Dillon Battistini, who in March broke onto the U.S. racing scene with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his Firestone Indy Lights debut, hopes to continue his strong rookie season with a victory on world’s grandest racing stage – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On Thursday, Battistini qualified on the pole for Friday’s Firestone Freedom 100, giving himself the inside track to a victory at Indianapolis. The pole sitter has won four of the previous five Freedom 100 races. Battistini, who won a championship in Asia last season, recorded a two-lap qualifying average of 188.397 mph on the historic 2.5-mile oval in the No. 15 Panther Racing entry. James Davison’s two-lap effort was .0036 of a second slower – 188.390 mph – good for the outside of Row 1.
Wade Cunningham, the 2005 series champion and 2006 race winner, qualified third, while Ana Beatriz qualified fourth. Raphael Matos and Richard Antinucci qualified fifth and sixth, respectively.
Jeff Simmons, who will start 24th in Sunday’s 92nd Indianapolis 500, qualified 10th. He is the only driver competing in both races.
*** For the first time since 1992, the Indianapolis 500 will feature an Andretti, Foyt and Rahal in the starting lineup. The three families, which etched their names in the history books at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, have combined for 113 starts and six victories in the 500-Mile Race.
The next generation of these legendary families includes Marco Andretti, 21, A.J. Foyt IV, 23, and Graham Rahal, 19. Andretti is the grandson of 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti, who made 29 Indy 500 starts, and the son of 16-time starter Michael Andretti. Foyt is the grandson of four-time winner A.J. Foyt, and Rahal is the son of 1986 winner Bobby Rahal.
Despite their youth, two of the three members of the next generation have already made several starts at Indianapolis, and all three demonstrate maturity beyond their years.
“I think we all kind of feel the same amount of pressure,” said Foyt, who debuted in the ‘500’ on his 19th birthday in 2003, driving for his grandfather’s team. “We all have a lot to live up to. I think it's a little bit less pressure now that I'm driving for another team. Now he (A.J. Foyt) can just be my grandfather instead of my (team) owner now, too. That makes it a lot easier.”
Foyt’s first ‘500’ victory will be difficult to come by Sunday. He will start 31st in the No. 2 Vision Racing entry.
Andretti hopes to build upon his rookie performance at Indianapolis in 2006. As a 19-year-old, Andretti led Laps 198, 199 and most of Lap 200 before Sam Hornish Jr. passed him on the frontstretch to steal the checkered flag. Andretti went on to claim his first career victory later that season at Infineon Raceway. “There's a lot of history here with the family,” Andretti said. “That's special as well. But my approach to the race, I don't want to win it because they won it or because of their history here. I want to win it for myself. And I think we have a great chance.” Andretti will start seventh, his best starting position in three starts at Indianapolis. Rahal, the youngest of the three, is making his first Indianapolis 500 start, but the teenager already has left his mark on history. Earlier this season, Rahal took the checkered flag on the streets of St. Petersburg, taking the title of youngest driver to win a major open-wheel race from Andretti, and becoming only the fourth IndyCar Series driver to win in his first start. Rahal qualified 13th for Sunday’s race, second-highest of 11 rookies and fastest of nine drivers with teams new to the IndyCar Series. “It’s pretty nice to be back,” Rahal said. “It's something that I didn't expect to happen so soon. The question was always asked when I would be at Indy. I really didn't have any clue. Obviously, I'm glad to be here.” For the fans who rooted for Andrettis, Foyts and Rahals in the Indianapolis 500 since 1958, they can latch on to a new generation. “To have names back, and, of course, the old rivalries - I don't know if Marco and I look at it the same way as our dads did - but, to have us and obviously A.J., I think it certainly will bring crowds back to a race whether it be Indy or any race week that maybe hadn't been there in the past.” *** The Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body for the IndyCar Series, and the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach have agreed to a five-year contract that will have the cars and stars of the IndyCar Series racing on the streets of Long Beach beginning next year through 2013. TERRY ANGSTADT (President, commercial division, Indy Racing League): “Long Beach is an historic, world-class venue, and our entire organization is excited to have the race as an integral part of our schedule. We can promise the racing fans of Southern California a highly competitive, fan-friendly experience for many years to come.” JIM MICHAELIAN (President and CEO, Grand Prix Association of Long Beach): “In 2009, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will celebrate our 35th year with a new era. Needless to say, we’re extremely happy that the IndyCar Series will continue our tradition of being America’s greatest street race. And we’re delighted that many great drivers will be returning to our streets, like Helio Castroneves, who won our race in 2001, and Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, both of whom competed here often. They’ll line up with rising stars like Danica Patrick, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Marco Andretti to again offer our fans the best racing weekend in California.” *** J.R. Hildebrand gave up baseball to become a race driver, but his baseball skills haven't diminished in the time away from the diamond. The Firestone Indy Lights points leader traded his driving gloves for batting gloves May 20 when he and fellow Firestone Indy Lights driver Logan Gomez visited Victory Field as a guest of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hildebrand, who played left field and center field for Redwood (Calif.) High School as a freshman and sophomore, impressed members of the Indians’ staff with his hitting skills and his pitching arm