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In eight seasons competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Ryan Briscoe has seven victories and 27 podium finishes over 102 starts.

The Aussie, who was the 2012 pole sitter, will make his 103rd start in the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 26 in the Honda-powered No. 8 NTT DATA car for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

History of car No. 8 in the Indianapolis 500:

Wins — 3 (1912 by Joe Dawson, 1936 by Louis Meyer and 1956 by Pat Flaherty).

Last win — Pat Flaherty, 1956 (started on pole).

Pole starts — 5 (1929 by Cliff Woodbury, 1932 by Lou Moore, 1956 by Pat Flaherty, 1977 by Tom Sneva and 2001 by Scott Sharp).

Last car No. 8 in starting field – Rubens Barrichello (2012).

Beatriz piling up the miles

Posted on: April 9, 2013 | Comments(11) | Uncategorized | By: Dave

Adding two IZOD IndyCar Series races to her schedule means Ana Beatriz will be spending a lot of time on airplanes.

The Dale Coyne Racing driver returned to her native Brazil following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama to attend a wedding during the off weekend and will return to the United States for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the following week.

Then it’s back to Brazil for the race in Sao Paulo on May 5 before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Opening day of practice May 11 for the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

“It’s a lot of travel, but at least I’ll get some (frequent flier) miles,” Beatriz said.

Does it look like Helio?

Posted on: April 4, 2013 | Comments(38) | Uncategorized | By: Dave

Helio Castroneves said he’ll call it “mini me.”

AAA Alabama produced bobble-head dolls of Castroneves, who will drive the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car this weekend in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Castroneves visited AAA Alabama headquarters in Birmingham on April 4 to greet AAA members and fans.

“This is great,” he said. “I have to take a picture of this and send it to (teammate) Will (Power).”

Castroneves also has teamed up with DreamWorks Animation’s “Turbo” for a safe driving public service announcement. The feature film is scheduled to be released July 17. A promotion for the animated film is on the rear wing of Castroneves’ car this weekend.

Andy Murray wins the Sony Tennis Open.

Miami resident Tony Kanaan accompanied Dario Franchitti to the Sony Tennis Open to watch Andy Murray compete in an early-round match. Franchitti and  Murray — both from Scotland — go way back, but Franchitti had never attended a professional tennis match.

“At the end of the match we went to talk to Murray,” Kanaan recounts.  “It was funny to see Dario learning about tennis.  Had no clue what was going on.  I had to bring him sunscreen and all the stuff that he wasn’t ready for.  He was all sunburned in the end.

“Andy is a great guy.  Had a great game.  It was fun to do something else outside of racing.  It was really nice to see how fast those guys go.  We think we go fast on the racetrack, but when Andy can serve a ball 133 miles an hour, I was pretty impressed.”

Murray went on to win the tournament March 31, defeating David Ferrer in three sets.

Takuma Sato spent a few days with A.J. Foyt at a convention in Vegas last month — a sort of “get to know you” period for the recently-hired driver and the Indy car racing icon.

Sato’s initial observation of the IZOD IndyCar Series team owner? “The more I get to know him the more impressive he is. His record is impressive and knowing him he’s quite funny. He can’t stop talking and joking.”

It is an unlikely pairing this hulking Texan and diminutive native of Tokyo, a cross-cultural blend of steak and sushi, Kit Kats and kabuki. Early on, though, Sato doesn’t see a communication gap.

“I don’t think we have a problem of ‘Lost in Translation.’ Yes, the team is based in Houston, Texas, and I come from Japan but we all communicate very well,” Sato said.

In fact, early March 23 in the team transporter, Foyt took up Sato on his offer of the services of Dr. Take Komatsu, who practices acupuncture, to potentially relieve the pain of sciatica that caused Foyt to miss last week’s Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park.

Foyt said he felt better after the treatment, and his mood brightened considerably later in the day when Sato qualified second in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“We tested with Takuma, we know he’s fast, he’s been fast with other people so we just want to give him the best car we can,” Foyt said. “We’re proud of what he did today. It was pretty good.”

Added Sato: “I think I made him smile today and I hope he continues to smile (during and after the race).”

At one time, the Ybor City section of Tampa out-produced Havana as the cigar-rolling capital. Tampa Bay, which includes St. Petersburg, remains famous for two other Cuban staples: Strong coffee and satisfying sandwiches of ham, pork and Swiss cheese.

