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Pre-2011 Indy 500

Pre-2011 Indy 500
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Los Angeles, Calif., – (5/18/2011) – As practice days for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 (95th actual race) continue this week, it is obvious this year will be the most competitive since 1995. The four IZOD Indy car races so far this season have had car counts of 25 (St. Pete), 26 (Barber), 26 (Long Beach) and 26 (Brazil). The April cutoff date for 2011 Indy entries had 35 drivers and 79 cars, including backups, entered. Then additional drivers began augmenting the 500 driver lineup every couple of days until, as of May 12, there were 40 drivers. That total included 12 USA drivers (30% of the field) and three rookies, assigned to the entered cars. USA drivers are Marco & John Andretti, R. Hunter-Reay, D. Patrick, D. Hamilton, G. Rahal, E. Carpenter, B. Rice, T. Bell, plus rookies J. R Hildebrand, C. Kimball and S. Speed Forty drivers in competitive cars means that qualifying May 21 (Pole Day) and May 22 (Bump Day) will be suspenseful for teams and drivers and entertaining for fans to watch. Bumping of slower drivers on bump day could eliminate up to seven drivers from the field, or four to six more drivers than in recent years. Some of the 26 drivers who have raced in the four pre-Indy 500 races this year could miss the 500. In fact, some knowledgeable Indy 500 observers predict as many as four of the season-long, point-chasing drivers could be bumped this year.

Drivers added to the usual 26 regulars for Indianapolis include: past 500 winners Dan Wheldon (Bryan Herta 98), Buddy Rice (Panther 44), plus 500 veterans Paul Tracy (#23) & Davey Hamilton (# 11), Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher 67), Tomas Scheckter (KV-SH 07), Townsend Bell (S. Schmidt 99), Bruno Junqueira (Foyt 41), John Andretti (in five-car Andretti team No. 43), Alex Lloyd (Coyne 19), and rookies Jay Howard (Schmidt-K-L-L 88), and Brit driver Pippa Mann (Conquest 36). Then Jay Penske, Roger's youngest son, picked two rookies as surprise drivers for his two Dragon Racing cars. He entered Chinese driver Ho-Ping Tung, 29, and Scott Speed, from Manteca, CA, to drive his 8 and 8T (re-numbered 20) Dallara cars. Tung has A1GP, GP2 and super league formula car racing experience. Speed could be the first USA driver to race at Indianapolis in Formula One (2006-07), the NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 (2009-10) and the Indy Car 500. Speed also is eligible to race for the $5,000,000 posted by Indy Car for a non-Indy Car regular to win the October 16 Indy Car race at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track. Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Montoya have also raced in Indy cars, F1 and NASCAR. Live video timing, streaming from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is available from the track on practice days for the 500. Cars circling the track and speed reports from timing are coupled with informative graphics to deliver interesting viewing when the track is open.

The first on-track action took place on Thursday May 12. Seven of eight rookies completed all four phases of the Rookie Orientation Program at prescribed laps of four increasing speed limits. All eight drivers—Hinchcliffe, Hildebrand, Jakes, Kimball, Howard, Ting, Speed and Indy Lights veteran Mann--passed. The first day for all other drivers to run on the 2.5-mile track was Saturday, May 14. It was a busy day as 32 drivers logged 669 laps without any incidents. Total laps run ranged from a low of seven by three drivers to a high of 43 laps by rookie James Hinchcliffe, from Canada. Top speeds Saturday ranged from a high of 224.786 mph by Ed Carpenter in the yellow Fisher 67 on his 30th of 32 laps, to 217.093 mph by rookie Brit James Jakes in the Coyne 18 on his 19th of 42 laps. Thirty of the 32 drivers completed a best lap in 40 seconds and two drivers took 41 seconds. This could be the closest field in many years. Rain this week wiped out Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday speed laps. Monday had 36 cars on track with Alex Tagliani (225.878 mph) fastest and Jakes (219.095 mph) slowest. Total laps run ranged from 60 by two drivers to a low of 6 by one driver. Three days remained until pole day and that could prove a problem for Indy-only drivers and rookies, but a benefit for the lower-budget, 500-only teams with a limited amount of Firestone tires available for their use. Last year the fastest qualifier posted 227.970 mph for pole position; it took 223.634 mph to make the 33-car 500 field. Bumped or withdrawn slower qualifying times included those of Paul Tracy and rookie Jay Howard.

