Firestone introduces alternate tires for road/street races Driver capsules: Al Unser Jr. weighs in on IndyCar Series drivers Gomez joins Alliance Motorsports
1. Firestone introduces alternate tires for road/street races: Firestone Racing and the IndyCar Series will introduce an alternate tire concept at all seven road/street course events in 2009, increasing the amount of strategy teams use in those races.
The alternate tires, known as “reds” due to their bright red sidewalls, are identical in body construction to the primary Firestone Firehawk racing slicks, however, the alternates feature a softer tread compound that yield faster lap times while trading off durability. Teams will have to balance speed vs. durability during the race as well as the three-stage Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying session.
"A softer tire has more grip, but they go away quicker," Andretti Green Racing veteran Tony Kanaan said. "Our races are so competitive already; this will make it even better."
Beginning April 3-5 with the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, teams will receive three sets of the alternate tires for the weekend with the requirement that one unused, “sticker,” set be used for at least two green-flag laps during the race.
Firestone racing teammates, at the time acting as Bridgestone Motorsport, pioneered the concept at the 2004 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"I think it adds a whole different level of competition to the sport, because it's so different - a lot of times the engineering is a lot different," said Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal, who rode on the reds in the 2007 Champ Car season. "For instance, in Champ Car the handling was completely different from the reds to the blacks. This is a completely different car, completely different series. It's going to be a new challenge."
Firestone, which has supplied tires to the IndyCar Series since its inception in 1996, continues to develop primary tires for all 17 circuits on the schedule.
"It's quite a task to develop, test and approve for use a second Firestone Firehawk tire compound for seven very different racetracks," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing. "But we believe, and many agree, that the alternate tires will contribute another element of excitement to IndyCar Series racing."
2. Driver capsules: Al Unser Jr. weighs in on IndyCar Series drivers: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., a consultant and driver coach for the Indy Racing League, shared his insights about IndyCar Series drivers for 2009.
“Marco is with a great team. With teammates like Danica (Patrick) and Tony Kanaan, they have the depth to bring Marco a second win. I feel like he really wants to bring another Indy 500 win to the Andretti family that has eluded them for so many years. He’s got the car, he’s got the team, and he’s got the talent. It would be a great thing to see an Andretti win the Indy 500, and Marco has the capability to get that done.”
“Team 3G is a good team. Owen Snyder is the crew chief on that car. He was my crew chief when I won my first Indy 500 and my first national championship. Stanton has a good team, and he seems to catch up on stuff on the car really quick. He comes from a stock car background, so he’s spent most of his life in NASCAR. He uses his head when he drives, he thinks about it. He’s going to run well. He’s a contender for Rookie of the Year. He’ll give Raphael Matos a run for his money.”
“Ryan is definitely one of the favorites to win Indy and the championship. He’s been with Team Penske now for several years, including his time in ALMS. Roger (Penske) brought him into the IndyCar Series for a reason. Great talent, experience, he’s proven he can win races in the IndyCar Series, so he is definitely one of the favorites to win the championship.”
“He was a rookie last year with a strong road course background. He works hard at it. He’s very passionate about it, as most Brazilians are, bringing a lot of love, hard work, dedication.”
“Ed is with a good team with Vision Racing. He’s come from the oval background. Ed’s been working real hard, trying real hard, and he’s got plenty of experience now. He’s definitely capable of winning races with a little luck coming his way. I feel that he can score a first win for Vision Racing on an oval.”
“Mike Conway is one of the rookies, so I haven’t seen enough of him. For being the first time on an oval in his life (at Homestead-Miami Speedway), he picked up on it real quick. He’s got lots of talent. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is a good, hardworking team. From what I’ve seen, the talent is there. It’s all about the learning curve. If it progresses the way it did at the spring training test at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he’s very capable of bringing the team a victory.”
“Past Indy 500 champion, two-time IndyCar Series champion. He’s definitely a favorite to win the championship. Scott has been quick since the first test of the season. The team hasn’t lost anything over the winter. If anyone is the man to beat, it’s the defending champion. He doesn’t have the No. 1 on his car, but all his competitors see him as the guy, and they’re all aiming for Scott Dixon.”
“Robert is with a great team, teammate to Graham (Rahal) in the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing stable. He’s a road racer. First time ever on an oval (at the Homestead-Miami Speedway test) and he picked up on it extremely fast. As far as the rookies, the favorites have to be Rafa (Matos) and Robert Doornbos. Those two are going to go at it neck and neck all season long. They both have great teams, and they both have great talent.”
“Milka is the most improved driver without question. She’s trying very hard, she’s very passionate, and she loves driving these cars. She’s going to do alright. Milka asks a lot of questions. From where she started to where she is today is a huge gain. It’s really a pleasure to see the gains that she has made from year to year.”
“Dario is a past Indy 500 winner and a past IndyCar Series champion. He’s with a great team and has lots of experience. He’s going to win some races and is one of the favorites to win the championship.”