when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. J.R. HILDEBRAND: "That was cool. I always enjoyed playing baseball into high school, but then I got into racing and that was my passion, so I quit playing ball. It's always cool to go out and throw the ball around a little bit. I hit the ball pretty well in batting practice. They didn't let me warm up, so I didn't throw (the pitch) as hard as I thought I would, but I made it to the plate, so that's good." *** IndyCar Series driver Ed Carpenter and Firestone Indy Lights driver Logan Gomez took advantage of the lack of on-track activity on Community Day (May 21) to spend time giving back to the Greater Indianapolis community. Carpenter and Gomez helped with the construction of Habitat for Humanity's latest project in Central Indiana by installing Johns Manville insulation into two homes being built by employees of Eli Lilly. The materials for the homes were provided by Menards, which sponsors Carpenter and Gomez. The two drivers were joined by John Menard, president of Menards, Inc., IRL Founder and CEO Tony George, and Chris Gerd, national account manager for Johns Manville and Menard’s son Paul, who competes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The group turned their work into a race of their own, as they tried to see who could nail in their section of wrapping first. Each then autographed the section they worked on. LOGAN GOMEZ: "Installing insulation and installing Tyvek wrapping isn't what I normally do, but it was great. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis is such a great organization. It's great to see all these people out here working side-by-side. It's like their racing, which goes along with what we're doing at the Speedway. Their efforts mean a lot to the people who will live in these houses." ED CARPENTER: "I've never been involved in Habitat for Humanity, but my wife's (Heather) grandfather is involved with it in Florida. He goes once a week, so I hear a lot about it from him. To have the opportunity to come out here with Menards and Johns Manville and see what it is all about, I think it's something that I want to do with my free time in the future. I like working on my own houses, but to help another family get back on their feet is a special thing." *** Helio Castroneves, the reigning "Dancing with the Stars" champion, predicted a week before the new season of the hit ABC show started March 24 that Olympic figure skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi would be a favorite to win the mirror ball trophy. Not necessarily a bold move, but a good eye anyway. Yamaguchi and professional dance partner Mark Ballas were crowned Season 6 champions on May 20. Yamaguchi will get a close-up view of Castroneves' pursuit of his third victory in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 on May 25. Yamaguchi will wave the green flag to send the 33 drivers on their way. Castroneves' pro partner from the Season 5 championship, Julianne Hough, will sing the national anthem. Castroneves, who served as a guest reporter for "Entertainment Tonight" during the competition, said it was "strange" to be sitting in the audience during the results show. HELIO CASTRONEVES: "That's it: I'm not the reigning champion anymore. Hopefully, winning the race here I'll still be champion -- Indy 500 champion. She did a great job. The best dancer definitely won the competition. The nerves definitely came back. I didn't like it. I preferred to be dancing than watching. It was great to see everyone involved with the show again.” *** Julianne Hough, a professional ballroom dancer who partnered with Helio Castroneves to win ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” last November, will lead the opening production of the 2008 IPL 500 Festival Parade on Saturday, May 24. Hough will join 400 members of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir as they perform the song “I Won’t Dance / Shall We Dance.” The more than 300,000 spectators who are expected to line the 2-mile parade route will get a glimpse of the 33 starting drivers of the 92nd Indianapolis 500, more than 80 specialty units, floats, marching bands and entertainment groups, giant inflatable balloons and costumed characters, including Donnie and Eliza Thornberry, Cosmo and Wanda, the Pink Panther and the Care Bears. *** Planet Green, the first and only 24-hour eco-lifestyle television network from Discovery Communications launching June 4, is coming to Indianapolis over Memorial Day weekend to spread a little green at the Indianapolis 500, the largest-attended single-day sporting event in the world. Planet Green is teaming up with the IndyCar Series to offer a greener experience at this year’s Indy 500 and to educate fans about how they can help the environment. On Sunday, May 25, Planet Green’s on-air talent will offer race fans tips throughout the day on little things they can do to make a difference. Via Jumbotron messages at the track, Tom Bergeron of Planet Green’s new series “Supper Club” talks about the merits of drinking organic beer and eating locally sourced food; Emeril Lagasse from “Emeril Green” will ask fans to act responsibly when they tailgate and offer ideas about reusable items; Tommy Lee and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges from “Battleground Earth” will make fans aware of all of the recycling bins available on the race grounds; and Steve Thomas from “Renovation Nation” will offer tips on green home improvement. After the last car has rounded the track and all of the fans have left the Brickyard, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s greening efforts will still be in full swing. On Monday, May 26, Planet Green will outfit the Indy cleanup and recycling crew in organic cotton Planet Green “Green Team” T-shirts before they get to work on the enormous day-after cleanup. The network will also provide additional volunteers to help pitch in with the cleanup efforts. The crew will make sure the Speedway and most of the garbage produced during the race is sorted, and those items that can be recycled are put in proper containers and taken to recycling centers. The clean-up will be captured on film and featured as a special part of