This is my first blog as a Firestone Indy Lights team owner on the Mazda Road to Indy for Jeffrey Mark Motorsport. In fact, this is my first blog ever.

I want to give race fans an inside perspective of the second best thing to being a race car driver.

From as far back as I can remember, and my wife will tell you that’s about two days, I wanted to be a race car driver. Unfortunately, there were two things that stood in the way of that ever happening: my mom and my mom. As a kid I was invincible. Others would call it clueless and my wife prefers the latter.

Juan Pablo Garcia

My driver this year is Juan Pablo Garcia. Juan Pablo is a very talented race car driver from Mexico City. He is as nice a person as he is a driver and has a good sense of humor. Bryan Herta Autosport, 2011 Indy 500 winner, is running my race team for 2012 and Jeffrey Mark Motorsport is being run out of their race shop in Indianapolis. This was the best option for me in my first year.

Bryan Herta and Steve Newey have been great mentors and great people to work with. Our first race is March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. We have had a couple of test days for Juan Pablo in Sebring, Fla., Putnam Park road course west of Indianapolis and Barber Motorsports Park road course leading up to that race.

I look forward to having everyone follow along as I pursue my rookie season. It will be exciting and filled with laughter, sweat, tears and many podium finishes.

How St. Petersburg got its name

Posted on: March 19, 2012 | Comments (1) | Uncategorized | By: Dave

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Walk past the large building at 215 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg for a glimpse of the city’s foundation.

According to local lore, city co-founders John Williams and Peter Demens devised a simple way of assigning names to the town and its first hotel in 1888. Demens, a Russian aristocrat, won a coin toss and christened the burg after his hometown of St. Petersburg. Williams, a railroad exec, did the same with the Detroit Hotel.

Many a celeb and politician have occupied rooms at the hotel during its heyday. Now a residential condominium, it’s on the National Register of Historic of Places.

Q&A with Shannon McIntosh

Posted on: March 16, 2012 | Comments (1) | Drivers | By: Kate

Shannon McIntosh is beginning her second season of USF2000 competition. She competed in the season opener at Sebring International Raceway on March 15 and advanced two positions to finish 15th. The 22-year-old St. Petersburg, Fla., resident is part of the Women Empowered initiative of TrueCar, and spoke about gearing up for the next chapter of her career. 

Q: Before we get talking about the season-opening races at Sebring, it’s been a busy offseason for you. Recap what you’ve been up to.

Shannon McIntosh

A:

The offseason has been a whirlwind. Once the season was over, we started reaching out to some teams as I began looking toward a fresh 2012 in USF2000. I tested with Pabst Racing at IMS in October, and being at the Brickyard was a experience in itself. After the test, I started working toward putting a program together with Pabst because I felt it was a place where I had the support I needed to excel, and a team that was behind me and my success. It was shortly after this that my management BRANDed and I were able to close a deal for the 2012 season with TRUECAR.com along with an opportunity to represent Tag Heuer in their Time for Rebels campaign alongside Actor Neil Patrick Harris. Before we knew it, the season was here.

Q:  The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda is going to look a bit different than it did when you ran last year, with a whopping 35 cars this year. How great is it to see the series grow so much over such a short period of time?

A: I think it is phenomenal; the car count that we’ve got this year. I couldn’t be more excited to be in a premier series with a stacked field because I’ve always said you gain the most from racing the toughest competition you can find. I am so proud of Andersen Promotions/USF2000 for getting this series to where it is today.

Q: How do you feel you’ve grown as a driver over the break, and what new knowledge do you take into the season opener?

A: I feel like a new person. After lots of time reflecting on what the reality of last season was, I am in a great position as I start what I have recently referred to as “year one”. Not only do I have a new sponsor and team, I have the incredible opportunity to work with driver coach Mike Zimicki, who has an extremely impressive track record and resume in working with champion drivers. The greatest knowledge that I think I have as I enter the new season, is that it is essential, to have an entire team that is behind your success, in order to be successful.

Q: Sebring is going to be bustling this week! How much fun is it to run with a big event like the 12 Hours of Sebring, and later in the season when USF2000 races with the IZOD IndyCar Series events?

