Gearing up: IZOD IndyCar Series 2010 season preview
The start of every IZOD IndyCar Series season begins with high expectations, but the 2010 season may be one of the most anticipated.
With 17 races across three continents, 12 teams competing over an extended race calendar. This season seems to have it all: new title sponsor, fast ovals, historic road courses, tricky street circuits, new venues, fresh teammate combinations, young drivers and returning champions. All could add up to another unbeatable season.
With the first practice session now less than three days away, the season is just beginning to build to what could be another final race crescendo.
THE BIG STORIES:
IZOD Enters First Year of Entitlement
The 2010 season marks the first year of IZOD's title sponsorship of the IZOD IndyCar Series. The partnership marks the series' first entitlement in nearly a decade.
In November 2009, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. announced a six-year agreement with the Indy Racing League for the IZOD brand to become the title sponsor of the newly renamed IZOD IndyCar Series.
Over the past two years, both entities have seen pieces fit to mutual benefit. Speed, competition, athleticism meets vibrant and well-known lifestyle apparel brand appealing to the entire family.
"Our relationship with the IZOD brand has been on the fast track since the day we began our partnership in 2008, and we are thrilled they have taken a bigger and more vital role in our sport," said Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League.
League officials have been seeking to align with a company that would expand the scope and demographic as the IndyCar Series title sponsor (its first since 2001) through activation beyond race markets. IZOD's proven that repeatedly.
"Their strong marketing skills, national retail partnerships and ability to bring fresh eyes to the sport have already proven powerful in our short time together," Angstadt said. "We're confident that we have found a partner with a strong brand, a bright future and a vision for growing the IZOD IndyCar Series that will benefit fans, drivers, teams, owners and tracks."
Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. knows a thing or two about marketing and positioning itself with brands that make a statement. It's the world's largest shirt and neckwear company and markets a variety of goods worldwide under its own renowned brands (Van Heusen, Calvin Klein, IZOD, ARROW, Bass, and G.H. Bass & Co.) and licensed brands such as Nautica, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger.
"Our involvement with the IRL began shortly after the unification of U.S. open-wheel racing and, despite the recession, we have seen growth and sense the potential for even greater opportunity as the sport is re-energized on the American sports landscape, as well as abroad," said Allen Sirkin, president and COO of Phillips-Van Heusen.
Randy Bernard named CEO of Indy Racing League
Randy Bernard, longtime CEO of Professional Bull Riders, Inc., was named CEO of the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, on Feb. 2. He began his new duties March 1.
"Randy is the right person at the right time to head the Indy Racing League," said Jeffrey Belskus, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, the home of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and owner of the Indy Racing League.. "He brings a superb sports marketing and promotion background, proven CEO skills, energy and enthusiasm at a time when the IZOD IndyCar Series is positioned for growth."
"I truly believe I can make a difference with the Indy Racing League, and I see tremendous potential," Bernard said. "The IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights have intense action, high-stakes competition, extreme athletes, a diverse international schedule, great sponsors and a very passionate fan base."
Bernard, 43, produced one of the eight PBR events in its inaugural 1994 season while with the marketing and entertainment department of the California Mid-State Fair and "fell in love with the sport." He was named CEO in 1995 and worked with the PBR founders in the succeeding years to develop and expand the brand, events and the popularity of the sport worldwide.
Under Bernard's leadership, PBR's Built Ford Tough Series regular-season attendance increased 12 percent in 2009, and ratings with television partner VERSUS increased nearly 30 percent last year. The PBR was quick out of the chutes in 2010 with attendance up 23 percent in its first five weeks of competition.
Familiar faces in new places:
• Will Power, who competed in six races with Penske Racing in 2009, will be a full-season entrant in 2010 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. He'll join forces with Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Ryan Briscoe, who placed third in the 2009 series championship.
It will be the first time since the mid-90s that Penske Racing will field three full‑time cars in Indy cars (Paul Tracy, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr.).
• Ryan Hunter-Reay will compete with Andretti Autosport with Phillips-Van Heusen's IZOD brand as the primary sponsor of the No. 37 entry. Hunter-Reay will open the season in Brazil and also compete at St. Petersburg, where he finished second last year for Vision Racing.
