Welcome to OpenWheelAmerica.com.

Follow us on Twitter @christopherlion or @OpnWhlAmerica
All images provided courtesy of the IndyCar Media site.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Opinion: Sarah Fisher's Groundbreaking Transition

Today's big IZOD IndyCar Series news came out of the Sarah Fisher Racing camp, as team namesake Sarah Fisher announced her retirement from IndyCar competition. While her No. 67 Dollar General Dallara-Honda will return to competition next season for nine races, Ed Carpenter will be its new driver.

Fisher steps aside after 25 years competing in various forms of racing, dating back to her early childhood. Ever since her early start, she's been a go-getter and an overachiever, scoring everything from multiple World Karting Association championships to IndyCar drives, all the way up to a Formula 1 test with McLaren-Mercedes in 2002. Off the track, she's even written a book, entitled "99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Getting Behind the Wheel of Their Dream Job". You name it, she's done it.

She first began contemplating a transition out of the car earlier this year, when she gave Graham Rahal a three-race deal to drive the No. 67 to keep him in practice as he looked for more consistent employment. With three full seasons gone by since her last top-10 finish, a seventh place in IndyCar's first Iowa event, and a family-owned team running a part-time schedule against such superpowers as Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, her prospects for taking the checkers as a winning driver were slim.

But Fisher showed that she could still hang up front with the big boys at Chicagoland this year. She took the lead under caution thanks to an alternate pit strategy, holding it for 10 laps. Although Ryan Briscoe got by her soon after the green flag waved again, she managed to hold her position in the top five for quite a while afterward. If anybody ever doubted that she still had the skills to run up front, even after her brief NASCAR sojourn in the middle of the decade, Chicagoland was their rebuttal.

Now, Fisher transitions into her most difficult and important role yet: full-time team owner.

Yes, this will be Sarah Fisher Racing's fourth IZOD IndyCar Series season, so it's not as if Fisher hasn't had to face those difficult ownership decisions before. Things will certainly be less tense around the SFR shop than they were in 2008, when she and husband Andy O'Gara formed the team out of pocket. That year, a sponsorship disaster with RESQ Energy Drink and an Indianapolis 500 accident nearly sidelined the team for good before it could even get off the ground.

Things have been looking up ever since Dollar General stepped in for two late 2008 events. The team expanded to two cars for 2010, adding Jay Howard to a limited slate of events, and of course had the popular Rahal compete in three events.

Now with Carpenter behind the wheel for the team in 2011, and the elimination of the perpetually off-the-pace second car, Fisher can fully focus on building a strong race team that will compete for IndyCar wins and championships for years to come. Carpenter and Fisher alike have been featured in successful and popular IndyCar marketing programs over the past few years; while Fisher has become a prominent face in Dollar General marketing, Carpenter has represented longtime Indy sponsor Menards and newcomer Fuzzy's Vodka in the past few years. The tandem of two affable American racers with old-school roots (both came from USAC backgrounds) should prove interesting to new potential sponsors.

Of course, Fisher's transition to full-time ownership represents a step forward for IndyCar for more reasons than that. Most forms of motorsport have never seen a top team led by a female owner, IndyCar included. Fisher has the potential to do that with SFR.

IndyCar has already asserted itself as a predominant form of racing for minority drivers, especially women; a record five female drivers attempted to qualify for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, with four - Fisher, Danica Patrick, Simona de Silvestro, and Ana Beatriz - competing on race day. But of the four, only Fisher was financing her own car (not counting Patrick's equity stake in her Andretti Autosport team). And Fisher almost put two cars in the race, with Howard only failing to make the race due to faulty Bump Day strategy. That's a big deal for such a small team, no matter how many cars show up.

Fisher has been embracing the ownership role more than that of driver as of late, anyway. Putting Rahal in the car was a solid move that led to the team's first-ever top-10 finish, a ninth place run at St. Petersburg. It was a decision to improve her team's performance, not to feed her ego and keep her in the car, and it paid off. Fisher gave her sponsor a top-flight driver and a chance to make some noise in their brief time together, and garnered a lot of respect from IndyCar fans and competitors - not only for employing the best driver not to have a full-time ride, but also for knowing when to step aside for the benefit of her team.

