Ten days and 11 hours before the IndyCar Series season opener, several former Champ Car teams and drivers turned their first-ever laps in IndyCar-spec Dallara-Hondas.
By March 29, when what is expected to be a 19-race season kicks off under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as many as 10 car/driver combinations could be ready to make their IndyCar Series debut. But only six cars are expected to test during a special session for Champ Car teams Wednesday and Thursday at Sebring International Raceway, with the most notable absentees being Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
"Despite the best efforts of Dallara and the IndyCar Series, we still don't have all the parts necessary to be ready in time to test in Sebring," NHLR general manager Brian Lisles said. "It is a big disappointment for the team and an enormous setback because we will be losing valuable track time that will be difficult to recover. The team continues to work hard to complete the cars in time for the Homestead test March 24-25."
Teams making the transition to the IndyCar Series in light of the planned dissolution of the Champ Car World Series received one used Dallara chassis from their "partner" IndyCar Series teams during the first week of March, followed by a new chassis that required ground-up assembly.
Present at Sebring are Conquest Racing, with rookies Franck Perera and Enrique Bernoldi; Dale Coyne Racing, with Bruno Junqueira and rookie Mario Moraes; and KV Racing Technology, with Oriol Servia and Will Power.
"We haven't had a lot of time to prepare, but the entire team has worked flat-out around the clock seven days a week just to get prepared for this first test at Sebring," said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing, whose cars were the first to take to the 1.7-mile road course. "Chip Ganassi Racing have been really great as far as helping us get ready and have made it apparent that getting our team up to speed as fast as possible is what is best for the series."
Newman/Haas/Lanigan, which is viewed as the marquee Champ Car team with eight series championships, elected to remain at its suburban Chicago base and focus on its oval package for the Homestead test.
The Champ Car World Series staged only seven oval races since 2003.
"It's disappointing to not be testing in Sebring," Rahal said. "But this team has been used to sending the car out on the racetrack without any doubts in their mind that the preparation was 100 percent perfect."
Most IndyCar Series teams have been using the basic Dallara package since 2003. But NHLR's partner team, Rahal Letterman Racing, has less experience with the Italian-built chassis, having only switched to it in mid-2006.
"[The team] said right from the start that they will not put out a car that is not up to their usual high standard of preparation," said Wilson, who is new to the NHLR team in 2008. "It is reassuring for me to know that I will have a reliable car, especially given the commitment necessary to compete on some of these high-speed ovals."
What's your number?
The Indy Racing League has issued the following car numbers to the new competitors:
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing: Justin Wilson (02), Graham Rahal (06); KV Racing Technology: Will Power (8), Oriol Servia (32); Dale Coyne Racing: Bruno Junqueira (18), Mario Moraes (19); Conquest Racing: Franck Perera (34), Enrique Bernoldi (36); HVM Racing: TBA; Walker Racing: TBA.
Andretti owns Toronto
Michael Andretti won what
used to be known as the Molson Indy Toronto seven times during his career racing Champ Cars. Now an IndyCar Series team owner and race promoter, Andretti is attempting to add the Toronto race to his growing business portfolio.
Andretti Green Promotions, which took over CART's Grand Prix of St.
Petersburg and transformed it into a premier IndyCar Series event, has signed a letter of intent to purchase the assets of the Grand Prix Association of Toronto Corp.
The Toronto race was added to the CART Champ Car schedule in 1986 and was a series mainstay for more than two decades. The race was staged on a temporary course that wound through the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, about 3 miles from the city center.
For most of that time, the event was owned and promoted by Molson, but the brewer sold the rights of the race to Champ Car co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe in 2005.
For scheduling reasons, Toronto did not make the cut for the merged
2008 IndyCar Series calendar, but it is expected to return in 2009.
"The expressed interest by Andretti Green Promotions to own the Grand Prix of Toronto speaks volumes to the stature this event maintains in open-wheel racing in North America," said Charlie Johnstone, president and CEO of the Grand Prix of Toronto.
Added Andretti: "Racing there was always the highlight of my year, and it's exciting to think that we're exploring the possibility of owning the event. If we were able to put a deal together to own and operate an event in Toronto, I would certainly count that as another win there for sure."
The PEAK brand will increase its involvement in the IndyCar Series in
2008 by sponsoring the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award at all events. PEAK will pay $10,000 to the fastest qualifier at each race, except at the Indianapolis 500, where the pole bonus grows to $100,000.
In fact, PEAK has bought the naming rights to the entire front row at Indy and will pay bonuses of $25,000 and $10,000, respectively, to the second- and third-fastest qualifiers.
PEAK Motor Oil was already the official motor oil of the IndyCar Series and PEAK Antifreeze is the title sponsor of the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.
"It makes good business sense for the IndyCar Series to partner with trusted quality consumer brands like PEAK," said Terry Angstadt, president of the Indy Racing League's commercial division.
PEAK also has a personal services contract with IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.