By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Kanaan quickly makes up for lost time
2. Inside the numbers: Barber
3. Goncalvez has career day at Barber
4. Drive over to INDYCAR’s Car Town
1. Kanaan quickly makes up for lost time: Tony Kanaan has slept on and swept up floors early in his motorsports career. He’s known the capricious nature of the business, the ups (2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion) and downs (not having a ride 10 days before the 2011 season opener).
He’s appreciative of the opportunity with KV Racing Technology-Lotus, respectful of the competition and thrilled to be third in the championship standings after two events.
Kanaan, who recorded a third-place finish in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago, followed with another stirring run in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy. He gained 10 spots on Lap 1 (from 24th on the grid), remained unscathed during the tightly-contested 90 laps and brought home the No. 82 GEICO car in sixth place.
He had predicted a top 15 during a pre-race interview.
“I think we took advantage to pass a lot of cars on the start, and that actually changed my strategy,” Kanaan said. “I have to thank my team. The guys did a great job on the starts. We’re fairly new as a team. If you think about it, we’ve done, what, six pit stops so far this year.
“I struggled all weekend. It was not a coincidence that we had a problem that I was dead last every session. We worked pretty hard. We went to Takuma (Sato) set up after the morning warm up. It was a car that hadn’t been driven all weekend long, and it worked. So I did my thing. We stayed out of trouble and we had a great finish.”
Kanaan, who left Andretti Autosport in the fall after eight seasons when sponsorship from longtime partner 7-11 dissipated, was announced in December as the driver for de Ferran Dragon Racing. But sponsorship for that collaboration didn’t materialize and Kanaan was getting antsy as the season approached.
He hooked up with the Jimmy Vasser-Kevin Kalkhoven-led team, which gladly accepted his leadership and undiminished racing skills.
Though he started 24th of 26 on the grid at Barber Motorsports Park, he wasn’t unbowed.
“I’ve been through so many things that I don’t get like down, down,” he said. “I was mad at myself because I’m like how can I be that last every session. But I never doubt myself. The day that I start doubting myself I should hang up the helmet and go do something else.
“So I was disappointed, but it doesn’t help to be disappointed, because being disappointed is not going to fix the set up. So I tried everything I could on my end to help in the warm up, and nothing that I did worked. So we went to (Sato’s) set up and tried to make it work and that’s pretty much it. Yeah, I wasn’t happy, but the race is a whole different game.”
2. Inside the numbers: Barber: Numbers to note following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the second of 17 events in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
2 – Drivers who have finished on the podium in the first two IZOD IndyCar Series events – Will Power and Dario Franchitti.
4 – Drivers who have finished in the top-five in both races at Barber, including Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitit, who finished second and third, respectively, for the second straight season. (Marco Andretti and Will Power are the other two).
5 – Drivers who have finished in the top-10 in each of the first two events of the 2011 season – Power, Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Simona De Silvestro.
8 -Teams represented in the top 10 of the series point standings.
10 – Positions improved by Tony Kanaan on the opening lap of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Kanaan, who started 24th in the race, gained 18 positions, the most positions gained by any driver. Simon Pagenaud gained 15 positions, while Charlie Kimball gained 11 spots.
15 – Consecutive top-five starts by Will Power.
90 – Laps led by Will Power at Barber Motorsports Park. The winning driver has averaged 92 laps led through the first two IZOD IndyCar Series events this season.
3. Goncalvez has career day at Barber: The fact Jorge Goncalvez has completed all the laps of the his rookie season in Firestone Indy Lights season isn’t that impressive until you realize he’s been racing his No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing car while recovering from a broken leg.
The Venezuelan teen broke his leg in a road car accident near his home in early March. He was back in a race car at the season-opener at St. Petersburg, but struggled for comfort in the car as he adapted his driving style to compensate for his injury.
But 10 days rest and further healing changed the young driver’s performance, especially with his ability to left-foot brake. After qualifying 13th, Goncalvez worked his way through the field and got a huge break when Conor Daly and James Winslow came together on Lap 22.
“We made some changes to the car and didn’t really know how fast we would be,” Goncalvez said. “We got a really good start today, that was great. Then the spin happened in front of me and with cars stacking up, I just found a hole a got through.”
The result was a fourth-place finish for the rookie, who moved into eighth in the tightly packed point standings. Goncalvez hopes to find more and more pace as he gets more comfortable in the car and his leg heals.
“In P4, this is really good for me,” he said. “At this point I just didn’t want to make any mistakes. I’m very happy with fourth today. The car was really great to drive and we look forward to keep improving.”
4. Drive over to INDYCAR’s Car Town: Invite friends into your garage to see your collection of IZOD IndyCar Series cars and even allow them to practice pit maneuvers or compete in the Indy 500 Challenge.
It’s possible through the popular Facebook game Car Town, which starting Arpil 12 will feature the IZOD IndyCar Series. Launched in August 2010, Car Town is a social game in which players collect and customize virtual cars, build their dream garage and help their friends do the same.
The launch of the Car Town in-game integration coincides with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17 — the third race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season — and offers the availability of cars from 13 drivers, including reigning series champion Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. Also available is the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Event Car, which honors the 100th anniversary of the first running of the race.
In the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Garage users can select a car driven by top IZOD IndyCar Series drivers and complete the Indy 500 Challenge with the help of a pit crew they select from among their Facebook friends or by spending in-game points. Players can even race against the clock and compete against other Car Town pit crews, striving to top the Indy Pit Stop Challenge leaderboard.
Additional in-game features and INDYCAR brand assets are scheduled for release throughout the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
“We’re only scratching the surface in terms of the ways the virtual world of social gaming can bring new experiences to players and new marketing opportunities to companies and brands across the spectrum,” said Dennis Suggs, chief creative officer of Cie Games, whose headquarters office overlooks the Long Beach Grand Prix course. “The sky’s the limit in terms of the creative executions brands can deploy to break through to new audiences using social media and social games.”
Car Town has attracted 8 million players, making it one of the most in-demand games available on Facebook.
“We’re very excited about this association and the opportunity to present our cars, drivers and the Indianapolis 500 to fans through this popular interactive application,” said INDYCAR director of marketing Kasey Coler. “Car Town is providing INDYCAR a desirable audience and a platform that effectively engages the user with the INDYCAR brand. INDYCAR racing gives the Car Town players an opportunity to experience the fun and excitement of owning and driving an IndyCar and an opportunity to be part the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.”
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series continues with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17 on the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 17 on the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. with the Long Beach 100. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS.