From Amy Konrath
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (Friday, March 26, 2010) – IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power, who won the season opener two weeks ago in Brazil, topped the lap time chart on another temporary street circuit March 26 at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a best of 1 minute, 2.3200 seconds (103.979 mph) in a Team Penske machine.
Qualifying starts at 1:20 p.m. (ET) Saturday on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn course on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon also was quick – second on the lap chart with a best of 1:03.0299 (102.808). Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Justin Wilson, who finished third in last year’s race, was third overall (1:03.0576) and Andretti Autosport’s Tony Kanaan (1:03.0615) was fourth. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was runner-up in both the Brazil and ’09 St. Pete races, was fifth overall (1:03.0763).
KV Racing Technology teammates E.J. Viso (1:03.0890) and Takuma Sato (1:03.0930) were sixth and seventh, respectively, while Marco Andretti (1:03.2866) was eighth. Two-time St. Pete winner Helio Castroneves (1:03.2884) was ninth and Graham Rahal, who is competing for Sarah Fisher Racing this weekend, was 10th (1:03.3220).
Also on March 26, Martin Plowman was the quickest driver in practice for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for Firestone Indy Lights, turning a top lap of 1:08.1958 (95.021). James Hinchcliffe was second at 1:08.2288 (94.975), with Stefan Wilson third at 1:08:3467, 94.811.
Qualifying for the first Firestone Indy Lights race of the season starts at 3:10 p.m. Saturday.
HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG NOTEBOOK:
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster will wave the green flag to start the sixth Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Foster, 46, a longtime local attorney, was elected in 2009 to lead Florida’s fourth-largest city. He succeeded Rick Baker, a former Indianapolis resident, who was instrumental in bringing the IZOD IndyCar Series race to the city streets.
ABC will broadcast the first of its five IZOD IndyCar Series races this weekend. Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear will be the announcers.
ABC’s schedule also includes the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, marking the 46th consecutive year that “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will air on ABC, as well as events at Kansas Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Toronto.
Reporting from the pits will be Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little and Vince Welch. For the Indianapolis 500, former race winner Eddie Cheever will be an analyst with Reid and Goodyear in the booth for the third year. Jerry Punch returns to Indy as a fourth pit reporter. Brent Musburger will host the Indy telecast.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: “The addition of road courses has put a lot more interest back into who’s driving the car. Drivers can make up the difference and the deficiency sometimes in a car that’s not very good on a road course, whereas on an oval, if you don’t have a good car, you’re generally not going to find yourself up toward the front. I look for some surprising teams to show some new strength this year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and although they might not be fighting for wins each and every weekend, I think they’re going to surprise some people by stealing some podium spots and maybe even stealing some race victories throughout the season.” (About Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): “At the end of the high-speed straightaway there, the runway, you have a great opportunity for passing. But it’s also an opportunity for people to get themselves into trouble because they get over-anxious and over-drive the car. It’s one of the best places to watch.”
Dan Wheldon will launch his “Lionheart” photo book this weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. At noon Saturday, Wheldon will make a 30-minute appearance at the IZOD IndyCar Series merchandise tent on Bayshore Drive to autograph copies of his limited-edition book.
DAN WHELDON: “This ‘Lionheart’ book has been three years in the making, so to launch it in my hometown at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is really exciting for me. Lionheart documents my IndyCar Series career starting with my rookie year in 2003 through my Indy 500 win, to this season with Panther Racing. It gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at my life both on and off the racetrack. I think people who buy this book are really going to enjoy the candid moments captured by photographer Michael Voorhees, and I can’t thank him enough for his hard work and support on this project.”
Ryan Briscoe and Team Penske will play host to several pilots from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa over the race weekend. Briscoe met the pilots earlier this month when he visited the base and had the opportunity to tour a KC-135 refueling plane during an advance media visit to promote the race.
Cottonelle will serve as the primary sponsor of the No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car of reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti this weekend. Franchitti will be making his 200th open-wheel racing start (86th in the IZOD IndyCar Series).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running backs Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Clifton Smith were among the riders in the Indy Racing Experience two-seater Thursday, March 25 on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit. Williams and Smith, a 2009 Pro Bowl selection, also plan to attend the race Sunday.
CLIFTON SMITH: (About Indy Racing Experience two-seater ride): “Man, what a ride. I was thrown from side to side. I’d love to do it again.”
A total of $2,200 was raised for the not-for-profit Best Friends Animal Society in a charity endurance kart race at Andersen RacePark in Palmetto, Fla.
Members of the public were paired with professional racers. A team including Firestone Indy Lights driver Jonathan Summerton won the race.
The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and the USF2000 Championship will run on the same weekend with the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights for the first time in St. Petersburg as part of the Road to Indy program.
Both series also will run alongside the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights in June at Iowa Speedway. The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear opened its season last weekend at Sebring International Raceway with Tristan Vautier taking the checkered flag.
