Friday, May 20, 2011

INDY 500: Spotlighting Four New Speedway Musketeers...

Indy RookieHo-Pin Tung’s No. 8 Schmidt-Dragon Racing entry at the Speedway; source:
Although technically none of these entities are brand new outfits, nevertheless they’re relatively newcomers to the IndyCar ‘BigBoyz ranks – with one having a very promising full season effort with lead driver ‘TAG. Another being resurrected and running a partial season, while the other two appear to be on somewhat lesser-known season plans... One rumoured to be in the running for the ‘Two-oh-Twelve Spec Dallara testing regime after a One-off at Indy, with the others racing schedule TBD after its Speedway outing...

AFS Racing
I was unaware that team owner Gary Peterson, who’s Automated Fire Systems company is what AFS stands for was a previous Indy Lights competitor, finishing seventh in the Indy Pro Series back in 2002.

Peterson, in conjunction with Michael Andretti & Andretti Green Racing successfully captured two Indy Lights title back-to-back between 2008-09; first with ‘RAFA, a.k.a. Raphael Matos, and then “Cap’t Frapa Americana,” )Ask either ‘Jeffie or Graham Rahal to explain...) nee J.R. Hildebrand. Thus, talk ‘bout being a hard act to follow for the team’s ’10 drivers Martin “Plowie” Plowman and Charlie Kimball, eh? Although Kimball’s made the leap to the BigCarz this season with the ‘Cheepster’s (Ganassi) satellite squad and Plowie’s seeking a ride in Indy Cars himself currently.

AGR/AFS Racing ran a fifth-wheel, Err racecar for Frank “The Tank” Montagny in ’09 before running Adam Carroll in two road course events last year. The team has since hired ex-Forsythe Racing Big Gun Neil Micklewright and engineer Tom Brown at the beginning of this year, upon jettisoning from its AGR/Andretti Autosport partnership, and I think I heard Kurt Cavin claim they’ve moved into the ex-Forsythe shop in Indianapolis...

Cavin also seems to think they purchased one Dallara from Sarah Fisher Racing, along with a second used chassis from somebody else. And there’s also the rumour of the team having purchased two tubs, which I don’t know if these are just spares or the current chassis in use?

The team has begun the 2011 IZOD Indy Car season with ‘RAFA at the controls – and Cavin seems to think they’ll stick around with Matos at least thru the month of May, as I’m guessing this is a tune-up year prior to moving forward with a new chassis in 2012... Whale, at least a new Dallara Safety Cell; Oh Never Mind! As AFS is just one of two “True” One-car Teams running at Indianapolis – and reputedly its continuation after Memorial Day is TBA...

Bryan Herta Autosport
Still know virtually nothing ‘bout this start-up Indy Car team which is campaigning just its second ever ‘BigBoyz race, having made its Indy Car debut one year ago at the same venue – known as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing... As obviously the team’s Figure-head is ex-Indy Racing League driver Bryan “High Speed Hurdles” Herta; DON’T ASK! It’s reference to his ‘Ol CART Dazes at Team Rahal, but I digress...

Herta’s team partner is Steve Newey, an ex-F1 Engineer, so they should have the technical know how to run these chassis, along with having massively upgraded its driver with this year’s addition of Daniel (“Danny Boy)” ‘SPIKE Wheldon.

Recall that rookie Sebastian Saavedra watched from a hospital bed to learn that he’d qualified for last year’s race when everybody else was shooting themselves in the foot by withdrawing their qualifying times. Of course Saavedra’s relationship ultimately soured when he abruptly quit his Day-job with the BHA Indy Lights team and has since moved onto Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing concern.

And reputedly I thought I heard ‘Kurty claiming that Dan Wheldon & BHA would be doing the ’12 Dallara chassis testing this summer after Indy... So perhaps this is a tune-up for a full season Gig next year?

Dragon Racing
Another team that little seems to have been known when I began scribblin’ this around the Long Beach GP weekend; although I’m guessing Y’all know about the perils of the team formerly known as “Gil’s team,” a.k.a. De Ferran-Dragon Racing, which unfortunately shutdown earlier this year when sponsorship couldn’t be found to campaign new team driver Tony Kanaan.

Yet original Luczo Dragon co-founder Jay Penske, son of some Cat known as The Captain, (Roger Penske) has resurrected the floundering team with a  five-race deal to campaign ‘PT, “The thrill from the West Hill” – better known as Paul Tracy.

