By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. INDYCAR announces new leadership structure for Firestone Indy Lights
2. Horto ready to step up
3. Munoz joins Andretti Autosport
4. BHA to field car for American Castaneda at St. Pete
5. Stay up to speed with INDYCAR Mobile 3.0
1. INDYCAR announces new leadership structure for Firestone Indy Lights: INDYCAR announced a leadership restructuring of Firestone Indy Lights, the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder that serves as an essential step for drivers and teams seeking to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Tony George Jr., who has served as the series’ manager of business development, will take over as director of Firestone Indy Lights from Roger Bailey, who retired after more than 25 years in a leadership role with Indy Lights.
Jason Penix, INDYCAR’s manager of grassroots marketing since 2010, will expand his duties as director of grassroots initiatives.
Vince Kremer, longtime team manager at HVM Racing, has joined INDYCAR as Firestone Indy Lights technical director while Tony Cotman will return to race control for the series.
“Tony and Jason have a passion for the series, and I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish in their expanded roles” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “Adding Vince to the Firestone Indy Lights team provides a solid base on the technical side to complement Tony Cotman in Race Control.”
George, 28, is part of the latest generation of the Hulman-George family involved with Indy car racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The eldest son of INDYCAR founder Tony George, he has worked with Indianapolis Motor Speedway or INDYCAR since he was 16-years-old. A graduate of Indiana University, George served internships with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway facilities department and INDYCAR’s competition department with an emphasis on Firestone Indy Lights.
Since joining INDYCAR in 2008, he has been a key figure in developing Firestone Indy Lights’ footprint as the third step in the Mazda Road to Indy, INDYCAR’s developmental ladder, which debuted in 2010.
“Firestone Indy Lights has seen steady growth since coming under INDYCAR sanction, and it continues to grow in the depth of competition and stature as the essential step to the IZOD IndyCar Series,” George said. “It is important to develop young drivers both on and off the track for their careers to flourish. We have aggressive goals for the series, including making it a technological proving ground for manufacturers looking to enter INDYCAR.
“The team that we’re bringing on board this upcoming season is the strongest team we’ve had thus far. With the addition of Vince and the return of Tony [Cotman], Firestone Indy Lights will certainly have the essential backbone it needs to grow as a series and continue to make its mark as the premier ladder series in open-wheel racing.”
Penix, 28, will be the primary contact for the Mazda Road to Indy and continue to manage INDYCAR’s growing relationships with go-karting groups and the United States Auto Club. He joined in INDYCAR as an intern in 2005, and following his graduation from Indiana University was hired in the marketing department full time in 2007.
“Tony and I have worked closely over the last two years in building the Mazda Road to Indy and this is a natural extension of that relationship,” Penix said. “The ladder system has shown its potential already and I’m grateful for the chance to help it grow further.”
Kremer has more than 25 years of experience in auto racing, spending the past 12 years with HVM Racing, where he most recently served as team manager. Kremer started his racing career with Team Penske.
“I am very excited about joining INDYCAR and Firestone Indy Lights,” Kremer said. “It has been a fantastic series from its inception, and I am honored to have the opportunity to grow that tradition. The Firestone Indy Lights program provides a perfect step in the Mazda Road to Indy and I am happy to be a part of it.”
The 2012 Firestone Indy Lights season kicks off on March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Teams recently completed a one-day test at Sebring International Raceway. Other scheduled Firestone Indy Lights Open Tests include March 19-20 at Barber Motorsports Park, April 17 at Auto Club Speedway and May 11 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Firestone Indy Lights veterans Sebastian Saavedra, Esteban Guerrieri, Gustavo Yacaman, Victor Carbone and Jorge Goncalvez return to the grid this season this. Star Mazda champion Tristan Vautier is one the rookies graduating to the Firestone Indy Lights as part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.
2. Horto ready to step up: Since Firestone Indy Lights was established in 1986, four Brazilians have won the series title and gone on to race at the top level of Indy car racing.
Joao Victor Horto to follow the path blazed by of his countrymen Tony Kanaan, Cristiano da Matta, Thiago Medeiros and Raphael Matos in 2012
“I chose to race here because of the Mazda Road to Indy program,” the 21-year-old Brazilian said. “I think it’s a great program for any driver who wants to be an (IZOD) IndyCar (Series) driver. That’s why I chose to be here.”
Horto, who goes by his initials J.V., has slowly adapted to the more powerful Firestone Indy Lights car during winter testing. He was sixth on the opening day of a two-day Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 19 with a best lap of 1:18.3390 on the 2.3-mile road course, a half second off the pace set by 2011 Star Mazda champion Tristan Vautier in a Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.
