IndyCar Season is Set to Get Underway; Helio Favored

Dario Franchitti wins the race and the IndyCar title at HMS

Dario Franchitti thrilled fans with a burnout following his victory in the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami in 2009. The win locked up Franchitti's second IndyCar title (Photo courtesy: IndyCar Media)

The start of every IZOD IndyCar Series season begins with high expectations, but the 2010 season may be one of the most anticipated.  The IndyCar Series season will consist of 17 races across three continents, 12 teams competing over an extended race calendar. 

This season seems to have it all: new title sponsor, fast ovals, historic road courses, tricky street circuits, new venues, fresh teammate combinations, young drivers and returning champions - culminating at Homestead-Miami Speedway in October.  All could add up to another unbeatable season.  With the first practice session just days away, the season is just beginning to build to what could be another Championship spectacular at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 1-2.

Sunday, March 14, 11:30 a.m. on Versus - IMS Radio Network XM145/Sirius 211

Familiar faces in new places:

• Will Power
, who competed in six races with Penske Racing in 2009, will be a full-season entrant in 2010 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. He'll join forces with Helio Castroneves, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Coral Gables resident, and Ryan Briscoe, who placed third in the 2009 Championship standings at Homestead-Miami Speedway last October.  This year marks the first time since the mid-90s that Team Penske will field three full-time cars in Indy cars (Paul Tracy, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr.).

Boca Raton resident Ryan Hunter-Reay will compete with Andretti Autosport with IZOD as the primary sponsor of the No. 37 entry. Hunter-Reay will open the season in Brazil and also compete at St. Petersburg, where he finished second last year for Vision Racing.
Hunter-Reay moved to A.J. Foyt Racing in June as a replacement for the injured Vitor Meira, posting a best finish of fourth at Mid-Ohio. He'll join Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Key Biscayne's Tony Kanaan at the team.

FAZZT Race Team joins the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2010 with veteran driver Alex Tagliani, who competed in six races last season with Conquest Racing. The team announced a partnership with Bowers & Wilkins, the world's leading producers of reference quality hi-fi and home theater speakers, as the primary sponsor for the season opener in Brazil.

• Justin Wilson, who won at Watkins Glen International and finished ninth in the '09 standings with Dale Coyne Racing, will compete in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing as a teammate to second-year driver Mike Conway. Also in a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car for the Brazil opener is Ana Beatriz, who competed the past two seasons in Firestone Indy Lights. She recorded one victory each year - becoming the first female to win a Firestone Indy Lights race (2008 at Nashville).

• Hideki Mutoh, the rookie of the year in 2008, will drive the No. 06 car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. He had competed the past two seasons with Andretti Autosport.

• Mario Romancini, who won two oval races in 2009 in his first Firestone Indy Lights season - including at Homestead-Miami Speedway last October - has jumped to the No. 34 Conquest Racing entry.

Miami resident E.J. Viso, who drove for two seasons with HVM Racing, moved to KV Racing Technology in the No. 8 car.

• Jay Howard, the 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion, will compete in five IZOD IndyCar Series races with Sarah Fisher Racing (starting with the Indianapolis 500). "Since 2008, I've been pretty driven," said Howard, who competed in five races with Roth Racing that year. "I have a lot of confidence going into it. I think Sarah Fisher Racing as a team will raise some eyebrows this year."

IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Davey Hamilton will compete in three races with Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports - the Indianapolis 500, at Texas Motor Speedway the following week and another event to be determined.

For the second consecutive year, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing will team up to compete in the Indianapolis 500. The No. 99 SSM/CGR entry with primary sponsor Herbalife will be driven by IZOD IndyCar Series veteran Townsend Bell. He finished fourth in the 2009 race for KV Racing Technology.
 
New Rules and Regulations:

• Removal of the four-position fuel mixture switch. The Honda overtake assist system will remain and receive almost a doubling of horsepower boost (it was between 5 and 20 horsepower in 2009 depending on fuel position). The "yellow" position will remain - to be used during caution periods if the driver chooses.
"Teams and drivers can still save fuel because they can develop their own fuel strategy, but instead of having a mechanical device to achieve it they can use their right foot," Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart said. "It will allow the drivers more strategy during the event."