A: When I jumped to the open-wheel side of the motorsports world, the beauty of the ‘Mazda Road to Indy’ was that we raced at high profile events alongside series’ like American Le Mans and the IZOD IndyCar Series. Not only is it inspirational and motivating, it gives my sponsors greater value, and I feel very fortunate to have that opportunity.

Q: Which race on the schedule are you most looking forward to?

A: I think that St. Pete is going to be the most exciting for me. Not only am I a resident of St. Pete now, it was one of my favorite courses last year. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities and racing a few blocks away from my home makes it even better.

Q: On another note, you’ve been chosen as the host of the famous Grand Prix After Party at PUSH in St. Pete, something that Dan Wheldon did for several years. Tell us a little more on how special is it to you to take over that honor.

A: As a resident of the same city that Dan Wheldon called “home” for many years, I am honored to be able to be a part of a celebration that we are having to benefit the Dan Wheldon Family Trust. It is important to me that I help carry on his legacy in even the slightest way, and I hope that the Grand Prix After Party is a success for the Dan Wheldon Family Trust for many years to come.

The new Dallara chassis features a hand clutch and two pedals – one each for the throttle and brake that are on either side of the steering column. Such a setup requires IZOD IndyCar Series drivers to left-foot brake, which many have done in junior formulas and racing in Europe.

Four-time series champion Dario Franchitti equated the move to a right-handed tennis player or golfer who’s been told they have to switch to playing left-handed. It’s “hard to unlearn” decades of muscle memory braking with his right foot, he said.

So, upon request, Dallara designed a kit – which will be produced for any driver upon order — that shifts the brake pedal to right to provide right-foot braking, and INDYCAR approved. No modifications were made to the chassis.

“It’s important to me that we got that done,” said Franchitti, who tested the pedal configuration for the first time last week during the Open Test at Sebring International Raceway. “It makes a big difference driving the car. It will help me get just that last little bit and extract the maximum out of the car.”

Other drivers, such as Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, who also haven’t left-foot braked since early in their careers, are adapting to being left-foot brakers.

“A lot of other guys have made that transition over the years, but for performance purposes I felt the way I did it suited my style and it worked well for me,” Franchitti said. “You can change it, but I felt I would have been at 95 percent. I think it would have taken a few more tests to get to where I was as a right-foot braker.

“For me and the team, it was easier to (ask for a change). It also gives us some advantages as a right-foot braker that I wasn’t ready to give up.”

Franchitti begins defense of his series championship March 25 in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – a 100-lap race on a 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit that requires a fair amount of braking that he won in 2011.

In inset, the pedal configuration that allows for right-foot braking.

Firestone Indy Lights driver Jacob Wilson talks about his experience in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Media Karting Event Feb. 28 at Andersen RacePark.

St. Petersburg, Fla. What a beautiful city. Hopping off the plane from frigid Indianapolis into the 80 degrees we had Monday was a welcoming “Hello,” but the real hospitality was still to come.

Jacob Wilson on the track.

This was my first INDYCAR media event of this kind and it was a blast. The Andersen RacePark crew had everything done up very professionally and the karts were ready for everything we gave them, which was a severe beating at times. I was there representing Firestone Indy Lights, the final step before the IZOD IndyCar Series on the Mazda Road to Indy development program, as was my friend Peter Dempsey.

Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud were reppin’ the IZOD IndyCar Series, and Shannon McIntosh, Spencer Pigot and Matthew Brabham were there for USF2000. We also had Shea Holbrook from the Acura World Challenge and former Firestone Indy Lights driver Anders Krohn there, too.

After the press conferences and interviews wound down it was nice to meet and visit with some of the other drivers. The big personalities of drivers made this event a great time for me. Having the opportunity to hang out and just kid around in a relaxed setting made the great weather that much more enjoyable.

I was given the honor of being the “pro” driver for the Bay News 9 Team. Not many teams had a member with a personality more outgoing, friendly and competitive than my correspondent, Virginia Johnson. Virginia unfortunately couldn’t participate because she is expecting her first child, so I gave her a rain check on this one (knowing that this would in turn bring more track time for me). “First or last” was our official team motto while most of us had decided that “miss the jet dryer” was more hip.

