Head Count

Posted by Iannucci | 3/31/2009 | 14 comments »
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Here's your entry list for the season opener at St Pete. Let's play "21".

2 Raphael Matos (R), Luczo Dragon Racing
3 Will Power, Team Penske
4 Dan Wheldon, Panther Racing
5 Mario Moraes, KV Racing Technology
6 Ryan Briscoe, Team Penske
7 Danica Patrick, Andretti Green Racing
9 Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
10 Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
11 Tony Kanaan, Andretti Green Racing
13 E.J. Viso, HVM Racing
14 Vitor Meira, AJ Foyt Racing
19 Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
20 Ed Carpenter, Vision Racing
21 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Vision Racing
24 Mike Conway (R), Dreyer & Reinbold
26 Marco Andretti, Andretti Green Racing
27 Hideki Mutoh, Andretti Green Racing
34 TBA TBA, Conquest Racing (Tagliani? Camara? Scheckter? Michael Schumacher?)
98 Stanton Barrett (R), Team 3G
02 Graham Rahal, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
06 Robert Doornbos (R), Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing

And in case you were wondering about Milka Duno, the St Petersburg Times has the awful truth.

Milka Duno, the charismatic former sports car racer who undertook partial schedules the past two seasons, tested with Newman/Haas/Lanigan but needs funding after losing longtime backer Citgo.
Jack Arute will be crushed.

UPDATE: Conquest Racing says "We can now confirm that Alex Tagliani will be aboard the 34 car this weekend with sponsorship from Northlands and Rexall Edmonton Indy." Roy Hobbson of Silent Pagoda is greatly anticipating massive VERSUS coverage of Alex's lovely wife.

"I Am Mindy Show" podcast resurrection

Posted by Iannucci | 3/31/2009 | 3 comments »
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Alright, here's the deal - after the last podcast with Meesh back in January your humble host lined up Chris Estrada of Indy Racing Revolution for the fourth episode, resulting in a brilliant discussion of...well, it doesn't matter because the freaking audio recorder I used only recorded me and not Chris. If you ever want to hear me asking questions that don't get answered, I'm sure I can find the master recording for you.

Needless to say, the last few weeks have been spent at least in part researching how to ensure that never happens again.

At any rate, Chris will soon return (if he so desires) but to kick off the season we had to go back to give the honors to our good buddy Bill Zahren for some colorful insight on the off-season personnel changes, some discussion of the RHR deal that magically appeared, as well as lame-ass predictions that word butchers are practically required to make.

Enjoy the "I Am Mindy Show" podcast #4.

If a picture says a thousand words

Posted by Iannucci | 3/31/2009 | 5 comments »
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What does this one say?



Photo: Vision Racing, brought to our attention by James of 16th and Georgetown

Good news only weakens me

Posted by Iannucci | 3/30/2009 | 13 comments »
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Has anyone else seen this report posted today at Sports Business Journal? I have never - and I mean NEVER - seen a story filled with so much sunshine and roses as this report. And I don't mean the kind of sunshine that gets blown up your backside; I'm talking the real, so-bright-it-burns-your-face kind.

Ad sales encouraging as IRL launches season

The Indy Racing League opens its season Sunday with some new sponsors, a new TV deal with Versus and a hybrid licensing/sponsorship pact with Mattel that will it give some badly needed retail exposure in the form of IRL-branded Hot Wheels sets.

The IRL added Versus as a television partner last August, with a 10-year, $67 million deal, under which the cable network is committed to carrying 130 hours of IRL programming this year. ESPN/ABC still holds the rights to five IRL races, including the Indianapolis 500. With the new arrangement, ad sales are pacing ahead of expectations.

“We will end up above budget with our Versus commitment,” said Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL’s commercial division. The Indy 500 broadcast on ABC is also selling very well, he said. Large ad buyers include endemics Honda, Firestone and Peak car products.
But wait, there's more.

Mattel wants to integrate their Hot Wheels brand more at races, including a Hot Wheels branded pace car. This could be the biggest toy involvement in IndyCars since Al Unser's Johnny Lightening.

The subscription-based Race Control will return but this time it will be a service of and will feature advertising by iRacing.com. This is the service that let's you listen to drivers shout unintelligibly while their spotters and crew chiefs speak in calm reassuring tones. You might even catch a hand puppet show now and then.

Hot Wheels versions of IndyCars will be available at Wal-mart, Target and Toys 'R Us in May. The offerings include 1:24 and 1:64 models as well as "a slot car track set, cars with sound chips, remote-control cars and play sets." Holy Christmas List!

IZOD will begin selling their Indy apparel line in April, featuring ad buys during IRL programming and in movie theaters. Ryan Hunter-Reay, on the big screen.

Oh, the IRL also inked new sponsorship deals with names like Orbitz, XM Stallite Radio, Featherlite and Bosch. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for a little Snoopy Dance.

UPDATE: 16th and Georgetown has found the IZOD commercial.

See and hear Mike King tonight

Posted by Iannucci | 3/30/2009 | 0 comments »
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It's been a long winter of out discontent, but it's just a few more days before actual IndyCar racing resumes, which means Mike King will fire up his regular IndyCar Weekly radio show.

One catch: this year, the show is televised LIVE at IndyCar.com.

Festivities kick off tonight at 7pm ET, with this week's guests being IRL Technical Director Kevin "Rocket" Blanch, as well as TCGR bigwig (really, that SHOULD be his title) Mike Hull and TCGR perennial prospect driver Alex Lloyd.

Tune in to see if an Mr King gets excited enough to start speaking in his trademark ALL CAPS VOICE.

The prosecution rests

Posted by Iannucci | 3/29/2009 | 15 comments »
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On Friday the prosecution concluded their case against Helio Castroneves, and after featuring witnesses who's testimony rendered certain members of the jury panel unconscious, they brought out the big gun: an I.R.S agent. Seriously, would you rather have an agent of the F.B.I. or the I.R.S. knocking on your door? Either way you're peeing your pants, right?

At any rate, the agent, Joann Levitt, said that Helio not only owes $2.3M in taxes, but that he had thousands of dollars in improperly claimed deductions as well as numerous sources of income that he failed to declare, like free clothes and airline tickets.

Which means if you won a hat or shirt in a recent VERSUS-related promotion at some other IndyCar blog, you had better declare that income, buddy.

This week the defense will begin their, uh, defense, which may involve a disproportionate number of character witnesses. As prep, take a moment to read Ryan McGee's outline of the defense's arguments (although I suspect most of you well-read folks already have seen the article). It presents an interesting timeline of events that occurred largely around the death of former CART standout Greg Moore, as well as explains with clarity how we got a Panamanian company and a Dutch company controlling funds for a Brazilian living in the USA.

Here's McGee discussing not just the case, but the possible impact on Team Penske.

