Three-time and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2007 "500" champion Dario Franchitti conducted a two-day tire test for Firestone, while Marco Andretti, Vitor Meira and Tomas Scheckter tested Wednesday a possible 2010 Indianapolis 500 aerodynamic package for the Indy Racing League, sanctioning body for the IndyCar Series.
Castroneves, the "500" winner in 2001-02 and 2009, was so focused on testing potential 2010 Indianapolis 500 tire compounds for Firestone that he hadn't even considered that he was back at Indy with the prospect of joining legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears in the pantheon of four-time race winners.
"When you mention it like that, it's like, 'Whoa, that's right!' Castroneves said. "It's one of those incredible scenarios. Right now, we've got to think in the right direction: Finish the (2009 IndyCar Series) championship, and when the year starts in 2010, we've got to think about the whole nine yards."
Castroneves will have his chance at win No. 4 at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 30. If he emerges victorious, he would also be the first driver in race history to earn consecutive "500" victories more than once.
Meira back in saddle: Vitor Meira arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier than expected on the morning of Sept. 30 to check his No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing car and the comfort level of his seat and belts before he got back behind the wheel of his IndyCar Series car at IMS – where he suffered back injuries in a frightening crash during the 2009 Indianapolis 500 in May.
If he was tentative before getting back in the car, Meira knew there would be no issues after just a few laps around the famed 2.5-mile oval.
"During the middle of the first run, I knew I was going to be fine," Meira said. "I just made sure the car would be there. On the second run, I was flat out, no problem."
Meira said his recovery became particularly difficult after six or eight weeks beyond the accident. He felt physically fine, even though he knew he was still healing.
Team owner and four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who bounced back from many crashes during his legendary driving career, was impressed with Meira's return.
"I was able to come back pretty quick, but a lot of guys couldn't," Foyt said. "That's what I wanted to know (about Vitor). That's the reason I wanted to come here and get him some laps. Sometimes you say can, and you can't come back. I knew Vitor would be able to come back because he wanted to, and he worked so hard to get back. He knows he can now."
Driving Indy, thinking championship: Dario Franchitti wore the hat of "tire technician" for Firestone during the Indianapolis test, but his competitive mind already was thinking about the IndyCar Series season finale Saturday, Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Franchitti is locked in the middle, literally, of a tight championship battle with Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon and Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe. Dixon leads the points with 570, Franchitti is five points behind at 565, and Briscoe is three behind Franchitti at 562.
Testing and learning at Indianapolis is usually considered a luxury for drivers, but given the pressure facing all three competitors leading up to Oct. 10, Franchitti would have been perfectly happy to let Dixon do the work at IMS this time.
"I think we were actually fighting to see who did the test," Franchitti said with a laugh. "This time of year, with the championship battle, days off are a premium. Both of us were saying, 'You do it!' 'No, no, no, it's your turn.' And I drew the short straw. But when you get that situation, you've got to take every advantage you can and learn as much as you can."
The IndyCar Series' season finale gets underway with pre-race at 4 p.m. (ET) and the 200-lap race at 5 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be broadcast live on VERSUS, the IMS Radio Network, XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com.
Aero changes: Marco Andretti, Tomas Scheckter and Vitor Meira tested a modified aerodynamic package that Indy Racing League officials hope will allow for more passing and even better competition at the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
Officials removed the vertical wickers from the rear-wing end fences and moved the rain light toward the rear attenuator, all designed to reduce aerodynamic drag and turbulence behind the cars.
Andretti and Scheckter said they're confident the changes will be for the better, although the changes aren't very noticeable without a large pack of cars running together.
"I think the big thing is how it (the car) reacts in traffic," Scheckter said. "With the rain light and end fences you've got a little bit bigger of a tow but you couldn't follow cars as closely in the corners, and to try and improve the racing maybe this is the way to go."
Improving the team: This test was Marco Andretti's first appearance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since his father, Michael Andretti, announced his outright purchase of Andretti Green Racing from business partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. Green and Savoree will take control of Andretti Green Promotions.
Andretti said he is excited about the potential of the team and its new direction, given that Michael Andretti's full focus now will be on the IndyCar Series team.
"Hopefully we can devote our attention to where it needs to be, and that's winning IndyCar races," Marco Andretti said. "All good comes with results, and hopefully that's the case."
Other sports with Indy ties: Castroneves and Andretti recently took in other sporting events with Indianapolis ties: Andretti attended the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 30 at IMS, and Castroneves was a spectator at the Indianapolis Colts-Miami Dolphins game Sept. 21 in Miami.
"Those guys are unbelievable," Andretti said of the MotoGP World Championship riders. "They're going 200 mph down the straightaway with no protection; those guys are crazy. It's impressive."
A media member attending the test related the legendary story of Andretti's grandfather, 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti, who turned five laps on MotoGP World Champion Kenny Roberts' bike at Laguna Seca in 1992. Mario Andretti posted a lap time that would have qualified for the 1991 U.S. Grand Prix.
"I can't say that surprises me," Marco said with a laugh. "I have a Honda Repsol at home. I'm not supposed to tell anyone about that, but I mess around a little on it. Those things are lethal weapons. They're good fun."
'Vote For Helio,' The 2009 Campaign: IndyCar Series fans can help put Helio Castroneves back on the dance floor thanks to the "Design a Dance" program, part of the current "Dancing With the Stars" season on ABC. Castroneves was the Season 5 champion of the show, crowned Nov. 27, 2007 along with professional dancing partner Julianne Hough.
With the "Design a Dance" program, fans have been given the power to vote for the dance, song, celebrity dancer, pro dancer and costumes of their choice. Fans' dancers of choice will perform again on the hit show.
Fans can vote for Helio – one of nine celebrity candidates – by visiting the "Design a Dance" site at http://cdn.abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars/design-a-dance.
Voting opened Sept. 29 and closes at noon (ET) Tuesday, Oct. 6.
2010 Indy 500 tickets: Tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 30 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are on sale now. Race Day ticket prices start at just $20.
Fans can order tickets online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Online orders can be made at any time. Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.
Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.