Joel Miller new driver coach for Mazda Road To Indy

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joel Miller has won karting and Skip Barber National championships, was runner-up in the Star Mazda championship and competed in Firestone Indy Lights – all since 2005.

Now the 24-year-old from Hesperia, Calif., undertakes a new role in racing as driver coach for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – two rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder. Miller will work alongside technical and driver consultant Johnny Unser, who will return for his fourth season.

“Joel will be a great driver coach,” said Spencer Pigot, who moves up to Pro Mazda with Team Pelfrey this season. “He has experience in both series and has won a lot of races. It’s good to have him as my teammate at Daytona as well.”

The duo are joined in the No. 00 Visit Florida RacingSpeedsource/Yellow Dragon Motorsports Mazda6 GX entry for the Rolex 24 At Daytona by 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier, Tristan Nunez and Yojiro Terada (a veteran Mazda racer who has competed in more than two dozen 24 Hours of Le Mans races and recorded class wins with Mazda in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1979, ’82 and ’85).

“Coming from the open-wheel side and really transitioning to sports cars this year is a totally different learning curve, but this week I’ve gotten to do it with all my open-wheel friends,” Miller said. “The open-wheel background has given all of us the ‘push’ part of the sport. Now we have to learn how to be conservative.”

Miller, also an instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School, holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Riverside.

Ganassi teams sweep front row

Scott Pruett began his pursuit of a record-tying fifth Rolex 24 At Daytona victory by winning the pole for the twice-around-the-clock race in the No. 01 TELMEX Target Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype. IZOD IndyCar Series driver Charlie Kimball is a co-driver for the event.

Two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon qualified second in the No. 02 Target/TELMEX car. Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and four-time series titlist Dario Franchitti is a team member.

Hinchcliffe gets back on karting track

James Hinchcliffe acknowledges there was some rust that needed to be brushed off.

James Hinchclifee at Rolex24The Andretti Autosport driver competed in the first round of the Florida Winter Tour karting series last weekend at Palm Beach International Raceway.

“It’s been nine years since my last sort of proper pro go-kart race and many things have changed,” said Hinchcliffe, who finished fifth in the Rotax DD2 class (5.141 seconds back). “There’s no doubt it took me a little while to blow the rust off and get back up to speed, but I had an absolute blast and forgot how much I had missed karting. I’ll definitely be doing some more.”

The next round is Feb. 22-24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Any time you’re in something with a motor it helps; it gets your reflexes up and it’s good fitness training because it’s a physical thing to drive,” said Hinchcliffe, who competed in a Tony Kart for Ocala Gran Prix. “It also helps with race craft; there’s no better wheel-to-wheel racing than go-karting and you get to work on that and it was September that I had raced anyone so it’s good to get the racing vibe going.”

The IZOD IndyCar Series’ season opener is the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 22-24.

“Unfortunately, I’ll miss the final round of the winter tour (at Ocala) because I have this other race -- St. Pete,” he joked.

He's competing this weekend in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the  No. 70 Mazdaspeed/Speedsource Mazda G6  in the GX category. Marino Franchitti, Jonathan Bomarito and Sylvain Tremblay are teammates.

Sponsorships for race, series and team

• Detroit-based Shinola will serve as the Official Timepiece and Timekeeper of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which features the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans on May 31-June 2. Shinola also will be the sponsor of Victory Circle.

• Sunoco has expanded its involvement in INDYCAR by announcing it will be the Official Fuel Supplier for Pro Mazda.

• Shell and Pennzoil will continue sponsorship of Team Penske cars in the IZOD IndyCar Series as well as continue to be the preferred supplier of fuels, lubricants and related products. Helio Castroneves will drive the No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra car at the Indianapolis 500 as well as at the inaugural Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Of note

INDYCAR director of operations Bill van de Sandt, who was race director for the former Star Mazda Championship the previous two years, will be race director of both USF2000 and Pro Mazda.