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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Andretti and Petty On Board For Two

Returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2010 will be John Andretti and Richard Petty Motorsports, in a two race deal that will see the team run both May races. It will be their second year together, and the first time they will pair for multiple races.

Andretti will run his first IndyCar race since last year's Indianapolis 500 on May 1, when the series hits Kansas. He will then compete at this year's 500, which will mark his 11th start at Indy if he qualifies.

This year, however, Andretti and RPM will not pair with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to put their No. 43 Window World Dallara-Honda on track. Instead, John's cousin Michael put together a deal at Andretti Autosport to field the car, further strengthening the ties between the first families of stock car and IndyCar racing. Andretti's extra resources also gave the team the opportunity to run an extra race.

The No. 43 will look very similar to last year's car, featuring the trademark Petty blue and day-glo red that made Petty's STP-sponsored stock cars so iconic between the 1970s and 1990s. Sponsor Window World has a relationship with Andretti dating back to last year's Daytona 500, and for the second year in a row will back him in both major American auto races.

While the deal is fantastic news for RPM and both Andrettis, it leaves J.R. Hildebrand, last year's Indy Lights champion with Andretti, on the sidelines for Indy, at least in the immediate future. Hildebrand recently set up an IndyCar test with the team at Barber Motorsports Park, and was one of the rumored choices to run the team's fifth car in the 500. Hildebrand also tested a Formula 1 car a few months ago, and was coveted by multiple IndyCar teams this offseason, but none could put together a deal for him.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Morning After: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

A collection of thoughts sparked by yesterday's Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil:

GOOD TO SEE... Alex Tagliani finish sixth after getting torpedoed in Brazil. His young FAZZT Race Team has come together quite nicely in only two races, and may establish themselves as a top-10 team, week in and week out, by the end of the year.

DISAPPOINTED NOT TO SEE... E.J. Viso make it to the finish without having problems. Viso's car was strong in the late stages of the race, and gearbox failure ruined what should have been a great battle to the end between him and Will Power.

BIGGEST SURPRISE... Nobody who finished in the top five in Brazil, besides Power, had a solid points day in St. Pete. Nobody who finished well in St. Petersburg had a great day in Sao Paulo, either. So a driver a full year removed from his last full season of competition takes a 44-point lead into the third race of the season - almost enough of a cushion to take a race off.

LEAST SHOCKING... Mario Moraes having another rough day. He held up a lot of the field while he was lapped, and by the time he finally got out of the way, Dan Wheldon's broken right rear suspension caused the Brit to launch into Moraes' car.

LEADING THE PACK... Power now has a win in major American open-wheel racing in each of the last four seasons. He's the first IRL driver to win the first two races of the season since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001. (The last time any major American open-wheeler pulled off the feat was in 2006, when Sebastien Bourdais did it in Champ Car.)

BRINGING UP THE REAR... Moraes, Alex Lloyd, Milka Duno, and Takuma Sato have failed to finish both races thus far this year. Sato's solid run was compromised when his team told him to refrain from pitting for five laps while he had front wing issues. Duno spun before the race even started.

NEXT YEAR'S RACE... will hopefully be a lot drier, and won't need to be postponed until Monday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

IndyCar Race Review: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Making it two for two in 2010, Will Power won the rain-delayed Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the second event on the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. It was his third career IndyCar win, all of which have come with the mighty Team Penske, and all of which have come on street courses.

The race was run on a Monday after standing water on Sunday prevented the race from being run safely. The rain delay affected many businesses in the area, keeping them shut down for an extra day. Emergency scheduling meant that the event had to be run in the morning.

Power had taken pole in qualifying, and started the race alongside Tony Kanaan. It was no surprise, as Power dominated all three practice sessions before qualifying, posting the fastest lap in all three. Of ten drivers to post top-five laps in the three sessions, Power was the only one to post such a hot lap in all three.

Unlike last year, the race went off to a clean start through the first turn, but separate incidents involving Mike Conway and Dario Franchitti put the race under caution. Marco Andretti, desperate to make up for a disastrous turn at Brazil and driving like a bat out of hell, took the lead from Power on lap 5 with a daring move, but Scott Dixon usurped the point on the very next lap, holding it until lap 27. Dixon's race, however, ended on lap 74 when he put his car in the turn 9 wall.

Takuma Sato hit a tire barrier with his new Lotus car on lap 25, after complaining for the previous five laps that his left front was no longer in order. It was just one part of an overall bad day for KV Racing Technology; Mario Moraes, after causing a logjam behind him by refusing to yield his lapped car, had his day ended by an out-of-control Dan Wheldon after 46 laps, and E.J. Viso, after briefly leading, lost his gearbox late in the race and fell three laps down.

Conway also had a strong run ended when a daring move in the fifth turn went awry. Trying to follow another car past Raphael Matos for position, Conway attempted to force the Brazilian onto the curb from the outside. Instead, Matos refused to yield too much, causing Conway to bounce over Matos' wheel and send himself into the fence. Matos wound up eighth.

Vitor Meira led a good chunk of the race while on an alternate pit strategy, as he was one of the few drivers to start the race on the standard black-sidewall tires. His 12 laps led were third-most of all drivers, as eight took turns at the point. Unfortunately for Meira, his strategy put him at the back of the pack when it counted, and he wound up a disappointing 15th, the last car on the lead lap.

The race also marked the return to IndyCar of American Graham Rahal, whose search for a ride this offseason was torpedoed by a lack of sponsorship. Cleaning up for Sarah Fisher in her own car, he finished ninth, but turned rookie darling Simona de Silvestro in the first turn late in the race, spoiling her solid run. De Silvestro finished 16th, one lap down.

Also on the podium were Justin Wilson and Ryan Briscoe, Power's teammate at Team Penske. Briscoe partially redeemed himself for a stupid error that cost him the win in Brazil, and Wilson repeated his podium finish at St. Pete last year. However, it was the first time in three starts that Wilson did not lead a lap at the track, as he led 18 circuits in 2008 and 52 last year.

Power will head to Barber Motorsports Park with a 44-point lead over Franchitti, Wilson, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. In a stroke of luck, none of the other drivers who finished in the top five in Brazil were any better than eighth in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, the best Brazil finish for a driver who finished fifth or better in St. Pete was seventh.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The IZOD IndyCar Series runs its first stateside race of the season this Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be run as an IndyCar event for the sixth time. Ryan Briscoe won the event last year.

Briscoe has been fast in two out of three practice sessions, posting the third-quickest time in sessions 1 and 3. The biggest story of the young season, however, continues to be his Team Penske teammate, Will Power. Power, coming off a win in Brazil two weeks ago, has paced the field in all three practice sessions, and will clearly be fast in the upcoming race. In the second session, his best lap was an astounding seven tenths of a second faster than the next car. Power almost seems like a lock to take home the checkered flag this weekend, based on both practice speeds and momentum carried over from two weeks ago.

Over the three practices, nine cars besides Power's have turned laps good enough to put them in the top five in at least one session. None, however, have been up there in all three sessions, or nearly as consistent as Power. The Chip Ganassi Racing teams, as well as Penske's other cars, have also been fast most of the time. Other than Penske, only Ganassi has had a car in the top five in all three sessions, but neither individual car has been fast in all three.

A surprise towards the top of the charts in the third session was E.J. Viso, whose lap of 1:02.3615 was good enough for second place in the session, about a quarter of a second behind Power. Viso was sixth in the second session as well, a marked improvement from his first session pace, where he was a second and a half off the pace. Viso's best career IndyCar finish came at St. Petersburg in 2008, when he placed fourth.

As for the Firestone Indy Lights cars, Martin Plowman paced the field in the Friday's practice session in preparation for tomorrow's race. He was followed in that session by James Hinchcliffe, who was about .12 seconds off the pace. On Saturday, however, they swapped spots at the front of the field, with Hinchcliffe holding a .16 second advantage over Plowman. Look for the two, widely viewed as the top contenders for this year's Indy Lights title, to battle for the win this weekend.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rahal Back With NHLR At Long Beach?

The panic within the front office of the IZOD IndyCar Series can begin to subside now, as American Graham Rahal may finally have lined up a full-time ride for the rest of this year.

Multiple sources have reported that Rahal will return to Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, the only team he has ever driven for in IndyCar, beginning at Long Beach. He will first fulfill his obligations to Sarah Fisher Racing for the next two races, at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park.

NHLR currently fields one car for Hideki Mutoh, down from two last year and a planned three for this season. Unfortunately, sponsorship for Rahal and Alex Lloyd fell through over the offseason, putting Lloyd in a car with another team and leaving Rahal's prospects totally up in the air.

One of the more widespread rumors was that Rahal Letterman Racing, the former Indianapolis 500 winning team owned by Rahal's father Bobby, would return to fund Graham out of pocket. Other top owners were scrambling to assemble sponsorship packages to at least field the young driver at Indianapolis.

Originally, it appeared that Rahal would only drive these next two races, as team owner/driver Sarah Fisher decided to remove herself from the car on road courses after disappointing preseason test results. Rahal tested sports cars at Sebring recently for Corvette Racing, and was rumored to meet with NASCAR representatives, but has said all along that open-wheel racing is his home and where he wants to continue his career.

Rahal will likely return to the No. 02 Dallara-Honda that he piloted last year, though it is unclear whether or not the sponsor will again be McDonald's. NHLR left the number open in case they could secure sponsorship for Rahal, putting Mutoh in their second car, the No. 06. Mutoh came to the team with Formula Dream and Panasonic backing, as has followed him for the past two years.

Last season, Rahal finished eighth in points with two poles, five top five finishes, and nine top-10s. His best finish was third, which occurred twice, at Motegi and Richmond. His poles came at St. Petersburg and Kansas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Baguette Makes Conquest Belgium's National Team

Conquest Racing, in its fourth year of IZOD IndyCar Series competition, officially announced today that they will add a second car for 15 races in this year's season, starting with the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 11. The driver will be Belgian Bertrand Baguette, the 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 champion, who tested for two Formula 1 teams this offseason, and the car will likely carry No. 36.

