1. Championship battle not only race to be decidedin last two races
2. Howard rejoins Rahal Letterman Lanigan for Las Vegas
3. Charity auction benefits With You Japan
4. Battistini gets opportunity with Conquest Racing
5. Andretti Autosport's Larrison injured in testing crash
6. HVM adds sponsor and other notes
1. Championship battle not only race to be decided in last two races: The IZOD IndyCar Series championship chase between front-runner Will Power and Dario Franchitti isn't the only points battle to keep an eye on in the final two races of the season.
Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, takes an 11-point advantage over Franchitti into the Oct. 2 Kentucky Indy 300 at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, where neither has won. Franchitti has one top five (advancing six positions to finish fifth last year) in six trips to the oval; Power's best finish is eighth in 2010 in three races.
JR Hildebrand's seventh-place finish in the Indy Japan on Sept. 18 -- after starting 19th in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car -- equaled his season high on a road/street course and helped increase his lead over James Hinchcliffe to 14 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year duel.
There's also close races developing between drivers seeking to finish in the top five and top 10. Oriol Servia, who drove the No. 2 Telemundo Newmna/Haas Racing car to fifth place at Twin Ring Motegi, is fourth in the standings -- 44 points ahead of Tony Kanaan.
"To finish fifth after starting 16th is a great result for the Telemundo team," said Servia, who posted his third top five in the past four races. "It was important for the point standings because everyone we are fighting to stay in the top five had a bad race. We came into Japan wanting to strengthen our championship point and we were able to do that. Now we are heading to two oval races where we have high hopes for strong races."
Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske is solidly in the top 10 (sixth with 340 points), which is 13 points more than Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport and 23 ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves are tied with 302, while Alex Tagliani is currently 11th with 296.
Danica Patrick is 12th with 294, outpacing Hildebrand (284), Takuma Sato (282), Vitor Meira (273) and Hinchcliffe (270).
2. Howard rejoins Rahal Letterman Lanigan for Las Vegas: Rahal Letterman Lanigan will field a car for Jay Howard in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motors Speedway.
It will be Howard's third event of the season with the Ohio-based team and first in the No. 15 Service Central car. The former Firestone Indy Lights champion also competed in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 and at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We were impressed again by Jay's pace and the ability that he showed in negotiating traffic at Texas, and we are anticipating a strong effort out of the Service Central car at Las Vegas," team co-owner Bobby Rahal said. "Vegas will be a free-for-all on a very fast track, but Jay has never shied away from close racing and we expect to be competitive with both RLL cars in the season finale."
Howard will join Pippa Mann, who is scheduled to drive the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan car, on the 1.5-mile oval.
"It's great to be back with Service Central and Rahal Letterman Lanigan," Howard said. "We had a strong run at Indianapolis and a bit of bad luck at Texas so we are looking to finish off the season on a high note in Vegas heading into 2012 with the new car and the expanded schedule," said Howard, 30, of England.
3. Charity auction benefits With You Japan: An online auction of race gloves autographed by IZOD IndyCar Series stars as part of the "With you Japan" auctions at http://www.charitybuzz.com/withyoujapan.
Proceeds directly benefit programs for children in Japan who continue to rebuild their lives following the devastating March earthquake and tsunami.
Each set of signed gloves were worn by a driver in an IZOD IndyCar Series event and are displayed behind glass in a wood frame. The program, featuring gloves to symbolize the hands of friendship between the United States and Japan, was launched during the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend.
The auction features gloves signed by Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, Simona de Silvestro, Charlie Kimball, Townsend Bell, Ana Beatriz, Bertrand Baguette and Roger Yasukawa.
4. Battistini gets opportunity with Conquest Racing: Former Firestone Indy Lights standout Dillon Battistini will become the latest young driver to get an Indy car chance with Conquest Racing when he takes the wheel of the team's No. 34 IZOD IndyCar Series car at a test at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 23. The test will be part of the British driver's evaluation to be eligible to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The British driver made a name for himself in North American motorsports in 2008 when he became a front runner in his rookie year in the Firestone Indy Lights, where he took four victories, including a commanding win from pole at the Freedom 100, the year's most important event.
"I'm really excited about this opportunity to run my rookie oval test with Conquest Racing, Battistini said. "I haven't been in a race car in a long time so this will be a good opportunity to ground some of the rust off and get back to speed. I've had a lot of good experiences at Kentucky, I won my fourth race there in the Firestone Indy Lights series and I also had a chance to test an IndyCar there a couple of years ago and was right on the pace. So I'm definitely looking forward to applying that knowledge which will make the learning curve a lot easier."
The 2007 Asian Formula 3 champion has never lost his focus in following the Road to Indy to the top and this Friday he will have a chance to prove to series officials that he is ready to strap into an IZOD IndyCar series car and compete against the best drivers in the world. All rookie drivers looking to compete in an oval event in the IZOD IndyCar Series are required to complete a rookie test before they are cleared to compete in an official event.
The Conquest Racing crew and engineers will be on hand to coach the 33-year-old rookie as he gets up to speed in the high downforce, high horsepower Honda/Dallara around the 1.5-mile oval which will be the host for the next IZOD IndyCar Series event. The Kentucky Indy 300 will be broadcasted LIVE on October 2 through VERSUS at 2:00 PM ET.
"We are very glad that we have the opportunity to give Dillon a test in our IndyCar," said Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart. "We have been in contact for a long time and I've always been impressed by his perseverance to make the next step in his career and race in the IZOD IndyCar series. Although he might be a rookie in this series, he has a lot of experience on ovals and has had a lot of success in these types of tracks. We look forward to getting him up to speed right away and helping him go through all the necessary steps to pass the test."
5. Andretti Autosport's Larrison injured in testing crash: Sprint car racer Mike Larrison sustained back and foot injuries in a Firestone Indy Lights testing crash earlier this month, according to INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger.
According to Dr. Oliner, Larrison, who was involved in an accident during a Firestone Indy Lights test Sept. 9 at Kentucky Speedway, sustained a L2 lumbar spine fracture that does not require surgery or a brace. He also has a fracture of the left heel that will require surgery.
Larrison, was testing with Andretti Autosport in anticipation of making his series debut later this year at Las Vegas.
6. HVM adds sponsor and other notes: Private label payroll solution, Beyond Payroll Inc., has signed on to sponsor the HVM Racing team for the remainder of this season and through 2012. ... Marco Andretti recorded his best road/street course finish of the season with a third place at Twin Ring Motegi. ... Danica Patrick, who advanced 12 positions in the race, extended her streak of running at the finish to 49. ... Sebastien Bourdais, competing in his final race of the season for Dale Coyne Racing, finished sixth -- his fifth top 10 in the past six races and matching his best finish of the season for the fourth time.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Kentucky Indy 300 on Oct. 2 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised live at 2 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Kentucky 100 on Oct. 2 at the Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised by VERSUS at Noon (ET).