From Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Rookies carry confidence into Indy testing
2. If you missed it: Scott Speed, Bobby Rahal, Jay Howard and Bertrand Baguette Teleconference
3. Foyt brings Coyote Red back to Indy
4. Kimball, Rahal have feature assignments
1. Rookies carry confidence into Indy testing: James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand have soaked up advice about taming the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from driver coaches Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr. They’ve competed on the 2.5-mile ribbon of asphalt with the tricky corners in the Firestone Freedom 100.
Still, it will be a significantly new experience for both during the Rookie Orientation Program on May 12 and their initial go-round of the four-lap qualification process a week later.
“Even though I’ve driven around there before, I’m trying to approach it like it’s the first time because the difference between the Lights car and IndyCar around there I think is going to make it feel like a completely new place,” said Hinchcliffe, who secured a podium finish in the 2010 Firestone Freedom 100 at the Speedway. “The speeds that we’ll be going and the general feel will be so different, so I’m trying to keep an open mind and acknowledge that I’m going in as much as a rookie as everyone else there and trying to build up slowly.”
Also scheduled to participate are James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing), Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing), Ho-Pin Tung (Schmidt Dragon Racing), Pippa Mann (Conquest Racing; the 2010 Firestone Freedom 100 pole sitter) and Scott Speed (Dragon Racing).
The evaluation program consists of turning consistent laps at four speed phases on the 2.5-mile asphalt oval: 200-205 mph (five laps), and 10 laps each at 205-210 mph, 210-215 and 215 or more. INDYCAR president of competition Brian Barnhart expects drivers to complete at least three phases during the session. Opening Day, which is open for practice for all cars, is May 14.
“The format for the month is good for us because it gives us a lot of track time and doesn’t force us to sort of rush the issue and get the grip on one of the most difficult racetracks in the world,” added Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 06 Sprott car for Newman/Haas Racing. “For me, to be on the entry list for the 100th anniversary race is beyond words.”
Hinchcliffe, who didn’t compete in the season opener, is three points off the Sunoco Rookie of the Year pace set by Hildebrand through the first four races (all on road/street courses). Conquest Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra, who competed in the ‘500’ last May, is seven points out of the rookie top spot. Kimball (minus 11 points) and Jakes (minus 14) also are contenders.
Hildebrand, driving the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car, is coming off his initial top 10 in the series on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 2. He’s been running at the finish in all four events, but has had the disadvantage of an average starting position of 22.
“There has been more of a struggle than we all would have liked, but the big thing for us is that we’ve been able to power through in a sense in the races despite some lousy weekends otherwise,” said Hildebrand, who posted a runner-up finish in the ’09 Firestone Freedom 100 during his Firestone Indy Lights championship season. “We’ve had some definitive bright spots in different sessions and our pace in the wet (in Brazil) was as good as anybody. We really haven’t put together a whole weekend on any of these road courses thus far, but we’re learning an incredible amount every weekend and moving forward.
“Dealing with adversity sometimes tears everybody apart in a competitive environment, and with this team it’s gone the other way. We’re working closer and everybody’s trying to help each other.”
Hildebrand made two IZOD IndyCar Series road course starts in 2010 and now moves into the first oval stretch of the season with confidence in himself and the team’s experience.
“Heading to Indy is a much more known quantity for us as a group; the team has had great success there over the last several years,” said Hildebrand, referring to Panther Racing’s consecutive second-place finishes the past two years with Dan Wheldon and Vitor Meira. “That’s something we’re looking forward to – going to a place where we know the setups.
“For me, it’s massively exciting to compete in my first Indy 500. It will be my first time going 220 (mph). I have Buddy Rice, who has won the race and has the experience, driven the cars in recent history coming in as my teammate. I think that is an all-around confidence-inspiring situation going into (practice).”
2. If you missed it: Scott Speed, Bobby Rahal, Jay Howard and Bertrand Baguette Teleconference: IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Scott Speed, Bertrand Baguette, Jay Howard and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and current team owner Bobby Rahal participated in a teleconference today to discuss the opening of track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin preparations for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500. Below are selected quotes from the call. A full transcript and MP3 audio of the call is available at www.indycar.com/media.
