By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. If you missed it: Foyt-Honda teleconference
2. Honda To Power A.J. Foyt Racing in 2012
3. Dallara’s U.S. base build ahead of schedule
4. New Edmonton course offers action, speed
1. If you missed it: Foyt-Honda teleconference: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and Larry Foyt of A.J. Foyt Racing and Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman participated in a teleconference today to discuss the announcement that A.J. Foyt Racing will be powered by Honda engines in 2012 (See release in note No. 2). A full transcript and MP3 audio of the call is available at www.indycar.com/media. Selected quotes are below.
Q. Larry, how important for the team is it to keep the consistency of having Honda power for 2012?
LARRY FOYT: We think it’s very important. That’s what we’ve been trying to build within our team is consistency. And not only that, we’re trying to get back to the winner’s circle.
We really feel like Honda knows how to win, just like A.J. does. We all have a common goal, so that’s why we’re kind of excited to be part of the Honda family. We think together it’s going to get us back where we need to be.
Q. Erik, I know you added Target Chip Ganassi Racing in May. Can you talk about what A.J. Foyt Racing brings to the table for 2012?
ERIK BERKMAN: Well, everybody knows that A.J. and his team are part of this IndyCar community and have been forever. We like to think that going forward together we’re going to make a strong team.
As we continue to maybe add another team or two and build up the Honda ranks for the season starting next year, it’s going to be a good opportunity for us to create a new energy. We see the Foyt team as being the team that has an awful lost followers, a lot of fans. It represents the values of Indy car racing.
We’ve been talking about how we can work together to make each other better, and I see opportunities for Honda to be better through what the Foyt organization can bring to us. And similarly we’re going to work together to help them become a race team that can get back into the winner’s circle.
Q. Since you’ve got one of the good sponsors of the series with ABC, would this indicate you’re going to be around for a while with this announcement, maybe a multi‑year deal and maybe a second car?
A.J. FOYT: Well, that’s one thing we’re working on real quick right now is a second car, which I think would help us. But ABC’s been a great sponsor of ours. I’m very good friends with Diane Hendricks and also David Luck, and it’s been a very good partnership. We look for them to be around for quite a few years yet.
Q. How many teams do you expect to have, and how many cars? And I ask that because do you expect A.J. to have two cars?
ERIK BERKMAN: Well, I think A.J. answered the question on whether or not he’ll have two or not. He says he’s working on it, and let’s hope that he can do good by that.
For me, we’re obligated, like the other manufacturers to service up to 40 percent of the field. That’s what we’ve agreed to. That doesn’t say you can’t go beyond 40 percent, but if you’re less than 40 percent, there can be some pressure put on you by the series to supply more people that are waiting in the wings and willing to pay and that sort of thing.
But it’s our intention to not go over that 40 percent. We don’t want to try to go off and cherry pick all the good teams and stack the advantage by going and getting 50‑plus percent of the field. That’s not our intention.
So that 40 percent of the 25 cars, you’ve got 10, and that’s what we’re planning right now. We’re not going to go rush to go get those ten‑plus either. You can expect another announcement fairly soon.
But that will get us up into that, oh, let’s say, seven category. Then, eight, nine, and 10, we’re in no hurry to go rush off and fill those up. We have lots of team owners and drivers, for that matter, talking to us and wanting to figure out what’s going to happen.
I’ve been telling them all just hang on there. There is time yet. And as it winds down and the season winds down, maybe we’ll be complete or maybe we’ll go a little longer into the off‑season.
But once we get to about ten, that’s because we have some confidence that there are, in fact, five full seasons out there for next year, if there’s more, then we’ll have to bump up that.
We don’t know what Lotus is going to do yet. They haven’t announced the first team. And Chevy hasn’t announced anybody but Penske. So we’re waiting to see the chess match play itself out a little bit.
Q. So if you’re looking at seven, then you’re counting on four Ganassi and one at Foyt? Is that how your numbers are counting at the moment?
ERIK BERKMAN: That’s not what I said, but ‑‑ (laughing) I want you to guess a little bit. You know, whether a next announcement is one and two or whether A.J.’s one or two. I guess you can kind of come up with all kinds of combination.
Q. A.J. and Larry, how do you think, the choice of different engines this year, how do you think that will play out for everybody?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think that’s great. That way there you either make a good choice or you make a bad choice. I think it’s great. Any time you have competition, I don’t care what it’s in, football, baseball, basketball, racing, it always makes it better. That’s what makes racing good is when you’ve got competition.
Q. Kind of back the way it used to be, and that’s not a bad idea. The aero packages, how does that play out? Do you have different choices on those?
LARRY FOYT: Well, I think you will whenever (INDYCAR) decides what they want to do and lets the manufacturers know. I know Chevrolet’s talking about air packages. I know Honda’s talking air packages, and I know Lotus is talking. We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out.
At the present time, they’re all talking but nobody’s done nothing at the present time.
2. Honda To Power A.J. Foyt Racing in 2012: American Honda and its Honda Performance Development (HPD) subsidiary will power A.J. Foyt Racing in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, HPD and the team announced today. Under terms of the agreement, HPD will provide its new, turbocharged 2.2-liter Honda Indy V-6 engines to all Foyt entries in the Indianapolis 500 and the season-long IZOD IndyCar Series.
“A.J. Foyt is a living legend in American racing, and it’s an honor to announce the continuation of our association in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” said Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development and vice president, corporate planning and logistics, for American Honda.
