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INDYCAR: Miller’s Alabama Notebook
Written by: Robin Miller   
Birmingham, AL
One of the longest and most successful partnerships in the history of American motorsports is over. After racking up nine Indianapolis 500 victories, four championships and dozens of wins in CART and the Indy Racing League, Team Penske and Phillip Morris have ended their amazing run.
Marlboro's famous chevron livery is no more. (IndyCar Series) » More Photos

"We didn't know when it was going to happen but it was inevitable," said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing Group. "When you can't put your name on the car and there are certain things you can't do, it's obvious it no longer makes sense to be involved.

"They were a great partner and we shared a lot of great memories but now it's time for another chapter."

The red and white cars sported Marlboro livery from 1990 to 2004 before the tobacco legislation no longer allowed the popular cigarette brand's name to be displayed. But the paint job was so recognizable, it almost didn't matter.

Rick Mears scored his fourth Indy win in 1991 before Emerson Fittipaldi triumphed in 1993 and Al Unser Jr. came home first in 1994. Helio Castroneves won in 2001-02-09 while Gil de Ferran came home first in 2003 and Sam Hornish Jr. put his face on the Borg-Warner trophy in 2006.

Marlboro's most memorable season with Roger Penske was in '94 when Unser, Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy finished 1-2-3 in the CART standings in Penske chassis.

It was estimated that The Captain, who was also on the board of directors at Phillip Morris, commanded $20 million each year in sponsorship for his open wheel endeavors.

"We still have involvement with Phillip Morris through a company called Altra but we no longer get money from them," continued Cindric, whose operation is running Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Castroneves in the IZOD IndyCar series in 2010.

"Verizon is the primary sponsor on Will's car and we're actively seeking primary sponsors for the 3 and 6 cars for 2010 but we know it may be unrealistic to get the kind of funding we require at this late date so we might be focusing on 2011."

Briscoe and Castroneves carry Team Penske on the sidepods and all three cars have a black and white paint scheme.

"The first time Philiip Morris sponsored a car at Indy in 1989 (with Pat Patrick), Emerson (Fittipaldi) won in an red and white car and the last time they pulled into victory lane (last May) was with Helio in a red and white car.

"We won 9 of 16 tries with them and that's a pretty fair record."

Takuma Sato was up to speed immediately at Barber. The British F3 champion and F1 veteran is expected to be in the mix of things in his rookie IndyCar season. (IndyCar Series) » More Photos

A few weeks ago, it appeared as though KV Racing might be lucky to field one car in 2010 but suddenly it's become a big dog in the IRL paddock.

team co-owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser is set to run three fulltime cars with Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and James Rossiter while also fielding a car for veteran Paul Tracy at select races.

"We did a terrific job internally of keeping things under wraps," said Mark Johnson, the general manager for KV Racing. "It may have looked like we went to three cars overnight but we started this project last year in May when we began talking to Takuma at Indianapolis.

"He made it clear he wanted to get back into Formula One and he was close to landing something with a couple of the new teams. But he said if he didn't get a seat there, he definitely wanted to come race with us."

Viso, who ran the past two years for Keith Wiggins' HVM squad, was also a long courtship.

"We've also began talking to E.J. since last May," said Johnson. "We met James (Rossiter) at Surfer's Paradise back when Will (Power) was driving for us and he said after watching Will go through the esses, he wanted to come here and drive one of our cars.

"It looks like everything happened real quick but it's kinda like spring came and the crops came in."

There's also an outside chance the KV could field a fourth car if Mario Moraes, the team's driver in 2009, can come up with sponsorship from his family. He was having dinner with Vasser and Johnson on Wednesday night.

Simona De Silvestro got off to a slow, but measured start at Barber on Wednesday. (IndyCar Series) » More Photos

Sarah Fisher is going to run two road races this season, St. Petersburg next month and Birmingham in April in addition to seven ovals. Her primary sponsor, Dollar General, is located in Memphis so she added the two southern swings to her schedule......Vasser was very impressed with Sato's opening salvo in an Indy car as the Japanese driver was seventh fastest. "He's polite, he's smart and he's really fast," said the 1996 CART champion.......Simona de Silvestro, who nearly won last year's Formula Atlantic title, took her first official IndyCar laps in the Stargate Special for Wiggins' team and was three-tenths behind Danica Patrick.......Ed Carpenter was an interested spectator and is looking for sponsorship to run Indy for Tony George's Vision Team, which still has two cars.

View the Barber IndyCar Test Day 1 photo gallery

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