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Auto Racing News

Saturday, 18 February, 2012 4:40 PM

IndyCar drivers excited to return to Detroit and Fontana, Calif.

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball stands in front of his No. 83 Honda race car in Fontana, Calif.

 

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

|

FONTANA, Calif. -- Chip Ganassi IndyCar drivers Graham Rahal, 23, and Charlie Kimball, 26, did some testing on Wednesday at the Auto Club Speedway. They managed to get in only a few laps in before it started to downpour and the weather never let up for the remainder of the day.

“So far, we’ve really haven’t run that much,“ Rahal said in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, the weather is playing a bit of a role here, unfortunately. But really, at this point with the new car and new engine and everything, it’s all about developing. It’s quite a long process anyway each and every day. But I hope we get to get out there and run a little bit. It’s a long way to come from Indianapolis out to Fontana and not to get to do any running. Hopefully, things will clear up and we’ll get a little time.“

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season kicks off March 25 on the Streets of St. Petersburg. The drivers will be headed to 16 different cities this year, down two from a year ago. In 2012, the IndyCar series will return to the Streets of Belle Isle in Detroit and the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

“I have pretty high hopes,“ the 23-year-old race car driver added. “Last year was a little rocky, but at the end of the year we were strong. I hope we can continue from where we left off. If so, I think we can have a great year. That’s what everybody anticipates and that’s what we’re all working towards. I get advice from my father [Bobby Rahal] all of the time. It’s part of the deal. Certainly, work hard and never give up and enjoy myself.“

The drivers will make their first trip to southern California with a race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. That race will be televised on NBC.

“It’s two completely different things—the oval versus the road course,“ Rahal explained. “Long Beach is a long standing tradition. It’s one of the greatest races around the world. I think we’re going to have to rebuild here in Fontana and Ontario. Well, I’ve actually never driven here. This is a completely new experience for me. I’ve never actually driven on a 2-mile oval. It’s a different deal. I hope we can get a great following and get a great crowd. We’ll put on a great show, I can promise them that. It’s going to be our season-ending race and I certainly hope we have a good turnout.“

This year IndyCar will also make its return to southeast Michigan at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 3. That race will be televised on ABC.

“We love going to Detroit,“ Rahal said. “Obviously, the auto industry worldwide, Detroit plays a huge role in that. I’m looking forward to going back there. I raced there in 2008. I’m really looking forward to going back there. It’s a great facility and I know that Roger [Penske] is putting on the whole event for us. I think it’s an important race to have. Hopefully, we can revive Belle Isle a little bit.“

It will be the first time drivers have raced in the Motor City since 2008, when Justin Wilson won the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.

“It will be good to go back to Belle Isle,“ Kimball said in an exclusive interview. “I did an event in Detroit a couple of years ago and all of the fans were saying how sad it was to not have an IndyCar race in Detroit. To be able to go back and see the engine manufacturer competition in their backyards is always going to be fun.“

Other scheduled races include the Barber Motorsports Park on April 1, the Streets of Sao Paulo on April 29, the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, the Milwaukee Mile on June 16 and the Iowa Speedway on June 23.

“I’m fortunate enough to have a great health care team,” the 26-year-old said about being a race car driver with diabetes. “A great partner in Novo Nordisk makes the FlexPen, the insulin deliver device I use to take my fast-acting insulin. Together, we’re proving that diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down. Yes, I have to slow down and think about my health a little more, but it hasn’t slowed me down at all.”

The drivers will be headed to Canada for two races. The first takes place on the Streets of Toronto on July 8 and the second on the Streets of Edmonton on July 22.

“It was good, we got a few laps in before the weather kind of knocked us off track a little bit,“ Kimball explained. “It’s nice to get a good baseline and foundation on the DW12 [chassis]. Everything is running really well. The whole Chip Ganassi racing crew has done a good job building the car. We’re not working on sort of build problems, just new car growing pains.“

Additional races on the schedule include the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 5, the Streets of Qingdao on Aug. 19, Infineon Raceway on Aug. 26 and the Streets of Baltimore on Sept. 2.

“The plan for me is to shoot and qualify inside the top 15, race inside the top 10 consistently,“ the 26-year-old added. “When you’re doing that, you can move towards the front and get some results within the top five. Hopefully, a podium here and there. The Streets of Long Beach is kind of a concrete canyon so to speak. It’s rough and it’s a real street fight. Here, a 2-mile oval, the speeds are a lot higher. You’ll see speeds of 200-, 210-mph averages. There’s a lot more room to race as far as where you put the car and the changes are a lot more subtle.“

The IZOD IndyCar series will wrap up its 2012 season with a race on Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. That race will be televised on NBC. The track that hasn’t seen open-wheel racing since the CART/Champ Car series left in 2002.

“Being from southern California and Ventura County myself, it’s always nice to race in front of the home crowd,” Kimball said. “The speed is fantastic here. Going over 200 mph, you can’t do everywhere. It’s special. The nuances and the finer points of racing on a big oval like this make it a real challenge and yet a lot of fun at the same time.”

Both drivers also discussed Danica Patrick’s move from the IndyCar open-wheel series to the NASCAR stock car series.

“I think it’s good for her to continue to pursue her career goals,” the 26-year-old explained. “I think what draws fans to IndyCar racing is not just one driver, not just one team. This year, with the new car and the new engines, us on Honda, based here in southern California, it will be a strong year no matter what. As far as the series goes, it’s getting stronger all of the time.”

Rahal added: “I think it means a lot and a lot of good to be honest. This sport was built on a foundation that didn’t include Danica Patrick. I think we’re going to move on and continue to grow successfully without her. I love Danica, my dad was the one who gave her…her start. I hope nothing but great things for her in NASCAR. I think this sport can get back to racing and enjoy ourselves. There’s a lot of personalities and a lot of good drivers in this series that needed to be recognized for a long time now and hopefully they’ll get it.”

To order tickets for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, call (888) 82-SPEED (77333) or visit www.gplb.com/ticket_prices.html.
To order tickets for the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, call (888) 464-PRIX (7749) or visit www.detroitgp.com/tickets.
To order tickets for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Auto Club Speedway, call (800) 944-RACE (7223) or visit www.autoclubspeedway.com/Tickets-Events/Event-Calendar.aspx.

Related Story: Danica Patrick discusses COPD, racing season at The Henry Ford

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The rain ended IndyCar testing early on Wednesday.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The Auto Club Speedway water tower is seen in the background.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Kimball's crew makes some finishing touches on the car.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Graham Rahal's No. 38 IndyCar

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

IndyCar's new "DW12" 2012 Dallara chassis was named in honor of Dan Wheldon.

 

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