Now, the team has a chance to score some underdog oval wins with Carpenter, who came tantalizingly close to pulling out another surprise Kentucky victory this year. And Carpenter has another chance to learn the road courses, his longtime Achilles' heel in IndyCar competition.

Who knows, a strong 2011 season could attract enough sponsors for full-time competition in 2012, when new chassis and engines debut. And in the mess that comes with a blank slate, you never know what a little team could pull out of its hat.

Could Sarah Fisher be the first female owner to win an IZOD IndyCar Series race? Perhaps even the first to win an Indianapolis 500? Don't doubt it. She's never been one not to accomplish her goals.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

IndyCar Season Review: E.J. Viso

2010 may not have been the breakout season that E.J. Viso hoped for, but he certainly moved up a rung or two on the IZOD IndyCar Series ladder.

After spending two years with the underfunded HVM Racing, including a horrid 2009 sidetracked by seven consecutive DNFs to start the year, Viso moved to KV Racing Technology, widely accepted as one of the best ex-Champ Car teams in IndyCar. Joining ex-Formula 1 pilot Takuma Sato and the returning Mario Moraes, Viso looked to have a strong 2010.

In reality, it was anything but, as accidents and bad luck kept the Venezuelan driver 17th in points despite a handful of shining performances.

The first instance of bad luck came at St. Petersburg, where Viso briefly led due to clever pit strategy. Unfortunately, transmission issues knocked him three laps down and he finished a disappointing 17th. Either way, Viso carried the team's banner through the first few road course races of the season with his consistency and lack of DNFs, a far cry from his 2009 struggles.

When the series began its oval slate, Viso's luck briefly changed, as wrecks at Kansas and Indianapolis marked his first two of the year. But he rebounded with a respectable 11th place at Texas, before scoring his best career IndyCar finish at Iowa, coming home third.

The next five races were a mixed bag; decent finishes at Watkins Glen and Edmonton were juxtaposed against crashes in Glen practice and during the race at Mid-Ohio. Combined with the frequent accidents of his teammates, Viso and KVRT were hanging on a thread by the end of the season, which saw Viso finish no better than 15th in any of the final six races.

When the smoke cleared (in the case of KVRT, quite literally), Viso had his best career points position (17th) and had scored 262 points, improving on his 2009 total by 14. However, he was still 24 off his 2008 total, which remains his career best. After a year together, though, Viso and KVRT, who will likely pair up again next year, should be able to ascend the standings further in 2011.

IndyCar Season Review: Alex Lloyd

After years spent in search of an IZOD IndyCar Series ride, Alex Lloyd finally made good on the promise he had shown in Firestone Indy Lights in 2010.

A two-time Indianapolis 500 veteran, Lloyd had been in line for a seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing this year due to his Her Energy Drink sponsorship, but the company pulled out. Lloyd searched for another open seat and found it at Dale Coyne Racing, where he would pilot the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara-Honda that Graham Rahal turned down on a race-by-race basis. Lloyd converted the opportunity into full-time employment, a 16th place finish in points, and the 2010 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Award.

Given the season's first five races, Lloyd's award was anything but predictable; he suffered DNFs at Brazil and St. Petersburg, and ran no better than 19th at Alabama, Long Beach, or Kansas. Lloyd was also a second-day qualifier at Indianapolis, starting 26th.

But two years of experience at the Speedway paid off for the Englishman. He was able to avoid trouble all day and came home an impressive fourth, beating former race winner Scott Dixon, Danica Patrick, and ex-Coyne driver Justin Wilson, among many others. The Indianapolis finish (and paycheck of over $400,000) gave the team some momentum heading into the next couple of oval races; they finished eighth at Texas and 13th at Iowa.

But switching back to the road and street courses, the team again fell to the back. Lloyd spun out Dan Wheldon in Watkins Glen on the way to his third of five DNFs on the year. Indeed, at the beginning of every quarter of the season, on each switch from one discipline to the other, the team struggled. Lloyd would wait until Mid-Ohio to once again break the top half of the field, and until Sonoma to snag his third and final top-10 of the season.

