By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Cunningham to drive second A.J. Foyt Racing car at Indy
2. Viewership up on NBC Sports Network
3. Franchitti the coach on SAFEisFAST.com
4. INDYCAR adds third engine support engineer
1. Cunningham to drive second A.J. Foyt Racing car at Indy: Wade Cunningham has had success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Firestone Indy Lights. Now the 27-year-old New Zealander is aiming for success in the Indianapolis 500 with A.J. Foyt Racing.
Cunningham will attempt to make his first Indy 500 start, driving the Honda-powered No. 41 ECat/ABC Supply car. Alfe Heat Treating will be an associate sponsor on the No. 41 car for the second year in a row.
“Driving for A.J.? He’s a legend,” Cunningham answered when asked about driving for Indy’s first four-time winner. “A.J.’s from a different era but he’s raced front engine roadsters at the Speedway and ended with the turbo-charged CART Indy cars, so he’s had an amazing career, and his is a very storied team, so it’s quite an honor to drive for him.
“Indy means more to me than anything else. Winning at Indy in the Firestone Indy Lights Series is the only thing that kept my career on track so it’s important to me to go there and do well in IndyCar and prove that the results can translate.”
Foyt certainly hopes those results will translate. In five of Cunningham’s six starts in the Firestone Freedom 100, he won three times, and placed second and third. Incidentally, Foyt fielded the winning car for Ed Carpenter in the inaugural running of the race in 2003.
Cunningham will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program on May 10. Three days earlier, he will join full-season driver Mike Conway in testing the No. 14 ABC Supply car at Texas Motor Speedway in the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test.
ECat is an Indianapolis-based high-performance electric bike company whose target market is the law enforcement community.
2. Viewership up on NBC Sports Network: Viewership on NBC Sports Network through its two IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcasts is up 9 percent over the same number of races in 2011.
The 38th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 attracted 45 percent more viewers (468,000) than the 2011 race, according to the network. Will Power of Team Penske won the race by 0.8675 of a second over Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports.
NBC Sports Network is televising 10 IZOD IndyCar Series races this season, in addition to qualification shows, Indianapolis 500 qualifications and Carb Day coverage and the new “INDYCAR 36,” which shadows and IZOD IndyCar Series driver for 36 hours.
The network will air the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on April 29 (noon ET). ABC is televising six races, including the 96th Indianapolis 500 on May 27.
IZOD IndyCar viewership on NBC Sports Network (formerly VERSUS) has grown by double digits each of the past two seasons.
3. Franchitti the coach on SAFEisFAST.com: Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti will answer questions next week posted on SAFEisFAST.com — a free resource offering video tutorials on safety, fitness, mental skills, race craft, career development, sponsorship, marketing and more to assist the careers of drivers in all forms of racing.
The website was created by the Road Racing Drivers Club in conjunction with the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety and Sustainability.
Since its launch last month, there have been more than 90,000 views of the online tutorials with visitors representing 105 countries. IZOD IndyCar Series rookie driver Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was the first instructor.
4. INDYCAR adds third engine support engineer: Frank McGrath has joined INDYCAR as an engine support engineer. A former associate with Honda Performance Development, McGrath also built Toyota Atlantic engines for Quicksilver RacEngines and was the senior engine builder and oversaw the BMW street performance program at Dinan Engineering.