By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Plenty of memories from racing at Mid-Ohio
2. Dracone’s goal to learn in fast lane
3. Vilarinho to debut at Mid-Ohio with Andersen Racing note
1. Plenty of memories from racing at Mid-Ohio: There’s a framed photograph of his 2000 victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Helio Castroneves’ house.
“I see it every day; it was taken right over here,” Castroneves says, pointing to the cramped Victory Circle at the 2.258-mile road course.
A decade later, Castroneves will be seeking another victory at the facility (he also won in 2001 – both years getting past pole sitter Gil de Ferran) in the No. 3 Team Penske car. What’s it going to take?
“Hard work, a little bit of luck and a good strategy as we see that’s what seems to happen here, and I won two races here with a good strategy,” said Castroneves, who joined teammates Ryan Briscoe and Will Power on June 30 for a day of testing. “It’s a physically demanding track. It’s much more different than ovals. Ovals you have to be smooth and move just a tiny bit. Here you have to be more aggressive and bounce around.”
Mid-Ohio has seen the best of Indy car racing over 30 years. Johnny Rutherford, who started fourth, won the inaugural race (the Red Roof Inns 150). He also was the Indianapolis 500 champion and went on to earn the PPG Indy Car World Series Drivers’ Championship.
There’s a unique footnote to Indy car racing at Mid-Ohio: Races have been won consecutively six times, including four in a row from 1991-97. Multiple winners, aside from Castroneves, include Alex Zenardi, Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti, Teo Fabi and Scott Dixon.
In 1990 (Sept. 16 to be precise), Michael Andretti dominated the race from the pole with his father finishing second after starting eighth. It was the first of his two consecutive victories and three pole starts (Fittipaldi won the ’92 race) at the track. Mario won from the pole in ’84 and ’87.
In Indy Lights history at the track, VERSUS broadcaster Jon Beekhuis won the 1988 race; Paul Tracy, who won the Indy car race in 2003, won the 1990 race; Firestone Indy Lights team owner Bryan Herta won the 1993 race; and part-time IZOD IndyCar Series competitor Townsend Bell won the 2000 and ’01 races.
2. Dracone’s goal to learn in fast lane: Francesco Dracone will make his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance this weekend ,driving the No. 34 Halkin Jet/La pasta/Conquest Racing car. Bertrand Baguette, who has 11 more IZOD IndyCar Series races under his helmet, is the Italian’s teammate.
“Francesco has a great sense of humor and he has been jelling with his engineer and the entire crew very naturally,” Bachelart said. “It’s a pleasure to have him on the team. I’m looking forward to this weekend and working closely together for his first race in the series.”
Dracone’s most recent experience was in Euroseries 3000 in 2009 (renamed Auto GP this year), where he placed seventh in the standings. That series for ’09 switched from Formula 3000 cars to first generation A1GP cars. Names of note competing in Auto GP this season include Romain Grosjean (second in the standings), Duncan Tappy, Jonny Reid and Giorgio Pantano.
Dracone was impressive, if understandably tentative at the outset, during his road/street course test July 29 on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with IZOD IndyCar Series driver coach Al Unser Jr. and series technical director Kevin Blanch monitoring the program.
“The car is big and powerful,” he said at the lunch break. “It’s completely different from what we have in Europe. You have high speed but have to deal with the weight in the corners. This racetrack also is kind of different from what we have in Europe. The pit lane is very tight and the car is big.”
Through the afternoon session, he checked off items ranging from pit stall entry to tire management – much like Adam Carroll did a month earlier on the circuit before his IZOD IndyCar Series debut at Watkins Glen International for Andretti Autosport. Both drivers will have the benefit of being somewhat familiar with the Mid-Ohio course before encountering traffic in the initial practice session (4 p.m. ET Aug. 6; watch live on www.indycar.com).
Dracone, who cut his teeth in Italian F3, said he’s always been of fan of Indy car racing.
“Since I was 3 or 4 I was watching on (TV) the Indy 500,” he said. “I thought it was something stunning — a real competitor to F1. Unfortunately, the fans and media in Europe are not really loving IndyCar because they are all keen on following Formula One. For the real motorsports lover, being in Indy is a dream come true.
“Conquest is a great team, driven by a European owner. I was really looking for something different. There was no space for Formula One or something in Europe and all I could do was GT cars. I consider myself a bit young for GTs. Being in touch with Eric was love at first sight. He’s a big father giving me advice, and that’s why I’m here. My expectations are to avoid mistakes in practice first of all and get as many miles as possible in order to get familiar with the car.”
Those also are Bachelart’s goals for the driver.
“We are obviously very pleased to have Francesco join our team and to be able to give him his first experience in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” Bachelart added. “He did a very good job during his first test at Mid-Ohio, avoiding mistakes and progressing well throughout the day. However, we have to keep in mind that he will have a lot to learn in a very short period of time. It will be challenging for him because he is joining the series when all the drivers have been competing for most of the season already.”
3. Vilarinho to debut at Mid-Ohio with Andersen Racing: Brazilian teenager Giancarlo Vilarinho will make his Firestone Indy Lights debut with Andersen Racing at the Mid-Ohio 100.
The 18-year-old native of Sao Paulo, who competed in Formula BMW Americas the last two years, will drive the No. 5 Andersen Racing Allied car after passing his Firestone Indy Lights rookie test on Aug. 4 at Putnam Park near Indianapolis.
Vilarinho finished second in Formula BMW Americas in 2009, winning seven times in 14 starts, including a string of five consecutive victories. He also competed in a Star Mazda race at Laguna Seca. He will join Spain’s Carmen Jorda in the team’s two-car lineup.
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues Aug. 8 with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212. The race also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Mid-Ohio 100 on Aug. 8 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.