By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Stooges? AA’s driver dynamic is tight knit
2. Saavedra leads final day of testing at Barber
3. Happy Birthday, Oli
4. Reality stars to serve as Grand Marshals, sing anthem at St. Petersburg
1. Stooges? AA’s driver dynamic is tight knit: James Hinchcliffe stealthly and quickly laid claim to Moe, which left teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay to select from Larry, Curly, Shemp and Joe as nicknames.
There’s not been confirmation from the Andretti Autosport duo, but maybe a couple of wigs will appear trackside before the initial practice session of the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this week.
“We have sort of nicknamed ourselves the Three Stooges because we just walked right in and it’s like we have been working together for years,” said Hinchcliffe, the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year who joined Andretti Autosport over the winter to drive the Chevrolet-powered No. 27 GoDaddy.com car. “The driver dynamic I think was the strongest element when I first got there. I had some learning to do with some of the engineers and mechanics, but I have known (Andretti) and (Hunter-Reay) for a long time. It was like going home.”
Hunter-Reay, who won at New Hampshire last year in his second full season with Andretti Autosport, said the rapport off the track filters to the cross-referencing of on-track information through offseason testing. With the new Dallara car and Chevy engine package, openness is crucial to overall team success.
“We give each other a hard time all the time,” Hunter-Reay said. “The atmosphere in the team is great amongst us. But we have only done two tests together so we will see. You really can understand what (the other drivers like) in the car compared to you and how you can apply it to your set-up and how you can apply it to the bigger picture. The engineers get a pretty good feel for that early on.”
Andretti, who will make his 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start in the season opener on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit, said it takes “two seconds if it’s the right attitude” to mesh with teammates.
“I can say we’re three guys with the same goal in mind,” said Andretti, who recorded his second series victory last year at Iowa Speedway. “We all want to win races. We’re all big picture thinkers. We’re going to work together. We’re all going to be truthful to each other and we’re going to work together to the last lap because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to beat these bigger teams.
“It’s all business with us, and the business is racing. You could be the best friends off the track and not get it done on the track, but we’ll be able to do both.”
2. Saavedra leads final day of testing at Barber: It didn’t take Sebastian Saavedra long to reacquaint himself with a Firestone Indy Lights car.
The former IZOD IndyCar Series driver, who will return to the Firestone Indy Lights with AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, posted the quickest time of both days with a 1:16:7046.
The 21-year-old Colombian, who spent time in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010 and 2011, said he is getting more and more comfortable with the team, which he last drove for as a rookie in 2009.
“It’s great to be back with Andretti Autosport,” Saavedra said. “I remember we had a great test here in 2009, and I wasn’t to race with them here, but right now we have a very competitive car.”
Another returning driver, Victor Carbone of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, was second fastest overall with a time of 01:17.0544 that he posted in Practice 5 on Tuesday morning. Gustavo Yacaman of Team Moore Racing, who was fastest at the Sebring Open Test, was third fastest. Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammates Esteban Guerrieri and Tristan Vautier rounded out the top five.
Firestone Indy Lights ran a combined total of 1205 laps during the two-day event in its first official series test of the season. The 2.3-mile road course plays host to the second race on the series’ 2012 calendar, which will run on April 1.
3. Happy Birthday, Oli: Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Oliver Webb didn’t need a cake or a party. As he wrote on Twitter: “No better way to spend your 21st Birthday than racing around a beautiful Barber race track in an 200mph machine!”
The young Englishman, who recently relocated to Indianapolis, spent the milestone at Barber Motorsports Park learning his new machine before the season opener at St. Petersburg. On the final day of testing, Webb was one spot away from fastest in the second morning practice.
“For me, about 70-80 percent of the tracks I’ve never seen until the Friday of practice,” Webb said. “So it’s good for me to have the guys on the team [who have experience].”
4. Reality stars to serve as Grand Marshals, sing anthem at St. Petersburg: Actor and ABC’s Season 14 Dancing with the Stars competitor Jack Wagner and his dance partner Anna Trebunskaya will serve as the Grand Marshals for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.
The pair will perform standard Grand Marshal duties, including giving the famous “drivers, start your engines” command to start the race.
A talented actor and recording artist, Wagner has starred in multiple television series and TV movies, as well as more than 40 theatrical productions around the world. He first won the hearts of audiences in his iconic role as rocker Frisco Jones on ABC’s daytime series “General Hospital”. After stints on Broadway and as part of the original “Melrose Place”, Wagner most recently joined the company of “The Bold and the Beautiful”.
This will be Trebunskaya’s ninth season on Dancing with the Stars, which debuts tonight on ABC. With former partners, Olympic Champion Figure Skater Evan Lysacek and Football Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice, she was the second place finisher. Fans can vote for Wagner and Trebunskaya starting tonight by calling 800 868 3402.
“Each year, we challenge ourselves to come up with an event even bigger and better than the last,” said Tim Ramsberger, Vice President and General Manager of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “With INDYCAR Entertainment’s help in securing a top-level of star wattage with such high-profile guests, this year’s edition is definitely shaping up to be one of our most exciting yet. We look forward to seeing everyone coming out to have a great time.”
Singing sensations and Celebrity Apprentice castmates Clay Aiken and Aubrey O’Day will perform the national anthem for the IZOD IndyCar Series race. Aiken first charmed audiences on “American Idol” and has gone on to establish a career that includes multi-platinum selling albums, an appearance on Broadway and co-authoring his bestselling inspirational memoir. O’Day made her national debut in the hit MTV show “Making the Band” and was chosen personally by renowned hip-hop artist and producer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs for a spot in the band later named Danity Kane.
Once all is said and sung, Holly Wheldon will honor her late brother, Dan Wheldon, by waving the green flag to start the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Holly will also present the first place trophy to the driver that wins the race.