IndyCar Notebook - Day 1 at Barber testing
Selected quotes from Chip Ganassi's media availability:
"You have to remember that motorsports is one of those businesses that as great a year that 2010 was, and it was an unbelievable year and one that any car owner dreams about, that was last year and this is this year. It's a zero-based game. We're starting back at zero and the points are all tied for all the championships. It's a new year and no one is going to forget about last year faster than our competitors that want to beat us. It's going to be a lot of hard work and to accomplish anything close to what we did last year, but that's why we are back here. That's the kind of challenge that we like and what attracts us to the sport, the challenge."
Is that why you've started the effort for Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball?: "Yeah. It's something where we can develop some people and develop our team and bring people along for the not only our team, but also the sport. We're not just developing drivers, we bringing along crew members, sponsors, team members."
About returning to Barber Motorsports Park: "I just like coming to this place. It's a great place. It's nice to come to a facility that you can tell somebody put a lot of passion into it. It's always a pleasure to come here. You feel vindicated in coming to a place where the support is alive and well."
About the changes INDYCAR has announced for the 2011 season: "I was in favor of (double-file restarts). I think it's a good thing. We have to attract some fans and when you visually watch a race on television, it needs to look like other races. Let's face it; most of the people who watch racing on television are watching NASCAR. When they turn on an INDYCAR race, they should be able to see what's happening and it should look similar. If you're watching the NFL or college football game, the rules are pretty much the same and the look is the same and the field is the same. There are small differences, but they are basically the same."
About free pass concept: "I think it's a good thing. It's part and parcel of keeping cars on the lead lap and keeping cars in the race. I've heard the argument that we don't have as many cars and don't pass them as early, it's 26 vs. 43. I'd have to say I'm in favor of it. If you're going to do it, go the whole way. If you're more concerned about yellows, there's going to be more guys who are a lap down, so they're going to need help to get a lap back."
How do you add cars without diluting your other two cars: "We've approached this as if it were two two-car teams. They have separate buildings, separate management. About the only thing that crosses over is some engineering that works back and forth. I've said it's like the Hendrick model in NASCAR. For us, I don't see how four cars under one roof would work."
About Scott Dixon/Jamie McMurray ride swap: "They scheduled it on a day that I can't be there, but I'd sure like to be. It was my idea, so I can't believe I'm not going to be here. I'm happy to do it for our guys. I always like our drivers to experience other things. They know each other from the 24 Hours of Daytona, so it's nice that they can get into each other's cars. Often times you hear those guys talking about each other's cars. It's kind of interesting and nice that they can get a taste of it firsthand. I don't think you need to worry about Jamie coming to INDYCAR or Scott switching to NASCAR, but I think it's really going to be fun. And more importantly, I think it's going to make them both better race car drivers." Scott says he's not worried about Talladega. He's more worried about Jamie wrecking his car. "Tell Scott, it's my car."
About Firestone's return: "The thing I took away from it is that it's more than everyone being unanimous in keeping Firestone. I think it was more that Firestone set the bar high for any tire company to come it. They started in Indy Lights and they were in Indy Lights for a year, then they tested for a year at all the circuits with a real team and driver and then they came in the series. You just don't go look for a tire company on short notice. It's a tall order, so we wanted see what we could do to help their decision making process."
During the lunch break, Andretti Autosport announced that it again will join forces with co-entrant Richard Petty Motorsports and primary sponsor Window World, Inc., to field an entry for John Andretti in the Indianapolis 500.
Andretti, who seeks to make his 12th Indy 500 start, will drive the No. 43 Window World car with a traditional "Petty Blue" and "Day-Glo Red" color scheme. However, the livery featured on this year's entry was designed to commemorate the 1982 race-winning car of Gordon Johncock.
It's the third consecutive year that Window World will be the primary sponsor of the entry and the third year in a row to include participation from Petty.
"As a racer, the Indianapolis 500 is something that you love to be involved in," said Petty, owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. "Heading back to Indy in May with John, Michael (Andretti) and Window World is the way we want to do it and I'm really looking forward to it."
In conjunction with the effort, Window World and ABILITY Magazine have created the "$1,000,000 WIN-WIN" promotion that will provide one contestant the chance to win $1 million should Andretti win the '500.' That contestant will be selected randomly from a group of six semifinalists, with five representatives from designated U.S. regions and one representative from the national community of veterans, including active duty, retired and wounded warriors. The semifinalists will also be selected from a random drawing.
