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Friday, May 6, 2016

A rich 500 tradition for Tzouanakis family

Friday, May 28, 2004

For 87 years the month of May has been synonymous with racing for Indiana residents and this year will be no different.

In this, the 88th year of the Indianapolis 500, former Greencastle resident John Tzouanakis is experiencing a homecoming of sorts.

Tzouanakis, the Team Manager of Newman Haas Racing's Champ Car World Series operation, returns with his team for the first time since 1995 and the much publicized Indy Racing League/CART split.

Despite getting a comparatively late start for this year's 500-mile race, the team has had a wealth of success leading up to Sunday's main event.

The Newman Haas Team is represented by driver Bruno Junqueira who placed his PacifiCare/Secure Horizons Panoz G Force Honda on the inside of Row 2 after qualifying at 221.379 mph. He'll be alongside Andretti Green racing's Tony Kanaan and Fernandez Racing's Adrian Fernandez when the green flag drops Sunday at 11 a.m.

"We've really had a great effort from the guys we've got here," Tzouanakis said in the garage area prior to Carburetion Day festivities. "We really didn't get our first car until last August so we've had limited testing here at the track. But Bruno is definitely very fast and confident here."

Though his team hasn't returned to Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend for nearly 10 years, Tzouanakis is certainly no stranger to racing and the Indianapolis 500.

John Tzouanakis joined his brother Mike in the racing world shortly after graduating from Greencastle High School in 1978 and began working full-time with Jim Hall in 1980.

Success came quickly for Tzouanakis with Hall's racing program as Johnny Rutherford piloted the group's Pennzoil/Chaparral Racing car to the winner's circle in that first year.

"It was really a pretty small team," Tzouanakis noted. "We had maybe six guys and just one car."

His father, Mike Tzouanakis Sr. has also been a consistent figure in open wheel racing as well as the Greencastle community.

A longtime educator in the Greencastle school district, he was well known for his work with the area's youth and the former Northeast Elementary School was renamed Tzouanakis Intermediate School following renovations.

This year, Mike Sr. is in Indianapolis as a member of the Rahal-Letterman team, currently the Head of Hospitality, he will man the pit board on race day for the group that counts polesitter Buddy Rice amongst a strong contending contingent.

Rice grabbed the top spot on the starting grid with a speed of 222.024. The Rahal-Letterman Racing crew also won the Checker's/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge on Carburetion Day Thursday afternoon.

Vitor Meira, also a member of the Rahal-Letterman Racing group will start immediately behind Junqueira on the inside of Row 3 while Roger Yasukawa qualified 12th overall.

On Thursday afternoon with final race preparations being made to Junquiera's ride, John Tzouanakis had a moment to reflect on what has been a busy month of May for the team.

"The first week was pretty hectic," he commented. " We kind of switched engines and for the team to get everything assembled in such a short amount of time is an outstanding accomplishment," Tzouanakis said. "Next, the guys had to work on race setup after qualifying, but Bruno wasn't here so it was a little more low key. But it gave the guys a little more time to prepare the car."

After being away from the track where he has spent so many Memorial Day weekends, Tzouanakis smiled when asked about how it would feel to be a part of another Indianapolis 500 victory.

"Well it's been a long time since we won that first time when I was working here. It would definitely be gratifying to win here. I think we've got a good chance."

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