IndyCar Long Beach Friday Notebook Legendary car owner Roger Penske was the 2011 Road Racing Drivers Club honoree at an annual event Thursday night at the Long Beach Hilton.
1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal played host to the event, which raises funds for Team USA driver development.
A who's who of racing past and present - past RRDC honorees Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones were present as were IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, JR Hildebrand, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz.
IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, past IMS track record holder Roberto Guerrero, owners Chip Ganassi and Keith Wiggins and drag racing legend Don Prudhomme also enjoyed the story-filled evening.
"To join Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones as inductees is an incredible honor," Penske said. "I've raced against these guys and had strategize against them as car owners on race day. Parnelli and Dan are two of the top all-time names in racing - any form of racing -- and to be honored and join is a thrill for me. To look out into the crowd and see so many friends, family and racing legends is quite humbling for me.
"We have all shared some fun times together at the place we all love - the racetrack."
Former driver and TV broadcaster Sam Posey in a taped presentation recalled Penske's dynamic career on and off the track through video presentation featuring iconic black and white and color photos from the 1960s to present day. Common threads in the photos - winning and perfection - are Penske hallmarks.
Indy car champion Jimmy Vasser and Target Chip Ganassi Racing received "stars" on the Motorsports Walk of Fame on Thursday in Long Beach.
Chef and television personality Gordon Ramsey is the grand marshal of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing is competing in its 28th consecutive Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (CART, Champ Car, IZOD IndyCar Series). The team, founded in 1982 by Paul Newman and Carl Haas, has six victories and 11 pole starts on the temporary street course.
Ana Beatriz returns to the No. 24 Ipiranga car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing this weekend. She sat out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama because of a fractured right wrist (scaphoid bone) that required surgery suffered in the season opener March 27.
Beatriz was re-evaluated April 11 by the INDYCAR medical team and cleared to drive. She has been fitted with a carbon fiber brace that she will wear in the car.
"I was disappointed that I couldn't be in the car at Barber, but I learned a lot from another angle being there with the team," said Beatriz, whose seat was filled by Simon Pagenaud (finished eighth). "I know the Long Beach track as I raced there in Indy Lights so I feel prepared going into the weekend. My wrist will be sore, but the doctors said that I will be OK. I may not be 100 percent, but I will push through it and I'm ready to get back in the Ipiranga car."
Teammate Justin Wilson, who suffered a fractured left wrist in the same race, wore a similar brace at Barber Motorsports Park last weekend.
"My wrist is feeling fine, it just has a little bit of throbbing, not too bad," said Wilson, the runner-up in last year's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "I'm hoping once I get a rhythm through the hairpin that I will be fine."
Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Alex Tagliani will make his 160th Indy car start this weekend (27 IZOD IndyCar Series). He won on the streets of Long Beach twice in the Toyota Atlantic Series, and has three top-five Indy car finishes.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports, in its 10th year, will be making its first start in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The team owner, who has an MBA from Pepperdine University, lived in Long Beach with his wife, Sheila, when they were newlyweds.
Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti will throw the ceremonial first pitch - with longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda catching -- April 16 at Dodger Stadium before the game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Additionally, 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti will drive the street-legal two-seater with Lasorda in the passenger seat. Both will sign autographs at 5:30 p.m. in Autograph Alley.
Drivers will have 20 pushes of the Honda overtake assist - an ECU software alteration employed by Honda Performance Development - each lasting 18 seconds during the race. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout.
There is a 10-second recovery period between pushes. One overtake assist push is available for the warm-up session on Sunday morning.
The dry weather tires for this weekend are the street course primary, which is a new spec for 2011 and used on the streets of St. Petersburg in March. This same primary spec will be used at Brazil. Making its debut this weekend is the street course alternate, which will be used again at Toronto in July.
The alternate tire program, part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2009, calls for a second tire specification at road/street courses using the same construction as the primary specification but with a softer tread compound to provide more grip and faster lap times while trading off compound durability for those shorter-term advantages.
Teams are free to use their tire allotment as they see fit, though a new rule for 2011 limits cars to one set of tires (team choice of primary or alternate) for each qualifying segment. Also, per series regulations, all cars must use at least one set of primary tires and one new alternate set during the race, each for a minimum of two green flag laps.
IZOD IndyCar Series drivers will greet fans and sign autographs from 4-5 p.m. April 15 in front of their transporters in the paddock. … Mario Andretti, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal will greet fans from 6-7 p.m. April 15 at the Beverly Center Macy's in Los Angeles. … Gordon Ramsey of "Hell's Kitchen" fame and the grand marshal of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and Patrick Warburton of "Seinfeld" and "Rules of Engagement" will be among the celebrity passengers in the Indy Racing Experience two-seater on race day. … John Kay & Steppenwolf will cap a busy April 16 when they perform in the Tecate Light "Rock-N-Roar Concert" Presented by KLOS.
Firestone Indy Lights entry update: Ryan Phinny of Carmel Valley, Calif., is now driver of #8 Brooks Associates entry.
Speaking of food, Conquest Racing driver Sebastian Saavedra has developed an affinity for a West Coast classic.
