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Indy 500: 'A Cinderella story' - Wheldon

 

INDIANAPOLIS - Dan Wheldon was in tears as he took the chequered flag at the end of the centennial Indianapolis 500, saying it was a fairy tale come true: "This is a Cinderella story!"

No one doubted Dan Wheldon's driving talent and abilities coming into the 2011 Indianapolis 500: two consecutive second-place finishes here in the last two years proved that well enough.

But coming here in a one-off deal with a start-up team, having failed to find a regular IndyCar season seat for the year, meant that Dan Wheldon never featured in anyone's list of "drivers who might actually pull this off", not when faced with the Ganassi and Penske juggernauts - even when the team performed impressively on pole day and qualified for the race on the second row of the grid in sixth place.

"On paper, based on our previous effort, anything, on paper we really had no business believing we could win it," admitted Bryan Herta, the team owner behind Dan Wheldon's Indy 500 campaign. "But Dan believed in us so strongly he made us believe it, too. I really think over the course of this last two weeks, he made the crew guys believe it, he made a lot of people on the outside believe it ... It's really his spirit that came across the whole team and made us believe we had a chance to win this thing."

 

"Bryan has been a teammate and a good friend for a long time gave me a fantastic opportunity to win this race," said Wheldon, beaming from ear to ear. "I just knew when I started this race that I wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for not just myself, I didn't feel we had anything to prove, but for such a great group of people."

It wouldn't be right to say that Wheldon simply won because others' pit stop strategies backfired - the Bryan Herta Autosport William Rast #98 was always circulating right up there in the top six from the very start, and wouldn't budge even as others (such as polesitter Alex Tagliani) started to falter over the gruelling 500 mile, three hour race.

But certainly it was Ganassi's strange decision to put race leader Dario Franchitti on a daring long-distance fuel conservation strategy and to short-fill Scott Dixon that opened a door of opportunity to Herta's leading driver.

"There were several different strategies being played out there," said Herta. "We were on the strategy of Dario had been going longer than us on the pits all day long. When we saw him coming in, it kind of made up our mind to stay out because we knew we couldn't beat him on fuel mileage. We had to try something different.

"So when these strategies were playing out, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. But we knew we wanted to give this guy enough fuel to race to the end, just keep it flat. We didn't want to save fuel, we wanted to go race those guys."

 

Wheldon was fully on board with that. "On the radio with 20 to go, they said: 'Listen, this is the deal. Some people are going to try to make it on fuel. You're one of the guys that can make it to the end. But you've got to go and you have to make sure you get everything out of the car that you possibly can,'" he explained. "I didn't have a problem. I was able to catch traffic perfectly without having to lift. They said that there was one person [JR Hildebrand] that potentially could make it, I believe. So that made me even more hungry. I started pressing the overtake ...

"On that last lap I was trying to deal with bears between turns 3 and 4. In the corner of my eye, I saw him hit the fence. I just carried on by. As Bryan says, you have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward with all four wheels. At that point, I knew it was mine.

"When I saw him crash, I mean, I knew it wasn't serious. As soon as I knew it was not serious, there was a little smile on my face, I will say," he admitted. "From that point, it was just making sure that I didn't do anything silly. Then I think I got on the radio and started crying ... I'm not normally that emotional!"

With Ganassi running dry and Penske strangely never a factor in the race at all, Hildebrand's exit from the race in those last few yards cleared the final hurdle for one of the sport's all-time classic "David versus Goliath" victories.

"With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske's organisation and Chip Ganassi. We've had a very, very quick car all month. I don't think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race. So that's a testament to [our] team," he said. "It's tough to beat these big teams. This is a Cinderella story."

 

 

Bryan Herta was at pains to point out just how much this Cinderella story relied on the partnership he and his team had forged with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, who despite being in the full time IndyCar series for the first time themselves this year nonetheless bring a huge amount of experience from previous Indy 500 efforts and from their dominant IndyLights operation. Their lead driver was polesitter Tagliani, who crashed three-quarters of the way through the race after the car lost its handling.

