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Behind-the-scenes tales from annual Media Day

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Some behind-the-scenes notes and anecdotes from the INDYCAR Media Day at the Amway Center this week:

Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe, who meandered from station to station with a GoPro in hand, is promoting a grassroots campaign to discern who has the best hair in the IndyCar Series now that “The King” Dario Franchitti is retired.

He listed Josef Newgarden, Sebastian Saavedra and James Jakes as the top candidates. Promote your own candidates through the Facebook link below.

Takuma Sato and Will PowerMedia Day especially was a treat for Amway Center personnel, who throughout the day saw drivers in full firesuits and carrying helmets through the expansive concourses of the Orlando Magic’s home. Multiple stations for photo and radio, group interviews, ABC, NBCSN and international broadcast tapings, and even video shoots for Texas Motor Speedway’s “Big Hoss” screen were included in the tour. A few drivers even stole some time on the ice surface prepped for an Orlando Solar Bears game.

Back to Hinchcliffe and this dialogue during one media session:

Q. Did you steal Josef’s (Newgarden) engineer, is that what happened?

A. I did. I went to his house where he normally keeps his engineer in a cage in the basement.  I broke in while he was sleeping.  Nathan (O’Rourke) made a lot of noise, rattled the cage.  It woke Josef, which made for an ugly altercation on the main floor.  I was able to use chloroform.  I said, ‘Josef, does this smell like chloroform?’  Then Nathan and I made it out the window.

Q.  No repercussions?

A. No.  We were just goofing around outside.  The chloroform had a destructive effect on his memory and he thinks Nathan is still in the basement.  He hasn’t figured it out yet.

What’s in a name?

Marco Andretti said that the names of the newest Andrettis gave pause to him and his brother, Luca. Michael Andretti’s wife, Jodi, gave birth to twins (Mario and Miati) Feb. 13 in Indianapolis.

“Lucca and I were talking when we heard the names and we were pretty surprised,” Marco said of naming the boy for his grandfather, who ranks second on the Indy car victory list. “But I guess Dad felt the generation was far enough apart that it was OK.”

Is Marco, who turns 27 on March 13, glad his wasn’t named Mario? “It’s not always that easy being Marco Andretti,” he said.

Driving for his father, owner of Andretti Autosport, hasn’t been easy either.

“It can be a hindrance sometimes, perception-wise for sure,” he said. “People thinking that’s my only option. To me, I’ve been dealing with that sort of thing ever since I stepped into the sport.”

If the shirt fits, wear it

Juan Pablo Montoya received a black shirt to be paired with black pants for Team Penske public appearances. He preferred the white shirt that team owner Roger Penske wears.

“But they say, ‘White shirt is management,’ ” Montoya said. “I’m not management, I’m just a driver. Black shirt for me.” 

Extra test sessions not a Montoya issue

Montoya received five extra days of testing to prepare for his return to Indy car racing, which INDYCAR president of competition and operations Derrick Walker said was justified. Walker said the sanctioning body would help any driver new to the series make the transition. That includes Kurt Busch, who is considering a program for the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s not just a Montoya favor,” Walker said. “We’d take care of everybody coming in the series. Sometimes we get too bogged down in the regulations, this and that, and forget about the show and the fans. I don’t think anybody wants to see Montoya come into the series and take about half a year to get acclimated to it. Maybe he’ll go out and do it sooner. More power to him.”

Castroneves keeps pushing

Helio Castroneves, you were runner-up in the series championship in 2013. What’s it going to take to win your first?

“I don’t know. I have the right line with God, to be honest, and with the Pope, too, especially with John Paul. He said, ‘When the time comes.’ I just got to push it.  I just got to keep pushing. You can’t waiting for something to happen. You have to continue giving yourself an opportunity.  Well, it may be this year.

“Certainly we did our job last year. Unfortunately, circumstances outside of our control, it didn’t happen. But right now that’s the attitude I’m going with 2014, give ourselves an opportunity, that door will open one day.”

And what would mean more to you — the series championship or to be the fourth driver with four Indianapolis 500 Mile Race victories?

“For me, Indianapolis 500. Especially the position that I’m at, it’s a great opportunity to join an incredible club. Yes, that would probably be the biggest accomplishment I could do it.

“The championship certainly is personal. It’s just something that I didn’t get yet. It’s like one track I didn’t win. It’s something that I want to accomplish and win the championship. I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.”

Briscoe tells it like it is

Ryan Briscoe, who will drive the No. 8 NTT DATA car for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, has an interesting take on reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon:

“I think he’s just solid, man, like a rock. Even-keeled. He just gets the job done. Definitely having the continuity he’s had through highs and lows, he’s just been there the whole time.  When he’s had those bad days, he doesn’t say bad things about the team. He just gets down to work and works really hard behind the scenes without publicizing it so much.  I think that’s what he’s good at. He’s a phenomenal driver. He’s fast, he’s consistent.  He’s just the same every year.  You can always count on him going for a championship again.”

Briscoe broke into the IndyCar Series in 2005 with the Ganassi team, with Dixon as a teammate.

Let’s hear it for the engineer

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Newgarden already is impressed with Jeremy Milless, who was promoted to race engineer following the departure of O’Rourke to Andretti Autosport. The team was on the Sebring International Raceway short course Feb. 17 and 19.

“If there’s anything that Jeremy has been doing this year is putting everything he has as an engineer into the program,” said Newgarden, who enters his third season with the team. “He’s done everything in the book to do a great job and find every little thing and detail in this car. It’s cool. Jeremy has never actually been a primary engineer of a race car. I feel like he’s had a lot of opinions and views to do a race car. It’s his opportunity to put that into full effect.  

“It’s been fun because he’s had a ton of energy over the last three, four months. It energizes everybody when you have an engineer that’s fresh and wanting to improve.  He’s like leading a charge almost.”

Juan Pablo Montoya

http://www.indycar.com/News/2014/02/2-19-Anecdotes-from-media-day