INDYCAR News and Notes – Jan. 26, 2016

Photo Credit: Ashley McCubbin

1. Nine current Indy car drivers slated to drive in Rolex 24
2. Arizona Concours roundtable evokes drivers’ best memories
3. Cheever, Wheldon, Ganassi among Motorsports Hall inductee finalists
4. Of Note

1. Nine current Indy car drivers slated to drive in Rolex 24: For Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal, the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car race this weekend offers a stark contrast of “out with the old, in with the new.”

Dixon, the four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, and Tony Kanaan, his INDYCAR teammate with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, enter the race on Daytona International Speedway’s road course as the defending overall champions of the prestigious endurance event along with their Ganassi NASCAR brethren, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray. The talented quartet will again pilot the No. 02 Ford Ecoboost/Riley Prototype in its swansong event as the Ganassi sports car program shifts focus to the ballyhooed Ford GT.

While Dixon and Kanaan are bringing down the competition curtain with their car, Rahal will be part of the unveiling for BMW’s M6 in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans competition with the BMW Team RLL that his father co-owns.

Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal are among nine current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers scheduled to compete in the 24-hour marathon race that kicks off the North American sports car season. Others slated to drive include Mikhail Aleshin, Sebastien Bourdais, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Spencer Pigot.

In all, the Rolex 24 roster boasts 24 drivers who have competed in an Indy car event, including 11 who have won an Indy car race. The past five Rolex 24 overall winning teams have included at least one Verizon IndyCar Series regular. For an infographic highlighting INDYCAR’s strong presence at the Rolex 24, click here.

Dixon, fifth on the all-time Indy car wins list with 38, has driven Indy cars for Ganassi since 2002 and been a part of the Daytona team nearly as long.

“I think I’ve done every one of the Rolex 24-hour races since Chip started the program back in 2004,” Dixon said. “For the team, it’s become a tradition in January for us and it’s a great way to start the racing season in Daytona. I really enjoy driving the Prototype cars and the 24-hour races are something totally different from what we usually do in INDYCAR. This is the last time we’ll be running the Prototype, so we obviously want to end on a high note.”

Rahal will team with Lucas Luhr (who drove in one Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2013), John Edwards and Kuno Wittmer in the debut for the No. 100 Team RLL BMW M6. The car number is significant since BMW celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It was also 40 years ago that BMW collected its first overall Rolex 24 win.

“I am thrilled to be joining BMW for a third year in a row and now in the new M6,” Rahal said. “I think they have once again assembled a great team and, with the top-notch mechanics and team at RLL behind us, I think we should have a great shot to pick up my second Daytona 24-hour win in a BMW-powered machine.”

Practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24 will be held Jan. 28, with a final practice session the following day. The 24-hour race begins at 2:40 p.m. ET Jan. 30. The finish on Jan. 31 comes six weeks to the day before the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13.

2. Arizona Concours roundtable evokes drivers’ best memories: Ryan Hunter-Reay remembers vividly when he caught the bug to race Indy cars. The 35-year-old Andretti Autosport driver, who won the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and 2014 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, gladly recounted the story as part of a special roundtable discussion at the Arizona Concours d’Elegance in Phoenix featuring a quartet of Indy 500 winners.

The Concours ran Jan. 23-24 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and featured nearly 100 rare cars on display, including several vintage Indy cars on loan from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. Joining Hunter-Reay on the panel to discuss the upcoming 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and other racing matters were Tom Sneva (winner of the 1983 Indy 500), Arie Luyendyk (1990 and ’97) and Dario Franchitti (2007, ’10 and ’12). Lyn St. James, a seven-time Indy 500 starter and 1992 Indy 500 rookie of the year, moderated.

Hunter-Reay recalled when, as a youngster, he attended a Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) street race on the streets of Miami. That’s all it took to determine his destiny.

“I remember pressing my cheek up against a fence for the first time ever at an Indy car race in Miami and feeling one of those cars go by,” Hunter-Reay told the audience. “That’s when it hit me. That was it. I remember the chills going down my back. Being a kid, these guys were my superheroes.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Phoenix International Raceway following an 11-year absence for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 1-2. Hunter-Reay, in particular, is glad PIR is back on the schedule.

“I think it’s great for the series,” said Hunter-Reay, who has seven career wins on short ovals like the 1-mile PIR. “Short oval racing is unbelievably exciting for our cars. Having Phoenix back on the schedule is a big deal to me. With Andretti having a lot of success at Iowa and Milwaukee, I’m really psyched to see it on the schedule.”

3. Cheever, Wheldon, Ganassi among Motorsports Hall inductee finalists: A pair of Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winning drivers, a pair of Indy 500 winning owners, a pioneering designer and a respected driver and series official have been named finalists to be this year’s open-wheel inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Eddie Cheever Jr., whose Indy car career spanned 1986-2006 and including victory in the 1998 Indianapolis 500, is joined as a finalist by the late Dan Wheldon, who won at Indy in 2005 and 2011.

U.E. “Pat” Patrick, the winning “500” car owner three times, and Chip Ganassi, whose drivers have won four Indy 500s and 11 Indy car season championships in the past 20 years, are also finalists in the open-wheel category. Joining them are Wally Dallenbach Sr., who drove Indy cars for 15 years before becoming CART’s chief steward, and Ted Halibrand, who developed magnesium wheels and race cars in the 1940s and ’50s.

The open-wheel inductee, along with recipients in six other categories, will be namedJan. 30.

4. Of Note: Neil Alberico will race with Carlin in the 2016 Indy Lights Series presented by Cooper Tires. The 23 year-old American will continue his career on the Mazda Road to Indy, after finishing the 2015 season as the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires runner-up with four race wins. He joins previously announced Carlin drivers Ed Jones and Felix Serralles on the Indy Lights team. … Comerica Bank is helping the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix continue an established tradition that began in 1982 with announcement that it will return as the sponsor of “Free Prix Day” on June 3. Fans can enjoy race weekend activities free of charge that day and have courtesy access to the paddock area. The grand prix weekend June 3-5 includes the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, the only doubleheader on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. … Roger Penske, who has won more Indianapolis 500 races as a car owner (16) than anyone, was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in Las Vegas on Jan. 23. Team Penske is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.