Little lords of the pinewood

Posted by Iannucci | 3/29/2009 | 8 comments »
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This has very little to do with IndyCars, so most of you can skip this post. It's just a little show of congratulations to my two oldest kids, each of whom emerged victorious in the two classes of the Pinewood Derby at Pack 282 here in Arizona.

That's right - two classes, each won by an Iannucci. Feel the pride.

Here's the deal: last year in his first year of Cub Scouts, P2 built a little school bus that finished first in his den and sixth overall for the entire pack. Encouraged but motivated, he and I set forth toward researching what it would take to bring home the checkers in 2009. (Hints: reduce friction, move the weight to the back, use good wheels, and make the car durable since these little racers slam into a foam barrier at the end of each race and often flip onto the floor.)

So my little man built a low-profile stock car model, added some well-placed weights, and used some Jimmie Johnson stickers from a Lowe's Kids Workshop to complete the model. (I know, it's not an IndyCar, but if your 7-year-old can turn a block of pine into a Dallara then more power to ya.)

Older sister P1 was a bit miffed that Girl Scouts have no similar program, since she's afflicted with a massive case of "anything you can do I can do better" disease. Lucky for her they have an "Outlaw" division for relatives where there are no rules, so we found a kit that I helped assemble (meaning put together) and we added weight wherever we could. Hey, the boy put his car together by himself (sans a little drill work), but I fully admit doing a lot of the work on the Outlaw Danicar.

Especially the part about crafting the striking driver representation involving a doll from a Happy Meal, a Sharpie, and a 3-inch nail.



While waiting in line to register two moms in front of us were discussing my daughter, seeing she made a car, and one of them remembered there's a female driver named "Danica", and they both start trying to figure out what kind of car that Danica girl drives - never realizing that P1 is standing there with a DANICA PATRICK SHIRT AND CAR! Friends, our work isn't even close to being done.

Anyhow, the Outlaw division finished first, and despite having a wheel fall off at the conclusion of each race, the Danicar - which irony of ironies weighed well over twice the amount of her brother's five-ounce Jimmie Johnson stock car model - handily won every race in the Outlaw division. BY A LOT. The Outlaw division is mostly dads, so my daughter was getting some strange looks when she went to receive her congratulations.

Meanwhile, despite struggling in some of the preliminary rounds, the Jimmie Johnson car advanced to the final round of eight, where it went undefeated in the double elimination finals. My son was so excited he - honest to God - wanted to run out and by some milk. I gently informed him that's for winning the Indy 500, but offered to douse him in Gatorade. After discussion we all settled on a bottle of Sparkling Cider instead.

So congrats to my mini-mes. I posted the pic so they can show their friends and if Penske, Ganassi, Andretti-Green et al, are recruiting for any kind of junior engineering candidates, I'll be sure to forward their names to them.

Cavin tweets on Tomas Scheckter

Posted by Iannucci | 3/29/2009 | 3 comments »
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Curt Cavin has a Twitter account and he's not afraid to use it. Why just today he "tweeted":

Dreyer & Reinbold still planning to be a two-car team at St. Pete. Second driver TBA; I suspect Scheckter or Duno.

Perhaps related, he also dished:

Tomas Scheckter says he's close to a deal. Could know as early as Monday afternoon. Expect him in St. Pete.

Should we put two and two together, or...should we just, as Will at is it May yet? suggests, enjoy the immortal Tomas vs White Castle video for the umteenth time?

Little Al weighs in on '09 drivers

Posted by Iannucci | 3/28/2009 | 7 comments »
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Al Unser Jr has opinions on every single one of the current IndyCar series roster over at IndyTrackside (no relation to TrackSide Online or TrackSide with Cavin and Lee).

For example, EJ Viso:

"E.J. is one of my favorites. He was a rookie last season and was fast right away. He's physically as strong as Tony Kanaan. He's got the eye of the tiger. He definitely wants to win. He's got the team to do some great things. They made some great strides last year. Expect as the season goes on, he's going to get quicker and quicker and quicker. As the team learns more about the IndyCar Series car and so on, he's going to be knocking on the door real hard to win a race."
You may think I'm using EJ as an example just to meet the Viso quotient required of all IndyCar sites. Perhaps, but it also gives me a reason me to post this example of marketing genius.

Barber responds to my Google adventure

Posted by Iannucci | 3/27/2009 | 17 comments »
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The following comments were published over at pressdog.com by a confirmed representative of Barber Companies, providing further clarification on the information used in my previous post about the history of Barber Motorsports Park.


Iannucci,

Most of your comments are wrong. I know, because I was there.

You are totally wrong in saying that “the city front[ed] the $55 million to build the track.” George Barber financed the $50+ million construction of the Barber Museum and Barber Park by himself. The State of Alabama built a road to the site and Jefferson County helped finance a lake needed for stormwater control. The public incentives for this 501(c)3 non-profit foundation were only a few percent of Mr. Barber’s investment. This is in an era when for-profit companies typically receive major incentives for projects.

The City of Birmingham leased the land to the Barber Museum Foundation in 2000 for $1/year, with an option to buy it. This land was valued at $1 million in 1999. In 2007, Barber purchased this land from the City of Birmingham for $4.3 million – a 430% profit for the City in eight years. Not a bad deal for the City.

Regarding the Sears building, Mr. Barber bought this building after it had sat empty for five years. It was in a very difficult area of downtown. The Mayor wanted something done with it. We worked very hard to lease it, but in the non-government world, one can’t compel businesses to locate in places they do not want to locate. When the MotoGP opportunity came along, it was not possible to do the deal without public help. The State of Alabama and other public entities were supportive, but the Mayor of Birmingham wanted us to give him the Sears building, in return for his support. We declined. We kept working on the deal we had been working on for 18 months at that time, which resulted in the renovation of the building into the beautiful Innovation Depot. See http://www.innovationdepot.net

Regarding our not doing the MotoGP and World Superbike deals: Racing history is full of race series and venues that have collapsed because they lost control of costs and did bad deals. We’re not going to do that. We will do deals for races and motorsports events when it is good for the sport, good for the series and good for the Barber Motorsports Park.

Regarding our keeping contractual promises, Mr. Barber’s core business, the business that has allowed him to contribute tens of millions to the Barber Museum Foundation, is commercial real estate, which is based on leases and contracts.

Regarding our conflicts with the Mayor of Birmingham, the citizens of Birmingham made an evaluation of this mayor’s performance when he ran for re-election in 2007 and received only 8% of the vote.

The non-profit Barber Museum and Barber Park is the largest philanthropic undertaking by an individual in the history of the State of Alabama. It cost government almost nothing, yet it annually generates many millions in tax revenue for the betterment of Birmingham and Alabama.

I won’t question your motives for what you wrote. I will simply say that your research was poor.

Don Erwin
Vice President, Corporate Development
The Barber Companies

Hunter-Reay has a "done deal"

Posted by Iannucci | 3/27/2009 | 3 comments »
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This just in from the braintrust at TrackSide Online.

