Open-Wheel Stars Eager For Sports Car Chance At Brickyard
Thanks to a brief respite during the busy 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series calendar, a few past and present stars of open-wheel racing will spend Friday, July 26 turning left and right at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the Brickyard Grand Prix.
The second annual GRAND-AM Rolex Series event, held on the IMS Grand Prix road course, has become a prized stop on the calendar for sports car entrants and drivers. And with the built-in history of the Indy 500 to draw from, it’s only natural for teams to secure the services of some of the biggest names in IndyCar.
Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, a double podium finisher at the recent Honda Indy Toronto 2 In T.O. event, returns to the Brickyard Grand Prix as the defending winner.
The Frenchman, with four Champ Car titles to his credit and an extensive background in sports car racing, won the inaugural Rolex Series event at IMS in 2012 with co-driver Alex Popow while driving for the Starworks Motorsports team. But he has moved to Enzo Potolicchio’s 8Star Daytona Prototype program in 2013.
“It’s a different deal this year,” Bourdais said. “Last year, with Alex at Starworks, he’s the best amateur driver I’ve worked with. My new teammate Emilio (DiGuida) has been driving quite a bit and getting to grips with the DP. That should be pretty good for us when we get going in practice.”
With a resume that also includes time spent in Formula One and the factory Peugeot Le Mans program, Bourdais has raced a wide array of impressive machinery. Despite the cost-capped nature of the Daytona Prototypes, the 34-year-old says he’s a big fan of the category.
“I really like these cars,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about them; there’s nothing outrageous about them, but they are fun to drive. The power down is good, the downforce is good, and it’s a lot of joy to be in.”
Reigning Brickyard Grand Prix winner Bourdais will get to race with Tony Kanaan, the reigning Indy 500 winner, who scored one of the most popular victories in recent memory at the Speedway last May.
He’ll join an expanded roster from the Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates stable, partnering with former open-wheel standout and current factory BMW driver Joey Hand.
“It’s going to be my first time back at the track after winning the ‘500,’” Kanaan said. “I also have to learn the track, too, and with the Ganassi team and NTT Data behind me, I think our chances are good.”
Kanaan said Panther Racing IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe was originally tabbed to drive for the team. But after Briscoe suffered a broken wrist at Toronto, TK got the call to finally drive for Ganassi.
“(Driving for Chip Ganassi) almost happened three different times in my career, and finally this time it worked!” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I don’t want people to read too much into this; it’s too bad Ryan got hurt, and if he hadn’t, he’d be in the car.”
2004 IndyCar Series champion Kanaan also looks forward to competing against some of his friends from the IndyCar Series and, in particular, 2012 IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello, who will be making his DP debut with Doran Racing.
“It’s gonna be awesome,” Kanaan said. “We have more Brazilians in GRAND-AM now than we have in IndyCar! Christian Fittipaldi, Oswaldo Negri, Rubens, who is like my brother, and now me. Plus the IndyCar guys like Bourdais … it all speaks to the credibility of IndyCar. We keep getting invited to cool events like this, and I hope it continues to happen.”
Barrichello made eight Formula One starts at Indy, including a win at the 2002 event, and claimed 11th place and the Chase Rookie of the Year Award in his first and only run at the Indy 500 in 2012. Now, with a chance to race on the IMS road in something other than an F1 car, 19-year Grand Prix veteran Barrichello said he’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’ve been talking to (GRAND-AM’s) Gary Cummings for a long time to try and race a Daytona Prototype, and I’m so pleased I will get to drive at Indy again,” Barrichello said. “Another thing I’m excited about is this will be the first time I have ever seen a NASCAR race. I’ve never seen the cars before, so that will be a treat.”
AJ Allmendinger, who has participated in a part-time IndyCar schedule this season for Team Penske, will be reunited at Michael Shank Racing, sharing a car with recent Firestone Indy Lights graduate Gustavo Yacaman. Allmendinger and the MSR team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012.
After the Brickyard Grand Prix, Allmendinger will hand the car to Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson, who will complete the final four Rolex Series races on the calendar as a teammate and mentor to Yacaman.