• Howard ready for Indy 500 return

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    For 2006 Indy Lights champion Jay Howard, taking part in the 101st staging of the Indianapolis 500 makes him feel fortunate.

    The 36-year-old British will drive the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda with support from the Tony Stewart Foundation Team One Cure.

    “As far as I’m concerned, I am the luckiest driver on the planet,” Howard said as he watched the Verizon IndyCar Series open test last week at Texas Motor Speedway. “I’m really fortunate to be back there with Schmidt Peterson and having Tony Stewart in my corner is going to be pretty special. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. I’m excited and it’s going to be special.”

    Although he was the 2006 Indy Lights champion, Howard only drove in a total of 12 Verizon IndyCar Series races spread over four years. His best finish came at Texas with the Schmidt team in 2011 when he finished 11th, two weeks after finishing 30th in his only Indianapolis 500 appearance to date.

    Howard hasn’t driven during the current Dallara IR-12 chassis, something team-mate James Hinchcliffe believes will be a challenge for Howard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

    “He’s definitely got a steep learning curve,” said Hinchcliffe, winner of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9. “He’s been out of the race car for a long time, but we’re going to try and prepare him the best we can. Obviously, we need all Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars running as strong as possible. We proved last year that the team prepares good cars and we’ve got fast cars at the speedway.”

    “We’ll get him up to speed. Luckily he’s got nothing else on his plate right now, so he’s focused already 100 percent on the month of May and we’re feeding him as much information as we can to make sure that he’s in the best position as possible,” he added.

    Perhaps one of the best things coming into this year’s Indianapolis 500 for Howard is the chance to go up against one of the best drivers of this generation in two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who was announced last week to drive a McLaren-Andretti-Honda next month.

    “It’s going to be great [to race against Alonso],” Howard said. “To be honest, I thought it was April Fools when I saw it, but then I started seeing it pop up on a lot of credible publications. It’s amazing. It’s phenomenal for IndyCar, for the Indy 500. It’s going to bring huge exposure. I’m sure there’s going to be more viewers tuning in on race day, not just here in the US, but worldwide. A lot of people are going to want to see how he does,” he added.

    Howard hopes to complete an IndyCar oval refresher test before practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 that begins on May 15 at IMS.

    THE TIMES

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