OFFICIAL RELEASE - JAN 7, 2017: This weeks IndyCar racing news is provided by IndyCar Media. Here's a look at the news and notes that rocked the racing world this week!
1. Kanaan excited for Rolex 24 opportunity: Tony Kanaan finally gets his chance to play with his best Christmas present during this weekend's Roar Before the 24 test session at Daytona International Speedway.
The Verizon IndyCar Series veteran will have his first taste of driving the Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing in the GT Le Mans class at the open test session in preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance sports car race Jan. 28-29.
Driving the supercar is something the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner has been itching to do since the program operated by the Ganassi squad was announced in 2015. The program's goal was a successful return to 24 Hours of Le Mans and it was accomplished when fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sebastien Bourdais teamed with Joey Hand and Dirk Muller to win the GTLM class last June - 50 years after a Ford GT snatched the overall win at the iconic event. Ford GTs won a total of five times in 2016 between the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
"I've been following this thing since Day 1 because I'm a big fan of the car and the street car," Kanaan said before the test. "Seeing the team win Le Mans last year after I won the 24 Hours of Daytona with them (in 2015 in a Daytona Prototype) already made me want to be there. I was waiting for the right opportunity and it finally came.
"It came a couple days before Christmas so I actually said it was the best Christmas gift I had this year. I'm a part of a big tradition, I'm thrilled and I can't wait to get there."
Chip Ganassi Racing has scored six overall wins in the Rolex 24, with Kanaan a part of the team's 2015 victory along with Verizon IndyCar Series teammate Scott Dixon and Ganassi NASCAR pilots Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson.
A sizable chunk of the Verizon IndyCar Series grid is on hand for the Roar test that runs today through Sunday on the 3.56-mile road course. The Prototype class features James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot driving for Mazda and RC Enerson for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. Joining Kanaan at CGR in the GTLM Ford GTs are Bourdais and Dixon. The GT Daytona class features Graham Rahal and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in Michael Shank Racing's Acura NSX GT3s.
Other drivers with INDYCAR ties competing include Townsend Bell, Ryan Briscoe, Christian Fittipaldi, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam, Katherine Legge, Scott Pruett, Buddy Rice, Sebastian Saavedra, Scott Sharp and Tristan Vautier. IMSA also announced today that four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will be the grand marshal for the 55th running of the Rolex 24.
2. Texas Motor Speedway undergoing repave, reconfiguring of Turns 1-2: Texas Motor Speedway will undergo a complete repave, construction of an extensive drainage system and re-profiling of the 1.455-mile oval that has hosted Verizon IndyCar Series events since the track opened in 1997.
The renovation, beginning Monday, will add a new layer of asphalt over the existing pavement, an expansive French drainage system on the frontstretch and backstretch and a 4-degree reduction of banking in Turns 1 and 2. The project is expected to be completed in March. The Rainguard Water Sealers 600, the ninth of 17 races on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, is scheduled under the lights at TMS on Saturday, June 10.
The repaving and drainage system come as a result of issues the facility incurred in drying the racing surface, in particular this past year when the INDYCAR race and both NASCAR race weekends were affected by weather-related delays. The Firestone 600, originally scheduled for June 11 in 2016, was postponed until the following day by rain and wet track conditions and then halted by rain after 72 of its 248 laps. The race was completed Aug. 27.
"The fans are why we are doing this," track president Eddie Gossage said. "The old pavement no longer dried as quickly because, through the years of use and weather, the asphalt became porous, kind of like a sponge. Even if we only had a brief shower, it was taking us far too long to get the track dried in order to get on to the racing.
"We owe it to the fans to present the best possible racetrack so they will be assured of seeing NASCAR and INDYCAR races, even if we face some brief inclement weather. This will accomplish that goal."
The repave, conducted by experienced track paving company Lane Construction Corp., will feature an asphalt mix used in conjunction with the construction method to aid in the track's properties of an "aged" track. For installation of the French drainage system, trenches will be cut in numerous locations on the frontstretch and backstretch to provide multiple points for water to drain away from the facility more quickly and efficiently than the current system. A drainable mat installation that will tie into a continuous toe drain will aid in the drainage of the track as well.
The reconfiguration of Turns 1 and 2 will give the track a more unique layout from its current symmetrical 24-degree banking in all four turns. While Turns 3 and 4 will remain unchanged, the banking of Turns 1 and 2 will be decreased to 20 degrees with the racing surface width expanding from 60 feet to 80 feet in that section of the track.
The reduced banking will decrease lap speeds, potentially open additional passing opportunities in Turns 1 and 2 and provide TMS a new, distinctive layout that will be more challenging to the drivers.
"For years, I've heard the absurd comments about 1.5-mile tracks being tagged as 'cookie-cutter' tracks," Gossage said. "While nothing could be further from the truth - all 1.5-mile tracks are different - this assures once and for all that Texas Motor Speedway is unique, unlike any other track in the sport. That's the way we like it here in 'No Limits, Texas.'"
