Category Archives: Indycar

Bruno Junqueira – The F1 dream that never Happened

It was a case of what might have been for Bruno Junqueira.  He was one half of a shoot out for the Williams F1 drive in the year 2000.  Unfortunately he would miss out on the drive to a certain Jenson Button, and the Brazilian would never get the opportunity to compete in Formula 1.

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Alessandro Zanardi’s departure from Williams at the end of 1999 following a disappointing season left an opening alongside German Ralf Schumacher for the 2000 season.  In a shoot out at Barcelona, both 1999 Williams test driver Junqueira and then rookie Button impressed, finishing within two tenths of a second apart.

“Both drivers did a very good job,” said a team spokesman at the time. “They kept the car on the road, and the sessions were totally trouble-free. It will be a very tough decision to make.”

It was a tough decision, but ultimately Williams went for Button, leaving Junqueira out in the cold.

‘We decided to go for Jenson because we feel that over the long term he has truly vast potential,’ said Frank Williams at the time of signing Button.

Patrick Head admitted that Junqueira was his driver of choice prior to the Barcelona shoot out, but Button’s performance made it impossible for them to ignore him.

“I’d pretty much decided we should have Junqueira because we were already familiar with him and the engineers had a high regard for his technical understanding,” said Head.

“Then Jenson did a test for us at Jerez that suddenly made the decision very difficult. We then went to Barcelona and he used a left-foot braking set-up for the first time – it wasn’t something he’d done before.

“And instantly, on a track he’d never seen before, he was very quick and in the end we had to go for him.”

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Junqueira would return to F3000 with the Petrobras Junior team, and won four races en-route to the championship, defeating Frenchman Nicolas Minassian in a final race shoot-out.  When asked about his prospects about moving to Formula 1 in 2001, he was doubtful.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m just trying to stay away from this, because I don’t want to have a big frustration if I don’t get an F1 drive,” said Junqueira.

“On the other hand because I’m not hoping too much, if I get it, it will be very good for me, and I will be really happy. I think I’ve learned in the past that I have to do my job and try to get a good team, and see what happens.

“I have a possibility to go to CART, and I also have to think about being a test driver. I like to race, but you can learn testing. If Jenson was staying at Williams, there might be more opportunities to test next year, but a new driver needs time.

“At the start of this year I wasn’t doing many tests, but at the end of the year I will do much more, because Jenson already has a handle on the car and doesn’t need to test so much.”

Ultimately, an F1 drive was not forthcoming for the Brazilian, and he did move to CART with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It’s good to come in with such a good team, such a competitive team,” said Junqueira on signing with Ganassi.  “And that will help me a lot in the first year. The first year is going to be a learning year. I don’t know about ovals, I don’t know the other circuits either. I think with a good team like Ganassi, they can teach me and show me how to go.

“I enjoyed the car a lot. There was a lot of power, really fast on the straights. The biggest thing is the power, and how fast it comes in, when the turbo comes in you have big power. I thought that after the test went very well, and that I could have a good opportunity.”

Chip Ganassi was happy to announce Junqueira as one of his drivers for the 2001 season, alongside Nicolas Minassian.

“Bruno and Nicolas displayed a lot of talent and experience during our tests and they both have impressive racing resumes,” said Ganassi.

“One thing that jumped out at us was how similar their attitudes and racing styles were to [Jimmy] Vasser and [Juan Pablo] Montoya. We believe these guys will quickly become stars in this series.”

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Whereas Minassian was dropped after just seven events, Junqueira remained at the team for two seasons and won his first CART race at Road America event in August.  He finished 16th in the standings, and was second in the rookie of the year rankings behind New Zealander Scott Dixon.  He was then retained for the 2002 season.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to drive for Team Target in 2002,” Junqueira said.

“Last year, I developed a good relationship with my engineers and team members, and I’m looking forward to working with them again. We had some good races, but I was hoping for better results than what we had. I’m looking forward to getting back in the seat of the Target car and winning some more races this year.”

Ganassi managing director Mike Hull welcomed the Brazilian back to the team for a second season, and praised his speed and ability on track.

