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INDYCAR News and Notes – Feb. 4, 2016

1. Miles sees 100th Indianapolis 500 as launch pad to historic season
2. Honda contract extension draws praise
3. Dixon gets throwback car livery
4. Castroneves is fenced in
5. Chilton rounds out Ganassi’s four-car lineup
6. Phoenix fans will get a “Prix View” during open test
7. Of Note

1. Miles sees 100th Indianapolis 500 as launch pad to historic season: The Verizon IndyCar Series is embarking on a legendary season in 2016, which has Mark Miles eager for it to unfold.

In an unofficial “State of INDYCAR” discussion during Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Feb. 2, the CEO of Hulman & Company – the parent of INDYCAR and IMS – said he sees the series continuing its “ascending” trend that has included 38 percent growth in television viewership in the past two seasons.

“In broad strokes, I would say we are all about as excited as we could be about the 2016 season,” Miles said.

The centerpiece of the 16-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. It is drawing worldwide attention and will be used as a platform to promote the entire legendary season that also includes returns to famous venues (Phoenix International Raceway and Road America) and a new street-course event in a key market (Boston).

“One of the things I think is very cool is to show the plans for how we view the year from a communications perspective,” Miles said, “which basically is to design, to leverage the absolutely unique, important, pivotal hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500 and to draw the connections to that legend and to that history, to that epic moment, to all our races.

“We intend to use that moment, that historic moment, for the benefit of the promotion of our drivers and our promoters and events throughout the year,” Miles added.

Miles also summarized several key technical updates that will be in place for 2016, including additional car tethers to limit debris during incidents, rear wing beam flaps to help prevent cars from going airborne when spinning backward on superspeedway ovals, more sensitive and quicker responding fuel probe sensors and an increase in the amount of horsepower added when push-to-pass is activated on road and street courses.

2. Honda contract extension draws praise: The announcement that Honda and INDYCAR have agreed to a multiyear extension of the contract to retain the engine supplier drew immediate praise from within the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock.

The deal, announced Feb. 2 at Media Day, guarantees Honda’s participation as an engine supplier and promotional partner through 2017 with options through 2020. Honda has competed in Indy car racing since 1994 and joined the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2003. It has gone head-to-head with Chevrolet in engine competition since 2012 and both manufacturers developed aero kits for use in 2015.

For Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the 2014 Indianapolis 500 with Honda power, the extension announcement is great news.

“I have a phenomenal relationship with Honda,” said Hunter-Reay, fresh off being part of the team that finished third overall in the Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance sports car race Jan. 30-31. “They’ve done so much for me and my career, but for the sport itself, they’ve really been the backbone.

“Through all the years when I first came into the (Verizon IndyCar Series) in 2007 through ’11 and then when competition came in, Honda stayed true and continued to fight and win races. I’m just thrilled I have an Indy 500 win with them and now I want to go get a championship with them.”

Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, said Honda and INDYCAR see eye-to-eye on the direction of the series.

“Honestly, I think that just about everything we fundamentally agree on,” St. Cyr said. “Where we want to go, how we want to get there, what we want this series to be. I think it’s a very common understanding of that.”

3. Dixon gets throwback car livery: Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing reached back in time to debut a new livery on Dixon’s No. 9 Chevrolet for 2016.

While still carrying the familiar Target logos and a bright red paint scheme, the livery features yellow lightning bolts on the side of the car to further enhance the look and feel of speed. The bolts were part of the Target car liveries of the 1990s and early 2000s.

“It’s very exciting to have the lightning bolt paint scheme back on the car,” Dixon said at the unveiling Feb. 2 at Media Day. “I think it first showed up in 1995 on (Jimmy) Vasser and Bryan Herta’s car, actually, and then it went through 2001 with Memo (Gidley), I think, being the last one.

“It brings back a lot of great memories, but also of a lot of legendary drivers like Alex Zanardi, Vasser and (Juan Pablo) Montoya. When I came in (to the Ganassi team) in 2002, the paint scheme had changed at that point. But to me, it’s good to see it. It’s an amazing ride and in this year, with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, bringing back this iconic paint scheme, we’re obviously hoping for good things.”