Tracy, at 42-years young, had previously signed to contest this year’s Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing – although it sounds like PT’s been grumbling ‘bout the teams Second-tier partial week status already... Can only imagine what he’s saying upon his TWIT-ER account, eh? (Although I’ve since learned that PT has a full month High mileage Tier-1 program courtesy of Dennis Reinbold...)

With Tracy having allegedly seen his relationship sour with buddy Jimmy Vasser, who’s KV Racing Technology hired TK (Tony Kanaan – NOT Tommy Kendall) to a full season ride sponsored by Geico just 6-days prior to St Pete, as the Gecko was previously Messer Chrome Horn’s Indy sponsor...

Thus, Tracy’s exodus from KVRT left the door open for the younger Penske’s Dragonfly outfit to seek PT’s services, whilst his previous commitment to DRR gave Jay Penske the opportunity to seek another driver to chauffer the team’s ride at 16th & Georgetown May 29th, with whispers of Sam “I AM” Hornish Jr. as a possibility?

Instead, I was absolutely shocked by this third generation Upstart when Dragon Racing pulled out a ‘Flyer by announcing its pair of I500 rookies, with Chinese hopeful Ho-Pin Tung being announced as the chauffer of its No. 8 primary ride, and then just days later Scotty ‘THE GOOSE! Speed was announced as the driver of its second entry, the No. 20, as this seems like the Brashest Squad on the Grid at the moment?

And while Tracy reunites with Eric Zeto, his ex-Forsythe Engineer for a further four outings beginning at Texas - in his largest part time campaign of six total races this year, Jay & The Dragonflies looks to build for the future; Hmm? Could this become a potential co-ownership deal for The Chrome Horn somewhere down the road?

Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Many will know the Sam Schmidt story, having been paralyzed in a testing accident aboard an IndyCar way back in the Fall of ‘99. Yet this hasn’t slowed Sam down ‘Juan iota, as he’s not only become an Indy Car ‘BigCar Team Owner again, but also is tied for the most Dallara’s entered this year with Mikey Andretti’s Fabulous-5, albeit technically Sam only has four drivers entered – as I don’t know if it’s a New Track Record... For number of Driver/Team combinations? As Schmidt has apparently attempted to corner the alphabet; Hya! As I’ve heard Cavin say that SSM has a technical alliance with BHA, hence being its fifth car/driver combo, as here’s Sam’s four drivers below...

No. 77) Alex Tagliani; Canada
The  Numero Uno driver at SSM undoubtedly is ‘TAG, a.k.a. Alex Tagliani who came Part & Parcel of Schmidt’s acquisition of the FAZZT Race Team early this year. As this ‘Kuhnadiun is the only Fulltime driver on Schmidt’s books currently. Having finished as Indy Rookie Of the Year in ’09, along with a stout qualifying result last year, TAG looks set to be Schmidt’s flotilla’s lead Oar...

No. 99) Townsend Bell; USA
, Townsend Bell makes his yearly One-off appearance at the Brickyard aboard SSM’s second entry, hoping to follow-up upon his impressive Top-5 finish two years ago...

SSM with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR)
No. 88) Jay Howard; Great Britain
Schmidt has farmed out the services of Jay “Funnyman” Howard to the RLLR Gang this year, as it’ll be Jay’s third attempt to qualify for the race, albeit definitely his best chance to date and hopefully he’ll take advantage of driving an RLLR prepared car this month...

Schmidt-Dragon Racing
No. 8) R-Ho-Pin Tung; China
Otay, this is the driver I know the very least about, albeit knowing of his European single seater forays in various series – along with his F1 testing duties. Yet I’ve just watched a very enjoyable video interview with Messer Tung answering a variety of questions which is well worth checking out, as I’d enjoy seeing Ho-Pin dust off fellow teammate Speed this month at the Speedway!

No. 98) Dan Wheldon; Great Britain
Per the Trackside interview with Sam, who Kevin Lee lightheartedly claims has half of the field’s entries – Schmidt is doing a reverse Ganassi-SSM partnership with BHA; as in SSM is leasing a car/cars to Bryan Heerta’s outfit along with an Engineer...  

And don’t forget that Sam’s got another Indy Lights Champion waiting in the wings to make his ‘BigCar debut, somebody named Wade Cunningham who’ll begin his limited season at Texas shortly...