The Cuban (or cubano) is the official sandwich of Tampa, and Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg president and general manager Tim Ramsberger (a lifelong St. Pete resident) weighs in on restaurants where spectators for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend can find the best:

Floridian – Treasure Island
Colombia – Tampa/St. Pete Pier
Habana Café – Gulfport
Pipos – St. Pete
Bodega – St. Pete
La Teresita – Tampa

“To me, the sandwich must be evenly stacked and I like mine pressed,” he said.

Another history tidbit: 2013 is the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida during his expedition to discover the mythical fountain of youth. Born in 1460, he was a member of Christopher Columbus’ second expedition to the New World in 1493. He led his own expeditions afterward, and the Spanish crown encouraged him search out new lands in hopes of finding gold and expanding the empire.

Leading a private expedition from Puerto Rico to the Caribbean island of Bimini, where he heard there were miraculous waters that rejuvenated those who drank from them, the party instead landed on the southeast coast of what would be the United States.

He named the region Florida because he discovered it at Easter time (Pascua Florida) and because its vegetation was lush and floral.

So a wrong turn was made right. He went on to become the first governor of Puerto Rico.

It’s understandable, but not orchestrated, that Page Mader and Al Speyer would retire in the same season of year. They’ve been synonymous with Firestone Racing and, in a sense, with each other for nearly four decades.

In fact, Speyer’s wife, Jane, introduced Mader to his wife, Jean. They’ve been married for 26-plus years.

Page Mader

“I’ve known Page both professionally and personally since the days when we started at Firestone in the early ‘70s,” said Speyer, Firestone Racing’s executive director. “We were both in the tire development department at the time. He actually started out writing specifications for everything and has worked his way up through all the engineering ranks now to be doing some very sophisticated race tires.

“We’ve worked on all sorts of different projects together – drag tires, sprint car tires, sports car tires and now to be doing IndyCar tires. The critical part is that Page has been part of it all the way. I don’t know where we’d be without him. His contributions go beyond the tires. The relationships he’s built with the teams and the people he’s mentored along the way are true traits of his, and he never holds back on letting you know how he feels.”

Mader, general manager of race tire development, transitioned to racing in 1979. He’s been involved in developing a range of Firestone tires for drag racing, sprint cars, modifieds, sports cars and Indy cars.

“The first test I met Joe Ruttman at Bakersfield and I thought, ‘How cool is this?’ ’’ Mader said. “We were doing late model sportsman and modified and also doing World of Outlaws with Steve Kinser. In ’90 we started the Indy Lights program and the first test was with Paul Tracy because he was getting ready to go to Indy car. Indy Lights now is a bulletproof program and along the way we’ve helped a lot of drivers.”

IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights competitors continually praise the Firestone Firehawks for being bulletproof.

The brand’s current Indy car era began in 1991 with title sponsorship of the Indy Lights series. Firestone Racing made its return to the Indianapolis 500 in 1995, and Firestone tires were on the winning car of the first INDYCAR-sanctioned race in 1996 – and every race since. In December 2012, it extended its contract to be the exclusive tire supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series through 2018.

Mader has been intricately involved in all the programs.

“I never thought I’d get to do all that I do and meet the wonderful drivers, owners and just friends,” he said. “I have loved every minute working in race tire development. Most people go to work and my work is a pleasure for me, and it’s a wonderful thing that the company has continued (in IndyCar racing) and I got to be a part of it.”

How’s this for a calling card?

“Harvey Firestone Jr., the oldest son of the founder, asked me if I wanted a summer job and I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ That was between my junior and senior years of high school. I was 17. It was doing yard work and I wanted to save up for a car to drive to school.”

Firestone Racing motorsports manager Joe Barbieri.

Joe Barbieri pauses as memories wash over his mind. The Firestone Racing motorsports manager will be retiring soon – at least from his four-decade association with Firestone and parent Bridgestone Americas. The company and silver-haired gentleman with a quick smile have mutually benefitted, and Indy car racing is the better for it.

“Being from Akron, the rubber capital of the world, everyone was involved with some rubber company,” he says. “I had sisters that worked at Goodrich, an uncle at Goodyear, a brother-in-law at General and a brother-in-law at Firestone. It’s one of those deals where you got hooked with a rubber company and that’s where you stayed. It grew from there.

