Faces in new places An offseason that featured numerous drivers switching teams came to a climax in the final days leading up to the IndyCar Series 2009 season opener April 5 at St. Petersburg. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Darren Manning and Alex Tagliani used the final days before the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to solidify rides in the race.
Hunter-Reay, who courted and was courted by several teams throughout the offseason, locked up a fulltime ride with Vision Racing, while Manning and Tagliani secured rides for St. Petersburg with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Conquest Racing, respectively.
“I'm used to jumping in cars at the last minute, with the pressure on with no practice,” said Hunter-Reay, who drove for Rahal Letterman Racing since the midway point of 2007, earning Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and his first series victory in 2008. “That's what I did with Rahal in '07 and that worked out well.
“I haven't been in the car at all, so the first session in St. Pete, depends on how much we need to change around. The braking, the steering rack, all these things are fitted to the driver and the driver's preferences, so we might have to climb through some of that. But there's no reason why we can't be very competitive this weekend. It's a street circuit, and this is probably the best venue I could ask for to start out because I feel at home there.”
Manning and Tagliani are glad to be competing at St. Petersburg and hopeful they can work deals to compete in additional races.
“I guess I've been on the minds of (team co-owners) Dennis (Reinbold) and Robbie (Buhl) since the end of last year,” said Manning, who spent the last two seasons with A.J. Foyt Racing. “I got the call, and fortunately I wasn't doing anything else.
“I know St. Pete very well and can offer the team and their primary driver, Mike (Conway), a good head of experience and hopefully some good speed and a good performance that I've always had.”
Tagliani started the final three races of 2008 with Conquest Racing, finishing fourth in the non-points race at Australia.
“It was definitely a fantastic opportunity for me last year to join the IndyCar Series for the first time and have the opportunity to do it with Conquest,” Tagliani said. “We gelled well. We went to Australia, and we had a great weekend, very competitive. So we're motivated. This event unfortunately happens really late, but we're working on something for the rest of the year, and it's really important that we join the IndyCar Series in St. Pete, and we feel that with everybody on board and with the group of people that Conquest has, we could have a good car and definitely do a good showing in St. Pete, even if it's difficult conditions.”
Other driver changes for 2009 include:
Car # Change
3 Will Power opens the season with Team Penske after driving for KV Racing Technology
4 Dan Wheldon joins Panther Racing after driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing
5 Mario Moraes joins KV Racing Technology after driving for Dale Coyne Racing
10 Dario Franchitti joins Target Chip Ganassi Racing after competing in NASCAR
14 Vitor Meira joins A.J. Foyt Racing after driving for Panther Racing
19 Justin Wilson joins Dale Coyne Racing after driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
21 Ryan Hunter-Reay joins Vision Racing after driving for Rahal Letterman Racing
23 Darren Manning joins Dreyer & Reinbold Racing after driving for A.J. Foyt Racing