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Jay Howard gets bonus Texas outing

4 June 2011

British driver Jay Howard has been added to the line-up for the Firestone Twin 275k races on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Howard had qualified a strong 21st position for the #88 Sam Schmidt Motorsport/Rahal Letterman Lanigan collaboration in the Indianapolis 500, only for an early pit stop blunder see him crash after a wheel detached coming out of pit road on lap 62 while running in the top half of the field.

"Our Indy 500 effort was strong all month long and to have it end the way it did was unfortunate," lamented Howard.

"Jay had a fantastic run going at the Indy 500, but it just wasn't meant to be," said team owner Sam Schmidt.

"Jay impressed us on race day and we are very optimistic that he can have another good weekend for us in Texas," agreed Rahal Letterman Lanigan co-owner Bobby Rahal.

Howard's performance at Indy allowed the team to pull together enough sponsorship to enable them to give Howard an extra outing at Texas.

"We really appreciate the support of Service Central and their brands that are making it possible for Jay to have another shot at Texas," said Schmidt.

"Service Central has believed in me from the start and it's very exciting to return with them to the Texas Motor Speedway," said Jay Howard.

Howard competed in the 2010 Firestone 550k at Texas for Sarah Fisher Racing after narrowly missing out on qualifying for Indianapolis the previous month. It's one of ten IndyCar series starts that the 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion has made, four of them in 2010 but all of which ended up in mechanical failure or contact.

"We are entering into an event where anything can happen, but as we showed in Indianapolis, our team is ready for anything that does happen," said Rahal.

"We are looking ahead to Texas and plan another hard-fought effort with Rahal Letterman Lanigan," added Howard himself.

The Texas event itself has been overhauled this year and will now consist of two separate 275-kilometre (171 mile) events rather than the single 550-kilometre race previously seen at the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway in the past, the idea being to prevent the race settling into a prolonged mid-section procession as drivers just pace out the distance.

Instead, a first race will run normally with a starting order set by traditional Saturday qualifying but will only pay out half the number of championship points (25pts for the winner) and prize money ($17,500 for first place), and then there will be a blind draw for the starting grid of the second race to start an hour later.

"With the starting field for the second race set by random draw, you could see the winner from the first race starting from the back of the field, creating quite a bit of drama," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for IndyCar at the announcement of the format revamp back in March. "If a car suffers damage and fails to finish the first race, there will be an opportunity for the driver to rejoin in the second race as we will have extra engines available for use in their back-up chassis.

"We want to make sure we're ensuring a strong field for Race 2 to keep the excitement and momentum going throughout the entire event."

It's the first time that IndyCar has attempted a twin race double-header since 1974, although the rival CART series did stage four double-header events between 1979 and 1981. None of them used the "blind draw" element and simply continued the second race in the same order as the first finished.

In addition to the unique twin header format, drivers will also have to contend with the rapidly changing conditions of a dusk/night event, as the first race will start at 6pm local time on June 11.


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