INDYCAR NEWS AND NOTES – March 16, 2015
Verizon IndyCar Series Headlines:
A.J. Foyt makes cameo at NOLA test
Huertas returns for second full season
Dracone to compete in first four races for Dale Coyne Racing
Foyt takes on additional family duties
Wilson working to extend career starts
Beekhuis to do double-duty on air
1. A.J. Foyt makes cameo at NOLA test: A.J. Foyt is becoming more active as he continues to recuperate from triple bypass surgery in November.“I’m doing a lot better; every day I’m doing a little bit more,” the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion said. “I’m getting more of my strength back and I’m eating a better than I was when this first happened. I’ve been on my bulldozer a couple times. Nothing to brag about, I was very weak and very tired but I have done some stuff with it. I probably should keep that quiet because I’m not sure the doctor would enjoy hearing that.”
Foyt made a cameo appearance at the Verizon IndyCar Series team test March 14 at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La.
“I think the new cars look pretty nice. The engineers are going to have their hands full with all of the trick stuff they came up with on the new aero kit,” he said.
2. Huertas returns for second full season: Carlos Huertas is thankful for the track time ahead of the season opener.
“Last year was tough because some events I had never been to the place before and sometimes it was a two-day event of practice and then qualifying so it’s impossible to do miracles, especially on the ovals,” said Huertas, who was confirmed to drive the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the second consecutive season. “I think I drove really well. I finished a lot of races, I was consistent and for a first year without any testing before the first race I think it was pretty good.”
Huertas held his own throughout the season, and even won the first race of a doubleheader at Houston. Overall, he advanced a cumulative 37 positions relative to his qualifying in the 18 starts (finishing better than/tying his qualifying spot 12 times).
“I won a race in my rookie year and not a lot of other people have done that so that was pretty good, but I think I had some other good performances that I didn’t get the result because of some things that happened – like a penalty at Long Beach and a messed up pit stop at the Indy road course,” he said.
Added team owner Dale Coyne: “Carlos surprised everyone last year with his performance. The effort the team has made over the winter, as shown by our Sebring test with Carlos, gives us confidence for the upcoming season.”
The supporting cast of chief engineer Robert Ridgely, race strategist Darren Crouser and chief mechanic Greg Senerius returns, which also will benefit the second-year driver.
“We did a test a few weeks ago at Sebring where we tried out a lot of stuff that was productive and I really enjoyed my time in the car,” he said. “Coming to this test (at Barber) I know this place, how the series works and how the team works so that is a positive.”
For more on Huertas’s return to Dale Coyne Racing, read more here.
3. Dracone to compete in first four races for Dale Coyne Racing: The initial four races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season is a solid starting point in the eyes of Francesco Dracone, who will drive the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. He joined the team for the March 16-17 Promoter Test at Barber Motorsports Park.
Dracone made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in 2010 with Conquest Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and also competed at Sonoma Raceway.
“I’ve been seeking this opportunity since the very day after Conquest (Racing),” said Dracone, 31, of Turin, Italy, who tested with Dale Coyne Racing in 2013. “I tried last year but they had a great driver in Justin Wilson. This winter we talked again (with Dale Coyne) and it seems feasible to run at least four races. It’s great being here picking up the pace again with the Indy car at this new circuit for me. It’s just exciting.”
Dracone recorded a field-high 34 laps in the morning session on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course, and he’ll see additional on-track time March 17 at Barber and next week at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Ala., ahead of the March 27-29 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“It’s important to be here today and be part of the IndyCar Series,” said Dracone, who has competed the past four years in Auto GP. “Testing is essential with the standards and level of the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s great to have two days in a row to get started.”
“Francesco shows great enthusiasm for our sport,” said team owner Dale Coyne, who noted that plans for the No. 19 car driver beyond the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 26 at Barber Motorsports Park are undetermined. “We look forward to working with the rookie in preseason testing and early races as he looks to INDYCAR for his future.”
To learn more about Dracone, check out IndyCar.com.
4. Foyt takes on additional family duties: Larry Foyt recently was named president of A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
“I really enjoy the business side of racing,” said Foyt, 38, who had been team director of the Verizon IndyCar Series team since 2006. “I think all of my past experience has helped me get to this point — whether it was at TCU as a student, or managing our stock car team while I competed in NASCAR. My time behind the wheel has helped me relate to the drivers and understand their needs as well.”
A.J. Foyt Racing has the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. car driven by Takuma Sato and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. car driven by Jack Hawksworth entered for the full season.
Team manager Mitch Davis, who joined A.J. Foyt Racing over the winter, will be the race strategist for Hawksworth. Raul Prados, who has been with the team since 2012 as performance engineer, is the chief engineer on the No. 41 entry driven by the second-year driver.
Read more on Foyt’s new gig at IndyCar.com.
5. Wilson working to extend career starts: Justin Wilson, a seven-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner, was in the paddock at Barber Motorsports Park catching up with team members and other drivers.
Wilson, who will co-drive a Michael Shank Racing Prototype in the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21, is seeking to extend his Indy car career starts to at least 169. Wilson, 36, spent the past three seasons in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in a car and Sebring is always a lot of fun. I miss being in a car here,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of frustrating walking around and seeing all the cars and there’s not one to jump in, but that’s where it’s at sometimes. I’ll just continue to work on things and see what I can put together in the future. I’m pretty sure I’ll be in an Indy car sometime this year. I just don’t know when or how yet.”
6. Beekhuis to do double duty on air: Jon Beekhuis has joined ESPN’s team as a pit reporter for telecasts of the Verizon IndyCar Series on ABC. The veteran motorsports reporter also will continue as pit reporter for many of the NBCSN telecasts this season. He has been with the network since 2009.
Dr. Jerry Punch and Rick DeBruhl also will be pit reporters for ABC’s telecasts. Allen Bestwick enters his second season as the chief announcer, while former Indy car drivers Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. return as analysts.
ABC will televise the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29 (3 p.m. ET).