Testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway next week will occupy some of the free time IndyCar Series drivers have until they report to Florida for the season-closing Firestone Indy 300 on 10 October, but the biggest draw is likely to be the returning Vitor Meira.
Three-time defending Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves and IndyCar Series championship contender Dario Franchitti will join the Brazilian, Marco Andretti, Tomas Scheckter and EJ Viso at Indianapolis on 29-30 September, while seven others will test on 30 September at Homestead. Meira's time behind the wheel will be his first since being injured in a crash during the Indianapolis 500 in May.
"We're not going for any track records - I just want to give him some seat time so he can adjust to being back in a race car after being out for so long," team owner AJ Foyt said, albeit stopping short of giving the go-ahead for Meira to compete in the season finale.
"I don't have the people to put together the proper effort for both Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and Vitor," Foyt explained, "When I made the deal with Ryan, I had told him he'd have a ride for the rest of the season because I didn't really know if Vitor would be ready. And, even though Vitor has been cleared to drive, the more I thought about it, I don't think having his first race back at Miami is the best thing for him.
"There's a lot of risk and not that much to be gained. We want to get a good start on 2010 with Vitor and do more testing over the winter, so I think it's in all of our interests to have him focus on next year."
Looking to 2010 is the objective of Firestone Racing and IndyCar Series testing at the Brickyard, as Castroneves and Franchitti will both participate in various Firestone Firehawk compound tests on the 2.5-mile oval.
Meira, Andretti and Viso are scheduled to test the effects of the removal of the rear wing end fences and the caution light between the rear wing posts on trailing cars. The yellow caution light adds about 20 pounds of drag to the car, according to Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart, who is seeking to improve the wake of the car so a trailing car can run closer at the Speedway.
"With more Indy 500 victories than all other tyre manufacturers combined, the Firestone brand has become synonymous with the Indianapolis 500," executive director Al Speyer claimed, "I believe the key to that success is that Firestone Racing has never become complacent. That's why we test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a yearly basis. The environment is always changing - even if it is a lot of small things, the changes add up.
"The cars change a little bit, and the track surface changes, so it's imperative that we go and track test to make sure we've got the best product possible since, during the month of May, all eyes are on the IndyCar Series and its drivers, teams, partners and suppliers. And, in 2010, the winner of the Indy 500 will cross the finish line on Firestone brand tyres for the 61st time in the race's 94-year history."
Scheduled to be on track at Homestead are AGR's Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan, Sarah Fisher, Alex Lloyd - with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing - Raphael Matos, Mario Moraes and Justin Wilson.
"Our first year of hosting the IndyCar Series championship [finale] and we get the second-tightest points race in series history," Homestead-Miami Speedway president Curtis Gray gushed, "Three drivers, eight points, one trophy...."