Towards the end of the season Lloyd once again posted some decent finishes, running 13th at Chicagoland and 12th in the series' final race at Homestead. Overall his record was good for 266 points and 16th overall in the series' final standings. He won the Rookie of the Year title over the more-hyped and more-recognized Simona de Silvestro by 24 points.

While Lloyd has not signed a contract extension for 2011, most indications have him returning to Coyne and the Boy Scouts ride, where he and the team will attempt to build on the chemistry they attained this year.

Silly Season Roundup: November 24, 2010

This week's roundup of potential driver changes in the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2011:

- On this week's edition of the SPEED Report, Robin Miller reported that Graham Rahal is a likely candidate to drive for a satellite operation of this year's championship outfit, Chip Ganassi Racing. Rahal has secured a major personal sponsorship deal with Service Central, which backed Sarah Fisher Racing and Jay Howard for a handful of races this year.

The satellite operation would utilize current Ganassi personnel and basically be a Ganassi team in all but name, an arrangement that some claim is owed to Target's naming rights deal with the team. If the rumors are true, the new outfit would be a two-car operation (fellow American Charlie Kimball is the other potential driver) based out of Brownsburg, in the former Prudhomme Racing shop. Don Prudhomme, the ex-NHRA owner and driver who shut down his operation in January, attended some late-season IndyCar events with Chip Ganassi.

- FAZZT Race Team held a well-publicized test this week with Dutch-Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung with the help of team sponsor Bowers & Wilkins. Tung tested with the team at Sebring International Raceway in a No. 88 Dallara-Honda, and many indications suggest the team will attempt to bring him on full-time in 2011.

This is not Tung's first flirtation with American open-wheel - he had previously looked to join Champ Car in 2007. The 2006 German Formula 3 champion has held rides in almost every major open-wheel series the world over; in the past four years alone, he's won in Superleague Formula, competed in A1GP and GP2, and held test driver seats in Formula One.

The team's current driver and part-owner, Alex Tagliani, seems confident that Tung will be their second driver next year. Previous statements from owner Andre Azzi had indicated that the team would like to remain an all-Canadian outfit.

- Sarah Fisher Racing will make an announcement about the team's future on November 29. Various rumors suggest that the team will employ a single full-time American driver next year, with Fisher herself only running selected events in a second car. J.R. Hildebrand is one of the top available American drivers, but plenty more are available - Ed Carpenter, Jonathan Summerton, and Townsend Bell among them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Silly Season Roundup: November 18, 2010

A muddy IZOD IndyCar Series silly season picture for 2011 has begun to clear up, as big names begin to sign contracts, or at least line them up, with major teams.

Since the future appears bright, with Chevrolet and Lotus joining the fray in 2012, it's easy to forget that IndyCar has another season of spec racing ahead of it, and plenty of driver contracts to be signed along the way. But just this week, we saw the confirmation of two drivers returning to their teams from 2010, and another setting up a ride with an old friend for 2011.

Justin Wilson announced his return to the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara-Honda for 2011 last Thursday, turning down offers from a handful of other teams. He'll continue a relationship that yielded an 11th-place points finish in 2010 and shone on the road and street courses all year.

Meanwhile, E.J. Viso confirmed to Yahoo! Sports Argentina that he will remain in IndyCar next season, likely returning to KV Racing Technology as the team's relationship with Lotus expands. Previously, team owner Jimmy Vasser had suggested to SpeedTV.com that the team's driver lineup would remain the same in 2011 as in 2010, although this year was a hellish season for the team that saw a plethora of wrecks.

For those who like to speculate, the article also mentioned Takuma Sato as a KVRT driver, but not Mario Moraes. Lotus has also confirmed full-time sponsorship commitment of only two cars for next year.

Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran are a few steps closer to working together next season. Kanaan recently spent time in a de Ferran Dragon Racing car, with the intent on critiquing the team's engineering progress thus far. But de Ferran's previous driver, Raphael Matos, just finished the second of a two-year deal, and the ever-popular Kanaan is heading to Brazil, his and de Ferran's home country, to seek out sponsors. The 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner is adamant that he will employ the 2004 IndyCar champion next season.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lotus Steps Up For 2012

The addition of Chevrolet to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series engine manufacturer lineup was a monumental revitalizing moment in the series' history, bringing back engine competition to the sport for the first time since 2005 and exciting plenty of fans along the way.

