Viso a force to be reckoned with Hinchcliffe to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports
1. Viso a force to be reckoned with: As a rookie in the IndyCar Series in 2008, E.J. Viso’s migration from the European formula ranks involved a steep learning curve, especially racing on ovals for the first time.
The challenge was daunting: new series, new country, new race car, new racetracks. But Viso’s aggressive style served him well and made others take notice. The 23-year-old Venezuelan earned a top-five finish in the season’s second race, on the streets of St. Petersburg, and also included a sixth on the road course at Infineon. He drew the most attention, though, on the ovals.
Witness the following:
· Finished eighth at Milwaukee
· Drove from 28th to 14th at Texas
· Drove from 19th to 10th at Richmond
· Improved from 21st to 13th at Kentucky
· Running in the top 10 at Chicagoland (after starting 26th) before contact ended his race
Passing that many cars didn’t always lead to friendly waves from his competitors. In fact, Viso drew criticism for some of his aggressive moves.
“A lot of people had a few comments about him,” 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan said. “I particularly had no problem with him, so I can’t say whether he’s really aggressive or not, it’s just the way he races. It was his first year, and I think he learned a lot. He’s definitely going to be around the front more often this year.”
For his part, Viso makes no apologies for his drives through the field.
“This is my job,” he said. “This is the way I’ve raced all my life. Racing is a risky sport. Everyone knows that. I didn’t mean to make anybody angry, but I don’t think you need to give anything to anybody here. You need to respect and get to that line of respect and the limit, and that’s where I like to be.
“On occasion on the ovals, I was still learning and they made some comments, but for sure I wasn’t trying to make anybody angry. I love being here, and a year under my belt has brought me a lot of knowledge, and we’re starting in a much better position.”
In 2009, Viso returns with a much higher comfort level in his second season with HVM Racing.
“The expectations for the new season are much higher than last year because we have our first season under our belts and that means a lot,” Viso said. “Last year we started the season with no knowledge at all – of anything. All the tracks were new for us, especially the ovals. It’s something that’s very different to what I used to know to do.
“This year we’re positioned much better. Our expectations for this year – a realistic position for the end of the year is going to be to finish in the top eight. That would be a good achievement for us. Obviously some podiums are possible for us.”
2. Hinchcliffe to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports: Canadian James Hinchcliffe will contest the full Firestone Indy Lights season in the coveted No. 7 machine fielded by series powerhouse Sam Schmidt Motorsports, team officials announced March 9. Hinchcliffe, 22, earned the ride after competing against a group of championship drivers in a multi-round shootout.
"I don't think the word 'excited' does justice to how I feel about joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports for 2009," Hinchcliffe said. "I really am honored to have such a successful team put their confidence in me. We have such a good group of people and I'm really looking forward to teaming up with Bia (Ana Beatriz) and Gustavo (Yacaman). I have never been looking forward to any racing season as much as I am this year."
The native of Toronto is no stranger to the formula car world having won races in the Atlantic Championship and competed for Team Canada in the A1GP Series. He's also recognized out of the cockpit having been a television personality for broadcast teams in A1GP as well as the former Champ Car World Series.
"The switch to Firestone Indy Lights for me was a no brainer," he said. "My whole career I have made my decisions to race based on where the competition is, and for 2009 there is no junior formula car series on earth that will be more competitive. Also, to support the IndyCar Series is an excellent chance to prove you can hack it in the big cars."
Though he has many years of experience in formula cars, the 2009 racing season will give Hinchcliffe his first taste of high-speed oval racing. He's received a preview of the atmosphere through limited testing he's done with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the off-season.
"Ovals are obviously a new thing for me, but I have enjoyed them more than I thought I would. It is a completely different skill set, and I know I have a ton to learn, but with the experience of guys like (team owner) Sam Schmidt, (engineer) Tim Neff, and (team manager) Chris Griffis behind me, I know that my oval education is in great hands."
Hinchcliffe also gives Sam Schmidt Motorsports another quality driver in its quest to reclaim the Firestone Firehawk Cup after finishing second and third in the 2008 championship. The team is the winningest team in Firestone Indy Lights and claimed the drivers' championship in 2004, 2006, and 2007.
"We're really looking forward to taking back the championship this year," team owner Sam Schmidt said. "We've put together a great group of drivers with James, Bia, and Gustavo, who have a lot of talent, and I think all three have the potential to win races and be champions. We've got a lot of exciting things going on this year, and I can't wait to get down to St. Pete to get started."
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 in High Definition at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. The radio broadcast also will be carried on indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The race will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.