INDY CAR NEWS: Late March driver/team pairings finalized Tony Kanaan and KV Racing in Lotus green and yellow colors and number 82 used by 1965 Indy 500 winner Jimmy Clark, from Scotland. Paul Tracy will have five races in Jay Penske Dragon Racing cars this season and he will drive the Dreyer-Reinbold WIX Filters No. 23 at Indy. Brit rookie James Jakes and past-CART champion Sebastien Bourdais (for non-ovals) were assigned to Dale Coyne No. 18-19 cars. Past Indy 500 top four finisher Alex Lloyd, from England, has the 19 car at Indy. Paralyzed three-time Indy500 starter/current car owner Sam Schmidt has Alex Tagliani (in 77), J. Howard (in 88) and T. Bell (in 99). USAC past champion Bryan Clauson, the 2011 USAC National Sprint and Midget point leader), will get to race on the famed Indy 2.5-mile track May 27. He will be driving the No. 77 Indy Lights Schmidt car in which Conor Daly, 19, (son of retired Indy Car and F. 1 driver Derek Daly) won the LBGP Indy Lights race last month.

Current status of past Indianapolis 500 winning cars (as reported by Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Star racing reporter) is interesting. Marco Andretti has been using Dan Wheldon's 2005 Indy winning Dallara for Andretti Autosport every year since Wheldon drove it to victory as No. 26. Dario Franchitti's No. 27Andretti team ride in the 2007 rain-shortened Indy 500 will be Ryan Hunter-Reay's back-up car this year. The car carries No. 28 this year instead of No. 37 of past seasons to honor his mother Lydia, who died from cancer in 2009. The 28 represents 28 million people now fighting various forms of cancer. Franchitti plans to use his 2010 Indy 500 winning car as his as his primary 2011 Indy 500 ride. Scott Dixon's 2008 Indy winning No. 9 will be his own backup car in 2011. Buddy Rice's 2004 winning car for Rahal-Letterman Racing has been housed in the Honda Collection Hall at the Motegi, Japan 1.5-mile oval, which is only a few hours from Japan's northern coastal area battered this year by the disastrous 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. It is 130 miles SW of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

NEW OPEN-WHEEL TV SHOW: A new one-hour, live weekly racing TV show on the Versus Network debuted Tuesday, May 3 from 1:00-2:00 pm (PDT). It is a much needed addition to the numerous NASCAR studio shows on SPEED and ESPN2 channels. “Indy Car Open Wheel Weekly” has a 30-week run and will feature Indy Car and USAC information and drivers each Tuesday on the all-open-wheel news telecast. Three knowledgeable hosts on the new show are IZOD Indy Car Versus pit reporters Kevin Lee and Lindy Thackston, plus commentator Robin Miller, an opinionated racing expert and influential Indy Car mover and shaker. Four guests on the inaugural show were: Sao Paulo, Brazil race winner Will Power (by phone), IZOD Indy Car CEO Randy Bernard talking about new 2012 car/engine rules, and two drivers on set in the Indy Motor Speedway pagoda overlooking the front straight. Second year Indy Car driver Simona de Silvestro, just back from the Brazil race two-days earlier, and versatile USAC champion Bryan Clauson talked about their seasons so far. Clauson described his first Indy Lights successful test runs and his hopes for his Indy Lights racing debut on the 2.5-mile track in the 40-lap (100-miles) race two days before the 500. Guests on show two (May 10) on the IMS pagoda second floor were Indy Car team owners Roger Penske and Keith Wiggins talking about the proposed 2012 Indy Cars. Project manager Tony Cotman showed the two versions of the 2012 car (oval and road/street course). LBGP race winner Mike Conway and new Indy Car driver Scott Speed, plus recent feature winning USAC Sprint Car dirt track driver Hunter Schuerenberg.

