Phoenix Raceway prez: It’s up to IndyCar on possible return

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For almost a decade, Phoenix International Raceway – once one of open-wheel racing’s traditional strongholds – has not staged an IndyCar event. And, according to PIR president Bryan Sperber, the series doesn’t appear too interested in returning to the Valley of the Sun.

Sperber said that he would love to have IndyCar back at his one-mile oval, but noted this morning that “the ball is in their court” according to The Associated Press.

“Hopefully, the interest in Phoenix International Raceway becomes sufficient enough that they would like to pursue that opportunity,” he said. “But up to now, that doesn’t look like that’s in the cards.”

An increase in IndyCar oval races has been clamored for by many within the sport’s fan base, but these types of events have run into problems at the box office in recent years. IndyCar has only six ovals on its 2014 schedule: Indianapolis, Texas, Pocono, Iowa, Milwaukee, and Auto Club Speedway in Calfornia.

Sperber doesn’t want his track to take a financial bath on staging an IndyCar event, which is understandable. According to the AP report, he would have to spend close to $1 million to market such a race and cannot afford IndyCar’s current sanctioning fees with no guarantees on a decent attendance.

PIR held IndyCar/Indy Racing League races from 1996 to 2005, and both USAC and CART races from 1964 to 1995. Since 2006, NASCAR has provided the track’s major events.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.