More significantly, the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium, that country's motorsports governing body, will back the team, creating a true Belgian national team in the IndyCar Series. Team owner Eric Bachelart, a former open-wheel racer himself, calls Belgium home.

Bachelart has pushed for a Belgian driver in his cars before - he sent countryman Jan Heylen to the series' winter meetings with the intent of fielding him in a car this season, but that deal did not come to fruition. The team was briefly rumored to be a two car, all-Brazilian pay-driver team this season, and to have signed Tomas Scheckter, but neither of those deals worked out, either. Brazilian Mario Romancini drove for the team in Sao Paulo and will campaign the team's No. 34 car for the full season.

Originally, the rumors suggested that Baguette would drive a second car for the team in Indianapolis only, similar to how the team fielded a one-off car for Bruno Junqueira last year.

Baguette comes to IndyCar off of a majestic Formula Renault season in which he won the championship by an incredible 57 points. He didn't win a race until the sixth round of the series, sweeping the doubleheader, but won three more races over the next three rounds to secure victory. Baguette only failed to finish one race all season, and that was the only event in which he did not score points. His worst finish otherwise was eighth place, enough to score points in the series, which follows a similar points system to the former Formula 1 structure.

Baguette will attend this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in order to familiarize himself with the team and the cars, but will likely not take part in any events behind the wheel.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

12 Hours of Sebring Underway

The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, one of American sports car racing's most prestigious events, is underway today at the Sebring International Raceway, a frequent test site for IZOD IndyCar Series teams. This event is frequently recognized as the flagship race for the American Le Mans Series, one of America's top sports car racing classes and a pioneer in green racing technologies.

As such, combined with the lack of an IndyCar race this weekend, it's no surprise to see a handful of the best open-wheel drivers America has had to offer contesting this race. From current competitors to former champions, and even a few ex-CART drivers, open-wheel competitors add a lot of color to this year's race.

The biggest battle will take place between Peugeot and Aston Martin in the LMP1 class, and each team features a driver that once dominated CART or Champ Car. Peugeot's No. 08 will feature four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, while Aston Martin has hired Adrian Fernandez (also a former IndyCar owner-driver) to campaign its car.

Last year's championship-winning team, Highcroft Racing, will slide down to LMP2 this year. French driver Simon Pagenaud competed in the final season of Champ Car for Walker Racing. One of his co-drivers will be Marino Franchitti, brother of defending IndyCar Series champion Dario. Former Highcroft driver and 1996 IndyCar champion Scott Sharp has left the team to campaign his own Ferraris in GT2.

Ryan Hunter-Reay and J.R. Hildebrand will drive in the LMPC class, a new spec LMP class featuring Chevrolet motors. Hunter-Reay will drive for Level 5 Motorsports, while 2009 Indy Lights champion Hildebrand will drive for current Lights competitors Genoa Racing.

Competitors with lesser-known open-wheel careers include Bourdais teammate Nicolas Minassian (LMP1), Guy Smith (LMP2), Jan Magnussen (GT2), and Ryan Dalziel (GT2). All of these drivers competed in CART and/or Champ Car with limited success, but have found security and won races in sports cars. Most recently, Dalziel won this year's 24 Hours of Daytona. He will drive for former Champ Car team Rocketsports.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Opinion: Still a Lot of Work for Versus

Versus may be back on DirecTV and in 17 million more homes as of Monday, but that doesn't mean that the network - or its coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series - is completely legitimate just yet.

The network and its personnel have made far too many mistakes in presentation over the past year, especially in IndyCar coverage, and this is part of the reason why a lot of people do not take Comcast's sports-oriented network seriously.

I'm not just talking about Bob Jenkins and the rest of Versus' on-air personality stumbling over their words, although Jenkins is sadly not the broadcaster he was on ESPN's NASCAR coverage in the late 1990s. I'm talking about serious technological issues, many of them simple, stupid errors, that detract from the IndyCar experience that Versus puts forth.

One example of a stupid mistake: When one searches for the terms "IndyCar" and "Versus" on Google, the first URL provided is http://www.versus.com/irl... which no longer exists. (For the record, Versus' IndyCar home is now at http://www.versus.com/indycar.) Why the URL change? Why make people go through the inconvenience on your site?

But the internet is not, and has never been, Versus' bread and butter - the actual television network is. But weather-related issues notwithstanding, there were some serious mistakes made during the channel's coverage of the Sao Paulo Indy 300, and the issue comes down to a lack of communication between the production crew and the booth.

A minor example of the problem came during the qualifying show, when Jon Beekhuis attempted to describe the chassis vying for use in the 2012 IndyCar Series. Instead of going to the drawings of potential entries by Dallara, Swift, and Lola, as Beekhuis described, the crew cut to a studio shot of the Delta Wing model. After that, they began to cycle through the slides faster than Beekhuis could describe each company's innovations.

The worst mistake came during pre-race coverage, however. As the Speed Channel does with its Formula 1 coverage, Versus does not send its commentary crew to the track for foreign events; instead, they only send a pit reporter (in this case, Jack Arute) and the production crew. The goal during these types of broadcasts is to give viewers the illusion that the commentary crew is indeed at the track, interacting in real time with the pit reporter.

Sadly, we all learned on Sunday that this interaction is not live.

Bob Jenkins attempted to send coverage down to Arute with a driver in the pits. The first few seconds of the interview played before technological malfunctions cut to the start of an interview we had not yet seen, and then the start of one that we already have, before restarting from the very beginning of the interview that Versus had originally intended to show. The illusion was gone, and I'm sure a lot of viewers learned for the first time that these interactions are pre-taped. (Count me among them.)

What's most bothersome is the pedigree of all folks involved. Jenkins and Beekhuis have been calling races since before the split in open-wheel racing that divided the sport for 12 years. The production crew, the Lingner Group, has won awards for its auto racing work, especially behind Jenkins and ESPN in the 1990s. Founder Terry Lingner has won three Emmys for his contributions to sports broadcasting. And yet the whole network, with this excellent history behind everybody involved, cannot put together a professional-looking broadcast.

Originally, I felt that the series' choice to move predominantly to Versus, especially under a long-term deal, would be the best possible move for IndyCar - to move away from ESPN and establish itself with the fastest-growing sports network around, alongside the NHL, Professional Bull Riders, and other niche sports. But now it appears painfully obvious that, for all of its enthusiasm during the broadcasts themselves, and all of its willingness to promote the sport, Versus is simply not up to par.

Its 2009 Nielsen ratings, whether or not they are compared to what ESPN drew in 2008, were anemic. The highest rated race on Versus was last year's Texas event, which drew a .63. And despite a relatively strong start, with its first two races rated at .30 and .52, eight of the channel's next nine races drew a .25 rating or worse, suggesting we may see a huge dropoff from the .41 rating we had at Brazil last weekend. The worst rating for an ESPN-produced race run under normal circumstances in 2008 was .41 for the Infineon race, which is a west coast event and generally has lower ratings anyway. And don't forget the few races a year that ESPN and ABC do broadcast, which are far and away more professionally produced and see more households.

While it may be a strong niche network, and one more willing to promote the sport than ESPN, Versus still needs to make major strides in its production quality and ratings to justify its long-term contract with IndyCar. Without some serious improvement, and fast, IndyCar may slip even further behind NASCAR and F1 in America, and be stuck with Versus not out of choice, but by necessity.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Morning After: Sao Paulo Indy 300

A collection of thoughts sparked by yesterday's Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil:

GOOD TO SEE... Will Power win his first race as a full-time competitor for Team Penske. I'm always rooting for the old Champ Car guys. Power's going to be the most competitive Penske driver this year - count on it.

DISAPPOINTED NOT TO SEE... Graham Rahal on the grid. Others who deserve a ride: Paul Tracy, Oriol Servia, Bruno Junqueira, and J.R. Hildebrand. You know, if we still had two major open-wheel series...

BIGGEST SURPRISE... Vitor Meira in third place in his return from that back injury suffered at Indianapolis. Honorable mentions: Alex Tagliani's early performance, Simona de Silvestro hanging with the big boys, neither Chip Ganassi Racing car in the top 5, way too many flub-ups by the Versus folks on the American broadcast, the race being the most watched television program in the history of Brazil (was anybody watching Michael Schumacher's return to Formula 1?!).

LEAST SHOCKING... A Penske car in P1 at the finish. Honorable mentions: Danica Patrick not being competitive, Ryan Briscoe's brain fart, Milka Duno failing to finish, Takuma Sato still being Takuma Sato, Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti getting into it yet again, the race being the most watched television program in the history of Brazil (they did get pretty into it, after all...).

BLAST FROM THE PAST... KV Racing Technology made its deal with Lotus and Cosworth official this weekend. From here on out, the No. 5 Dallara-Honda driven by Takuma Sato will carry a green and yellow livery reminiscent of Lotus' old Formula 1 car, and the one that won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 with Jim Clark. It's unfortunate that neither company will resume their former roles of constructor and engine builder, and instead join as sponsor and engineer, but any little bit helps... and 2012 isn't that far off.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE... I think Ryan Hunter-Reay is either going to be the best Andretti Autosport driver through Indianapolis, or is going to bring up the rear from here on out. He's got the motivation to earn a full-time ride, trying to look attractive to more sponsors, but remember the series of disappointments after the season opener last year that nearly culminated in a DNQ at Indy. But if Andretti gives him their best equipment for the next few races, and he goes to victory lane, it should be much easier for the team to convince Izod to further step up their commitment - or bring in another sponsor to finish up the year.

NEXT YEAR'S RACE... is going to have a hard time topping this one. It was a nightmare most of the time, for various reasons, but in the end the results were highly entertaining. The Brazilian people got behind the event in full force, the drivers and teams managed to adapt to the various curveballs thrown at them, and nobody got hurt. St. Petersburg is going to have a lot to live up to.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Twittography: Sao Paulo Indy 300

Here are some of the photos taken by IndyCar drivers and teams and posted to Twitter during race day at the Sao Paulo Indy 300.

