TONY KANAAN of Brazil drives No.7 Andretti Autosport has been racing open wheel indy cars since 1998 – first in CART and then in IRL beginning at the 2002 Indy 500. DARIO FRANCHITTI of Scotland drives No.10 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates, and has been racing indy cars since 1997 in CART and then IRL in 2002. JUSTIN WILSON of England is racing No.22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. He started in CART in 2004 and came to IRL in 2008. The three make up the ‘leaders’ of the newly formed Indy Racing League IZOD Indycar driver’s association.

The group, which has no formal name yet, wants to make racing better, for the fans, themselves and the tracks. There might be some safety issues, and if so they would sit down at the end of the season with IRL and/or the race track.

Kanaan, who seems to be the spokesman for the group, said maybe it should be put up to the fans to vote and choose a name. He says he is in charge of comments and complaints, Franchitti handles safety, and Wilson handles media. Kanaan was the most open of any driver I interviewed. Two others told me they couldn’t talk about the association.

The drivers will meet as issues or comments arise. At this time, Kanaan said they would probably meet every other race, with emails being their communication in-between races. They met and formed at Mid-Ohio, and the next meeting is in Chicagoland at the end of the month. He doubted the group would be meeting this weekend at Infineon Raceway.

Many of the IRL drivers came from the CART/Champ Car Series, which had a driver’s association.

One example of how the association, IRL and tracks can work together is the safety improvements at Infineon’s Turn Three, scene of last year’s crash when WILL POWER/Team Penske crested the hill and had no place to go but into NELSON PHILLIPPE, who was stalled on track. Power suffered two broken vertebrae and a concussion, putting him out for the rest of the season.The drivers had suggestions on providing more warning of problems in Turn Three, and the track listened.

Infineon installed new strobe lights (four total now) with blackboards for better visibility. Also, sets of LED lights have been installed on fence posts. These are in addition to the flag marshals in corner stands. The drivers also have in-car lights for full course cautions, one or two radio spotters and and Race Control audio.

Many of the drivers were able to check out the new lights at an IRL test a week ago. The new lights are a “huge improvement” said Kanaan. “It is an awesome example” of how people can work together for betterment.

Power was fastest of the 14 IRL drivers during the one day test.

J.R. Hildebrand of Sausalito CA will be running his second ever IRL race at Infineon, his home track, driving for Dreyer & Reinbold. At the test, Hildebrand’s first reaction when he came up over the hill in Turn Three was “Wow – those lights were bright, the strobes flicking on and off.” They got his attention.

Hildebrand has a long and varied experience at Infineon, cutting his teeth in karting, then Jim Russell cars, Formula Fords, Star Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights (champion and 2009 Infineon winner), Historic Formula One, and Historic Trans-Am.

Also coming from a background in Champ Car and IRL is TONY COTMAN, who has just been hired by IRL to oversee the implementation of the IRL version of the Car of Tomorrow, making its debut in 2012. In his role as consultant/Project Manager for the technical program, Cotman will write the engine and chassis regulations, coordinate with suppliers and manufacturers (cost containment), communicate with the teams. etc. He will also work with the IRL technical and safety staff, as well as outside aerodynamic and engine experts. Cotman had most recently been part of the ICONIC Advisory Committee which was key in developing the new car strategy going forward.

Cotman had been IRL Vice President of Competition until he resigned last year to start NZR Consulting, with a focus on race circuit design, safety and management. He was key in designing the new course in Brazil. Prior to coming to IRL, Cotman had been with the Champ Car World Series in a variety of roles 2005-2007, including Vice President of Operations and Race Director. He oversaw development and implementation of the CCWS cost-effective chassis.

Cotman is a member of the FIA circuits commission, and is Race Director for the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

Cotman’s appointment seems to have universal approval. Kanaan said Cotman, who used to be with his team ‘back in the day’ (Team Manager 1998-2001), is “the most capable guy around that can do the job. He knows both series.”

Hildebrand said he was impressed with Cotman after he had a one-on-one discussion with him after the announcement of the new car. Hildebrand wanted more specific information, asked Cotman 20 questions, and got 20 perfect answers.

RAFAEL MATOS of Brazil races with Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports. He said he’s glad Cotman is coming back. Matos said Cotman is very fair in enforcing rules and penalties.

Cotman being fair was a universal theme among the drivers with whom I spoke.