“Bruno learned a lot from his rookie season last year,” said Hull.  “He’s an extremely talented driver who had some flashes of brilliance last year. He also made some mistakes, which I’m confident he’s learned from. Bruno has shown he can run at the front and win races.

“With one year of experience in CART, he has a chance to compete for the championship this season.”

Whereas a fight for the championship did not exactly happen, four wins saw him finish second behind fellow Brazilian Cristiano da Matta in the standings.  He did shock the Indy Racing League though, when in a one-off appearance at the Indy 500, Junqueira grabbed pole position.

“I thought I could qualify in the first or second row,” he said. “One thing I have learned in one year of racing ovals is you have to be patient, especially in the race. But today I was the first one to qualify. That can be good or bad – you never know what can happen.”

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He swapped Ganassi Racing for Newman/Haas Racing for 2003, and once again he finished second in the championship, this time behind Canadian Paul Tracy.  It was a much closer affair, and Junqueira was still in the hunt for the championship going into the penultimate event.  However Tracy won in Mexico to clinch the title, leaving Junqueira to fight Mexican Michel Jourdain Jr for second.

He remained at Newman/Haas for 2004, this time in the newly formed Champ Car series, which had replaced CART, and for a third consecutive season ended up runner-up in the championship.  He lost out this time to Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, but Junqueira did not go down without a fight, and won twice and finished second on no less than seven occasions!  Ultimately he would come up 25 points shy of Bourdais in the championship.

His 2005 season would end abruptly in a crash at the Indianapolis 500.  He broke two vertebras in his back and his ankle when he hit the wall, which saw him ruled out for over six months.  He returned to the paddock at Toronto in July, but only as a spectator.

When Junqueira made his return, he was instantly quick in testing, and legendary actor and Newman/Haas co-owner, the late Paul Newman, praised him.

“That kid had a long, hot summer and he probably got real tired of watching all those guys race when he had to sit,” said Newman.

“He was very impressive wasn’t he? He got right back in rhythm and right back up to speed.  I’m proud of him because he was hurt pretty bad and he really worked hard to get back in shape.”

Junqueira was surprised by Newman’s comments and attendance at the test and admitted it was one of the best days of his life.

“To have Paul here today, I cannot tell you how much that means to me,” said Junqueira.

“He’s not only a great owner, he’s a good friend and this was a very nice surprise. It’s one of the best days of my life.”

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Junqueira’s 2006 season was not as impressive as in previous years however, and he came only fifth in the championship without winning a race.  He was almost 170 points behind champion Bourdais.

For 2007, he swapped Newman/Haas for Dale Coyne Racing.  He managed three podium finishes for the small outfit, and finished seventh in the championship.  He remained at Dale Coyne for the 2008 IndyCar series; the first year that Champ Car and the Indy Racing League were reunited.  He only managed two top ten finishes as the Champ Car teams adjusted to life in the IndyCar series.

Since 2009 however, he has been left on the sidelines for the majority of the time, with only sparodic appearances in the IndyCar series.  He qualified for both the 2009 and 2011 Indianapolis 500’s before being replaced by other drivers before the race.  In 2009 he was replaced by Conquest Racing team-mate Alex Tagliani, while in 2011, Andretti Autosport paid AJ Foyt to put Ryan Hunter-Reay into his Foyt Enterprises entry.

Tagliani repaid him in 2010 when the FAZZT team he was a part of gave him a chance in their second car at Indianapolis.  He qualified comfortably with barely any running but crashed out early in the race.  In 2012 he made his final IndyCar appearance to date at the Baltimore street race, when he replaced an injured Josef Newgarden in the Sarah Fisher Racing entry.

Junqueira has been most recently seen racing in the now defunct American Le Mans Series.

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But could have Junqueira cut it in Formula 1?  In my honest opinion, Williams made the correct call to take Jenson Button, but I also believe Junqueira deserved a shot.  He was outstanding in F3000 in 2000, and won many races in CART and Champ Car since.  Had he not had that season-ending crash at Indianapolis in 2005, he could have been champion that year, and it is in my belief that he was never quite the same driver again.  He has always been quick around Indy though.