"I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the technical partnership we had with Sam Schmidt Motorsports," said Herta. "They welcomed us. Something that could have been viewed as a distraction by them, they saw that this is a benefit and we can really work together. They were very, very open with us in everything. Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell, Dan - they worked as teammates all month long. I think that absolutely made a difference to our program. We really have a big, big thank you to them, as well."

Asked how he felt about his win, Wheldon understandably struggled to put it into words. "Just extremely happy. I mean, this is obviously a very, very special racetrack to me. I love this racetrack. I love how the fans energize the Speedway. To think that I'm a two-time winner ...

"I'm talking a lot, but just very, very emotional," he said at last. "It was emotional for me, as well, to win for my wife and my family.

"I think my contract expires at midnight tonight!" he said, beaming - as big as hint as could be that here was a newly crowned Indy 500 champion looking for a good offer to come back to racing full time as he could give short of taking out a billboard advertisment. "I'm sure I'll be back to changing diapers by tomorrow. My wife might let me off tomorrow morning, but tomorrow afternoon...

 

"People shouldn't forget what a great job my wife has done," Wheldon continued. "There's times where you do doubt yourself a little bit. Through all of this, she's been incredibly supportive, and she understands that this is all I've ever done. Racing is all I've ever done. She knows that racing creates the personality in me that she loves. So she was desperate to get me back out the house and in a race!"

Wheldon had really believed that something would come together for 2011, right until the moment that it didn't: "It was one of those off-seasons where I did believe that I was going to get a full-time ride. I had that confidence. But, you know, come the end of January, things hadn't panned out as I expected."

It was talking about some of those options that fell through with his friend Herta - the two of them had been the thick-as-thieves "Four Musketeers" with Franchitti and Tony Kanaan in their days at Andretti - that led to wheels turning, and Herta approaching him with the idea of teaming up for an Indianapolis 500 campaign come May.

"When he said that he would give me a fast race car, I never doubted that. We pretty much wrapped a contract up soon after the conversation and started working on this program with him ... They're a great group of people. It's not really like a partial program; it's like a full-time program with just one race because of the talent within the team. That shouldn't be underestimated by anybody."

Looking forward and with his contract now expired, as far as two-time Indy 500 winner is concerned it's clear that a return to competitive full-time racing is the only "happy ever after" he's interested in from this May fairytale.

But in the meantime, that second Borg-Warner Trophy will do very, very nicely indeed.

This story was courtesy of www.crash.net

 

 

 

 

Indy 500 - Preview edition

 

 

The Indy 500 is the biggest race on the season and it's even bigger this year as it is the 100th anniversary running of it. There are the usual Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing contenders who are the favourites, but Alex Tagliani on Saturday made a case for the other guys by being the first Canadian to ever be on pole at the Indy 500.

Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was unlike any other qualifying session as only 33 out of the 40 drivers made into in the field.  There was a lot of uncertainty, joy, and some hardship.  Bump day was a battle of wills, timing, and courage.  It was all on the line this weekend and Alex Lloyd made the most of it by bumping his way into the field with only minutes to spare.  However, with every bump there is devastation on the other end as Ryan Hunter-Reay did not qualify and was left speechless and in agony.  "I canít even process this right now. It's just devastating," said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop car.

As much as a spectacle bump day was it lost a bit of its luster afterwards.  A.J. Foyt announced on May 24th, 2011 that he sold Bruno Junqueira's ride to Andretti Autosport to get a ride for Ryan Hunter-Reay and appease their sponsors.  It is understandable that financial trouble led to this decision, but it just doesn't seem right.

This year will be the first time the Indy 500 will be the first oval course of the year.  If we look at who will be the favourites, we can look no further than last year's winner Dario Franchitti.  This will be Franchitti's eighth start at the Indy 500 and he already has had two celebratory milk showers.