Q. Talk about this deal with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing, how did that come about?
SCOTT SPEED: Well, I got a text like about a week ago I guess, asking if I was available to run the Indy 500. And at the time I had a conflict on qualifying weekend with the Iowa Nationwide Series race.
And the next morning Jay called me and basically assured me that the equipment they have is top‑notch and that they have got a real solid program, and convinced me that basically I needed to really try to get out of my Nationwide deal.
And I basically called Kevin Harvick and, you know, explained to him the opportunity that I had and I needed to make sure that it was going to be no problem with his sponsors and the stuff he has going on on the Nationwide Series side that I had already committed to. He was able to get ‑‑ he was basically able to replace me and me leaving that program wasn’t going to cause him too much pain.
So I was able to basically get out of the Nationwide Series race and fully commit to the Indy race.
Q. Tomorrow is the rookie orientation program, you have laps around the oval in stock car and Formula 1 car, as well, you’ve been on part of the oval. What are your thoughts on racing in IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
SCOTT SPEED: Well, I think it’s going to be completely different and there’s no question it’s going to be a really big learning experience for me. There’s going to be ‑‑ it’s going to be nothing like the stock car for sure and running around the ovals; it’s probably a different experience.
Q. Have you driven an IndyCar?
SCOTT SPEED: I drove an IndyCar on a road course before I started racing in GP2. Red Bull wanted me to get familiar with a heavier car, and I came over and tested it for a day with Eddie Cheever Racing at Sebring, and other than that and what we did a couple of days ago at Chicago, I haven’t driven one, no.
Q. How did you feel about this ‑‑ is this a one‑time deal for you in the 500, or is there more for you in the hop?
SCOTT SPEED: Certainly I think we are committed for the Vegas, the old $5 million up for grabs. Beyond that, it’s something that is still up in limbo a little bit.
It’s certainly a crossroads in my career where it was a really tough situation at the beginning of this year with nothing lined up, and having to search for something, and you know, it’s one of those things where I need to take my time and pick a really good opportunity for next year and make a good decision and Chase down the right thing. That’s something that I haven’t 100% decided on which direction I should go.
Q. I believe Jay Penske, he was ultimately going to have you team with Paul Tracy for at least a year, maybe Paul’s final year next year. Are you cool with that idea or do you really have a compelling need to get back to NASCAR?
SCOTT SPEED: I have a compelling need to get back into something that’s competitive enough to win, for one thing. Formula 1 is hard enough to be in when you’re not in ‑‑ when you’re not with a team that can win. And I really enjoyed the time that I raced in the Truck Series and Nationwide Series, and we had a chance to win every weekend and I miss that.
I can promise that wherever I go, it will be something that I can win races in, because I certainly have a lot more fun doing that race.
Bertrand, talk a little about your Month of May Program, obviously having a very good rookie season last year and being back for a second year, does it change how you approach the Month of May?
BERTRAND BAGUETTE: Yeah, for sure, it changes everything. Now I know what to expect, so like you said, last year was my rookie year. It was a tough year because I had discovered everything, the Indy 500, the circuit. It was difficult because it was my first time in America, so now I know what to expect. So I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully it will it be a good month for us.
Q. Obviously you have not driven a car yet this season, so Saturday probably can’t come fast enough for you. You have to be looking forward to getting into a car.
BERTRAND BAGUETTE: That’s for sure. I mean, winter has been very long. Last time I was in an IndyCar was for the Miami race last year. So five, six months without driving an IndyCar, so it’s quite long. I’m really happy that Saturday is coming, so I’m really happy to have one week to get back in the car, one week to get in the Indy mood. So I think it will be long enough to get back to speed and hopefully qualification will go okay.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the team you’ve aligned yourself with this year. You’re with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which is a team that won the Indy 500 in 2004. What’s it been like working with Bobby Rahal and his team?
BERTRAND BAGUETTE: I’m really proud to be working with Bobby’s team. I discovered the boys two weeks ago in Columbus, and I was really impressed. They have very big facilities, they are very motivated people, and like you said, they know how to win this thing because they won it in 2004. I’m really proud to be part of this team, and I’m sure that we will be able to do a very good job.
Q. You made the reference of getting in the Indy mood, can you expand on that a little bit? What are you referring to there?
BERTRAND BAGUETTE: Well, from my side, getting in the Indy mood is quite different from my European mood. I need to get back in the American mentality.
