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Texas Test To Precede Rush To Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 29 2016
Scott Dixon notched a satisfying victory in Texas a year ago. (Chris Jones file photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Scott Dixon notched a satisfying victory in Texas last summer. (Chris Jones file photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – While open-wheel racing’s Month of May beckons every IndyCar Series driver and team, a single Saturday night in June will be the cumulative focus during a test Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway.

bugindynotesMore than two-thirds of the Indycar Series field is scheduled to participate in a day-long session around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval in preparation for the Firestone 600. Led by two-time 2016 race-winner and point-leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, five organizations and 15 drivers from the 21-car series field will test from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CDT) to collect data. The Firestone 600 _ billed as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” _ is scheduled for Saturday, June 11.

With two wins and a pair of runner-up results in the first four races, Pagenaud and his No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet have emerged as the early-season championship pace-setter in the Frenchman’s second season of driving for team-owner Roger Penske. Pagenaud has accumulated 188 points in the first quarter of the season and holds a 48-point advantage over Scott Dixon, the four-time/reigning series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Dixon led 97 of 248 laps while cruising to victory in last summer’s Firestone 600, establishing a record for the fastest IndyCar Series race in the 19-year history of TMS. Dixon posted a 7.8-second margin of victory over runnerup and Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan while averaging 191.940 mph. That speed erased the previous mark of 185.710 mph set in 2006.

Dixon became the fifth multiple IndyCar Series winner at TMS, joining four-time champion Helio Castroneves, three-time winner Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time winners Scott Goodyear and Scott Sharp.

Will Power, teammate to Pagenaud and Castroneves, qualified on-pole at TMS last year at 218.519 mph.  

The series next heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an historic Month of May featuring the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the 2.439-mile IMS road-course on May 14, followed by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on the legendary 2.5-mile oval on May 29.

Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves _ a three-time Indy 500 champion _ will be joined by Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, the two-time/reigning Indy 500 champ. Dixon, a two-time Indy 500 winner, and Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champ, will be joined by Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion, will test along with Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi . Also scheduled to test are oval-track specialist Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The Firestone 600 _ ninth event on the 16-race schedule _ will be 28th Verizon IndyCar Series race hosted by Texas Motor Speedway, the most in series history. The race is set for 7:45 p.m. (CDT) and be televised live on the NBC Sports Network.

Texas Motor Speedway is offering an “INDYCAR Sights & Sounds 2-Pack” that includes two tickets to the Firestone 600, a scanner rental and two ear sets for $49. Tickets for the Firestone 600 are available by calling the track’s ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com

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Open-wheel super-sub Oriol Servia will attempt to qualify for the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 77 Honda fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Marotti Racing. Partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson have added businessman Will Marotti to their organization for this venture.

“It feels great to have a little more than one night to prepare to jump in a car,” said Servia, referring to his role as substitute driver for Team Penske’s Will Power at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  “Jokes aside, you know the Indy 500 is the race, is the one race we all want to win, is the most emblematic race on the planet. And if that wasn’t enough, it happens to be the 100th anniversary.

“I had great races in the past at this little place (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and it’s coming at a point in my career that I feel the most prepared. So I couldn’t be happier. I also couldn’t be happier to join Sam’s team and organization, who we actually shared the front row in 2011. I know they’re going to give me probably the best shot I could have in a one-race entry program.”

Servia’s Indy 500 resume includes a front row start, in third, while driving for Newman/Haas Racing in 2011, and a fourth-place finish with Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2012. Servia said his lack of a fulltime series ride will not be an overriding factor for the Indy 500.

“Well, it actually is the one race that’s probably the easiest to find chemistry because you’re going to be there running many days, where you get to know the team many hours a day, on-track, off-track,” said Servia, a 41-year-old native of Spain. “There’s going to be some rainy days, as there usually is in May in Indy, and those days we get to spend a lot of time with our engineers, mechanics.

“Obviously, it’s not as good as being a full season or many seasons with the team, but it’s the closest thing because we end up spending more time probably in the Month of May with the team than the rest of the season combined almost. So I’m not worried there.

“And in terms of how do I prepare, it’s just there’s no magic. You just have to have the seasons or the years that you’ve done that race, and you only learn by doing lots there, and I’ve been lucky to have been doing that race for almost a decade now. I’ve had, as I said, enough success that you learn from it. I’ve been in many different teams, that you also take notes from how to approach each phase and each part of the race. So I feel I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been.

“I wasn’t fulltime racing the last season and-a-half, involved in management of a team in another series. When I drove Justin Wilson’s car in Sonoma (Calif.), I realized, A, how much I miss driving and how much out of shape I was. So since September-October last year, I’ve been really working out and getting ready to jump behind the wheel again. In St. Pete, actually, I felt way better than I felt in Sonoma and I’ve been training since. So I am ready.

“I also know that there’s some challenges in setting up the cars with the new (aero) kits and setting up a car is something that I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to the whole thing. I cannot wait for May 16th to come and jump in the car for the first time in Indy.”