Franchitti's biggest contender might just be his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon.  Dixon won this event in 2008 and needs to make an impact this year after stumbling from the blocks.

The Lachenaie, Quebec native Alex Tagliani had the fastest car during qualification and he will hope to keep that same pace all the way to the checkered flag.

One can never count out three-time winner Penske's Helio Castroneves, but if his start to this year is any indication - it doesn't look like lady luck is on his side.

Rounding out the favourites to win the 100th Indy 500 would be Penske's Will Power (has yet to win an oval race) and Ryan Briscoe, KV Racing's Tony Kanaan, and Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti.

 

 

Hinchcliffe Will Compete Full-Time for Newman/Haas Racing in 2011

Up-and-coming Canadian race-car driver James Hinchcliffe’s dream of having a full-time ride has become a reality. Hinchcliffe will drive full-time for the Newman/Haas Racing team in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series after Eric Sprott of Sprott Inc., a Toronto-based independent asset-management company, stepped up to become his primary sponsor. “Finally making my IndyCar debut really is a dream come true and the end of a 15-year journey getting me to this point,” said the 24-year-old Hinchcliffe. “Having the support from a prominent Canadian company as I start the next step in my career is extra special. I can’t thank Eric Sprott and Sprott Inc. enough for their commitment and I’m sure we can do Canadian sport proud.”

Spring Cleaning

Canadian winters can take a toll on vehicles, but a little care and effort where it counts can reduce the collateral damage.

After one of the cruellest winters in recent memory, the chances are good that an abrasive solution of sand and salt is attacking your vehicle’s metal floor at the molecular level this very second.

A thrilling day at the Bridgestone Racing Academy

 

When I received the invite to the Bridgestone Racing Academy – I couldn’t contain my excitement. The Bridgestone Racing Academy is one of a kind and it teaches future race stars and racing enthusiasts how to successfully and safely drive a race car. Now where else would you get the same experience as Danica Patrick or James Hinchcliffe, who were once instructed at this very same school?

 

The Bridgestone Racing Academy is held at the newly named Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP), formerly Mosport. The day starts out with some classroom time led by owner Brett Goodman and chief instructor Jamie Fitzmaurice. They both went over certain safety procedures as well as how to handle some tricky corners around the race track. Surprisingly, every media member in this group would be in a Formula car for their first time, so I’m sure there was plenty of nervous tension to go around from the drivers to the instructors who have a 28-year injury-free safety record intact. 

 

The formula cars were powered by a Mazda engine producing 170 horsepower, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but what you need to consider is that these race cars only weigh 900 lbs., so it’s a hell of a lot faster than you think. 

 

The day wouldn’t be only about racing, the team from Suncor were on hand to teach us more about Ultra 94, a premium gas that’s used in these very Formula cars. Considering the cost of fuel nowadays, I’m sure many would like to understand more about why they need to stick to using this higher quality fuel. But first it was time to hit the track and feel that Ultra 94 in use. 

 

Drivers, start your engines!

 

We were supplied racing suits, shoes, gloves, and helmets, you name it – they had it. They supply you with everything to make you feel like a race car driver, but it was left to me to actually drive like one. We all know there was no chance for that, but the main focus was to master the correct braking points, hit the racing lines and keep up with the lead instructor. 

 

Little did I realize that the biggest challenge might be getting in and out of the Formula car. It’s no longer a shock why most race car drivers are petite in stature and I start to feel sorry for the Justin Wilsons and Mark Webbers of the racing world. I manoeuvred myself into the cockpit and had belts fastened over each leg and over each shoulder. Safe to say I wasn’t going anywhere as I could barely move, but nothing could contain my excitement. 

  

I flicked the engine switch on and pushed the big black button to start it up queuing one of the best adrenaline rushing sounds you’ll here. 