LuczoDragon - Front wing shot
LuczoDragon - Team meeting between Jay Penske, Gil de Ferran, and Rafa Matos
LuczoDragon - Engineers watching the telemetry during qualifying
LuczoDragon - A crew member alone in the pits
LuczoDragon - Three DFLDR engineers on their computers
LuczoDragon - Rafa Matos interviewed by local media
LuczoDragon - Rafa Matos and Davey Hamilton
IndyCarNation - New mats
AntonioPizzonia - Former F1/CCWS driver Antonio Pizzonia on the grid
DRRIndyCar - Bia Figuereido's car, pre-race
IndyCarNation - Marco Andretti's car, after the first-turn accident
DRRIndyCar - Rain on the way
DRRIndyCar - Drenched pit lane
DRRIndyCar - The Brazilian fans cheer through the rain
IndyCarNation - The top three cars at the finish

IndyCar Race Review: Sao Paulo Indy 300

In his return to the sport after a back injury ended his season early last year, Will Power won his second career IZOD IndyCar Series race, the inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300, over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Vitor Meira.

In one of the more interesting race weekends in recent memory, Power redeemed his Team Penske compatriot Ryan Briscoe, whose late-race brain fade gave the race away. It was Power's first race as a full-time member for Penske after a limited schedule last year.

Hunter-Reay took second in the season opener for the second consecutive year, in his first race for Andretti Autosport. Meira, the highest finishing Brazilian driver, made his return after an injury at Indianapolis last year ended his 2009 campaign.

The weekend got off to a rough start, with the concrete frontstretch causing drivers to slip and preventing them from taking the straightaway at full throttle. Series director Brian Barnhart had to call in the diamond grinders to give that section of the track some more grip. Qualifying had to be postponed until the morning of the race, for the first time in series history, and multiple extra practice sessions were added.

Dario Franchitti took the pole in the delayed qualifying session, with outside polesitter Alex Tagliani the biggest surprise in qualifying. Brazil was the first race for Tagliani's FAZZT Race Team. Scott Dixon, who had one of the fastest cars in practice, failed to make the Firestone Fast Six, and ended up seventh. Takuma Sato was the top rookie, qualifying tenth. The fastest Brazilian driver was Tony Kanaan, who wound up sixth.

Not long before the green flag, there were reports of sprinkles on part of the track, delaying the start as race control determined whether or not to mandate rain tires. This was only foreshadowing for the showers that came later in the race, and eventually led to a half-hour red flag period.

At the drop of the green flag, the drivers couldn't make it through the first turn before a major accident set the tone for the race. Dust from the freshly ground concrete track made visibility difficult, and Sato didn't brake early enough, getting into Dixon. Helio Castroneves got involved with those two, and Mario Moraes drove over Marco Andretti's car as the American attempted to avoid the accident. Sato, Moraes, and Andretti called it a day from the wreck.

Franchitti, Tagliani, Hunter-Reay, and Kanaan led the pack early, and Simona de Silvestro led after staying out while the rest of the field pitted under a caution period. Not long after, Tagliani, Kanaan, and de Silvestro fell out of contention; Tagliani and Kanaan made contact, while de Silvestro had a mechanical failure.

Soon after, the storm came, and Briscoe led the push into the pits for rain tires. Most cars pitted for new Firestones by lap 30. The rain was so bad that parts of the track flooded, and the storm knocked out timing and scoring services. Eventually, the race had to be switched from a 75-lap event to a timed event.

A few laps after the restart, as other drivers pitted to change to better tire compounds, Hunter-Reay inherited the lead. Briscoe, Raphael Matos, and Will Power ran nose-to-tail, but were over six seconds behind Hunter-Reay with 25 minutes remaining.

Eventually, Briscoe closed the gap, leading to an intense back-and-forth battle that briefly gave the Aussie the lead. Hunter-Reay kept pushing until Briscoe made a mistake, driving head-on into a tire barrier on lap 54 with almost ten minutes left and bringing out a full-course yellow. This gave Hunter-Reay the lead and enough fuel to finish the race.

The race restarted with six minutes to go, with Hunter-Reay, Power, Matos, Vitor Meira, and Wheldon the top five. Power made the winning pass in the final turn on lap 58, showing the type of straight-line speed that Hunter-Reay had exhibited all race. By the final lap, Power had extended a sizable lead.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Sao Paulo Indy 300

The first IZOD IndyCar Series race of the season takes place south of the border - way, way south - on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the first annual Sao Paulo Indy 300. It will be the first American open-wheel race in Brazil since CART ran on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway from 1996 to 2000. It will also be the first street course race for IndyCar outside of North America since the non-points event in Surfers Paradise, Australia, at the end of 2008.

The new track has posed problems for the whole field, with the narrow concrete frontstretch causing most cars to fishtail and a handful of drivers slapping the wall elsewhere on the track. Scott Dixon led the field in final practice, with Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan not far behind. The biggest surprise of the session was Alex Tagliani, with a brand new team, in fifth. Drivers that had problems on the track included Briscoe, Bia Figuereido, Hideki Mutoh, and Danica Patrick.

Qualifying was eventually postponed until the morning of the race at 7:25 AM EST, replaced on Saturday by another practice session as teams and the series tried to figure out what to do about the concrete surface.

Adding to the challenge, the forecast calls for potential rain on race day. Add up all these variables on a new track, and nobody knows quite what to expect for this year's season opener.

The field contains seven Brazilians, almost all of whom are racing IndyCars in their native country for the first time. Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves had three starts at Fittipaldi apiece; Kanaan's best finish was fifth in 1999, while Castroneves never finished better than 23rd in his native country.

Dixon has been fast in every practice session, pacing the field in the intended final practice session and leading inthe early stages of the extra session. Kanaan, too, has been quick, despite trashing the quality of the track to the Brazilian media. These two should lead the fight for victory come Sunday.

As for a dark horse, street course ace Alex Tagliani has shown great speed in practice despite coming to the track with the startup FAZZT Race Team. Keep in mind that Tagliani almost won last year's race on the streets of Toronto, leading 21 of 85 laps. The new team also features some experienced personnel, including longtime Walker Racing team manager Rob Edwards.

IndyCar Season Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

There's not much left for one to say about the team that has won the past two IZOD IndyCar Series championships, or the drivers that have combined for the past three, other than the fact that winning is no longer an achievement, it's expected. Such is the case for Chip Ganassi Racing and drivers Scott Dixon (2008 champion) and Dario Franchitti (2007 and 2009 champion).

Ganassi cars won 10 of the series' 17 races last year and took 1-2 in the final standings, with Franchitti on top despite missing a year of competition in a failed NASCAR experiment. The title fight went down to the wire at Homestead, where Franchitti took the honors by conserving more fuel than his teammate - exactly how things played out in 2007 when the two drove for different teams. For the fourth consecutive year, neither Ganassi car finished worse than fourth in points, and for the first time, both Ganassi drivers eclipsed the 600-point total. All in all, the team had a dominant season.

There's not much to say about Ganassi, except that many are hoping he can put together a third full-time car for Graham Rahal. Ganassi admits to having tried to do so, but has cautioned that he isn't made of money. Rahal's sponsor last year, McDonald's, did join Ganassi in NASCAR, however, so there is the distinct possibility that he could pull some strings to reunite the two.

No third car at Ganassi has ever been quite as strong as the first two, but it'd be difficult anyway when the other two cars carry as much clout as Ganassi's lead teams. They may not finish 1-2 again this year, but neither will be any worse than outside the top five, so don't expect much change at the top. Many are saying that the title is Franchitti's to lose, after his successful "defense" despite a yearlong break. He could easily become the first driver to win back-to-back IndyCar titles since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002.

IndyCar Season Preview: Team Penske

It's hard to believe that the mighty Team Penske has not won an IZOD IndyCar Series championship since 2006, when the since-NASCAR bound Sam Hornish Jr. took the honors in a tiebreaker. Now four years removed from that championship, the Penske operation is hungrier than ever for victory.

As such, Roger Penske has made the decision to expand to a three-car operation for the first time since the team's dominance in 1994. Will Power will join longtime Penske mainstays Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves in a third car, created when Penske shut down its sports car operation.

Power joined the team on a limited basis last year, originally to drive its lead No. 3 Dallara-Honda while Castroneves sorted out legal issues, but that lasted only one race. Penske, seeing Power's talent and cognizant of his 2008 win at Long Beach, put him in a car for that race and the Indianapolis 500. Power came close to winning both races, leading the Captain to further expand his program until an incident during practice at Infineon knocked him out for the year.

Castroneves' highlight upon returning to race action was his third career Indianapolis 500 victory, but it was Briscoe that led Penske for most of the year. A highly consistent season bolstered by three wins and eight runner-up finishes put the Aussie in the title hunt all year, but another mediocre finish at Indy and driver error at Motegi eventually gave the title away. Regardless, many view Briscoe as the lead driver at Penske this year, with Power perhaps the number two.

An additional car and changes in the driver hierarchy are not all that's new at Penske. The 20-year partnership with Marlboro/Philip Morris/Altria is now officially over, and the team will run a new livery this year that is primarily white and black. While it has been a few years since a primary sponsor's name actually appeared on the No. 3 and No. 6 cars, Team Penske's Tim Cindric has never been actively searching for a primary sponsor for the team until now. (Power is backed by Verizon Wireless and is exempt from the search.)

It will be no shock if Penske teams take three of the top five positions in points this year, or finally break through to win Penske's second IRL-sanctioned championship. All three Penske cars paced the field in preseason testing, with Power generally the fastest. The two Aussies may take the fight hard to the rest of the pack for the championship.

Friday, March 12, 2010

IndyCar Season Preview: KV Racing Technology

KV Racing Technology appears ready to establish itself as one of the "big three" in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, fielding three full-time cars for Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso, and Mario Moraes.

