Story posted - Mar 28 2013 4:26 PM

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:

1. Speed impresses rookies at Texas oval orientation
2. Legendary two-sport athlete Bo Jackson to be Barber grand marshal
3. Rahal to receive sportsmanship award
4. Castroneves helps team claim Pro-Am win

1. Speed impresses rookies at Texas oval orientation: Tristan Vautier's attention was impressed by the speed of the IZOD IndyCar Series car on the 1.5-mile, high-banked Texas Motor Speedway oval.

It wasn't the first time Vautier had driven on an oval - he won at Milwaukee and garnered four top-five finishes in as many races in Firestone Indy Lights -- but the first session on a superspeedway in an IZOD IndyCar Series car, though, was "eye opening."

"Everything happens to you faster, but I think it feels that way when it's your first time in a new car on a new track until your brain gets used to it," said Vautier, who drove the Honda-powered No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car on March 27.

Vautier, who made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut at St. Petersburg, was joined by A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car and Carlos Munoz in Marco Andretti's car for rookie oval orientation. The session was a prelude to the formal Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 11.

Allmendinger, who will make his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park, tested an IZOD IndyCar Series car for the third time in the past six weeks.

"Just like any test right in an (IZOD) IndyCar (Series car) now for me, it's about getting comfortable," he said. "It all feels like I'm a fish out of water, trying to figure out how to get around. People assume back when I raced Champ Cars I did a lot of ovals, but I really only did Milwaukee, so this is brand new for me.

"It's a lot different (from a stock car to drive around TMS). A little track knowledge (helps), and all these mile-and-a-half tracks a little different - they have their own character - so it's good to know but it's still different. Obviously, me being here it's about going to Indy and being comfortable in an IndyCar around a fast racetrack like this. There's a lot of work to do yet."

Six other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers (Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and James Jakes) were on the track in the afternoon through early evening in blustery conditions.

"It's good to be back on a speedway," said Sato, who kicked off the season with a front-row start at St. Pete in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. "It feels really fast when you jump in the car for the first time. It got comfortable quite quickly so we moved on to the test program.

"Temperature-wise track conditions were good but there was so much gusty wind that it made the car unpredictable - it felt so different from one side of the track to the other. It was a good exercise to try to achieve stability of the car because in conditions like today you really need a stable car."

Vautier made mental notes from the multiple laps, working with cockpit controls, and by watching other drivers on the track.

"There's lots of grip and you can really feel the compression in the corners, and with the wind it was pretty tricky," he said. "The car can react differently from lap to lap by the way it moves around, so that was helpful in general. It might be even trickier in June when we come back because it will be significantly warmer.

"The challenge coming back here will be all the things you have to do with other people on the track. Everything will be happen very fast on this big oval."

2. Legendary two-sport athlete Bo Jackson to be Barber grand marshal: Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson will serve as grand marshal for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7.

"We are honored to have such a well-respected athlete as our grand marshal and his presence will add to the fun-filled weekend," said Rick Humphrey, vice president of ZOOM Motorsports, the exclusive event promoter of the Barber Motorsports Park. "It will be exciting to see one of the fastest athletes in the world ride in the 'Fastest Seat in Sports.'"

Jackson, a Birmingham, Ala., native, played college football and baseball at Auburn University, where he won college football's highest individual honor, the Heisman Trophy, in 1985. Jackson was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the first pick in the first round of the 1986 NFL draft. He went on to play running back for the Los Angeles Raiders and left field for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels.

Jackson was the first athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports and his name is widely recognized for the famous "Bo Knows" advertising campaign by Nike. More recently, Jackson was named the "Greatest Athlete of all Time" by ESPN.

"I am excited to be a part of this world-class event in my hometown," stated Jackson. "I'm really looking forward to taking Honda's 'Fastest Seat in Sports' and compare it to my ride around the state in 'Bo Bikes Bama.' "

In 2012, Jackson started the "Bo Bikes Bama" campaign to raise funds for tornado relief recovery efforts from the devastating tornadoes that tore through Alabama in April 2011. This year, Jackson will continue the trek with "Bo Bikes Bama 2" at the end of April.

3. Rahal to receive sportsmanship award: Graham Rahal will receive the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala benefitting Speedway Children's Charities on April 11.

Rahal was selected for displaying a demeanor both on and off the track that exemplifies the meaning of sportsmanship. In June 2012, he appeared headed to his second career IZOD IndyCar Series victory before his ill-handling car brushed the wall. The bobble handed the lead and eventual victory to Justin Wilson. Following the race, Rahal handled situation as a true professional.

Nine months later, Rahal returned to the 1.5-mile oval for a March 27 test with his new team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

"It always will be one that got away from me until I win my next one," said Rahal, who earned his first victory in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in 2008. "Then I won't think about it. There are a lot of cases where I look back and it's frustrating that you didn't get to see it through. This is certainly one of them. It would have been nice to win and get rid of all the questions of when I'll win again, and all that sort of thing. But I think it adds fuel to the fire to come back here and do a good job this year."

The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the speedway June 8 for the first prime time race on ABC.

4. Castroneves helps team claim Pro-Am win: Team Penske's Helio Castroneves can add a golf trophy to his collection
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was part of the winning team at the Shell Houston Open's Pro-Am on March 27 at the Redstone Golf Club -- Tournament Course in Humble, Texas.

Castroneves was paired with pro golfer Brian Davis, Marshall Dujka, Alex Miller and Dan McCarthy.

"We won," Castroneves tweeted. "Now that doesn't mean I play good."


The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix Alabama on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park. The race will be televised live at 3 p.m. (ET) by the NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius andXM Channels 211 and The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Legacy Indy Lights 100 on April 7 at Barber Motorsport Park. The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 1 p.m. (ET) on April 7, immediately preceding the IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast.

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