Schatz with Tony Stewart in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

INDYCAR sponsors 10 drivers in Chili Bowl, including Donny Schatz

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Sure, NASCAR is well-represented at this week’s 31st Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and two-time defending Chili Bowl champ Rico Abreu.

But the IndyCar world is also a major part of the Chili Bowl contingent, sponsoring 10 drivers with roots of some type in the open-wheel racing league.

The Chili Bowl opened Tuesday and continues through Saturday night’s A Main championship event.

“Our heritage closely connects INDYCAR with iconic events like the Chili Bowl Nationals and the list of greats who have competed in short-track open-wheel cars for decades,” said C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We’re proud to announce the Team INDYCAR contingency award program and our list of entrants competing in Tulsa this week.

“This effort recognizes some greats of the sport along with some promising young talent that we hope to someday see in an Indy car. We join midget racing followers across the country in following their progress at the Chili Bowl.”

According to an IndyCar media release, “The Team INDYCAR program includes sponsorship for each car plus contingency prizes that include a $5,000 bonus should a Team INDYCAR driver win Saturday’s championship feature race. Other bonuses include $1,000 to any team driver who finishes second or third in the championship feature, $500 to any team driver qualifying for the championship feature and an additional $500 for the best finisher among Team INDYCAR.”

Here’s the Team INDYCAR lineup:

Chad Boat: Son of 1998 Indy 500 pole sitter and winner of IndyCar race at Texas, Billy Boat, who also won 1997 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway and 1997 Chili Bowl winner. Chad has qualified for the Chili Bowl four times.

Jerry Coons Jr.: One of five drivers to win a USAC championship in midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crowns (the others are Tony Stewart, Pancho Carter, J.J. Yeley and Darland). Also finished fourth in the 2016 Chili Bowl and holds the record for most consecutive championship feature appearances at 13 and counting.

Tyler Courtney: Drives #Driven2SaveLives car for Clauson-Marshall Racing in honor of the late Bryan Clauson. Courtney won Tuesday’s first preliminary A feature race, earning a spot in Saturday’s A Main championship feature. Driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing, which is co-owned by Tim Clauson, Bryan’s father.

Dave Darland: legendary short-track racer, has won more than 100 USAC events; named Tuesday as inductee to National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. This year is Darland’s 20th Chili Bowl; best finish of second.

“It’s great to be part of this program and great that INDYCAR and the sprint car/midget connection is still there,” Darland said in a media release. “The Indianapolis 500 is what almost all of us grew up dreaming about. The Chili Bowl is our Indianapolis 500 and Mardi Gras put together. It would be a lot of fun to win it with all the great drivers here, certainly would be meaningful.”

David Gravel: Driving Tony Elliott Foundation entry; competing in third Chili Bowl.

Davey Hamilton Jr.: Son of longtime INDYCAR driver and current INDYCAR Radio Network analyst Davey Hamilton.

Kyle O’Gara: Indy Lights and USAC midget competitor. Won USAC National Pavement Midget championship and STARS national midget owner’s championship in 2014. Is brother-in-law of longtime INDYCAR driver/team owner Sarah Fisher and drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Davey Ray: 2002 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Race. Third-generation racer helped celebrate Tony Stewart’s last Brickyard 400 on the temporary dirt track built inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway last summer.

Donny Schatz (pictured above): Won 2016 Craftsman World of Outlaws championship for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, with 25 feature wins last year, his eighth championship overall and third straight winged sprint car series title. Has more than 200 career victories, including nine of the last 11 Knoxville Nationals, but is making his Chili Bowl debut with Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Tyler Seavey: Racing for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing as a teammate to O’Gara; second trip to Chili Bowl.

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IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.