New Guy Luhr Takes First Laps In An Indy Car

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 14 2013

Lucas Luhr, left, and Klaus Graf have been winning everything in sight in ALMS. This week, Luhr tested an Indy Car. (File photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

Fifteen drivers, including a pair making their IZOD IndyCar Series debuts, completed a one-day manufacturer/team test at Sonoma Raceway on Tuesday in preparation for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Aug. 23-25.

Five-time American Le Mans Series champion Lucas Luhr, who will drive for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in Sonoma, completed 10 laps around the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road-course while the team dealt with brake and radio harness issues on the No. 97 Dallara/Honda.

“Got my first laps in the Indy car today,” Luhr wrote on Twitter following the test. “Great (experience); we have some work to do but love it so far.” The German will be making his series debut via a partnership between SFHR and RW Motorsports. Luhr was joined during the test by Josef Newgarden, SFHR’s fulltime driver in the No. 67 Dallara/Honda.

Additionally, Ryo Hirakawa, the 2012 Japanese Formula 3 champion, tested in the No. 18 Dallara/Honda alongside Justin Wilson in the No. 19 entry for Dale Coyne Racing. Eight teams participated in the session.

Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe returned behind the wheel of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet for the first time since fracturing his wrist in Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto in mid-July. Briscoe is the defending race-winner at Sonoma and has finished in the top five each of his past five visits to the California facility. Briscoe started on the front row last year next to then-Team Penske teammate Will Power, who has won the past three poles at the track.

Also testing were 2006 Sonoma race-winner Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and E.J. Viso (all of Andretti Autosport), Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing), Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra (Dragon Racing), Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing), and James Jakes and Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).

“This is a really important race for us,” said Hunter-Reay, the reigning IndyCar Series champion. “I think we test here more than any other track, and it’s important for us to do well here because so many of our sponsors come to this race. We’ve traditionally really struggled on the permanent road courses, but we’ve made some great headway this season and I think this test will really pay off for us.”

The Sonoma race has produced seven different winners in eight starts, a trend mirrored by this season’s stats. Of the nine drivers to have won races in 2013, four have been first-timers – Hinchcliffe, Sato, Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing.

Helio Castroneves of Team Penske and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing also are among the nine winners this season. Castroneves, who leads Dixon by 31 points entering Sonoma, also was a winner in 2000 and 2001 _ a season that produced a record 11 different winners. Dixon became a race winner as a 20-year-old rookie during the 2001 Championship Auto Racing Teams season.

The Sonoma race will be televised live at 4 p.m. (EDT) by NBC Sports Network and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smart phones and tablets.

Tickets still are available, including the Brasil IT+ Total Access Package, which includes a race-day Q&A session with Graham and Bobby Rahal, a reserved ticket to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday, and a garage/pit/pre-race pass all for $99. Children 12-and-under will be admitted free to the race and parking is free. For more information, visit racesonoma.com/indycar or call 800-870-RACE (7223).

Native Californian JR Hildebrand will return to the series for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Dallara/Honda. Hildebrand was released from his contract with Panther Racing after crashing out of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26, finishing 33rd and last after qualifying 10th. Hildebrand was in his third season with Panther Racing.

The Barracuda team co-owned by Bryan Herta and Steve Newey announced that Hildebrand also would drive in the season-ending MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 19.

Additionally, Luca Filippi will compete for Barracuda Racing in the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sept. 1 and the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader on Oct. 5-6. Filippi made his series debut Aug. 4 during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, advancing eight positions to finish 16th.

“I’m really excited to join Barracuda Racing this year, and have to give a big ‘thank you’ to Bryan and the team for the opportunity,” said Hildebrand, 25, of Sausalito, Calif. “Sonoma is where I got my racing start, so it’ll be great to have another new experience there with a new team, and one that I’ve heard nothing but great things about.

“The Sonoma racetrack is not only in my backyard, but Barracuda Networks’ also, so we’ll be working hard to make it a good one all around. I can’t wait to get started.”

The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Hildebrand will participate in an IndyCar Series Open Test on Aug. 21 at the track.

Hildebrand has 12 top-10 finishes in 39 IndyCar Series starts, with a high of second in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. After making his series debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Hildebrand returned to his home track in Sonoma, finishing 24th after contact. He placed eighth at Sonoma last August in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Hildebrand logged a best finish of fifth on the Streets of Long Beach in five races this season before his release.

Hildebrand led 56 laps last year on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval in the season-finale and finished 11th.

“JR is an exciting prospect for us,” Herta said. “He’s a talented driver and it made sense for him to be able to compete at his ‘home’ races in Sonoma and Fontana.”

Filippi, 28, of Italy, will get extensive seat time on the temporary street circuits at Baltimore and Houston. The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston at Reliant Park is the third and final doubleheader of the season and will include a standing start for Race 1 on Oct. 5.

“We were very impressed with Luca and happy to give him two more outings,” Herta said. “He made a good impression on everyone, and this will allow him the chance to race on American-style street circuits.”

Third-generation driver Matthew Brabham secured his second Mazda Road to Indy ladder series championship in as many years by clinching the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in a doubleheader sweep at the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres in Canada last weekend.

The 19-year-old continued to rewrite the series record book with his 10th and 11th victories of the season. He holds the series record for most wins in a season, career wins and most podium finishes (13) in one season with two races remaining.

“What an awesome year,” said Brabham, son of former sports car champion Geoff Brabham and grandson of racing legend Sir Jack Brabham. “I could not have predicted a season like this. I’m so happy for the team and all my supporters. Everyone has worked so hard and it has been perfect. I really have to thank Andretti Autosport and also Mazda for the wonderful year. I’m really happy and I’m enjoying the moment.”

Brabham will earn a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Firestone Indy Lights next season _ the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system that provides a clear and scholarship-supported path for drivers to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500.

Brabham earned the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship title in 2012 to lock up a ride for the 2013 Pro Mazda season.

“I am definitely looking to the future,” said Brabham, who has dual American and Australian citizenship. “The United States has been wonderful for me. It was the perfect move for me at this point in my career and I’m really looking forward to moving up to Indy Lights next year. I remember when I first went to St. Petersburg and I saw the Lights cars on track and I thought these cars are really cool and I want to get in one of those.

“I’m really looking forward to being a part of Dan Andersen’s series again next year. Last year and this year were run smoothly and perfectly. I have never been in a series this organized and well-run.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 14 2013
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