The new era in open-wheel racing – of which Australia’s own Gold Coast Indy 300 is a part – will begin on March 29 with the 2008 season opener of the unified IndyCar Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 will reunite former competitors such as Helio Castroneves and Bruno Junqueira, renew family rivalries with next-generation drivers Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, and see the Australian flavor amplified with Queensland star Will Power joining Sydney’s Ryan Briscoe and Brisbane-born Kiwi Scott Dixon in the new series.
“I am extremely excited about having one series again," said Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who made 79 starts in CART before his 97 career starts in the IndyCar Series.
“I have always been outspoken about that. One strong open-wheel series is going to be the best for everyone, not only for the drivers, not only for the teams, not only for the press, but especially for all the fans."
Fans will be rewarded when 26 cars take to the starting grid for the 2008 season opener. The count represents 17 cars from teams that previously competed in the IndyCar Series and nine cars from five teams transitioning to the new-look unified series.
The favorite in the 200-lap, 300-mile season opener is Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dan Wheldon, who will be looking for a record-setting fourth consecutive victory on the 1.5-mile, variable-banked oval.
Last year Wheldon beat team-mate Dixon by more than six seconds at Homestead-Miami, but in 2006, he edged Castroneves by just 0.0147 of a second in the closest race in track history.
With Target Chip Ganassi Racing the ‘sister team’ to Power’s KV Racing Technology stable, the 27 year old is sure to be watching Wheldon as he makes only his second oval appearance in his competitive career this weekend after completing oval testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week.
Power was the third fastest driver on day one of testing at the 1.5-mile oval and then backed that performance up with fifth fastest on the second day.
On both occasions the top two drivers were existing IndyCar Series drivers, making Power the fastest driver moving over from the Champ Car World Series to the IndyCar Series on the first day and the third fastest transitioning driver on the second.
“For the first couple of laps (at Homestead-Miami Speedway) I was very unsure of the car but once I got into it, I started to feel really comfortable," said Power.
“Now it’s a matter of working up to speed and start making changes and feeling how sensitive the car is to them.
“Then you have to learn traffic, which is probably even harder again. It’s going to be a year of learning on the ovals. But it’s good to be here and great with all the cars running and the two series together.
“I’m really looking forward to getting racing underway this weekend. We have had to put in so much work in such a short space of time so everyone cannot wait to get down to the real work, which is racing.
“The oval races in the early part of the season will be quite tough but the plan is to keep our heads and see where we run."
Power also proved he has lost none of his speed on the road courses in the transition to the Dallara chassis, placing the top and second fastest times in the earlier test for transitioning teams at Sebring International Raceway – at which Briscoe also topped in the continuing teams test a few days earlier – a sign of good things to come at the Gold Coast Indy 300 in October.
Following the Homestead-Miami race the unified series embarks on a schedule that is the most diverse in world motorsports.
The 2008 schedule will take the teams and drivers to short ovals, superspeedways, and road and street courses including the Gold Coast Indy 300 which is regarded as a ‘crown jewel’ in international motorsport.
The future of the Gold Coast Indy 300 was recently secured for at least another six years with a deal being reached with the new-look IndyCar Series and V8 Supercars Australia.
Now regarded as one of the world’s iconic motorsport events, the Gold Coast Indy 300 will now continue until and including 2013 with major plans already underway for a massive 20th anniversary celebration in 2010.
With 96 hours of non-stop excitement over October 23-26 as the Gold Coast comes alive to the sound of the IndyCars burning up the track and Australia’s own V8 Supercars scorching around one of the most famous beach-side cities in the world, the event is the hottest ticket in town.
Australian fans can catch the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 action live by tuning into ESPN on Foxtel at 11.00am AEDT this Sunday. Check your local guides for more information.
Car – Driver – Hometown – Entrant
2 – A.J. Foyt IV – Hockley, Texas – Vision Racing
3 – Helio Castroneves – Sao Paulo, Brazil – Team Penske
4 – Vitor Meira – Brasilia, Brazil – Panther Racing
5 – Oriol Servia – Pals, Catalonia, Spain – KV Racing Technology
6 – Ryan Briscoe – Sydney, Australia – Team Penske
7 – Danica Patrick – Roscoe, Ill. – Andretti Green Racing
8 – Will Power – Toowoomba, Australia – KV Racing Technology
9 – Scott Dixon – Auckland, New Zealand – Target Chip Ganassi Racing
10 – Dan Wheldon – Emberton, England – Target Chip Ganassi Racing
11 – Tony Kanaan – Salvador, Bahia, Brazil – Andretti Green Racing
14 – Darren Manning – North Yorkshire, England – A.J. Foyt Enterprises
15 – Buddy Rice – Phoenix – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
17 – Ryan Hunter-Reay – Boca Raton, Fla. – Rahal Letterman Racing
18 – Bruno Junqueira – Belo Horizonte, Brazil – Dale Coyne Racing
19 – Mario Moraes – Sao Paulo, Brazil – Dale Coyne Racing
20 – Ed Carpenter – Indianapolis – Vision Racing
23 – Milka Duno – Caracas, Venezuela – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
24 – Jay Howard – Basildon, England – Roth Racing
25 – Marty Roth – Toronto – Roth Racing
26 – Marco Andretti – Nazareth, Pa. – Andretti Green Racing
27 – Hideki Mutoh – Tokyo – Andretti Green Racing
33 – Ernesto Viso – Caracas, Venezuela – HVM Racing
34 – Franck Perera – Montpellier, France – Conquest Racing
36 – Enrique Bernoldi – Curitiva, Brazil – Conquest Racing
02 – Justin Wilson – Northampton, England – Newman Haas Lanigan Racing
06 – Graham Rahal – New Albany, Ohio – Newman Haas Lanigan Racing
*All cars use Dallara chassis, Honda engines and Firestone tires.
GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE INDY 300 FAST FACTS
– The 2008 IndyCar Series and the first race in the unified series will open under lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway
– When: Saturday March 29, 8.00pm EDT (11.00am Sunday 30 March, 2008 AEDT)
– Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway
– Distance: 200 laps – 300 miles/482.8km
– TV: ESPN2 (America – Live ), ESPN (Australia – Live, check your local guide)
– 2007 Winner: Dan Wheldon
– 2007 Polesitter: Dan Wheldon
– Track Type: 1.5 mile, variable-banked oval
-Helio Castroneves can establish an IndyCar Series record for most consecutive seasons with at least one win should he win the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300. Castroneves is tied with Scott Sharp with victories in seven consecutive seasons.
-Helio Castroneves will makes his 94th consecutive IndyCar Series start, becoming the reigning ‘Iron Man.’
-Dan Wheldon can become the first driver to win four consecutive races at one track if he wins at Homestead-Miami Speedway.