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IndyCar SF

The first Verizon IndyCars took to the new road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday morning in warm, sunny weather. They were the first of four groups on course. At first, the IndyCars mostly seemed to go out and in with not much actual on-track running, at least at first. It’s called acclimation.

Twenty-five IndyCars are entered for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis this weekend, which will run on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. The cars race clockwise, opposite of the Indianapolis 500.

Five of the drivers are Rookies, including ‘newcomer’ MARTIN PLOWMAN of England, who will be racing for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in No.41 Honda.

There are ten Chevrolets, and fifteen Honda’s this weekend.

This is a full Road to Indy race schedule, with the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires, and Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda groups.

Thursday is practice for all four groups, followed by the Celebration of Automobiles Track Laps.

Friday is IndyCar practice, qualifying for everyone, and three races for the support groups.

Saturday are more races – all four groups, plus the Celebration of Automobiles. The IndyCar road race begins at 3:50pm local time.

Sunday starts practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 race, and will continue through Thursday – noon to 6pm daily, local time.

ANDRETTI’S ANNOUNCEMENTS

Andretti Autosport made a series of announcements Saturday afternoon prior to the MAVTV Izod IndyCar Race at Auto Club Speedway. None came as much of a surprise … more like suspicions confirmed. There was shuffling of players back and forth on and off the podium for the several announcements.

Art St. Cyr & Michael Andretti

Art St. Cyr & Michael Andretti

MICHAEL ANDRETTI, President/CEO of Andretti Autosport, and ART ST. CYR, President, Honda Performance Development announced that Andretti Autosport will switch to Honda engines, with a multi-year contract starting with the 2014 season – a move rumored at least since the Houston IndyCar race. Andretti admitted talks had begun prior to that weekend. He said “It’s like coming home.”

Andretti Autosport has been with Chevrolet for the past two years, and won the 2012 Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships with RYAN HUNTER-REAY.

St.Cyr said “We’re extremely happy to welcome Michael Andretti and his Andretti Autosport organization back into the Honda Racing family. As many of you will remember, the Andretti organization played a major role in Honda’s success during the previous era of manufacturer competition in Indy car racing; and we’re looking forward to adding more victories and championships to an already impressive total.”

Chevrolet’s statement from JIM CAMPBELL, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports: “We’d like to thank MICHAEL ANDRETTI and the entire Andretti Autosport organization for their partnership in IndyCar Series competition during 2012 and 2013. Michael, J-F THORMANN and JOHN LOPES lead a quality organization that resulted in RYAN HUNTER-REAY winning the 2012 IndyCar Series driver championship. We would like to thank the Andretti Autosport drivers for their on-track achievements that contributed to Chevrolet clinching the 2012 manufacturers’ championship. They are all true professionals on and off the track. We wish them well and look forward to spirited competition in the future.”

James Hinchcliff, Matthew Brabham, Chad Taylor/United Data and Michael Andretti

James Hinchcliff, Matthew Brabham, Chad Taylor/United Data and Michael Andretti

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE has been a pivotal driver in the ongoing IndyCar Silly Season Saga. He became a free agent after his Go Daddy sponsorship announced it was leaving IndyCar at the end of the 2013 season. He was courted by and had talks with several teams. The suspense ended Saturday. Hinch renewed with Andretti.

The Mayor of Hinchtown will drive No.27 with primary sponsorship from United Fiber & Data. CHAD TAYLOR, Chairman of UFD, told of the company being formed by three musicians from the band LIVE and their Think Loud Development Company. Hinch promised not to become a fourth musician. He’ll leave his guitar on the wall.

UFD is jumping into motorsports sponsorship in a big way. UFD will continue to be a major associate sponsor on MARCO ANDRETTI’s No.25 car, and will also join RHR’s No.28. And then as if that’s not enough, UFD will be the primary sponsor for MATTHEW BRABHAM, who is moving up to Indy Lights next season, after winning the Pro Mazda Championship with 13 victories and 15 podiums out of 16 races – a series record.

Michael Andretti said he was glad to make the Hinch announcement, along with sponsorship; no doubt almost as happy as Hinch was to have his next year’s plans finalized before the end of the current season instead of going down to the wire.

Hinch said “It’s great to be back with Andretti. Obviously, this has been home for the last two years and we preach so much about chemistry in this team and to keep it together is awesome.”

Both Andretti and Hinch were quick and effusive in their praise and thanks to Go Daddy for its sponsorship.

And last but not least was the announcement that young Brabham will continue to race for Andretti going forward. He comes from well-storied and famous Australian racing family – the son of former racer GEOFF BRABHAM, nephew of racer DAVID BRABHAM and former racer GARY BRABHAM, and grandson of the great JACK BRABHAM. Although the teenager grew up in the US, he still has traces of an Aussie accent.