Servia will be teamed with series regulars James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow SPM Honda, and Mikhail Aleshin, driver of the No. 7 SPM Honda.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Schmidt said of the deal. “I have respected Oriol’s performance in the 500 for many years when we’ve been against him. We’ve been working on trying to put this together for a long time. Thought we had it done a couple of times before this. Just pleased to have it done.

“Our guys have approached this probably like every other team, as the biggest race we’ll ever compete in, and we’ve been preparing the chassis since last October. Guys have been doing pit stop practice. In our opinion, it’s not a simple one-off deal. We’ve approached the third car just like the other two and maximum preparation.

“We’ll be one team. There’s no holding back. We’re all under one roof now, and we’ll continue to do so afterwards. Again, we’ve been preparing for this since last October, just trying to find the best driver to plug into the equation. I think Oriol will bring a lot of experience to the table. We don’t have to go through ROP (Rookie Orientation Program) or sort of reinvent the wheel there. He knows what he’s doing. So I expect him to bring a lot to the table.”

Schmidt confirmed he had spoken to NASCAR Sprint Cup veteran Brian Vickers about the seat, at a time when Vickers was filling-in for injured three-time series champion Tony Stewart.

“I think Brian was up to do it,” Schmidt said. “I think he’d be a great talent to do it. But given that it is the 100th and the magnitude of everything, we really wanted to put the best foot forward we could in the third car and not have it be a distraction, but have it be a positive contribution for a result. I don’t think we could have wound up with a better driver to fit that bill.”

Marotti described his involvement in the project as a grassroots effort. “I’m under no delusions here,” Marotti said. “What we bring now is passion, enthusiasm and some money. Our goal for this year was to kind of introduce the brand and get a footprint, really looking toward building for next year.”

Marotti said sponsorship will include ABC Roofing, an Indiana-based construction firm; Carson Firearms in Terre Haute, Ind., and FITCOM, a fitness application for that industry.

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American Townsend Bell has been assigned Andretti Autosports’ final entry for the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500 next month at IMS. Bell will complete the organization’s five-car lineup in the No. 29 Honda as the team owned by Michael Andretti attempts to add a fourth Baby Borg to its trophy case on May 29.

“We’re really pleased to be able to field a fifth entry for Townsend,” Andretti said in a statement. “Even though he’s not in the car fulltime, Townsend has proven he can quickly get up to speed _he’s show it’s possible to compete once-a-year and be competitive. We see a lot of promise in his ability and are looking forward to having five cars challenging for a win at the 100th running this May.”

Bell will participate with his teammates on Opening Day at the 2.5-mile Speedway on May 16, his first outing in the No. 29 entry. Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport has scored Indy 500 victories with the late Dan Wheldon (2005), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014).

“Driving in the 100th running of the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport is a great opportunity,” Bell said. “I think I’ll benefit from being part of a strong, multi-car team with a winning pedigree at Indy. This is my ninth consecutive start and I’m glad it’s all come together the way it has. I’m looking forward to working with Honda again and having the chance to race for one of the best teams in the sport.”

A California native, Bell’s diverse racing resume includes nine career Indy 500 starts with a best finish of fourth in 2009. Additionally, Bell holds eight wins in the Indy Lights Series, six in 2001 to claim the series championship, as well as victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Bell, 40, also has scored a podium finish at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Bell also is a color commentator for NBC Sports’ Verizon IndyCar Series and Global Rallycross broadcasts as well as the host of “What’Cha Got” on Fox Sports 1.

Andretti Autosport fields four full-season entries in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Marco Andretti in the No. 27 Snapple Honda, RHR in the No. 28 DHL Honda, Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Honda and Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

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Indy 500 fans looking to add bling to the race’s historic 100th edition can do so via an opportunity to purchase a Champion of Champions replica ring.

For over 40 years, Indianapolis-based Herff Jones has manufactured Indy 500 staples like the Champion of Champions winner’s ring, 33 starting drivers’ rings, a ring for the annual pace car driver and nine Pit Stop Challenge winning crew rings. For the first time in company history, Herff Jones is offering rings featuring a new design for fans.

Available for a limited time and certified for authenticity, Herff Jones is creating 500 traditional gold Champion of Champions replica rings. The rings can be ordered in various metals: ultrium ($4,920), extreme silver ($5,640), 10-karat yellow gold ($6,445) or 14-karat white gold ($9,001), with choice of 1.56-carat cubic zirconia or diamonds. Sizes range from 8 to 13, including half-sizes.

Each individual’s name will be engraved on one side of the ring; inside the ring will be the IMS copyright mark and a certification mark (with a number _ This is 1 of 500, for example). The base of the ring is cut with the 100th running logo and surrounded by 1.56-carat of diamonds or CZs. The individual’s name is cut into the side and includes two checkered flags.  Further information is available on the web at https://www.hjindy500.com/collections/rings/products/new-limited-edition-100th-running-fan-ring-with-diamonds.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 29 2016
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