By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Rahal rejoins Sarah Fisher Racing for Kentucky
2. Hinchcliffe hopes to ride high line to success at Kentucky
3. 200th Race – First street race special to Andretti
4. Drivers to visit high school to talk safe driving
1. Rahal rejoins Sarah Fisher Racing for Kentucky: Sarah Fisher watched from the pit lane timing stand as Graham Rahal drove her IZOD IndyCar Series car at St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach.
Now the team owner/driver and Rahal will be teammate on the racetrack for the first time this weekend at Kentucky Speedway in the Indy Racing League’s 200th event.
In partnership with Service Central — the automotive service offering available exclusively at Tire Kingdom, National Tire and Battery, Merchants Tire and Big O Tires — Rahal will drive the No. 66 Service Central car in the Kentucky Indy 300.
“SFR is ecstatic to welcome Graham back to our program with the Service Central No. 66 team for the Kentucky race,” said Fisher, who at Kentucky in 2002 was the first female to start from the pole in a series race. “The excitement in the shop has been contagious and we will work as hard as we can to give this program the merit it deserves for Service Central.”
Rahal competed for Rahal Letterman Racing in the Indianapolis 500 and for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Iowa Speedway. He also has competed in four races with Newman/Haas Racing, recording a 10th place Aug. 28 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“We are very appreciative that Newman/Haas Racing gave us the go ahead to bring Graham on board for this race,” said Fisher, who will drive the No. 67 Dollar General car. “He should be in a car as often as he can, and with the support of our partners we were able to pull that off for him this weekend. Graham works very hard outside the car to be in the car, and he always takes that next step to make sure he is as prepared as anyone out there.
“The whole team believes in Graham’s abilities, and I am truly looking forward to working with Graham as a teammate on track. If you think I had fun in Chicago last weekend, I expect this weekend to be even better.”
Rahal returns to Kentucky Speedway for the third time, where he started 10th and finished with a top-five run in 2009.
“I’m thrilled to be back in the car with SFR at Kentucky this weekend, especially with NTB and Service Central who supported me at Mid-Ohio,” Rahal said. “I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, and I’m hoping we can give Service Central a great result in the No. 66 machine.”
2. Hinchcliffe hopes to ride high line to success at Kentucky: James Hinchcliffe used to watch Greg Moore drive around competitors on ovals and dream of making high-side passes like his racing hero.
Now a highly regarded racer in his own right, Hinchcliffe has used the inspiration of the late Indy Lights and CART star as a template for success on ovals, applying those lessons throughout his two years in Firestone Indy Lights, including his first oval win at Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 28.
“I learned a lot watching Greg Moore when I was growing up,” the 23-year-old Canadian said. “Greg used the high line, and I was awe struck watching him on an oval. Not for a second, am I pretending to have the gift that Greg had, but I sort of turned (running the high line) into my thing.”
Another strong performance on an oval will help Hinchcliffe in his pursuit of J.K. Vernay for the Firestone Indy Lights championship. The French rookie leads Hinchcliffe by 53 points heading into the penultimate Firestone Indy Lights race and could clinch the Firestone Firehawk Cup by finishing ahead of Hinchcliffe in the Drive Smart. Buckle Up Kentucky 100 on Sept. 4.
“We’d like to take it to the last race and not let J.K. sleep comfortably for the next month,” Hinchcliffe said. “I know championship is a long shot, so all I can do is focus on my own effort. That effort is going really well right now.”
And while Hinchcliffe’s confidence is high entering the race, Vernay has the advantage of knowing that the pressure is on Hinchcliffe.
“We’re showing that we can be competitive on the ovals, and I enjoy the racing,” Vernay said. “After testing in Kentucky and being very quick there, I’m very confident heading into the last two races of the season that we can still win another race or two and have a great result for the championship.”
Vernay’s confidence means Hinchcliffe may have to drive on the high-side, both in the race and in the title race, to get to his goal of winning the Firestone Indy Lights title.
“I was in a Sam Schmidt car at Kentucky last year, so I know how good a car J.K. has. Plus, they’ve been there. We may be behind those guys, but at the same time, I have faith and confidence in my car and I know we can be strong for first practice.
“Kentucky was most my competitive oval last year. I really like it. I just have to give it my best shot and see where it all works out.”
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS CHAMPIONSHIP SCENARIOS:
J.K. Vernay will clinch the Firestone Firehawk Cup if:
· He finishes ahead of James Hinchcliffe, regardless of position.