On to the action …

The Le Mans style start made for an interesting first lap. Being quick on my feet, I won my first and only race of the day, as I quickly surrendered positions to the Irish man Peter Dempsey, and the Viking Anders Krohn. I did have a nice battle with Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Spencer Pigot for a few laps, which featured numerous attempts by Marco to shut other drivers’ engines off, and ended with Simon making a new path across the track, which the track steward deemed illegal. I liked his innovation … as you’ll hear about in a minute.

As the action heated up, so did the trash talking between news crews. At one point I thought we were moments away from having an “Anchorman” throw down Ron Burgundy style. Things quickly settled once lunch was served.

For those of you who have seen Brad Keselowski’s tweets from the car, that is nothing compared to Marco’s video tweeting while kart racing.

Deep into the race, the Bay News 9 mobile had worked itself into fourth position with the final two stints remaining. Making little to no progress on Spencer Pigot’s twp-lap lead in the fifth stint, I decided to lay my cards on the table in the final run. Some on-track hand signals with Simon allowed us to get hooked up as drafting partners. Creatively, we mastered the circuit in half the time of the other drivers. Unfortunately, after the third consecutive lap of short cutting half of the track, we got busted and ultimately had to settle for fourth. Ricky Bobby would have been proud though.

Thanks to INDYCAR and Andersen RacePark for the opportunity.

It started as a fun wager, which maybe in the back of Michael Shank’s mind he didn’t think would have to be paid. But it did, courtesy of Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian’s victory Jan. 28 in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona, and the effusive team owner couldn’t be happier to settle the obligation.

Today, Shank has AJ Allmendinger’s logo – flames and all – replacing thick hair on the back of his noggin.

Michael Shank has a new look.

The impromptu wager was set in December, with Allmendinger (a co-driver with Justin Wilson, Oswaldo Negri Jr. and John Pew in the endurance race) capturing it on video. The buzz is now viral. WATCH THE REVEAL

“I still can’t believe it,” Shank said. “Before the race even finished I’ve got hundreds of texts, emails and calls. It’s overwhelming but we are all relishing this because we know how hard it is to win one of these things.  It all comes down to the people who I’m working with. They did the job this weekend and I have always felt lucky to be working with them. Hopefully this is just that start to what we hope to be a very big year for us.”

That’s both in the Grand Am Series and IZOD IndyCar Series. As noted in indycar.com’s Rolex 24 post-script, Shank also is putting the final touches on the MSR Indy team for the 2012 season. Indy car veteran Paul Tracy acknowledged on pit lane that he’ll be the driver. Allmendinger, who will begin his journey with Penske Racing’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team this month, also is a principal in MSR Indy.

“I still love open-wheel racing. That’s why I have a partnership with Mike Shank and his IndyCar team,” said Allmendinger, a former CART competitor, during a teleconference Feb. 1. “I’m going to enjoy being a part of that, and hopefully seeing it grow to where it’s a competitive race team, and we can go out there and contend for victories during the IndyCar Series. I still have a huge interest in open-wheel racing.”

Shank has penciled in Allmendinger to drive the Daytona Prototype in the inaugural Grand-Am event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August as part of the NASCAR weekend.

“For me, Indianapolis is the place,” Shank said. “It’s hallowed ground. It’s where I grew up. It’s what I always dreamed to be. So when we tested there a couple years ago with our car, I drove the car a little bit, which is frightening for everyone else to see me do that. It was a great thing. I can’t wait.”

Added Allmendinger: “It’s Indy. It’s the same thing as when you talk about Daytona. You just say the racetrack’s name, and it doesn’t matter what you’re racing there, whether it’s an Indy car, a Cup car, Grand-Am car, motorcycle, whatever, you just say the name Indy and it’s special.”

Where are the ‘Super Cars’ now?

Posted on: February 1, 2012 | Comments(11) | Indy 500 | By: Dave

They were lined up in the traditional 11 rows of three on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis last weekend for the photo op of the year (an estimated 250,000 people took in the scene), but where are the “Super Cars” now?

The program — a first for the NFL and another sport — marries the iconic Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR with Super Bowl XLVI, which will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 5.

Thirty-two cars have been vinyl wrapped by Freelance Graphics in Indianapolis to represent each NFL team (their colors, logo), with the number on the rear wing endplates signifying the year they entered the league. There also are a duplicate set of cars prepared for the AFC and NFC Championship participants and another representing Super Bowl XLVI.

