Barber notebook: INDYCAR trio ready for 'American Ninja Warrior' challenge


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden – each a champion in his own right – will attempt to conquer a new kind of race when they compete on the NBC obstacle course challenge show “American Ninja Warrior.”

The three racing stars will take part in the hit show’s regional competition April 27 on a specially designed course at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Any of the three who finish among the top 30 contestants or complete the course will return April 28 for Round 2. If successful then, they move on to the show’s finals in Las Vegas against qualifiers from other regional competitions. The Indianapolis episode is scheduled to air June 13 in prime time on NBC, whose partner network NBCSN is telecasting this weekend's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the fourth race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“I’m so excited to be a part of 'American Ninja Warrior' and get the chance to run such a crazy obstacle course," said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and avid trainer who has also completed the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. 

"I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, but I think my training that I do on a daily basis will put me in a position to perform well," said Kanaan, driving the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in this weekend's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. "We’re constantly trying to show everyone that what we do requires us to be athletes, but sometimes it doesn’t translate as well to the general public. This will be our chance to show how physically fit we have to be to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

“American Ninja Warrior,” returning for its eighth season on NBC, will visit five cities, including Indianapolis, leading to the finals. In Las Vegas, competitors will face a daunting four-stage obstacle course that, if completed, will earn a $1 million grand prize and the title of “American Ninja Warrior.” To date, there has been only one grand prize winner.

“It's a crazy cool opportunity because I don't think a lot of people get the chance to try that obstacle course,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy, 2011 Indy Lights champion and a two-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner. “I've had one day to really prepare for it. We've been on the road traveling so much, and you can't just go into the gym and do pull-ups; that's not how you train for that type of competition. It's very specialized. It's all technique, it's all specific obstacles.”

The drivers were able to train at gyms in Indianapolis and Florida that specialize in preparation for the show, but they won’t know what obstacles await them until they arrive. No matter, they know it will be grueling.

“I realized that to become a Ninja, wow, you have to sacrifice a lot,” said Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 winner driving the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet this weekend. “That’s not my day job so I’ve got to be really careful. You throw yourself through a lot of the areas that, if you are not prepared, you can actually hurt yourself. I was very cautious about that and do have some blisters, bruises, but right now it’s been fun.”

The 40-year-old Brazilian, an admitted "American Ninja Warrior" fan, is grateful no races are scheduled for the two weekends following the competition in Indianapolis.

“I don’t have anything the week after,” he said with a laugh. “If something goes wrong, at least I have a week to recover. Hopefully we don’t (fall into) the water, we just keep going and have a good time.”

Added Newgarden, “I don't know how we're going to do. Maybe one of us will miraculously do really well and represent INDYCAR. I'm hoping that's the case, but I don't know.”

KVSH Racing tests special LED wheel lights

For a brief time in Friday’s opening practice at Barber Motorsports Park, the Chevrolet logo brilliantly glowed inside the wheel well of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing car. If developers of the light-emitting diode (LED) displays have their way, all Verizon IndyCar Series cars will have that capability and more in the future.

Sebastien BourdaisSpeed of Light Media used the practice as a test of the LED system in real-time conditions and to see how well the display would show on NBCSN’s live telecast of practice. They were pleased with the results and said they’ve only scraped the surface of possible uses.

“We can run multiple images,” said Guy Margetson, a director of the British company, “and soon, very soon, we can ‘talk’ to the car if the series wants us to during the race. We could put P1 (running position in a session), push-to-pass, anything the series wants.”

Margetson and company co-director Patrick Wallace said they’ve logged more than 100 hours testing the system on the race car. They’ve worked with tire supplier Firestone to make sure the displays do not add improper balance to the tire-wheel combination.

The long-term goal is to supply every car in the paddock so teams can run individual sponsorship messages and INDYCAR can display competition information messages.

“We’ve had tremendous support from KVSH Racing and INDYCAR as well,” Wallace said. “We’re hoping to have a discussion with INDYCAR and, with a little bit of luck, we can launch it. It’s an added advertising space and means more revenue for the series and the teams.”

Margetson jokingly pointed out another advantage, since Bourdais was fastest in the practice session when the displays were on the car.

“It doesn’t seem to slow the car down and, arguably,” he said, “it might make it quicker.”

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