Planet Green’s new series “The ‘G’ Word” with “Garbologist” Todd Sutton. *** Angie’s List, where thousands of consumers share their ratings and reviews on local service providers in more than 330 different categories, has signed on as primary sponsor of the No. 5 KV Racing Technology entry driven by Oriol Servia. The sponsorship is the Indianapolis-based company's first step into the auto racing world but an expansion of its national advertising plan first launched in 2007. Angie Hicks established Angie's List 13 years ago, initially going door-to-door to sign up members. The company now employs more than 350 people and provides service to more than 650,000 members across the country. ANGIE HICKS (Founder, Angie’s List): “Angie's List has been on a pretty fast pace these past two years. With this partnership, you might say we've stepped on the gas again." KEVIN KALKHOVEN (Co-owner, KV Racing Technology): “Angie's List knows what it takes to build a winner, and we're going to be working hard to earn top grades on Sunday. We are very pleased to have Angie's List on our team." *** The winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 has been offered a car to drive in the fourth annual Old Spice Prelude to the Dream dirt late model stock car race June 4 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars will compete in the event on the famed half-mile clay oval, including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Bobby Labonte and Kyle Busch. The dirt late model stock car that will be waiting for the winner of the 92nd Indianapolis 500 will feature logos from the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 2,300-pound dirt cars feature engines that generate more than 800 horsepower. Proceeds from the event will be donated to support construction of the Victory Junction Gang Camp II in Kansas City and the Tony Stewart Foundation. The event will be televised live at 7 p.m. (ET) on HBO Pay-Per-View. TONY STEWART (Two-time Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winner): “The winner of the 92nd Indianapolis 500 has a standing offer to compete in this year’s Old Spice Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway. We’ll have a car waiting for him or her, and we’d love to have whoever puts their name on the Borg-Warner Trophy at Indianapolis come about two hours east and compete in a dirt late model to raise money for charity. There are many talented drivers competing in this year’s Indianapolis 500. We’d love to have whoever wins come to Eldora. It’d be great to see Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Graham Rahal or any of the other 26 talented IndyCar Series drivers in this year’s Indy 500 try their hand behind the wheel of a dirt late model.” *** Indianapolis 500 veteran Sarah Fisher is continuing her role as TAG Heuer brand ambassador by promoting the motorsport-inspired TAG Heuer “Avant Garde” Eyewear. Fisher will start 22nd in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. SARAH FISHER: “TAG Heuer Eyewear has been a great partner of mine. For them to believe in what we are trying to accomplish means a lot to our entire team. I’m honored to represent them.” *** Members of the ABC-ESPN team that is broadcasting the 92nd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday spoke to members of the media during a teleconference May 20: JED DRAKE (Senior vice president and executive producer, ESPN): (What is the significance of the Indianapolis 500?): “This is a spectacle that in a world of events that we are fortunate enough to cover, sets itself above just about any other event that we do in terms of its grandeur, in terms of its history, in terms of the sheer speed at which these cars fly around on a track of this size. It is an event that we look at on our calendar every year. We admire it, and we plan for it. We have a wonderful confluence of reunification, a next generation of drivers and the inevitable and omnipresent story of Danica Patrick. When you take all of those factors, throw them into the history and heritage of this race, and the heritage of the coverage on ABC, I do believe that in a world of hyperbole, this one is not hyperbolic its going to be a great spectacle, and we a re very much looking forward to televising it.” MARTY REID (Lead announcer): (About effect of unification on open-wheel racing): “The significance of the first time since 1996 when open-wheel racing will finally race at Indianapolis with the 33 fastest drivers from North America that converged under one banner. It truly is the next step in the building process. We saw all the things that tore this sport apart, and now all of a sudden since February were seeing domino after domino fall into place.” SCOTT GOODYEAR (Race analyst, Indianapolis 500 veteran): (About overreliance on Danica Patrick storyline): “If she was not worthy of it, I think one would need to be careful. She goes into Turn 1 at 230 mph and does not take her foot off. There’s a very small amount of population that would be able to do that with all the training. She’s out there not only competing against but beating the guys, so I think she deserves all the stuff she gets on the air. I’m sure that knowing drivers as they are, there are some that realize that this is a great thing for the sport. There are probably some that are a little jealous of the attention that she gets. I think they all realize that Danica is good for their sport, which is their business. Any time that we can increase the awareness of our business, I think it’s terrific.” EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (Race analyst, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner): (How different is the overall quality of the cars with the merger?): “With the arrival of the new teams, you have a whole new DNA into IndyCar racing, and it’s a DNA that was absent for a long time. I don’t think the quality of the first three teams has changed that much. The Penskes, the Ganassis and the Andretti Greens have always been bumping up the bar, but over the whole, if you look at the whole grid, it’s a strong grid. It’s got a lot of international input that wasn’t there before, and I think we’ve achieved a point in time where IndyCar racing is now ready