Day 2 notebook from Barber IndyCar testing
Watching the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park stirred memories for Felipe Giaffone, though he's content being on the other side of pit wall.
Giaffone has been renewing acquaintances and making new ones this week in his capacity as an analyst for Rede Bandeirantes' (Band TV) coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series races. The Brazilian network, founded in 1967, will broadcast all races live from the venues this season, broadening its commitment.
"Band is very excited about INDYCAR and they're putting a lot of money and more effort into the broadcasts," said Giaffone, who will work with Luciano do Valle in the booth. "Contributing to the broadcasts comes easy for me, and I pretty much know what's happening even though it's been awhile since I've been in the car. I've talked to a lot of people already so I feel prepared."
Giaffone recorded a victory at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 the same year in 61 IZOD IndyCar Series races between 2001 and 2006 with four teams. He also competed in Indy Lights.
At age 36, his racing career isn't over. Giaffone, whose father was the 1987 Stock Car Brazil champion, is a two-time champion and current points leader in the Formula Truck series in Brazil. Yes, they race truck tractors.
"Racing semi trucks is very popular in Brazil and my family runs the stock car (racing) business so I'm pretty much every weekend working somewhere," he said. "I also do all the official testing for the stock car series. I'm busy driving and I enjoy it a lot."
Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti made two requests of George Barber, whose vision for a world-class motorsports facility has been realized in his hometown, during a preview for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
"I asked him if the curbs could stand out more when they paint them -- red and white as opposed to gray and white," he said. "I also told him I wouldn't mind borrowing the guy who cuts his grass because he does a hell of a job. If my wife sees what he's doing here, planting trees and stuff, it will be very expensive for me. It's a pretty special place."
The IZOD IndyCar Series, which concluded its two-day Open Test at the park-like facility, returns April 8-10 for the race weekend that will blossom into the biggest event in the state, according to Gene Hallman, president of ZOOM Motorsports (the exclusive event promoter for Barber Motorsports Park).
Already, the contract for the event has been extended one year through 2013.
More than 85,000 spectators attended last year, with corporate support and ticket sales up this year leading into the second race on the series' calendar. Hallman attributed much of it to INDYCAR's increasing popularity and the entertaining show put on last April, plus the organization's due diligence in seeking improvements in the fan experience.
"If INDYCAR were a publicly traded stock, I'd buy it now," Hallman said. "The news it's generated in the last year is exciting, and it presents more than a great racing spectacle.
"We had more than 3,000 respondents to an online survey of ticket buyers and then proceeded to do focus groups of spectators and followed up with visits to all our corporate sponsors. We then internally compiled all our notes and put it into a thick document that we're referring to on a continual basis.
"The general sentiment was a resounding success, but there are areas to improve."
A PA system upgrade, larger video boards and additional parking shuttles have been and will be addressed. A Ferris wheel will tower over the backstretch. The interactive INDYCAR Fan Village will set up shop nearby.
"We wanted to hear the feedback and want to make it better," Hallman continued. "This park was built with the spectator in mind and is about perfection. We know we'll never achieve perfection, but we'll make it as comfortable for our fans as possible. It was also built with the promoter in mind to make refinements, to adjust accordingly and move things. It is a canvas to paint on to make it better."
Team owner Chip Ganassi is nominated for Executive of the Year and Chip Ganassi Racing is among the nominees for Team of the Year in the Sports Business Journal Awards to be presented May 18 in New York.
Ganassi's racing operations won the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series and Grand-Am championships in addition to the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. It added the Rolex 24 At Daytona title in late January.
"It's great to be recognized for all the hard work the teams put in," Ganassi said. "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."
Mike Conway's test came to an early end when his No. 27 Andretti Autosport car made contact with the tire barriers early in the morning session.
Conway, whose team had been practicing live pit stops, lost control of his car after the team put on a new set of tires to begin its test day.
"The car handled a little differently than it did yesterday, and it just caught me out," Conway said. "I got on the grass coming out of (Turn) 15 and it was so wet, it took me straight into the barrier. It's a shame, but fortunately, it's just a test day."
Panther Racing rookie JR Hildebrand missed the full day of testing after the team determined his car could not be repaired at the track.
For a rookie driver like Josef Newgarden, watching IZOD IndyCar Series cars testing at Barber Motorsports may have seemed like he was a kid waiting for Christmas Day.
The young American is one of 12 drivers - and nine of whom are rookies -- who will participate in the
Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 16.
While he spent the day wandering the pit lane, he's ready to take the first step in becoming an IZOD IndyCar Series driver by driving his own car.
"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow and getting in the car and learning this track," said Newgarden, who will drive the No. 11 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
While Newgarden is a newcomer to the series, Gustavo Yacaman is the most experienced driver in the championship, even though he just turned 20 a few weeks ago.
"Preseason testing has gone really well and we've improved the car every time we've been out this winter," said Yacaman, who will drive the No. 2 car for Team Moore Racing in 2011. "I don't see why we can't be quickest tomorrow. It's the first official event of the season and it's good to scare everyone before the first race."
By scaring the competition, Yacaman hopes to show he has the speed to be considered the favorite to win not only his first race, but also the Firestone Firehawk Cup and the series championship.
"This is the year that I have to get things done," Yacaman said. "I have two years in the series. I know the cars, I know the tracks and I know the league. I have the best team, the best engineer and the best car. I have everything behind me. It's up to me to get it done."