· Hinchcliffe finishes ahead of Vernay, but fails to gain 19 points or more. (Example, Hinchcliffe finishes 4th, Vernay 5th)
James Hinchcliffe will remain eligible for the Firestone Firehawk Cup if:
· He finishes ahead of Vernay and gains 19 points or more. (Example, Hinchcliffe wins race and Vernay finishes fifth or worse)
3. 200th Race – First street race special to Andretti: One in a series highlighting the 200th Indy Racing League IZOD IndyCar Series points-paying race this weekend.
With four (and occasionally five) drivers competing for Andretti Autosport, it’s understandable if Michael Andretti might be hard-pressed to select one event that stands out in eight seasons of IZOD IndyCar Series competition.
But the former Indy car racing champion is up to the task (after a brief grace period for deliberation).
“Although it is tough to say that anything would be bigger than winning our first Indy 500 in 2005, I actually think the sweep at St. Pete earlier that year is biggest in my mind,” Andretti said of the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series street circuit race. “It was the first race we ever promoted, we won the pole and the race with Marco (Andretti) in Firestone Indy Lights, we won the pole with Bryan (Herta), the race with Dan (Wheldon) and we swept the top four spots in IndyCar.
“The odds of something like that happening to you; the deck is really stacked against you.
“Once we got to the final few laps of that race and Dan took the lead, I wasn’t even paying attention to the front. All my focus was on Bryan in fourth; just hoping he could hold off Vitor (Meira). Bryan had a broken shock or something like that and I knew he had his hands full. But that was the key spot for us. I knew we had the race covered at the front. The only question was whether we could sweep and we did. It was a pretty amazing day.”
Since it started competing in the Indy Racing League in 2003 as Andretti Green Racing, the team has won three IZOD IndyCar Series championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories. It also has fielded cars for the past two Firestone Indy Lights champion.
Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick will represent Andretti Autosport in the 200th IZOD IndyCar Series race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
The team was re-named Andretti Autosport in November 2009 after the former shareholders of Andretti Green Racing completed a transaction that resulted in the restructuring and rebranding of the Indianapolis-based company. Michael Andretti is president, CEO and chairman of the board.
Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, gave the team its first pole start – at Homestead-Miami Speedway in its initial race in 2003. Michael Andretti started second. Three weeks later, at Phoenix International Raceway, Kanaan delivered the first victory. He also gave the team its last victory (of 36) – at Iowa Speedway in mid-June.
Kanaan, who entered in the IZOD IndyCar Series in the 2002 Indianapolis 500 with Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing, also selected the 2005 St. Pete race as his most memorable in the series.
“Sweeping the top four spots at St. Pete in 2005 is definitely my all-time favorite race,” said Kanaan, who has made 129 starts and holds records including consecutive top-10 finishes (22) and consecutive races led (12). “It would be easy to say that it was Fontana 2004 when I clinched my championship, or it was the race in Texas when I won in 7-Eleven’s back yard. People would expect something like that to be my favorite moment.
“To me, the way I look at it, it doesn’t have to be about a win or a championship. I’ve made huge friends in racing and the time that I spend with them is very special. That team, back in 2005 with the four of us – me, Dario (Franchitti), Dan and Bryan – that was a ‘dream team.’ We kept saying that and people didn’t really believe us that much back then. We probably didn’t even realize quite how good we had it right then. But, to be able to do that, it was very special.
“It’s hard enough to go 1-2 not to mention 1-2-3, and we went 1-2-3-4.”
4. Drivers to visit high school to talk safe driving: Three Firestone Indy Lights drivers will join Bridgestone/Firestone’s teen driver safety initiative this weekend by participating in a “Teens Drive Smart” safety program at Carroll County High School in Carrolton, Ky., on Sept. 2.
James Hinchcliffe, Martin Plowman and Stefan Wilson will join the program for the day, which includes a brief presentation, a driver safety quiz bowl, an autograph session for the students, and a parking lot tire inflation check.
“It’s a program we’re excited about,” Hinchcliffe said. “It gives us an opportunity to give something back. Sometimes, it’s easier for teens to hear the message of safe driving from someone closer to their own age, and doing what we do, we know how dangerous operating a vehicle – either a race car or a road car— can be. It’s just a good opportunity to share our knowledge and show new drivers that they should treat road cars the way they deserve to be treated.”
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues Sept. 4 with the Kentucky Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 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 Drive Smart. Buckle Up Kentucky 100 on Sept. 4 at Kentucky Speedway.