INDYCAR NEWS AND NOTES - Jan. 11, 2013

Story posted - Jan 11 2013 3:40 PM

INDYCAR NEWS AND NOTES - Jan. 11, 2013

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Foyt team confirms Sato for 2013
2. Pro Mazda driver lineup beginning to take shape
3. Belli joins Panther-Dreyer & Reinbold effort as technical director
4. Honda dealers add support to Houston event

1. Foyt team confirms Sato for 2013: A.J. Foyt likes Takuma Sato's drive. Sato likes A.J. Foyt Racing's potential. Deal done.

Sato will drive the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply-sponsored car for the 19-race IZOD IndyCar Series season.

"There were a lot of question marks when the season ended, but I'm happy to put an end to all that now," team owner A.J. Foyt said. "We chose to go with Takuma Sato because he brings a lot of experience to our team but he
has the hunger of a rookie. He's certainly proven he has the desire to win."

Foyt pointed to the finish of last May's Indianapolis 500, when Sato overtook Scott Dixon and then attempted to get around race leader Dario Franchitti in Turn 1 of the final lap, as an example of Sato's determination.

"I like the fact that he is competitive on both road courses and ovals and that he is a charger," Foyt added. "I think he has learned quite a bit in the short time he's been over here and I look forward to working with him this year."

Sato, who enters his fourth season of IZOD IndyCar Series competition, has earned two pole starts (Iowa and Edmonton in 2011) and posted five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 49 starts. His career best is second at Edmonton last July after starting third in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car.

Mike Conway started 14 of the 15 races in 2012 (Wade Cunningham filled in at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway) with a best finish of third at Toronto after qualifying 13th.

"I am extremely excited to be a part of A.J. Foyt Racing and working with ABC Supply for the 2013 season," said Sato, who turns 36 on Jan. 28. "I have seen the potential of the team last year on a number of occasions. I think the team has one of the best engineering staffs in the paddock led by Don Halliday. I can't wait to start testing next month."

Before getting on the track, Sato will get to know principals of the team's sponsor.

"My first assignment is not a tough one at all," he said. "I will be on a seven-day Caribbean cruise with guests of the team's sponsor ABC Supply followed by several appearances at industry trade shows. I am anxious to meet them and start working with this great company."

A.J. Foyt Racing is a charter member of the IZOD IndyCar Series. The team has seven career IZOD IndyCar Series victories, including the 1999 Indianapolis 500 with Kenny Brack, and two series championships. The four-time Indianapolis 500 champion has been competing at the top level of motorsports with his own team since December 1965.

"While I do not know A.J. well yet, it is unbelievable what he did in his career," said Sato, a Tokyo native who resides in Denver. "A.J. has achieved so many wins in every type of car, at every type of circuit, and in every type of situation. That experience can only help in trying to win races this year. I think with A.J. and the team helping me this year, we can be very successful."

2. Pro Mazda driver lineup beginning to take shape: With the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires schedule announced this week, drivers are following suit.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion Matthew Brabham announced his deal with Andretti Autosport in December, continuing the pattern of the champion graduating to the second step of the Mazda Road to Indy since the formation of the ladder in 2010 (Sage Karam, 2010; Petri Suvanto, 2011).

Joining him is USF2000 standout Spencer Pigot and series sophomore Juan Piedrahita.

Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., finished runner-up for the second consecutive season in 2012 despite having double the amount of wins as champion Brabham. Eight victories and four pole positions came up seven points short in the championship. The 19-year-old has teamed up with driver and team champion Team Pelfrey for the 2013 season.

"I'm really looking forward to the upcoming season with Team Pelfrey," Pigot said. "Dale has supported me for the past year, so now to be able to drive for his team is another great opportunity. I can't wait to get back on track and start working with the engineers to develop the car on Cooper Tires. It's going to be a very tough year but I'm excited about the new challenges. With a great team behind me I'm confident we can fight for wins."

Piedrahita, 20, returns to front-runner JDC Motorsports after two podiums, five top-five finishes and a seventh overall finish in the championship. It will be his second year with the team at this level of the Mazda Road to Indy, but his third overall, as he spent his lone 2011 season with the team in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.

"It's great to be back with JDC MotorSports for the 2013 season," Piedrahita said. "I'm very grateful for this opportunity, and for sure plan on fighting for wins and the championship. I want to thank John, and the whole team, for giving me a second year in the Pro Mazda series, and to my long-term sponsors which have supported my career from the beginning. I'm ready to go and fight for wins."

The season kicks off on March 1 in Austin, Texas, at the Circuit of the Americas.

3. Belli joins Panther-Dreyer & Reinbold effort as technical director: Longtime Indy car engineer Tino Belli has joined Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing as technical director of the teams' collaborative effort with drivers Oriol Servia and JR Hildebrand.

Most recently, Belli had been with Andretti Autosport, where he was part of an engineering team that captured four IZOD IndyCar Series championships and two Indianapolis 500 wins, for 14 years.

"I'm very much excited about the opportunity to work with Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing," Belli said. "I have to thank (owners) John Barnes, Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl for giving me this opportunity, as both teams have very strong programs in place, and I believe collectively we can accomplish some great things together."

Belli will oversee the teams' engineering departments and the collaboration between race engineers David Cripps (Hildebrand) and Jeff Britton (Servia). Last season, Hildebrand finished a career-best 11th in the standings and is entering his third season driving Panther's No. 4 National Guard entry. Servia saw a substantial jump in performance in 2012 following Panther DRR's switch to Chevrolet power in May, including a fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and a total of four top-five finishes in the second half of the season.

"Last year we started our collaboration with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the middle of the season and we had two separate engineering teams working on their own pathways and this is what we needed to maximize our relationship," Panther Racing's Barnes said.
Both teams are scheduled to test for the first time this year on Feb. 27 at Sonoma Raceway.

4. Honda dealers add support to Houston event: The Greater Houston Honda Dealers Association, a group of 14 local dealers, will serve as the presenting sponsor of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston through 2016.
The Oct. 4-6 event on a 1.7-mile, 10-turn street circuit at Reliant Park will be the third doubleheader race weekend of the season for the IZOD IndyCar Series and serve as the lead-in to the championship finale Oct. 19.

"We are delighted to welcome the Greater Houston Honda Dealers as the presenting sponsor of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston," GP general manager Chuck Kosich said. "Renaming the event the 'Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers' has so much significance for us - not only because of Honda's rich history with IndyCar, but because of the enthusiasm the local dealers have for the Grand Prix."

 
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