4. Castroneves is fenced in: Helio Castroneves made climbing a fence after winning a race his trademark celebration. The Team Penske driver has become the Indianapolis 500 version of Spider-Man by climbing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fence three times.

With IMS replacing fencing all the way around the 2.5-mile oval as part of its Project 100 refurbishment, on Feb. 2 track president J. Douglas Boles presented Castroneves a commemorative piece of the old fencing taken from where Castroneves did his climbing, framed along with photos of the Indy wins.

“I’m speechless,” Castroneves said. “This is such a special gift. This is where it all started for me, Indianapolis. This is cool, it’s incredible. I’m speechless. I so appreciate this. It’s priceless.”

Castroneves, who will drive for Team Penske for a 17th season this year, returned to IMS on Feb. 3 to assist in attaching a portion of the new track fencing. If he wins the 100th running this May, Castroneves would join legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the only drivers to win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” four times each.

5. Chilton rounds out Ganassi’s four-car lineup: Max Chilton, the former Formula One driver who competed in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2015, was introduced at Verizon IndyCar Series Media Day on Feb. 2 as driver of the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet for the 2016 season.

Chilton, 24, made 35 F1 starts for the Marussia team in 2013-14. He had six podium finishes in Indy Lights last season, including a win at Iowa Speedway in just his second oval race.

“Chip has a fantastic history in Indy car, having (won) 11 titles and four Indianapolis 500s,” Chilton said. “This is a fantastic opportunity for me. It’s been a difficult last few years because, even though I was in Formula One and that was my dream, it’s frustrating not having a chance to win.

“Now I’m with Chip. Not too sure on the ovals, plenty of the road courses I haven’t raced. But I have the chance to win. I’m looking forward to it.”

Chilton will team with returning Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball.

6. Phoenix fans will get a “Prix View” during open test: Fans will be able to get a “Prix View” of Indy car racing’s return to Phoenix International Raceway during the Verizon IndyCar Series open test with all teams participating Feb. 26-27.

The second day of testing, Feb. 27, will be open free to the public, with on-track sessions scheduled for noon-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. MT. An autograph session featuring all the drivers will take place between the test sessions.

The Verizon IndyCar Series makes its racing return to PIR on April 1-2 for the Phoenix Grand Prix following an 11-year absence from the historic mile oval. For more information, visit phoenixinternationalraceway.com.

7. Of Note : Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay will co-host “Stars and Cars benefitting the V Foundation for Cancer Research” with ESPN’s Dick Vitale on Feb. 8 in Sarasota, Fla. The meet-and-greet reception at Mercedes-Benz of Sarasota includes a raffle for a chance to win a 2016 Mercedes E-400A Cabriolet. For more information, go to https://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1802072 . … A Feb. 10Verizon IndyCar Series test at Sonoma Raceway featuring Chip Ganassi Racing Teams drivers will be open to the public free of charge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. … Nico Jamin, who became the fifth straight driver from Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2015, will move up to the team’s entry in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires crown this year. The 20-year-old from Rouen, France, dominated the 2015 USF2000 season, winning the final six races. … John Cummiskey Racing confirmed its driver lineup for the USF2000 season by naming Norway’s Ayla Agren to the No. 33 Energima entry and Brazilian Lucas Kohl in the No. 34 Bellko Trading car. Agren, the 2014 SCCA F1600 champion, had a strong debut season in USF2000 in 2015 with 11 top-10 finishes in 16 races. Kohl, a protege of former Indy car competitor Roberto Moreno, competed in karting in his native Brazil. … The Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn announced a partnership with MillerCoors and Burke Distributing to make Coors Light the official beer for the inaugural race scheduled for Sept. 2-4 in the South Boston Waterfront area. The partnership includes retail activation at New England retailers. … The weekend for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season-opening event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule March 11-13, will include Robby Gordon’s SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks Presented by TRAXXAS for a third consecutive year. Grand prix officials also announced that Chevrolet trucks and Cadillac cars will again be the official vehicles for the upcoming event. … Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced that Hyatt, a leading global hospitality brand, has joined the team as a major associate sponsor and official hotel sponsor in a multiyear deal.