While teams gear up for the first race, they hope to build on the momentum of a hectic offseason, including the recent announcement that open-wheel racing in the U.S. would unify, moving forward under the IndyCar Series banner and the sanctioning of the Indy Racing League.
Since the checkered flag fell on the 2007 season in September at Chicagoland Speedway, the IndyCar Series has seen a number of impactful announcements on- and off-the-track for 2008.
"From a competition standpoint, we've had a very busy offseason," said Brian Barnhart, president of operations and competition. "We introduced the TEAM program, brought Indy-style qualifying to all of our oval tracks, made several safety enhancements to our cars and brought on a respected race official in Tony Cotman.
"The biggest news of course is the unification and the expectation that several new teams will be joining us. All of these changes should lead to another outstanding season on the racetrack."
The sentiment is the same away from the track, according to Terry Angstadt, president of the league's commercial division.
"The past few months have been exceptional, and we believe the growth and excitement will continue throughout the coming season," Angstadt said. "Unification is adding to the buzz that was created in the past couple of months by Helio Castroneves winning 'Dancing with the Stars,' and Danica Patrick appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue."
Offseason highlights include:
– Unification: The start of the racing season will see one open-wheel series compete under the banner of the IndyCar Series. The Indy Racing League will serve as the sanctioning body with teams and drivers from Champ Car transitioning to the IndyCar Series. The 2008 IndyCar Series schedule will remain intact, with the potential addition of Champ Car venues Edmonton and Surfers Paradise. The 2008 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway will produce a variety of new faces and familiar names all competing on one racetrack.
– New Teams and Drivers: The recent announcement of unification has produced several new full-time entries to the IndyCar Series roster. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will field a two-car team with drivers Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson. Conquest Racing has signed Franck Perera to its two-car effort. Other Champ Car teams are expected to announce their IndyCar Series plans and drivers in the coming weeks. Teams be will given the opportunity to test their newly-acquired IndyCar Series equipment on the road course at Sebring March 19-20 and the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 24-25.
– IndyCar TEAM: Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix: The IndyCar Series restructured its earnings distribution, providing a financial foundation for new and existing teams committed to running the entire IndyCar Series schedule. IndyCar TEAM provides a minimum of $1.2 million to each car entered to compete the entire season, including the Indianapolis 500. Under the program, the purse for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 will increase to at least $13.4 million, a 25 percent increase over the record $10.67 million purse for the 2007 race. The IndyCar TEAM announcement yielded immediate dividends when Roth Racing announced it would expand its program to a full-time two-car team, adding 2006 Indy Pro Series champion Jay Howard.
– Helio Castroneves wins ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars': Helio Castroneves gained unprecedented exposure when he was voted the champion of ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars,' watched by more than 21 million people. Castroneves danced his way into the hearts of the American public and the victory led to appearances on numerous television programs, red carpet events and a limited engagement on the 'Dancing With The Stars' tour.
– Danica Patrick featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue: Danica Patrick was featured in a four-page pictorial and a full-page question-and-answer column in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The magazine was read by more than 69 million people, and more than 250 million people viewed the online galleries. Patrick joined other models for the issue's red carpet launch event in New York City in February and was featured in a behind-the-scenes special on the shoot on TNT.
– Four-lap qualifying at all oval tracks in '08: Embracing its Indianapolis 500 heritage, the IndyCar Series will implement four-lap qualifying runs at every oval racetrack in 2008 beginning with the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29. The pole winner will be the driver who records the fastest cumulative time over four laps.
– Formation of Sarah Fisher Racing announced: Sarah Fisher announced the formation of Sarah Fisher Racing. The start-up venture — integrating her father at the race shop, father-in-law as team manager and husband as crew chief – plans to compete in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 on May 25. Other races could be added,
– IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series telecasts elevated to HD, including new 360-degree camera: Fans of the IndyCar Series will be treated to a new look for event telecasts in 2008 as ESPN will televise all 18 events of the series in high definition for the first time. ESPN on ABC's coverage of the 2007 Indianapolis 500 was the first IndyCar Series event ever to be televised in HD.
All cameras used in ESPN's IndyCar Series coverage will be HD, including in-car cameras and those used in the pits and for other points of view. Included will be an HD onboard camera that can provide a rotating 360-degree view.
High-definition coverage also will extend to the 16 Indy Pro Series races telecast by ESPN2 in 2008.
– IndyCar Series continues leadership in safety innovation: The IndyCar Series will introduce three safety enhancements in 2008, including side intrusion panels, paddle shifting and variable assist steering racks.
– PEAK named official motor oil: Powerhouse automotive brand PEAK is expanding beyond antifreeze into a new line of premium quality motor oils, and will feature the IndyCar Series, Indianapolis 500 and Danica Patrick in rolling out its latest products as part of a multi-year official partner agreement signed with the IndyCar Series.
– IndyCar Series partners with College for Creative Studies: The Indy Racing League is looking to today's transportation design students for a glimpse at the future of motorsports, announcing a partnership with the Detroit-based College for Creative Studies where senior-level students will be challenged to imagine an iconic looking IndyCar Series chassis of the future.
– Top two Indy Pro Series drivers sign IndyCar Series deals: In addition to Jay Howard, the Indy Pro Series graduated two more drivers to the IndyCar Series for the 2008 season when reigning champion Alex Lloyd signed with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and runner-up Hideki Mutoh signed with Andretti Green Racing.
– Tony Cotman joins Indy Racing League: Tony Cotman, well-respected throughout open-wheel racing, joined the Indy Racing League as vice president of competition. He will assist in race control for the IndyCar Series and act as Race Director for the Indy Pro Series.