First an apology. This has been a busy and rough holiday season, and although I very much enjoy following and writing about motorsports, especially the Mazda Road to Indy, family does and will always come first. So now I’m back and getting caught up with the happenings at Winterfest, the State of the Series, and all the other news and events that have been going on since the beginning of the year. This year, our newest member of the OpenPaddock crew, Kristi (aka IAIndyFan on Twitter) will be taking over the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage and Spike (aka SpikeRogan on Twitter) will continue his weekly Op-Ed column, the Indy Hump Day Report. I’ll be focusing my efforts in 2011 on the Mazda Road to Indy. In addition to the Weekly Wrapup, look for news, interviews, and race coverage for the US F2000 National Championship, the Star Mazda Championship, and the Firestone Indy Lights. Now, on with the show!
US F2000 WinterFest:
The Cooper Tires Winterfest is a rather unique event. Consider it akin to preseason games in the NFL where the teams and drivers are given the opportunity to test and evaluate talent in the only environment that really brings out the true character of a driver: racing with competitors. There are five races at two venues, Sebring International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, and unlike preseason football, these races carried with them the promise not only of demonstrating one’s talent, but prize money! The pole sitter for each race received $500, the winner received $1000, and the winning team of the five-race event received $10,000 in credit toward race entry fees throughout the 2011 season! Nice incentive to participate, eh? I’d say USF2000 has the right idea, and I’d love to see the other series under the INDYCAR umbrella follow their lead.
Andretti Autosport driver, Zach Veach, returned to the cockpit and showed that he’s the man to beat in 2011. He won pole position in both Sebring events and was leading the first race with his teammate Spencer Pigot behind him in 2nd until Veach, and then Pigot one lap later, suffered a gearbox failure. This opened the way for Brazilian, Vinicius Perdigão, driving for JDC Motorsports, to take the win. Race two would start much the same way, but finish much better for the Andretti Autosport duo. No mechanical issues this time, and Zach Veach would go on to win his first race in a car with Pigot finishing in P2, and Perdigão in P3. That first race failure would put Veach and Pigot behind the eight-ball going to Homestead as Perdigão would take a 17-point lead over Veach as the Winterfest left Sebring.
At Homestead-Miami Speedway, competing on the infield road course, Pigot and Veach would own the podium each of the three races. Pigot would take two victories and a third place finish, while Veach would take one victory and two second place finishes. The win and P2 finishes would be enough for Veach to secure the Winterfest title and the $10,000 prize. The prize money had to be nice, but seeing his two young drivers perform as well as they did had to be the best part of the event for Michael Andretti.
“I’m really proud of the job Zach has done and the progress he has made since he’s joined the team. He’s such a great kid, and I’m so proud of both him and Spencer. I think Spencer is showing incredible promise for the future with the team. For it only being his first time in the car and then getting second in the championship, it’s pretty great. I’m very excited for the upcoming season in the USF2000 series.” — Michael Andretti, President and CEO of Andretti Autosport
The Star Mazda field just grew a little bit this week. The team that brought John Paul, Jr., Danny Ongais, Brian Tyler, Billy Boat, Robby Unser, Memo Gidley, and Sarah Fisher to IndyCar racing is back in open-wheel competition! Dale Pelfrey has created the Pelfrey Indy Racing team in order to contest for the 2011 Star Mazda Championship. They intend on being a multi-car team, but for the moment they have one driver, Nick Andries. Nick competed in the Skip Barber Championship last year and had a part-time in Star Mazda. In 2011, he’ll return to Star Mazda as a full-time driver.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports added their first driver for the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season, Victor Carbone. Victor has competed in the F2000 Championship, not to be confused with US F2000, for the past two year, and won the title in 2010. Moving up from an F2000 car to the 450hp Firestone Indy Lights Dallara is a big step, and I have to agree with Ryan’s assessment at Junior Open Wheel Talent that this year will likely be a learning year for the young Brazilian and we’ll likely see him with SSM next year making a serious run at the 2012 championship.
News and Notes:
We’ve heard that there will be a 13th Firestone Indy Lights race announced before the season begins, but things were sort of up in the air while the Edmonton fiasco was still unsettled. Now that the race and City Centre Airport is officially back on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar, the Firestone Indy Lights race is back on as well.
“We are extremely pleased that the City of Edmonton and Octane were able to reach an agreement to continue our event,” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “We have to thank the city, mayor, local businesses and Octane for working together to make this happen and, of course, the fans for pushing for it. We know our fans in Edmonton are looking forward to seeing this race restored and we plan on to deliver a great event for them.” — From Edmonton races back on the schedule, IndyCar.com
In the meantime, things for Milwaukee are finally starting to look positive. The Firestone Indy Lights race has a title sponsor, and its none other than the legendary Formula 1 driver and current SpeedTV commentator David Hobbs! Yes *THAT* David Hobbs! Apparently, Mr. Hobbs owns a network of Honda dealerships in the Milwaukee area (who knew?) and will be the title sponsor for the Firestone Indy Lights David Hobbs 100 at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday, June 19. First of all, its good news that any Firestone Indy Lights race gets a title sponsor, but for any Milwaukee event to get a title sponsor is huge news as well! Looks like the partnership between INDYCAR and AB Promotions is working very well.
The Rumor Mill:
There’s not been a lot flying about in the rumor mill lately. Martin “Plowey” Plowman and Pippa Mann are still trying to secure a seat in the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2011, and Conor Daly is trying to find anything for 2011. Roger Bailey announced at the State of the Series event on the 11th that Daly would be driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports to run the road courses in the car that Bryan Clauson will run on the ovals. Apparently, this was news to Conor, so we’ll just wait and see how this develops.