“A.J. shares many traits with Soichiro Honda, the founder of our company. Passionate, dedicated men, their names became synonymous with racing in their native lands, and each has served as a symbol of his country’s passion for motorsport around the world. Today, we consider A.J. to be a venerable member of the Honda ‘family,’ and we look forward to our continued association with both the man and his team.”
Designed at HPD’s Santa Clarita, California, facility, the all-new Honda Indy V-6 engine is now under development, with initial track testing scheduled to begin in August. A.J. Foyt Racing is the second team to align with Honda in preparation for the return of OEM competition to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012. In May, Honda announced that Chip Ganassi Racing, winner of the last three IndyCar drivers’ championships, would be its anchor team beginning next year.
“I am really looking forward to working with Honda next year,” commented A.J. Foyt, whose number 14 car will again be sponsored by ABC Supply in 2012. “I think they will provide us with the best engines in 2012 because they have the best resources … their facility in California is unbelievable. I was very impressed!
“The other thing is that I really enjoy working with the Honda management team. I think they have been very fair and honest with our team and you don’t see that too often in this day and age. When people treat us right, I don’t forget that.”
“We are thrilled to be working with Honda Performance Development again next year,” added Team Director Larry Foyt. “They are such a professional organization and we really like being part of the Honda family. They promote a culture of winning, and as we continue to grow as a team, we believe that they can help us move forward to reach that common goal.
“In all honesty, we’re proud to be one of the Honda teams as competition among the engine manufacturers returns next year. I strongly believe we can contribute to their efforts, and since they are partnering with us, I think they believe it, too.”
3. Dallara’s U.S. base build ahead of schedule: Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon is at Dallara Automobili’s headquarters in Parma, Italy, this week for a seat fitting in preparation for the first round of 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Safety Cell testing in early August.
The first prototype chassis will arrive in Speedway, Ind., by the end of the month for assembly and mating with the Honda V-6 test engine. Early in 2012, the public will have the opportunity to see the processes – from design to hitting the racetrack – at the Dallara/Indy Racing Experience factory and engineering facility near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Stefano de Ponti, U.S. director of operations for Dallara, said construction of the 100,000-square-foot, $7 million building is ahead of schedule and should be completed by the end of the year. Dallara Automobili was selected to produce the next generation of IZOD IndyCar Series chassis in July 2010. Ground was broken for the facility on Nov. 16, 2010, in the heart of the town’s redevelopment zone.
“If I go back one year ago we didn’t know what the final results would be,” he said. “Now it’s a dream coming true. This first step is almost done and we’re looking forward to the activities we’ll be running in this building.
“The next step is to allow the racing fans to see what is happening inside. There will be different activities – from the entertainment side and teaching side — showing the racing processes from the design and engineering of the car up to production and when the car hits the racetrack. Mr. (Gian Paolo) Dallara cares about education.”
A replica of the multi-million dollar simulator that Wheldon is trying out in Italy also will be housed in the new facility by 2013. Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport were selected to carry through the initial phase of testing of the IndyCar Safety Cell on ovals and road courses through September. Engine manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus will have the opportunity to test beginning in mid-October.
“We’ll have two months of testing, and once we receive the feedback from the test we will start the pre-assembly of all the parts in Italy to be delivered here,” de Ponti said.
Soon, there will be a spacious facility for all facets of the project.
4. New Edmonton course offers action, speed: There’s isn’t a particular seating area that Tony Cotman would recommend to Edmonton Indy ticket buyers – mainly because there isn’t a restrictive sightline in the expansive City Centre Airport circuit.
That’s one of the fortuitous byproducts of the reconfigured 2.556-mile, 13-turn course, which incorporates the closed East runway. The city shuttered the runway 10 days after the 2010 race weekend. Cars will run counterclockwise.
“The (1.96-mile, 14-turn) course one was good and fast initially but it was too hard to pass on,” said Cotman, president of NZR Consulting, which has overseen temporary street course design and builds for INDYCAR. “One of the big things we needed to focus on with this course was how to make the show better, and I think we’ve achieved that.
“What’s so unique about this track it doubles back on itself so much that no matter where you sit you can see the entire track. It’s a spectacular area to Turn 1 surrounded by grandstands and people are right on the track.”
The straight from left-hand Turn 13 to the left-hand Turn 1, which incorporates pit lane, is the second-longest on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar to Sao Paulo, Brazil (right-hand turns leading into and out).
“I think that Sao Paulo proved that long straights work — at least for these cars,” said Cotman, who made a site visit last week. “There has been a lot of surface repair on portions of the track, making it relatively smooth for an airport. The passing zones are intended to be enticing, but if you make a mistake there’s plenty of room to get back in. I think it will be exciting and I expect extremely good racing.”
Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Alex Tagliani had the opportunity to drive the course during a promotional tour last week (albeit in a passenger vehicle) and offered “Amazing” as his initial reaction.
“Open-wheel racing with wings is very unique. You need long straightaways for people to draft and do a lot of braking to be able to pass,” said Tagliani, who will compete in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car. “Having the track built in a way where people in the grandstand are going to have a visual of three different opportunities for that is very unique.
“When you sit in the grandstand in Edmonton, you’ll see crazy speed and amazing action. IndyCar really needs places like this for passing. It’s going to absolutely be one of the best courses we’ll have this season.”
Scott Dixon is the defending champion in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. The first IZOD IndyCar Series practice is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. (local), following the initial Firestone Indy Lights session of the weekend.
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Edmonton Indy on July 24 at Edmonton City Centre Airport. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. 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 Edmonton Twin 100s at Edmonton City Centre Airport on July 23 and July 24. The July 23 race will be telecast live in High Definition at 4:30 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS.