Auto racing notes: IndyCar drivers get chance to work with new teams

  • Associated Press
  • Wednesday, October 22, 2008 9:09am
  • SportsSports

With the IndyCar championship already decided, the season-ending Nikon Indy 300 on Sunday is a chance for teams to end the year on a high note and begin preparing for next season.

The 2008 title race ended Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway, with Scott Dixon beating out Helio Castroneves for his second championship. But that still left the race at Surfers Paradise, Australia — a holdover from the defunct Champ Car World Series.

No points are at stake, but the layout in Queensland is similar to the street course events at St. Petersburg, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., that will open the 2009 season.

Four drivers in particular are looking at this race as a chance to acclimatize themselves to new teams.

Dario Franchitti, the 2007 series champion, will make his first start with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in his return from an aborted move to NASCAR. Vitor Meira will debut with A.J. Foyt Racing, while Dan Wheldon, another former series champ, moves to Panther Racing, and Alex Tagliani will attempt to solidify a spot with Conquest Racing after driving for the team in the final two points events of 2008.

“It’s a good time for us to get a feel for one another under race conditions,” Wheldon said. “When you test, that’s great, but it’s always a bit more laid-back. I think it’s good to see how people perform under pressure. We’ll definitely utilize that time to get to know one another and, hopefully, for them to get a good feel for what I need on a road course and vice versa.

“And then, you want to go for the win. You don’t have anything to worry about. There’s no points up for grabs, it’s just kind of bragging rights and, to some degree, you might be able to put an exclamation point on the season that just finished. That’s the intention.”

For Franchitti, racing in Australia also offers an opportunity to get comfortable in an IndyCar again.

“Getting time in the car is the big thing right now,” said Franchitti, who won a Champ Car race in Australia in 1999. “I’m getting used to the team and the team is getting used to the way I drive the car. Every lap we’re doing I’m getting back into a rhythm.”

In preparation for the addition of a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup entry in 2009, Richard Childress Racing has named veteran crew chief Shane Wilson to head up its new No. 33 team.

Wilson will call the shots for Clint Bowyer, who will move to that car from his current No. 07 Chevrolet.

“Shane brings a great deal of knowledge and success to the … team, much of which he has earned since coming to RCR in 2006,” said Richard Childress. “He will be able to hit the ground running since he’s already familiar with and has been a part of the organization for the past three years. He and Clint have worked together a little bit and I’m confident they will complement each other in this new program.”

Wilson said working with Bowyer will be a great situation.

“He and I have worked some in the Nationwide Series and we’ve tested together so there is already a comfort level that have established,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to the chance to prove myself.”

Wilson, a native of South Royalton, Vt., has nearly a quarter-century of motorsports experience. He guided Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and RCR’s No. 21 Nationwide Series team to 10 victories and the 2006 championship and another six wins in 2007. Wilson also was the crew chief in 2004-05 for Penske Racing’s No. 77 Cup Series team as well as having experience in the Craftsman Truck Series and the Camping World Series, West Division.

RCR said Wilson has played a significant role this year with team’s Car of Tomorrow test program and has worked at-track with development drivers Stephen Leicht and Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson.

It seems like Joe Gibbs Racing is cornering the market on 18-year-old racing phenoms.

Marc Davis will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut on Saturday at Memphis Motorsports Park in the No. 18 Toyota, joining fellow JGR driver Joey Logano, who made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in May.

Davis, an African-American, is a product of the JGR driver development program founded by Joe Gibbs and the late Reggie White in May 2003. Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Series East series the past two seasons, the youngster has racked up eight top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 26 races. He was ninth in the points as a rookie and finished fifth this season.

“I’ve learned a lot about big cars and big tracks, so I think it’s prepared me well for the Nationwide Series,” Davis said.

His father has been with him throughout his move up through the ranks. Harry Davis calls the Memphis race “another beginning” for his son.

“My philosophy has always been, if you give your child expectations, and give them the tools to go forward, it all comes down to their focus,” he said. “And, if it’s something they want, they will exceed your expectations. Because it’s his dream, not mine, my job is just to provide him the tools so he can go forward and be successful.

“Through the efforts of (team owner) Coach (Joe) Gibbs and (team president) J.D. (Gibbs), all the tools have been lined up so Marc can have a real shot at being successful.”

Montreal’s mayor and federal and provincial cabinet ministers were traveling to London on Wednesday to make a case for saving the Canadian Grand Prix.

Mayor Gerald Tremblay will be accompanied by federal International Trade Minister Michael Fortier and Quebec Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand at Thursday’s meeting with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Bachand said Tuesday he has spent the last week looking at the economic benefits of the event.

“We’ll be meeting Mr. Ecclestone on Thursday to see how much he wants this Grand Prix to be held,” he said. “If the conditions are financially responsible, we’ll save this event. If they’re totally unreasonable, we’re in trouble.”

Fortier and Tremblay have also previously said they are willing to support the event but only if it guarantees economic benefits.

The F1 chief says Montreal has not paid its debts to his organization for the last three years. Tremblay, Fortier and Bachand say the amounts for 2006 and 2007 have been addressed, while there is still a dispute over what is owed for 2008.

The Canadian GP, which draws an estimated $100 million per year in revenues and economic spinoffs to Montreal, was dropped from F1’s 2009 calendar on Oct. 7 and replaced by a race in Abu Dhabi.

The Turkish Grand Prix was moved into Montreal’s June 5-7 dates.

The Canadian delegation says there is support in the Formula One community for a race in Montreal, saying it is the only North American showcase for such manufacturers as Toyota, Honda, BMW, Ferrari and Mercedes.

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