But if Chevrolet's announcement last week planted a seed, consider today's announcement one that asserts the series fully in bloom.

Group Lotus, which has recently announced the rapid expansion of its motorsports programs and had already been planning on an IndyCar aero kit for 2012, chose the night before the public opening of this year's Los Angeles Auto Show to announce their foray into IndyCar engine production. Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, and 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones were among those in attendance.

A longtime Formula 1 competitor, Lotus debuted their rear-engined, Ford-powered cars at Indianapolis in 1963, where they finished second to Jones with driver Jim Clark. Clark won the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 with the car, although Lotus pulled out a relatively short time later. The brand returned to the sport this year, backing Takuma Sato's effort with KV Racing Technology.

Specs on the engine were not yet released, suggesting the brand may look to ally with another company, or even still be mulling its own engine design.

While KVRT partner Kevin Kalkhoven owns Cosworth, a longtime IndyCar engine builder with a dozen Indy 500 wins, and Fords powered the Lotus Indy entries of the past, representatives from no other engine suppliers were present at the announcement. If Lotus goes its own route, it may open the door for Cosworth to produce an Alfa Romeo powerplant, as has been rumored in recent days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RIP, Silent Pagoda

I don't normally write this way on this blog. I go for the newsy-type stuff, the occasional opinion piece, some ill-received photo posts, you know, stuff like that. It is with great infrequency that I write as myself, but this is one of those days.

Today, the IndyCar community welcomed a brand new race car factory to Speedway, IN, as Dallara broke ground on a factory that will produce the safety cells for the sport starting in 2012. It was a monumental day for the company, the city, and the sport, helping bring all three into the future.

But for us bloggers, this beautiful sunny day was not without a subsequent torrential downpour. Today we received word that the Silent Pagoda, that wonderful bastion of humor that was "only vaguely related to IndyCar", would be shut down, its proprietor Roy Hobbson posting a fond farewell to the blogosphere this morning (or, mourning, if you prefer).

The loss hit us all like a ton of bricks. To call Roy a "valued member of the community" would be a grossly inappropriate statement for two reasons: first of all, because his posts were absolutely batsh*t INSANE, and second of all, because he was far more important to us than that.

We call ourselves fans of an intensely political sport, which has seen its share of problems to that end for decades. In my lifetime, we've seen everything from this year's Twitter wars between the Briscoes and EVERYBODY to the CART-IRL split way back when I was in preschool. We've seen all sorts of controversy, from the Penske Mercedes 500I at Indy in 1994 to the Delta Wing this year. And we've seen good races, like those at Chicagoland and Road America, say farewell, while boring races, like those at Infineon and Mid-Ohio, remain on the schedule.

To Roy, a self-proclaimed IndyCar outsider, nothing was sacred. He spent the better part of three years tearing apart all of the idiocy that exists in our sport, and he created some amazing characters along the way - most notably of all himself. He turned Cameron Haven into a world-changing time-traveler, E.J. Viso into The Most Interesting Man In The World, and Scott Dixon into the subject of a mood finder. And most of that was just in the second half of this season.

We'd been keen on the possibility of losing the Pagoda for a little while now, since about the day of this year's season finale. "It's not 'in question.' It's over. (Probably.)", he tweeted to one person. But we held out hope after reading this year's Paggies, the annual awards post detailing the best of the best (and the worst) in the sport this year.

But we heard nothing else about it for a while. "Everything's up in the air right now with the Pagoda," he tweeted to me last week. "Indecision is fun!" Then came today.

Personally, I idolized Roy. Maybe it was because I'm a college-aged male, or the perfect candidate to do plenty of the stupid things described in his posts. Maybe it was because he never had anything but nice things to say to me, even as I felt my own comment contributions to his wonderful site were subpar. Maybe it was because the man could turn a post about remodeling his bathroom into a call to IndyCar fans to get over all the damn politics and pretense and get excited for this season's finale at Homestead. Maybe it was all of that and then some.

