Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:

1. Franchitti to mark milestone start at Long Beach

2. Rahal spends time on ice

American Muscle

3. Di Leo to make Firestone Indy Lights debut at Long Beach

4. Of note

1. Franchitti to mark milestone start at Long Beach: Dario Franchitti has already overtaken Bobby Rahal and Gordon Johncock on the all-time Indy car victory list. Before the end of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, he will pass them for most career starts, too.

The April 21 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark Franchitti’s 250th Indy car start – a fact that the 39-year-old driver found somewhat humbling and “amazing.”

Franchitti has amassed 31 victories (including three Indianapolis 500 wins), 29 runner-up finishes, 112 top-five finishes and 29 pole starts – all amongst the top 10 on all-time lists – in an Indy car career that began on March 2, 1997, in a CART race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He started 13th and finished 25th in a Hogan Racing car.

He has finished in the top 10 in more than half the races over the 15-plus seasons of competition. Such stellar statistics have enabled Franchitti to pick up four IZOD IndyCar Series championships along the way.

“It’s been a long time but it’s not just about being here, it’s being here and trying to be competitive,” Franchitti said. “If I continue to be competitive, I’ll be happy. The drive to continue is one thing, but it’s also being realistic about being competitive. Right now, we’re still able to do that.”

Franchitti is in his fifth season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, where he’s won 13 races, three series titles and two Indianapolis 500 Mile Races. He spent an equal number of seasons with then-Andretti Green Racing (2003-07), where he won the 2007 Indianapolis 500 and series title.

“It’s amazing to think of all those years doing this and the races I’ve got to win, people I’ve gotten to work with, the teammates I’ve had, the teams I’ve gotten to drive with, the friends I’ve made,” said Franchitti, who earned his first victory in August 1998 at Road America. “This has been my life for a long time and I hope it continues for a long time because it was my dream to do this and I’m still here.

“It’s a competitive environment and you’re always gunning to try to be on top, and if you’re not on top you want to be. That’s what makes this sport so great, I think.”

Franchitti will make his 12th start at Long Beach, where he won in 2009 on the temporary street circuit. He started from the pole last April in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.

“Long Beach one was (my) first (win) for the Target team so that was extra special,” he said. “Long Beach has a lot of history and it’s a race I’ve done well at and had some shockers as well. I can’t think of another street course that has that kind of history. It is a huge event, so it would be nice to win that one.”

Most Indy car starts 1946-2013

407 – Mario Andretti

369 – A.J. Foyt

329 – Al Unser Jr.

320 – Al Unser

317 – Michael Andretti

315 – Johnny Rutherford

281 – Paul Tracy

264 – Bobby Rahal

261 – Gordon Johncock

260 – Helio Castroneves

259 – Tony Kanaan and Bobby Unser

249 – Dario Franchitti

2. Rahal spends time on ice: Graham Rahal welcomed Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller into his world last September. On April 17, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver will spend some time on the ice.

A bonus for Rahal – the game at Honda Center is against his favorite NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Rahal, along with the street-legal two-seater, will be on the ice during intermission following the second period to give away a ride in the “Fastest Seat in Sports” that leads the field on warm-up laps before the green flag of races — including the April 21 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Hiller, who has a 2.50 goals-against average in 22 starts for the playoff-bound Ducks, attended the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 15. After getting a ride in a two-seater on the 2-mile oval with Mario Andretti driving, he met with Rahal in the garage.

3. Di Leo to make Firestone Indy Lights debut at Long Beach: Canadian racer Matthew Di Leo will take the next step of his motorsports career as he steps up to Firestone Indy Lights beginning with the Long Beach 100 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.

The teenager, who serves as owner/driver of MDL Racing, will make his series debut ready to build on the success he has earned in the USF2000 Championship as he tries to fulfill his dream to race and win in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“I’m looking forward to being so close to (the IZOD IndyCar Series), so close to my ultimate goal,” Di Leo said. “I feel like there is a lot of great competition in the series, like there has been in all the series on the Mazda Road to Indy program. My goals for the weekend at Long Beach is to get a top-three finish, and bring the car back in one piece.”

While Di Leo will be making his debut in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy program, which was created to advance drivers into the IZOD IndyCar Series, he is confident that he can make an immediate impression.

Piloting the MDL Racing entry that is sponsored by RES Precast Inc., the 17 year-old will have the benefit of working with the same crew that has led him to previous junior formula car success, as well as having recently completed a successful test.

“It actually was the most unreal ride of my life,” Di Leo said of his first Firestone Indy Lights test. “The car was so fast, and it handled great. I knew as soon as I finished my test day that I would be doing a race soon. I can’t wait to be back in that car.”

Di Leo has competed as an owner/driver for the past two years and was a contender for top honors in the 2012 USF2000 Championship, ultimately finishing fourth in the championship fight with four trips to the podium. The Innisfil, Ontario, native also has a winning record in the highly-competitive Canadian F1600 ranks.

4. Of note: Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Los Angeles Dodgers host the San Diego Padres on April 17 at Dodger Stadium. … Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport teammate E.J. Viso will participate in pit stop demonstrations and greet fans April 18 during the “Tecate Light Thursday Thunder on Pine.”

The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. The race will be televised live at 4 p.m. (ET) by the NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211 The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Long Beach 100 on April 21 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. (ET) on April 21, immediately preceding the IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast.

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