to propel itself into a level where it has not been for the past 30 years, not the last 10 or the last 20. It’s in a position to really go into places where it has never gone before.” *** HVM Racing, which fields the Indianapolis 500 entry driven by E.J. Viso, has launched a redesigned team Web site at www.hvm-racing.com. The team competes full time in the IndyCar Series. *** The No. 12 Symantec Luczo Dragon Racing car driven by Tomas Scheckter will feature the logo of Eyes on the Road, a campaign to fight blindness, during the 92nd Indianapolis 500. Eyes on the Road is the brainchild of Indy 500 fan and trucking enthusiast Mark Harter of Indianapolis, who is legally blind, and consists of a partnership between Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston and Truck.Net, the nation's leading trucking industry Internet portal. Its purpose is to increase awareness of and funding for research to prevent and cure blindness. For more information on Eyes on the Road, visit www.eyesontheroad.org. *** Indianapolis 500 veterans Jim Guthrie and Tyce Carlson are enjoying their roles as team owners in the Firestone Indy Lights and Firestone Freedom 100. Three-time Indy starter Guthrie owns Guthrie Racing, which fields cars for his son, Sean Guthrie, and Logan Gomez, Micky Gilbert and Tom Wieringa in the Firestone Freedom 100. Two-time Indy starter Carlson is co-owner of Alliance Motorsports, which fields the entry driven by Chris Festa. JIM GUTHRIE: “It’s pretty special to be here. Indy is Indy. If he (Sean) won here, I'd pretty much say he'd never have to win again. Of course, he'd want to. He's been racing ovals in karts and things since he was 8. At least maybe I can get a ring as an owner. Seeing friends every year here … Chucky the paper guy, others … the only place I get to see these people is Indy. It makes you feel special just to be a part of it. Sean and I talk racing 24-7, and if we're not doing that, we're working on cars." (About what he can teach Sean): "Looking for the outside in, you can see that a lot easier than inside out. I'm a great armchair quarterback. I know how to do it and how not to do it. I know it both ways, but it's cheaper to work on how to not do it first!" TYCE CARLSON: "Myself and three partners own Alliance Motorsports. We bought all of Kenn Hardley's equipment in December and hired Chris Festa as the driver just before Homestead. I love it. It gets me back to the track where I think I belong, and it keeps me out of the race car where my wife thinks I don’t belong! Chris knows quite a bit. As a car owner, I try to give him the best equipment and personnel, everything I would've wanted as a driver." (About starting an IndyCar Series program): "That's what's in our business plan. My goal and dream is to win the '500.' If I can't do it as a driver, I still want to do it as an owner." *** In celebration of his first Indianapolis 500, HVM Racing driver E.J. Viso will sport a new helmet design for the race and then retire it as a keepsake. The helmet was designed by Viso’s cousin Juanco from Milan, Italy, and keeps with the motif of the helmet worn for the first four races of the year that has lucky charms woven into the gold-and-green design. The Indy 500 helmet is named after Viso’s perception of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “Square Oval.” E.J. VISO: “You can once again find the Chinese symbol of power, strength and energy, and as always, a small cross underneath the visor. I always will have a cross in the design, which is a tradition that my mother started when she gave me small crosses to carry around in my pocket as a small child. Of course, there is the row of bricks to illustrate the unique feature of this track.” *** LIDS, a brand of Indianapolis-based specialty retailer Hat World, Inc., has signed as the primary sponsor of Marty Roth’s #25 car for the Indianapolis 500. LIDS will also be an associate sponsor of John Andretti’s 1-800-Las-Vegas #24 car. MARGARET ROTH (President, Roth Racing): “We are very pleased to have LIDS come on board as the primary sponsor of the No. 25 car and as an associate sponsor on the No. 24 car for the 92nd Indianapolis 500. Having them join us is especially gratifying considering our Canadian connections. LIDS has a number of stores throughout Canada and, being from Canada, we feel honored that they have chosen to sponsor the only Canadian driver in the IndyCar Series. We look forward to LIDS involvement with our team and hope to cap off a great month with a strong showing by both cars in the race on Sunday.” KEN KOCHER (President, Hat World Inc.) “Racing fans around the world are among the most loyal sports fans and hat buyers, and we couldn’t be more excited about working with Roth Racing on the world’s largest motorsports stage this weekend. The LIDS family of employees across North America will be cheering hard for Marty and John on Sunday.” *** The Firestone Indy Lights fight for the Firehawk Cup takes on more significant meaning today, with the introduction of a new and more impressive trophy worthy of the name "Firehawk Cup." The new cup, a Bruce Fox, Inc. design made of fine silver, nickel silver, carbon fiber and proprietary resin, standing 38½ inches tall and weighing 68 pounds, was created as part of Firestone's ongoing commitment to support the Indy Racing League's driver development series. In March, Firestone became title sponsor of the renamed Firestone Indy Lights and announced additional prize incentives totaling more than $250,000 dollars for 2008. To underscore the steeped tradition of the series, the names of all Firestone Indy Lights champions dating to 1991 will be inscribed on the new Firehawk Cup. That includes the years of Firestone and Dayton Indy Lights competition under the former Championship Auto Racing Teams umbrella from 1991-2001 and what was previously the IRL's Indy Pro Series from 2002-07. Among the additional prizes which will be presented by Firestone are a pair of "Legacy" awards honoring two fondly remembered Firestone Indy Lights alumni. Firestone is pleased to announce the continuation of the "Greg Moore Legacy Award" and the "Tony Renna Rising Star Award." Each will be a $5,000 post-season prize honoring the memories of Moore and Renna, drivers whose racing careers were cut far too short. The Greg Moore Legacy Award is a continuation of the honor begun in CART/Champ Car following the Canadian star's death in 1999. Moore was the Firestone Indy Lights champion in 1995 before moving up to CART in '96 and winning five races in four seasons. The award will retain the same criteria - it's given to a driver who most typifies Moore's distinctive combination of outstanding on-track talent and dynamic personality - and will be presented to a Firestone Indy Lights driver at the conclusion of the season. The Tony Renna Rising Star Award was previously an IndyCar Series honor recalling the driver killed in a testing crash at Indianapolis in 2003. Renna raced in Firestone Indy Lights in 2001 before competing in seven IndyCar Series events over the next two seasons. The award will go to the Firestone Indy Lights driver who embodies the qualities - including teamwork, physical fitness and resourcefulness - which Renna demonstrated. AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): "Firestone Indy Lights has been a great proving ground for talented young drivers. Just look at the names that have honed their skills there before moving onto the IndyCar Series. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia, Townsend Bell, A.J. Foyt IV, Alex Lloyd - all are past Firestone Indy Lights champions who will drive this weekend in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,' the Indianapolis 500. This just shows that Firestone Indy Lights is the right path to the IndyCar Series. This is a very proud day for Firestone and the Firestone Indy Lights series. Not only are we able to unveil this striking and extraordinary new Firehawk Cup, but we've also formalized the 'Legacy' awards so that the passion that Greg and Tony had for open-wheel racing will endure. Greg and Tony were tremendous racers and even better individuals. Firestone is proud to keep their memories alive in our hearts and to help inspire the next generation of drivers to greater heights." ROGER BAILEY (Executive Director, Firestone Indy Lights): "Being from Detroit, I'm very familiar with hockey's Stanley Cup and of course, the Borg-Warner Trophy, which is given here at Indianapolis. Our goal is to have a trophy that is as recognizable as those iconic trophies." *** Firestone Indy Lights officials announced an agreement that makes Ethos For Earth’s Fuel Reformulator the Official Fuel Reformulator of the Firestone Indy Lights, the official developmental series of the IndyCar Series. Under direction of Firestone Indy Lights officials, Ethos For Earth’s Fuel Reformulator was tested by Firestone Indy Lights race cars at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March. The tests proved positive by reducing friction, lowering emissions and improving fuel economy in the 420-horsepower race cars. Ethos For Earth’s Fuel Reformulator uses ester technology to lubricate and clean engines resulting in a 7 to 10 percent increase in miles per gallon on average. Ethos can also reduce emissions by 30 percent or more, while increasing vehicle performance. By using Ethos For Earth’s Fuel Reformulator, the Firestone Indy Lights cars will see the same beneficial properties that consumers see in their daily use vehicles. ROGER BAILEY (Executive Director, Firestone Indy Lights): “The Indy Racing League has been the standard bearer in the greening of motorsports. We've been considering our options in how to follow in the footsteps of the IndyCar Series and make our series greener. Adding Ethos For Earth's product to our cars was the best way to help us do our part for the environment." MIGUEL GALLIMORE (President, Ethos For Earth): “We’re so proud to be a part of the Firestone Indy Lights as both a series and a team sponsor of American Dream Racing. The Indy Racing League understands the importance of the green initiative, so this partnership is a great fit for us and them. We have a product that is all natural, reduces emissions, improves gas mileage, and now it’s going to be in the Firestone Indy Lights race cars. This is a great opportunity for everyone.” *** Mesco Building Solutions announced today it has entered open-wheel racing with a sponsorship of two contingency awards for the Firestone Indy Lights, the official developmental series of the IndyCar Series. The “Mesco Building Solutions Building for the Future Rookie of the Year Award” will award $5,000 to the highest-finishing rookie in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23, while the “Mesco Building Solutions Building for the Future, Firestone Indy Lights New Team of the Year Award” will award $5,000 to the best finishing new entrant at the end of the season. ROGER BAILEY (Executive Director, Firestone Indy Lights): “It is fantastic to have a relationship with a company like Mesco that understands the sport of motor racing and the need to support the drivers and crew members that will eventually be the face of IndyCar Series racing.” STEVE OWENS (Senior Vice President of Marketing, Mesco): “We have found that the business-to-business pool of customers is unprecedented in auto racing. Our programs afford us the opportunity to work directly with decision makers or those close to the decision makers. We work very diligently with the teams and sponsors to deliver the best and most practical building solutions to meet and exceed their needs, whether it’s a new race shop, jet hanger, coach storage or a new storefront.” *** Sarah Fisher Racing (SFR) announced today that text4cars.com will serve as the team’s primary sponsor for the 92nd Indianapolis 500. Text4cars.com becomes the primary sponsor after the initial primary sponsorship dissolved. Text4cars.com was created for the purpose of giving free advertising to vehicle sellers while making car shopping convenient and efficient for buyers. Sellers list their cars on the text4cars.com Web site, and the vehicle remains advertised, free of charge, until removed by the seller. Buyers browse the Web site, sorting and choosing cars of their choice. When buyers find an interesting car, they enter their name and contact information. Text4cars.com immediately sends a text message identifying a