According to reliable sources, TSO has confirmed that Ryan Hunter-Reay will be racing at St. Pete. That has been called a "done deal". What we haven't confirmed is who he will be driving for, and so far no one wants to tell. We will just have to wait a bit on that.

Rumor mill says HVM or Vision - but we haven't independently confirmed either, just that he will be racing!
This news is further supported by the words of IRL commercial division president Terry Angstadt on the "Trackside" (unrelated) radio show last night as reported by 16th and Georgetown and Indy Racing Revolution.

"You could have been in my office the first four hours of [Thursday] morning and you would see a little pressure on that project," he said on the matter. "Inclusive of a very positive conference call with IZOD-PVH yesterday. So absolutely, we've got a lot of people pulling in the same direction."

"It's not there yet, but I hope even by the end of tomorrow, we may very well have Ryan firmed up in a car."


As they say, "Developing..."

UPDATE: Robin says it's Vision Racing.

I've got a Google and I'm not afraid to use it

Posted by Iannucci | 3/26/2009 | 38 comments »
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"We cannot make good news out of bad practice." - Edward R Murrow

All this week it seems we've read nothing but glowing reports about Barber Motorsports Park (BMP), with ESPN.com's John Oreovicz, among others, suggesting this is just a few fixes from being added to the IndyCar docket.

As is stands, Barber is an outstanding venue for motorcycle racing, but it does not feature the combination of a long straight followed by a tight turn necessary to create passing in an Indy car road race.

The good news in that regard is that George Barber has a "whatever it takes" attitude and says he is ready to write a check to make whatever changes are necessary to bring the track up to a raceable standard for IndyCars.

Based on everything the man has done to date, we have no reason to doubt him.
Well, it turns out there should be considerable reason to doubt Mr Barber, because "everything the man has done to date" includes a very astonishing series of actions that includes the loss of an almost certain MotoGP event a few years ago. As you'll see, Barber's "whatever it takes" isn't as all-inclusive as it sounds.

Set the WABAC machine to 2000, where George Barber engaged in a deal with the City of Birmingham. Reports are fuzzy on the details, but it appears Barber received what is commonly referred to as a "sweetheart deal" from the city of Birmingham. Not only did the city front the $55 million to build the track, but they also leased the land for his park and museum for the grand sum of $1 per year.

There were, of course, requirements on Barber as compensation for this deal, one of which allegedly included the renovation of the dilapidated Sears Building in downtown Birmingham which one of Barber's companies owned. This is important as we fast forward to 2004.

That year BMP was on the verge of securing it's first major event, a MotoGP race. To accommodate the possible race, Barber went back to the city to request a $250,000 per year over three years, as well as $80,000 worth of law enforcement for the event. The Birmingham Mayor at the time, Bernard Kinkaid, said the city wasn't going to give a dime until Barber did something with the Sears Building, which had gone untouched for the four years.

Long story short, Barber offered to tear it down and build a park, but city officials said that wasn't what they had in mind. This showdown over the downtown structure resulted in a stalemate that effectively killed any chances of the MotoGP event (which went to Laguna Seca). In 2005 the city ended up buying the building from Barber for $3M and renovating it themselves for use by the University of Alabama - Birmingham.

As several of the above articles state, BMP contended that fixing the Sears Building wasn't part of the original deal. Without access to the original contract we'll never know, but the bottom line on this affair is that despite touting it as an opportunity to raise international exposure of Birmingham and bring the city over $200 million in additional revenue, Barber chose to hit up the city for around a million bucks, and when rebuffed didn't see enough value to open his own wallet to pay for it. Remember, this is the "Whatever it takes" attitude.

Also disconcerting is the fact that BMP also ran into issues with another motorcycle series - World Superbike (WSBK). In April of 2007 BMP was in negotiations to host an event, with WSBK officials discussing the possibility of lengthening part of the track to help the bikes get up to full speed. Sound familiar? If not, read the above quote from Oreo again.

Changes were made to course, including runoffs and other safety improvements. However the lengthening wasn't part of the plan, and by September BMP incredibly withdrew themselves for consideration, saying there were too many WSBK events in the US. Does this sound like "Whatever it takes" yet?

Clearly there are more than a few things in Mr Barber's past that would give pause to the idea of rushing in to consummating a deal - and probably a multi-year one at that - with BMP. Perhaps these issues can be explained, but for that to happen we need someone to start asking questions of the parties mentioned.

I realize it's a gorgeous facility, but let's hope that doesn't render it immune to a little inquiry. If some anonymous word butcher like yours truly can use Google to find all of this out, I'm sure someone else with a massive Rolodex full of contacts could discover even more about all of this. Heck, there might even be a real story there of interest to teams, fans, and most importantly members of the Indy Racing League.

Look, the goal here isn't to demean reporters who are all excited by the good time they had in Alabama. Those were nice reports they provided from BMP, but what would be more helpful is if they could use a few of their words to bring these above issues to light to their wider audiences. Then IRL officials can discuss them publicly, lay out the requirements for Mr Barber should they still be amenable to holding an event at his facility, and - most importantly - hold him accountable to any contractual promises he makes, because ultimately that's "Whatever it takes".

Van Halen, or something like that

Posted by Iannucci | 3/25/2009 | 7 comments »
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Kudos to Junior Open Wheel Talent for finding this story in the nether reaches of The Suncoast News, which indicates that another Champ Car refu...err, transition driver may soon be in the IRL fold. This one, however, appears headed for the Indy Lights.

A new driver will also be manning the Team E cockpit this season. Belgian-born former Champ Car driver Jan Heylen, 28, plans to take over. Heylen drove in the 2008 24 Hours of Daytona.
Might as well jump to the junior series, right?

*waiting for the cacophony of groans*

OK, how about I just link the David Lee Roth Soundboard and end the post? Cool.

Hunting for clues

Posted by Iannucci | 3/25/2009 | 4 comments »
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Earlier today HVM Racing issued a Press Release regarding their two-day test session at Sebring that kicks off today. In the missive HVM noted that Ryan Hunter-Reay would be participating along with HVM driver EJ Viso, but that they only had one car for the test. In other words, sharing.

And in case you are wondering, the HVM Racing twitter feed said "it only took an hour" to prepare the car for Ryan even though he's about a foot taller than EJ.

But our good buddy Chris Estrada noticed something else about the press release.

It also says that while they're trying to lock in Hunter-Reay for this year, no agreement has been reached yet. But if you look at the little "sponsors' row" above the press release itself (not at the top of the screen), you'll find the logo of IZOD.

As you may know, IZOD has been a sponsor for Hunter-Reay. They're getting set to do a national roll-out with Macy's for their new collection of IndyCar-inspired clothing. Plenty of marketing and promotion is backing this as well, so of course IZOD has been understandably nervous about Hunter-Reay's rideless state.