“I love the Indy Lights car,” he said. “There’s so much power and lot more grip. I’m still learning the car, but really like it. The goal is to improve the car and improve my driving before we get to St. Petersburg.”
Horto, who had a win (Mosport 2011) and eight podium finishes in his two seasons in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. His results in that series and in testing show he’s ready to step up and compete in final step of the ladder before reaching the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“I think I’m ready. The times in testing have proved that,” he said. “I think the biggest difference from Star Mazda to (Firestone) Indy Lights is the power and the aero. There’s more downforce and grip and you can carry so much more corner speed. You have to watch how you use the throttle. You can just jump on the throttle. You have to be smooth to avoid the wheel spin. ”
Horto also has the advantage of familiarity as he transitions to a new series over some of the rookies and veterans he will race against in 2012.
He’s moved up with Juncos Racing – the same team that he’s raced with for the last two seasons in Star Mazda – which is building its new Firestone program around Horto.
“It’s a big help to move up with Juncos Racing,” Horto said. “I know the guys and it’s a great team and environment. It makes moving up easy for me, and maybe for the team as well, since we know each other.
“We know what each other are capable of, and I can’t wait to show it in Indy Lights.”
3. Munoz joins Andretti Autosport: A third Colombian driver will be on the Firestone Indy Lights in 2012.
Andretti Autosport announced it has signed Carlos Munoz and will pair 20-year-old Colombian with AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport’s Sebastian Saavedra.
“We compete in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder to help develop young and talented people, and Carlos is the latest member of this development team,” said Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti. “Having two entries in Firestone Indy Lights allows us to be a stronger contender for the championship and we are looking forward to having Carlos join our effort.”
Muñoz, who will drive the No. 26 Dialy-Ser Firestone Indy Lights car, began his motorsports career in karting in 2002. He has competed in the Formula 3 Euro Series the last two seasons and competed at the famed Macau Grand Prix and Masters of F3. Munoz has competed in European single-seaters since age 15 including seasons in Formula TR and Formula Renault.
“I am really happy to be joining a team with such great history and to be working with the Andretti family,” Munoz said. “I think we can do a really good job and be successful this year. I know that Sebastian (Saavedra) and I will work well together as teammates. I am looking forward to joining everyone and excited to go to St. Pete to start the season.”
4. BHA to field car for American Castaneda at St. Pete: Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian is excited to announce that 22-year-old Troy Castaneda will drive the #28 entry in Firestone Indy Lights for the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting back into racing action,” Castaneda said. “It’s been a long off-season and I’m extremely excited for this opportunity. I want to thank Bryan (Herta) and Steve (Newey), the sponsors and everyone else involved in making this possible. I can’t wait to get out there and show what we can do.”
Since he began racing in 2005, Castaneda quickly progressed up the racing ladder and competed in a variety of racing series around the world. In 2009 and 2010, the American driver qualified to join Team USA at the Rotax World Finals in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. He qualified the highest out of any American in the history of the event.
In 2011, Castaneda raced at Laguna Seca in a Formula Enterprise car, winning by almost 40 seconds and breaking the track record by half a second. He has also been testing an RCR Superlite Eagle Prototype and a Radical Sportscar, in addition to being the official test driver for M&R Motorsports at Infineon Raceway. His successful record on track makes him a great fit for the Bryan Herta Autosport Firestone Indy Lights squad.
The car will feature sponsorship from Forsythe Solutions Group, EMC, Barracuda Networks, and Bariani Olive Oil.
“Forsythe Solutions Group has become a terrific partner to us over the years, and we are very pleased they have brought EMC along to join Barracuda Networks and Troy’s longtime supporter Bariani Olive Oil on the #28 car for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete,” Herta said.
5. Stay up to speed with INDYCAR Mobile 3.0: Don’t miss 0.0001 of a second of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
With the INDYCAR Mobile Version 3.0 exclusively for Verizon Wireless customers, you won’t have to miss a lap with features such as in-car cameras, real-time Timing & Scoring, driver tweets, streaming audio and much more.
INDYCAR Mobile is supported on all Android OS Smartphones and Tablets (except Motorola Devour A555) – and is available in the Android Market, by texting INDY to 3406, dialing **INDY to 3406 or by visiting http://indy.vzw.com.
This just in: INDYCAR Mobile now has a web app for iPad (even iPad3) and iPhone users. Visit http://indy.vzw.com on your device to download.
What’s new in Version 3.0? INDYCAR Mobile has added a 4-in-1 mosaic screen view for all live videos, real-time car track position (“marching ants”) that complements the leaderboard, live driver audio transmissions, photos, historic race video footage, favorite driver and team selection for quicker access, and device notification alerts.
All in all, INDYCAR Mobile Version 3.0 has you covered while you’re on the go, at the racetrack or in your living room.