IndyCar season opener preview
Series Prepares for Another Competitive Season
New Era, New Car
While level of experience varies among drivers, everyone is on the same footing when it comes to the new 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car. The new car adds an element of competition that has not been seen since the last time a new car was introduced in 2003. The new car plan began in 2010, overseen by a hand-picked committee of mechanical experts and technical gurus who have guided the process to its fulfillment. Drivers have spent almost the entire offseason in team tests shaking down the car as they prepare for the season, and INDYCAR held its first official test on March 5-6 and 8-9.
Engine Manufacturer Competition Returns
For the first time since 2005, the IZOD IndyCar Series will have different manufacturers producing the engines that power the car. Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus engines will be utilized in 2012. Where competition used to mainly rely among the teams, the opposing engines will add a new level of competition to the series. Teams powered by Honda engines include Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Service Central Chip Ganassi, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Chevrolet will power Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Panther Racing, KV Racing Technology and Ed Carpenter Racing. Lotus Dragon Racing, Lotus-HVM Racing, Lotus-DRR and Team Barracuda-BHA will have Lotus engines.
Dario Franchitti looks to make history
Dario Franchitti enters 2012 looking to become the second Indy car driver to win four consecutive championships joining Sebastien Bourdais who won four titles from (2004-2007). Franchitti returns for his fourth year with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2012. Will this winning combination remain among IndyCar’s best?
Hinch's Sophomore Season
2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year James Hinchcliffe has joined Andretti Autosport for the 2012 season in the Go Daddy seat. His self-deprecating humor and outgoing personality, in addition to success during his rookie season, ingratiated him with principals at Go Daddy, which continued as a team sponsor after the departure of Danica Patrick following the 2011 season. Hinchcliffe, a 25-year-old native of Toronto, was left without a ride for 2012 after his former team, Newman/Haas Racing, ceased participation in the IZOD IndyCar Series. With them, he recorded seven top-10 finishes in 16 races after missing the first event of the season. His season-high finish was in fourth at Long Beach, New Hampshire and Kentucky.
Power Looking To Move Up
After finishing runner-up to the champion for two consecutive years, Team Penske's Will Power is looking to move up a spot for the first time in his career. Last season, he tied series season highs with six victories and eight starts from pole, falling just 18 points shy of a championship. He also grabbed his first oval victory at Texas Motor Speedway in June. In 2010, he led Franchitti into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but crashed on lap 144 while his rival finished eighth.
Barrichello Joins IZOD IndyCar Series
Rubens Barrichello, the longest-tenured driver in Formula One history, will begin a new journey with KV Racing Technology for the 2012 season. The 39-year-old Brazilian was persuaded by his long-time friend, Tony Kanaan, and several positive tests in the new car to make the move. Barrichello made 322 starts in an F1 career that spanned from 1993-2011 with six teams. He was runner-up in the Formula One championship in 2002 and 2004, and earned 11 victories, 68 podiums, 106 top-five finishes and 172 top-10 showings.
Mazda Road to Indy on display
The full Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, designed to groom the up-and-coming stars of the IZOD IndyCar Series, will be on display at St. Pete. Mazda will again provide scholarships for the 2012 champions of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and Firestone Indy Lights to advance to the next level. The scholarship program strengthens INDYCAR's driver development program by providing drivers the opportunities to advance based on talent, not financials.
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the eighth IZOD IndyCar Series event and ninth Indy car race conducted on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Previous race winners entered are Dario Franchitti (2011), Will Power (2010), Ryan Briscoe (2009), Graham Rahal (2008) and Helio Castroneves (2006-07).
Previous pole winners entered are Will Power (2010-11), Graham Rahal (2009), Tony Kanaan (2008), Helio Castroneves (2007), Dario Franchitti (2006) and Sebastien Bourdais (2003).
At least 21 drivers entered in the event have competed in previous Indy car races at St. Pete. Eleven (11) of those drivers have led laps in the IZOD IndyCar Series events: (Helio Castroneves 135, Dario Franchitti 112, Ryan Briscoe 109, Justin Wilson 70, Scott Dixon 57, Will Power 56, Graham Rahal 19, Tony Kanaan 15, E.J. Viso 13, Marco Andretti 6 and Ryan Hunter-Reay 4.)
At least five drivers will compete in their first IZOD IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg: Rubens Barrichello, James Hinchcliffe, Katherine Legge, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. Hinchcliffe and Newgarden competed on the track in Firestone Indy Light. Newgarden won at St. Petersburg in Firestone Indy Lights in 2011. Pagenaud raced at the circuit in 2009 in American Le Mans Series.
Milestones & Records:
· Should Dario Franchitti win the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, he will join Sebastien Bourdais as the only drivers to win four consecutive Indy car titles. Bourdais won four-straight Champ Car titles from 2004-2007.
· Should Dario Franchitti win the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, he will join A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win five Indy car titles in his career. Franchitti, who won the title in 2007 and again from 2009-2011. Foyt won seven championships in his career.
· With a victory in 2012, Scott Dixon will extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to eight.
· With his next win, Scott Dixon will take sole possession of 11th place on the all-time wins list. Dixon is currently tied with Johnny Rutherford with 27 wins.
· With his next victory, Dario Franchitti will tie Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais for seventh (7th) on the all-time wins list with 31 wins if neither Bourdais nor Tracy wins before he does.
· Helio Castroneves needs four earned poles to reach 40 career poles in his Indy car career.
· Dario Franchitti needs four earned poles to reach 30 in his career.
· Will Power needs one earned pole to reach 25 in his Indy car career.
· Scott Dixon needs three earn poles to reach 20 in their Indy car career.
· With one pole in 2012, Scott Dixon will extend his IZOD IndyCar Series streak to six consecutive seasons.
· Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 182nd consecutive start. Jimmy Vasser holds the all-time record of 211. Scott Dixon with 123 straight starts is the only other active driver with a streak of more than 100 consecutive starts.
· Marco Andretti will attempt to make his 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start at St. Petersburg.
At-Track Schedule (all times local):
Friday, March 23
11:50-12:50 a.m. IZOD IndyCar Series Practice (all cars)
2:50-3:50 p.m. IZOD IndyCar Series Practice
Saturday, March 24
9:55 to 10:55 a.m. IZOD IndyCar Series Practice
1:55 -3:15 p.m. Peak Performance Pole Qualifying (Knockout qualifying & Firestone Fast 6 format)
Sunday, March 25
8:35-9:05 a.m. IZOD IndyCar Series Warm Up
Noon IZOD IndyCar Series Pre-Race
12:30 p.m. Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
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