IRL headlines

1.      IZOD IndyCar Series viewership, attendance see growth in 2011

2.      Californian Kelley selected as Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine winner

3.      Manufacturers get back on track in California

4.      Innovative product provides fireproof piece of mind

5.      And the winner is…

6.      Franchitti among nominees for Mario Andretti Trophy

7.      Menezes joins Team Pelfrey in 2012

8.      Juncos Racing steps up to Firestone Indy Lights

1. IZOD IndyCar Series viewership, attendance see growth in 2011: For the second consecutive year, the IZOD IndyCar Series saw an increase in television viewership and attendance.

The 2011 season averaged 402,000 viewers per race on VERSUS -- up 10 percent over the 2010 average of 365,000 viewers - while ABC saw a 28 percent increase in viewership, averaging more than 3 million viewers. Overall, the series saw a viewership gain of 28 percent, reaching more than 18.2 million homes --- an average of 1.4 million households per event.

VERSUS, which will be re-branded NBC Sports Network in January, had four of its most-watched races -- Edmonton, Baltimore, Texas and Toronto -- with the July 24 Edmonton Indy topping the list with almost 650,000 viewers.

The 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on ABC was the most-watched race of the year with 6.711 million viewers -- a 16 percent increase over the 2010 race.

Highlighted by attendance growth at the events in St. Petersburg, Toronto, Twin Ring Motegi and the new event at Baltimore, overall attendance numbers for the 17-event schedule also saw an increase of 22 percent in 2011.

"INDYCAR had one of its strongest years in growth on TV and in live audience in 15 years on the last year of our current car," said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. "We believe that the new car along with Honda, Chevy and Lotus coming into the IZOD INDYCAR Series will help the sport show positive momentum for 2012."

2. Californian Kelley selected as Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine winner: After two challenging days of business training, mock media interviews and on-track experience, Bobby Kelley of Riverside, Calif., has been selected as the winner of the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine.

The 19-year-old, representing the International Karting Federation, will have the opportunity to compete in the two Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda races at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March.

"I am at a loss for words," Kelley said. "This is an amazing program to win, and I can't wait to get on the track and show you what I can do. This is the first step to my formula car career so we will use this opportunity and try to move up the ladder. I was very surprised to win with all of the great talent here this week. I am very thankful to have won the first Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine."

On competition day, the 10 drivers participated in a five-lap qualifying simulation, where they were instructed to clock at least one fast lap. The drivers then did a 10-lap race-run simulation where they were instructed to keep their lap times consistent over the 10 laps. All activity was taken under consideration by the four-person panel of expert judges, consisting of Motorsports writer and commentator Jeremy Shaw, Director of Mazda Motorsports-Mazda North America Operations John Doonan, Firestone Indy Lights driver Anders Krohn and Director of Business Development for Firestone Indy Lights Tony George, Jr.

"Bobby stood out among the participants in the scouting combine, and he quickly demonstrated his ability to get up to speed in a short period of time," George said. "Bobby was not only consistent, but he was fast. We are excited to present him with this opportunity to compete in a USF2000 event this season. Hopefully this program will give him the experience he needs to progress his career into open-wheel racing."

An engineer and the USF2000 driver coach spent time with each driver after they got out of the car and gave them tips on how to improve for the next run. The judges noted how the drivers were applying the tips they received from the team.

Just as driving in a USF2000 was a new experience for most of the participants, so were the resources they had available to them throughout the combine.

"I have never experienced having the resource of a driver coach available, and it has been extremely helpful to me," said Florida Karting Championship Series representative Eric Filgueiras. "We went over the data, talked about the track and discussed the corners I could improve on with braking and acceleration. It all came together and added up for a successful race run."

Following on-track activity, the drivers participated in mock interviews on pit lane, testing their ability to handle media. While one group was on track, the other group received a business seminar from John Doonan, and one of the four judges in the combine.

"Motorsports has become a business, and all of the team owners and top-level management at INDYCAR and Mazda realize how important the business aspect of it is," Doonan said. "We have used this combine to also teach the drivers how important marketing, building corporate sponsorships and PR skills are and how to act in the race car and out of the car."

The intention to run a scouting combine featuring some of the most talented karters in North America was announced earlier this year. With the announcement, INDYCAR continued its mission to take an active role in the development of the next generation of IZOD IndyCar Series drivers.

The Mazda Road to Indy was designed to help drivers develop the building blocks necessary to reaching the IZOD IndyCar Series. The path consists of a three-prong system: Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and Firestone Indy Lights. The champion of each series receives a scholarship from Mazda to move up to the next series. The Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine provides a great opportunity for young drivers to begin their journey in the system.

 "I am very pleased with the outcome of the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine," George, Jr., said. "I was really impressed by the talent represented here by the various grassroots series. This was the first time for many of the participants to drive a formula car and we were pleased with the progress each driver made over the course of the two days.

"It is very important to include the grassroots series in our developmental program and it is our plan to continue to offer the up and coming drivers exposure to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system."

