
Downforce Racing consists of Wilkes Lane Racing LLC, whose principals are Felix J. Dawson and Daniel C. Reck, and Dillon Racing LLC, whose principal is Dale Dillon. Dawson and Reck are founding partners of Wilkes Lane Capital, LLC, focusing on advisory services and private investing in the energy sector.
Dale Dillon owns Dillon Construction Group and Dillon Racing, both based in Indianapolis. He has served as head of operations for Grand Prix races in St. Petersburg and Toronto, and was brought in to manage operations of the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix just weeks before the inaugural race.
The organizers expect last year’s $47-million economic impact to increase as the event becomes a staple of the city’s Labor Day activities. Among the organizers’ challenges are landing title sponsors for the event and attracting vendors, many of whom went unpaid after last year’s race.
Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. successfully launched another career Sunday night as in-studio analyst opposite host Adam Alexander on “SPEED Center,” the all-encompassing weekend motorsports news program. Hornish, competing in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series for Penske Racing this season, won the Indianapolis 500 in 2006 with Marlboro Team Penske. The winner of 19 INDYCAR races, Hornish earned open-wheel titles in 2001 and 2002 with Pennzoil Panther Racing and in ’06 with Roger Penske’s juggernaut.One Comment