Championship Pairing: Dixon, Franchitti first team of back-to-back series, Indy 500 champs IndyCar Weekly will air live on indycar.com Donoso signs with Brian Stewart Racing
1. Championship Pairing: Dixon, Franchitti first team of back-to-back series, Indy 500 champs: Target Chip Ganassi Racing celebrated several milestones in 2008: winning the Indianapolis 500, winning the IndyCar Series championship, and winning its 100th race as a team.
In 2009, the team will make history again when it becomes the first to pair the two most recent Indianapolis 500 and series champions. Scott Dixon, who captured both titles last year, returns to the team for his seventh season, while 2007 Indianapolis 500 and series champion Dario Franchitti joins Ganassi’s IndyCar Series operation for the first time.
Dating back to the first American Automobile Association-sanctioned Indianapolis 500 in 1911, the FIA-sanctioned Monaco Grand Prix in 1950 and the NASCAR-sanctioned Daytona 500 in 1959, no team has ever paired the previous two winners of the sport’s driver championship, and it’s respective crown jewel event, together on the same team.
“In open-wheel racing, I think what you try to achieve is winning the Indy 500 and surrounding yourself with the kinds of people it takes to continue to win,” said Mike Hull, the team’s managing director. “We’ve been very fortunate over time to have Target and all the associated support from Target and from all the vendors that supplied us the resources it takes to not only have the cars and the equipment and the kinds of things it takes to be successful, but it’s allowed us to have championship-caliber drivers drive our cars. It’s exciting to actually have two drivers with the pedigree that each of them now have competing with each other and competing with other people on the racetrack. It’s really going to be a lot of fun to experience this.”
Dixon is coming off his second championship season (2003, 2008), when he won a record-tying six races. The New Zealand native began his recent string of dominance midway through the 2007 season, winning 10 of the last 26 races.
“I think we’ve got a fantastic lineup if you just look at it as we’ve got the last two (Indianapolis) 500 champions, last two series champions,” Dixon said. “We definitely are going to have the target on our backs.”
Franchitti returns to the IndyCar Series after winning four races during his championship run in 2007 with Andretti Green.
“I think having Scott and I on the same team is good,” Franchitti said. “Scott is a great competitor, and he’s going to push me on. We’re going to push each other, for sure. That’s what it means to us and the team. We both believe we can do the job, Chip believes we can do the job, the guys on the team believe we can do the job.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to see these two guys as teammates,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “I think they’ll bring out the best in each other. They are very similar drivers in that they are both, calm, cool and patient and are equally adept on road courses as they are on ovals. I know we have had some pretty good duos in our cars over the years like (Jimmy) Vasser and (Alex) Zanardi, Vasser and (Juan Pablo) Montoya and Dixon and (Dan) Wheldon, but I think this one has the chance to be real special.”
2. IndyCar Weekly will air live on indycar.com: IndyCar Weekly, a radio show hosted by Mike King, lead announcer for the IMS Radio Network, will air live on indycar.com beginning March 30.
The show will be broadcast every Monday through mid-October from 7-8 p.m. (ET). Many weeks IndyCar Weekly will follow the Firestone Indy Lights race show and IndyCar Series race replay that will air on VERSUS from 4-7 p.m.
IndyCar Weekly, which will feature special guests, listener Q&As and timely news from the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, will be produced for IMS Radio Network affiliates’ replay during the week. It’s also available via Podcast and archived for listening on demand on indycar.com.
“It’s more interactive; that’s the best part about it,” King said. “We want to carry over that momentum from the weekend broadcast. We found last year when we opened up the lines of communication between the broadcast booth and listeners and they were able to e-mail us questions we made instant connections. Now to be able to feature Davey Hamilton in a segment that’s live and to be able to have a driver from the IndyCar Series or Firestone Indy Lights on live, it just makes it that much more interactive.”
IndyCar Weekly augments the IMS Radio Network’s coverage of IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights on indycar.com and its nationwide affiliate stations. According to independent media research firm Gfk, the IMS Radio Network broadcast of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 drew an average quarter-hour audience of more than 6.5 million.
With 95 percent of Americans listening to radio in some form on a weekly basis, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau, the medium is a familiar and relevant part of their everyday lives.
“What you begin to realize is how many people still follow the IndyCar Series through radio,” King says. “We also were amazed last year with the penetration in so many countries through indycar.com by having our audio streamed live with the video (for all practice and qualification sessions and Firestone Indy Lights races). At 11 a.m. Pacific time on a Friday practice day at Infineon, we had 250 e-mails from a half-dozen countries. You realize how vast the medium is.
“That’s why we’re happy to do this show live on indycar.com and then be able to give it to our affiliates.”
3. Donoso signs with Brian Stewart Racing: Pablo Donoso, who claimed a win in his rookie season in Firestone Indy Lights in 2008, has signed with Brian Stewart Racing for the 2009 season. Donoso, who won the second race at Infineon Raceway and earned his first pole position at Milwaukee, will drive the No. 33 car for veteran team owner Brian Stewart.
"Pablo is not afraid to step on the gas, and I think we can do a good job for him and help him fight for the championship," Stewart said. "He's got the experience of a full season in the car and is a very good driver. I got to know him last year, and I like him. I couldn't be happier to add a driver of his ability, especially at this time of year."
Donoso, who is managed by former IndyCar Series competitor Eliseo Salazar, finished seventh in points in 2008 despite competing with three teams. The 22-year-old native of Santiago, Chile competed with Stewart's team on the ovals at Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
He said he is looking forward to re-joining the team and making the most of the opportunity.
"I am very pleased to return to BSR, especially since I already know many of the guys the team," Donoso said. "Sometimes there is a big worry when you join a new team, but I'm already comfortable working with Brian and his crew, so that worry doesn't exist."
Stewart, who previously signed Russian driver Sergey Mokshantsev for his two-car effort, said the addition of Donoso gives his team one of the best driver combinations.
"The last time we had two good drivers was in 1997 with Cristiano da Matta and Airton Dare," Stewart said. "This is the first year since then that I've had two good drivers that can consistently fight for the podium. I think Pablo and Sergey will push each other to do better and make each other better this season."
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 races will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.