“Man of steel. This guy is physically the strongest man out there, and he will drive the car as such. He tends to go places that few men dare to go. He has a great team with AGR. If there’s a number one at AGR, it’s Tony Kanaan. He’s one of the favorites to win Indianapolis and the championship. He’s really focusing on Indy. He’s won the IndyCar Series championship. The one that is eluding him right now is the Indy 500. If anyone is owed – if effort and all of that comes back, and it does in racing – TK is one of the favorites to win the Indy 500 this year. That’s the one he’s really concentrating on.”
“Rafa is a great rookie. Coming from Firestone Indy Lights, the tracks are not new to him. He’s with a good team, he’s got good equipment and a good crew. Definitely the favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors because of his experience in Firestone Indy Lights and his talent equals everything that he’s got. He may even win a race or two.”
“If anyone should win a race or should have already won a race, it’s Vitor. He’s got the talent, he’s been with the teams, but he’s not pulled it into Victory Lane yet. I think he’s going to bring a bright star to A.J. Foyt Racing. He’s definitely capable of raising the level. He’s going to be knocking on the door real hard for a win, especially on the road courses. Vitor is a good road course racer. Look for Vitor to hopefully bring A.J. Foyt a victory, especially on the road courses.”
“Mario Moraes is one of the rookies who joined the series as part of unification last year. He’s with a very good team in KV Racing Technology. They’re a team that is still learning about the IndyCar Series and so is Mario. Look for Mario to gain as the season goes on in 2009. They’re going to get better and better as the season goes on.”
“Hideki is a great driver from Japan. He’s going to be in contention for a victory. He has Tony Kanaan, Danica (Patrick) and Marco (Andretti) to pull information from, and they work very well together. He’s got the talent to do it. If the AGR cars can bring their level back to where it was a few years ago, he can do very well. He’s definitely a guy to watch.”
“The first female to win an Indy car race at this level is an achievement that will go down in history. I was very fortunate to be in Japan to watch Danica make history. She can win races again. Look for her to win, especially on the high-banked ovals where she really seems to shine. She’s won several poles at those facilities, so they kind of favor her style of driving. She’s a contender to win more races.”
“Will Power is definitely up and coming and has a great opportunity with Team Penske. Expect great things from Will in the future. He’s very talented, and now he’s got the team who sets the standard for years and years and years behind him. He had a good seat last year, but the resources with Team Penske are phenomenal.”
“Graham moved into the number one seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan. That’s a team with two number one cars. They’re both prepared very well. Everything that Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Green have, Newman/Haas/Lanigan has. Graham can do it. From what I’ve seen from Newman/Haas/Lanigan, they’ve closed the gap over the winter. As one of last year’s new teams, I feel that Newman/Haas/Lanigan has made the most improvement over the winter. Graham is in a real good spot to follow his father’s footsteps on a national championship and an Indy 500 win.”
“E.J. is one of my favorites. He was a rookie last season and was fast right away. He’s physically as strong as Tony Kanaan. He’s got the eye of the tiger. He definitely wants to win. He’s got the team to do some great things. They made some great strides last year. Expect as the season goes on, he’s going to get quicker and quicker and quicker. As the team learns more about the IndyCar Series car and so on, he’s going to be knocking on the door real hard to win a race.”
“Dan Wheldon is a proven winner. He has won Indy and the championship. He’s with a proven team. We could possibly see a repeat of the Cinderella story of Sam Hornish and ‘the team that could.’ He’s going from Target Chip Ganassi to Panther, there is a difference there especially for the last couple of seasons and the success that Ganassi Racing has had, especially with the Indy 500s and the championships that they’ve won, but Panther Racing is still very, very capable of winning, and Dan is too.”
“He’s a race winner. He won Detroit fair and square. He comes from a road course background. The more time they have with the car, the faster they’re going to get. If a guy can make up for a car that’s not quite there, it’s on the road courses and it’s Justin Wilson. He’s a brilliant road course racer.”
3. Gomez joins Alliance Motorsports: Firestone Indy Lights veteran Logan Gomez will return to the series in 2009 as driver of the No. 24 car fielded by Alliance Motorsports.
The 20-year-old native of Crown Point, Ind., has made 33 career starts in Firestone Indy Lights, recording 18 top-10 finishes, seven top-fives and a victory at Chicagoland Speedway.
“The signing of Logan instantly positions ourselves as a strong contender this year,” said team co-owner Tyce Carlson, who leads the team into its second year of competition. “Logan is a proven and talented driver, and we couldn’t be happier. We have wanted to work with Logan since the first time that we met with him early last year, and we intend to give him our very best.”
Gomez made his Firestone Indy Lights debut in the 2006 Liberty Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2007, Gomez became a full-time competitor in Firestone Indy Lights, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Last year, he piloted a car owned by Guthrie Racing and generated nine top-10 finishes on his way to finishing the season in eighth place in the championship.
“I am very excited to continue my Firestone Indy Lights career with Alliance Motorsports,” Gomez said. “There is a lot of potential with this organization, and they proved that last year with some strong finishes. The team and I have built a good relationship, and we look forward to taking to the streets of St. Petersburg next week.”
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, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 126. 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.