3. Manufacturers get back on track in California: Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe systematically ran through a list of aero objectives Nov. 29 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., as engine manufacturer testing continued in preparation for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

"It was a productive day," said Dixon, who was behind the wheel of the Honda-powered Dallara DW12. "There was a long list of things to do and that we got done. Handling is still an issue, but I think and hope we are making progress.

"Tomorrow and in the future we need to work on weight distribution. We need to somehow get more weight up front and make the car not as loose going into the corners. I think with time that will come."

Teams are scheduled to receive their first chassis next week and their testing window opens in mid-January. The season kicks off March 25 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"I have a few tests before the holiday and think that each time we go out we can make improvements before we head into the 2012 season," Dixon added. "We'll take it one day, one test and one lap at a time and get it right."

It was Briscoe's first time in the new chassis powered by the 2.2-liter, twin turbo Chevrolet V-6 engine. The afternoon session included a Firestone tire test.

"Before today I was very jealous to be on the outside looking in," said Briscoe, who was preceded in testing by Team Penske teammate Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan. "It is good to be here and working on making the new car reach its potential.

"The new car has some great technology that the drivers enjoy for sure. We tested lots of Firestone compounds. We ran plenty of laps today and had great reliability. I am happy with the car and the Chevy engine is so consistent, a beautiful engine."

4. Innovative product provides fireproof piece of mind: In May 2010, seven females were driving on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in attempts to qualify for either the Indianapolis 500 or the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It struck a chord with Jenny Stewart, who as an INDYCAR safety inspector evaluates drivers' personal equipment.

"From a safety perspective, I thought we have to address the different needs of women in the sport,'' Stewart said. "With that, I started researching what was available for fireproof underwear designed for women. There are a couple of items out there that fire retardant but aren't satisfactory for what our ladies need.

"The big issue is you had a sports bra or a normal bra that would have an underwire, and one of the biggest issues is heat transfer. It's not necessarily the flames because they already have the triple-layer firesuit and Nomex underwear. A bra with any metal will conduct heat and the retail sports bras have elastic that can melt."

Stewart broached the subject with Dr. Terry Trammell, an Indianapolis-based orthopedic surgeon who is a member of INDYCAR's Philips Emergency Care team, and "within three hours of me mentioning it, he got on it straight away."

Eventually, that led to Stand 21 - a leader in the made-to-measure equipment for race car drivers from head to toe - designing a fireproof bra that is in production and ready for retail sale.

Stewart will deliver a formal presentation about the bra to the International Council of Motorsports Sciences - doctors, nurses, safety workers, EMTs that deal with safety issues of racing - annual congress on Nov. 30 in Orlando, Fla.

It has received endorsement from FIA Women & Motor Sports Commission President Michele Mouton, a former world rally-winning driver.

Simona de Silvestro (HVM Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series) and Melanie Troxel (NHRA) wore the bra in their respective cars during events late this past season and provided feedback. Building it into the Nomex undershirts is on the horizon, as are fireproof briefs.

"It's another safety innovation coming from within INDYCAR," Stewart said. "We are not reactive but proactive and are constantly working on things as simple as a bra. Because it's our passion, we're ever-looking. It's an ongoing of exchanging ideas and information to improve things. Now that we have this product that is comfortable and totally safe, we think it will go beyond auto racing."

IZOD IndyCar Series team owner and former driver Sarah Fisher said implementation in the rulebook of all forms of motorsports would provide peace of mind.

"Girls in the sprint car, midget and formula car ranks need fire protection," she said. "What else do you do? The doctors don't want you wearing cotton, but that's only the choice you have for any support. It's great that Stand 21 has taken the initiative to meet that need."

Items such as rings and watches that conduct heat also are addressed by IZOD IndyCar Series officials at race events. Safety inspectors check a driver's helmet, HANS device and custom-made earpieces (radio communication and accelerometers that measure G forces) before they get in the race car at each venue.

"Constantly, we're visually and randomly checking drivers for what they're wearing," Stewart said. "When we see something that's not appropriate, such as a watch or rings, we address it with the driver and team. Sometimes they just need a reminder. We're hugely interested in the ladder series, the up and coming drivers, where we need to educate them to be conscience of personal safety equipment and to take responsibility. They're not always aware of what's available to them or what's required."

5. And the winner is…: James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and JR Hildebrand, the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the Year, are among the nominees for the Autosport Rookie of the Year Award that will be presented Dec. 4 in London.

Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti is a nominee in the International Racing Driver and British Competition Driver categories. He received the 1992 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, the '93 British Club Driver of the Year award (Formula Vauxhall) and the British Competition Driver of the Year award in 1998 (CART) and 2010 (IZOD IndyCar Series).

The awards have been presented since 1982.

"It's one of the grandest events of the off-season and you get such an array of motorsports talent showing up to that event," said Hinchcliffe, who recently returned to the States from a 10-day trip to England to visit family. "Autosport is one of the premier publications of racing worldwide and to be recognized by them as having had a strong season is pretty special."

