26-car grid limit introduced

IndyCar has announced that the grid size will be capped at 26 cars for 2011, with the exception of the Indianapolis 500 (which will still have its traditional 33 runners) and the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway which will be extended to 30 to allow for the additional guest drivers tempted by the $5m challenge.

For the other 15 races of the season, 24 starting positions will be decided by times set in qualifying, with two provisional spots then available to non-qualifiers in a similar fashion as happens in NASCAR. In the majority of the races the provisionals will go (in order) to the 2010 champion, the 2009 champion, the 2010 Indy 500 winner, the leading driver in the points standing not already qualified, the best practice laptime at the current event of the next best qualifying time, until the positions are filled.

IndyCar is reserving the right to vary the procedure at Sao Paulo and Twin Ring Motegi and will announce arrangements closer to the races themselves.

"This new procedure will ensure that our fans see the best drivers and teams in every race we stage, while adding more drama to the qualifying process," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for IndyCar.

Beatriz in at Dreyer & Reinbold

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has announced that Ana Beatriz will return to the team to compete for the full 2011 IndyCar season.

Beatriz, who won two races in two seasons in the Firestone Indy Lights in 2008 and 2009, ran a very limited 2010 campaign with the team, but this year will have a full run of 7 races thanks to sponsorship from Brazilian petroleum company Ipiranga.

"I'm definitely thrilled to have my deal done with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Ipiranga," said Beatriz. "It's a dream come true that this has all come together. It's great to be back at D&RR; they know me already and what it takes to make me grow as a driver."

Beatriz will have Britain's Justin Wilson as her team mate for the season.

D&RR also announced this week that it has renewed a multi-year partnership with Charter Communications, the fourth-largest cable operator in the US, which will serve as the primary sponsor of Wilson's #22.

Rahal/Schmidt team-up to back Howard Indy 500 bid

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports have announced a partnership for the Indianapolis 500 to give 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion Jay Howard a real shot at the victory.

"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a very special place and we have always taken great pride in performing well there," said Sam Schmidt. "Having the chance to work with a team like Rahal Letterman Lanigan gives us even more reason to be optimistic about our chances for success.

"Jay Howard is a very talented driver and we look forward to a promising month of May."

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has formidable IndyCar experience including an Indy 500 win with Buddy Rice in 2004, but the team has been out of IndyCar since the end of 2008 preferring to concentrate on the American Le Mans Series GT, but fielded Oriol Servia and Graham Rahal in the Indy 500 in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

"Between Sam's team and ours, we have the experience, knowledge and ability to provide an entry that will allow Jay to show his skills," said Bobby Rahal. "I think Jay has always been right on the brink of breaking through in IndyCar racing and our plan is to provide him with everything he needs to take that next step."

Servia, Hinchcliffe to test with Newman/Haas

Familiar IndyCar/Champ Car veteran Oriol Servia and A1 GP/Firestone Indy Lights driver James Hinchcliffe are to test with Newman/Haas Racing racing next week, during the first official 'open' pre-season test session being held by IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park.

Both drivers have run previous tests with the team, and Hinchcliffe made two testing appearances at Sebring International Raceway.

"The rookie class for 2011 is looking super strong," said Hinchcliffe on Monday. "With guys like JR (Hildebrand) and Charlie (Kimball) and now Bia (Ana Beatriz) getting a ride it's shaping up to be a great race for Rookie Of The Year. I am just working as hard as I can to make sure that come [season opener] St. Pete I am in a Newman/Haas Racing car so we can add our name to that fight."

Running two drivers at the test is being seen as a strong indication that Newman/Haas is preparing to run two cars in the 2011 IndyCar championship.

Mann's Conquest test success

Pippa Mann's bid to secure the vacant seat at Conquest ahead of the likes of veteran Paul Tracy and Indy Lights champion Jean-Karl Vernay got a boost with a successful test with the team at Texas Motor Speedway last week.

Despite a fuel pump issue, Mann got nearly a full day's running with the team and received praise from Eric Bachelart, the team boss at Conquest: "Pippa quickly got up to speed and was setting competitive lap times early on and that isn't always the case for someone turning their first laps in an IndyCar.

"She did a really great job and provided really good feedback to the team, which helped us to make some changes and make the car even better balanced and faster. Overall I'm very pleased with how the day went and with what we were able to accomplish."

"It's the first time I have driven an Indycar, as well as my first run at Texas Motor Speedway, so before we got started I really didn't know what to expect." Mann said, "But it didn't take much time for me to get comfortable in the car and up to speed.

"Overall I'm not only pleased, but excited by how the test went," said the 27-year-old Briton.

Also out testing at Texas were Simona de Silvestro (for HVM) and JR Hildebrand (with Panther Racing.)

Murray/Dixon to swap cars for the day

Scott Dixon is to trade in his open-wheel Dallara for a NASCAR Car of Tomorrow - but only for a cross-series promotion next week on March 16.

Dixon will trade cars with his Ganassi stablemate Jamie McMurray for a day, with Dixon trying out the #1 Chevrolet Impala at Talladega and McMurray getting to sample the IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park

"Talladega? This is going to be a pretty cool experience. It's not every day someone gives you the keys to a stock car at one of the biggest tracks on the planet!" said Dixon, adding that he was just as excited to see what McMurry would do in the IndyCar. "I know he's been looking forward to getting in an IZOD IndyCar Series car for quite some time. [He's] even downloaded some of my in-car camera laps from Barber Motorsports Park - so this should be fun!"

The exchange could be seen in a new light given the $5m Vegas challenge for non-IndyCar drivers to come and see if they can win the season finale. Lewis Hamilton's previously announced swap of his McLaren with Tony Stewart's Chevrolet at Watkins Glen in the summer is less likely to see the F1 star at Vegas, however, as the Korean Grand Prix takes place the same day.

Sam Schmidt signs up Esteban Guerrieri for Indy Lights

Esteban Guerrieri is to leave the Formula Renault 3.5 series in which he was a title contender in 2010 - ultimately finishing in 3rd place in the championship - in favour of a shot at the Firestone Indy Lights title with Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

"Coming to race in the US is a big change of direction in my racing career," said the 26-year-old Argentinian.



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