Is this IZOD sighting just an "official IRL sponsor" thing or is this specifically for HVM -- and thus, a possible telegraph of Hunter-Reay joining the team?
Well, if putting "IZOD" in the release is a "possible telegraph", then what would this be?


Photo: HVM Racing

A trip to the Barber

Posted by Iannucci | 3/24/2009 | 10 comments »
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The one thing P2 wanted more than anything this Christmas was an iCoaster. He figured he could build any coaster he wanted to, with all kinds of crazy flips and jumps and magnet-enhanced defiance of gravity, all together with lights and music. It was like a 21st Century Red Ryder BB Gun to the boy, as he thought about it and mentioned it in all days leading up the Christmas.

On the blessed day he unwrapped it, and filled with glee he put together his first iteration of the musical marble fiesta, sat a back, and...well, cue the Peggy Lee "Is That All There Is" because after about 10 minutes of watching marbles go around and around he hasn't touched it since.

This, sadly, is what comes to mind when I think about while reading all of these glowing reports about what a wonderful facility the have down at Barber Motorsports Park.

Tons of fans, a beautiful facility, and eager ownership group, and a populous locale not yet explored by the IRL - it would seem Barber would be the perfect fit for the IndyCar series schedule in Spring or Fall. And yet \the entire proposition may as well be determined by one singular issue. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Scott Dixon.

"It's fast and it's a blast to drive but it's only one groove so it would be cool if there were a couple of places to pass."

Despite all of the gorgeous amenities, it seems the largest problem with this track is that it's been designed for motorcycles. You might note those machines are a little more narrow than a typical IndyCar setup. I was watching this video over at Furious Wedge and it seems the long sweeping footage they keep showing looks a lot like a reverse version of the carousel turn at Infini-yawn, and there ain't no passing to be had there.



Sure does look pretty, though.

If you're sitting around paying $10 for an IndyCar test session you're probably getting your money's worth. You get to meet the drivers, see and hear their racecars, basically get everything but actual racing. Unfortunately putting all of the cars on the track at once and raising the price by a factor of five to ten doesn't guarantee you would actually get to witness passing, not on a course like this.

Look, the series will not sink or swim based on whether Barber gets a race, and if they are, as John Oreovicz writes, willing to do "whatever it takes" to modify the track to invite a little passing here and there then they should be seriously considered. It just seems like a bad idea to get all hot and bothered for adding this track before those changes are made. How about first we wait and see if this track can be made race-worthy, because there aren't many fans that will pay money to sit around and watch cars race around without passing. There aren't many here in America that will watch it for far less on TV either.


On a related note, kudos to N/H/L for, if only for one weekend, bumping AGR out of the proverbial Big Three. As a consequence Rahal and Doornbos are probably doing their own lobbying to get this circuit added to the 2010 schedule.

Milka for hire

Posted by Iannucci | 3/22/2009 | 23 comments »
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The braintrust at TrackSide Online was the first to let us know today that Milka Duno may not be all that and a signed check.

There are persistent rumors in the paddock that the Milka Duno deal may not happen with NHLR. We have nothing official to go on and caution that this is just speculation, but the rumors are so widespread, we felt it should at least be noted.

She is not here testing and the rumor mill suggests that there could be an issue with a portion of her sponsorship deal. It is important to point out that her deal with Newman Haas Lanigan Racing has never been officially announced. Speculation (and this is clearly speculation) by a large number of people in the paddock is that her chances of actually racing with the team at St. Pete are in the 50/50 range.
This evening, Robin went a step further and said she's gone shopping.

Testing resumes Monday but it appears Milka Duno is looking for a ride. She had practiced with Newman/Haas/Lanigan at Homestead last month and the team had cleared space in its shop to run three cars but evidently her funding fell short of what had been promised.
Meanwhile her would-be teammate Robert Doornbos had the 2nd-fastest lap time of all participants at Barber Motorsports Park today. I believe they share the same "Arctic Ice" sponsor, although no one has said that they are the sponsor in question here. Just throwing that out there in case their logo suddenly disappears from Bobby D's car.

Meanwhile, back at the courtroom

Posted by Iannucci | 3/21/2009 | 21 comments »
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Once again, friends, we return to the Greatest Spectacle in Litigating.

This week the prosecution continued to state their case against Helio Castroneves, introducing evidence that links everyone's favorite fence climber to the infamous Panamanian entity known as Seven Promotions. This entire case is, it seems, all about Seven Promotions and whether or not Helio Castroneves owns the company, and if so whether or not he lied about said ownership.

So here, according to the Miami Herald, is what prosecutor Barry Axelrod dropped on the jurors.

(Helio's representative Alan) Miller consulted with tax lawyers in New York, who proposed that Penske pay Castroneves through a Dutch entity called Fintage Licensing. It would set up a deferred annuity account so that he could receive the money later.

In 2002, the New York lawyers told Miller that sending Castroneves' Penske income to the Netherlands firm would be fine on one condition -- as long as the driver didn't own the Panamanian company, Seven Promotions. If he did, then he would already be responsible for the taxes on the Penske income because it was supposed to be sent to Seven Promotions under his contract.

''The Castroneveses and Alan Miller faced a big choice,'' federal prosecutor Matt Axelrod told jurors. ``They lied.''

They told the New York lawyers that Castroneves didn't own the Panamanian company, he said. Black and other defense lawyers have maintained that the driver's father, who goes by the same name, owned Seven Promotions and set it up to help his son's career.

But earlier this month, Penske's general counsel, Bluth, testified that Miller had told him back then that the Panamanian company was controlled by the younger Castroneves. Prosecutors also produced a 1999 agreement between Castroneves and Seven Promotions saying the driver owns all shares of the Panamanian company.
I seriously doubt "New York lawyers" is an actual law firm. Perhaps these esteemed attorneys are in witness protection, but identifying them anonymously seems, at least to this word butcher, a bit weak. That said, the document from 1999 seems to be the most damning evidence in the case thusfar, although since Helio and his dad go by the same name it may only further the confusion towards a possible conviction.

But wait, there's more. From AccountingWeb's log of the trial:

Further evidence was introduced that suggests that Castroneves did own Seven Promotions, in spite of the fact that he claims his father was the owner. Guido Chipy, a Miami banker who was involved in Castroneves's 2001 mortgage loan, testified that documents provided to the bank at the time the mortgage was initiated show that Castroneves was the sole owner of Seven Promotions. Chipy added that most of the information for the mortgage application was given to him by Castroneves's attorney, Alan Miller, and that Castroneves only signed the application. That supports the defense assertion that Castroneves was detached from his own financial matters and left the details to his attorneys.


As a person with a distinctly Italian surname, I'm going to totally ignore the fact that this witness is named "Guido Chipy". (Holy macaroni!) However, this mortgage application seems to create a serious problem for Helio. If it's accurate then it proves his ownership of Seven Promotions and means he not only owes those taxes but has in fact lied about this. If it's not, then he clearly lied on his mortgage application, and although that isn't exactly a felony it would show that Helio is not above lying about matter related to finance - which at it's most basic level is what this case is about.

Then again, maybe all of this is irrelevant to the people deciding his fate.

During what became an exercise in paperwork tedium (at least two of the 17 jurors dozed off during the morning session), the two-time Indy 500 champion's entire financial life was on display for everyone in Courtroom 13-4, including a group of local high students on a field trip.

(MORE from ESPN.com)
Next week the defense should take over.

I am Lindy

Posted by Iannucci | 3/21/2009 | 0 comments »
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Our buddy Will at is it May yet? has scooped us all, securing the first IndyCar-related interview with VERSUS pit reporter Lindy Thackston. Turns out Lindy - a proud Boilermaker - is not only a grizzled veteran from covering the ALMS, but she has also done a little weather work on the side. I'm guessing this is the real reason why an über-weatherologist like Will was so interested in chatting her up.

iiMy: Did I see you doing coverage for Hurricane/TS Fay on your demo reel? Yeah, this is probably more for my own curiosity than that of the readers, but what was that experience like? You know, much like Jack Arute’s tan, they say that hurricanes may be getting more intense because of global warming.

LT: Parts of covering hurricanes are really cool – to see the ocean like that, the wind howling.

Then again – I am standing there in it, gripping a stop sign for dear life, telling you how unsafe it is to go out in it.

(MORE from is it May yet?)

The confirmation game

Posted by Iannucci | 3/18/2009 | 12 comments »
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Unless I am mistaken, the last driver confirmed by any team for the 2009 season was either Robert Doornbos or Will power, and Power's employment is actually a contingency plan related some crazy tax-evasion trial. In other words, it's really quiet out there.

While the Braintrust at TrackSide Online is reporting today that Ryan Hunter-Reay is getting fitted for a car with HVM, the fact remains that Ryan has still not been announced as a driver for HVM - or anyone else for that matter. (Off topic: I just inadvertently typed his name "Ryan Hyphen-Reay", and not for the first time.)

Usually in the weeks leading up to any season there are always drivers being floated as possible drivers, but as noted previously there seems to be an exceptional number of "possible" drivers for 2009. Hopefully at least one of these will be the next winner of "The Confirmation Game".

FAVORITES

Ryan Hunter-Reay - He's got a contract with an active sponsor, which puts him in a class with few other drivers. However that contract doesn't include paying for the car, so league officials are busting out the calculators for a cost/benefit analysis of how important it is to get him in this car.

Milka Duno - While Robin and others gently weep over the newest N/H/L driver, it's important to nothe that she still isn't officially on their roster. Sure, she's testing with the team, but without an announcement thusfar it's just Bobby and Rahal driving for N/H/L.

CONTENDERS

Alex Tagliani - They're not dead yet over at Conquest Racing, and they are on the participant list for the upcoming test at Barber Motorsports Park. Of course, the driver for Conquest is the ever-popular "TBA".

Justin Wilson - Like Duno, Wilson has been testing with the team but not officially stated as a driver for the team. Like Conquest, Coyne doesn't have any declared driver. They do however have a newly-hired engineer.

LONGSHOTS

Buddy Rice - He's still listed on the Rubicon site, but there's no official entry anywhere and you can't expect a team with exactly one race on their resume to simply show up at St Pete for their first street racing effort. Even Marty Roth wouldn't have done that.

Oriol Servia - Has anyone seen or heard of a second KV Racing entry lately? Me neither. Perhaps we'll see him at Indy.

Bruno Junqueira - Maybe he'll be back for a third season of "gratis" driving for Dale Coyne. Maybe not.

AJ Foyt IV - Vision Racing has given indications that if Quattro has funds that they'd welcome him back for another year. This begs two questions: 1) where exactly would these funds come from and 2) how much does he enjoy being lit on fire.

So who do you think will get the job? One of these? None of these?

As the Helio turns

Posted by Iannucci | 3/12/2009 | 9 comments »
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After a few more days of testimony, we might finally have resolved the issue where this whole idea of Helio becoming the newest resident of Monaco arose.

Kevin Savoree, now an executive at Andretti Green Racing, said when he handled accounting work for Castroneves in 1999 and 2000, the plan was to set up a legitimate deal in which much of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner's income would be deferred. That meant his taxes owed to the IRS also would be deferred until he actually got the money.

"Helio Castroneves never suggested that you do something improper, right?" asked Castroneves attorney David Garvin.

"Absolutely not," Savoree replied.

But Savoree acknowledged helping draft a memo describing the ultimate goal as having Castroneves "maintain a residence in a tax haven, such as Monaco." Castroneves, a Brazilian citizen in the U.S. on a work visa, currently lives in Coral Gables, Fla., just south of Miami.

(MORE from Associated Press)
So in 1999 Helio talked about moving to Monaco. He's a citizen of Brazil, he currently resides in Florida, but 10 years ago he talked about moving to Monaco. OK then.

Yes, auto racing celebrities often move overseas to minimize their tax liability, but Helio isn't one of them. At least not yet he isn't, and last I checked you can't be tried for something you didn't do. This is like trying him for not paying taxes that aren't due until this May ... oh wait, that's also what the prosecution is doing.

Now before anyone starts exonerating Helio, remember the trial still has many weeks ahead. I've been told by one lawyer that this will probably last into May, which would effectively end Helio's season before it starts. We also have to endure more testimony regarding this concept of "constructive receipt" which determines if an individual has to pay taxes immediately or can defer them if payment is also deferred.

Helio might have an ace in the hole in this area, though, according to SI.com.

Bolstering this defense is that other drivers, including Eliot Sadler of Sprint Cup, have complained about convoluted verbiage found in racing contracts. Keep in mind, if the jury concludes that Castroneves lacked financial understanding, he would be poised to escape conviction: tax evasion requires the prosecution to prove that Castroneves willfully evaded taxes; if he was unaware that certain payments must be treated as taxable income, then he could not have committed tax evasion.
Which is great for Helio, but there's always the possibility that he is acquitted of tax evasion but convicted on charges relating to false testimony.

Lots of trial days ahead folks, but from what I can tell there's been no proverbial silver bullet yet revealed by the prosecution. But that's just one word butcher's opinion - if you see it differently please share.

More Twits, err, Tweets to follow

Posted by Iannucci | 3/12/2009 | 2 comments »
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The twitter universe continues to grow, passing along information at a nearly instantaneous pace. Of course, much of this information involves people telling you what they're eating or watching on TV, but it's a new medium and the kinks are still being worked out.

If you're using twitter, here are three more suggestions for you to follow.