All follow a design scheme that incorporates the laces of a football across the top of the air intake.

Here’s where they’re located through Feb. 5 (CLICK HERE for directions):

• Super Bowl car: Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis
• New York Giants-NFC Champions: Super Bowl Village
• New England Patriots-AFC Champions: Super Bowl Village
• Dallas: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
• New Orleans: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Administration Building
• Detroit: International Marketplace: Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community
• Kansas City: Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center
• Tennessee: Indianapolis City Market
• Atlanta: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
• Indianapolis: Chase Near-Eastside Legacy Center
• Carolina: Indianapolis Museum of Art
• N.Y. Jets: Indianapolis Art Center
• Cincinnati: Fishers Train Station
• Tampa Bay: Shops at Clay Terrace in Carmel
• Philadelphia: Fashion Mall at Keystone
• Chicago: Conner Prairie in Noblesville
• Buffalo: Hamilton Town Center Mall in Noblesville
• Minnesota: Mounds Mall in Anderson
• Oakland: Muncie Mall
• Jacksonville: Center for Performing Arts/Palladium in Carmel
• San Francisco: Indiana Design Center
• Washington: Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville
• Seattle: Ivy Tech in Lafayette
• Pittsburgh: Indianapolis International Airport baggage claim
• San Diego: Indianapolis International Airport Airport Civic Center
• Green Bay: Greenwood Park Mall
• Arizona: Fountain Square Mall in Bloomington
• Cleveland: Sandman Brothers in Shelbyville
• St. Louis: The Commons in Columbus
• Miami: Greenfield Central High School
• Denver: Firehouse BBQ and Blues in Richmond
• Baltimore: Metropolis Mall in Plainfield
• Patriots No. 2: Meridian Street and Lucas estate
• Giants No. 2: Meridian Street and Lucas estate

McGregor talks up Winterfest

Posted on: January 16, 2012 | Comments (1) | Road to Indy | By: Kate

Before he got too busy with 2012 preparations, I caught up with Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda driver Thomas McGregor for a Mazda Road to Indy Q&A. 

Hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, he signed with Andretti Autosport in late October. The 2010-2011 Skip Barber Southern Regional Series champion chatted about his love of Eminem and football, ice cream and nightmare hotel rooms.

Now that the Cooper Tires Winterfest is just around the corner, what are you most looking forward to in 2012?

Everything! 2012 is a huge stepping stone and opportunity for me in my career. I am really looking forward to racing with Andretti Autosport in the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda.

We hear your first job was working at Dairy Queen! Did you get all the ice cream you ever wanted and more?

I worked at my dad’s DQ for a little while. I must say, it was nice eating ice cream each and every day once I was done with work. I still have access to that ice cream whenever I want it, but as I’ve gotten older it is more of a treat now rather than a daily occurrence.

We hear you like to listen to Eminem before a race. Ever considered a career in rapping? C’mon, you know you’ve practiced…

No, I can honestly say that I haven’t. Racing is the one thing I have always wanted to do. Besides, I don’t think I am musically talented enough to make it a career, but it is a nice thought.

Which are your favorite NFL teams/players and why? If you had to do a touchdown dance, what would it look like?

My favorite NFL team is the New England Patriots because my favorite player, Wes Welker, plays for them. My touchdown dance would be crazy. I’m not sure how to make it crazy, but it just would be.

You’re obviously a very experienced traveler. Any nightmare hotel stories?

During one race weekend in Florida, my manager Michael Duncalfe found bed bugs in his room/bed. He was so disgusted he woke up my teammate Shelby Blackstock, who was staying in a different room at the same hotel. The two were so creeped out and knew they wouldn’t get any sleep that night so they drove to McDonald’s for food and ended up wondering the aisles of Wal-Mart for hours. I was sleeping soundly and was none the wiser in the morning. Needless to say we all changed rooms.

The USF2000 Cooper Tires Winterfest begins Feb. 6 at Sebring International Raceway.

Foyt tells his story (one of them)

Posted on: November 10, 2011 | Comments(11) | Drivers | By: Dave

A.J. Foyt will be seen around his native Houston a bit more these days. Foyt is part of an initiative at St Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston in which patients share their stories.