"No matter how many times you've done it before, it never gets old to announce that you're going to run in the Indianapolis 500," John Andretti said. "Winning the Indianapolis 500 has always been a dream of mine. To be able to have another shot at that is tremendous, and being able to make one of our military heroes a millionaire in the process would make it that much better."
The No. 43 will be a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport. Fifth in 1991 is John Andretti's best finish -- the same year he started a race-high seventh.
"It's great for us to be able to put this program together again for 2011," said team owner Michael Andretti, who is John's cousin. "Window World is a great partner, and getting the chance to work with Richard and John means so much to me personally. We learned a lot last year with John in the car and hopefully all of that will pay off for us this year. John is running the race for one reason and that's to win it, so we're going to give it everything we've got."
Sebastian Saavedra impressed Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart during the 2010 season finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They'll continue to work together this year.
Saavedra, 20, will compete in the full IZOD IndyCar Series season in the No. 34 Conquest Racing car, the team announced.
"I'm excited to be entering my first full season of IndyCar competition," said Saavedra, who advanced eight positions to finish 16th on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. "I've been working a long time towards this and for it to finally happen is fantastic. I can't wait for the season to start. I know it won't always be easy but I am up for the challenge."
Saavedra, of Bogota, Colombia, made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 (started 32nd, finished 23rd). In Firestone Indy Lights, he recorded one victory (Iowa Speedway) and four other top-five finishes in 11 starts. He was the '09 Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year, finishing third in the championship.
"We're delighted to have Sebastian back with us and this time for the complete season," Bachelart said. "I think we can expect some good things from him this season. We're also happy to be keeping up our tradition of giving young up-and-coming drivers the chance to take their career to the next level."
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said a decision regarding implementation of the "free pass" to complement its restart procedures would be announced this week. The feature gives the first car a lap down a free pass to regain its lap before restarts.
Alterations to the restart procedures, including cars side-by-side heading to the green flag, were announced late last week.
"As much as I want to do everything the team owners want, I want to make sure we first and foremost take care of our fans," Bernard said. "I've heard from a lot of them that don't want it, that it's too gimmicky."
ZOOM Motorsports, promoter and event manager for Barber Motorsports Park, expects a sellout for the second IZOD IndyCar Series race at the scenic facility.
"It gives me chills," Bernard said of the prospects of the hillsides covered with spectators on blankets for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy on April 10.
Oriol Servia has "crashed like 20 cars" in Turn 1 at Barber Motorsports Park. Fortunately, it's only been on iRacing.com. He'll get in his first laps on the 2.38-mile course in the No. 02 Newman/Haas Racing car during the Open Test.
"It looks like you need to really have it together here," said Servia, who said he has a full-season deal to return to the team.
Scott Dixon will have some advice March 16 for Jamie McMurray, who will drive Dixon's No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car on the Barber Motorsports Park.
"Take it easy, especially being my car. I asked if they could use the 10 car (of teammate Dario Franchitti) and they said no," joked Dixon, who, in turn, will drive McMurray's stock car at Talladega Superspeedway.
"For me, it's a restrictor plate track, it's a massive track so I think my side of it is going to be a lot easier. It would have been cool to go to some short track like Bristol or Milwaukee."
There will be occasions of side-by-side running on the 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park circuit during the two days (about 10 hours total) of the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test but no official two-wide restarts.
The sanctioning body announced late last week that double-wide restarts would be conducted at all venues, starting with the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27.
Andretti Autosport's Danica Patrick is all in for the expansion to include the nine road/street courses on the schedule.
"Whatever we have to do to get people to watch more and come to the races is what we have to do," she said. "I know it's a sport and we all want pure, pure, pure, but it's also a business."
Reigning series champion Dario Franchitti might be more cautious from a competition perspective but agreed with the entertainment aspects.
"Will there be more cars in pieces? Yeah," he said. "But it will add to the spectacle. Ultimately, it's a sport but it's an entertainment and those two have to be balanced and that's a difficult thing to do. In a lot of ways I'm glad I don't make the decisions."
The rules alteration, which includes moving the restart zone closer to the start-finish line, was implemented following input from drivers and owners as a way to further entertain and intensify the on-track action.
"The IndyCar Series goes way beyond what I saw in NASCAR as far as how the series brings the drivers and fans together from the open paddock, the autograph sessions," Franchitti continued. "The IndyCar community works hard to engage the fans."