@DRRinIndyCar - the official account of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, who may or may not actually have a car shown on the air during a race this year.

@maxpapis - the driver of IndyCars and all other things four-wheeled is CONSTANTLY tweeting and forwarding pictures of the many racing series in which he participates. This guy is a reality show waiting to happen.

@curtcavin - yes, the intrepid one is now all a-twitter, sending updates even as he watches N-word racing. I'm certain your viewing will be enhanced.

Speaking of Cavin, he provided a tiny update on the much discussed Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ryan said he's currently talking with two teams: one is HVM Racing, the other is NOT Rahal Letterman Racing (which makes sense since there's no longer any mention of IndyCars at the Rahal site).

Meetings are planned for later this week and next.

"Nothing is imminent," he said today. "But it seems like progress."
Perhaps more will be discussed between Curt and Ryan as they talk in your ear tonight on the TrackSide program at 1070 The Fan.

The Hunter-Reay conundrum

Posted by Iannucci | 3/10/2009 | 14 comments »
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As I noted a few days ago at Silent Pagoda, every year there is a driver who lays claim to the Throne of Injustice, being the obvious recipient of innumerable exclamations of "Why doesn't HE (or SHE) have a ride?" This year that person is Ryan Hunter-Reay, who in addition to his obvious skills has the distinction of being (1) American, (2) personable, and (3) the only driver to have won a race in CART, Champ Car and the IndyCar series. And if Justin Wilson is all set in stone with Dale Coyne, Ryan is also is the only race winner from last year to remain unemployed.

So there is no shortage of reasons to lament his omission from scheduled list of drivers, but none of which really requires that someone *cough*TonyGeorge*cough* step up and open the pocket book to buy the man a ride. Logic dictates if a driver is worth the six meeeeeeellion dollars (or whatever it takes to fund a full season ride) then certainly someone somewhere would see that value any pony up the cash. Consequently, if no one is stepping up then the value for Ryan - or any other unemployed hotshoe - just ain't there.

But perhaps Ryan is a different story. Let's let Robin, no stranger to pounding the podium with his shoe in shock and outrage, make the case for why Ryan may in fact be worth six million.

IZOD is poised to launch one of the largest advertising and promotional campaigns in the Indy Racing League's 14-year history.

Beginning in a few weeks there will be a national television spot, promo trailers in movie theaters, ads in major magazines and newspapers and in-store promotions at Macy's stores across the country that will also include a special Indy 500 clothing line.

It's estimated several million dollars in media value has been budgeted for this project. But there is a little snag in clothing line's plan to take Indy-car racing to the mainstream. No, make that a big snag. The guy they put all the promotion behind, the guy in the TV commercial, the guy in the print ads and the guy on the 90-foot billboard in Times Square doesn't have a ride for the 2009 season.
That guy, as you may have guessed, is Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Now personally, I haven't bought any IZOD products since they closed the Miller's Outpost at the mall back around '89, so my first impression is that this company signed on with Ryan without understanding that his Ethanol-related contract was not renewed for 2009. I believe political wonks call that a failure in vetting.

But, of course, there's still more. A recent interview with Ryan at Desoto Champ Cart Series revealed that this IZOD deal is actually for three years which means someone is seriously committed to putting an IndyCar driver out front and center to the world to see. In trying to recall the last time a driver not named "Danica" was featured in a National ad campaign of any kind I remembered Sarah Fisher in a AAMCO commercial for a year, and before that Tony Kanaan in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ad for less than that, and...well, suffice it to say three year-campaigns with IndyCar drivers just don't grow on trees.

And that may prove to be the difference here in whether or not Ryan gets a seat. I don't know where a second car magically appears - the usual suspects are HVM, KV, and of course, Vision Racing - but given all this it certainly appears Hunter-Reay stands an above average chance of racing at St Pete in a few weeks. Then again, if he doesn't make the field, those IZOD people are going to feel more than a little ill.


Photo courtesy of RyanRacing.com

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 3/09/2009 | 1 comments »
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"The pit lane wags wasted no time in nicknaming the trio of NHL cars. We have the 'Mickey D' car, the 'Bobby D' car and, of course, the 'Double D' car. I’ll leave it to you to work out who’s who." - HVM Racing Lead Engineer Michael Cannon, emphasizing the vital importance of proper nicknames in racing.

Is Helio moving to Monaco?

Posted by Iannucci | 3/09/2009 | 7 comments »
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There's an AP story out today regarding the Helio Castroneves Tax Trial of the Century that resumes tomorrow, the crux of which is that Helio is being tried for money he never received. That's right - we're talking about paying taxes on the equivalent of an uncashed check. A very large check, the likes of which you or I may never see, but still money (or "monies") left unclaimed.

As Sandwedge points out, this is a bit of a Pandora's Box of a claim to charge someone, basically saying the taxpayer is obligated to pay taxes on money they should have received and not funds of which they actually took possession. The deal here is that Helio was advised (and presumably authorized) to allow for Team Penske to pay a significant portion of earnings to a separate entity, an entity that would hold the money for him for a period of time so that he wouldn't spend it all as foolish young men are often prone to do. In fact, as the defense argues, this is not unlike a 401(k) that you or I might have.

And in the realm of law this seems like a sound basis for a legal argument. Was Helio acting responsibly under advisement in delaying the receipt of these funds or was he attempting to skirt tax laws? That's a fair question for lawyers to sort out, but there's one point the prosecution keeps making that seems entirely nonsensical to me.

Castroneves planned to pay the IRS when the "deferred royalty agreement" - a way of delaying income described as similar to a 401(k) - at Fintage comes due to him in May of this year, defense lawyers say. It's not unusual for athletes to receive some compensation at later dates, they say.

"Athletes ordinarily have a short period of economic productivity in their youth, and they may not be responsible enough to manage the money for a lifetime if they receive it all at once," Bennett said.

(U.S. Attorney Matt) Axelrod, however, said the whole arrangement is fictional, with Castroneves' ultimate goal to move out of the U.S. to a tax haven such as Monaco where he would eventually get the Penske money tax-free.
Alright, hold the phone. I suppose it's entirely conceivable that Helio might one day move to a tax-free nation, but if the taxation on these funds is, as the defense holds, due in May, I'm pretty certain there's no way Helio is going to bail on the opportunity to continue his driving career THIS YEAR and head off to Monaco. I mean, I can say with reasonable certainty based on his projected income that this May he'd be somewhere in Indiana and not across the Atlantic Ocean. And by reasonable I mean 100% chance he'd be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There are other issues in the trial that need to be addressed, including charges of giving false statements to the U.S. government, but if the prosecution agrees that this taxable income was due - at least on paper - this year, then making the argument that Helio was a going to flee the country to claim $5M, while he had so much earning potential ahead of him, seems, well, ridiculous.


In a related note, Paul Page is offering to pass along messages of encouragement to Helio. You can send them to Paul via his own email listed at his blog if you so chose.