Foyt’s story is spreading a bit farther as he is featured in a 30-second commercial that is airing locally. He’s also featured on seven billboards in the area with the tagline: A.J. Foyt still has the heart of a champion.

Foyt’s story actually began with his wife Lucy undergoing open-heart surgery last winter (from which she has made a full recovery).  When doctors asked Foyt the last time he’d had his stents checked (installed during a procedure in 2000),  they didn’t like his answer. When they checked him, they found a blockage.

Foyt underwent a procedure to install another stent to open the blockage — complicated by the fact that the doctor had to go through an existing stent to reach it (an open-heart surgery team was standing by in case the procedure didn’t work). Fortunately, the procedure was successful.

When asked if he would share his story, Foyt didn’t hesitate to express his gratitude to the staff of the Texas Heart Institute’s cardiology team.

Yang Ou, the certain champion

Posted on: October 20, 2011 | Comments (1) | Uncategorized | By: DPhillips

Yang Ou, 22, is the champion of iRacing.com’s IZOD IndyCar Premier Series.

The spoils of Ou’s many online racing victories include a cash prize.

Ou & Doyle

Yang Ou and Tim Doyle

A native of Wu Han, China, Ou resides in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he is studying media technology.  It goes without saying that Ou is a fan of the real world IZOD IndyCar Series.  He also follows Formula One and the NFL and, when not studying or sim racing, plays a bit of football (soccer and American-style), not to mention rock/heavy metal on his electric guitar.

Ou amassed 16 wins in 25 starts (the iRacing format features multiple races at a given track each week) to beat Finland’s Aleksi Elomaa and Germany’s Andre Boettcher for the road course title and Tim Doyle (Winchester, Va.) and Elomaa for the oval crown.

Although he owns a variety of iRacing cars, the IndyCar Dallara – and the IZOD IndyCar Series – are Ou’s preferred choices.

“IndyCar is what I know best and my favorite car to race as well,” he says. “I appreciate the diversity in different type of circuits, as drivers have to master road/street courses, short ovals, 1.5-mile ovals and superspeedways. The car handling, setups and styles of racing are very different with every car configuration, which is of course also the case in the real world IndyCar Series and it is a cool challenge.”

That challenge appeared particularly daunting early in the 2011 season, as Ou suffered disappointing results in the opening races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and MIS.  On the oval side, he got into high gear in the second week of competition at Phoenix International Raceway with a pair of wins.  Similarly, he visited the winner’s circle in the second round of the road racing championship, and from then on was virtually unbeatable, scoring consecutive victories at Road Atlanta, Sebring, Road America, Mid-Ohio and in the finale at Infineon.

“It did feel like a slow start (on the ovals),” he concedes, “but it was an unfortunate incident that prevented me from leading the season from start to finish.  I got run over by the second-place car while pitting from the lead with eight laps to go, but he apologized for that later on and even with a lot of aero damage for the rest of the race I still finished third so it’s not too bad.

“On the road side I definitely got a slower start . . . I was relatively off pace from Team My3id’s Klaus Kivekäs and Aleksi at Laguna Seca. The car balance was good in qualifying and only slightly lacked downforce, but the race setup was very unstable and I had to drive conservatively. By Week 2 at Barber Motorsports Park, I already figured-out the most important setup settings. With .3 sec in reserve, I was still .25 sec faster than the second fastest qualifier, so it was a great improvement (and) I continued to learn about road course setup for the Dallara throughout the season.”

As has been well documented, iRacers are liable to find themselves competing with “real world” racers at any moment.  Yang Ou is no exception.

“I’ve raced against Will (Power), Oriol (Servia), Tscheck (Tomas Scheckter), Justin Wilson and also Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” he says.  “They drive in iRacing the same way they do in real life.  Will and Tomas were incredibly aggressive; Justin was less aggressive and made very calculated moves.

“Junior was fantastic at avoiding spinning cars as there were many ‘big ones’ during that race.  Yet, every time, when the smoke clears, he was almost the only one that made it through.  In the end, there were only a few cars left in the race and the two of us had a great battle.  Junior won, but I learned a lot and it was fun battling with him.”