Hunter-Reay moved to A.J. Foyt Racing in June as a replacement for the injured Vitor Meira, posting a best finish of fourth at Mid-Ohio. He'll join Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan at the team.
• FAZZT Race Team joins the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2010 with veteran driver Alex Tagliani, who competed in six races last season with Conquest Racing. The team announced a partnership with Bowers & Wilkins, the world's leading producers of reference quality hi-fi and home theater speakers, as the primary sponsor for the season opener in Brazil.
• Justin Wilson, who won at Watkins Glen International and finished ninth in the '09 standings with Dale Coyne Racing, will compete in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing as a teammate to second-year driver Mike Conway. Also in a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car for the Brazil opener is Ana Beatriz, who competed the past two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights. She recorded one victory each year - becoming the first female to win a Firestone Indy Lights race (2008 at Nashville).
• Hideki Mutoh, the rookie of the year in 2008, will drive the No. 06 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. He had competed the past two seasons with Andretti Autosport.
• Mario Romancini, who won two oval races in 2009 in his first Firestone Indy Lights season, has jumped to the No. 34 Conquest Racing entry.
• E.J. Viso, who drove for two seasons with HVM Racing, moved to KV Racing Technology in the No. 8 car.
• Jay Howard, the 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion, will compete in five IZOD IndyCar Series races with Sarah Fisher Racing (starting with the Indianapolis 500). "Since 2008, I've been pretty driven," said Howard, who competed in five races with Roth Racing that year. "I have a lot of confidence going into it. I think Sarah Fisher Racing as a team will raise some eyebrows this year."
• IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Davey Hamilton will compete in three races with Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports - the Indianapolis 500, at Texas Motor Speedway the following week and another event to be determined.
• For the second consecutive year, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing will team up to compete in the Indianapolis 500. The No. 99 SSM/CGR entry with primary sponsor Herbalife will be driven by IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Townsend Bell of San Luis Obispo, Calif. He finished fourth in the 2009 race for KV Racing Technology.
New Rules and Regulations:
"Teams and drivers can still save fuel because they can develop their own fuel strategy, but instead of having a mechanical device to achieve it they can use their right foot," Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart said. "It will allow the drivers more strategy during the event."
• A reverse gear supplied by promotional partner Xtrac will be incorporated for the nine road and street course races and be available to drivers through the paddle shift system. Drivers will retain six forward gears, and the kit won't be required for the eight oval events.
"It doesn't make any of the parts obsolete; you just add the new kit," IZOD IndyCar Series technical director Kevin Blanch said. "It's on the drop gear side, so when the crew is making gear changes it doesn't interfere. It just stays in the car the whole time."
• Honda Performance Development will incorporate a refueling lockout device on IZOD IndyCar Series cars in an effort to further reduce the possibility of fuel spills and fire during pit stops. A sensor next to the refueling coupling behind the driver's shoulder will recognize the proximity of the fuel probe and prevent the driver from shifting into gear (from neutral) until it has cleared the pre-set distance.
The system will receive testing during the Open Test on May 4 at Kentucky Speedway. It is scheduled to be added following the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, according to HPD technical division manager Roger Griffiths.
• A "floating back" headrest configuration that has been researched and tested by Indy Racing League director of engineering Jeff Horton was recommended for implementation by teams. Horton developed the "floating back" to curb the disparity in G forces between the car and head in rearward crashes. The Kevlar skin of the headrest is attached to the front of the foam and the sides are allowed to float, "so the driver only feels the effect of the foam during impact," according to Horton.
Race winners: In addition to the four series champions, seven drivers who have won at least one race winners return to the series in 2010. Team Penske and Andretti Autosport feature three race-winning drivers in their lineups (Penske has Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. Andretti Autosport has Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick). Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) is the other returning race winner.
In addition to the race on the 2.6-mile, 11-turn circuit in the Anhembi section (north-central) of São Paulo, on April 11, both the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights will have races for the first time at the 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
The top 14 cars of the 21 that participated in the test were separated by 0.8399 of second. Last season produced another competitive championships in recent history, with the points lead swapping hands 15 times over the course of 17 races and the championship once again coming down to the final race of the season.
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