To get back to the Indy mood, that means I need to get back to my oval points (ph), I need to get back in touch with my engineers, and then we need to speak about the setup. So it’s all about that. Once you are in Europe, it’s completely different to America. So like I said, I need to get back to my Indy mood, is maybe my American mood. So it’s about like where I was last year.
Q. Behind maybe isn’t the right word, but how tough is it to step in and just do one race? You were there last year and stuff, too, but how difficult, or a challenge is that, to get up to speed, so to speak?
BERTRAND BAGUETTE: Well, it’s quite a big challenge. I think it’s a little bit easier to do it on an oval compared to road course. A road course, you need to ‑‑ it’s always harder to get back up to speed on road course than ovals. The fact that it’s an oval, it’s a little bit easier. Yeah, it’s very hard. It’s the first time I get to do that. It’s the biggest race of the season for a lot of the drivers so, we have to be quick, we have to be quick, up to speed.
Like I said, we have one week of testing, so we’ll be able to take our time and get back up to speed. And if there wasn’t this week of testing, I would say it would be nearly impossible but with that week, we’ll have more time to get back to speed, and I think it should be okay
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by the co‑owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Bobby Rahal. We thank you for joining us.
Bobby is a three‑time IndyCar champion, won 24 races including the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Obviously that was 25 years ago you won the Indy 500. What do you remember about that Month of May?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, for sure, I think going into the month, we had been pretty competitive in the front row in ’85 and second row in ’83 and led the race prior to that. So I think we always thought we would be competitive if we had a chance.
I think the thing that hung over all of us was ill health of Jim Truman. And I love ‑‑ well, I don’t know if any of us really felt any undo pressure like, oh, my God, we’ve got to do this because Jim’s in such bad shape. I think always in the back of our minds, we knew that this was going to be Jim’s last race.
But having said that, as I said earlier, I don’t think we did anything different. I think we just kind of got a very good setup on the car on race day. Grant Newberry was my engineer, and he had done ‑‑ we had not actually had a very competitive start to the year. We had had some reliability issues.
But Grant was, or is, a very sharp guy, and he just ‑‑ we had a car that had I think on average was quite a good car. You could adjust it, and of course we ended up winning the race.
It was kind of a bittersweet experience, frankly, because it was Jim’s 51st birthday actually the weekend of the race, and then, of course, it was delayed a week, and he really summoned I think all his strength to be there, because he was in just very bad shape. He hung it out. He was tough. He stuck it out during the pit; it was a pretty warm day if I remember correctly.
Like I say, it was bittersweet, because he just knew ‑‑ I mean, I’m so glad that we were able to win. To realize a victory, a dream for someone else is something very few people have the chance to do and we did that, the team did that for Jim that day, and as I said there, was always the same kind of hanging over the victory. There was not much of a celebration, put it that way.
But in the end, we did what we went there to do and it was a great month for us.
THE MODERATOR: You had another special Month of May in 2004 with Buddy Rice, and this Month of May you bring two quality drivers with you, Bertrand and Jay Howard, to the Speedway. How much are you looking forward to being back the Speedway with these two drivers?
BOBBY RAHAL: While Rahal Letterman Lanigan has not been in IndyCars on a consistent basis over the last several years, I think each time we’ve come to the Speedway we’ve been pretty darned competitive.
Last year of course, after the first round of qualifying, we had split the Penske and Ganassi teams, and I think a lot of people were a little bit surprised by that. But I think for me it was just a recognition of ‑‑ that this team is a darned good team. We have got good people on it.
And you know, at the time I told Scott Roembke, or Scott and I told Steve Dixon who was there because Scott and I were at Laguna Seca for an ALMS race. I said, okay, we are done, that’s it, forget it. And you know, our goal is to be in the top 11.
And I have to tell you, our goal is the same this year. The first round of qualifying, our goal is to be in the top 11, and that’s a big goal. That’s tough, because when you look at, I mean, geez, there’s three Ganassi cars, there are four Ganassi cars, three Penskes, and that’s seven of the 11 right there, and you’ve got a bunch of other good people there.
So to be in the top 11 is going to be a real accomplishment. But our goal and I think we have always had good race cars come race day and so having the guys we have, you know, here in the cars, they have proven that they can do that it. And so I see no reason why we can’t figure in the race.