I want to reference a favorite Pagoda post here, but there are too many that I want to link to. It was consistently absolutely hilarious. And in the few instances when it wasn't, it was because it had something to say that none of us in our narrow IndyCar-based worlds would have come up with in a thousand years. Humor was the Pagoda's forte, like the Coyote chassis was A.J. Foyt's. But Foyt built engines... and the Pagoda had plenty to teach us.

So Roy, if you're reading, know that we're going to miss your wit and the Pagoda. She WAS a good site. And if you don't tag onto somebody else's site for next year, and are looking to get back in the game, give me a call - I'll buy the damn website, and all the trademarks, from IndyCar for you, and she's all yours. I mean it.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

2012 Engine Deadline Fast Approaching

Tony Cotman, the man entrusted with the development of the new car formula for the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 and beyond, released his monthly update on engineering progress to RACER magazine.

Unfortunately, the article is not optimistic on further engine announcements for the 2012 season.

Cotman reiterated a November 16 deadline for manufacturers to confirm participation in the first season of the new formula. Right now, Honda and Chevrolet are the only two who are involved in engine development. In effect, any deal for the 2012 season would have to be confirmed over the weekend, signed, and announced with about a 48 hour turnaround.

Cotman did mention about three or four potential deals that had been in the works for a while, of which he suggested Chevrolet was not one. The Chevrolet deal only came together very recently, he said. Initially, rumors had been suggesting Ford, Cosworth, Mazda, Lotus, and Alfa Romeo as potential suppliers.

The Chevrolet deal puts the pressure on Ford to join the series, for which it has never been a factory supplier of engines. Fords have not competed in IndyCar since 1996, the first year of the Indy Racing League, when the cars were older CART models. That year, a Ford engine won its eighth Indianapolis 500, with Buddy Lazier behind the wheel. Ford did remain in CART and Champ Car until the middle of the decade, when it dropped its badging of the series' Cosworth engines.

Lotus has been mentioned as a candidate based on their relationship with KV Racing Technology, whose part-owner Kevin Kalkhoven is the owner of Cosworth. Lotus and Cosworth have had a relationship before. However, Mazda also works with Cosworth in other series, and another rumor that has taken off as of late suggests that Cosworth will partner with Alfa Romeo - or even provide the same engine to multiple teams with different badging.

Friday, November 12, 2010

IndyCar History: Chevrolet

In celebration of today's announcement that Chevrolet will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012, a look back at Chevrolet's open-wheel history:

The name Chevrolet has been present at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the earliest gestations of the Indianapolis 500. French-American brothers Louis, Gaston, and Arthur Chevrolet all took starts in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Arthur was the first to compete, in 1911; Louis debuted in 1916, while Gaston made the first of his two starts in 1919. Gaston was, by far, the most successful behind the wheel, taking the win in 1920 behind the wheel of a Frontenac, the race car company owned by the Chevrolet brothers.

The Chevrolet Motor Car Company itself had been founded in 1911, but founding brother Louis sold his share in it in 1915. As such, Chevrolet the brand was less associated with the speedway than its namesake. As Miller, Offenhauser, Ford, and Cosworth engines began to dominate the sport and the Indianapolis 500, there seemed like less and less of a place available for the famed bowtie at the speedway, besides appearances as the pace car.

When CART was established in 1979, Cosworth engines continued to dominate the day, but Chevrolet took the first non-Cosworth win in the series when Mike Mosley won at the Milwaukee Mile in 1981 in Dan Gurney's Pepsi Challenger. It would mark the only non-Cosworth win in the series until 1987.

Roger Penske, then a five-time Indianapolis 500-winning car owner, began fielding a Chevrolet in selected events in 1986 for Al Unser, the defending series champion. Unser's lone finish in five starts came in the season finale at Miami, where he placed 15th.

The next year, Chevrolet powerplants found their way inside the cars of some of the sport's top teams and drivers. Mario Andretti took a season-opening win at Long Beach for Newman/Haas Racing with the motor, as Penske and Pat Patrick also opted to outfit all of their cars with the new powerplant. The brand took four wins that year, with former Formula 1 champions Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi each scoring two.

Unfortunately, the new engine was still no match for the established Cosworths. Chevrolet could muster no better than fifth in the CART championship that year, with Rick Mears, as the brand's top drivers - Andretti, Mears, Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, and Kevin Cogan - were plagued by mechanical problems. Adding insult to injury, Unser's Indianapolis 500 win for Penske that year came in a March-Cosworth that had previously been used as a showcar.

