By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Two teams get grid penalty for Long Beach
2. If you missed it – Ryan Hunter-Reay Conference Call
3. Brooks team returns to Firestone Indy Lights at Long Beach
1. Two teams get grid penalty for Long Beach: The No. 7 Lotus Dragon Racing and No. 27 Andretti Autosport cars will incur 10-grid position penalties for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 as the result of unapproved engine changes pursuant to rules 15.3.1 and 15.6.1 of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook.
The Chevrolet engine in the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car driven by James Hinchcliffe developed an issue during a team test April 9 at Infineon Raceway, which requires a fresh engine to be installed prior to the first practice session April 13 on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn Long Beach temporary street circuit. Similarly, the Lotus engine in the No. 7 Lotus Dragon Racing car of Sebastien Bourdais was replaced following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1.
Hinchcliffe, the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, has top-10 finishes in both races this season. Bourdais, a three-time winner on the Long Beach course, provided Lotus with its initial top-10 finish (ninth) in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
They are the fourth and fifth such penalties this season.
At St. Petersburg, Fla., Honda Performance Development engineers advised an engine change in the No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP car driven by Simon Pagenaud following the initial practice session. He started 16th in the 100-lap race on the 1.8-mile street course and charged to sixth place.
At Barber Motorsports Park, the Lotus engine in the No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA car was changed before the initial practice session on the 2.38-mile road course. The Lotus engine in the No. 22 Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car was swapped out after practice. Oriol Servia, driving the No. 22 entry, made up 13 positions to finish 13th in the 90-lap race.
2. If you missed it – Ryan Hunter-Reay Conference Call: Earlier today, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay participated in a media conference call to discuss this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. A full transcript and a broadcast-quality MP3 are available at media.indycar.com. Selected quotes from the interview are below.
Q. You had that third-place finish at St. Petersburg, kind of a disappointing weekend at Barber. Has the season been what you expected with the new package, new cars and engines?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I didn’t really know what to expect coming in. I don’t think anybody did really going into St. Pete. We’ve been really surprised with the quality of the racing, it’s been excellent, both at St. Pete I think and at Barber.
Like you said, we had a little bit of an issue with the last stint at Barber going from eighth or ninth, wherever we were, back to 12th.
But, no, it’s been a good start to the season for us. Last year at this time we were 26th, 24th in points, and now here we are at sixth in points, only a few points out of third, and going into my favorite road race of the year, road street course race of the year, which is Long Beach.
Q. You mentioned this weekend’s race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The place has been special to you both professionally and personally. I think if not for a little late-race issue last year, you could be shooting for three wins in a row. What do you do coming into Long Beach to recapture the magic you had in 2010?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Really we have to keep our eye on the ball with the setup on the car. We can only do what we can do. We have to make sure every session we go out, every lap we turn is better than the previous and constantly develop the car.
Even if we find ourselves in a position starting fifth, we’re obviously gunning for the pole, but really need to keep our eye on goal, and that’s to win the race. That happens on Sunday and Sunday only.
Every session will be going out trying to make the car better. It’s still such a learning process with this car. Every street circuit we go to, every road course we go to needs different settings from the car. That’s what we’ll be concentrating on. With the weather we may have this weekend, it’s going to make it that much more difficult because the track is going to be constantly changing.
Yeah, we’ll see what we have and take it as it comes. But I’m really, really enthused to be back at Long Beach.
Q. You were a past winner back at Long Beach. What is it about Long Beach that is a special place for you?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, off the track it’s special for many reasons. It’s where I had my first big start in racing in the Atlantic Series. It’s where I met my wife, where we got engaged. It was my mom’s favorite race of the year, was for sure Long Beach, and in 2010 winning it.
Other than that, I absolute love it. The track is awesome. From a driver perspective it couldn’t get much better. The fan attendance and atmosphere at the race is second to none.
Q. You finished seventh in series points the last two years, if I’m not mistaken. How important is it to you in your heart of hearts that one of these seasons here you’re at the end, in the last race or two, competing for the series championship? Do you think that’s a strong possibility here in the near future?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I absolutely do. It’s number one on my list. That’s what has to happen. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. That’s why we’re racing IndyCars. That’s why I’m here.
But this is my third year with the team. It’s time to make that step. The first year, in 2010, we started out with a partial schedule, not knowing race to race, a lot of uncertainty. As you said, we went out and won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach that year, which was a real shot in the arm for the team and our effort.
2011 was another great season, but we just had some issues, whether it was me being overaggressive on the track, a mechanical failure at Long Beach which kept us from a win. Things just weren’t clicking.
We’re going to try our best to make it all work this year. We all know we can do it. I feel absolute confidence within myself I can get it done. We just need to be consistent.
3. Brooks team returns to Firestone Indy Lights at Long Beach: Brooks Associates Racing will make its return to Firestone Indy Lights, fielding its No. 8 car for Welsh driver Alex Jones in the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“Alex has done a couple very successful tests with the team, and we’ve been waiting patiently for his managers to complete a sponsorship deal that puts him in the car for the season,” team owner John Brooks said. “Everyone’s been working hard to put this together and we’re thrilled to return to the series at Long Beach. I’ve run here for 31 years.”
Jones, 22, is veteran of British Formula Ford competition and has tested British F3, ItalianF3 and Firestone Indy Lights cars over the past two seasons.
“‘I am really looking forward to the opportunity I have got with John (Brooks and his team,” Jones said. “We have gelled really well in testing, and I feel we can put on a good show at Long Beach.
“For me it will be my Indy Lights debut and with the minimal testing we have had I am just going to focus on keeping my head down and working hard with the team to improve each time out on track and build for the future.”
The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 on the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. The race will be telecast live at 3:30 p.m. (ET) by NBC Sports Network. The IMS Radio Network will also carry the race live on XM Channel 94 and Sirius 212. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. It will be telecast by NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. (ET) on April 19.