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Author: Mark W. Theisen
January 26th 2016 -      The second week of December in years gone by was void of much in the way of news from any racing circuit.  That all changed six years ago when Tony Stewart formed a Racer’s Trade Show in Indianapolis that was later sold to the Performance Racing Industry Group and blossomed into a major ”must attend” trade show for racers of all kinds throughout the country.

    To go along with the now titled PRI Show came the opportunity for many race sanctioning bodies to use the platform to make announcements regarding teams, drivers, sponsors and the like for the upcoming season to the members of the media that attend.

     I had the opportunity to attend the show this year and the Verizon IndyCar booth and display stood center in the main exhibit hall at Indiana Trade and Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis and the series used this audience to build up its coming 2016 season that will feature the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

     I will write about those announcements after I comment about the work that is being done along Georgetown Road as the work on “Project 100” is well underway.

     Project 100 was announced in May of this year and fans were told that when they return in May of 2016 they will be treated to some amazing changes that not only continue the upgrade work that has been underway for some time but will virtually change the entire viewing area along the front straight away.

     Already the old roof has been torn away and steel girders are in place to support the new roof which will cover a larger portion of the upper seating area that will feature new and improved seating.  Many of the former seats in those sections affected by the changes were folding chairs and they will be replaced by stadium seats with cup holders to enhance the overall experience of the event.

    In place along Georgetown road right now are six new elevator shafts that will help race fans to reach the new enhanced areas that will also provide areas for fans with disabilities.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had a number of seats with access for disabled customers, but through this project and the elevators it is hoped to attract countless more race fans with disabilities to the track because now they will have the means to get to those coveted seats that were out of their accessibility range.   In addition new concession and rest rooms areas will feature amenities for the disabled and will dot the facility now.

     Project 100 came to fruition after the state of Indiana granted monies to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that would insure it could modernize the facility to keep pace with other racing facilities across the country.

     IMS officials are pleased with the progress thus far, the mild winter thus far has enabled construction crews to move along nicely but a lot of work is yet to be done and really only six months remain before the month for May 2016.

     In May of this year a bold plan was put forth to remodel the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the next five years to include a revamped main Gate One, Wi-Fi throughout the grounds, remodeled restrooms throughout the facility and to culminate with a plaza that will replace Georgetown road from 16th street to 25th street in which fans will be able to meander through shops, dining and rest areas all without the worry of the traffic on Georgetown.  IMS representatives and the government of Speedway, Indiana are in negotiations to make the happen well within the five year plan.

     I was excited to see how far the first phase of the Project 100 has already proceeded and anxiously await what I will see next May.  As I hear of any further developments you will read about it here.

     Dreams came true for several Verizon IndyCar series drivers and hopefuls with announcements that at the PRI Show.

     Most notably was that Conor Daly, the son of former driver and television commentator, Derek, has a full time ride in the IndyCar series for the first time in his career.  He has driven in the past two Indianapolis 500’s.  In 2014 for A.J. Foyt Racing and this year for Schmidt-Peterson Racing but now has a deal, thanks in part to long time IndyCar supporter Jonathan Byrd. Aligning his sponsorship aegis with Dale Coyne Racing.

     Byrd’s company, long known for its fried chicken is making a bold step for a sponsorship that will be for 15 of the 16 IndyCar races in 2016.  Previously Byrd had agreed to a deal to sponsor Bryan Clauson, the four-time United States auto Club champion in the number 88 car.  That deal remains and both Coyne, Byrd and Daly expressed confidence that sponsorship for the 500 will materialize for their effort.

     Coyne’s cars will be powered by Honda again in 2016.  He plans to feature a second full-time team in 2016 but does not have a driver announcement yet.  He does have a deal for the 500 with Pippa Mann presumably with backing from the Susan B. Komen cancer fund drive as well as Clauson’s car which will put him at four cars for the 500.

     Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced that Mikhail Aleshin will join James Hinchcliffe on their team in 2016 with support from Honda. They also announced that they will have a third car for the 500. Both Aleshin and Hinchcliffe suffered deva sting injuries this past season but both are now healthy and have tested and are ready for the upcoming season.,

     Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing announced that Steak & Shake will return as a sponsor for five of the 16 IndyCar races to include both races at IMS.  Maxim Magazine will also return as a sponsor in 2016 as well.  The announcements were made at the show by team principle Bobby Rahal while his son, Graham the winner of two INDYCAR races this year, was still on his honeymoon.

     21-year old Matthew Brabham will make his IndyCar series debut in next year’s Angies List Grand Prix and will follow that up with his first Indy 500 attempt.  The third generation driver will be in a car from KV Racing Technologies operated by PIRTEK Team Murray and will carry the number 61, significant in that it was the year that his grandfather Jack Brabham came to the Indy 500 leading the rear-engine revolution with his T54 Cooper.  

     Matthew’s father, Geoff finished fifth as a rookie in 1981 and fourth in 1983 and will have the chance to watch his son compete in the 500 for the first time next May as another third generation driver takes to the track.  Only the Vukovich and Andretti families have had three generations on the track at Indianapolis in the past.

     Verizon IndyCar Series drivers will have more horsepower at their disposal when activating the push-to-pass overtake assist at road- and street-course races in the 2016 season.

     IndyCar announced that turbocharger boost pressure during push-to-pass use will increase from 160 kilopascals (kPa) in 2015 to 165 kPa, equating to a gain of approximately 20 horsepower in the Chevrolet and Honda 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. Normal boost pressure on road and street courses - before the overtake assist is engaged - remains at 150 kPa in 2016.

    A total of approximately 60 added horsepower will now be available for push-to-pass activations during the 11 road- and street-course races in 2016, nearly doubling the on-track effect for passing over 2015.

     "The Verizon IndyCar Series already boasts some of the most exciting racing anywhere," said Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations. "This technological update is part of INDYCAR's ongoing initiative to enhance the overall level of competition and excitement even more. Increasing the available push-to-pass horsepower will make the system more robust and lead to additional overtaking opportunities on road and street circuits."

     Push-to-pass parameters for each track - the number of pushes available and duration of each - will remain the same as in 2015.

     Even though it looks as though Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosports will field one less car for the full 2016 season, 3 instead of 4, it is hoped that 22 to 24 cars for the grid can be achieved.  The series had 24 cars at most races in 2015 but budget cuts by sponsoring companies are weighing heavy on what teams will be able to do next year.

     The 500 lineup for 2016 got a real boost at the PRI Show with Brabham, Clauson, Mann being announced and Schmidt saying they will have an extra car for the 500.

  We’re off any running towards the Indy 500 next May, stay right here.