Autosport Rookie of the Year voting was conducted online. Hildebrand, the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, was second in points among IZOD IndyCar Series rookies.

"I was pretty excited just to be nominated," said Hildebrand, the Indianapolis 500 runner-up who recently signed a contract extension with Panther Racing through the 2013 season. "It was a crazy year, but we had some really strong runs and I enjoyed being a part of this team. I learned a lot working with these guys and everybody here is already working hard on the 2012 season. We're looking forward to it."

6. Franchitti among nominees for Mario Andretti Trophy: Franchitti, who wrapped up his fourth IZOD IndyCar Series title in the past five years, also is among seven nominees for the sixth SPEED Performer of the YEAR award.

The winner - as voted by a panel of former racers and broadcasters/writers -- receives the Mario Andretti Trophy during a special edition of "SPEED Center."

"There were several extraordinary performances in motorsports this season," said Andretti, the only driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship. "In fact, this may be one of the most difficult seasons ever for the SPEED voting panel. As much as it rewards winning, this award is designed to honor the heart and soul of a racer and all of the nominees certainly put both on display all season long."

Other nominees are Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel (the 2010 Mario Andretti Trophy winner), NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, MotoGP champion Casey Stoner, Ryan Villopoto (Supercross/Motocross), Scott Pruett (Grand-Am) and Kyle Larson (USAC/World of Outlaws).

7. Menezes joins Team Pelfrey in 2012: Team Pelfrey has added another piece in its pursuit of top honors in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, signing returning series standout Gustavo Menezes for the upcoming 2012 season.

The Californian, who will be part of a talented multi-car effort by the Florida-based squad, joins England's Jack Hawksworth as part of the lineup for the series' reigning Team Champion.

"We are thrilled to welcome such a talented young driver to our team," commented Team Pelfrey team manager Geoff  Fickling. "Gustavo is a great kid with a ton of talent, and we're very excited to begin working with him. I couldn't be happier with how our team is shaping up heading into the new year."

The 17-year-old Menezes joins Team Pelfrey having stood on the podium once, finished in the top-five twice and earned nine top-10 finishes en route to eighth in the Star Mazda Championship title fight in his inaugural season of car competition.

"I am very happy to say that next year I will be a part of Team Pelfrey," added Menezes. "They are a great team to be a part of and are awesome to work with. This past season they did a great job, especially for a rookie team, winning the team championship and more. I think I will learn a lot with such an experienced crew and with my new great teammates. I am so stoked to work with one of the most familiar faces in my racing career, Rocky Moran. Geoff has got a solid team for next year, and I cannot wait for the first race of the season next year to see what happens.

"I had a great time with Juncos this past season and learned so much. I wish them the best of luck next year as our competitors, and I think we will have some good racing."

8. Juncos Racing steps up to Firestone Indy Lights: Juncos Racing has announced that it will join Firestone Indy Lights for the 2012 season after adopting Davey Hamilton Racing.

Team owner Ricardo Juncos, who previously operated the team out of Florida, will move his team headquarters to Brownsburg, Ind., just outside of Indianapolis. The Florida facility will be kept to promote year-round testing.

"I'm so excited and proud to announce this big news for Juncos Racing," Juncos said. "I really believe in the Mazda Road to Indy program as well the people who are running the program and making it all happen. I feel like each team involved in the ladder system is responsible for the success of this program, and the more teams that support it, the more it will continue to grow and be successful for everybody.

"Being in Indianapolis is a dream come true for me, too. Coming from Argentina, it's a really big deal for me and the crew members to move to the racing capital of the U.S. The team is going to benefit from this relocation in so many aspects, so I couldn't be happier."

Juncos Racing has been competing in the Mazda Road to Indy for three seasons, all spent in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear series. In 2009, it finished second in the driver's championship with current Firestone Indy Lights driver Peter Dempsey and third in the team championship. In 2010, it finished second in the team championship and won the driver's championship with Conor Daly.

"Making this move into the Firestone Indy Lights series is so exciting," Juncos said. "After many years of success developing drivers, we can now continue moving through the ladder system within our own teams in the Star Mazda Championship and Firestone Indy Lights Series and in the future, produce new, good drivers for the IZOD IndyCar Series. We will put all of our energy, dedication, hard work and passion into being one of the best teams in the series, just as we have always done."

Two key staff members from Davey Hamilton Racing will be continuing their involvement with Juncos Racing -- lead engineer Darrell Soppe and chief mechanic and crew chief Jimmy Pinkley. Soppe previously worked for Penske Motorsports for five years, Newman-Haas Racing and helped develop Buick's IndyCar engine program.

Davey Hamilton Racing competed in three partial seasons with driver Brandon Wagner.

"Davey Hamilton and I are very excited about Ricardo's decision to continue the success of our Firestone Indy Lights team," said Doctor Wagner, the father of Brandon. "Additionally, Davey will continue with Brandon's racing career as he pursues his quest to race next year in the IZOD IndyCar Series."

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