F1 was an opportunity lost for the Brazilian, and I feel sorry that we never saw him race in F1.  A certain Jenson Button put paid to that dream.

Sources: Autosport

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Simona de Silvestro – the Talented Swiss Miss

The Sauber F1 team’s announcement that they had signed a contract with 25-year-old Simona de Silvestro for her to be an affiliated driver with the team shocked a few people in the F1 world.  The Swiss Miss has always said her ambition was to race in Formula 1, and now her dream has come a little closer to being realised.

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De Silvestro becomes the fifth driver to be signed to some kind of contract with Sauber this year, joining race drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, reserve driver Giedo van der Garde, and test driver Sergey Sirotkin.

But who is Simona de Silvestro, and why have the Sauber team signed her up?

De Silvestro began her open wheel career in 2005, aged 17, in the Formula Renault 2.0 Italy series.  The following year she moved to the United States to compete in races there, first of all in the Formula BMW USA series, where she won her first race in 2006.  She then progressed into the support series for the Champ Car series, the Atlantic Championship.  She made steady progress in her three years there, and in her final year in 2009, she won four times and finished third in the championship.

She moved into the IndyCar Series in 2010, debuting with the HVM Racing team.  She had a best finish of eighth in her rookie season at Mid-Ohio, but impressed the paddock with her skills.  She even lead laps in Brazil!  She remained in the team for 2011, and finished fourth around the streets of St. Petersburg.

A third year with HVM came in 2012, but with Lotus engines – the only team to run them all season long – she was not a serious contender for big results.  She was very lucky to even qualify for the Indianapolis 500 due to the severity of the underpowered Lotus engine.

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She spent a fourth year in the IndyCar series, this time with the KV Racing Technology team as team-mate to Tony Kanaan – the first time in four years she had a team-mate.  She had a much more impressive year, culminating in a maiden podium finish around the streets of Houston.

“In my mind, she’s the best female racer on the planet,” Jimmy Vasser, the team boss of KV Racing Technology. “I haven’t seen anybody else with her abilities across the board. She’s the best, hands down.

“Danica [Patrick] did a great job to open doors and break down barriers. But she’s so petite, and that made it harder for her to compete on road and street races.  But Simona can hang in there all day long with the big boys. She’s the world’s best female racer, in my opinion.”

Her first year with a team-mate enabled her to learn from Tony Kanaan, who won the 2013 Indianapolis 500.  Kanaan made a bold statement of his own regarding de Silvestro.

“She’s better at this point in her career than anyone else I’ve taught,” admits Kanaan, who made his own debut in Indycar back in 2002.

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“She got her confidence back this year.  She’s never had a teammate to tell her that what she’s doing is OK. She knows what she wants.

“She knows exactly what she needs. I try to help her as much as I can, but it’s not like she needs that much help.”

De Silvestro admits that she learns every time she goes out in a racecar.  She has the strength, the stamina to compete with the best of what IndyCar have to offer, and she is very precise and accurate with a steering wheel in hand.

“I’ve always been the type of driver who learns something every time out,” said de Silvestro.

“It’s still going on for me. There are a lot of things I need to improve, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve always been the type of person who doubts themselves when there’s nothing on paper that proves you’re getting faster.  I have to know I’m constantly improving.

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“The thing I hear in that regard that is flattering is when people say I’m a good driver on road and street courses. You always hear that a woman can’t drive on a road course because it’s more physical than an oval. It’s cool to hear people say I can race on road courses.”

With the news of her Sauber contract being announced, de Silvestro admitted that Formula 1 has always been her lifelong ambition.

“This is a major step towards me achieving a life-long dream and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to take this step with such a great team. The Sauber F1 Team is a team with a legacy and the only Swiss team in Formula One, which I think makes this even more exciting. I can’t thank Monisha Kaltenborn and Peter Sauber enough for their support and belief in my abilities and for giving me this chance. I’m thrilled to have this extremely unique platform on which to prepare myself to take on the challenge.”