"I don't know what it is, but there's just something about eating at In-N-Out Burger when you're in Southern California," he said. "All the mechanics like it, so any little things I can do to make the crew happy, I'll go for it."
Saavedra's parents and sister are visiting from Colombia to watch the first-year driver compete on the streets of Long Beach.
"It will be only the second time for my sister to see my race in IndyCar (the other being the Indianapolis 500 in 2010)," he said. "California is such a beautiful place. It's always nice to be here and, of course, having my family here will make it even more so."
Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing will have about 60 family and friends rooting for him in Grandstand 6. He's from Camarillo, Calif.
JR Hildebrand, Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car, has competed at Long Beach in ©Toyota Atlantics, Firestone Indy Lights, the American Le Mans Series and now the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Hildebrand won in 2009 in Firestone Indy Lights and he co-drove the Genoa ALMS entry to a class podium (seventh overall in the event) in 2010.
Selected quotes from Danica Patrick's media availability
"I have a lot of fond memories of Long Beach - winning the Pro-Celebrity Race back, oh, 9 or 10 years ago, then coming here in 2008 straight from Motegi to start the whirlwind after my win there and then finishing fourth the next year. Last year wasn't so great, but I have a lot of good memories here. I think that this is a race where a lot of things can happen. That's the nature of the street course so it's important to be there to take advantage of it. I think that the emphasis for me is going to be to do the best I can to get a good qualifying effort out and be farther up the grid."
(About double-file restarts): "Those of you who follow Indy car racing are familiar with the fact that it's challenging to pass in these cars. The double file restarts have really changed that. You can pick up five spots and you can lose five spots so that's been an interesting change that I like in the series."
(About qualifying on street courses): Ultimately, when you don't qualify well, you're forced to take risks. It's best to be up the grid and that's what we're going to be working toward. The first practice session didn't go well at all. We were having a throttle issue. It was as if I was kind of keeping my foot on the throttle all the way around the track all the time so it made it rather difficult to stop the car and start the car so hopefully that will be fixed for the next practice, and we'll be able to feel the car a little bit more. When something like that is wrong it makes it a little bit difficult to feel the changes very well because you're trying to over compensate for something that is not normal. But I think that we could be good. A couple of our teammates were fast - obviously Ryan won last year and he's running well already. So, I think we have some good teammates to look to if we need some specific direction."
(About the season and how it seems to be starting off the same as last year): "I would say that this year has felt a lot better to me than last year. To be honest, this is probably the first practice session that hasn't really gone so well for me so far, but I'm much more in the top 10-15 range instead of way down. I guess I would have been apprehensive to say this a couple of years ago, but the competition is so difficult that if you can make in in the top 10 or 12, that's a good practice. So we've been much better off so far for the most part at practice, it's just that in qualifying it doesn't go well. I've had one of the fastest laps times of the race for the first two races of the year already so the pace is there in the race it's just that when you start further back and you have to take chances."
(Is Long Beach one of your best races or your favorite race? ): "I don't think I'd say that (laughing). I enjoy coming to Long Beach. It's here, it's a great atmosphere, but this is not one of my best races. It's part of the schedule and you still have to try and do well.
A great atmosphere and when you're in a good atmosphere like this with all kinds of people and excitement and buzz you always enjoy doing well. But, I struggle more on road courses than I do on ovals - although I've had almost as good of results on road courses - but you have to take chances. I've qualified on the front row a couple of times a few years ago, but it's been a while. My qualifying isn't good enough so you have to take chances in the race then.
Conor Daly will not participate in the opening Firestone Indy Lights practice session due to his travel schedule from Barcelona, where he was testing with his GP3 team. Daly drives the #77 Mazda Road to Indy car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Firestone Indy Lights.
CONOR DALY (No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "Six weeks ago I had the option of missing the whole weekend by not even trying to make it back from Spain, or taking the gamble that the flights might not get in on time. Long Beach is such a mega INDYCAR event that even if the gamble did not pay off and I had to miss the first session, I still wanted to be part of the weekend. I will spend time with my engineer, Chris Finch, Friday afternoon and also learn as much as possible from my teammates".
IZOD IndyCar Series driver Takuma Sato and the Children Mending Hearts organization are collaborating to launch "With you Japan" -- an international fund-raising program that will empower local child-care professionals to provide responsive and proactive care to thousands of children impacted by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last month.
Speaking engagements, merchandise sales, celebrity collectible auctions, and mobile phone text donations are part of the program. Autographed driving gloves, helmets and race suits from IZOD IndyCar Series competitors will be among the items for auction at www.WithYouJapan.org.
"With you Japan" T-shirts also are available for sale at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and online.
"People in Japan are suffering so much, and the children are going through a terrifying situation," Sato said. "I am personally supporting a few campaigns but since I am competing in the IndyCar Series I want to do something special to support Japan from North America. This With you Japan campaign is going to do several projects and hopefully make a difference."
Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani and Simona de Silvestro participated in a taping of a dinner serving of "Hell's Kitchen" with Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach grand marshal and show host Gordon Ramsey. The episode will air this fall.