From Amy Konrath

Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:

1. Firestone Indy Lights drivers go to class before Open Test

2. Schmidt participates in hot air balloon race

3. Hang with Marco Andretti and Al Unser Jr.

4. Patrick among most marketable

1. Firestone Indy Lights drivers go to class before Open Test: J.K. Vernay had a typical reaction to seeing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.

“It’s huge,” said the rookie driver from France, who leads the Firestone Indy Lights point standings. “It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen speedway with such long straights. I’m sure it will look much different in my race car.”

Vernay – along with rookies Dan Clarke, Adrian Campos Jr., Stefan Wilson and Philip Major and veteran James Hinchcliffe, Brandon Wagner and Pippa Mann spent the afternoon of May 13 learning the intricacies of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Indianapolis 500 winners Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr., and Indianapolis 500 veterans Davey Hamilton and Vitor Meira.

While the mode of transportation – a pair of Chevrolet Impalas – doesn’t necessarily compare to the single-seat Firestone Indy Lights car, the information gained from the recon laps applies.

“The car was not fast enough to get the true feeling of Turn 1,” Vernay said. “But I really have to give thanks to Vitor Meira and Al Unser for giving us all of this advice.”

The group — along with other drivers who will compete in the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 28 – will get to apply that advice on May 14 when they take to the track for a one-day Open Test on the Speedway in preparations the biggest race on the Firestone Indy Lights calendar.

“It’s a very important test day for me because I haven’t had the opportunity to test on an oval this year with Team Moore Racing,” said James Hinchcliffe, who won the last Firestone Indy Lights race at Long Beach. “I’m anxious to get on a oval and also start preparations for our biggest race. Hopefully we can a lot of laps in.”

2. Schmidt participates in hot air balloon race: Sam Schmidt has flown in a stunt plane, manned an adaptive sailboat, scuba dived and, of course, has competed in IZOD IndyCar Series races. On May 9, he glided across Central Indiana in a hot air balloon.

The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, founded by Indianapolis 500 veteran and Firestone Indy Lights/Indianapolis 500 team owner Schmidt, sponsored a balloon piloted by Al Hansen in the Centennial Era Balloon Festival presented by AT&T.

Hansen, of Winamac, Ind., has a wheelchair-accessible balloon in which he gives rides throughout the year to guests with disabilities.

The race, rescheduled from May 8 because of high winds, used the “hare and hound” format in which competitors followed the lead AT&T balloon (the hare), with the balloonist who tossed a beanbag closest to the hare’s landing zone winning. Michigan balloonist David Jacques won with a distance of 2 feet, 4 inches.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports will have four cars entered in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, and has entered the Indianapolis 500 with driver Townsend Bell in an association with Chip Ganassi Racing.

3. Hang with Marco Andretti and Al Unser Jr.: Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti will greet fans May 18 at the Meijer at 10841 Rockville Road in Avon, Ind., from 7:30-8:30 p.m. (ET). Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. will sign autographs from 10-11:30 a.m. May 15 at the AutoZone (3710 N. Moller Road in Indianapolis).

Fans also are invited to an IZOD IndyCar Series driver autograph session starting at 6 p.m. May 14 at the Macy’s in Castleton Square Mall in Indianapolis.

4. Patrick among most marketable: Andertti Autosport’s Danica Patrick is among the top 30 most marketable athletes in the world (one of 17 Americans), according to the SportsPro trade publication. Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is ranked first. … Dad’s Root Beer, with headquarters in Jasper, Ind., will be the primary sponsor on the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car driven by Mike Conway in the Indianapolis 500.


The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues May 30 with the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at noon (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The race also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway The race will air live on VERSUS.