They were the top former Champ Car team in 2008, bringing over Oriol Servia and Will Power to IndyCar and winning the final Champ Car race with Power at Long Beach. While most transitioning Champ Car drivers were declared rookies in IndyCar, Servia's consistent performance led the series to declare him a veteran about halfway through the season. Last year, Moraes took over the team's lead car, and ended the year with four consecutive finishes of seventh or better as he began to establish himself as a legitimate contender.

This year, team owner Jimmy Vasser took the money from longtime Honda Formula 1 driver Sato and Venezuelan oil-backed Viso, and put them in cars that were already fast. The results were two cars that were often near the top of the charts in testing, with Sato challenging some of the top teams in the series in his first IndyCar experience.

Moraes did not test for the team, as James Rossiter was briefly in the seat, but when his funding fell through, Moraes was brought back for the duration. Vasser's tutelage last year helped calm the young driver, who often raced like a dart without feathers and actually wrecked Viso after the checkered flag fell in Toronto last year. Viso, for his part, was no star either, failing to finish each of the first seven races for some reason or another and finishing last in the standings of full-time competitors. He, too, should benefit from the 1996 CART champion's expertise. Given the quality of the equipment that will be furnished for them, they should each contend for their maiden wins in 2010.

Sato, Japan's most successful F1 driver of all time, should contend for victories on the road courses as well. His lack of oval experience and total lack of a ride last year, however, will be the two things that may keep him from the upper echelon of the standings. He will have four races to score a lot of points before the series' first oval stretch, but his only pseudo-oval experience came at Indianapolis in F1; to his credit, he scored his only career F1 podium at the track.

As for a potential fourth car, Rossiter is working to sort out sponsorship issues to return to the team. Paul Tracy will run Indianapolis and likely the Canadian races for the team in a similar program to the one he had with the team last year.

KV has the lineup and the equipment to win races this year, and to fail to do so will be nothing short of a disappointment. It may be too much to ask to put all three drivers in the top half of points, but given the team's driver development record as of late, it isn't out of the question.

IndyCar Season Preview: Conquest Racing

Conquest Racing spent much of 2009 struggling to find funding for driver Alex Tagliani, eventually forcing the team to only run a limited IZOD IndyCar Series schedule with its lead No. 34 Dallara-Honda. They attempted to qualify a second car for the Indianapolis 500, but when that car made the race and the lead car didn't, Tagliani took the car over for the race. After announcing his departure to start the new FAZZT Race Team in 2010, team owner Eric Bachelart replaced Tagliani with a handful of pay drivers, with poor results.

The team's best run came at Toronto, when Tagliani led a good chunk of the race and may have won if not for a few bad breaks that put him back in ninth place at the finish.

This year, the team started on shaky ground when Bachelart sent Bruno Junqueira and Jan Heylen to preseason meetings, despite having no sponsorship for the car. Junqueira qualified the team's second car at Indy last year, while Heylen drove for the team in Champ Car and also calls Bachelart's native Belgium home. Later reports suggested the team had signed Tomas Scheckter, or would become a two-car Brazilian pay driver team (as it was in 2008) with Nelson Merlo in one of its vehicles.

Eventually, things shook out when Mario Romancini, one of the top young available rookies, signed to compete for the team for the entire 2010 schedule. Romancini was reasonably fast in preseason testing, usually hanging around mid-pack, and will bring Guarana Dolly soft drink sponsorship for at least the Brazil race.

Judging by his performance in Firestone Indy Lights last year, where he won two oval races, and his experience in various European open-wheel racing formulae, Romancini may be the perfect balance for Conquest as it attempts its first full-time IndyCar season since 2008. In the past, the team has struggled on ovals, mostly because its drivers have been road course experts, but Romancini showed an adeptness on the circle tracks last year that will certainly help improve their standing.

Romancini may not contend for wins this year, but he will contend for a place between 10th and 15th in the season standings. He may be the best young driver Conquest has had since Justin Wilson drove for the team in Champ Car in 2004. His development may be the key to establishing legitimacy for Conquest in the IndyCar Series, something they haven't seen since their debut season in 2002.

IndyCar Season Preview: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will enter the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season with two full-time cars for Justin Wilson and Mike Conway, and will enter Brazilian rookie Bia Figuereido (Ana Beatriz) in at least the season opener at Sao Paulo.

The team looks to improve on last season's results, when then-rookie Conway had a difficult season and six drivers shared the team's other cars. Conway had a podium finish at Infineon, but that was the highlight of the year for the entire team. The No. 23 car that a handful of drivers shared was frequently lagging off the pace, and the team's two Indianapolis 500-only entries struggled to make the field.

This year, however, things are looking up. Conway, for one, will be more consistent than last year, when he failed to finish eight races and was the second-worst ranked driver to complete the entire schedule. He'll need to improve his oval record, however, as an eighth at Iowa was his lone top-10 finish on the circle tracks.

Wilson, the lone driver to win a race last year not employed by Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi, "liked what he saw" in the team, and chose to leave Dale Coyne Racing to join them for 2010, bringing the funding of Z-Line Designs with him. He's a consistent top-10 driver who contends for wins on most road courses and has begun to improve his oval prowess. He also brings name recognition to the team, something they haven't had since fielding underfunded cars for multiple Indy winners a few years ago.

Wilson should bring a DRR car into the top-10 in series points at the end of the year, and perhaps bring the team its first win since its first start in 2000. Conway should also begin contending for podiums on the road courses, as he will have an ace to learn from this season instead of having to act as de facto lead driver.

IndyCar Season Preview: A.J. Foyt Enterprises

Vitor Meira was supposed to bring A.J. Foyt Enterprises back to relevancy in the IZOD IndyCar Series last year, but a heavy crash in the Indianapolis 500 put a premature end to that dream. Instead, the team suffered through a revolving door of four drivers before finally settling on Ryan Hunter-Reay for the balance of the season. In short, the year was incredibly disappointing for a team looking to return to the upper echelon of IndyCar.

Meira returns this season, his back fully healed from last year's devastating crash, and he will look to make amends by finally scoring his first career win in the series. In 97 career starts, Meira's best finish is second place, which he has accomplished eight times, the last being at Indianapolis in 2008. Foyt's team hasn't won a race since 2002, when Airton Dare took the checkers at Kansas.

While the partnership with ABC Supply Co. works for both team and sponsor, Foyt simply does not have the money to run up front with the powers of the sport anymore. The team sadly lingers towards the back of the pack despite possessing one of the more underrated talents in the sport and one of the most storied histories in all of open-wheel racing.

This season will likely be more of the same for the Foyt bunch - running between 10th and 15th with maybe a stroke of luck at Indy to give them a shot at the win. As much as everybody would like to see it, don't expect a title run unless something huge changes, and quickly.

IndyCar Season Preview: de Ferran Luczo Dragon Racing

Raphael Matos won the 2009 IZOD IndyCar Series rookie of the year award, following his 2008 Firestone Indy Lights and 2007 Atlantic Championship titles, in a Luczo Dragon Racing car last year. The season was a modest success for both, as Matos kept his trophy streak alive and Luczo Dragon proved reasonably competitive in their first full-time IndyCar season. Matos even had a shot at winning the Indianapolis 500 before a crash in turn one ended his day.

Despite a hard crash at St. Petersburg (that launched a spectator out of a porta-john outside of the retaining wall) and three other DNFs in his first seven races, Matos completed all of the last ten races on the schedule in 2009, and scored eight top-10s on the year. His best finish was a sixth place run at Milwaukee. While he did not approach his 2008 Indy Lights success, he still managed to establish himself as a consistent driver who could bring the car home in one piece.

This season, however, more will be expected out of Matos and the team. Luczo Dragon Racing merged with former sports car team de Ferran Motorsports, and former Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran will now be Matos' driver coach. De Ferran, who nearly won the American Le Mans Series championship last year as an owner/driver, will attempt to move his Brazilian countryman up the ranks.

The team also has a better sponsorship package this year, with Hewlett-Packard, McAfee, and Bell Micro all signed on. As part of the HP deal, Davey Hamilton (who has carried their sponsorship for a few years now) will run a limited schedule for the team in a second car. That will allow the team to gain even more information at Indianapolis, Texas, and another oval to be announced, information that will hopefully make Matos' car even faster at those tracks. Hamilton will also attempt to complete a race at Texas for the first time since a career-threatening crash in 2001 that required 21 operations to reconstruct his feet. (Coincidentally, Hamilton's car will carry No. 21 this year.)

Anything short of a top 10 in points for Matos and DFLDR this year will be a disappointment, especially considering that all parties involved have seen some success in the past few years. Matos should score his first top five finish this season, at the very least, and score more top-10s, although a win might require a little luck.

IndyCar Season Preview: Team 3G

Team 3G attempted to run its first IZOD IndyCar Series season last year with professional Hollywood stuntman and former NASCAR competitor Stanton Barrett behind the wheel. Unfortunately, a lack of funding and poor performance led to a rotating musical chair of drivers for much of the season, with IndyCar vet Jaques Lazier and former Firestone Indy Lights competitor Richard Antinucci also answering the call.

The team was consistently toward the back of the pack, unsurprising for a start-up outfit without many sponsorship dollars or a driver with a full season in IndyCar under his belt. (Believe it or not, Lazier has missed multiple races in every season he's competed in IndyCar.)

This year, the team will skip the season opener in Brazil, but will again contest the full schedule. This time, the plan is for Antinucci to take the helm of the No. 98 Dallara-Honda for the whole year, while Barrett and Lazier may split time in a second car if funding permits. Devoting the lead car to only one driver for the full year will undoubtedly help performance, as driver and team can develop chemistry with one another.

Antinucci is no slouch, either. He competed in all nine Indy Lights road course races in 2007, winning two of them to finish 15th in points. He ran the full schedule in 2008 and finished second in points, scoring another two road course wins in the always-competitive No. 7 Dallara of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Antinucci was also able to score second-place finishes on the ovals at Homestead and Indianapolis, as well as a handful of other strong finishes.