 

These cars are fitted with a sequential gear shift, so that was easy to work with as long as you remember or feel what gear you’re in. It took a little time to get used to the clutch as this car didn’t work like your typical street manual. Once you start to depress the clutch you have to get on that throttle and give it some – this wasn’t going to be a test on how smooth you could do it. 

 

We were off and running for three separate sessions. The first would be a slower ride to get familiar with the race car and CTMP’s 12 turns and we got progressively quicker as our comfort level improved.  

 

After starting off I put it in second gear and pedalled my way through turns two and three. It would definitely take a little time to get used to driving these Formula cars, because you’re so close to the ground as if you’re driving one of those Flintstones’ cars while leaning back. To understand it fully, I was at level with those Bridgestone Potenza tires. 

 

During the second run, I started to gear shift quite frequently between second, third and fourth to get a good feel for the sticky shift and find the appropriate moments to ease off the throttle and shift down while approaching the corners. 

 

I tried to incorporate all of my racing knowledge while in these beautiful specimens. I broke before the corners, gently accelerated from the turning point to the apex and hit the throttle hard as the steering wheel straightened out. The biggest thrill were the corners before the long straightaway that you can attack hard by shifting down to second and picking up the throttle quickly into third and then fourth allowing you to reach your highest speeds and fly down that large straight. Some might have tested it in fifth gear, but it was fast enough in fourth and the instructors did warn us of the concrete wall at turn 12, so I didn’t want to push it – I'm a guest after all. 

 

I always love track time, because it gives me the chance to improve on my racing skills and the Bridgestone Racing Academy gave us more than enough laps to master our craft. I’m definitely using the word master loosely!

 

Before I knew it my time was done and the thrilling experience was over. For a person that gets some track time occasionally, I had an amazing experience that I’ll never forget. It just proves what a great corporate event or birthday present the Bridgestone Racing Academy could be. Brett, Jamie and the rest of the crew take you through the ropes in class with tips on how to tackle each corner and they continue that lesson with helping you out whenever you need during your track time. They really know how to make it a fun experience while keeping the entire day organized and safe. 

 

Ultra 94

 

In the middle of the session and after lunch, we were treated to an Ultra 94 presentation as mentioned before. If you’re not familiar with Ultra 94, it’s the super-premium gasoline offered at Petro Canada. It surpasses the recommended octane in any street vehicle, so the question is why would people spend the extra money to get it?

 

Ultra 94 is a choice and it's nice to see that it's offered to us, but what are the benefits?

 

The 94 octane level resists knocking which is when abnormal combustion occurs creating the fuel/air mixture to burn more rapidly. The higher the octane, the more resistant it is to knocking and the better performance you get out of your vehicle.

 

If you’re really into getting the maximum performance out of your vehicle – Ultra 94 can definitely help. The people at Ultra 94 preached that it will maximize horsepower, acceleration and performance. Furthermore, it will optimize fuel economy and reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. 

 

It’s not for everybody or every car, but if you’ve paid for a high-priced luxury sports vehicle like the BMW M6 Coupe or the Mercedes-BenzSL 63 AMG Roadster – you might want to partake in some Ultra 94. 

 

Should you pay if you have a Scion FR-S or Subaru Impreza WRX STI?  

 

You need to figure out if it’s worth it to you – all depends on what you’re doing with your car. If you like to take it to track and get the most out of it, it might be worth it. If you’re driving back-and-forth from home to work in it with the occasional fun drive, you might be better off with the recommended octane listed. 

 

In Summary

 

The advantages of Ultra 94 were intriguing and it worked it sync with what they do at the Bridgestone Racing Academy. Ultra 94 is trying to increase their awareness and recently became the new title sponsor and official fuel for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada. Racing is the perfect arena to demonstrate Ultra 94’s performance and it showcased its talents at the Bridgestone Racing Academy and I’m sure it will do the same in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.

