Firestone Indy Lights continues growth Dixon honored as New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year Wheldon welcomes son Honda Indy Toronto tickets on sale Feb. 13 Lewis, Olson honored by Indianapolis Business Journal
1. Firestone Indy Lights continues growth: After completing a competitive 2008 season that saw 10 different winners and a championship battle that came down to the final race, Firestone Indy Lights continues to see unprecedented growth as the 2009 season approaches.
Five new teams have announced intentions to compete in the IndyCar Series’ official developmental series this season alongside series mainstays such as Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Andretti Green Racing, Panther Racing and Team Moore Racing. In addition, several other teams remain in contact with series officials in hopes of joining the grid before the 16-race schedule begins on April 5 at St. Petersburg
As a result, there has been a nearly 200 percent increase in announced car-driver combinations from this time over a year ago, including returning drivers J.R. Hildebrand, Sean Guthrie and Andrew Prendeville as well as newcomers Martin Plowman (F3 EuroSeries), Gustavo Yacaman (Spanish F3) and Sebastian Saavedra (German F3).
All hope to follow the path blazed by recent Firestone Indy Lights graduates Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, A.J. Foyt IV, Hideki Mutoh and Raphael Matos into the IndyCar Series.
“Firestone Indy Lights is definitely one of the first places people look to further their racing careers,” said Roger Bailey, executive director of Firestone Indy Lights. “The balance of the schedule between seven ovals and eight road and street courses, almost $4 million in prize money, new events at Long Beach, Toronto and Edmonton and a stringent cost containment program are just some of the reasons why people say they are looking at us.”
In an effort to help the series remain one of the most cost-effective developmental series in the world, Firestone Indy Lights officials have worked to maintain the capital expenditures associated with competing in the series. That includes but is not limited to the current Firestone Indy Lights spec chassis, which will continue to be used through the end of the 2011 season.
Also adding to the growth and stability of the series is the continuing commitment of Firestone as the series' title sponsor. Firestone’s partnership enhances the overall prize fund, which sees an increase in 2009, as well as several contingency and bonus programs that are paid to teams in addition to the money that can be earned by on-track performance.
Firestone again will sponsor the "Lucky Three," which will pay bonuses to three randomly selected teams that finish outside the top-10 in each race, while at selected events it will pay a $1,000 "Image Award" to the team which best represents the Firestone brand.
“Over the past few seasons, Firestone Indy Lights has provided some of the closest, most exciting racing found in any series around the globe,” said Al Speyer, Executive Director, Firestone Racing, which will also award a bonus to the winner of the Firestone Firehawk Cup, which is given to the series champion. “Considering the fact that Firestone Indy Lights offers such a competitive and entertaining on-track product at an affordable, contained cost, it is no real surprise to see the increase in entries for 2009. The Firestone brand is proud to once again serve as the title sponsor and Official Tire of Firestone Indy Lights, and we are looking forward to another great season of racing.”
In addition, several other key series partners will sponsor contingency awards to be given at the end of the season, including Lucas Oil Products (Rookie of the Year), Ethos For Earth Fuel Reformulator (Hard Charger Award), Mesco Building Products (Top Finishing New Team) and Mo's Gold Car Polish (Chief Mechanic of the Year).
Another key change to the series for 2009 is the move of the television package to VERSUS. The 1-hour, high-definition broadcasts will be packaged with IndyCar Series re-airs on the Monday following each race weekend.
"We've taken steps to enhance the television coverage of the series." Bailey said. "In working with our new television partner VERSUS and with support from Firestone, we will see a 58 percent increase in coverage over last year, and we will be in a place where viewers can find us on a regular basis."
2. Dixon honored as New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year: Reigning IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion Scott Dixon received the Sportsman of the Year award during the annual Halberg Awards ceremony Feb. 2 in Auckland, New Zealand.
The awards, organized by the Halberg Trust, recognize outstanding achievement by New Zealand sports men, women, teams and coaches over the previous 12 months.
"I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to make it down," said Dixon, who grew up in Auckland. "To be honest, I wasn't ever sure that I would win that award. So, needless to say, I am over the moon that I did. A huge thanks to my family and the many supporters I had a long the way. Without them, none of this would have been possible. 2008 was a great year for me and my wife, and it looks like 2009 is starting off great as well."
Dixon won a series record-tying six races, including the 92nd Indianapolis 500 from the pole, in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. He set the series record for laps led in a season (899) and won a record four races from the pole. Other finalists were Olympic board sailing gold medalist Tom Ashley, individual pursuit silver medalist Hayden Roulston, U.S. Amateur Golf champion Danny Lee and 1,500-meter bronze medalist Nick Willis.
3. Wheldon welcomes son: Sebastian Daniel Wheldon, the first child of 2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon and his wife Susie, was born Feb. 1 at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., two weeks ahead of schedule.
“It was just the most unbelievable experience of my life,” said Wheldon, who has 15 victories in the IndyCar Series since his debut in 2002. “It’s one of those things that, until you experience it, you’ll never be able to put into words how great the feeling is. The first time I saw the little baby, and I’ve just met him, I was amazed by the amount of love you can feel for one human being at that moment.”
Both baby and mother are doing well, receiving assistance from Wheldon’s parents, who are visiting from England.
4. Honda Indy Toronto tickets on sale Feb. 13: Tickets for the 2009 Honda Indy Toronto will go on sale to the general public Feb. 13. Slated for July 10-12, the Honda Indy will mark the IndyCar Series first visit to Toronto.
Beginning Feb. 13, all tickets will be available with three-day prices as low as $59. Fans can also purchase paddock passes, VIP pit walk-through passes and parking passes. Tickets are available at www.hondaindytoronto.com.
“This is a very exciting time for the Honda Indy Toronto,” said Kevin Savoree, president of Andretti Green Toronto. “We’ve been working extremely hard to get to this point and are right on schedule to produce a tremendous event for everyone July 10-12. We’re already receiving renewals from past fans of the event and are hoping to see many new faces there this year, as well.”
5. Lewis, Olson honored by Indianapolis Business Journal: Indy Racing League vice president John Lewis and Firestone Indy Lights team owner Mark Olson were recognized in the Feb. 2 issue of Indianapolis Business Journal as two of the city’s top “Forty Under 40.”
A committee from the magazine selected the top 40 individuals younger than 40 from more than 240 nominees with the primary criteria being those who have made significant achievements and are likely to continue to achieve. This is the 17th year the magazine has made the selections.
Lewis, 36, has worked in racing for nearly 15 years, first for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and since 2000 for the Indy Racing League. As vice president of marketing and league development, Lewis oversees marketing, advertising and promotion, handles promoter relations and develops new business.
“I’m very lucky to do what I love doing,” Lewis said. “To be recognized alongside these talented individuals and the many who have been honored in previous years is something I appreciate very much.”
Olson, 39, formed Genoa Lights in September 2008 to compete in Firestone Indy Lights in the 2009 season. Olson made 10 starts as a driver in the series in 2008.
Originally from Port Orchard, Wash., Olson has founded and sold multiple companies and has nearly 20 years experience in the pipeline industry.
“I have been richly blessed in life with an amazing family and with unbelievable opportunities, yet it’s very humbling to consider one’s accomplishments and contributions in comparison to the vast opportunities to make a difference in our community,” Olson said. “My dad always taught me that good work is rewarded with more good work. I am just happy to be part of it all and to represent well my family, friends, teammates, co-workers, and peers.”
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.