1988 was the first year that the Chevrolet brand truly began to shine in CART. Taking the first six wins that season, 12 of 15 overall, and its first Indianapolis 500, Chevrolet scored its first championship with Sullivan in a Penske-Chevrolet. Sullivan scored an incredible 11 top five finishes and led laps in all but two events that season. Meanwhile, Mears won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s, pacing the field once dominant teammate Sullivan crashed out after 101 laps.

1989 through 1993 represented a remarkable five-year stretch for the brand, which won the Indianapolis 500 in each of those seasons and the CART championship in the first four. Chevrolet-powered cars won 66 of the 80 CART-sanctioned races over the course of those five years, sweeping the 1990 and 1991 seasons and winning 41 events in a row from September 1989 to June 1992.

But 1992 represented the first challenge to Chevrolet's established open wheel authority, as defending champions Michael Andretti and Newman-Haas Racing switched to new Ford Cosworth power. Andretti mounted a series challenge for the title, losing to Bobby Rahal by only four points. But the IndyCar wars were now at full strength, as Andretti took five wins with the new powerplant.

Andretti left CART for an ill-fated Formula 1 experiment in 1993, but his replacement was no slouch either. Defending F1 champion Nigel Mansell slid into Andretti's seat after a falling out with Williams F1 and won his debut event in Queensland. At the top of his game, the Brit won a season-high five races and the title despite missing the second race of the year at Phoenix due to injuries suffered in a practice crash. Chevrolet, Penske, and Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi were defeated by eight points.

At this point, Chevrolet decided that enough was enough. On September 14, 1993, the manufacturer decided to end its relationship with the sport and with engine manufacturer Ilmor, citing the rising costs of going to war with Ford.

2002 marked the brand's return to open-wheel racing. General Motors had been the premier engine supplier in the Indy Racing League since 1997, running engines badged with its Oldsmobile Aurora brand. But as Oldsmobile was being phased out at GM, the powers that be decided to replace the badging with that of Chevrolet. Few were surprised by the brand's dominance that year, winning 14 of 15 races and easily taking the top nine spots in IRL points.

Unfortunately, that dominance was short-lived. Honda and Toyota decided to abandon CART for chances at Indianapolis 500 glory, bringing most of the sport's top teams with them. Chevrolet quickly fell to third in a three-horse race, even after replacing their original engine with a new Cosworth-built motor. Of the 18 races that Chevrolet won in IndyCar between 2002 and 2005, only four came in those last three years; all were with Panther Racing.

The brand pulled out of the sport once again in 2005, as did Toyota, with both focusing their American racing programs on NASCAR first and foremost. But with the new engine formula adopted by the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012 and beyond, and the brand seeking a new opportunity, a deal for Chevrolet to return to the sport with Penske and Ilmor appears imminent.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chevrolet-IndyCar Announcement Imminent

IndyCar has scheduled an announcement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday at 10:00 AM Eastern time regarding manufacturer competition in the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012 and beyond.

This announcement will be a confirmation of Chevrolet's re-entry into the sport, a rumor buzzing around the sport's blogosphere since last week. The famed engine manufacturer exited the series in 2005 after a four-year run that yielded 18 victories and the 2002 championship with Sam Hornish Jr.

The rumors also suggest that, during the 15-minute announcement, Chevrolet will announce alliances with Roger Penske and Ilmor Engineering for 2012 and beyond. Ilmor will produce the 2.2-liter V6 engines for Chevrolet, and Penske will be the brand's top owner, after rumors of an alliance with Chip Ganassi were shot down.

Team Penske was a champion of Chevrolet power in CART in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Chevy Indy V8 won every Indianapolis 500 from 1988 to 1993. When the brand left the sport after 1993, engine builder Ilmor continued to build the engines with a Mercedes-Benz nameplate.

Ilmor eventually evolved into Mercedes' high-performance engine division, but founder Mario Ilien and Penske re-established part of the company in 2005 to build engines for Honda. But Honda Performance Development appears likely to build their own IndyCar engines under the new formula, which calls for nothing larger than a turbocharged 2.4-liter V6.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Silly Season Roundup: November 10, 2010

Marshall Pruett reports today on SpeedTV.com that KV Racing Technology is closing in on finalizing their 2011 plans, helping clarify the IZOD IndyCar Series silly season picture, if only marginally.