ESPN on ABC’s coverage of the 2009 Indianapolis 500 recently earned two Sports Emmy Award nominations, in the Outstanding Live Sports Special and Outstanding Production Design/Art Direction categories.
Award winners will be announced Monday, April 26.
KV Racing Technology will return the famous Lotus name and colors to the Indianapolis 500 in May with driver Takuma Sato. Lotus won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 with Jim Clark behind the wheel.
Sato will debut the iconic green-and-yellow Lotus colors in the IZOD IndyCar Series this weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
DANY BEHAR (CEO, Group Lotus, plc): “Racing has always defined Lotus, and on many occasions in motorsports history, Lotus’ numerous innovations have redefined racing. It’s only fitting that as the Lotus Racing name re-enters Formula One, we will also race and innovate again in IndyCar. The Lotus name will once again compete in the top two open-wheel racing series for the passion and enthusiasm of car fans around the globe.”
Andretti Autosport announced today it has signed 15-year-old American driver Zach Veach as the team’s second entry in the USF2000 National Championship presented by Cooper Tires and powered by Mazda. Veach’s season will start May 29 at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis.
Veach joins Sage Karam, a 15-year-old driver from Nazareth, Pa., as a part of Andretti Autosport’s debut in the new Road to Indy ladder system.
Veach, from Stockdale, Ohio, has been successful at various levels of karting and participated in an aggressive Formula BMW Americas testing program that included nearly 30 days on track. He was set in 2010 to become the youngest driver in the 37-year history of the Atlantic Championship before that series ceased operations in early March.
ZACH VEACH: “I am sure with the sanction of the Indy Racing League, a bright future is ahead for the USF2000 Series. I have dreamed of driving IndyCar since I was a small child and look at this opportunity as bringing me one step closer to this dream. To be able to compete in the series with a team like Andretti Autosport is incredibly humbling for me.”
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (President and CEO, Andretti Autosport): “We are extremely pleased to announce Zach as our newest USF2000 driver. His quick success in the go-karting world and Formula BMW series proves his commitment to a high level of racing. I think he’ll have a smooth transition into the USF2000 series with Andretti Autosport, and I am confident he will grow to become an established part of the Indy Racing League through the Road to Indy ladder system.”
For nearly 20 years, the Team USA Scholarship has served as a launching pad for young American drivers to immerse themselves in international auto racing.
That proven track record is why the Indy Racing League will lend its support the program through the Road to Indy ladder system.
Drivers such as Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Buddy Rice, Jeff Simmons, Phil Giebler, A.J. Allmendinger and J.R. Hildebrand have used the scholarship to gain notoriety at an early stage in their careers. Team USA Scholarship President Jeremy Shaw hopes that future scholarship winners can follow their path through the Road to Indy.
TONY GEORGE JR. (Manager of Business Development, Firestone Indy Lights): “The Team USA scholarship gives young drivers the opportunity during our offseason to go and gain valuable experience outside the country. Past scholarship winners have been successful at the upper levels of the sport and the more recent ones are coming back to race in the Road to Indy series, so it’s a natural fit for us. The winners learn how to handle adversity in a completely new environment, and as we’ve learned from backing the program in Firestone Indy Lights the last two years, it is a successful program that we should support.”
JEREMY SHAW (President, Team USA Scholarship): “I’m thrilled with what the Indy Racing League is doing with the Road to Indy system. It’s absolutely perfect. There are really so many opportunities for young drivers to move on up, and I think it’s great that they have managed to get back on site. In fact, two of our winners are both in the Star Mazda Championship. So I think it shows the system is there.”
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, first): “It was a good day. We are getting the car better each session. After this run, the car is more like what I like to drive. It feels good. There is a long weekend ahead of us, with weather and everything. But I am feeling good going into tomorrow.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, second): “Practice went OK. The car was not great. We had quite a few issues in the morning session, and the second session didn’t start too well. We ended up second, but we are still a long ways from Will. Dario hit the wall, and I was expecting that he would have been pretty quick, as well. We have a lot of work to do. Hopefully we can carry some of the momentum from today into tomorrow and make some good changes.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 Team Z-Line Designes/DRR, third): “The track conditions were good. No problems. From the morning to the afternoon, we made some geometry changes, and the car had good balance. We just need to work on the brakes, and we will be right on. We have a chance to be a top-three car and, with any luck, win this thing.”
RAFAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP Luczo Dragon, 19th): “We are definitely not where we want to be, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. The good news is we made great progress from the morning to the afternoon, and there is a lot of room for improvement. Now it’s up to us to study the data, sit down and talk and figure out what we’re going to do for tomorrow.”
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, 12th): “The Formula Dream/Panasonic car was very good from the get-go, and we were fifth fastest in the first session. We made a change to the car between the sessions, and I think it was a good one. We are improving little-by-little. It was very hard to get a clear lap in the afternoon session, and it was hard for me to put everything together when we did have a mostly clear lap. And my last lap was the best lap, so we will try to continue the progress tomorrow. We have a couple more things to do to improve the car, and I need to drive better to get the most out of it.”
