Road to Indy – Weekly Wrapup: 12/13 – 12/17

Once again, it’s been a good week for the newly titled Mazda Road to Indy program, although perhaps not AS packed as last week. We can’t always expect banner weeks like we’ve had recently, but still there are some big positives from this week’s news. We have the signing of a driver in Firestone Indy Lights, a couple of Firestone Indy Lights drivers graduating to the IZOD IndyCar Series, and some testing opportunities. Let’s start with the official driver announcements.

Driver Announcements

Charlie Kimball

This Thursday, in a move we all knew was coming, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball were announced as drivers for the new Chip Ganassi Racing Team which will operate out of a separate race shop than the Target team. Graham returns to the series after spending the 2010 patching together a part-time season with multiple one-offs for various teams, but the exciting news for those in the Mazda Road to Indy system is the graduation of Charlie Kimball. Kimball ran with the Andretti Autosport/AFS Racing team last year in the Firestone Indy Lights series along side teammate Martin Plowman and was part of the Indy Pace Car Team along with Plowman, Major, and Hinchcliffe. Kimball would score eight top fives and six podiums during the 2010 season and finish fourth in the championship. He brings his sponsor, Novo Nordisk, with him to the team and will drive the #83 machine, and his signing brings yet another graduate of the Firestone Indy Lights series to the top tier.

Juan Pablo Garcia
Jensen Motorsports announced that Juan Pablo Garcia will join David Ostella in their two-car effort in the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season.

“I’m delighted to return to American open-wheel racing, after signing with Jensen Motorsport to compete again in the Indy Lights Series. I’m very grateful to my sponsors Freightliner, Mapfre and Eucomex for their continue support. My first race with Jensen Motorsport will be on a street circuit (St. Petersburg, Florida), and I’m really looking forward to it.” — Juan Pablo Garcia from Jensen Motorsports Press Release

Garcia has participated in the Firestone Indy Lights series previously with Mike Crawford Racing where he finished 11th at Mid-Ohio and an impressive 6th at Sonoma.

The Scuttlebutt

James Hinchcliffe
Newman-Haas Racing tested Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe at Sebring International Raceway on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Hinchcliffe, although not very forthcoming with his hopes for a race seat, was very please with his performance at the test.

“Today was a very successful day. We managed to get me up to speed pretty quickly and got to the point where I was comfortable enough in the car that we could start doing some setup changes and some development work for the team. It was a huge and successful day in that respect. I’m very happy that it didn’t take two days to get up to a reasonable pace and that I was actually able to help the team with their test plans. I’m very grateful to Newman/Haas for the opportunity. It’s a great car to drive; a lot of fun. It really lets you push and hustle and I think it’s certainly something I’m looking to get back into in the future. It was great working with my engineer Bruno, and Oriol as well. He was a huge help over the two days. I can’t thank both of those guys enough, and the whole team for the chance.” — James Hinchliffe, Newman-Haas Press Release

Last year, James race for Team Moore Racing and finished second in the championship after scoring three wins and eight podiums. Although nothing is confirmed, the twitter chat between Hinch and Servia sounded very positive and expectant that they would be with the team for the 2011 season. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Esteban Guerrieri
This rumor is a bit more tenuous and comes from a Chilean site, Racing5.cl. They’re reporting that Argentinian driver Esteban Guerrieri has signed with Sam Schmidt Motorsport for the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Season. Guerrieri has competed in a number of European open-wheel series including Formula 3, Superleague, and most recently in the Formula Renault 3.5 series where he finished third in the 2010 championship. The report on Racing5 is supported by an article on Esteban’s website stating that he’ll not only be racing in the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season, but will also compete for the team in the IZOD IndyCar Series at Sonoma. Guerrieri has tested for the team earlier this year both at Phoenix and at Homestead. Nothing yet has come forth from Sam Schmidt Motorsports, so I’m still listing this as rumor, but its sounding like everything is done but the announcement.

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