TWO SMOKING BARRELS
Texas Motor Speedway adopts a twin-race format for 2011, bringing the doubleheader concept back into Indy car racing for the first time in decades
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard made clear upon taking office that he planned to shake up the status quo of the IZOD IndyCar Series to raise the profile of each event. While some rumored moves, like a huge bounty for drivers attempting the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double, have remained theoretical, Bernard and Texas Motor Speedway's promotional guru Eddie Gossage took the wraps off a major format change for IndyCar's 2011 event at the facility. Texas' 550-kilometer race will be dropped in favor of two full-field 275-kilometer races (171 miles/114 laps each) of the 1.5-mile speedway. Both “heats” will recognize individual winners, but each race will be worth half-points in the standings.
“I think it is important that we elevate all of our races to give them a big-event feel,” said Bernard, noting the format will be a first for the series and racetrack. “Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway certainly are taking things to the next level with the ‘Firestone Texas Two-Step' doubleheader. It was a concept that was first run by USAC in the 1960s, so it plays on an Indy car tradition – but also brings a new, no-limits feel to the event.”
The Saturday, June 11 event will follow the Indianapolis 500 on May 29 and brings back the off-week between them that was scheduled from TMS's inaugural 1997 season through 2005. Texas has openly coveted that slot on the calendar ever since, and Gossage indicated the doubleheader format was also something he'd sought.
“Randy and I discussed hosting twin races when he first took the job heading the Indy Racing League,” Gossage said. “Texas Motor Speedway traditionally has hosted some of the series' most exciting races and the Firestone Twin 275s' format should provide plenty more. Drivers have two shots at winning and fans get an opportunity to see not one but two great races in one evening.”
USAC and CART both experimented with doubleheaders from 1967-'81, running a total of 17 such events, with the same driver sweeping both races 10 times. In all of those events,the grid for the second race was set by the first's finishing order, but IndyCar has not yet settled on a qualifying procedure for its new doubleheader.
AUSTIN TALKS AS BIG AS TEXAS
We could go for 40 years, USGP promoter says
Formula 1 and America may have a litany of broken promises between them, but the latest contender for a 2012 U.S. Grand Prix is anything but a shrinking violet in the face of skepticism. Tavo Hellmund, the promoter behind the Austin Grand Prix, said he has the backing of billionaire businessman Red McCombs for his race, which would be run on a purpose-built track near the city's airport. The circuit, as laid out by F1's de rigueur track designer Herman Tilke, is expected to cost $250m, but Hellmund is confident he's got the right location.
“Texas has developed into the 11th biggest global economy and many of the Fortune 500 companies have their headquarters here,” he said. “My fellow countrymen can reach it easily, as well as fans from central and South America.
“My philosophy is that you will succeed if you are at the right place at the right time. We have a contract for the next 10 years, but if you ask me, we could race here for the next 40 years!”
WHEREVER THE HORSE LEADS
Kasey Kahne's “placement” at Red Bull Racing for a year sets off the first round of Sprint Cup musical chairs that also involves Kevin Harvick and Marcos Ambrose
Several shoes dropped almost at once in the NASCAR silly season in August, with the resolution of Kasey Kahne's 2011 plans opening up one seat and creating a commercial opportunity for another.
Kahne signed a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports earlier this season – but was without a ride until 2012, when he is scheduled to take over Mark Martin's ride in Hendrick's No. 5. After considering several options, Hendrick worked out a deal with Red Bull Racing for Kahne to take over one of that team's Toyota Camrys in 2011 – meaning the well-traveled Kahne will have driven for four different manufacturers in as many seasons. He ran a Dodge in 2009, he's currently racing a Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, and he'll be in a Chevrolet in 2012.
“This opportunity places me with an established, competitive team that has proven they can win races and make the Chase,” Kahne said. “It feels good to be able to finally put this to rest.”
Left unclear was who Kahne's teammate will be, given continuing uncertainty about the availability of Brian Vickers and the disappointing results of Scott Speed, whose contract is up this year. Meanwhile, the vacancy at RPM was quickly filled by Marcos Ambrose, who was so determined to find a better opportunity than his current JTG Daughtery Toyota squad that he was prepared to risk having no NASCAR seat at all and returning to Australia.
