Schmidt teams with Ganassi

Target Chip Ganassi Racing (TCGR) and Sam Schmidt Motorsports announced this week a partnership to campaign 2007 Firestone Indy Lights Champion Alex Lloyd in the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 99 Honda Dallara.

The TCGR development driver made his IndyCar Series debut in 2008 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, qualifying 19th and finishing 25th.

INDYCAR POLE WORTH 1 POINT

Indy Racing League officials have altered the bonus points awarded during an IndyCar Series race weekend to match Firestone Indy Lights — two points for leading the most laps and one point for the pole winner, marking the first time since 2000 that points will be awarded based on qualifying. Since 2001, the lap leader received all bonus points.

The pole winner also will receive the $10,000 PEAK Performance Pole Award prize for races other than the 93rd Indianapolis 500 ($100,000).

The point system for each race — descending from 50 for first place, 40 for second, 35 for third, etc. — is unchanged.

"I think it’s great that you’re rewarded for pole position because it is such hard work and so difficult to get a pole in this series," said Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who won three poles in 2008." It’s sort of the first race of the weekend. To earn a point for it gives you a little more satisfaction."

SEASON OPENS APRIL 5

The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 11 a.m. (PDT) by VERSUS.

The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a double-header race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The race will be telecast at 3 p.m. (PDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.

FOUR ROOKIES TO BATTLE

Raphael Matos has won four championships in the last six seasons, working his way through the developmental racing ranks to a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series. While a fifth title might be a bit ambitious for 2009, Matos will be a top contender for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors.

Matos is one of four rookies entered full time in the IndyCar Series in 2009, joined by Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway and Robert Doornbos. All four will be contenders for the $50,000 prize.

Of the four, Matos should have the easiest learning curve. The 27-year-old won the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights championship, competing on many of the same circuits as the IndyCar Series in a race car that is the most similar to the one used in the IndyCar Series.

Matos moves to the IndyCar Series with Luczo Dragon Racing after winning his Firestone Indy Lights title with AFS/Andretti Green Racing. He also won championships in Champ Car Atlantic in 2007, Formula Mazda in 2005 and Formula Dodge in 2003. Those came on the heels of five championships as a teenager in Brazil.

Barrett, Conway and Doornbos are all newcomers to the IndyCar Series paddock but bring their own sets of impressive credentials.

Barrett has the most experience racing on ovals among the rookies. The 36-year-old has made more than 190 stock car starts in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series.

"I don’t think we’ve set any real expectations of saying we have to do this or that," said Barrett, who will drive the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G entry. "I think the best thing we can do is do our best and set out to be smart about what we’re doing, get laps and learn and try and be competitive as we can. I think we can do that. It’s a little bit difficult to be in that situation as a rookie, but I just want to do a job and be competitive, and wherever that puts us, use this year as learning and building for our sponsors and finding new sponsors so we can be around."

Conway will drive the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry in his first season in the United States. The 25-year-old spent the past two seasons in GP2 following a championship campaign in British Formula 3 International.

Doornbos returns to the United States following a 2007 campaign in the Champ Car World Series that saw him record five podium finishes in his first six starts en route to third overall in the championship. In 2009 he joins Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, an operation that recorded two victories in its first full season in the IndyCar Series in 2008.

The battle for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors will play out over 17 races — 10 on ovals and seven on road/street courses. The 2009 winner will join past winners Hideki Mutoh (2008), Marco Andretti (2006), Danica Patrick (2005) and Dan Wheldon (2003).

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