Now I know we have a very good crew, most of whom, if not all of them, have IndyCar in the experience in the days when we were beating Penske and Ganassi, so you know, I’m optimistic. I think it’s going to be ‑‑ I think the weather, it’s going to be interesting how much running time we actually get, because I think that could be the real trick to the first week. But I’m confident we have the right drivers and we have the right people running the cars and I think we should be competitive.
THE MODERATOR: I know you would like to see Bertrand or Jay Howard win the race, but if you can’t, seeing Graham win on your 25th anniversary would be special, as well.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, yeah, obviously it would be. I think that would be unbelievable. I mean, I think it he’s going to be tough. I don’t think there’s any question. The Ganassi team is a tough, tough team, and they have got four really good opportunities. So to beat any of them are going to be difficult.
Obviously if Graham were to be fortunate enough to win the race, what a tremendous thing it would be for our family. But I have say, my head is going to be ‑‑ my head is going to be down helping Bertrand, and Scott Roembke is going to be doing his thing. Yeah, I think I’ll miss most of it frankly. But it would be pretty cool. But at the same token, you know, our job is to win, too. So we are going to do whatever we can do to win and that’s just the way it is.
THE MODERATOR: Yeah, I know last year had to be a disappointment not qualifying for the race so obviously how special would it be for you to be in the Indy 500 this year and erase all that disappointment?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, there’s no words that can describe it to be honest. Being with Rahal Letterman Lanigan and having Sam Schmidt teamed up together and running the program for me is a dream come true for me.
And you know, I feel like I’ve paid my dues and been in some cars that have not quite been competitive enough, and just from what I’ve seen from being around all of these guys, I’m really, really confident and anxious to get on track.
So you know, it doesn’t matter if I win the 500 this year, what happened last year will never go away. I will never forget it. I’ll never be all right with it. But I’m looking forward and yeah, like I say, really excited and really, really confident; I’m happy.
THE MODERATOR: Adding to the confidence and happiness is knowing that Service Central has come aboard to support you again for this season, and obviously you’ve joined a team as capable as Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I can’t thank Paul and those guys enough at Service Central. They have been a great sponsor and they were great last year, they were very patient through hard times. And I’m really grateful for them to help me and, yeah, I can’t say enough good things about them.
3. Foyt brings Coyote Red back to Indy: Longtime Indianapolis 500 spectators/fans might do a double take when they see the No. 41 ABC Supply car on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 14 (Opening Day for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500).
Bruno Junqueira will be driving the A.J. Foyt Racing entry, whose paint scheme hearkens back to Foyt’s 1967 and 1977 Indy 500-winning cars with the distinctive Coyote Red color and the car numbers set on a white circle. On the ’77 car’s nose, the number 14 was centered in the upper half of the small letter ‘g’ — the logo of Foyt’s longtime sponsor Jim Gilmore. A depiction of the car’s paint scheme is above.
Foyt’s signature color is actually warm poppy red that he first used in 1967 when he won the Indy 500. That was the same year that he used the No. 14 for the first time after finishing 13th in the standings and experiencing his first winless season in 1966. Foyt went on to win the 1967 championship — his first as a team owner and fifth as a driver. His cars remained Coyote Red for 20 years.
Junqueira, who has been competing in the American LeMans Series this year, will get in more laps at the Speedway this weekend than he did in qualifying in 2010 (his initial laps came on Bump Day). After only seven laps, he qualified with a four-lap average speed of 225.6 mph.
Junqueira’s teammate and fellow Brazilian, Vitor Meira, is driving the No. 14 ABC Supply car that — although still red, white and blue — pays homage through its design to Foyt’s first Indy 500 victory 50 years ago.
4. Kimball, Rahal have feature assignments: CNN will feature Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball in a report relating to his driving in the IZOD IndyCar Series with type 1 diabetes at 8:50 a.m. (ET) May 24. Rebroadcasts are scheduled for May 27, 28 and 29.
Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing driver Graham Rahal will be featured in an upcoming issue of Cosmo magazine in a piece highlighting bachelors in each state.
The team announced May 11 that it has partnered with Colt, the leading manufacturer and designer of firearms, to be an associate sponsor on Rahal’s No. 38 car for the Indy 500. This partnership highlights the 100th anniversary of the Colt 1911 and Indy 500.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the 100th 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.