“Naturally, I came to America to race NASCAR and when I came, I wanted to win,” said the Australian Supercar veteran, who narrowly missed a Cup win at Sonoma but has struggled on the ovals this season. “I feel like this new position, driving the 9 car, will give me the very best opportunity to do that, and the best chance that I've had so far to consistently run at the front and get the car to Victory Lane.”
Ambrose's car will be backed for the majority of races by Stanley tools, following the departure of Budweiser backing with Kahne. Following its current driver to his new employer was a non-starter, but Bud duly landed a place on one of the hottest teams in Cup – Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevy, which by happy coincidence was looking for new backing with the pending departure of Shell to Penske Racing.
Harvick, the current Sprint Cup series points leader, has won the non-points Budweiser Shootout at Daytona for the past two years and he will race in his new sponsor's colors for the first time at that event in 2011, as well as in next year's NASCAR Sprint All-Star race. Like Ambrose's Stanley deal, however, RCR's Budweiser deal covers only 20 events as a primary sponsor. Harvick, though, noted that running the iconic red and white colors brings advantages beyond the dotted line of a contract.
“Budweiser is one of the most respected sponsors in our sport,” Harvick said. “They do a lot to market their teams and the sport in television broadcasts and away from the track.”
SAM'S STILL THE MAN
Sponsor or not, Penske sticks with Hornish
With the pending end of his Mobil 1 sponsorship adding to his ongoing struggles on the track, Sam Hornish Jr.'s future with the Penske NASCAR squad was the subject of much midsummer speculation. However, his car owner dismissed suggestions that Hornish might be out, or shifted back to IndyCars, where he won the Indy 500 and series championship for Penske in 2006.
“We've said publicly that we want to run Sam next year; he's not going back to open-wheel racing,” Penske said. “He's going to be in NASCAR racing.”
Hornish, 31, is in his third full season with Penske's Sprint Cup team. He has only two career top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 94 starts. Even so, Penske indicated the team remains committed to Hornish. Team president Tim Cindric said in his exclusive blog for RACER.com that the search for new sponsorship for Hornish's No. 77 was likely to “come down to the wire, but we certainly haven't given up.”
LOLA POWERING UP FOR ALMS
Roush-Yates Ford engines expand prototype options
Lola Cars has been hitting all the high notes in the American Le Mans Series of late, with two of its customers – Dyson and Drayson Racing – scoring their first overall wins with the company's prototypes powered by different engines (Mazda for Dyson, Judd for Drayson) at Mid-Ohio and Road America, respectively. The marque is expanding engine options further for 2011, bringing renowned NASCAR race engine builder Roush Yates into the ALMS with a Ford EcoBoost Turbo V6. Lola will offer the Roush-prepared EcoBoost as a standard installation in its open-top and coupe prototypes.
“This is a significant and obviously very positive development for us,” said Scott Atherton, president and CEO of the ALMS. “It is another example of a manufacturer that shares our view of racing's relationship to the showroom.”
The Ford engines join Honda's new twin-turbo V6 powerplant, unveiled at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as additions to the LMP fold for 2011.
A WIDER CANVAS FOR FIA GT1
American World Championship round in the works
At the Spa 24 Hours, FIA GT1 World Championship boss Stephane Ratel announced ambitious expansion plans for his fledgling series. Ratel said discussions are under way regarding additional events in North America and China for the 2011 season.
“Our main objective is to increase the globalization of the championship,” Ratel said. “We have ongoing contacts in the U.S. and Canada.”
Ratel also is hoping to launch a revamped European GT2 championship next season. He plans for the Spa 24 Hours to become the central event around which a mini-endurance championship is based, with other races at popular European circuits.
“We will propose to the FIA a series going to the main prestige circuits like Monza and Nurburgring, to do a limited series of events around the 24 Hours of Spa,” said Ratel. “It could be four or five events coming back to the format of the old FIA GT, with three-hour races and top circuits.”