3. Daly looks to win vote to join Hinchcliffe at Race Of Champions: Conor Daly hopes to start the 2017 racing season a little earlier than planned.
The Verizon IndyCar Series driver is one of 10 finalists for the Race Of Champions' ROC Factor North America contest to determine who will team with James Hinchcliffe on Team North America in the all-star racing event later this month in Miami.
"It's a cool deal they have to bring in a wildcard, per se," said Daly, who will race the No. 4 ABC Supply car for AJ Foyt Racing when the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins March 12 in St. Petersburg. "I know it was a big hit (in London) at Race Of Champions and ROC is big race everyone looks at. Drivers from all the major disciplines of the sport are coming here to compete against each other. It would be a cool opportunity to maybe participate against them."
Voting for the ROC Factor North America is open to Facebook users through Jan. 9 at THIS LINK. The winning driver will compete with Hinchcliffe in the ROC Nations Cup on Jan. 22 at Marlins Park in Miami. Daly is hopeful that he can join Hinchcliffe - his friend and roommate - as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Gabby Chaves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves as INDYCAR stars slated to compete in the two-day event that also includes an individual competition.
"Everyone wants to do it," Daly said. "It's going to be tough to win (the contest) and I appreciate the votes of everyone who votes for me. We all voted for Hinch as a dancer, and even though I don't look as sparkly or dance like him, I'll do my best (if picked)."
4. Racing legend Jones auctioning unique autographed helmets: If you've ever wanted to own a unique piece of Indy car memorabilia signed by multiple Indianapolis 500 winners, racing legend Parnelli Jones is offering up a chance.
Jones, the oldest-living winner of the Indianapolis 500, has teamed with Troy Lee to produce 33 helmets, signed by 19 Indianapolis 500 winners, including Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford as well as current Verizon IndyCar Series stars Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves.
The sale of helmets, as well as 30 replica helmets signed by Jones to commemorate his Indianapolis 500 victory, celebrate the release of a documentary about Jones and his decades-long relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Behind The Indianapolis 500 With Parnelli Jones" explores the rich history and tradition of the iconic Indianapolis 500. Jones, the 1963 winner of the Indy 500, takes viewers on a personal journey as he returns to the hallowed Brickyard. Included are interviews with Jones, Andretti, Mears, Bobby Unser, Bobby Rahal, son PJ Jones, Al Unser Jr., Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull.
The film was screened to a sold-out crowd at the Sun Valley Film Festival last March and is the first film about the Indy 500 chosen by a major film festival. It may be purchased on DVD for $14.99 or instant streaming for $12.99 at Amazon.com.
To promote the DVD release, Parnelli and PJ Jones and Lee appeared on the CarCast podcast and hosted by Adam Carolla and Matt D'Andria. It is available on iTunes, the PodcastOne mobile app and CarCastShow.com.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the helmets (available for $8,500 for one or $15,000 for a pair (one of each) by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org) benefits the Page Jones Head Injury Foundation.
5. Rahal enjoys cool fun at Bridgestone Winter Classic: It wasn't the Indianapolis 500, but Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal was just as excited to attend another major sporting event Monday - the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in St. Louis.
Rahal was a guest of INDYCAR partners Firestone and Honda for the annual outdoor hockey game, conducted this year at Busch Stadium - normally home of baseball's St. Louis Cardinals - and pitting the St. Louis Blues against their rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver used the opportunity to talk about INDYCAR's return this year to the St. Louis area, with the 15th race of the season scheduled under the lights Aug. 26 at Gateway Motorsports Park in nearby Madison, Ill.
"With the race here later this year in St. Louis, it's cool to connect those dots," Rahal said.
Indy cars raced at Gateway's 1.25-mile oval from 1997-2003. While he hasn't competed at the track yet, Rahal has been to its adjacent drag strip to watch wife Courtney Force race - and came away impressed.
"The owner of the track, Curtis Francois, he's a great guy," Rahal said. "When I met him a few years ago - I was out here at Gateway for one of Courtney's races - I could just tell that he was the right kind of guy to be running this thing and to be partnered with for INDYCAR. He understands what it's going to take to be successful. To have Indy car racing back in St. Louis is great and it's a great market for us to be in."
6. Rickards joins Carlin for 2017 Indy Lights season: Garth Rickards will move up the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, joining reigning Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires team champion Carlin for the 2017 season.
Rickards, a 24-year-old native of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, has raced the last two seasons in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, scoring a career-best finish of third at Mid-Ohio in 2016.
"To say I am excited is an understatement and I can't thank everyone who was involved enough," Rickards said. "Carlin has proven that they are one of the best junior open-wheel teams in the world with their track record. Their focus on driver development will really help me grow and move my way up through the field in my rookie season. Trevor (Carlin, owner) and the whole Carlin squad have been extremely supportive and I'm excited to work with them hopefully for many years."
Rickards, the first driver named for 2017 by Carlin, has tested with the team in an extensive preseason program, which will continue as Rickards prepares to make his series debut on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in March.
SOURCE: IndyCar Media