More news and notes after qualifying from this weekend at Sonoma.
NAME CHANGE AT BHA – One of the teams with a three-letter acronym in the IndyCar paddock is active with another name change. HVM seemingly changed its nomenclature every year from 1999 through 2008 (Bettenhausen, Herdez, HVM, CTE-HVM, Minardi Team USA, and HVM again) but has since remained constant.
The other – BHA – has changed its status for this race and for the foreseeable future thanks to the investment of primary sponsor Barracuda Networks. Known as Bryan Herta Autosport in 2010 and '11, with a technical alliance with Sam Schmidt Motorsports last year, BHA converted to the Team Barracuda – BHA name for 2012 in deference to Barracuda's sponsorship. Going into this race, the team is now known as Barracuda Racing, but the ownership structure with Bryan Herta and co-owner Steve Newey, as well as the management and crew structure, remains intact.
“It marks a good race for us to do it; it's close for Barracuda's headquarters and it sounds purer as ‘racing' rather than just ‘Team Barracuda,'” Herta said.
There's a slight livery adjustment on the car as well; Alex Tagliani's car now has a blue nose with white accents rather than a silver nose with blue accents as was run since the team switched from Lotus to Honda powerplants prior to this year's Indianapolis 500.
With eighth place on the grid, though, it marks the first time Tagliani and Barracuda have missed the Firestone Fast 6 since switching to Hondas in May. They had made four consecutive from Detroit to Mid-Ohio.
THE LIVERY/SPONSOR GAME – Four cars sporting either new sponsors or revised liveries this weekend have yet to deliver a result worthy of their new colors.
A particularly frustrating weekend for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Takuma Sato has seen the team need to repair its car after a testing accident last week. Without being on the pace, Sato only qualified 24th to begin with Bigge Crane and Rigging Company of San Leandro, California, a heavy equipment company, on the sidepods. Add in switching to a sixth engine and that dropped him to second-to-last on the grid.
Panther/DRR has two of the best liveries – JR Hildebrand in the San Francisco 49ers wrap and Oriol Servia in a maroon and white TranSystems car with Salvador Dali's face plastered on the sidepod wheel ramp in front of the rear wheel assembly. What they didn't have was great qualifying runs; Hildebrand and Servia qualified 17th and 20th but will move up to 15th and 18thh as two cars in front of them (Justin Wilson and Sebastian Saavedra) take engine penalties. Josef Newgarden, also in new colors this race, has been surprisingly off pace and will start 23rd (more below).
SAME STORY FOR NEWGARDEN – The Angie's List green and black livery which was on Bryan Clauson's Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing second car at Indianapolis is back for the team this weekend. The SFHR squad has the colors on Newgarden's entry for this race. Newgarden is in his fourth different livery of the season, with prior blue/white, yellow/black (Dollar General) and blue/black schemes run in the prior 12 races.
Newgarden has shown much promise and potential this season but is one of only two full-season drivers (Simona de Silvestro) yet to record a top-10 finish thus far this season.
“Even when you have a bad year, it goes fast, and it goes fast when it's going well too,” Newgarden admitted Friday. “We're always working to get better. It's nice having something on the sidepods this week.”
SIMONA'S SAGA – Making a less heralded but still welcome to return to Sonoma this weekend is HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro, who missed this race last year due to visa issues re-entering the U.S. from Switzerland. De Silvestro's coming up to the end of this season, having persevered and keeping a positive attitude from the get-go despite being saddled with the lone Lotus engine in the field from Detroit onward.
“I forgot what it was like to drive here!” she said. “You have to push so hard here, it's so technical.”
With Lotus' future in the series for 2013 uncertain, she is unsure of her status for next year. At the moment, she said nothing's signed, but is working on what she termed “a couple different options.”
HILDEBRAND GETS CADDY-WHACKED – Hildebrand, whose busy week in his home race has also included a stint with the America's Cup sailing team, got another unique experience on Friday when he took a hot lap as a passenger in Cadillac's two-seater CTS-V Pirelli World Challenge car. With Johnny O'Connell driving, Hildebrand was thrust into the odd situation of having to sign a release waiver to go for the ride-along (RIGHT), and was suited up in his IndyCar gear.
“I've always loved the Cadillac CTS-V, and I did a road test here last year,” said Hildebrand. “It's a real treat to hop in with the man, the myth, the legend to see what it's all about. I was really impressed. It's got a (expletive) load of grip! The way the car handles and how stable it is for being as big as it is is really impressive. It's obviously got a great tire underneath it and he was pushing pretty hard. He did a great job. I'd definitely come back for more.”
Not long after Hildebrand got out, fellow GM driver Tommy Milner (American Le Mans Series Corvette program) tweeted the Californian saying “the ‘Vette is better.” That led to a conversation hinting at a possible ride swap between the two cars each in the GM stable. Nothing's official but it would be a good idea.
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