While Team 3G is nowhere close to being a superpower in the IZOD IndyCar Series, they have laid the groundwork for a competitive team in the future by signing Antinucci to race for them this season. If the team can stick together, and provide Antinucci with proper equipment to showcase his talent, they may surprise with a few strong finishes in 2010. If not, expect more of the same black No. 98 bringing up the rear of the field.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Moraes Returns to KVRT

Mario Moraes will return to KV Racing Technology for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season after securing a last-minute deal.

The Brazilian-born Moraes drove for the team last season, finishing 14th in points in 16 starts, and visited with the team during preseason testing last month.

Last season was a bit of a struggle for the young driver. He qualified for last year's Indianapolis 500 on the first day of time trials, only to fall out of the race in a first-lap wreck. He also missed Mid-Ohio due to the death of his father.

After returning to the circuit, however, Moraes finished no worse than seventh, with three top five runs and a best finish of third at Chicagoland. This late season push suggested that Moraes would retain his ride for the 2010 season.

However, Japanese Formula 1 veteran Takuma Sato took over the No. 5 Dallara-Honda that Moraes ran last season, and with E.J. Viso and James Rossiter in the team's other cars during testing, it appeared that Moraes and his backing from Votorantim (a Brazilian industrial conglomerate owned by his grandfather) and Azul Tequila would not return for 2010.

In the past 24 hours, Rossiter's deal to pilot the No. 32 Dallara-Honda fell through, allowing Moraes to return to the team.

Per a news release posted on KVRT's Facebook page, the car will be sponsored by Banco Panamericano, at least for the Brazil race.

IndyCar Season Preview: HVM Racing

HVM Racing entered last year looking to improve on its 2008 results with Venezuelan driver E.J. Viso. Despite reportedly receiving some of the worst equipment of the transitioning Champ Car teams, they still managed to score one top five and seven top-10s.

Last year, however, everything that could have gone wrong for HVM did. Viso failed to finish his first seven races, and even though he only had one DNF after that, the damage was done; Viso brought up the rear of all full-time IZOD IndyCar Series drivers last year. He scored 38 fewer points in 2009 than he did in 2008, and only have one top-10 placing, a seventh at Watkins Glen.

Adding Robert Doornbos to a second car for the last five races didn't help the team, which was already suffering. The former HVM driver in Champ Car failed to finish better than 10th in his five events with the team. Worse, his supposed deal to run for the team in 2010 fell through, and he will not be in Brazil.

Instead, HVM rescued Swiss talent Simona de Silvestro from the dying Atlantic Championship. She won four races in the series last year and finished third in the title hunt, having led the points for most of the year. She has already been hailed as the series' biggest female competition to Danica Patrick for her developmental series success. Like Viso, who brought PDVSA checks and the No. 13 to HVM, de Silvestro brings her Atlantic sponsor, Stargate Worlds, and her Atlantic number, No. 78, to the team.

The first year will likely be an uphill battle, however, as de Silvestro still has not been cleared to run on ovals (owing to her lack of oval experience), and HVM remains one of the series' backmarkers. As talented as de Silvestro has proven herself in Atlantics, she can only be as good as the equipment she is given.

If the team adds a second car later on for Firestone Indy Lights driver Junior Strous, as is hoped, the team may struggle even more, perhaps running beyond its capacity. The advantage to potentially moving up Strous, however, is the return of major sponsor Shell to the sport. Shell used to back some of the best drivers in open-wheel racing as a CART sponsor, but ended its program in the early 2000s to focus on NASCAR. The addition of a major partner may be the push HVM needs to run towards the front of the pack.

HVM Racing has two of the most talented young drivers in all of IndyCar right now, and a plan in place to move up the standings in 2010 and beyond. The only question is if that plan will eventually come to fruition. As long as the checks keep coming, and the drivers keep progressing, the team has an excellent chance at moving up in the next few years. In the meantime, however, patience is a virtue.

IndyCar Season Preview: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing

For a team that once looked to field three cars in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing is beginning to look a little gaunt.

During last year's season finale at Homestead, reporters suggested that Alex Lloyd would drive the team's second car in 2010. Nothing suggested that Graham Rahal would move on from his seat in the No. 02 car, and November reports even claimed that Hideki Mutoh would join the team in an unprecedented third car.

Mutoh signed with the team in February, but sponsorship fell through for both Rahal and Lloyd, requiring both to move on. This means that the team will likely focus all of its efforts on Mutoh for 2010, instead of running a second car with shaky sponsorship as it did last year.

Mutoh was, for his part, decent during Barber testing in February, consistently putting the car in the top 10. But the loss of one of the best American drivers in the series is definitely being felt, both in the NHL garage and around the paddock. Rahal was one of the series' most marketable drivers, and failing to retain him will hurt both the team and the series.

Rahal led NHL last season, finishing seventh in points after scoring two poles and podium finishes at Richmond and Motegi. He improved over his 2008 rookie standing by ten positions and 97 points, although he failed to win a race, as he had in his first career IndyCar start at St. Petersburg. Oriol Servia scored the best finish for the team in its other car, a fourth place run at Motegi. Robert Doornbos also ran a dozen races for the team, with four ninth place finishes to show for it.

NHL is one of the teams considered the "best of the rest" in IndyCar - that is, the teams that won't win a championship, but should fight for a race win or two. Focusing all of their efforts on Mutoh may only strengthen their program, but Mutoh needs to step up his driving efforts. He has two podium finishes in two Iowa starts, his four top fives in 2009 were a personal best, and he had fewer DNFs in 2009 than his 2008 rookie year. If he continues his upward progress, the team may contend in 2010.

IndyCar Season Preview: Panther Racing

Panther Racing returns its 2009 lineup to the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series, bringing back former series champion Dan Wheldon and sponsor National Guard to its No. 4 Dallara-Honda.

Wheldon finished 10th in points in 2009, his worst effort since his 2003 rookie year, which was affected by his missing the first two races of the season. Everything took a major step back from his numbers at Chip Ganassi Racing: he only scored 352 points, he failed to win a race, and he had three DNFs. All of those were his worst numbers since 2003.

However, Panther has not been a dominant team since former CART teams began to shift to IndyCar, and for that team, his numbers were pretty stellar. After a DNF in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Wheldon scored eight consecutive top-10 finishes, buoyed by a second-place at the Indianapolis 500, a race he won in 2005.

The season went downhill from there, however, as Wheldon only scored one more top-10. It has now been 27 races since Wheldon's last win, at Iowa in 2008, which is his longest career winless streak.

One positive aspect that came out of 2009 is the team's marketing efforts with partner National Guard, which became some of the strongest in the league. The National Guard brings servicemen to most races on the schedule, with such draws for the fans as a racing simulator and a miniature shooting range, as well as lots of free gear. Despite his British nationality, Wheldon makes an effective pitchman for the brand, having appeared in one IndyCar commercial as a drill sergeant.

Returning the same team that ran last year should help their cause, as driver and crew now have a year's worth of chemistry to build upon. Skipping the season-opening test in Alabama in lieu of a single-car session at Sebring, however, means that we'll have to wait until the season begins to see how fast Panther is compared to the rest of the field.

If they can return to their early-season form from 2009, Panther should contend for a couple of race wins and return Wheldon to the top five in points. Otherwise, Wheldon may be in for another long year of seeing victory just out of his reach.

IndyCar Season Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

Dale Coyne took his first win in over 20 seasons as an open-wheel owner last season in the IZOD IndyCar Series, taking victory with Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen. The team also nearly won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, and scored a third top five finish at Edmonton, allowing Wilson to take ninth in points.

Boosted by this success, Coyne attempted to return to two cars for 2010, as his team had run in 2008 and in the former Champ Car World Series. Coyne signed the Boy Scouts of America to a sponsorship deal for the No. 19, and attempted to bring back Wilson to the No. 18.

Unfortunately, both Wilson and sponsor Z-Line Designs moved on, taking over the lead car at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. As a result, Dale Coyne Racing will have two brand new drivers for 2010.

Milka Duno, longtime series backmarker, will bring her Citgo sponsorship to the No. 18 Dallara-Honda vacated by Wilson, and will run her first full-time IndyCar schedule. Duno still has not raced on a handful of the tracks on the series schedule, making this year a likely learning experience. Duno's best finish in a limited 2009 schedule was 16th at Kansas, her first race of the year.

After chasing Graham Rahal and J.R. Hildebrand for the No. 19 Dallara-Honda, Coyne eventually signed British driver Alex Lloyd for the seat. Lloyd won the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights championship and has competed in a handful of IndyCar races the past two years, including two Indianapolis 500s. Lloyd will officially only contest the season-opener in Brazil, but all signs point to an official announcement of him joining the team once the series returns stateside for the race at St. Petersburg.

The key to Coyne's potential success this year is whether or not the team can efficiently replace departed engineer Bill Pappas, the most important man in Coyne's pit last year. Pappas was a winner in the past and a winner with Coyne, but left the team after only one year, not coincidentally the best year the team has ever had.

As talented of a driver as Lloyd is, and as strong of a car Duno is stepping into, the team may fall apart without a strong leader like Pappas tuning the cars. If they can't replace him effectively, expect the Coyne cars to take a step back in 2010.

IndyCar Season Preview: Andretti Autosport

Last year, Andretti Green Racing suffered through its worst season since joining the IZOD IndyCar Series, at least as far as the victory column goes. No Andretti driver won a race for the first time in the team's IndyCar history.

It wasn't all doom and gloom in the Andretti pit, however, as Danica Patrick had her best career season to date, finishing 5th in points (best of the non-Ganassi or Penske drivers) with only one DNF at the start of the season. Patrick thus enters this year with the longest running at the finish streak of anybody on the circuit.