potential buyer to the seller. SARAH FISHER: “I can’t express how emotional I feel at this point and time. I realize this is a gift with only 72 hours left before the race. My only wish is that my fan base continues to be supportive with this new partnership and its service to provide car-buying solutions for consumers. As a start-up company, text4cars.com provides a progressive approach to modern-day car buying. I’m truly honored to be associated with a company that thinks outside of the box. For a company like text4cars.com to step at the ninth hour is truly a credit to their belief in what we are trying to accomplish. All the sponsors we have brought on board in the last few weeks are truly inspiring and are a testament to our commitment to succeeding as a minority-owned race team.” *** FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-QUALIFYING NOTES: Dillon Battistini earned his first SWE Pole Award. The rookie’s previous best start was second at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This is the seventh pole for Panther Racing in Firestone Indy Lights, and the first this season. The team earned two poles last season with Hideki Mutoh. James Davison qualified a career-best second. His previous best was seventh at Homestead-Miami and St. Petersburg 1. Wade Cunningham, the 2006 Firestone Freedom 100 pole sitter and race winner, qualified third. Cunningham started second in 2005 and fifth in 2007. Ana Beatriz qualified fourth, the highest starting position for a woman in the Firestone Freedom 100. Mishael Abbott held the previous mark – 14th in 2005. Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which has fielded winning cars for Thiago Medeiros (2004), Jaime Camara (2005) and Alex Lloyd (2007), placed three cars in the top six. Davison qualified second, Beatriz fourth and Richard Antinucci sixth. Jeff Simmons, who will start 24th in the Indianapolis 500, qualified 10th. Sean Guthrie, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Al Unser III, the sons of past Indianapolis 500 competitors, qualified 16th, 18th and 19th, respectively. The top seven cars are separated by less than half a second, and the top 14 cars are separated by less than one second. *** FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES: DILLON BATTISTINI (No. 15 Panther Racing, qualified first): “The car was great. I just stuck to the mental plan that I had. The laps were very clean. I’m pleased with the way it went. The balance of the car has been really good from practice into qualifying.” (About the track): “It’s the most challenging track that I’ve been on, and you can really feel the speed, which is good.” JAMES DAVISON (No. 11 Lifelock/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified second): “The car was spot-on. I was just chipping away with it at the practice sessions, and I just got it great. All in all, it’s a great result for myself and the team after the really frustrating race results we’ve had earlier on in the year. It basically just sets you up well for the race. It doesn’t guarantee anything. As they say, ‘Race day is pay day.’ I had a good car in traffic this morning, and it was fast. That’s two ticks in the boxes, and there should be no reason to feel unconfident going into the race. I guess I was just applying everything I've learned at Homestead and Kansas in terms of what to do in qualifying. I was just focusing on what Rick Mears told me to do. Just make sure you make the straightaways as long as possible and turn in as late as you can to release th e wheel. I was using all the tracking places I could to make sure I was able to release the wheel. I think it was a pretty strong run. It seems like a lot of cars are having to shift or stay on the limiter, and these cars aren't the easiest thing in the world to do a clean shift. I did clean shifts, and I think my time is pretty strong. We'll just have to wait and see what the track conditions do and if it helps anyone else. I just want to thank my team for doing a great job, and we're always going to feature up there. We've just had a few unfortunate occurrences in the first couple of weeks that prevented us from getting a result. The conditions are definitely warmer and we're not running in packs of cars, so that's the explanation of why we go slower in qualifying. I think at absolute minimum a top five (on race day), and I think a top three. It would mean so much to win on the oval and become the second ever to do that and the first Australian to win on the oval. That wou ld be huge. I've got quite an extended family. Cousins who a! re very successful racing in Europe or Australia, but it's good to keep my family name at the forefront in the American scene, which I think I've achieved in the last couple of years.” (About IMS): “It's unlike any other circuit. If they build a speedway anywhere, it may be a better track to drive on, but it just doesn't have the history. It's like trying to chance the Monaco street circuit and put it in a new one in Singapore. It's just not the same. There's just so many famous drivers and team owners, and it's just a great honor to be driving here in front of all the big names and continuing the tradition.” WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Royal Spa, qualified third): “We struggled on the first practice today. I didn’t do the open test a few weeks ago because I wasn’t confirmed to be driving here. We just struggled all morning, as the time sheets showed. We got better in the second session and we were able to get to a qualifying setup, which we thought would work, and it did. We were the quickest car on the first timed lap, but unfortunately we had a full surge where it ran out of gas or we had a fuel pickup problem coming out of (Turn) 2 on our second lap. It just killed our run so unfortunately we did not challenge for the pole. The car didn’t go off at all, so in that respect, it’s disappointing. We could have had two poles at Indy; it’s a great place to start from.” ANA BEATRIZ (No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified fourth): “I think it was pretty good. It’s a big track, and it’s different from all the others that I’ve been to. It’s just amazing here. The wind has changed a little