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Thoughts for Mark Turn to Indy
BPS file photo from Indy 2009- Steve Burzynski
BPS file photo from Indy 2009- Steve Burzynski
February 14th 2011 - INDY CAR SEASON JUST AROUND THE CORNER

By: Mark Theisen

WEST BEND, WI February 13, 20011: The passing, this week of the voice of the Indianapolis 500, Tom Carnegie, brought back many fond memories of the 50 Indy 500’s I have attended.

Although he was not the “official” announcer at last year’s 500 he was still at the race, in his wheel chair on race morning, up and down pit road greeting all the drivers and crews and wishing them all good luck. Even in declining health you could not keep him from the track. His story is legend and he will be missed.

His passing brought to mind that I have been neglect in reporting what has been going on in the world of Indy Car racing and in the 500 in particular and it is in his memory that I offer a capsule of what is coming this year on the circuit and at Indy.

The series kicks off in just over a month at St. Petersburg, Florida, a street race course race on March 27th and is followed by a road course event at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama on April 10th. April 17th is the date for the ever popular Long Beach Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach, California. The next event on the schedule is in Brazil on May 1st and again it is on a street course in Sao Paulo. The first five races of the season are on road or street courses and are followed by the first oval track race, the Indy 500, on May 29th.

What is equally exciting for us Badger race fans is that the Indy Car series returns to Milwaukee on June 19th after a one year absence. The event will be promoted by the Indy Car Series itself but has lined up MillerCoors as a title sponsor for the event through a partnership with Beer Capitol Distributorship and will see Coors as the official beer for the event.

Tickets for the event are on sale at the Indy Car series website or the Milwaukee Mile site at www.Milwaukeemile2011.tik.com or call 800-722-3840. Scott Dixon won the last Indy car race in Milwaukee in 2009 as is one of the series stars that will return this year.

David Hobbs Honda will sponsor the Indy Lights event in conjunction with the Milwaukee 225.

Honda is also doing its part to get the word out for the Milwaukee event having painted up an Indy Car show car with the event data on it and displaying it prominently in their exhibit at the Chicago Auto Show which kicked off Friday and will run through February 20th at McCormack Place in Chicago. As the race approaches I promise to have much more information on the return of Indy Cars to the Mile.

The 2011 Indy Car series will be the last year for the current chassis and engine configuration and promises to be filled with excitement and record team entries as teams will not be able to use their current cars after this year so they will try to get the most out of what they have before going into 2012 with an expanded selection of engines and aero packages that will be outlined in a future story.

For 2011 Target Ganassi Racing returns with defending series and Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti headlining the team that also includes Dixon. Ganassi will also field a second two-car team operating out of a new race shop in Brownsburg, Indiana that will have second generation driver Graham Rahal and newcomer Charlie Kimball driving. Ganassi’s agreement with Target prohibits any more that two cars operating out of the Target base in Indianapolis so in order to get his second team up and running Ganassi created an entire new entity to accommodate his new sponsors and drivers. Service Central will sponsor Rahal while Novo Nordisk will sponsor Kimball.

Returning with the same three drivers as last year is Penske Racing. Will Power who challenged Franchitti right up to the final race will lead the contingent that also includes three time Indy 500 mile winner Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe who won the 2008 Indy car race in Milwaukee. During the off season Penske was the most active in procuring new sponsors for his team and they should be a forcer to reckon with again as Penske racing goes for its astounding 16th Indy 500 win this year in the 100th anniversary of the first 500.

Andretti Autosports brings four drivers to the series this year and one of them is not Tony Kanaan, who left the team after the end of 2010 as his sponsor, 7-11, left the sport and the Andretti group was not in a position to handle the contract that they had in place with Kanaan so a mutual separation agreement was made. Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway will now handle the driving chores for the team with sponsorship announcements pending but according to the team all four have deals in place.

De Ferran Racing will be the new home for Kanaan and he will be joined in some events by Davey Hamilton. Kanaan has been announced as the driver but sponsorship dollars are still being sought.

Dreyer-Reinbold has announced Justin Wilson as their driver; A.J. Foyt Racing will have Vitor Meira again in 2011; FAZZT will see Alex Tagliani return while J.R. Hildebrand replaces Dan Weldon at Panther Racing.

Conquest Racing has Bertrand Baguette and Tomas Scheckter under contract while Dale Coyne racing is looking at Alex Lloyd and others. HVM as announced Simona de Silvestro as their driver while Newman-Hass is going with Hideki Mutoh again this year. KV Racing Technologies and Bryan Herta Racing have to make announcements while Sarah Fisher Racing has announced a part time schedule that features Ed Carpenter competing in all of the oval track races as Fisher gets out of the cockpit to concentrate on team ownership and perhaps starting a family.

The current total is 22 drivers participating in the full series with still many seats unclaimed. Sponsorship is still the big issue for many drivers including Wheldon, Paul Tracey, Ana Beatriz, John Andretti, E.J.Viso, Takuma Sato and Mario Romancini. If these drivers find the wherewithal to compete than were in for a truly exciting season.

For the Indy 500 there are a few things to remember and one in particular to participate in. 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 and concludes the centennial era that has been highlighting prominent moments in the history of the 500 the past three years.

The Speedway has a program: “The Greatest 33” now on their website: www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com and they are asking all fans of the 500 to select their favorite Indy 500 drivers of all time. Registration for the program is open already while actual voting will not be allowed until March. One can register, now, to get in line for the fun. What the folks at Indianapolis are looking for is the dream line-up, per the fans, that they will feature during the month of May this year. The top 100 vote getters will be announced but the top 33 will line up as the “Dream Starting Field” prior to the start of the 500 this year. Old and new fans alike are encouraged to submit. Study the history of the race to make your conclusions putting your favorite on the pole and so on and then vote. Just prior to the cut-off I will give you my top 33 over the 50 Indy 500 races I have seen in person.

The Speedway is also planning to bring back any living participant in the Indy 500 this May. This should be spectacular and details have not been announced but as soon as they are I will get the news out. This has to be a tremendous undertaking on the part of the track and I hope they can do it, it would be so nice to see some of the many drivers that can not get around as good as they used and would be brought in and taken care of by the track.

Next the track also plans to have as many of the winning 500 cars on display as possible. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum is home to many of the winning cars already but many are in private collections so work is under way to have as many of those as possible on hand as well.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens officially on Sunday May 15th for practice and rookie orientation. Qualifications are set for May 21st and 22nd with the race on Sunday May 29th. Much, much more will forth coming for this special year at Indy. Watch this website for times and dates of the above special programs and anything new that might come about for this very special year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.