Marco Andretti also had a solid year, finishing eighth in points while only failing to finish two races, exhibiting a consistency he had not shown since his 2006 rookie year. The son of team owner Michael Andretti scored two top fives and 11 top-10s, scoring 380 points, a career best.

All told, the four Andretti cars scored five podium finishes (all third places), 16 top fives, and 39 top-10s over the course of the season.

But that wasn't good enough for Andretti Green, which also promoted the races in St. Petersburg and Toronto. Offseason shuffling saw Andretti take over the race team, while former partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree split from the team to take over the race promotion side of the business. Both sides hope that the result will be greater success in 2010.

Unfortunately, the Andretti cars weren't too fast in the season-opening test sessions. No Andretti car fared better than eighth, which Andretti did in the first and third sessions and Tony Kanaan accomplished in the second. Patrick lagged toward the rear of the field in all three, perhaps still adjusting from her recent stock-car tribulations. New teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay improved in every session, but only had a 14th-place car in the third session to show for his efforts.

While this suggests that a lot of other teams may be faster than the Andretti cars, it is important to note that Andretti cars are normally stronger on the ovals. The last time an Andretti car won a road course race was when Kanaan took the checkers at Detroit in late 2007. Before that, Marco scored his only career victory thus far at Sonoma in late 2006.

Andretti looks to maintain its status as "best of the rest" in 2010, but if the team doesn't step up and start winning some races this year, we may see Patrick bolt to stock cars for good. They have the potential to run well, but have been underachieving greatly the past couple of years, a far cry from their heyday in the mid-2000s.

Ex-Newman/Haas/Lanigan Drivers Land on Their Feet

Graham Rahal and Alex Lloyd, the two drivers who ran the final race of last season for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and were supposed to return this year, have both secured rides for this year's IZOD IndyCar Series season, although their new team situations are completely different.

Lloyd, the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion and part-time IndyCar driver for the past two seasons, will step into a fully-sponsored ride for Dale Coyne Racing. He will drive the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara-Honda for the full season.

Rahal will miss the season-opening race in Brazil, however he will drive the next two races for Sarah Fisher Racing in the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara-Honda that Fisher herself normally drives. Originally, St. Petersburg and Barber were on Fisher's schedule, but owing to Rahal's 2008 win at the former track and her relative lack of speed testing at the latter, the decision was made to give one of the sport's best American drivers the ride.

Rahal is still looking for a ride for the rest of the season. There is the possibility of driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, his father's ex-IndyCar and current sports car team, if they can secure a sponsor.

Both drivers were supposed to return to N/H/L for this year alongside Hideki Mutoh, who would drive a third car. However, both Lloyd's backing from Her Energy Drink and Rahal's McDonald's backing fell through, leaving N/H/L with only one car for Mutoh, who brings his own sponsorship to the team. Since then, both have faced tumultuous and uncertain offseasons, with these deals coming together at the last minute.

This lack of rides for two of the top young talents in the sport suggests the long way that the once-mighty team has fallen. N/H/L used to employ former Formula 1 champions and some of the most talented drivers the sport had ever known, but in recent years has slipped since the loss of its Texaco/Havoline and Kmart sponsorship deals. McDonald's is the latest big backer to go, although their deal was supposedly more of a kickback as a result of owner Paul Newman's food production company, Newman's Own, supplying the golden arches with coffee.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie Preview

This year the IZOD IndyCar Series will welcome at least five full-time rookie drivers, with two others running limited schedules at the very least. A diverse crowd featuring drivers from four different continents will battle for rookie of the year honors in one of the greatest rookie classes that any form of American motorsport has seen in years.

The group is led by Japanese star Takuma Sato, a longtime veteran of Formula 1 who will join KV Racing Technology in its No. 5 Dallara-Honda. Sato spent parts of seven seasons in F1, all for Honda-powered teams, scoring a grand total of 44 points. His best season was 2004, where he scored 34 points to finish eighth overall, and his lone career podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sato was quick in preseason testing, besting many series veterans.

Joining Sato at KVRT will be British standout James Rossiter, whose F1 dreams fell through this year with the collapse of USF1. Rossiter was a former Honda test driver in the series who also ran in the American Le Mans Series for the former Andretti Green Racing team. Rossiter has experience in Formula 3, World Series by Renault, and British Formula Renault, where he formerly competed against 2008 F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Mario Romancini is among the Firestone Indy Lights Series graduates to step up this year, joining Conquest Racing for the full season. Romancini won two Lights races last season to finish sixth in points with Andersen Racing. Since beginning his racing career in 2006, he has scored five wins in 55 starts over four different series.

Richard Antinucci is the other full-time Lights graduate to run for rookie of the year, though he made five starts last season. He will rejoin Team 3G for a program that starts after the Brazil race. His best finish last year was a 15th at Infineon Raceway. He finished second in Lights in 2008, and has four career wins in 25 starts in the series.

The final full-time driver to compete for this year's rookie of the year honors is Swiss pilot Simona de Silvestro, already painted as the chief female rival to Danica Patrick. De Silvestro dominated much of last year's Atlantic Championship, taking the title fight to the final race. She scored four wins last season, making her arguably the most successful driver last year of all potential rookie candidates.

Each driver has something going for them to suggest their capability of winning the award. Sato and Rossiter drive for the best team competing for the award; Romancini and Antinucci are most familiar with the tracks; de Silvestro has the most momentum from a highly successful 2009. All are worthy candidates, and all should contend for the award.

As for the part-timers, Sebastian Saavedra will move up for up to five races with Bryan Herta Autosport while attempting to win this year's Lights title. He won two races last season for Andretti Green to finish third in points. One win took place on the oval in Kansas; the other win was taken from the pole on the streets of Toronto.

Jay Howard will make up for an aborted rookie campaign in 2008 to run five races for Sarah Fisher Racing in a second car. Howard scored two 13th-place finishes in 2008 before losing his ride at Roth Racing to John Andretti. The 2007 Lights champion then returned to the series for 2009, starting the first five races and accruing two top fives and four top-10s.

Finally, Ana Beatriz will compete in the season-opening Brazil race for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, with the possibility of more events if she can bring funding. Beatriz raced in Lights the past two years, finishing third in 2008 and eighth last year. She scored one win each year, and had six top five finishes last year despite missing two races.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Romancini, Conquest Sign Sponsor For Sao Paulo

Guarana Dolly will back Brazilian driver Mario Romancini and Conquest Racing for the season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series Sao Paulo Indy 300 next weekend.

The name is unfamiliar to most Americans, nevermind American race fans, but the Dolly brand is prominent in Brazil. Dolly is a Brazilian-based corporation that manufactures soft drinks. Their lead product is Guarana Dolly, a soft-drink produced with guarana extract. Guarana is a common plant in Brazil whose extract contains a very high level of caffeine. According to a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, guarana soft drinks exceed the sales of cola-based drinks in Brazil. Dolly also manufactures soft drinks typical of American companies, such as cola, lemon-lime, orange, and grape-based beverages.

Dolly has a history in motorsports, sponsoring two cars in Brazilian stock car racing. Indeed, the most prominent image on the Dolly homepage is one of its stock cars, and the site features a handful of videos of Brazilian stock car racing, suggesting the company will be a valuable promotional partner to Conquest, IndyCar, and the race organizers.

Sao Paulo will be Romancini's first IndyCar race in only his second season running open-wheel cars in North America. Last season the young Brazilian finished 6th in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. Despite European road course seasoning and limited oval experience, Romancini actually raced better on the circle tracks last season, scoring all four of his podiums and both of his wins on that style of racetrack. His best road course finish was sixth, scored twice, in the second St. Petersburg race and Toronto.

This will be Conquest Racing's fourth IndyCar Series season and third consecutive. The team debuted in IndyCar in 2002 before leaving for Champ Car until its demise. Last season the team fielded a handful of different drivers, often bringing their own sponsorship, but no one car or driver for the full season. They fielded one car in 2002, two cars in 2008, and a limited program for one car last year with a second car attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

So far nothing has been announced in regards to a full-time sponsorship, but rumors in the Brazilian press a few weeks ago suggested that two Brazilian drivers were going to join the team and bring funding. Almost all news related to the team thus far this season has been broken by Brazilian media outlets.

IndyCar Programming Begins on Versus

Versus, the lead television partner of the IZOD IndyCar Series, begins its programming rush for the 2010 season today with two programs. The first, "Danica's Decade," begins at 2PM EST, followed by "Inside the 2010 IndyCar Series" at 3PM.

"Danica's Decade" spotlights the first five full-time seasons of Danica Patrick in IndyCar, detailing the ups and downs of a career spanning 81 races. From her pit road incidents, to her dust-ups with other drivers from Dan Wheldon to Milka Duno, to her lone career victory in Japan, the program helps prime fans for the American's 2010 season.

"Inside the 2010 IndyCar Season" contains features on Patrick, Andretti Autosport teammate Tony Kanaan, 2009 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and defending series champion Dario Franchitti. It helps prepare fans for the start of the season in Brazil next weekend. Versus pit reporter Lindy Thackston hosts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fifth IndyCar Chassis Prototype Released

Bruce Ashmore, Alan Mertens, and Tim Wardrop, three of the top engineers in major American open wheel racing over the past two decades, have formed BAT Engineering with the goal of supplying chassis to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series.

The three have set up a blog with a press release detailing their plans and core concepts relevant to the car. They have also posted a simple computerized rendering of the chassis. The official IndyCar page on Facebook contains a photo album with more renderings.

The combined accomplishments of the three engineers are enough to fill most trophy cases. Ashmore had a hand in 11 of the 12 CART championships won between 1990 and 2001, either as chief designer of Lola (1990-1993) or president of Reynard (1995-2001). Mertens won five Indianapolis 500s from 1983 to 1987 as designer of March's IndyCar, and also designed the 1992 Indianapolis 500-winning car with Galles Racing as part of a collaboration called Galmer. Wardrop engineered the 1997 and 2000 Indy 500 wins of Arie Luyendyk and Juan Montoya, respectively, and set up Luyendyk's 1996 record-setting car.