• A reverse gear supplied by promotional partner Xtrac will be incorporated for the nine road and street course races and be available to drivers through the paddle shift system. Drivers will retain six forward gears, and the kit won't be required for the eight oval events.
"It doesn't make any of the parts obsolete; you just add the new kit," IZOD IndyCar Series technical director Kevin Blanch said. "It's on the drop gear side, so when the crew is making gear changes it doesn't interfere. It just stays in the car the whole time."

• Honda Performance Development will incorporate a refueling lockout device on IZOD IndyCar Series cars in an effort to further reduce the possibility of fuel spills and fire during pit stops. A sensor next to the refueling coupling behind the driver's shoulder will recognize the proximity of the fuel probe and prevent the driver from shifting into gear (from neutral) until it has cleared the pre-set distance.
The system will receive testing during the Open Test on May 4 at Kentucky Speedway. It is scheduled to be added following the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, according to HPD technical division manager Roger Griffiths.

• A "floating back" headrest configuration that has been researched and tested by Indy Racing League director of engineering Jeff Horton was recommended for implementation by teams. Horton developed the "floating back" to curb the disparity in G forces between the car and head in rearward crashes. The Kevlar skin of the headrest is attached to the front of the foam and the sides are allowed to float, "so the driver only feels the effect of the foam during impact," according to Horton.

THE DRIVERS:

The Champions: The four drivers who have combined to win six of the last seven IZOD IndyCar Series championships return to the series in 2010. Target Chip Ganassi Racing features a pair of two-time champions with Dario Franchitti (2007 and 2009) and Scott Dixon (2003 and 2008). Andretti Autosport features 2004 champion Tony Kanaan, while Panther Racing features 2005 champion Dan Wheldon.The IZOD IndyCar Series season will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 1-2, 2010. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

Race winners: In addition to the four series champions, seven drivers who have won at least one race winners return to the series in 2010. Team Penske and Andretti Autosport feature three race-winning drivers in their lineups (Penske has Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. Andretti Autosport has Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick). Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) is the other returning race winner.

THE SCHEDULE

The 17-race calendar features two new additions to one of the most diverse schedules in motorsports. The season kicks off on a temporary circuit in South America's largest city. (Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 14) and ends in on an oval in South Florida (Homestead-Miami, Speedway, Oct. 2). In between drivers will be challenged by a mix of seven superspeedways, including the 2010 Indianapolis 500 (Indianapolis Motor Speedway, May 28) a short oval, five temporary circuits and four permanent road courses.
In addition to the race on the 2.6-mile, 11-turn circuit in the Anhembi section (north-central) of São Paulo, on April 11, both the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights will have races for the first time at the 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS

Most of the drivers agree that Target Chip Ganassi Racing's two-year reign atop the championship standings will end, but the driver to take title was open for debate, though the top three vote getters all came from the same team - Team Penske.
The Team Penske's triumvirate of Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power drew 75 percent of the vote with second-year driver Mike Conway and two-time champions Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti splitting the remaining 25 percent of the vote.
Castroneves was mentioned the most of the Penske drivers with five votes, while Briscoe and Briscoe had four votes and Power had three.

Sunday, March 14, 11:30 a.m. on Versus - IMS Radio Network XM145/Sirius 211

South Florida IndyCar Stars Head to Brazil

Helio Goes Home

IndyCar's 2009 series champion Dario Franchitti - crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway last October - is the favorite at the new Sao Paulo circuit. Three-time Indy 500 winner and Coral Gables resident Helio Castroneves would like to knock Franchitti from his throne.

The real challenge will be beating Target/Ganassi and Team Penske drivers rather than conquering a new circuit. Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Castroneves and Will Power captured 16 of last year’s 17 races.

“Last year was tough because our team didn’t win a race and those guys (Ganassi and Penske)
are obviously just as strong as ever but you’re always positive at the start of the season,” said Key Biscayne resident Tony Kanaan, the veteran leader of Andretti Autosport and one of six Brazilians competing this weekend.

Franchitti, the 2009 Firestone Indy 300 winner and defending series champion, expects another free-for-all for the title, which wasn’t decided until last year’s Championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway

“I’m sure it will be the usual suspects as last year and now Will has a full-time ride with Penske so add him to the mix,” said Franchitti. “But I think it we’ll have to work even harder to challenge for another championship."

Click here for a closer look at the Sao Paulo's Sambadrome circuit and a preview of Round 1 of the IZOD IndyCar Series which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 1-2.

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