Fourth Turn: Leading Up To The 500

There seems to be a “Buzz” around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and around the town as well, as we move closer to the Centennial running of the Indianapolis 500; an excitement that has been somewhat lacking over the past several years.

Anticipation for the new chassis/engine rules for 2012, close competition within the thirty-three car starting field and, certainly, a desire to be part of the 100-year celebration, have combined to spark advance ticket sales. It has also made ABC- TV optimistic that ratings will be up for the first time in years.

Concerns over procedures for a slow, three-wide, well-spaced start, combined with the series requirement for two-wide restarts after caution periods have been the subject of discussion and concern for drivers leading up to the race. This is the first oval track race to utilize that restart procedure. Until the 2011 season, all in-race restarts were single file, and provided room to maneuver on the narrow entry to turn one.

Notes from this morning’s non-public drivers meeting are difficult for this reporter to comprehend while reading them slowly in the media center. You may see drivers have their iPad’s in the cockpit to reference the rules as to where they should begin to accelerate, which lane they should be on the track during certain situations, and where the track sweepers will be on the circuit to remove rubber build up in the outside groove during caution periods. As if drivers didn’t have enough to think about.

Other pre-race happenings around the Speedway:
• American Honda and its subsidiary Honda Performance Development (HPD) announced today that Chip Ganassi Racing would be the company’s “anchor team”, providing on-track testing and development for the new turbocharged 2.2 liter V-6 power plant that will be part of the Izod Indy Car Series in 2012.

The all new engine is being developed in California with track testing to begin in August.

“We have had a lot of success over the years with Honda as a partner and we strongly feel that keeping continuity is important,” said Chip Ganassi. “

Along with Chevrolet and Lotus, Honda will compete under the new rules package set by Indy Car for next season. “We’ve had great success with the Ganassi organization,” said HPD president Erik Berkman. “Recall those awesome years back in the 90’s when we were running together. Having high technical capability on both sides, having good people working hard, good chemistry, good management and leadership, we can be very successful. In our experiences both here and abroad, we’ve learned a lot on how to keep that balance. The technical component is key.”

• General Motors executives also met with the media today to discuss the progress of Chevrolet’s return to the IICS as an engine supplier in 2012. “We are talking with all of the prospective teams. We’re very pleased that the Penske team is going to be with Chevrolet for 2012,” Jim Campbell, U.S. VP of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports announced at a press conference. “As far as the other teams go, it’s very exciting to get to know them, and for them to get to know us and our program. We’ve had very positive responses in our visits, and when we have news on that front, we’ll let you know.”

Director of GM Racing, Mark Kent, also talked about the engine’s progress. “We have met every deadline, every milestone and every objective of our plan. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop the engine toward the objective of being on the track next year,” said Kent. “The engines are being developed and the components produced in England. They will be maintained in North America. We’re also working with IndyCar leadership to determine when the best time to introduce those aero kits is.”

• Over 100 veteran drivers of the Indy 500, from Donnie Allison to Denny Zimmerman, are coming to the Speedway Saturday for a giant autograph session in the Pagoda Plaza from noon-4:00pm. Thirteen previous 500 winners will also be available for signing from 9-10:00am on AJ Foyt Day.

• Wet conditions Thursday forced postponement of the USAC Tony Hulman Classic sprint car race at Terre Haute,IN. An announcement regarding a new date will be made soon.

• Fifteen-time NHRA champion John Force visited the Speedway Friday and spoke at the AARWBA breakfast on Saturday. His John Force Road show is set up here in part to educate fans about the various types of auto racing. With him at the breakfast was his son-in -law, Robert Hight, Mike Neff and his youngest daughter Courtney. “I’m excited. I got my traveling road show here, showing our race cars and comparing them to Indy Cars and NASCAR.” HVM Racing chief mechanic Brian Fellows was the recipient of the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award for his work in leading his team to prepare Simona De Silvestro’s backup to qualify after her primary car was wrecked in practice. Brawner was the legendary mechanic for dean Van Lines, running drivers AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Eddie Sachs and numerous others here at the Speedway. He was the mechanic for Mario’s only 500 victory.

• Team Penske and driver Ryan Briscoe won the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge Friday as part of Carb Day at the track. They beat Target Chip Ganassi and driver Dario Franchitti in the finals, 7.882/8.481 sec. The win is the 13th for Penske in the event.

• Thousands of race fans stood in line for autographs of over one- hundred Indy 500 veteran drivers who assembled on the Pagoda Plaza for a four-hour session Saturday.

• Scott Dixon led all 33 qualified drivers during Friday’s “Carb Day” final hour of practice. He ran a fast lap of 225. 474 mph, besting pole-winner Alex Tagliani who was second at 224.739mph. Dario Franchitti, Vitor Meira and DanWheldon rounded-out the top five.

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