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 3/08/2009 | 6 comments »
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But of all of the “transition” drivers from 2008, the guy I’m really looking forward to watching in ’09 is EJ Viso. He has the chance to be a mega-star. - Mike King, Voice of IMS Radio, who like so many of us has already begun consuming copious amounts of Visoberry Power Juice.

ADDENDUM: Listen to King deftly screaming with excitement throughout the promo for the upcoming "Ten Ten Closest Finishes" special on VERSUS this Saturday.

Searching for Helio news

Posted by Iannucci | 3/06/2009 | 2 comments »
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As maddening as the length of the offseason has been, the content filling up the spaces in between hasn't been overly encouraging. We've endured bad economic news relating to team downsizing, driver unemployment rising, and even the loss of a race in Detroit, but no news has weighed more heavily on fans than the pending tax evasion trial of Helio Castroneves.

For those who weren't aware, Helio's trial started this week with jury selection and opening arguments. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks, which means Team Penske has already said Will Power will represent at the opening event at St Petersburg. I guess that's an early victory for the prosecution.

But beyond that there hasn't been much news, at least not proportionate to other celebrity trials. Maybe law experts are hesitant to comment on a tax case. Maybe Helio isn't exactly a prolific celebrity. Maybe with the 90-plus-percent conviction rate on Federal cases Helio's goose is already cooked. But even with all of that there still should be some reporting of court proceedings.

Well, your humble host has decided to dig around and see what could be found, and after countless milliseconds of Google searches I've managed to discover a handful of links. It's not much, but hopefully there's something you did not know will be included in this overly long post.

The best place to start is an article from late last year from Car and Driver that indicates much of what is being built in this case originates from a conflict Helio had with another two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

On June 11, 1997, another Brazilian, ex-driver Emerson Fittipaldi, then 50, a two-time Formula 1 champion and twice Indy 500 champion, had signed a five-year contract to manage Castroneves. A little over two years later, Castroneves fired Fittipaldi, several days after his then-team owner, the late Carl Hogan, announced he was folding Hogan Racing on October 28, 1999.

Less than a week later, Castroneves signed a three-year deal with Roger Penske for $2 million per year, negotiated by the motorsports über-lawyer Alan R. Miller, to create one of the most enduring partnerships in modern racing.

Fittipaldi was not pleased, and in February 2000, he sued for $3.3 million, claiming breach of contract. The case was finally heard in 2004, fought over by some of Miami’s legal super heavyweights. A jury did not award financial damages to either Brazilian. Fittipaldi appealed all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where he lost and was ordered to pay $60,000 for Castroneves’ appellate legal fees...Five of the seven counts allege the crimes continued until the last day of the Fittipaldi civil trial, while several exhibits in current filings were lifted from that case.
Which brings us to the actual list of indictments themselves. What seems to be at the core of the case is two companies, Seven Promotions and Fintage Licensing, that may or may not be legal entities.

It appears Seven Promotions is based in Panama, but is run by Helio's dad, who reportedly helped garner financing for much of Helio's early career. During opening arguments the prosecution said Helio - not his father - ran this entity, but I don't know how critical that presumption is to the case. (Paging Roger Cossack...)

According to the indictment, Helio and his advisors were reluctant at Team Penske's insistence at withholding 30% of his paycheck to be deposited in a Seven Promotions account, so that's where Fintage Licensing comes to be. From the Department of Justice.

The indictment specifically alleges that Helio Castroneves, Katiucia Castroneves and Miller engaged in a scheme to avoid paying taxes on the $5,000,000 in licensing agreement income by creating a “deferred royalty plan” that required Penske to send the $5,000,000 payment to an offshore company – Fintage Licensing B.V. (Fintage) – in the Netherlands, instead of to Seven Promotions.

Despite advice from outside tax counsel that Helio Castroneves would not qualify for the deferred royalty plan and would owe income tax on all payments under the licensing agreement if he or any member of his family owned or controlled Seven Promotions, the three defendants engaged in this deferred royalty plan.
So another issue being discussed in court will no doubt be the legality of Fintage and the tax liabilities that have resulted from depositing money there.

Now, this Alan Miller guy is apparently very will known in racing and is highly thought of outside of this trial. He also represents Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr, and Clint Bowyer, some of whom may be called to testify during the trial. Additionally Roger Penske and Juan Pablo Montoya may appear as well.

Will at is it May yet? has a partial list of declared witnesses, as well as some great pics from Helio's early days. (Hey Will, if you're reading this, quit messing around with NASA and get back to updating your site. And thanks for allowing the unauthorized use of one of your graphics in this post.)

Coincidentally Miller also reportedly represents Danica Patrick, who is auditing her own financial paperwork as we speak. I tried to garner some meaningful information on Miller in an SI.com article by Tim Tuttle but all I got was "He's a good friend. We've eaten sushi together in three countries." Thanks, Tim.

So after all of this searching it appears there's exactly one place that's offering any kind of meaningful news and analysis relating to the trial: accountingweb.com. Bookmark this link and check back daily, as they appear to be offering some semblance of insight into the direction of the trial. Score one for the accountants.

There's also one last place you can check and that's Helio's personal blog. It does have some fun pics of him and his nephew, but for the most part it doesn't seem to be updated much. Then again, that seems to be the case nearly everywhere else.

UPDATE: Will has indeed answered the call, finding more possibly distressing news for everyone's favorite fence climber.

Well, the prosecution is arguing that some of the potentially funneled money wasn’t only ducking taxes in this country, but also in Helio’s homeland of Brazil. Currently, there’s debate between the prosecution and defense over whether this is pertinent to the case at hand and whether an expert on the Brazilian Tax Code should be allowed to testify.

(MORE at is it May yet?)

New VERSUS promo to fire you up

Posted by Iannucci | 3/05/2009 | 19 comments »
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Perhaps it's a touch heavy on crashes, but otherwise I'll defer to the immortal words of Helio Castroneves: "Now that is what I am talking about!"



Now all we have to do is wait another month and we'll be set.

(Thanks to Vision Racing for posting this 30 seconds of AWESOMENESS.)

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 3/05/2009 | 4 comments »
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"We're going to be starting our coverage in March with four one-hour specials, and windows for the races, which used to be two hours, will be three hours. You'll see prerace, postrace, and the night before there will be a one-hour preview with pole qualifiers and everything that happened the week before. We're going to do seven hours a week every week. That's the most that's ever been done." - Jamie Davis, President of VERSUS, instructing you all to free up some space in your DVR immediately.

Danica wants to kick my ass

Posted by Iannucci | 3/04/2009 | 20 comments »
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I know I take issue with Mrs Hospenthal on occasion, but really, I swear, I don't hate the woman. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't have any "Danica" merchandise on me (although my oldest daughter does), but despite my concern with certain choices she makes I'm no less a fan of hers than any other driver.