bit since our first practice run. It’s a lot of wondering what gears to be in. We’re just trying to be as fast as possible. It’s just really fun to race here, and I hope to continue doing well in the season.” RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., qualified fifth): “We tried to find speed in the car in the first session, but we ended up finding it in the second session. It was just not enough and we just needed a bit more speed to have the pole, but that’s racing. We just have to work as hard as we can to make our car better. You want to start in the front row, but it’s a long race and we have to manage our tires so we can have a good result.” RICHARD ANTINUCCI (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, qualified sixth): “I made a little mistake between the two laps that probably slowed the momentum going into the last one. That probably hurt both of them. Being an average, you have to have your best form on both of them and I think I made a small mistake, but you just have to go with the moment and with the wind. My car is fast, and my teammates proved it. If we win the race, we know we'll take the points, and that's what the objective will be. This is such a big event. I just like to go to every event and try to win the race. This is great, though. I think you get a lot of recognition and get noticed if you do a good job here. This is the heart of open-wheel racing. This is the back yard, the Brickyard. We always want more practice to improve things, but for sure, we're pretty happy with how things are going right now, and I think we're going to have a good weekend. It's very nice here. It's got a great feeling, and it's special. It's a rush.” (About a four-car team): “It helps to dial in off of. We've got data to share. This year is faster than last year, so it's key to look at one another and rub off of one another to push each other. It's good to have teammates. (Sam Schmidt) has some important tips and keys, and I definitely listen to him with both ears open.” BRENT SHERMAN (No. 16 National Guard Delphi, qualified seventh): “I think the wind kind of messed with us a little bit. We were right between fifth and sixth gear, and it was so hard to know what to do. I was right on the limiter in fifth – do you shift, do you not shift? – so unfortunately I made the wrong decision. It's bittersweet. I'm glad my team is running well and my teammate is running well. We're just missing it a little bit somewhere. I don't know where. Maybe I need to lose a couple of pounds.” (About running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway): “It's cool. I've run over at O'Reilly (Raceway Park) several times, and to be at the big track, the track is cool. I'm just happy that we have a car and that National Guard and Delphi is on the car this weekend and the rest of the season. Things are going well for us. We just need to keep the momentum up and run well here tomorrow.” CYNDIE ALLEMANN (No. 18 Cabo Wabo, qualified eighth): “It was good. I lost two-tenths (of a second) in the second lap, so I'm a little disappointed because I think we could do a little bit better. We'll see tomorrow. It's just a great feeling. I didn't realize it before I came here, but there's just so many people here, and you just feel the atmosphere. It's so great. It's really a big pleasure to be here.” LOGAN GOMEZ (No. 23 The Guthrie Racing Special, qualified ninth): “The car felt good. I’m rather surprised that we actually qualified ninth. It was looking like the track was slowing down a little bit and the wind didn’t help on the backstraight. We’ll see how it shakes out in the race. I’m looking to show really well in the race this year and make up for our disappointing performance last year.” JEFF SIMMONS (No. 2 TMR Xtreme Coil Drilling, qualified 10th): “It wasn't far off of what we were running earlier. We seem to be a little in between gears there, and I was talking about going out slower there. I think I should've gone out slower than I did. It think our warm-up lap was our fast one, and we got slower after that. We're not far off and with the way the schedule was today, that's our race car there. It's not really a qualifying car, so we feel pretty good about the race tomorrow. I thought if we had a top-10 starting spot, that would be pretty good. We're OK, and we'll be fine in the race. We felt really good running in traffic this morning, so I think we're in good shape. In a place like this, with the speeds that we run, especially for the guys who are starting farther back than me, your car gets dragged along, so you have to realize what kind of turbulence you 're going to be running in. I think we've got like 27 cars running here, so you get dragged along from behind. You have to end up lifting at the start/finish line because you don't have any downforce and you're getting pulled along with everybody else, so we just got to stay out of trouble and get into a good position where we can just settle in for a while and see what our car is like for the rest of the race.” (About how being in the Indy 500 field changes perspective): “It's not a whole lot different, but this is a sprint race, so we've got to get after it a whole lot quicker. We've still got to go out there and feel out the car quickly, and then if there's a car in front of you, pass him. Don't look much further than that, just one car at a time. I don't think it's an advantage. These cars are actually quite different. When I went from the Lights car to the IndyCar, I didn't notice the difference as much, but now that I've gotten back in this car, it does fee l a lot different. It feels lighter, and it feels like you c! an let i t move around a lot more than you can an IndyCar. But I also realized that you can fit two of these cars into Turn 1 a lot easier than you can fit two IndyCars into Turn 1. You'll see a lot more side-by-side racing in this race than you will in the IndyCars.” (About the significance of a Freedom 100 win): “I think it would be about the biggest race I've won. I've won a fair amount of Indy Lights races, but this is the biggest one, so it would be great. I love to do it. I would love to have come into this month not knowing if I was going to be driving and walk out of it with two wins, to be honest.” SEAN GUTHRIE (No. 4 Car Crafters Guthrie Racing): “We made a bunch of changes for that second session, and the car ran much better. We weren't really working on qualifying, just race trim. My guess is that we'll be good. With the way the Firestone tires have worked this weekend, as well as in the past, it's always the best car that wins the race. It doesn't matter where you start. Two of my teammates have improved 20 positions. I've done two races of 10, so it doesn't really matter where you start. It doesn't really matter who you are or what you race, Indy's always been special. It was special to the F1 guys, it's special to any IndyCar driver that you've ever met, so racing here is just awesome, just to be able to do it. It used to be that you could only race here if you were in the ‘500.’ Now I've got to do it three times. At the Freedom 100, this will be my third start, a nd every time it's just more and more exciting. Hopefully we'll have a good run and take home the checkered flag and bring a ring back to Albuquerque.” ROBBIE PECORARI (No. 43 SWE Racing/SWE Race Car Parts): “Well, the racetrack always stays the same. Of course, I'm with a new team this year, but it's the same engineer as last year toward the end of the season. We're just trying to figure everything out, and we’re done with qualifying now. We got through it, and we're looking on to the race. Qualifying isn't everything as long as you can get to the front. It's better than the team thought we were going to go. You can't ask more than that. I proved to myself last race, going from 23rd to second, that qualifying isn't everything as long as you have a good race.” (About racing at Indy): “As much as I see it, it's every driver's dream. It's just an awesome opportunity.” PABLO DONOSO (No. 43 SWE Racing/SWE Race Car Parts): “The car feels fine, and we should have a good car in the race. But we need more speed on the straights. This place is the best in the world, and I’m so happy to be here. I have raced Silver Crowns with A.J. Foyt before, but nothing compares to this track.” AL UNSER III (No. 21 Ethos Fuel Reformulator): “We went out there and hung around. We didn’t get too much practice time, but it’s just great to be here.” (About the chance for rain tomorrow): “Tomorrow if it’s a little bit cooler, we’ll get a little bit more downforce. Hopefully we’ll get the race on the way tomorrow.” (About racing at IMS): “It’s such a special place. The track isn’t like any other, and I’m glad that I got a chance to jump in the car again.” BOBBY WILSON (No. 17 Patriot Bank Team E): “It was all right. Hats off to our team. It was a lot better than last year. We have a new team this year, and I think we’re getting shuffled down the board. I hope we can hang around the top 10 tomorrow. We did a qualifying sim this morning, and we were faster. I couldn’t get the RPMs that I wanted during the run.” MICKY GILBERT (No. 54 Guthrie Racing): “The car’s working like we want it to, but we had a fuel problem and it was kind of unfortunate. Hopefully I’ll be able to run my times all race long. The track is great right now, and I’m looking forward to the race. There’s nothing like running laps at Indy.” ANDREW PRENDEVILLE (No. 5 Best Friends Animal Society): “I don’t think it was the best we could have done. I can’t control the weather tomorrow, and the weather in Indianapolis is going to do what it wants. It’s been fun; it’s a special experience. This will be my second time, and hopefully we’ll have a little better result than last year, but it is always good to be here.” ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc.): “I’m a little disappointed, actually. We’ve been up front all year, and I thought we had something for the front row. It’s a tough place around here. We were pretty neutral throughout the run, and there’s not much more in the car. We were flat out all the way around, and the best we can do is work on tomorrow. We were fourth this morning in traffic, so I think we have a strong car for the race. (Being in) an Indy Lights car is much less stressful than an IndyCar, that’s for sure. But two laps around here you have to be consistent, and my second lap wasn’t really consistent with the first lap because I got loose in Turn 2. It’s a good feeling to qualify here, and hopefully we’ll have a good race and be back here next year in a big car.” MARC WILLIAMS (No. 3 Royal Spa): “I gave it all I could, and I don’t know what more the car could have done. I was flat out all the way around, trying to hit my marks correctly, and we did. It’s not too bad of a performance being halfway through the field. It would have been nice to be further up, but we’ll see how it goes in the race tomorrow. My second lap I had more of a push sensation and the tires were worsening, but it was the best we could do and that’s all you could ask for.” J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 25 RLR/Andersen Racing): “We had some trouble getting out of pit lane, and the car couldn’t turn enough to get out, and the brakes weren’t pumped back. We went out and nicked the pit wall. From there, the car was pretty good, but it was slow in a straight line because the right side of the front wing was messed up. We had a fast car through the practice session, and we just have to work on the race setup and make it happen in the race.” JAKE SLOTTEN (No. 6 Michael Crawford Motorsports): “It was all right. We didn’t have quite the run we wanted to. The car felt like it was handling well, and I think we can be a little faster for the race. This is my first time ever at the track, and I’m pretty thrilled about it. It’s a dream come true, and it’s just awesome here. We just need to be patient and keep the nose clean tomorrow.”
*** FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
8 a.m. Public Gates Open 11 a.m.-noon IndyCar Series practice Noon Firestone Indy Lights pre-race 12:30 p.m. Firestone Freedom 100 (40 laps/100 miles) 1:30-3 p.m. McDonald’s Pit Stop Competition
*** The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at noon (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 23 at Indianapolis. It will be telecast at 4 p.m. (EDT) on May 23 on ESPN2.