Bright sunshine and warm weather greet visitors to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The clouds were white and fluffy and the breeze was lazy. It was another of the quiet, nonpublic days. No engines could turn, and the only people wandering about were groups of youngsters being given tours around the track, including one group which got to sit and watch a sidecut of an IndyCar – a Target Chip Ganassi car, to be precise.

On the front straight A.J. FOYT and other celebrities ceremoniously installed a 37-pound golden brick in the middle of the remaining three-feet of exposed brick strip at Start-Finish. Joining Foyt were MARI HULMAN GEORGE-IMS Chairman of the Board; and JEFF BELSKUS, IMSI Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer. The Centennial Golden Brick celebrates the Speedway’s 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.

The ceremonial brick will remain in place until after the weekend, for an indefinite time; however, it won’t be in place at the August NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 race.

This 100th year at the Brickyard also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Foyt’s first Indy 500 victory in 1961. That race was run on an all-brick track. After the race, it was paved over almost entirely, save the brick strip on the front straight. Foyt went on to win three more Indy 500’s.

Tuesday was the American Dairy Association awards luncheon for all the Indy 500 Rookies, called the Milk Meal. The ADA awards The Fastest Rookie Award to the top Rookie Qualifier. This year it was JR HILDEBRAND of Sausalito CA. The No.4 National Guard Panther Racing driver qualified twelfth, on Saturday. For this he wins $5000 cash, a plaque, and his name on a permanent trophy in the Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

JR's car
JR's car

It was the receiving of this Rookie Award Tuesday noon which kept Hildebrand of being part of the media blitz in his own hometown area – Sausalito, near San Francisco and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, where IndyCar holds its thirteenth round 28 August 2011. Try as they might, the track and IndyCar weren’t able to make adequate travel arrangements which would get JR back to the Speedway Tuesday in rested condition. Instead, Hildebrand went to Louisville with JOHN ANDRETTI/No.43 Team Window World Andretti Autosport, and DAVEY HAMILTON/No.11 HP/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

It was while BRUNO JUNQUEIRA was in Milwaukee for the Monday media blitz that he received the news that he was being traded for RYAN HUNTER-REAY. While Junqueira had made long and private phone calls during the day, he never let on what was the issue, or shirked his promise to do radio and TV interviews, along with meet and greets. Those on the tour with him suspected something might be afoot, but had no idea what. Throughout it all Junqueira remained pleasant and was all in all, a class act. At the airport to return to Indy, he tweeted that he no longer had the ride in No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing. It was only then that the others with him on the tour knew: CHARLIE KIMBALL/No.83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen, BUDDY RICE/No.44 Panther Racing, and VITOR MEIRA, Junqueira’s teammate at Foyt Racing. PAUL KELLY of IMS was present, but contrary to what I reported earlier, ROBIN MILLER was not in attendance.

Ziggy Harkus
Ziggy Harkus
Another recent award winner was PAUL HARKUS, the Team Manager for Andretti Autosport. He goes by the name of Ziggy, and he’s this year’s winner of the ‘True Grit’ Award. The award is presented by CHRIS PAULSEN of C&R Racing and founder of the IMIS Show (International Motorsports Industry Show) held in Indianapolis every December. The award is for crew members in the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, and started in 1998. It is based on the winner’s work throughout the years, not just one event. The decision is generally made on or around Bump Day.

The criteria include the recipient being a veteran IndyCar team member who has achieved success, overcome adversity, excelled in preparation and has exemplified dedication to the highly skilled trade of building and maintaining IZOD IndyCar Series cars. 

Paulsen, who along with his C&R associates, makes the decision on the recipient, said that Harkus represents what the ‘True Grit’ Award is all about and throughout the years has been one of the hardest working guys in the sport. At IMIS and C&R Racing, we work for the hardcore racer and ‘Ziggy’ is certainly the definition of that.

“Ziggy has done all of these throughout his career. He’s won races, he has great dedication to the sport, he’s built great race cars and he’s overcome adversity because anyone who has worked as a mechanic for 20 years in Indy Car racing has had some sort of adversity.”
Harkus has been with Andretti Autosport the past four years and is currently the Team Manager. His previous IndyCar experience includes three years as Director of Operations for CART/Champ Car. He’s also worked with Galles Racing, Kelley Racing, and PacWest Racing. All in all, he’s enjoyed 28 years in the sport.