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, 13th): “It is great to be back in St. Pete. The car is good, and we learned a few things in that session. I think the Team Penske car will be strong this weekend. We just need to stay consistent throughout the weekend and execute on Sunday. It should be an interesting qualifying and I feel very good going into Sunday’s race.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, ninth): “After not racing here in St. Pete last season, it’s good to be back. I really missed this place. We have a little bit of work to do on the No. 3 Team Penske car, but we are definitely going in the right direction. Qualifying is going to be very important here, so we need to make sure we have a strong day on Saturday so we can be in a good position on Sunday to try and get the win.”
MARIO ROMANCINI (No. 34 H2GO Ronn Motors, 22nd): “I spent the day today adjusting this track in the new car. We were able to get some good data to use for improving the car tonight. By tomorrow, we will have made a few changes to try during the morning session, which should hopefully allow us to qualifying well in the afternoon.”
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation-KVRT, sixth): “The PDVSA – KV Racing Technology had a good recovery after this morning’s practice session. The team did a great job, and if it wasn’t for getting caught up in traffic on my last lap, I would have had a good chance of finishing second. I feel very happy with how the car felt, and I think tomorrow’s qualifying will hopefully prove that.
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology, seventh): “It was great to debut the new Lotus-KV Racing Technology car here in St. Petersburg. The circuit was very interesting, still a little bumpy but not nearly as much as Brazil, with some high-speed sections, which is great fun. We are always improving our setup to have a good car, but overall it was a very productive day, and I look forward to tomorrow.”
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 FAZZT Race Team, 11th): “Today has been OK. It has pretty much been the same thing as Brazil. I think we are strong team, but we are still searching left and right on the scope of the setups. I think we’re going to find it and be right up there in qualifying tomorrow. What we’re lacking right now is the data. We don’t have enough data on all the tracks right now where we can put all the setups in a funnel and have them come out and say, ‘Here is the window we need to be in to unload the car from the truck and be in the top five.’ So we’re still trying all kinds of things each session, and we definitely still have some work to do. But we are creeping up on it; we have gotten better each outing. We are going to make some pretty big changes for tomorrow morning and hope that we are more in the scope of what this car needs to be fast.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 67 Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing, 10th): “I think overall it was a pretty good day for myself and Sarah Fisher Racing (SFR). I think we made some ground up that last session and made the car a little bit better. We’ve still got a bit of work to do to make it more secure for me and to find some speed for the rest of the weekend, but I feel like we’re headed in the right general direction. Now we’ve just got to hone in on what’s going to make the car better and faster and keep the tires alive at the same time. We had one really good run on old tires and we went pretty darn quick, so that was good. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, eighth): “Overall, I’m pretty happy with where we’re at with the Venom car right now. We made really good improvements as a team from this morning, and that’s encouraging. We still have some work to do to put ourselves in a better position for qualifying, but I think we’ve got something good to work with.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, fifth): “The IZOD car is pretty good, but the competition is so close – really tight here. To end the first day in the top five is a good indicator of where we’re at, but we’ve got some work to do. The car is nowhere near where we need it to be for qualifying, by any means. And, I think this will be one of the closer qualifying sessions we’ve ever seen, based on the times we saw today. But, still, it was a solid day for the IZOD team. Now we’ll go back, look at the data and see where we need to go next.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, fourth): “I’m pleased, but it’s just Friday. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves yet. But it was a good start. The team, as a whole, is very competitive, which is good. We can feed off each other. Now, we just need to get all the data together, make the right changes to the 7-Eleven car for the morning and get ready to get into the Firestone Fast Six.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, 21st): “I have to say that I’m pretty frustrated with my overall times today, but at the same time, I’m only eight tenths of a second off ‘P2.’ I’m going to get with my teammates and see what we can do to get the GoDaddy car up to speed. So I’m grateful for the practice session we have before qualifying tomorrow.”
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:
MARTIN PLOWMAN (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers/KEP Printing, first): “It is great to get this season off to a start. To be position one in practice is great. They don’t give points or a trophy for practice, but it is a nice confidence-booster to know we had a fast car. I am not completely happy with the car the way it is. It is good, but we need some more things to get the pole on Saturday. I feel confident that it is going to be a great weekend.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 2 TMR – Xtreme Coil Drilling, second): “I think we had a really solid race car. We rolled of the trailer with something decent and picked away at it. Every change we made, we were able to find a gain. From our point of view, it gave us the confidence to keep on the setup track that we have been on. Not only fast, but the car was consistent at the end there. I am really proud of the team and the guys, and I am looking forward to tomorrow now.”
SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE (all times local):
IZOD IndyCar Series practice (all cars)
Firestone Indy Lights practice (all cars)
PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying and Firestone Fast 6
for IZOD IndyCar Series
Firestone Indy Lights qualifying