Really. I mean it. Stop laughing.

Hey, if I didn't have a soft spot in my heart for her would I have read the entire My-husband-Paul-is-sooooo-schmoopy tome that is "Crossing the Line"? Would I have written about how ridiculously unfair the comparison to Anna Kournikova was? Would I have shamelessly planted my kids outside of a restroom just to get her autograph?

Of course not - Danica and I are cool. At least, that's what I thought. But now I find out she wants to kick my ass, and even worse, she wants to kick yours as well. Gird your hindquarters accordingly.



I sincerely look forward to the exceptionally civil discourse regarding this promo that will be conducted in the "comments" of this post.

UPDATE: For a chuckle or two, be sure to check out the Danica roasting at pressdog and Diecast Dude. Or, to put it another way, feel free to momentarily expand the Great Danica Flame Wars of '09 to a different battlefield.

If a picture says a thousand words

Posted by Iannucci | 3/04/2009 | 12 comments »
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What does this one say?


Photo: AP Photo/J Pat Carter

pressdog hounds Sarah Fisher

Posted by Iannucci | 3/04/2009 | 10 comments »
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As anyone who has ever read his site can attest (and really, who hasn't?) pressdog would gleefully cop to being the biggest Sarah Fisher fan in the world. Bill Zahren, FishHead Numero Uno.

Being such an adoring fan has it's privileges, like being able to score occasional chit-chats with The Fisher Queen, who once again has taken time out of her busy schedule as Sarah Fisher Racing driver/owner to offer an audience with Bill and answer his burning questions. Such as...

pressdog: What is the one thing about Sarah Fisher that people don’t know that you wish they did know?

Sarah: I am well-rounded. Whether it's installing a new thermostat in our house, hemming a pair of pants for Andy, or training the dog to shake. The challenge is to do what you can on your own. Gotta save money somehow!

I remember once, our dishwasher broke. Andy wouldn’t let me pull it apart to try and fix it. Probably a good thing, because I would’ve flooded or burned the house down! Not being scared of anything, and being a female Tim Taylor does get me in trouble sometimes.


Got that? Sarah Fisher is "well-rounded". Read more at pressdog.

Quotes of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 3/03/2009 | 4 comments »
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A double-dose of quotes from a couple of talented American youngsters, explaining why they're not exactly leaping at the chance to sign on to USF1 Vaporware, courtesy of 16th and Georgetown.

"I'm never going to count anything out because you never know whats going to happen but it has to be the right opportunity and it has to be a good chance at being competitive because when you look at Formula 1, you know currently as it sits, if your not in the top couple of teams you don't have a chance at winning and ultimately to me as a driver that's not all that interesting" - Graham Rahal

"If it's right I'd be dieing to go do that, but it has to be right and with a first year team I'm not so sure that my career could afford it because I have to go over and I have to perform. But having said that I would do what ever it took if we think it's right, it has to be right because it's all about timing and your career can end over there before it even starts, so we'll see maybe after a year or two of that team it there still interested in me." - Marco Andretti

Unsolicited advice for VERSUS

Posted by Iannucci | 3/03/2009 | 5 comments »
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If you haven't been over to Furious Wedge lately, be sure to venture over and offer your thoughts on SandWedge's ideas for VERSUS IndyCar telecasts. He's been noting how VERSUS has already done a great job promoting the IndyCar series on their network (they're working "April 5th" into everything but the infomercials) but felt like now would be a good time to offer suggestions on what happens when the actual racing season starts on that well-promoted day.

I'm not going to go into his ideas here but I would like to add my own simple suggestion, something I mentioned when Curt and Kevin were gracious enough to have "Blogger Night" on their show a while back. Put simply, here's the challenge for VERSUS (and ESPN for their few broadcasts as well):

Show more drivers not in the Top 5 during the race.

One of the reasons Danica Patrick continues to grab sponsors left and right is that she knows no matter where she is on the track we're going to see her during a race. And there's nothing wrong with that, because Danica has zillions of fans who would feel slighted if she wasn't mentioned at least a dozen times during the broadcast. I know, I live with one of them.

Still, Danica doesn't have ALL of the fans, and those who cheer for someone other than the driver of the #7 often get to see little of their favorite driver during a race. This means ultimately we'll see even less of those drivers since no one's going to pay to be on the sidepods of someone who can't meet the fiscal requirement of getting air time for their sponsor.

Please understand that as a solution I'm not talking about the filler that is field run downs, but rather actual racing. Each race is at least two hours, roughly an hour of which involves the leaders lock-stepping their way to fuel conservation for later in the race. (As our buddy pressdog has said "I tell you what, nobody can save fuels like them guys in IndyCar...Have you seen them drive in fuel position 3? I tell ya, once you've seen that, you'll be hooked for life!") Meanwhile elsewhere on the track there are a dozen other drivers actually fighting for position, so there's no reason why the broadcast crew shouldn't pan the cameras around and look for an actual contest for position.

Pardon me if I'm being to presumptuous, but I think I speak for all racing fans when I say it's more interesting to watch Ed Carpenter and Hideki Mutoh battle for 8th then watch Scott Dixon's two-second lead get extended to 2.1 seconds.

I say this because the one race I attended in person last year was at Indianapolis, the first half of which I found myself watching two drivers (EJ Viso and Jeff Simmons) each move up the pylon about a dozen spots. I'm guessing viewers at home probably saw maybe 10 seconds of either one during the five-hour broadcast. Too bad, because you missed some fine driving.

The point isn't that we need to see more of any particular driver, it's that we need to see more of ALL drivers. I realize this means the broadcasters will actually have to learn how to pronounce names like "Moraes" and "Junqueria" but if it means more teams might be able to convince sponsors to plunge their advertising budget into the IRL then it's imperative this gets done. This really is a win-win for the broadcaster, because those teams that advertise on those cars might even make commercial buys for the races.

Not to single any particular guy out but just as an example let's take Oriol Servia. I don't how many times last season I noticed on the positional "crawl" graphic that Oriol Servia was once again moving through the field. The problem is I and other viewers didn't see all that much of Servia's driving on the broadcasts, which might be a large reason why he doesn't have a contract for this year. Again - how can we expect any company to shell out millions of dollars in sponsorship when that company's logo or name won't be covered for more than a few seconds during any given race?

The answer, of course, is we can't, not unless Target ends up sponsoring every car in the series. Seriously, read this IRL sponsor exposure report at The Score and note how sponsors of drivers not named Dixon, Wheldon or Danica fared. It's a cringe-inducing indictment of the coverage last year to say the least.

The bottom line is that if you only show five or six cars then only those five or six cars will have sponsors willing to pay. That's not a sustainable business model for any series, so on behalf of all people who enjoy watching more than six cars racing I'd humbly request to the folks with the television contracts, if you could, in 2009 and beyond, please fix this.