IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-03-30

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 30, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. City Transforms Downtown Streets To Race Track 2. Dana, Hemelgarn Skip St. Petersburg Event 3. Andretti, Luyendyk, Unser Line Up For First Street Race 4. Firestone Inks...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 30, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. City Transforms Downtown Streets To Race Track
2. Dana, Hemelgarn Skip St. Petersburg Event
3. Andretti, Luyendyk, Unser Line Up For First Street Race
4. Firestone Inks Deal With PPIR

1. City transforms downtown streets to race track: Kirk Russell, director of track operations of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and his crews have built a "city within a city" in less than a month.

In order to convert the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., to a 1.8-mile race course, more than 20 million pounds of concrete blocks, almost four miles of fencing and close to 12 miles of cable have been installed.

The course also incorporates more than 17,000 tires in the barriers and 12,000 U-Bolts to secure the fencing and three steel gates.

Grandstands, pedestrian bridges, hospitality tents and VIP viewing suites also have been constructed. Temporary boat slips have been brought in for the yachts and party boats in the South Yacht Basin.

"By the time we get everything up and then get it all down, we will have put in somewhere around 20,000 staff hours," Russell said. "We really have two goals in our team. First we have to make the track safe for the drivers and secondly, we want to keep the viewing exciting for the spectators. This is a great layout for a track and it gives us the perfect setting to accomplish both of our goals."

The course will be removed by April 12.

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2. Dana, Hemelgarn Skip St. Petersburg Event: Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing and driver Paul Dana will sit out the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The decision to take this weekend off allows the team to focus on its oval program and be as prepared as possible for the Indianapolis 500 in May.

"We are going to do a few days of oval testing to try to get our program sorted out, and since the other two road course events aren't until later in the year, hopefully we'll have some time to get our road-course car put together and tested before then," said Dana, who is tied for 12th in points and leads the Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings.

"I started out in road racing up in Canada so I'm really excited that the series is going in this direction. It's frustrating to have to sit out one of the early events, but we've gotten such a late start to the season we've got to pick our battles a little bit."

Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing will next race at the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi on April 30.

***

3. Andretti, Luyendyk, Unser Line Up For First Street Race: For 40 years, open-wheel racing has been dominated by Andrettis, Unsers and Luyendyks. After numerous championships and 12 Indianapolis 500 victories split among the families, the last of the "old" guard, Al Unser Jr., retired from driving last year.

How is it then that the starting lineup for this weekend's Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg features an Andretti, a Luyendyk and an Unser for the first time since the 2002 Indianapolis 500?

It's the next generation of these legendary families, developing their talent in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, the premier ladder series for the IRL IndyCar® Series.

Marco Andretti, who turned 18 on March 13, will be making his racing debut in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series at St. Petersburg, while Arie Luyendyk Jr., 23, and Al Unser, 22, are series veterans.

"I'm looking forward to it," Andretti said. "I know it's going to be a big challenge, but it's a great opportunity. Hopefully, we'll have a good car and can put on a good show for everybody."

Andretti proved to be a quick study in the 420-horsepower race car, turning in the third-quickest lap of the day March 24 in testing on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"To be honest, it's the best car I've driven so far, obviously, but I think it's the most fun," Andretti said.

Andretti, who will drive the No. 26 Vonage Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone for the team that his father Michael co-owns, Andretti Green Racing, enters the series with a sense of purpose.

"I think it's more an unfinished business for my family," Andretti said. "My grandfather (Mario) won (the Indianapolis 500) in '69, but my dad just had a lot of unfortunate luck. So hopefully we can beat the system and try to bring it home."

If any of these next-generation drivers should feel more pressure than the others, it should be Unser. Hailing from a lineage that includes nine Indianapolis 500 victories from his grandfather (4), father (2) and great uncle (3), Unser has lived his entire life in the spotlight.

"I've always been an Unser, so that kind of sense of added pressure, comparisons and so forth, it's really not going to bug me too much," Unser said. "I'm just out there, going to try to drive it the hardest that I can. We're all out there to win, as is everybody else in the field. So we'll just go out there and see what we can do."

Unser burst onto the Menards Infiniti Pro Series scene in the middle of last season, earning five third-place finishes in eight starts. This year, mechanical trouble and an unavoidable accident have frustrated him, although he did record the fifth-quickest lap in the test at Indianapolis.

Unser can always get advice from his grandfather, a driver coach and consultant for the IRL, but knows the end result rests on his own shoulders.

"We're the only ones in the car. It all comes down to we're the ones behind the wheel. That's the final thing."

Luyendyk, the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, is the elder statesman of this group. Runner-up in the inaugural Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship in 2002, Luyendyk will be making his 33rd career start.

Luyendyk and Unser made history already last year. At Michigan International Speedway, Unser won the pole while Luyendyk qualified second. Despite the fact that their fathers had started against each other 143 times, it was the first time an Unser and a Luyendyk had started on the front row.

The nostalgia that this weekend will be another history-making event isn't lost on Luyendyk.

"We just took some pictures," he said after the test in Indianapolis where he was sixth-quick. "It's neat, especially for our fathers to see us all grow up and race. I think we're going to be pretty competitive against each other."

***

4. Firestone Inks Deal With PPIR: Pikes Peak International Raceway announced that it has signed a new sponsorship agreement with Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The Firestone brand, rich in tradition with open-wheel racing, will become the "Official Tire" of PPIR for the Honda Indy 225 IndyCar® Series Race on Aug. 21.

"Having Firestone on board as the official tire of the Honda Indy 225 is the perfect fit for the event," said PPIR President Rob Johnson. "It really is an honor to have a company with such deep roots in racing to sign on as a facility sponsor. This is a relationship we hope to build upon for years to come."

"Becoming the Official Tire at Pikes Peak International Raceway provides us a tremendous opportunity at Firestone," said Al Speyer, executive director of motorsports, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC. "PPIR is in a great setting, with Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains as a majestic backdrop, and in the middle of a growing Colorado market where the Firestone brand is assured of receiving excellent exposure. We're quite pleased with the agreement and look forward to building on the Firestone-PPIR relationship to make racing even more popular with area fans."

This marks the 10th year that Firestone has been involved with the Indy Racing League and the sixth year as the sole provider of tires for competition. The Firestone brand made its first appearance in IRL competition at the league's inaugural race on Jan. 27, 1996, at Walt Disney World Speedway near Orlando, Fla. Since then, Firestone has become synonymous with the IRL and is the only tire manufacturer to have appeared in every IRL race. In all, Firestone-equipped drivers have earned 88 victories -- more than 80 percent of all wins -- in IndyCar® Series competition.

Some of the best engineers and chemists in the world lend their skill and knowledge to the development of Firestone race tires, and they continue to produce tires with the quality and consistency that has made Firestone one of the most respected names in the racing world.

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. The race, the first non-oval event in IndyCar Series history, will be telecast live by ESPN and broadcast by IMS Radio Network at 3:30 p.m. (EDT). The race also will be available on XM Satellite Radio channel "XM Extreme" (Channel 152). The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. ESPN2's coverage of the race will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EDT) on April 8.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Arie Luyendyk , Marco Andretti , Paul Dana , Al Unser , Arie Luyendyk Jr.