By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. In case you missed it: Dreyer & Reinbold teleconference
2. IZOD IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy drivers celebrate Thanksgiving
3. Star Mazda champion Tristan Vautier signs with Sam Schmidt Motorsports
4. Honda Indy Toronto tickets on sale Nov. 23
5. Hawksworth signs with Team Pelfrey for Star Mazda Championship
1. In case you missed it: Dreyer & Reinbold teleconference: Dreyer & Reinbold team owners Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl were guests on today’s INDYCAR conference call. The pair discussed the team’s decision to join Lotus for 2012 and its plans for the upcoming season. A full transcript and MP3 audio of the call is available at www.indycar.com/media.
Selected quotes are below.
Q. What do you gentlemen like in Lotus? Why did you make this move with them particularly?
ROBBIE BUHL: Well, I think one of the things, as I said at the opening, you know, their focus of how they are going to rebrand their sports car and how they promote that and market that is going to be through the IndyCar program.
So they are going to be pretty vested in doing everything they can to make sure their teams are successful and healthy. I mean, that’s a good thing from a commercial side of it.
But they are an engineering company. And to tap into the resources of what they already have in place and kind of on the payroll there, we are hoping that that really provides us some additional engineering support as we continue, as Dennis said, as we kind of are rebranding ourselves Team Lotus, DRR and really kind of going under a different initiative here of really strengthening our engineering department and kind of building out from the technical and engineering side of our company, and then complementing it with just a good operations department and commercial department.
Q. You talk about engineering changes. Obviously that means Larry Curry, it was announced he won’t be returning next year. So when you say looking to bolster the engineering side, does that mean having additional IndyCar engineers or Lotus engineers or both? And do you know when there will be an announcement?
DENNIS REINBOLD: We have one guy starting next week, and he’s going to be basically a systems type of engineer. So he will be overseeing the entire technical package and componentry just to make sure everything we touch is assembled as well as we can get it.
And so we are going to do quite a bit of testing coming up. So it’s going to be a pretty test intensive off season, so we are really looking forward to getting on track, as well as getting our guys to touch and measure and look all over the new chassis to figure out what makes it tick so we can go a little quicker.
And we will be adding some other people. I know earlier on it was said that we are going to be two full time cars and one more at Indy, that’s still up in the air. We have not signed a driver yet. That’s something that Robbie and I are working on right now, and we are hoping to take care of that the next few weeks.
And we don’t know if we are going to be one or two cars. We would like to be two cars, and we are set up for that. So that’s our goal.
Q. Dennis, you’ve acknowledged that you didn’t have the greatest year in 2011, so there’s a bit of a performance gap that needs to be closed, but you’re also working with an engine manufacturer that’s new to the series. So once you get on track you and start testing, what is the priority? Speed or reliability?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Both, obviously, are important. The reliability is something that we’ll work closely in testing with Lotus. Hopefully that’s not an issue, and we can focus more on speed. That’s a little more fun to work on.
But yeah, you try to make sure that all of the like Robbie said before, until you get the cars out on the track and until we lineup at St. Pete, there’s a lot of unknowns that are going to come into the 2012 season, not just for us, but for the entire field. You do the best you can in testing and you trust that Lotus, as well as Honda and Chevy are going to make a good product, as well as Dallara, and it’s going to be raceable. So you go out and do whatever you can.
We’ll probably the reliability is going to fall upon Lotus more so than us, and then the speed out of the car is going to fall on us more than Lotus. Although Lotus will help us with the chassis development as well.
Q. One more question for you. You guys have both been in the series for more than a decade as tea, owners and principles. There’s definitely an excitement for the new engine and chassis package in 2012. Can you recall a time in your tenure as owners in the series, which stretches back to 1999 and 2000, where there has been, A, this much change, and B, this much excitement about an equipment package? We have had equipment packages before during your time but doesn’t seem to be as extensive as maybe the new package for 2012. Do you have any comments on that?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Yeah, I think it’s most exciting time that I remember. We have three engine manufacturers coming in, and a brand new chassis, and that’s all happening at one time.
And then we’re a year away from a body kit package that each of the manufacturers, it looks like, will design for the car. So we are going to have plenty of challenges facing us.
This past year was great in a lot of ways. We had incredible crowds at most of our races. And so there’s a lot to build on for 2012. We have got some pretty good momentum. I know our TV ratings are up significantly over where they have been.
We work hard to just kind of keep our head down and control what is within our control and working with our sponsors, there’s a level of excitement that they have as we go forward to a brand new opportunity in 2012.
ROBBIE BUHL: And another variable that’s going to be kind of new to us is and not new to everybody, but we are going back to turbo charged motor. They are a smaller displacement. We are going to the V 6. So that’s a big thing just historically looking back.
But this whole idea of maybe controlling the horsepower of the cars as we transition from short ovals to big ovals to street and road courses I think really is going to be an interesting twist to how we manage our product and how it looks on track. It’s going to be exciting.
2. IZOD IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy drivers celebrate Thanksgiving: IZOD IndyCar Series driver Jay Howard, Star Mazda drivers Nick Mancuso and Zach Veach, and USF2000 driver Shannon McIntosh shared their plans for Thanksgiving with IndyCar.com.
NICK MANCUSO: Typically, my hometown friends and I start the festivities with a “Turkey Bowl” flag-that-becomes-tackle football game Thursday morning. Then we descend upon our respective homes and I try my best to help/stay out of my Mom’s way as she cooks up a storm. My parents’ house has always been the traditional gathering place, with anywhere from 10-25 people showing up hungry and ready to eat.
JAY HOWARD: I will be at my wife Courtney’s parents’ house eating tons and watching NFL in the man cave! I am actually also playing some flag football as well!
ZACH VEACH: Fortunately, I am going to be home for Thanksgiving this year. It’s always real special for me to spend time catching up with my close and distant family. I’m always thankful for how supportive they are—they constantly surprise me with how much they know about the racing world! Going to my grandparent’s house for dinner with the whole family is my favorite tradition. It’s just a day to slow down, enjoy the company and get embarrassed by all of the stories about the things I did when I was little.
SHANNON McINTOSH: Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it back to Ohio for Thanksgiving and this will be the first time I have spent this holiday away from family. :( With so many things going on, I opted to wait a few weeks to see them at Christmas time. I will however, be spending it with my trainer and family in St. Pete.
I typically do a five mile run called the Turkey Trot with my Grandpa on Thanksgiving morning in my hometown of Miamisburg, Ohio. It’s a great way to start the day and forget about having to be guilty when you eat later in the day!
3. Star Mazda champion Tristan Vautier signs with Sam Schmidt Motorsports: Just two months after winning the 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear title, Tristan Vautier has already aligned himself with a championship-caliber Firestone Indy Lights team.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which has won four of the last six Firestone Indy Lights titles, including the 2011 championship with Josef Newgarden, announced Nov. 18 that it has signed Vautier for the 2012 season.
Vautier received a Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to advance to Firestone Indy Lights after he won the Star Mazda Championship this past season. The Mazda Road to Indy Program, in its third year of existence, aims to help talented young drivers advance their careers and ultimately move to the top level of open-wheel racing—the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“When Mazda established our ladder program in 2007, we had drivers exactly like Tristan in our minds—drivers that can get the job done in the car and out of the car,” said John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports. “We are so proud to be associated with the IZOD IndyCar Series on the Mazda Road to Indy and Tristan will be a terrific representative in 2012.
“Sam Schmidt Motorsports was the champion’s choice again for this coming season, and after such a successful campaign with Conor Daly in 2011, it appears Tristan will be in good hands for a run at the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Championship.”
In the two years that the scholarship has been awarded, both Star Mazda champions have chosen to compete with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The fact that the team has produced the five series champions since 2004 makes it a popular choice for drivers looking to emulate that success.
“Tristan brings a wealth of experience and success to the team, and I’m excited to have him in the No. 77 car,” said Sam Schmidt Motorsports owner Sam Schmidt, whose team scored wins with four different drivers in 2011. “I look forward to working with another of the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship winners. It’s a good program, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Vautier spent two seasons in the Star Mazda Championship. In 2010, he won two races, finished on podium three times, had five top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and finished fifth in the championship. This past season, he had four wins and six podiums with JDC Motorsports and never finished outside the top five.