 

If you’ve ever had the desire to try out a racing car, I can’t think of a better place to start than the Bridgestone Racing Academy. It was an experience I will remember forever and one where I want to try several more times. It was a thrilling ride and the instructors allow you to go at the pace you want while being safe in the process. Therefore, if you’re more experienced you can tackle the course at the speed you wish; while on the flip side, if you’re new and want to take a more conservative approach you can go at the speed you’re comfortable in. It’s your experience, so do what you want with it and have a blast – I know I did. 

 

Elite Drives-Bridgestone Acad.

 

Over the past two decades, it has been my privilege to attend several high performance driving schools. Each event played a part in honing my skills as an accomplished driver, but none has ever truly satisfied my inner need for speed.

Consequently, it has always been my desire to sit in the driver’s seat of an open wheel race car at a world-class driving school. To be able to challenge myself on a high-speed race track, with nothing but a thin slice of sheetmetal and a professional driving instructor separating me from the perils of a concrete wall, seemed like the perfect way to enjoy a day away from the office.

Just north of Toronto near the Mosport Race track resides the Bridgestone Racing Academy, (www.race2000.com). When driving the circuit, one instructor is assigned to a group of 3-4 students. Initially, groups are selected based on individual driver experience. After fifteen minutes behind the wheel, you start to feel comfortable and speeds increase to match that of your instructor. The rest of the day will seem like a blur. This is by far the best way to have fun racing while at the same time learn to be a better driver.

 

 

Up Close w/ Paul Tracy-Part 3

The Driver: What do you think about behind the wheel?

Paul Tracy: Of a race car? Thinking? No, not really. I guess it’s more a state of concentration. I try to clear my mind and focus on the job at hand. The worst time is waiting for the green flag to drop. You go through so many pre-race preparations with the engineers, crew chief, owners and sponsors. Now, sitting in the car, strapped tightly in and helmet on, there is the familiar drone of seemingly never ending introductions. And a crackling voice in my ear. Here I’m antsy, impatient. Enough already. Let’s roll!

TD: Any specific thoughts come to mind in those moments?

PT: It’s all down to nervous anticipation. Yeah… will the start be clean and I need to try and stay out of trouble going in – and out of turn one. A race can be won right there – especially in Toronto.

TD: You’ve been racing for many years. Is it still as much fun as it was when you raced go-karts?

PT: Getting behind the wheel of any vehicle in a competitive environment is definitely a terrific blast for me. It’s all about the diving. The speed. The adrenaline rush. I love to drive. Period. It’s down to you and the machine. I’m not a fan of the business side of racing, though. Most drivers these days are involved with that – with very few exceptions. I have always had to go though extensive ‘grip and grin’ sessions – with owners, sponsors and fans. Love the fan part – they make this sport what it is. The business side – it isn’t what I do best, but it’s something we all need to do. I’d much rather be on a track, or riding one of my Harleys – or even in one of my sand rails, blowing off steam on desert sand dunes.

TD: Is there anything in racing that has eluded you; do you have a personal ‘Moby Dick’?

PT: (laughs loudly) No, not really. Back in 2002 at the Indy 500, history shows that I finished 2nd to Hélio (Castroneves). Lost due to a technicality. Non-functioning equipment. In my mind, I was first across the line. I said it then and I maintain it today.

There we have it. Still as passionate as ever, PT is a man on a mission. Everything he does, he does to the best of his ability. While he may presently have a limited number of rides this season, know that this determined driver is still meeting and talking with sponsors. He’s as committed to racing as he was more than 20 years ago.

He’s been doing some television work in recent months, something he enjoys and brings a unique perspective to. Something that is encouraged.

Like we said at the outset, there’s only one way for PT to conduct his life and his business and that’s straight on with passion and truth.

Everyone here would like to wish continued success to PT in whatever he decides he wants to do. Motorsports, like oil, is in his blood.

Up-Close w/ Paul Tracy-Part 2

 

The Driver: It’s racing season. How do you prepare physically and mentally?