“I got in with the company and I remember talking with the HR people and they contacted Harvey and made sure if it was OK to hire me, and he said fine, just make sure it was on a back shift. I worked for him from 8-2 and worked in the plant sweeping floors from 4 to midnight. That was a union job back then and it lasted a month and I got laid off. I got called back and worked two months and got laid off.

“All the time I kept the job with Harvey out at his estate. It was quite an experience. Obviously, I’ve come a long way since then. Those roots go very deep with Firestone and I love the company very much.”

Barbieri envisioned working with his hands – maybe even building a desk instead of sitting behind one –as a living. He attended Akron University but didn’t complete coursework for a bachelor’s degree.

“Management was never a dream of mine until I found out how hard work (with one’s hands) that was,” he says. “So I started working in a test laboratory at Firestone, and I did well enough to move up to the engineering department as a technician. I got a lot of experience on how tires are made, what goes into it and did light truck engineering.”

He accepted a position with Firestone Racing in 1987 – initially working in sales and marketing in Akron and then as a project supervisor in the motorsports department. He was promoted to motorsports manager in 1994.

“It’s been a great ride; I’ve really enjoyed it,” Barbieri says. “To watch it grow and change, and to be working with the engineers, has been special. It’s afforded me to go all over the world. It will be quite a change.

“I see golf in my future and I’m an Elk member and do volunteer work. I also love to fish. I’ll have to dust off the poles for the grandchildren.”

Sounds like a great way to create more memories.

Karting and Giving Back

Posted on: March 5, 2013 | Comments (0) | Uncategorized | By: Kate

What happens when you put eight professional race car drivers and a bunch of competitive media members on one karting track? Apparently a lot of trash talking and a few racing moves that wouldn’t necessarily be considered ‘legal’ at the race that the gathering was celebrating, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Justin Wilson (far left) joins Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg vice president Tim Ramsberger and Alex Tagliani.

On Feb. 27, James Jakes, Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Jack Hawksworth joined drivers from USF2000 and Pirelli World Challenge for a media karting event at Andersen RacePark in Bradenton, Fla. The annual event heralded the season-opening race just up the highway in St. Petersburg by gathering media attending the race with some of its stars, but the similarities stopped there. After several protests and unplanned pit stops, Belardi Auto Racing’s Danilo Estrela led his team to the victory, with Hawksworth’s team finishing second and Tagliani’s in third.

To begin the event, representatives from the Grand Prix welcomed Charlie Lemon, a young war hero from Afghanistan that lost both of his legs during his tour. Lemon, an INDYCAR fan who has attended a race in Sonoma previously, was given the first two tickets to the event through a new program established by Wish For Our Heroes (W4OH) and the Honda Grand Prix that will send thousands of troops to the race.

As Tagliani listened to Lemon relaying his story to the crowd, he asked to say a few words on behalf of the IZOD IndyCar Series. What no one expected was that he wanted to make an on-the-spot offer to Lemon and W4OH – provide him with the foundation’s sticker to place on his helmet, and following the race he will auction it off with all proceeds going to W4OH. The gracious solider accepted the offer, setting a great tone to the start of the media event before anyone stepped in a kart.

Riding in his pink Cadillac

Posted on: March 1, 2013 | Comments (1) | Uncategorized | By: Dave

JR Hildebrand's classic ride.

JR Hildebrand turned heads at Sonoma Raceway even before he guided the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car onto the 3.84-mile, 12-turn road course during a Chevrolet manufacturer test Feb. 27.

Hildebrand, a native of nearby Sausalito, Calif., drove into the facility in a pink 1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The recent purchase complements the 1966 Chevelle SS given to him by Panther Racing team owner John Barnes after Hildebrand was named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2011 and a TramsAm he’s restoring.

“I’ve always had a thing for early model year Cadillacs, but the 1962 Coupe DeVille has always been the one for me,” Hildebrand said. “It’s 50-plus years old and it’s hard to find one that’s not either a piece of (junk) or completely restored. The guy I bought it from sent me a bunch of pictures and I almost made an offer without seeing it in person.

“It was everything I thought it was, and I decided to pull the trigger and add it to the stable. It’s a little bit of a project, but it’s such a unique car and a lot of fun.”