By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Firestone Indy Lights Championship Overview
2. Saavedra ready for double duty at Fontana
3. Track repair work begins for 2013 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
4. Inland Empire students to learn the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills needed in INDYCAR racing at STEM Education Day
1. Firestone Indy Lights Championship Overview: After 11 races on a combination of ovals, road courses and temporary street circuits, the competition for the Firestone Firehawk Cup has come down to a winner-take-all race on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval Sept. 15.
Rookie Tristan Vautier of France leads Esteban Guerrieri by 11 points – one of the closest title races in Firestone Indy Lights history – entering the season finale.
Vautier, who won the Star Mazda championship in 2011 to earn the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to graduate to Firestone Indy Lights, hopes to give team owner Sam Schmidt another series title. He claimed victories on the street course at St. Petersburg, the Milwaukee Mile and the street courses at Trois Rivieres and Baltimore. He’s also shown speed on the ovals, leading at Indianapolis and Iowa.
Guerrieri, who finished second in the championship last season, hopes to be the one to deliver another driver championship to Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Guerrieri claimed wins at Long Beach, Indianapolis and Iowa.
J.K. Vernay (2010) is the only Frenchman to win the series title, while Guerrieri would be the first Argentine driver to win the title.
Did You Know? 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Championship:
• Tristan Vautier leads the Firestone Indy Lights championship for the fourth time this season. He also led after St. Petersburg, Barber and Milwaukee.
• Vautier leads his Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate Esteban Guerrieri by 11 points.
• There are two drivers mathematically eligible for the Firestone Indy Lights championship: Tristan Vautier and Esteban Guerrieri.
• Gustavo Yacaman and Sebastian Saavedra were eliminated from contention at Baltimore.
Key Championship statistic: A driver from Sam Schmidt Motorsports will win the Firestone Indy Lights championship for the third consecutive season. J.K. Vernay won the title in 2010, while Josef Newgarden won the title in 2011.
Smallest 1-2 point differential since: 2008. With one race to go, the points battle (11 points separate first and second) is the closest that it’s been since the 2008 season when first and second place were separated by 4 points. That duel between Raphael Matos and Richard Antinucci was the closest title fight in series history.
Championship-eligible drivers at Auto Club Speedway: Neither contender has raced at Auto Club Speedway.
2. Saavedra ready for double duty at Fontana: Sebastian Saavedra might be the busiest driver this weekend. He’ll be racing in both the Firestone Indy Lights 100 and the MAVTV 500.
Saavedra, the official test and reserve driver for Andretti Autosport, will be racing for the first time at Auto Club Speedway and will get plenty of seat time — a total of 600 miles.
He is no stranger to double duty as he also ran both the Firestone Freedom 100 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same weekend this past May.
“It’s going to be a busy weekend with the AFS Racing team doing both Firestone Indy Lights and IndyCar,” said Saavedra, who will drive the No. 17 Team AFS Chevrolet for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport. “We are prepared for this and looking forward to a good show in both series. I had the opportunity to watch my Andretti teammate’s test last Thursday, which gives me some inside knowledge of what to expect for my first contact with the track. I will have the chance to test on Wednesday, which is a big extra for us to get a bit more familiar with the car and the track itself. Every mile counts.”
3. Track repair work begins for 2013 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix: Repair work has begun on the road surface at Belle Isle Park in preparation for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which will be held May 31-June 2, 2013.
After a successful return of IndyCar racing to the Motor City this summer – the first Grand Prix run on Belle Isle since 2008 – there were issues with the track surface that arose in the second half of the IZOD IndyCar Series race. The trouble spots were repaired quickly and the race was successfully completed, but event officials pledged that repairs would be made this fall.
After undergoing a process that included an engineering evaluation of the circuit, workers will be removing deteriorated concrete areas of the racing surface, evaluating and repairing storm drainage systems and installing reinforced concrete areas on the 14-turn, 2.1-mile track. About 80,000 square feet of concrete and 3,000 square feet of asphalt will be installed.
“As we said on race weekend when we experienced the issues with the track, we are completely dedicated to the future of this event and we would make the necessary repairs to the surface,” said Bud Denker, Event Chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. “Today begins the process of track repair that we expect to take eight to 10 weeks to complete. We will be using private funds for these repairs and ultimately this will result in better roads for not only the teams and drivers during race weekend but also for all of the visitors to Belle Isle during the rest of the year.”
Work will be done on Turns 5-12 and about 25 workers from two separate companies – including the Detroit-based Pollard Concrete Services – will coordinate and execute the repairs.
4. Inland Empire students to learn the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills needed in INDYCAR racing at STEM Education Day: A field trip to the Auto Club Speedway awaits some Inland Empire high school students when INDYCAR opens its paddock for a STEM-focused education event during the MAVTV 500, the final event of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series.
On Friday, Sept. 14, the students will get a behind-the-scenes look at how science, technology, engineering and math principles apply to the IZOD IndyCar Series and the sport of Indy car racing.
More than 100 students from Schurr High School and Monrovia High School will tour the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock and Auto Club Speedway track, meeting race car drivers and INDYCAR engineers. They will learn about key elements of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car, including the enhanced chassis, turbocharged engine, E85 fuel, electronics and Firestone Firehawk tires.
“We feel it’s important to create opportunities for students to see classroom curriculum applied to real-world situations,” said Randy Bernard, CEO of INDYCAR. “As a sport deeply rooted in science and engineering, we hope our at-track program illustrates to students how the principles of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math apply to INDYCAR in a unique and interesting way.”
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the MAVTV 500 on Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway. The race will be televised live at 7:30 p.m. (ET) by NBC Sports Network and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (Sirius 212 and XM 94) and www.indycar.com. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway. It will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 20.