Indycar News and Notes

Thursday, Sep 15 1569

1. Quake shakes teams at Motegi: An earthquake registering magnitude 6.2, centered about 137 miles east of Tokyo, was felt at Twin Ring Motegi and Mito -- where many teams are headquartered for the Indy Japan -- struck about 5 p.m. local time Sept. 15.

"Just a little shaking to keep us all awake," Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing driver Graham Rahal said.

"Interesting to sit in your hotel room and see your TV walk across the desk," added Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay.

No damage to the 2.983-mile race course, on which IZOD IndyCar Series drivers will compete Sept. 18, was reported. Twin Ring Motegi is 86 miles north of Tokyo.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said such tremors are common following the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that left almost 20,000 people dead or missing across the northeastern coast.

2. Everyone a winner to Helio: From Sao Paulo by way of Zurich, Helio Castroneves arrived at Twin Ring Motegi needing a shave but otherwise ebullient. The Team Penske driver was among the judges for the Miss Universe Pageant on Sept. 12 in Brazil.

Leila Lopes of Angola was crowned Miss Universe 2011 from a field of 89 competitors. The 60th anniversary pageant, hosted by NBC "Today" anchor Natalie Morales and the Bravo network's Andy Cohen, was broadcast live on NBC and distributed to about 170 countries.

Castroneves was joined by broadcaster Connie Chung, Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana, actresses Vivica Fox, Lea Salonga and Adrienne Maloof, and 2003 Miss Universe Amelia Vega as judges.

Castroneves astutely said he found his own Miss Universe, girlfriend Adriana Henao, a few years ago and he appreciated the "amazing opportunity" in his home city that plays host to an IZOD IndyCar Series race.

"It was very interesting to see the different aspects of the competition," said Castroneves, who was on the other side of judging during his "Dancing with the Stars" run in 2007. "The 89 women who were there represented their country. It's not about only one thing, to be beautiful, but also as well you've got to represent well and have a message.

"It was tough; I wanted to give a 10 to everyone. Miss Angola was so humble and her smile was very charismatic. It was the right choice."

Castroneves said pageant organizers didn't allow contestants and judges mingle before the event.

"It finished pretty late so like a good boy I went straight home because I had to prepare to come to Japan."But I have to say I was very happy Brazil was able to host such a big event. For me, it was just great. It was quite an honor."

3. Moves at Team Penske: Rick Rinaman returns to the No. 6 Team Penske car as chief mechanic and outside front tire changer.

Matt Jonsson will move to be the chief mechanic of the Chevrolet engine development program for the new IZOD IndyCar Series car. Team Penske is the Chevy anchor team for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season that features engine manufacturer competition between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.

4. Foyt team deals with Texas wildfires: A.J. Foyt's ranch, as well as the homes of son (A.J. Foyt Racing team director) Larry Foyt and several crew members, were under evacuation orders for the last week because of threats from wildfires in the Houston area.

Tens of thousands of acres across the state have been scorched and hundreds have been evacuated in the most recent round of fires.

"I had to stay at home because if I had left you couldn't get back in," Larry Foyt said. "Luckily, we had A.J. the fireman around."

The team has a yellow Dollar General-logoed front wing assembly on loan from Sarah Fisher Racing as a spare for the race weekend because it's gone through almost its entire inventory. The Indy Japan is the third road/street course event in a row, 10th and final one of the season. Sarah Fisher Racing isn't entered.

"We'll pay for it if we use it," Foyt said.

5. Franchitti revs up a classic: Al Unser Jr. heard the roar as Honda Collection Hall associates revved up the engine of the 1965 Formula One car on the Twin Ring Motegi Road course and ordered the van driver to stop.

He had to get a look at the Honda RA272, which provided Honda with its first Formula One victory (Mexican Grand Prix, with Richie Ginter as the driver). Dario Franchitti took a demonstration lap in the car for a future Road & Track feature article.

This will be Franchitti's 50th IZOD IndyCar Series race with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He has 12 wins, 27 podiums, and 43 top-10s in the span.

6. Hinchcliffe learns Motegi - the hard way: Some IZOD IndyCar drivers will go to any length to get a competitive advantage over their fellow competitors.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender James Hinchcliffe used the Playstation 3 game Gran Turismo to get his first look at Twin Ring Motegi's road course.

Of course, he didn't plan on spending three days to take his first lap around the track.

"Maybe not one of my proudest moments," said Hinchcliffe, who not only purchased the game and a memory card but borrowed a Sony PlayStation 3 before he turned a lap. "Fortunately, I had a couple of teammates - my roommates - who did much of the grunt work. You try and learn a new track any way you can and video games these days are shockingly accurate. You'll learn more in the first two laps in the actual car, but at least it gave me a little bit of a sense of where to go."

Hinchcliffe and his roommates "spent three days in the basement" unlocking cars and tracks before finally getting to turn laps on the 14-turn, 2.983-mile road course. But because IndyCars are not in the game, he had to choose a car that is similar in speed.

"Part of the reason it took so long, was a) we had to unlock the tracks and b) I wanted to drive a car that would give me a feel of an IndyCar. I ended up driving the Konica Minolta Nissan Group C sports car. It was worth it."

7. Fund set up for family of Chris Griffis: Sam Schmidt Motorsports has set up a fund to assist the family of Chris Griffis, the team manager for its Firestone Indy Lights program, who passed away unexpectedly Sept. 12, in Noblesville, Ind.

Contributions to the Griffis Family Fund will assist Griffis' widow, Mari, and his children with current and future financial needs.

Griffis' funeral will be at 11 a.m. (EDT) Sept. 17 at Hartzler Funeral Home, 305 West Rochester Street, Akron, Ind., 46910. Visitation is from 4-9 p.m. on Sept. 16, at Hartzler Funeral Home.

A Celebration of Life event for the racing community is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24, from 3-6 p.m. at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, 6803 Coffman Road, Indianapolis, 46268.

Checks for the Griffis Family Fund can be made out to Griffis Family Fund and sent to Sam Schmidt Motorsports, 6803 Coffman Road, Indianapolis, IN, 46268.

The Griffis family said contributions also can be made to the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, P.O. Box 3661, Princeton, N.J., 08543-3661.

Griffis, 45, was hired by SSM in January 2004 and led the team to 46 Indy Lights race wins and four series titles (Thiago Medeiros - 2004, Jay Howard - 2006, Alex Lloyd - 2007 and J.K. Vernay - 2010). He also served as team manager for SSM's Indianapolis 500-Mile Race efforts most recently for Townsend Bell (2010, 2011) and Lloyd (2009).