By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Rookie title to be decided at Las Vegas
2. Deadline to enter GO DADDY INDYCAR Challenge approaches
3. INDYCAR’s Ironmen take on in-season challenge
4. Carpenter adds another accomplishment
1. Rookie title to be decided at Las Vegas: The IZOD IndyCar Series championship isn’t the only title that will be decided at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year award will be decided in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda.
California’s JR Hildebrand and Canada’s James Hinchcliffe also have had highlights in their inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series seasons, and the Firestone Indy Lights graduates will take their Sunoco Rookie of the Year duel – six points separation — to the 1.5-mile Vegas oval.
Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing car, vaulted past Hildebrand in the standings with a season-best-tying fourth place at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2.
“Certainly it’s nice to go into the last race of the year a little bit up (in points), but at the end of the day there is still a lot that can happen,” said Hinchcliffe, who did not compete in the season opener in March. “As you can see JR was ahead of us on track at one point during the day and so many things can happen to throw you off. It just proves how tough these races are; it’s really about being there at the end. Obviously, I would rather be ahead than behind but there is still another 300 mile race to get through.”
Hildebrand, runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 in May, started fifth and was running as high as second at Kentucky in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car. A Lap 140 pit lane incident caused the team to lose a lap and Hildebrand finished 20th.
“The National Guard guys gave me a really good race car,” he said. “On the second run, toward the end of the run the car was still hooked up. After the incident in the pits, we ended up having a little trouble getting the car sorted because we had to change the wing, and then we were never in a position to get that lap back.”
2. Deadline to enter GO DADDY INDYCAR Challenge approaches: The checkered flag for entries for the GO DADDY INDYCAR Challenge is about to fall.
Entries for the contest, in which a lucky fan will split a $5 million jackpot with 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon should he win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Oct. 6. The winning entrant will also receive a trip to Las Vegas to watch Wheldon compete in person.
The odds won’t be in Wheldon’s favor as he’ll start the 200-lap race from the rear of the star-studded field of 34 cars in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car jointly entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian.
But if Wheldon takes the checkered flag, he and the sweepstakes winner will pick up their checks in Victory Circle.
“When you look at the depth of the field it’s going to be incredibly tough,” Wheldon said. “I feel we’ll have a very fast race car. I think we learned (at Kentucky) over the weekend that you need everything right to be able to move forward. We need to work on the race car’s balance a little bit. Vegas is going to be a totally different track and I think it’s going to be more Texas-like.”
3. INDYCAR’s Ironmen take on in-season challenge: During their recent trip to Japan, Vitor Meira and Tony Kanaan built a survey of the 2.983-mile Twin Ring Motegi circuit into their road work for the day – a brisk run around mountaintop venue.
It’s all part – one-third actually – of their preparation for the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 8.
Both IZOD IndyCar Series drives have competed in multiple Ironman 70.3 events, including the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Fla., in November. This will be their first full Ironman competition – 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, followed by a 112-mile bike along the lava fields of the Kohala Coast and finally a 26.2-mile run on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway.
Meira and Kanaan were invited to participate in the 33rd annual event by the World Triathlon Corporation, owners and organizers of Ironman, that features a field of 1,800 – professionals and amateurs who qualify or are selected by lottery – in men’s and women’s age groups from 18 to 74.
“I didn’t think twice. Well, I did after I started training. Wow,” Meira said. “It looked like triple and quadruple training. It’s hard. Countless times we head out for a 100-mile ride and in the heat in Miami it’s brutal. I did have my doubts when you’re tired. You really appreciate how hard racing is when you have to train the next day and the day after a race.”
They began training, focusing on volume instead of intensity or speed, in March and began tapering Sept. 26. In between were 16 IZOD IndyCar Series races and they’ll quickly turn around from the adventure on the Big Island to compete in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“This part, the tapering, is the best because you feel strong, rested and ready,” Meira continued. “It’s a little bit of speed workout, a little intensity, not much volume. We began with long rides, building a good base layer. Then we started speed intervals until two weeks ago. We had one volume day each week for each area.
“We ran 20 and not the extra six miles because the last third of the run in a triathlon there’s nothing you can do that will prepare you for it. It’s just going through the pain. It’s more detrimental to do a full marathon in the training; you lose more than you can gain because you start to consume you’re body.”
They consulted fellow Brazilian Leandro Macedo, a professional triathlete, during their six-month training. Both should recover more or less in time to get behind the wheel of their cars for the first practice session on the 1.5-mile oval on Oct. 13.