Monisha Kaltenborn, one of only two female team principals in Formula 1 alongside Williams’ Claire Williams, said de Silvestro was a very gifted driver, and the team were happy to be assisting her attempt to get a race seat in F1.

“After four years in IndyCar, Simona’s ambition is to enter Formula one in 2015,” said Kaltenborn.

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“We regard her as a very talented race driver, and we, therefore, decided to take her on board as an “affiliated driver” and support her on her way to the pinnacle of motorsport.”

Her contract with Sauber enables her to join a preparation programme, which will enable de Silvestro to obtain a super licence and prepare her for Formula 1 in 2015.  Sauber will give her time on track and in a simulator, plus help her with physical and mental preparations.

The road to Formula 1 is a long one for many drivers, and Simona de Silvestro is no exception.  There has not been a female racing driver in the sport since 1992, when Giovanna Amati attempted to qualify a Brabham unsuccessfully.  In between then and now, Katherine Legge, Susie Wolff and the late Maria de Villota have all tested F1 cars, but none have made the jump up to race driver.

Just because she has a contract with Sauber does not guarantee her a race seat.  Sauber already have Sergey Sirotkin under a similar contract, and his Russian backers are expecting him to race in F1 in 2015.  Giedo van der Garde, Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez will also hope to be racing for the team next year.

But her gender should not be the defining entity that decides who gets the drive.  If she proves to the team that she is quick, perhaps quicker than some or all of the other drivers in contention, then she should get the drive.  To me, I am in agreement with Jimmy Vasser that she is the best female driver in the world right now, and on her day, she can beat the best drivers IndyCar has to offer, including champions past and present.

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Is she good enough for F1?  In my opinion, she is, and had I been a team boss, I would have taken a look at her much sooner than now.  Its good news that Sauber have taken her on board, I feel she will prove herself sufficiently in the next twelve months that she will be in Formula 1 as a race driver in 2015.

Watch this space, the Swiss Miss is coming, you’d better be ready!

Sources: Autosport, http://www.sauberf1team.com/, http://www.usatoday.com/

The Busiest Man in Motorsport – Conor Daly

Five months into 2013 and up-and-coming American racer Conor Daly has already raced in FOUR different categories of motor racing, and tested another.  On top of that, he’s likely to be given the responsibility of a Formula 1 test at some point this year, just like last year when he untook some straight-line tests for the Sahara Force India team.

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Pre-season, Daly was unsure of what series he’d be racing in this year.  He had signed for nothing despite being a race-winner for the Lotus ART squad in the GP3 series last year.  The previous year to that, he had split his year between the GP3 series & the Indy Lights championship, the junior series to the Izod Indycar championship.  In 2010 he had won the Star Mazda Championship, the series just below Indy Lights.

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At the end of 2012 & into the beginning of 2013, Daly contested the MRF Challenge championship & won it, winning four races out of the ten competed in.  However, the next few months were to be his busiest time.  He tested out GP3, GP2, Indycar & Formula Renault 3.5 machinery within a few weeks, but even then he was unsure what series he’d be racing in full-time in 2013.

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Hilmer Motorsport are a new team in the GP2 series and were after a driver for the opening round of the championship in Malaysia.  Daly jumped at the chance, and amazingly scored points in the sprint race during the weekend.  Soon after he was confirmed to be returning to the ART team in the GP3 series, and scored a podium finish first time out in Barcelona.  More points followed in the second race, and currently he stands 4th in the championship.

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AJ Foyt is a legendary name in the Indycar series, and Conor recieved the nod for the #41 ABC Supply Co. car for the biggest race in the Indycar season, the Indianapolis 500.  He had to miss the first couple of days of practice because of his Spanish GP3 Series commitments, but as soon as the race in Spain was over, he was on a flight to America, ready for his rookie orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Monday morning, which he passed with flying colours.

