Della Penna Motorsports Switches to Toyota Power for the 1999 FedEx Championship Series; Budweiser Returns with Increased Support
Indianapolis, Ind. (Monday, January 4, 1999) - Della Penna Motorsports team owner John Della Penna announced today his plans to run with Toyota power for the 1999 FedEx Championship Series. Richie Hearn, of Henderson, Nevada, returns for his sixth consecutive year with Della Penna Motorsports to pilot the #10 Budweiser Swift/Toyota/Firestone Champ car in all 20 race events next season.
Budweiser, "the Official Beer of CART," also returns as the primary sponsor of Della Penna Motorsports for a second year with increased support for the 1999 season.
"This is a huge step forward for our team," Della Penna said. "We are the only team/driver combination currently in CART that has developed out of a lower series, specifically the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series. This team has a long history with Toyota through that series and the opportunity to reunite with them was too good of an offer to pass up. It's an excellent opportunity that doesn't come about very often. We've had a great working relationship with Ford the last three years including the team's first win in Las Vegas (1996 IRL season finale), a pole at New Hampshire (1996 IRL event) and eight top-10 finishes throughout the 1998 CART season. It was a difficult decision for me to make. I've struggled with it for the better part of the year, but I believe that this opportunity with Toyota is best in the long run for the growth of Della Penna Motorsports."
John Della Penna was active in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series for a number of years dating back to the 1980s. He fielded teams for drivers Jimmy Vasser, Jamie Galles, Jeff Barker, Richie Hearn and Clint Mears from 1990 to 1995. Della Penna Motorsports' illustrious Toyota Atlantic history includes 92 starts with five different drivers during that time period resulting in 16 pole positions, 13 wins (10 from the pole), 62 top-10 starts and 65 top-10 finishes, 29 of which were podiums. In 1994, Richie Hearn earned Rookie of the Year honors in his first season with Della Penna Motorsports and the following year he captured the team's first championship title while competing in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series.
"Certainly the couple of years I spent in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series really helped establish my career," Hearn said. "The chance for our team to be associated with Toyota again is a great opportunity. Toyota is definitely on the right track and the team, and I, want to be there when it all comes together for Toyota. With the advances that Toyota is making coupled with a strong commitment from Budweiser, 1999 should be a good year for Della Penna Motorsports."
Della Penna concurred, "Toyota is on the verge of turning the corner and I'm excited that Della Penna Motorsports will be a part of that history." Toyota's advances have been evident throughout the season with highlights coming at Vancouver where Alex Barron's Toyota-powered machine led 12 laps, the first for the engine manufacturer, and at Houston where Max Papis finished fifth earning Toyota its highest finish ever and its first top-5 finish.
"We are very pleased to welcome Della Penna Motorsports into the Toyota family," said Jim Aust, Toyota Racing Development, USA (TRD, USA) president and CEO and vice president of Toyota Motorsports. "John Della Penna and Richie Hearn produced a Toyota Atlantic Championship together in 1995, and we believe the Della Penna Motorsports organization has the potential to be a future champion in the CART FedEx Championship Series, as well."
In addition, Della Penna is excited about the return of Budweiser as the team's primary sponsor for a second consecutive season.
"The additional support from Budweiser will allow the team to do a lot of testing it wasn't able to do in 1998. We will be able to take advantage of all the test days available to the team, and will add more personnel to the team for the 1999 season," Della Penna said.
Budweiser has sponsored Della Penna Motorsports and Richie Hearn since 1995 and is anticipating a solid year in 1999.
"Richie Hearn is one of the most promising young American drivers in motorsports and we look forward to having him behind the wheel of the Toyota-powered Budweiser car in 1999," said Tony Ponturo, vice president, Corporate Media and Sports Marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc. "Richie and the Della Penna team have represented Budweiser well and we're committed to working with them to get to Victory Lane in 1999."
The 1999 season will also mark the end of Della Penna Motorsports' five-year relationship with Ralphs Grocery Company. Ralphs began its sponsorship of the team in 1994 fielding Richie Hearn in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series. Within the past year, Ralphs was acquired by Fred Meyer, and Fred Meyer will soon merge with the Kroger Company. Therefore, Ralphs was not able to commit to the team at this time.
"Obviously we enjoyed a great relationship with Ralphs," Della Penna said. "They were instrumental in helping Richie and I get to this point in our careers. Not too many teams have been able to move up through the ranks of a lower series in the short period of time that we have and that is largely due to the support of Ralphs. We would like to thank Ron Burkle (Managing Partner of the Yucaipa Companies) and George Golleher (President and COO of Fred Meyer Inc.) for their support through the years and the faith that they placed in Richie and I. We hope that in the future we will be able to work with them again with some degree of involvement."
During the 1998 FedEx Championship season, Hearn achieved a number of milestones for the up-and-coming Della Penna Motorsports. He earned four top-10 starts and eight top-10 finishes. The highlight of the young American's career came at this season's U.S. 500 at the Michigan Speedway where he topped his career-best start and finish records. He earned third place on the starting grid and took the checkered flag in fifth. Hearn led 11 laps of the exciting event in which nine drivers exchanged the lead a record 62 times. Hearn led four events this season for a total of 45 laps led.
The 1999 FedEx Championship Series holds a great deal of possibilities for the young driver, team and engine manufacturer. Look for even greater accomplishments from Della Penna Motorsports driver Richie Hearn and his Budweiser Swift/Toyota/Firestone Champ car next season.