“My legs won’t be recovered,” said Meira, 34. “Muscle, tissue and ligaments, it takes two months. Neurologically, it’s about three days if you hydrate, take your salt and eat well. Even before agreeing to it we consulted if we’re going to be down for the Vegas race.”
And competing in the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami, joining IZOD IndyCar Series drivers such as Alex Lloyd and Bruno Junqueira and Firestone Indy Lights driver Gustavo Yacaman, on Oct. 30 isn’t out of the question.
First, though, is the “main event,” as Kanaan christened it. They arrived in Hawaii earlier this week and, along with media obligations, will bike and run portions of the course and swim each day. Of course, they’ll leave time to relax and enjoy some of the culture.
The goal is to finish what they started, which shows the mettle of an athlete.
“I’ve been racing for almost 28 years, and to me, you can always finish a race and see why it didn’t go well,” said the 36-year-old Kanaan. “Triathlon, you look at yourself, say, ‘OK, I’ve got to train a little more.’ It’s only up to you.
“This is like the Indy 500 of their sport. I don’t do it because I want to be the best triathlete in the world. I’m not even close. I do it because it keeps me on a tight leash to be disciplined. My focus, my stamina, it helps a ton. The way I’ve been active for so many years, I would never be right if I stopped. My body hurts more when I don’t work out than when I do.”
4. Carpenter adds another accomplishment: Ed Carpenter already etched his name into the Firestone Indy Lights record books as a full-time competitor in the series when he won the first Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Several years removed from that accomplishment, he made series history again at Kentucky Speedway
Carpenter, who raced in the in the INDYCAR-sanctioned series from 2002 and 2003 Indy Lights series and finished third in the points championship both years, became the first full-time series graduate to score an IZOD IndyCar Series victory.
Unlike many of the drivers in Firestone Indy Lights today, Carpenter did not move up through a program like the Mazda Road to Indy or race in Europe before he joined the series—he came straight from the USAC short track racing. Firestone Indy Lights was a crucial part of his transition to Indy-style cars.
“Especially on the superspeedways and high-speed ovals, there’s so much race craft that goes into it,” Carpenter said. “Knowing how to position your car around other people, racing clean and respecting other guys at those speeds—Indy Lights does a great job at preparing guys for that if you’re looking to transition.”
In Firestone Indy Lights, Carpenter had the opportunity to be the first driver to race in an Indy Lights race and an IndyCar Series race in the same weekend at Chicagoland in 2003. After much searching, Carpenter was told that finally some extra sponsorship money had come about to fund a three-race stint with PDM Racing in the IndyCar Series that season.
He passed his rookie test with flying colors, aided by a little bit of experience testing before in previous years. Not only did he just race in both, he finished a close second in the Indy Lights race and 13th out of 22 cars. He even made it into the top five at one point in the IndyCar Series race, which was eventually won by Sam Hornish Jr.
“The first time I got in an IndyCar Series race,” Carpenter said, “I had the confidence, ability and knowledge coming out in Indy Lights to be competitive my first start.”
Even though he was well prepared for his first IndyCar start, Carpenter still had an Indy Lights race to compete in that weekend. Though he wanted to be competitive, he was hoping things would go smoothly to ensure he could be in the best shape to race in the IndyCar Series event. Instead, he ended up in a heated battle with fellow Indy Lights competitor Mark Taylor. After the two cars almost made contact several times, he was getting worried.
“Everybody’s thinking, I can’t get in a wreck here, because I might not be able to race the IndyCar Series race,” Carpenter said. “Even though I was running for the championship in Indy Lights, the IndyCar Series race was more important at that point because I wanted to make sure I did a good enough job to make a statement to get a ride for the next year.”
That mindset is shared by many of the drivers in a developmental series like Firestone Indy Lights. Even after championships have been decided, drivers must still push themselves to perform well in order to attract the interest of teams in higher levels. Fortunately, with the bushel of talent currently racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series from Firestone Indy Lights, those elite teams are starting to pay attention.
“James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Raphael Matos before them—guys are coming out of Indy Lights prepared,” Carpenter said. “I wish there were more opportunities than what there are, but I think it’s very obvious that Indy Lights is doing a great job at preparing guys for the step up when they get their opportunities.”
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Las Vegas Indy 300, the main event of the IZOD INDYCAR World Championship Presented by Honda, on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live by ABC at 3 p.m. The race will be broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on XM 94. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Las Vegas 100 on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.