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He got up to speed quickly, but on the Thursday, he suffered a big crash through turn one, almost flipping over.  Thankfully, he escaped intact, and was back in the car on Saturday ready to qualify.  However he had to wait for Sunday to qualify properly as car issues lead to reduced speeds on Saturday.  However, qualify he did, in 31st place.  Daly made it to the end of the race, finishing two laps down in 22nd place, despite two fires occuring during pit stops.  But he made it to the finish.

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Daly returns to action in the GP3 series in Valencia next month, but now he’ll finally be able to sit down and relax after a few months of action in four different series.  Don’t be surprised to see him full-time in the GP2 series next year, nor be surprised if he’s in Formula 1 within a couple of years.  There are lots of eyes on the young, likeable American, both sides of the Atlantic.  The talent is there, that is for certain.

2013 Indycar Season Preview

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2013 Indycar Series Season Preview

If you were asked pre-2012 who’ll be the first Izod Indycar Champion in the DW12, you’d have probably guessed one of Will Power, Dario Franchitti or Scott Dixon.  However, it was Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Andretti Autosport car that prevailed against all odds.  For the third year in a row, his form on ovals let Will Power down, and he ended up runner-up.  Dario Franchitti endured a relatively torrid year to what he’s used to, and only had an Indy 500 victory to show for his efforts.

So what for 2013?  More of the same, or will we see more teams learning the characteristics of the DW12 and challenging at the front?

Lets start with the championship winning Andretti AutosportRyan Hunter-Reay takes the Number 1, something that hasn’t been seen in a fair while in the series.  He’ll have the confidence of his championship to take into the new season, and should be up front again.  Marco Andretti remains in his fathers team but swaps his number 26 for the number 25, to see if it gives him more luck.  James Hinchcliffe also remains in the Go Daddy number 27, whilst EJ Viso moves from KV to make it a four car line-up, taking the number 5.  All three teammates to Hunter-Reay should at times be up front, and the hope is for the likeable Hinchcliffe to finally break his duck and win his first Indycar race.

Whilst Andretti have gone from three cars to four, Team Penske have downsized from three to two cars, at least for the majority of the season.  Gone is Ryan Briscoe, pole sitter for the 2012 Indy 500, but remaining in the team are Will Power (number 12) and Helio Castroneves (number 3). Roger Penske & his team will be hoping that Power can finally get the Championship his driving over the past few years has certainly earned, and Castroneves should be strong everywhere, and will be gunning for his fourth Indy 500 win.  At present, Penske’s number 2 car will only be seen at Barber & Indianapolis in the hands of AJ Allmendinger, a championship contender in Champ Car back in the day and a Nascar regular in the past couple of years.

Another team to downsize their team is Chip Ganassi Racing, going from four cars to three.  Remaining in the squad are Target drivers Scott Dixon (number 9) & Dario Franchitti (number 10), whilst Charlie Kimball remains the the 83.  You’d imagine both Dario & Scott will be challenging up front most of the time, whether it be on an oval, road or street course, while Kimball will hope to build on 2012 where he earned his first podium finish.  Expect the fourth car to return for the Indy 500.

AJ Foyt Enterprises remains a one-car outfit, replacing Mike Conway with Japanese driver Takuma Sato.  Its been a few years since this team were in victory circle, and its the hope that Sato can build on his performances in 2012 and be more consistent & reliable.  Podiums and indeed wins could indeed follow if he puts everything together.  Expect the number 41, and possibly the number 48, to be seen for the Indy 500.

Alex Tagliani, former pole sitter for the Indy 500, returns for a second season with Barracuda Racing, Bryan Herta’s outfit.  After the dreadful start to the 2012 season when the team was stuck with the awful Lotus engines, a change to Honda engines saw a dramatic improvement.  The team will hope to be challenging for top fives & top tens through the season.  There is a chance they’ll be a second car for Indy, but they’ll probably remain a one-car effort the rest of the time.