Harkus had a chance this weekend to show his dedication and overcoming adversity when two of the Andretti cars (RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.28 Sun Drop/DHL Andretti Autosport and MIKE CONWAY/No.27 Andretti Autosport failed to make the race. Monday Harkus received the decision to swap his driver for the driver and car in A.J. FOYT’s stable – No.41 AJ Foyt Racing from BRUNO JUNQUEIRA, who qualified the car in nineteenth position.

Harkus said, and IndyCar spokesperson confirmed, that it will be the No.41 car which will run the race with Hunter-Reay with its engine and tires. Basically, it’s treated as a driver swap, same as if someone was injured (as was Meira two years ago and RHR stepped up to finished the season.) Junqueira had a short engine deal with Honda (one week instead of two) but the engine has less than 400 miles on it and should be ready to go with no problem. Honda delivers another engine to everyone on Wednesday in time to run on Friday’s Carb Day. Monday and Tuesday are quiet days. I haven’t yet clarified if engines can rev on Wednesday or not.

No.41 car being prepped by Foyt's Crew for RHR
No.41 car being prepped by Foyt's Crew for RHR
Harkus said the paint scheme, graphics and livery are a combination of the two teams and sponsors. The car will be Coyote Orange with Sun Drop and DHL sponsorship graphics. The car will also carry ABC Supply on the car.

Crew wise, the lines are more indefinite. As of now, the Foyt crew will handle the car, with RHR’s Crew Chief monitoring/overlooking. The Pit Crew will probably be Andretti guys. Stay tuned.


Ryan Hunter-Reay, Driver:
(ON RUNNING IN THE INDY 500) “Am I happy to have the chance to run in the Indy 500? Sure, but this isn’t at all how I wanted it to happen. I have the utmost respect for the Indianapolis 500, but this is not the way I wanted things to pan out. I’m in the race, but I’m not going to celebrate. This race has a legacy and tradition that is undeniable. The reality is our car didn’t qualify and now I’m racing in the #41.

“I’m still very disappointed in the way our weekend turned out, but Andretti Autosport and A.J. Foyt Racing need me on Sunday, and I’m going to be ready to go.”

(ON BRUNO JUNQUEIRA) “I feel awful for Bruno. He did a great job getting the 41 car into the field and I know how disappointed he must be to not be driving it on Sunday. I have a lot of respect for Bruno as a driver and as a person.”

(HOW DID THIS DEAL BETWEEN ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT AND A.J. FOYT RACING DEVELOP?) “I guess our team approached A.J. after we got bumped from the field at the end of the day on Sunday. I didn’t talk to anybody about it until my team came to me after their initial meeting with A.J. That was the first I knew of it.”

(HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO FANS THAT ARE UPSET BY THIS MOVE?) “I understand their passion for the Indy 500 and I hope they understand that I am just the driver. And, my job is to drive when and where I’m told to drive. I don’t determine things like this. The team needs me in the car this Sunday and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.

“Again, I feel terrible for Bruno. But, really, this is not about me and Bruno. This is about our teams and those who support our teams all season long.”

Michael Andretti, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer:

(ON THE DECISION TO APPROACH A.J. FOYT RACING ABOUT THE #41 ENTRY) “When Sunday was over, we needed to find a way to take care of our sponsors – the same sponsors that get us to the racetrack every race, all season long, and keep the lights on at our shop. Without them, we don’t exist. So, it wasn’t a tough decision from that perspective. We had to figure out a Plan B. Not getting them into the Indy 500 was not an option.

“Ryan is a huge part of each of those sponsor programs, and from the sponsors’ perspective, it was important that he still be representing them in the Indy 500.

“A.J. also knows Ryan can get the job done on Sunday and that was a big part of this. They’ve worked together before and A.J. knows what Ryan is capable of. That made it an easier option for both of us.”

(ON THE PERCEPTION FROM SOME FANS THAT THIS IS THE WRONG THING TO DO) “The fastest 33 cars are what qualify for the Indy 500 and that’s always been the case. We’re not doing anything that changes that. This has happened before. One of the greatest finishes in Indy 500 history, in 1992, involved a car that had a driver change before the race. Scott Goodyear replaced Mike Groff and Scott nearly won the race. It’s not a new thing.

“I disagree with the idea that we are doing something to hurt the integrity of the Indy 500. We would never do that – ever. The rule is the fastest 33 cars make the race – not the 33 fastest drivers. And, that is what will be on track Sunday.”