According to team owner Jimmy Vasser, the team is working on a deal to rebrand the team Lotus/KV that will also see the team run retro paint schemes from Lotus' Formula 1 and Indianapolis 500 heyday.

Vasser also hopes to return all three of his team's full-time drivers from 2010 - Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso, and Mario Moraes - despite a trying season that saw the team wreck nearly enough cars to fill the Indianapolis 500 by itself. Paul Tracy has also been mentioned as a candidate for a fourth ride, although some of his funding has been knocked out of whack with the cancellation of the Honda Indy Edmonton.

Vasser mentioned that the long-term deal will mostly be incentive-based, meaning the team cannot quite go out and hire whomever it wants. He has also praised the team's current core of drivers, chalking up last season to inexperience and significant bad luck. However, the team is waiting to hear what some top free agents will be doing for next season, including Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Justin Wilson, and Dan Wheldon.

Rahal, according to Pruett, hopes to finalize and announce his plans within the next ten days. Rumors have suggested a third car at Chip Ganassi Racing, though Ganassi himself has denied the rumor. Rahal's Service Central sponsorship contract is sizable, however, and should land him at a top team.

Kanaan has been rumored to join just about every team under the sun, a testament to his strong driving talent. As Curt Cavin has been saying for weeks, de Ferran Dragon Racing seems like the strongest possibility now, as Vasser appears set at KV and Newman/Haas Racing is still searching for sponsorship. Wilson has talked to a handful of teams, including his 2010 team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Panther Racing is also a possibility for Wilson, as Wheldon more than likely will not be back with that team. Panther plans on holding a "gong show" test in December for their lead car, and will decide from there whether or not to expand. Meanwhile, Wheldon is considering opportunities in NASCAR, perhaps driving for Kyle Busch's Truck Series team. Wheldon and Busch share sponsorship from NOS Energy Drink.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chevrolet to Make IndyCar Return in 2012?

Rumors have swirled around the IndyCar blogosphere today that Chevrolet, as part of a major recommitment to motorsports by parent company General Motors in 2011 and beyond, will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 with a V6 engine to compete with Honda.

The announcement will supposedly be made on Friday, November 12, and also includes expanded GM commitments to sports car and drag racing.

Chevrolet withdrew from IndyCar in 2005, taking its last win at Texas in June of that year with Tomas Scheckter.

The marque replaced Oldsmobile in 2002 as GM's brand of choice in the series, taking all but one win in that season. But as the larger-budgeted Honda and Toyota programs shifted over from CART, Chevrolet engines were rendered increasingly uncompetitive, until the unthinkable - a partnership with longtime Ford engine supplier Cosworth - occurred in 2005. All in all, Chevrolet engines won 18 IndyCar races, although only four came from 2003-05.

Panther Racing carried the torch for Chevrolet initially, winning the 2002 championship with Sam Hornish Jr. on Chevrolet power. But this time around, if the buzz is to be believed, the leader of the bowtie brigade will be Chip Ganassi, who won NASCAR's two biggest races - the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 - with Chevrolet power this year.

But Ganassi was not high on the food chain with GM in NASCAR; Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing are among the more notable Chevrolet teams in that series. Rival manufacturer Ford swooped in with a lucrative offer, intent on making Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing their number two team.

According to reports, Ganassi had intended to sign with Ford until learning of GM's commitment to go back to Indianapolis in 2012. As open-wheel racing has always been Ganassi's bread and butter, he reconsidered.

Nothing has been confirmed as of yet. In particular, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard called the news "pure speculation." Though it is standard practice not to confirm any big deals such as this before their official announcement, the tone of Bernard's comments suggests that there may still be a long way to go before any engine deals are signed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Honda Indy Edmonton Dead; IndyCar Seeking Replacement

For the past six years, the Edmonton City Centre Airport has played host to a major North American open wheel race.

No longer.