KV Racing Technology are another team to downsize their operation, reducing their effort from three cars to two.  Tony Kanaan remains in the team in the number 11, but last years teammates have both gone, EJ Viso to Andretti and Rubens Barrichello to Brazilian Stock Cars.  Kanaan is joined in the team by HVM refugee Simona de Silvestro, a move that sees the popular Swiss lady have a competitive car after suffering as the lone Lotus engined driver for the whole of 2012.  We should see a return to the form we know Simona can produce for 2013.   Its not inconcievable that this team can win races in 2013 with both drivers.  A third car at Indy is also a possibility.

Sam Schmidt Motorsport has upsized from one car to two for the 2013 season, keeping Simon Pagenaud (number 77), a star of 2012, and adding Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier (number 55).  Pagenaud raced regularly at the front in 2012 and will hope to get that first series win under his belt this time out.  Vautier will hope to be challenging as Pagenaud did in 2012, and as the only full-time rookie, he’s odds on for rookie of the year.  A third car, possibly for Townsend Bell, at Indy is highly likely.

Another team to upsize from a single car entry to two is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.  They’ve hired Graham Rahal (number 15) to lead the team, whilst James Jakes (number 16) joins from Coyne.  Rahal’s aims after a disappointing couple of years at Ganassi where so much more was expected of him is surely to get his career back on track and challenge at the front for podiums and maybe the odd win.  Jakes will be aiming for top ten finishes.  Mike Conway joins the team for the Long Beach race in a third car (number 17), a car which will more than likely be seen again at Indy in the hands of a different driver, Conway having come out and said he won’t race on an oval again.

Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing joined forces in 2012 and remain so in 2013, both keeping their same drivers this year in JR Hildebrand (number 4) and Oriol Servia (number 22).  After his 2011 disappointment at Indy, JR will hope to break his duck in the series, while Servia will hope to remain as solid and consistent as he’s been throughout his Indycar career.  Panther may bring in a second solo car for Indy.

2012 Texas winner Justin Wilson (number 19) remains in the Dale Coyne team for 2013, though at present his teammate is unknown.  For St Petersburg it’ll be Ana Beatriz (number 18), but beyond there who knows.  Its rumoured the car will be shared between Ana & Justin’s younger brother, Stefan Wilson.  Justin, traditionally strong on the road & street courses, will hope for another strong year and perhaps challenge for the road course championship.

Dragon Racing return as a two car outfit for 2013, keeping Sebastien Bourdais, but replacing Katherine Legge with Sebastian Saavedra in controversial circumstances after the British lady believed had a solid contract.  The legal proceedings are still going on there.  Bourdais should be strong this year, whilst Saavedra will need to prove dropping down to Indy Lights for a year has improved his driving ability.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing has retained the services of the very likeable Josef Newgarden (number 67) for another season.  He’d be hoping to build on his performances in 2012 where he was fast but at times unreliable.  He should be aiming for top ten finishes and maybe the odd top five.  A second car at Indy is a possibility for the second season running.

The last full time team is Ed Carpenter Racing, with team boss Ed Carpenter once again in control of the lone-entry.  He’ll be hoping to be competing for more oval wins whilst building on his ever improving road/street track form.  Again, another car is possible for the Indy 500.

Despite all the rumours, Michael Shank Racing, Newman/Haas Racing, Scuderia Coloni, Conquest Racing and HVM Racing will not be racing full time in 2013.  Fan Force United could return for the Indy 500, while Shank, Conquest & HVM could align themselves with other teams for the same event.

2013 Indycar Series Schedule

Round 1: St Petersburg – 24 March; Round 2: Barber Motorsports Park – 07 April; Round 3: Long Beach – 21 April; Round 4: Sao Paulo – 05 May; Round 5: Indianapolis 500 – 26 May; Round 6+7: Detroit – 01/02 June; Round 8: Texas Motor Speedway – 08 June; Round 9: Milwaukee Mile – 15 June; Round 10: Iowa Speedway – 23 June; Round 11: Pocono Raceway – 07 July; Round 12+13: Toronto – 13/14 July; Round 14: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – 04 August; Round 15: Sonoma Raceway – 25 August; Round 16: Baltimore – 01 September; Round 17+18: Houston – 05/06 October; Round 19: Auto Club Speedway – 19 October.