By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Hire Heroes USA, 7-Eleven, Dr Pepper to back Conway at Indy
2. Sam Schmidt and Jay Penske Partner for Historic Indy 500 entry for Tung
3. Inside the numbers – Sao Paulo
1. Hire Heroes USA, 7-Eleven, Dr Pepper to back Conway at Indy: Hire Heroes USA, 7-Eleven Inc., the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees and Dr Pepper Snapple Group have joined forces to provide primary sponsorship for the No. 27 car of Mike Conway at the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
Hire Heroes USA’s mission is to offer transition support, job-search assistance and job-placement services to those who have honorably served in all branches of the U.S. military — and to their spouses — to reduce veteran unemployment.
The sponsorship program is part of a bigger marketing initiative that includes an in-store component at participating 7-Eleven stores. A portion from the sale of specially-marked products during May will be donated to Hire Heroes USA. Tags designating the donation amounts will be featured prominently throughout the store along with a special display of participating products.
Andretti Autosport’s entry at Indianapolis will be entered as the Hire Heroes USA/7-Eleven/Dr Pepper car.
“Memorial Day weekend is a natural time for Americans to reflect on the sacrifices made by generations of military veterans,” Hire Heroes USA president Brian Stann said. “It is easy to forget that hundreds of thousands of those same veterans – who fought for the American Dream – are struggling in the nightmare of long-term unemployment.
“Hire Heroes USA is dedicated to the mission of ending veteran unemployment and restoring pride to those that formerly wore their country’s uniform. Together with 7-Eleven and Dr Pepper, we are pleased to support Mike Conway and the No. 27 Andretti Autosport team as they drive awareness of this incredibly important cause.”
2. Sam Schmidt Motorpsorts, Dragon Racing partner for historic Indy 500 entry for Tung: Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung is hoping to become another racecar driver to earn a special place in the Indianapolis 500 record books.
Tung, driving the No. 8 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry for Schmidt Dragon Racing, will become the first driver from China to attempt to qualify for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” He tested an IZOD IndyCar Series car last fall in Sebring, Fla., with the former FAZZT racing team which is now Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM). The test was funded by Bowers & Wilkins, sponsor of SSM’s No. 77 IndyCar team.
“I am very excited to take part in the Indy 500 with Schmidt Dragon Racing,” Tung said. “The support for me in China has always been tremendous, and it’s a great honor to be the first Chinese driver ever to take part in this special race, especially being the 100th edition. I realize it will be tough since it will be my IndyCar debut, but Sam Schmidt Motorsports has shown great results in the last few races at the Indy 500, and Jay Penske and the Dragon Racing team has proven they can deliver a highly competitive racecar, so I am confident to have a good chance to qualify for the race.”
Tung is currently in his second year as a Formula 1 test driver for the Lotus Renault GP team and has helped develop the team’s 2011 R31 car. He started his racing career in karts at age 14 and quickly moved up through the open-wheel ranks, doing most of his racing in Europe. In addition to winning the Asian Formula BMW championship in 2003, Tung won the German Formula 3 championship in 2006. He has more than 20 wins in various rear-engine formulas.
“We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to compete at Indy with Ho-Pin,” Schmidt said. “He did a fantastic job at the Sebring test and I’m confident we’ll be able to get him up to speed. To be the first team involved with a Chinese driver is huge. Our future success lies in our ability to generate commercial interest in our program, and what better way than to have a direct connection to the world’s largest population? Also, having the ability to partner with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing ensures a quality effort both on and off the track. Hopefully, the No. 8 will bring us tremendous good fortune.”
This year is SSM’s 10th anniversary of fielding a car in the Indianapolis 500. SSM was formed in 2001 after Schmidt’s own driving career ended in 2000 after a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. The team’s best result was a sixth-place finish with Richie Hearn in 2002. Schmidt is no stranger to success at Indianapolis, having taken young drivers Thiago Medeiros, Wade Cunningham, Alex Lloyd and Jaime Camara to victory lane at Indy as part of his Firestone Indy Lights team’s record 39 victories.
Penske started his IZOD IndyCar Series team in 2007 under the Luczo Dragon Racing banner, with partner Steve Luczo – Chairman and CEO of SeaGate Technologies. Penske has fielded cars at Indianapolis for drivers including Ryan Briscoe, Tomas Scheckter, Raphael Matos and Davey Hamilton. Though entered by Schmidt Dragon Racing, Tung’s car will be prepared and staffed by Dragon Racing.
“Once again, I am thrilled to be part of the Indianapolis 500, especially for the 100 anniversary,” Penske said. “I have always had deep respect for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and couldn’t be happier in partnering with Sam. We look forward to an electrifying month as we work to get Ho-Pin qualified for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
3. Inside the numbers – Sao Paulo: Numbers to note following the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented Nestle, the fourth of 17 events in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
1 – First top-10 finish for JR Hildebrand, who moved up 12 positions to 10th at the checkered flag.
2 – Two-man championship points chase heading into the Indianapolis 500, with Will Power leading reigning title-holder Dario Franchitti by 14. Third-place Oriol Servia is 44 points arrears of Franchitti.
2.8 – Average finish of Franchitti through the first four races.
3 – Power, Franchitti and Servia are the only drivers to record top-10 finishes in all races this young season.
3.5 – Average finish of Power.
4 – Different teams represented in the top 5 at Brazil, and four different teams represented in the top 5 of the championship standings.
13 – Positions advanced by E.J. Viso, who started 26th (didn’t make a qualifying attempt because of damage to car sustained in practice). … Drivers who have recorded at least one top-five finish.
17 – Finishing position for Vitor Meira, who for the second consecutive year was the top-finishing Brazilian.
19 – Indy car pole starts for Power, tying Danny Sullivan for 14th on the all-time list (he passed Rex Mays with the PEAK Performance Pole Award at Brazil).
21 – Drivers who have recorded at least one top-10 finish.
23 – Laps led by Takuma Sato – his first in the IZOD IndyCar Series. … Cars running at the finish, a season high.
36 – Consecutive races running at the finish for Danica Patrick, extending her series record.
98 – Top-five Indy car finishes for Franchitti, breaking a tie for 12th with Helio Castroneves. Johnny Rutherford (99) is up next on the list.
99.8231 – Quickest lap in seconds recorded by Simona de Silvestro (on Lap 36).
135 – Consecutive races started by Tony Kanaan, who could tie Scott Sharp’s series record at Milwaukee.
157 – Laps led in 2011 by Will Power. Power has led 57 percent of the laps, so far.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the 100-Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 at the 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, SiriusXM channel 94 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27. The race will be televised live by VERSUS.