Matthew Brabham brings with him the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development scholarship money for winning the Pro Mazda championship. He’s no stranger to the Mazda scholarships. He won the USF2000 Championship in 2012, moving him up to Pro Mazda – the only driver so far to so do.

Brabham said “I’m really excited to be moving into Indy Lights next year. I remember seeing the Indy Lights cars for the first time in St. Petersburg when I was racing USF2000 there last year; I was blown away by how quick they were and how cool they sounded. It’s going to be a fun year, and I’m very pleased to be on board with Andretti Autosport for a second year. Especially so after the fantastic year we shared this year in the Pro Mazda Championship. I’m so grateful to CHAD TAYLOR and BILL HYNES with United Fiber & Data and Mazda for giving me this incredible opportunity for next season!”

Andretti Autosport is not only involved in all levels of the IndyCar family, he’s moving to the new FIA Formula E series for electric formula cars. Andretti has not nominated his Formula E driver.

In Formula E, Andretti is joining JAY PENSKE of Dragon Racing, who will also field a Formula E team. JAY PENSKE of Dragon Racing has nominated SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS as the driver for the majority of the races – depending on IndyCar conflicts. Bourdais is moving to the KVSH IndyCar team next season. While Andretti is remaining in IndyCar, Dragon Racing is not.

The Formula E series has scheduled 10 rounds, with two in the US – Los Angeles on 14 February 2014 and Miami on 18 April 2014. No specific venues have been named.

RACING RARIN’

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

After a six-month long hiatus from racing, the IZOD IndyCar community is rarin’ to go. Driver after driver after driver referenced the long off-season and how eager he or she is to get back to the new season and even better racing.

What could be better than the season’s opener on Florida streets for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a full bill, with Firestone Indy Lights, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USFF2000 and Historic Sportscar Racing.

The weather is lovely and promises sunny and warm most of the time. Although isolated thunderstorms are predicted throughout the weekend, who knows. Fingers crossed.

IndyCars have a full complement of 25 drivers running all nineteen races. Thirteen run Chevrolets, and twelve drive Hondas. One driver, TRISTAN VAUTIER/Florida Lottery/cw Schmidt Peterson Honda is the only IndyCar Rookie, but as the 2012 Indy Lights champion, he’s already run the St.Pete street course. Vautier isn’t the youngest kid on the block … or in the IndyCar paddock. That honor falls to JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who will be 23 this year. At the other end of the spectrum, DARIO FRANCHITTI/TargetChip Ganassi Racing Honda is the most senior driver. He turns 40 on Bump Day this year.

The race will run an extra ten laps, for 110 in all, totaling 198 miles/318.7 km. The 1.8 mile/2.897 km course has 14 turns.

In response to driver input, Firestone has come up with a grippier, softer alternative (red) tire, which is hoped to provide more passing and competition. Each driver gets 24 primary (black) tires and 12 reds. Five sets of rain tires are also part of the equation, if needed.

Joe Barbieri

Joe Barbieri

This race weekend will be additionally special for Firestone, as it marks the retirement of long-time Firestone Manager of Motorsports, JOE BARBIERI.

Thursday afternoon, the Dan Wheldon Memorial monument was unveiled in Albert Whitted Park, with Wheldon’s widow, Susie, and two sons – Sebastian and Oliver. Also unveiled was the Victory Circle monument, honoring the past winners of the St.Pete street race.

The Indy Lights Series St.Petersburg 100 Race has nine drivers, five Rookies.

The Mazda Ladder series, The Road To Indy, has two series running this weekend – the new Pro Mazda Championship with 12 drivers; and the USF2000 Series 31 drivers. The HSR vintage group has 25 drivers, with cars ranging from a 1961 MGA MKII to a couple of 2009 Porsche Caymans.

The largest field honors go to the Pirelli World Challenge Series, with 41 entries.

As far as I can tell this weekend, the IndyCar series is the only group with known female drivers – season’s regular, SIMONA de SILVESTRO/KV Racing Technology Chevrolet; and ANA BEATRIZ of Brazil, who was just signed by Dale Coyne Racing, for the St Pete race. Coyne’s plans for the second seat on his Honda team haven’t been made known. Both Beatriz and STEFAN WILSON, younger brother of Coyne’s regular driver – JUSTIN WILSON – tested with Coyne recently at Barber Motorsport Park. There’s talk of the two splitting the ride. Stay tuned.

So far, by mid-morning the weather is clearing, with partly sunny but chilly weather. IndyCars have two Friday forty-five minute practice sessions. All series practice and World Challenge ends the day with a qualifying session.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

On another note, it with a sad heart I write that JOHN CARDINALE, VP of Media & Community Relations at Sonoma Raceway, has lost his valiant battle with stomach cancer. Sonoma Raceway hosts the August round of the IndyCar Series. RIP John.