The city of Edmonton and Octane Motorsports Group, the event's new promoter, were unable to reach important agreements regarding the payment of $3.2 million CDN to help repave a closed runway that would be included in a new course layout in 2011. As such, the Honda Indy Edmonton, one of two Canadian events on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, has been cancelled outright for 2011.

The old course was rendered impossible to use for 2011 after the city shifted air traffic to a different set of runways late this year. To maintain the old course would be to shut down all air traffic in Edmonton for the entire race weekend, which was set to run July 22-24.

This year's event, run on July 25, ended in controversy when Helio Castroneves was penalized for blocking in the race's final laps. The stewards' call handed the race to Scott Dixon. Meanwhile, an irate Castroneves grabbed IndyCar security chief Charles Burns by the collar, drawing a $60,000 fine for his actions.

Octane was set to promote the event from 2011 to 2013 after a city council vote earlier this year. They took over race promotion from Northlands, under whom the event lost millions of dollars every year. Octane entered IndyCar with a strong background, as the Montreal-based group currently promotes the Formula 1 and NASCAR events at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

Octane officials will meet with IndyCar officials next week with the intent of establishing another western Canadian race. Previously, the group had been looking to expand into Calgary in 2012; currently, there is no word on whether they will attempt to make good on that promise a year early.

The intent remains to have two Canadian events on the schedule for 2011, and to utilize the now-open July 24 weekend. If another western Canadian event is not established, the Montreal circuit, which is open that weekend and once hosted a Champ Car event, is a possibility. Circuit Mont-Tremblant has also hosted Champ Car racing and could be an option.

Meanwhile, politicians in Quebec City have also been keen on hosting an IndyCar race through the lower part of the city. The original target date had been 2012, but with the opening city politicians may look to accelerate their plans.

If another Canadian event is not established, IndyCar may look to race venues that had been considered for the 2012 schedule. In particular, series brass has discussed resurrecting former Champ Car events in Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, and Road America.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

IndyCar Season Review: Mario Moraes

Mario Moraes hit a wall in more ways than one in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

After a stretch of strong finishes to close out the 2009 season, Moraes looked like an up-and-coming hot property in IndyCar with KV Racing Technology. In fact, before the season, many were saying that KV had, as a team, surpassed many others in the garage, and were poised for a strong run with Moraes this year.

But Moraes was initially not brought back by KVRT, replaced in the team's flagship No. 5 with ex-Formula 1 pilot Takuma Sato. Much of Moraes' family backing, coming from of Brazilian conglomerate Votorantim, was lost with the death of his father in the middle of the 2009 season. When the team finally brought him back in a third car, the No. 32, it was only days before the season opening race at Sao Paulo.

Moraes had not tested an IndyCar all offseason, and his rust showed in a spectacular first-corner wreck. As the field kicked up dust and bunched in the first corner, Moraes misjudged the braking zone, lost control of his car, and landed on top of Marco Andretti.

That event proved an omen for the rest of the season. Moraes wrecked six times this year, up from only four in 2009. Five of the six came in the first half of the season, all but killing any chances of a solid season.

Notable incidents included wrecks on the fourth day of practice for the Indianapolis 500; an accident 17 laps into that race; a frontstretch crash with Helio Castroneves at Texas; and a hard crash at Motegi that sent Moraes to the hospital with back pain. It was part of a nightmare season for KV, which saw its three full-time cars fail to finish 21 times in a combined 51 starts.

His season-ending DNF at Homestead, coming off the hard Motegi wreck, was attributed to mechanical failure, not a surprise given the amount of damages the entire KVRT team accrued over the course of the year. The final two races were especially disappointing given that Moraes had finished fifth and seventh in the same two events last year.

Worse, his third place finish at Chicagoland in 2009 would remain his career-best performance. In 2010, Moraes could muster no better than a fifth place finish at Watkins Glen, though he also had top-10s at Long Beach, Kansas, and Edmonton. It all amounted to a 15th place run in the final standings, down one position and 17 points from last season.

It was far from the 2010 season that many were expecting Moraes to have. Granted, it wasn't his fault that he wasn't able to test before the season, that his team may have over-expanded, or that his teammates had similar problems staying out of the garage on race day. Nonetheless, had Moraes continued progressing as in 2009, a top-10 finish in points should have been attainable.