One advantage that the design team has is the location of Ashmore's company in Gasoline Alley. IndyCar officials have expressed a preference for a car manufactured in America, preferably in the Indianapolis area. Galmer has a shop in Albuquerque, NM, which could make for an excellent secondary base.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two Coyne Cars For 2010; Duno Snags One

Dale Coyne Racing will field two cars full-time in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season, for the second time in three years since joining the series in 2008.

Coyne mentioned this much in a teleconference with Bob Jenkins back in January, but could not provide driver names or sponsors. Today, Coyne is a quantum leap closer to being ready for the season opener in Brazil on March 14.

Milka Duno will run her first full-time schedule in IndyCar this season, taking over the No. 18 car from the departed Justin Wilson. The popular, albeit slow, Venezuelan driver will bring with her sponsorship from CITGO, the Venezuelan-owned oil company that has supported her since the mid-2000s. A photo posted at Pressdog.com shows Duno in an all-new, black firesuit, perhaps hinting at yet another new CITGO paint scheme. The photo is current, as last year's was a red firesuit, and this one carries the IZOD IndyCar and DCR logos.

Duno finished 24th in points last season while running a limited schedule, with a best finish of 16th. Her best career finish was an 11th place in early 2007. She does, however, have three race wins in the Rolex Sports Car Series, all in the Daytona Prototype class, from a career in that series that spanned from 2004 to 2006.

The No. 19 DCR car announced sponsorship from the Boy Scouts of America months ago, but still does not have a driver lined up. Alex Lloyd is currently the front-runner for the seat, having Twittered a seat fitting three hours away from his Indianapolis home not too long ago; Coyne's Illinois base is about three hours away from Indianapolis. Coyne offered a lucrative two-year deal to Graham Rahal, but he turned down the ride, feeling it was too restrictive. J.R. Hildebrand, another American driver and winner of last year's Firestone Indy Lights championship, recently tested for the team and was noted by Coyne as one of his targets, but may not end up in the seat as other Indy Lights graduates secure rides.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010 Atlantic Championship Cancelled

Sad days endure in American open wheel racing, as the long-standing Atlantic Championship is no more.

Series owner Ben Johnston and team owners made the decision yesterday to cancel this year's season, according to Auto123.com. The season was set to open in just over two weeks at Sebring, but only one driver and team combination had been announced, although a news release on the series' official website from last week suggested that 10 teams were in place.

As with many recent failings in the motorsports world, this cancellation was driven by economic factors, particularly the loss of many sponsorship programs. The series lists primary sponsorship deals with Cooper Tires and Mazda on its website, but only three contingency sponsors. Many of the teams that competed last year only had minor sponsorship deals.

To make matters worse, last year's championship team, Newman Wachs Racing, left the series, taking champion driver John Edwards with it to sports car racing. Second-place Jonathan Summerton sits on the sidelines looking for a ride in any major professional series.

Johnston has, however, laid out rough plans for a Winter Series towards the end of the year, if financially viable for the organization and its team owners. In a best case scenario, the Winter Series would lead to a relaunched championship in 2011.

The series was first established in 1974, and has always been recognized as an affordable development option for young open-wheel talent. From 1985 to 1990 two separate championships were conducted on the east and west coasts. The series provided the stage for some of the top North American drivers of the past thirty years to establish themselves, and launched many drivers into successful CART (and later Champ Car) careers.

Because it did produced driving talent of a similar caliber and at a similar rate to CART's Indy Lights series, it was adopted as the official feeder series to CART in 2002, with Indy Lights being cancelled. In response, a handful of old CART Lights teams switched series. Beginning in 2006 the series offered a $2 million scholarship for its champion, put towards securing a ride in the Champ Car World Series, CART's successor. That year, Simon Pagenaud took the deal and went to Walker Racing. However, 2007 champion Raphael Matos passed on the money to drive in the IRL's Firestone Indy Lights.

With Champ Car's dissolution in 2008, and the presence of Indy Lights, the Atlantic Championship became a stand-alone feeder series for the past two years, launching talent but dropping off in terms of car count and popularity. Johnston purchased the series in late 2008 after previously attempting to start a "Green Prix" series that would have utilized former Champ Cars in an attempt to build an environmentally-friendly racing series.

The series persevered with some interesting scheduling choices over the past two years, mostly supporting sports car races, but with a few feature events thrown in. A makeshift calendar was drawn up in 2008 after Champ Car's dissolution, as most Atlantic races were run in conjunction with that series, and many race weekends were cancelled. Unfortunately, as was the issue with Champ Car, many races that the Atlantic folks scheduled themselves fell through over the past few years, such as a potential support race with Formula 1 in Montreal, Canada in June of this year. To fill out the schedule, a number of race weekends (especially the features) were designed as doubleheader events.

Combine those scheduling issues with the lack of direct sanctioning, and the Atlantic Championship's demise is easy to understand. Sadly, its 36 years of history - making it the longest running feeder series in North America - looks to be a closed book for now, with no driver set to add his name to the illustrious list of Atlantic champions in the near future.

Opinion: De Silvestro Ready For Success

As far as diversity in major-league motorsports goes, the IZOD IndyCar Series has most of the racing world beat. For one, there's the biggest female racing star in the world right now, Danica Patrick. There's owner-driver Sarah Fisher, whose program has expanded gradually every year since she started her own team, and will even field two cars in some races this year. There's Ana Beatriz, a Firestone Indy Lights Series graduate who will make her IndyCar debut in her home country of Brazil in a week and a half. And yes, Milka Duno may still be hanging around.

But Simona de Silvestro may have the talent to surpass all of them.

The Swiss driver, 21, will join HVM Racing for the duration of the schedule after three years in the Atlantic Championship. Bringing her Atlantic sponsor, Stargate Worlds, with her, she will be one of up to four drivers competing for Rookie of the Year this season.

De Silvestro's first year in Atlantics, 2007, was a struggle, as is to be expected from a young driver moving up. But in 2008, she won the season-opening race at Long Beach, moving up to eighth in points at the end of the year. Last season, she dominated for much of the year, winning four races and staying in the title hunt until falling out of the final race of the year on the first lap. Eventually she finished third in points.

That's three more wins than Beatriz had over two years in Indy Lights, although each woman has a third and an eighth place finish in the standings of their respective series. As for Patrick, she never won an Atlantic race in two seasons despite running for a top team.

Katherine Legge was the last woman to dominate the Atlantic Championship, having spent much of 2005 on top and finishing third in the standings that year with three wins. Legge won in her first career Atlantic start, the 2005 season opener at Long Beach, and was even given a Formula 1 test at the end of the year for her efforts.

Legge, unfortunately, flamed out in Champ Car, perhaps a result of only spending one year in a major development series. A major crash at Road America in her rookie year, 2006, may also have affected her psyche. She has spent the past two years in the German DTM series, but has not yet scored a point in that series.

What gives de Silvestro an advantage over all of these other women, however, is the fact that she has spent enough time in developmental series to learn what it takes to drive consistently well. All of the other drivers in question had major ups and downs in their development seasons, and none of them really spent enough time in one major series to have a barnstorming championship run. Even Legge's 2005 season was marred by four finishes outside of the top five. Last year, de Silvestro only finished worse than fifth on two occasions. Nine races out of 12 she stood on the podium.

Unlike Beatriz, she doesn't have to focus on finding funding to run the rest of the season. Unlike Fisher, she doesn't have to balance the day-to-day responsibilities of running a race team. She can just focus on driving the race car.

In terms of gender, her only competition is Danica Patrick, who seems to be more and more of a falling star every minute. Three disastrous stock car runs, capped off by running full-throttle into the back of another car in Las Vegas, have shaken her. She has improved on her previous year's championship ranking every year since joining IndyCar, topping off at fifth last year, but with more competitive cars capable of winning on the grid this year, she may take a hit. She hasn't won a race since the split-series weekend in early 2008, and even that was won on fuel mileage.

Danica's celebrity is the biggest thing she has going for her, and it gets in the way of her racing. More and more people simply know her as the "Go Daddy girl," and more and more people are going to know her as a stock car driver as she inevitably expands her schedule in those cars.

De Silvestro will not have to face the pressure of being Danica Patrick, and that may be her biggest advantage of all. The expectations on her are not so great, as she is a rookie with zero oval experience driving for a single-car team that has unfortunately brought up the back of the grid for the past couple of years. Then again, last year's issues were partially due to a string of bad luck, and expanding to two cars mid-season began stretching the team's resources thin.

But because of that lack of pressure, she can work with HVM at her own pace, knowing that she will be somewhat competitive at the very least on road and street courses. For what it's worth, De Silvestro bested Patrick in the final open IndyCar test session last week.

By the time the oval sections of the schedule finally come up, de Silvestro will hopefully have had some competitive runs on the road and street circuits. With the confidence that she can run up front in the right situation, she should be just fine on the ovals once she gets a little experience.

Within a few years, provided the team sticks together and make progress, we may see Simona de Silvestro in the winner's circle with relative frequency. Time may anoint her a more accomplished driver than Patrick, if she can avoid the pitfalls of poor equipment and excessive celebrity.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

USF1: It Was Fun While It Lasted

USF1, a proposed Formula 1 team that was to compete in the 2010 Formula 1 season, has reportedly officially shut down, just over a year after its creation.

Its demise comes as no shock to insiders, who have been reporting for the past month or so that the team was on the verge of collapse. While two of the other four teams new to the grid in 2010 have launched their cars, and a third was recently rescued from the brink of disaster, USF1 could not put anything together in time for the season, soiling the names of technical director Ken Anderson and former team manager Peter Windsor.