“First off, I’d like to express how thankful I am to Mazda, INDYCAR and Sam Schmidt for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime,” Vautier said. “It’s an honor to know that I will be representing the Mazda Road to Indy one step below the IZOD IndyCar Series next season, and I can’t wait to be in the car. Knowing I will drive for a championship-winning team such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports makes it feel even better, and the guys can be sure I’ll give it my all. Now, I have a lot of work ahead of me and tons of things to learn.”
Learning is something that Vautier has stressed as very important to him leading up to his first season in Firestone Indy Lights. He recently proved his potential in the larger, more powerful car in an open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late October.
When deciding which team to go to for the 2012 season, Vautier said that Sam Schmidt Motorsport’s success in Indy Lights was not the only thing that attracted him to the team. He looked ahead to the future and what he hopes to one day accomplish in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“Sam Schmidt Motorsports has a successful IZOD IndyCar Series structure, which makes me hope to be able to develop something on the longer term if I get strong results and do a good job out of the car,” he said.
Now that he has signed with a team, Vautier looks forward to focusing on other aspects of preparing for 2012. On his agenda is learning more about the car and building up his endurance for Firestone Indy Lights races, which are longer than races in Star Mazda. He can also take a second to realize how quickly his career has developed in such a short period of time.
“These two months went by really fast, and this strong ladder system makes things move very quickly for the championship winners,” he said. “It’s only November, and I’m already signed at the next level.”
4. Honda Indy Toronto tickets on sale Nov. 23: The 2012 edition of the Honda Indy Toronto will mark a new milestone in auto racing with the introduction of a new IZOD IndyCar Series chassis and the return of engine manufacturer competition.
The event returns to the streets of Toronto July 6-8, 2012. Tickets will be available for sale on November 23, in time for the holiday season.
“Thanks to growing sponsorships, vendors and quality racing, the event continues to deliver a unique experience,” said Charlie Johnstone, Vice-President and General Manager, Honda Indy Toronto. “The addition of a new chassis and engine competition will heat things up even more.”
The 2012 Honda Indy Toronto will continue to bring a diverse schedule of events for Canadian race fans. The marquee event will continue to be the IZOD IndyCar Series, with the support series races to be announced at a later date.
Tickets start at $30 for a single day general admission pass on Saturday and peak at $423 for a weekend Gold-level grandstand pass. To purchase tickets or to view a complete list of prices and ticket packages, visit hondaindytoronto.com/tickets or call 1-877-503-6869.
5. Hawksworth signs with Team Pelfrey for Star Mazda Championship: Team Pelfrey has signed 20-year-old Englishman Jack Hawksworth for the 2012 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear season.
Hawksworth adds even more momentum to the surging team, which had an extremely successful 2011 season with drivers Connor de Phillippi and Nick Andries who finished second and third in the points standings, respectively—a finish that was enough to take the 2011 Team Championship. Overall, the team won four races, had 13 podium finishes, captured three poles and posted the fastest race lap five times.
“We are delighted to welcome Jack to Team Pelfrey,” team manager Geoff Fickling said. “He is exactly the type of driver our team looks for – quick, intelligent, dedicated, and easy to work with. It’s great that he’s made the decision to pursue a career of it in the states, and we look forward to great things this coming year, and feel that Jack has an extremely bright future within the Mazda Road to Indy.”
Hawksworth joins the team fresh off of a fourth-place finish in the Formula Renault U.K. Championship in 2011. Throughout the season, he scored one win, four podium finishes and one pole position. He also competed in the series during the 2010 season—his first year of car racing—finishing third in the championship.
A native of Bradford, England, Hawksworth began karting in 2004 at the South Yorkshire kart club in Junior Max. After spending a year at the club level, he moved on to the National and International levels where he eventually captured the 2006 European Junior Max title. Towards the end of his karting career, he won the Senior Max British Kartmasters Grand Prix championship in 2010.
In late October, Hawksworth made his way out to Indianapolis for the two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test. He was fastest in the afternoon session of the second day of Star Mazda Championship testing.
“I’m delighted to have agreed terms to compete for such a successful outfit,” Hawksworth said. “I really like the way Team Pelfrey works. Their preparation is excellent, and it’s good to be in such a professional environment. I can’t wait to get back in the car, and I believe we can carry our testing form forward into next year.”