The third edition of the open-wheel racing show had numerous guests and interviews. Indy 500 winners Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford (both 70+ and looking amazingly young) talked about the just named 33 all-time great Indy 500 drivers during a 20-minute segment. Then on set 1991 Indy 500 rookie Willy T. Riggs introduced his No. 75 Indy Lights 2011 rookie driver Chase Austin, 21. Interviews from the garage area followed with Helio Castroneves about his controversial 2011 Indy Car season so far and with Danica Patrick, who is going NASCAR racing full-time in 2012 according to a May 17 release. Driver John Andretti then made a return visit to his Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter High School alma mater 30-years after his graduation with reporter Lindy along for the tour. One of his former teachers gave him his motto—good, better, best. The show then showed tape of CEO R. Bernard taking a ride in the USAC two-seat yellow No. 21 Jack Hewitt sprint car driven by Bryan Clauson on the Indianapolis Fairgrounds mile dirt track. They also showed 500 driver Tomas Scheckter driving Ken Schrader's dirt modified on the Indy Fairgrounds dirt mile during the same session and he called the experience awesome. He said he wants to drive a sprint car next The next piece showed Ed Carpenter and his pregnant car owner Sarah Fisher (O'Gara) visiting Indy school children. The final interview was with driver Oriol Servia talking about the double-file restart rule that is new on the Indy Car circuit this year. Reportedly, most Indy drivers are apprehensive and may petition Indy car officials about if and/or how double-file restarts are used at Indy.

Mogul Donald Trump was announced last month as the 2011 Indy 500 Chevy Camaro pace car driver. It appeared to be a PR arrangement between series sponsor IZOD and the IMS. A predictable furor erupted as racing fans used the Internet to denounce Trump's appointment. Then the Donald fired himself. Four-time Indy 500 winner A. J. Foyt appropriately became the 2011 Indy 500 pace car driver and that nomination and acceptance was greeted favorably. ...David Davis, 80, founder of “Automobile” magazine and a past editor/executive of car magazines “Car & Driver” and “Road & Track” magazines, died from complications of bladder surgery in late March. ... Kody Swanson, a USAC Western Series champion from Kingsburg, CA. and the 2011 USAC 410 Sprints paved tracks series point leader, was part of the Long Beach Grand Prix this year. He was one of five pro drivers (a drifter, a drag racer, and two actors-past LBGP Pro/Celeb race winners) in the annual Toyota Pro-Celebrity race on the streets of Long Beach. The race aired on Tuesday, May 3 from 5:00-5:30 pm. Kody drove the No. 22 burgundy Toyota Scion and started with four other pro drivers 30-seconds after 12 celebrities took the green flag in similar Scions. Kody finished ninth overall (fourth pro) in back of actor/pro Brian Austin Green. Their close battle near the finish received good air time. Pro drivers finished second, fourth and eighth. Actor Bill Fichtner started first and led all ten laps on the 1.968 mile street circuit to win by 3.791 seconds over drifter Ken Gushi. The race was Kody's chance to do some street racing in case his blossoming racing career might include that discipline in the future.

Radio sports talk show host Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton (1090AM in San Diego) gives auto racing coverage during his show (M-F 10 am- 2 pm). Prior to the April 17 LBGP Indy Car race, he had a news-maker telephone interview (Thursday, April 14 from 1:27 – 1:34 pm) with Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, 22. He asked interesting questions and she proved to be an excellent interviewee with her upbeat and informative answers. The “Swiss Miss” is a driver who has paid her dues in racing and is an asset to the IZOD Indy Car Series. Hamilton most likely will air more driver interviews May 23-27 between qualifying days and the 500 race.