The USF1 saga has been nothing short of a disaster, and those of us paying attention would probably rather forget the sad tale. But for those interested, here is a timeline of relevant events to the team's brief history:


February 24: Anderson and Windsor appear on the Speed Channel, announcing their intent to field a team in the 2010 Formula 1 season. The goal would be to create a completely American team, based in the States, that fielded only American drivers. The FIA had recently announced its intention to open up the grid to new teams in 2010. Windsor was, at the time, a pit reporter for Speed, and one of the only people the channel sent to every race on the F1 schedule.

June 12: USF1 is granted entry to the 2010 Formula 1 season, alongside the Campos Meta team and Manor Grand Prix. None of the three teams will enter 2010 as they were originally granted entry. USF1 will be based out of a shop formerly used by top NASCAR teams.

July 29: USF1 signs the sport's Concorde Agreement after squabbling between the sanctioning body and teams already in the championship ends.

August 7: Windsor tells Sports Illustrated that USF1 will not take on pay drivers for the 2010 season, reaffirming the team's goal of providing American drivers with F1 opportunities.

August 19: Windsor reveals that one of the team's primary investors will be Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube.

September 16: Computerized images of USF1's car, as yet unnamed in the design process, are revealed on a SpeedTV.com webcast. Anderson suggests that a rolling model will be built within the next month.

October 30: USF1 announces that it will establish a secondary base in Alcaniz, Spain, at the Motorland Aragon circuit. The team did not want to waste time and/or money shipping integral equipment back to its Charlotte, NC base during the European rounds of the season.

November 21: Argentinian driver Jose Maria Lopez announces that he will drive for USF1 provided he can secure $8 million worth of sponsorship.

December: USF1 signs British driver James Rossiter to a contract. It is not announced to the press. Chassis moulds are completed, but sit for a month waiting to be laid up.

December 22: Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of F1, expresses doubts publicly that USF1 and Campos will make it to the F1 grid in 2010. "I think the people we expected to perform will and those that we thought wouldn't, won't," he says to British newspaper The Times.

December 23: Windsor refutes Ecclestone's doubts that USF1 will be ready for the start of the 2010 season. USF1 launches a fully functional website.


January 15: Hurley tours the Charlotte facility and, according to later reports, becomes aware of problems with the team. Paychecks due to team members on this date are late.

January 18: More CGI renderings of the USF1 Type 1 are revealed on racecar-engineering.com. Author Lawrence Butcher refutes widespread public doubt that the team's race shop is fully functional, providing a photographic tour of the shop. The article also says that USF1 can build its entire car in-house, but that time constraints are forcing them to outsource some of the work.

January 20: Paychecks due on January 15 arrive to team members.

January 25: Lopez signs with USF1.

January/February: In a team meeting, Windsor rhetorically asks his team who thinks that USF1 will not make the grid for the start of the season. Every crew member raises a hand.

February: Rossiter's sponsors seek reassurance that all was going well with USF1. After guarantees could not be made, Rossiter exits the deal. Windsor tells Lopez that the team is in trouble, and Lopez, too, begins to look for a way out.

February 10: In response to rumors of USF1's struggles, and the suggestion that the Concorde Agreement allows for teams to miss up to three races, the FIA releases a clarifying statement that confirms teams will be penalized for missing races.

February 18: Multiple sources report that crash testing for the car in England, press interviews, and all other testing of the Type 1 has either been been called off or was never scheduled in the first place. The blame is placed on sponsors not coming through. The USF1 website goes down, but the team uses social media to affirm it still exists.

February 19: Anderson announces that USF1 cannot possibly make it to the first race of the season. He says that Lopez remains under contract, the team has a five-year lease in its Charlotte shop despite the fact that the building itself is listed for sale by its owner, and the team can build a car in time for the fifth race of the season with additional money. The USF1 website is restored.

February 20: Anderson petitions the FIA for a reprieve from the first four races of the season, in order to allow the team to finish building the car. The team would then debut in early May in Spain.

February 24: Charlie Whiting, F1 race director, inspects the USF1 shop for fitness. An insider suggests that only Hurley can save the team, accusing Anderson and Windsor of mismanagement.

February 26: Chad Hurley discusses merging USF1 with another team for the 2010 season, but talks are unsuccessful. Anderson and Windsor oppose the deal.

March 1: USF1 asks to have its entry into the sport delayed until 2011. Speed announces a replacement for Windsor on its F1 broadcast team, journalist Will Buxton.

March 2: All team employees are put on unpaid leave. Lopez is officially freed from the USF1 contract, and his legal team is working on reclaiming the $830,000 advance he paid to join. Blame for the team's failure is placed on Anderson. Neither Anderson nor Windsor can be reached for comment.

USF1 may yet be restored to F1 in time for the 2011 season, but at this point it appears unlikely. Its position on the grid will likely be forfeited, and the legal mess may just be beginning for the failed organization. Where this leaves Windsor and Anderson is anyone's guess.

Lotus Looking to IndyCar in the Present and Future

The renaissance of the Lotus brand continues as Team Lotus USA will reportedly field two cars in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

Originally, reports suggested that Lotus would return to the Indianapolis 500 only, which they won in 1965 with Jim Clark behind the wheel. Then it appeared that the brand would back James Rossiter at KV Racing Technology. Now it appears that the brand looks to make a stronger push into American open-wheel racing.

Lotus recently announced a partnership with Cosworth to develop engines for racing based on those in its road cars. Cosworth is partially owned by Kevin Kalkhoven, the "K" in KVRT. Cosworth supplied engines exclusively for Champ Car, which was run by Kalkhoven, from the mid-2000s through the series' demise in 2008. The company also supplies the spec engine for Formula 1, which the Lotus F1 team campaigns. (It is important to note that the Lotus involved with IndyCar is the "real" Lotus, the car company itself, and not related to the F1 team that licenses its name.)

This partnership may influence the brand's participation in IndyCar in 2012. The latest rumor is that Lotus will build its own car - chassis and engine - for 2012 and beyond. Lotus, however, does not appear intent on becoming an exclusive chassis supplier to the sport, instead harkening back to the innovation of Indy 500s past, and the uniqueness of each car still seen in F1 today.

The engine, however, would likely be used by multiple teams. It would probably signal a return to the series, and the sport, for Cosworth, and perhaps use Lotus badging. KVRT would be a likely bet to run the engine for the reasons stated above; if Gerald Forsythe ever returns to the ranks of open-wheel team ownership, the other owner of Cosworth would likely use the engine too. Many of the most enduring IndyCar teams have used Cosworth engines at one point or another.

Cosworth was shut out from IndyCar in 2008 when Champ Car was bought out, and this would likely be the best way for them to return. While they did not attend more than one of IndyCar's engine spec meetings in 2008, Lotus looks to build a turbocharged V6 engine with the company - exactly the type of engine that current IndyCar supplier Honda is looking for in 2012.

Monday, March 1, 2010

De Silvestro Set For 2010

Confirmed via the Twitter accounts of both driver and team, Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro will contest the entire 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule for HVM Racing. She will drive the No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds Dallara-Honda.

De Silvestro, 21, has spent the past three years in the Atlantic Championship, with a best finish of third last year. In 34 career Atlantic starts, she has five wins, four of them coming last year with US RaceTronics (operating under the Stargate Worlds banner). She was in the championship hunt for most of last season, before a retirement on the first lap of the season finale knocked her from contention. Her performance helped her earn a handful of IndyCar tests this offseason, in which she performed respectably.

HVM ran one car for E.J. Viso for most of last season before taking on Robert Doornbos just over halfway in. Viso failed to finish his first seven races, while the best finish Doornbos could muster in five events for the team was 10th place. This came in stark contrast to Doornbos' 2007 season with the team in Champ Car, where he finished third in the championship and won rookie of the year for the team, then known as Minardi Team USA.

Doornbos was originally to run for HVM again in 2010, but funding did not come through. Doornbos' uniform in 2009 carried patches for energy drink maker Red Bull and financial institution ING, although the car itself did not. Red Bull gave Doornbos three starts in Formula 1 in 2006 and ING, like Doornbos, is Dutch. It appears, however, that a difficult season marred by feuding with onetime teammate Graham Rahal and poor performance on ovals ended those sponsorships.

Stargate Worlds is an online role-playing video game that is part of the Stargate science fiction franchise. Still in production, it will be the second Stargate video game to be released. 2010 will be the second season of open-wheel sponsorship for Stargate Worlds and developer Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment.

Cooper: USF1 Lost Rossiter to KV

The United States' Formula 1 team, currently in a state of disarray, looks even worse with the recent release of news pertaining to the team losing a driver.

SpeedTV.com's Adam Cooper reports that James Rossiter, now destined for an IZOD IndyCar Series ride with KV Racing Technology, had signed with the team as early as December. Rossiter was committed to bringing $8 million of sponsorship with him, as the team had mandated for any drivers.

However, the $16 million that Rossiter and Argentinian Jose Maria Lopez were to bring to the team was not enough. The team's vehicle, the Type 1, still has not been launched, and thus far all that anybody has seen of it are some CGI renderings of 3D models.

Rumors have been circulating for months that the American team would not be ready in time for the start of the season, and while team sources adamantly have denied this speculation for months, the past few weeks have seen everything fall apart for the Charlotte-based organization.

Despite signing two drivers with F1 testing experience, the team could not make any guarantees to either driver about making the grid for the start of the season. Both drivers pulled out of their deals within the past month, reported Cooper. Lopez is now searching for another seat in Europe.

Ironically, Rossiter's landing place at KV reportedly has connections to another Formula 1 team. His No. 32 Marisco Liqueur Dallara-Honda reflects the livery that the Lotus F1 team ran from 1972 to 1986. Lotus recently announced that they looked to return to the Indianapolis 500 this year, and it doesn't seem a stretch that Rossiter is the driver with which they will do it.

The new, Malaysian-backed Lotus F1 team runs the Cosworth spec engine that the series put in place for this season. The Cosworth Group is led by Kevin Kalkhoven, the "K" in KV Racing Technology. Not only that, the original Lotus team (whose colors and heritage have been licensed to the new entity) was British-based, and former F1 test driver Rossiter was born in Oxford.