Paul Tracy: Regardless of whether it’s the season or not, I pretty much maintain the same schedule. By 6.00a.m. I’m at the gym and work out for 60 – 90 minutes. At least four times a week, it’s with a personal trainer. Then I’m home for a light breakfast, usually juice and oatmeal. After, I’m catching up on business – emails, phone calls, dealing with my agent about personal appearances, meetings, TV schedules and the like. Then, I like to go for long bike rides to clear my mind and strengthen my body with a rigourous work out on my mountain bike.

TD: So that’s the morning. Then what?

PT: A light lunch and then dealing with email and phone calls again before heading off to the gym for a later afternoon session.

TD: So you’re a man of routine?

PT: Yeah, pretty much. It keeps things simple and really allows me to be focused on the job at hand – whatever that happens to be.

 

TD: You live in Las Vegas. Is that distracting?

PT: Actually, we just moved – to Scottsdale, Arizona over the past few weeks! But for the years we lived in Vegas we didn’t get caught up in the glitz. Scottsdale, like Vegas, has a climate that is much more agreeable and allows me to do so many more things year round. It’s also central so travelling is relatively easy. I’m pretty much a homebody. When I’m in town, I like to sit down with the family for dinner. I’m not into fancy things. After dinner, we’ll often all sit down and watch a little television – assuming the kids or me don’t have any homework! Most nights, I’m probably in bed by 10:00.

TD: Staying in shape is crucial for you; any driver is if they are serious about remaining competitive. Do you follow any special diet?

PT: No, not at all. I tend to eat pretty sensibly but I try to watch what I eat. I don’t take vitamins or health supplements and about the only time I see a doctor is before the beginning of the season to make sure everything is doing what it’s supposed to.

TD: Some athletes have rituals, superstitions. What about you?

PT: No, not really. No favourite t-shirt or anything like that. In fact, under my race suit there’s nothing – I go commando!  And rituals? One, I suppose; I always get into a race car from the left.

TD: The left? Why?

PT: It all goes back to 1991 when I was with Penske. In fact, very early on with them I kind of got turned around in the excitement and got into the car on the right. Cracked up the car and broke my leg. Now, regardless of the circumstances, I climb in on the left. Always.

Check back for the 3rd and final instalment in the coming weeks.

 

 

Up-Close w/ Paul Tracy–Part 1

 

 

 

With 31 career Indy wins, Paul Tracy, ‘The Thrill from West Hill’ is the single most successful Canadian open wheel driver. Period.

When Paul, or as friends and colleagues refer to him ‘PT’ was a young boy in suburban Toronto, he would spend entire days at a local kart track, Goodwood Kartways. He still spends days at the track, but now it's with the Champ Car World Series, and PT continues to be recognized as one of the stars of the sport. A brilliant and aggressive driver, he has the ability to create magic at any time when he’s behind the wheel.

After becoming the youngest Canadian Formula Ford champion in history at age 16, he progressed rapidly through the ranks of Formula Ford 2000, Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights. Winning the Indy Lights title in 1990, he made his CART debut in 1991 driving for Dale Coyne Racing, then signed with Team Penske as a test driver, taking part in three more races that season. His first full year of Champ Car competition came in 1993 and he made the most of the opportunity. He won five times with his first win at Long Beach.

In 2003, he won it all, finishing first while racing for Player’s Forsythe Racing.

This fiercely competitive individual has entertained fans the world over, racing in his own inimitable style. No crew chief or team owner has ever had to take PT to one side and ask, “Can you drive just a little faster?”

We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Paul Tracy (“call me PT”) when he was in Toronto early May to promote his third consecutive year of Honda Canada sponsoring his car for the historic 25th running of the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy later this summer. PT will be behind the wheel of the number 8, Make-A-Wish Canada/Dragon Racing/Honda/Dallara/Firestone car.

Check back for Part 2 of this feature when we get up close and personal with the Canadian motorsports legend.

 

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