A.J. Foyt returned to action after passing up the season opener to have a stent put in his main artery, A.J. Foyt is returning to pit lane this weekend.
"I feel pretty good," said Foyt, who will be watching Vitor Meira drive the No. 14 ABC Supply car. "I'm glad to be back." Meira finished eighth at St. Pete.
ABC Supply CEO David Luck is a 1971 graduate of Auburn University and is a staunch supporter of his alma mater, where he established an endowed professorship in the university's College of Business. He will attend the race.
• IZOD IndyCar Series officials have put cones out on the track 200, 300 and 400 feet from the start/finish line in order to help IZOD IndyCar Series drivers evaluate the various location for the restart zone for Sunday's race. IndyCar officials will determine the restart zone based on the drivers' recommendation on a potential restart zone for the race. The zone will be announced in Sunday morning's driver meeting.
• Drivers will have 20 uses of the Honda overtake assist – an ECU software alteration – available for the race. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout. Each use will have a 15-second duration, and there's a 10-second recharge period between uses. One overtake assist push will be available for the race day warm-up session.
• Firestone Racing is introducing a new primary tire this weekend while returning to Barber Motorsports Park with a proven alternate tire. The primary tire features the same body construction as the 2010 Barber primary, with an updated tread compound designed to produce a similar performance level as the 2010 spec. Teams participating in last month's Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park ran this tire spec.
"We're supplementing that with a very familiar Firehawk alternate tire that served as the alternate at both Barber and Edmonton last year, as well as the primary spec at Infineon," Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer said.
• Strategist and Rahal familiar: Tim Keene will be the race strategist for Graham Rahal's No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing entry. He's the team manager and race strategist for the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 TELMEX entry in Grand-Am. Keene worked with Rahal in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January – a race they won.
• Streaks and such: Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 133rd consecutive start this weekend, the active leader among IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. Scott Sharp holds the series record with 138. Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology-Lotus for which Kanaan drives, holds the all-time record of 211. … Nine different teams were represented in the top 10 at St. Petersburg. … Thirteen different countries are represented on the IZOD IndyCar Series entrant list for Barber. Twelve different countries are represented on the Firestone Indy Lights entrant list.
• Takuma Sato was watching the news carefully after the strongest aftershock following the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami March 11 rocked northeastern Japan late Thursday local time, killing two people and piling misery and burdens on the region.
"It was very fortunate they didn't have a tsunami this time, but it was still a big earthquake and it cut all the electricity," said Sato, who a few weeks ago began a campaign to assist residents of his homeland. "It's still a very difficult time there.
"The 'With you Japan' campaign with IndyCar has started out quite brightly," Sato added. "At St. Petersburg, a photo was taken of drivers hand in hand, and it shows the support to Japan. People are getting the message."
The main objective, according to Sato, is to support children, who have been affected not only by the loss of material items but by the sudden loss of family members, friends and schoolmates.
"(Children) are really having difficulty after the disaster," Sato said. "This is the main objective and hopefully for the long term I'd like to help as many as possible."
IndyCar Series drivers have donated their driving gloves, helmets, visors, etc., already for auctions on a Web site that likely will be unveiled by next weekend, according to Sato. A texting system for donations also is being developed.
"At Long Beach we'll announce the way want to support the campaign properly and hopefully collaborate with other campaigns," he said.
At Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, spectators can make monetary donations through the Friends of Honda American Red Cross Donations. Collection boxes are located throughout the venue.
• Johnny Rutherford knew the occasion, when an Indy car driver would tie him for 10th on the all-time victory list, was coming sooner rather than later. He welcomed Dario Franchitti into the elite club.
"I think it's great. Records are made to be broken," said Rutherford, who amassed 27 victories in a four-decade Indy car career.
Franchitti reached the milestone in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, and will seek to add another victory this weekend.
"The top 10 didn't occur to me until somebody mentioned it the other day," said Franchitti, who had been tied with Rodger Ward. "To me, the things that stuck out were obviously the 27 wins and to be alongside J.R. Not to blow smoke up his skirt but he's a legend of the sport. That's a big deal and something I'm really proud of, so hopefully we can keep going."
Next up for Franchitti is Rick Mears (29 wins), who recorded his first victory at Milwaukee in 1978. Among his victories (22 under CART sanction and seven under USAC) are four in the Indianapolis 500. Tied at seventh on the list with 31 victories are Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais, both of whom are competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon (25) also could move into the top 10 this season.
"I can remember when I was fourth, fifth and then sixth in the standings," said Rutherford, who among his duties with IndyCar is driving the Honda Accord Safety Car. "These young guys are earning their legendry. I enjoy my job in the Safety Car now because it's something that needs a lot of attention just like driving the racecars. I try to be an ambassador of the sport that's given so much to me and so is Dario. He's a great champion."
A.J. Foyt (67), another four-time Indy 500 winner, is the all-time leader. Nos. 2-6 are Mario Andretti (52), Michael Andretti (42); Al Unser (39); Bobby Unser (35) and Al Unser Jr. (34), the Firestone Indy Lights driver coach.
• Newman/Haas Racing got off to a strong start at Barber, with Oriol Servia seventh and rookie James Hinchcliffe – finally getting his race chance with the team – ninth. It didn't start off so encouragingly, though.
"The day started strange; we are still trying to figure out what happened," related Servia. "The Grand-Am series ran in the morning and all day yesterday and there was a lot of different rubber on the track that we thought wasn't going to affect us too much. But the truth is that in the first session, both of our cars were very, very different to what they were at the test and the setup was the same. Not only were we slow but the cars didn't feel the same.
"We changed the Telemundo car a little bit for the second session but it got a lot better. We think it was just that the track got cleaner when it rained and it became a lot closer to how it was at the test and we were a lot closer to the guys at the front like we were at the test. We didn't get to run a second set of tires in the second session like some guys did so I think we are closer to where we were at the test - fifth or so. There is still more in the Telemundo car. It's only Friday so we hope to keep improving for qualifying and the race which is were the points are given."
Hinchcliffe was modest about his showing in the new Sprott Inc.-backed No. 06: "I think we had a respectable first day. Obviously, we came here with different conditions than we had at the test, other series were here and the weather is different. We struggled a little bit this morning in the first practice but the guys worked really hard in a very short break between sessions and we made big improvements on the cars. For the first day on the job as an Indy car driver, getting a top-10 in practice for the Sprott car is pretty good. I think there is a little bit more time in it.
"But, it's just so competitive. I sit here and think, 'Man, I wish we could be a couple of spots higher,' and then I look at the names of the guys who are a couple of spots higher and think, 'No wait, I shouldn't be anywhere near this.' The racer in me wants a little bit more but, realistically, I think the Sprott team had a really good first day. Thank you to the team for all of the hard work today."
• Andretti Autosport's No. 27 entry driven by Mike Conway was in new colors illustrating support of Window World Cares at select IZOD IndyCar Series events in 2011, beginning with this weekend. Window World Cares is the charitable foundation of Window World Inc., sponsor of the team's Indy 500 entry for John Andretti and is used for donations, community outreach programs, and other benevolent events. Since its creation in 2008, Window World Cares is responsible for raising more than $1.6 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital – enough to operate the hospital for one day.
Although it maintains a large focus on St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Window World Cares also helps sponsor the Veteran's Airlift Command, which provides free transportation to injured soldiers, veterans and their immediate families.
"This is a nice opportunity for me to represent a great organization in a high-profile manner and work with them to make a difference for those that are most deserving," said Conway. "Window World Cares has already done some great things in just three years and I hope oureffort this season will help them further along toward their goals."