INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 4, 2006
Today's IRL headlines
1. Formula car champions to receive Indy Pro Series test
2. Drivers ready for off week
3. Dixon joins Ganassi Grand Am team for season finale
4. Indy Pro Series drivers test Chicago
1. Formula car champions to receive Indy Pro Series test: As part of its goal to mold future drivers for the IndyCar® Series, the Indy Pro Series^Ù and Sam Schmidt Motorsports have teamed to provide a post-season test to the champions from three formula car series based in the United States.
The champions of the Cooper Tires Formula Ford Zetec Series, Star Mazda Championship and Formula BMW USA will have the opportunity to test an Indy Pro Series car with Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
"In my own rise to IndyCars, I came through SCCA and what is now the Cooper Tires Series," said team owner Sam Schmidt, a former driver whose team won the Indy Pro Series championship in 2004. "It's a natural progression that we really need to be marketing ourselves to those series. They've got full fields. They've got great drivers. All of the up-and-comers go to one of those three series for experience.
"As the future strategy of the Indy Pro Series appears to be more of a combination of road courses and ovals, those series become more of a natural place to look for the future talent for the Indy Pro Series and the IndyCar Series."
Several drivers competing in the Indy Pro Series this season cut their teeth in those series. Indy Pro Series points leader Jay Howard, who drives for Schmidt, won the Cooper Tires Zetec championship last year on the strength of nine victories and also won his only Star Mazda start of 2005.
Bobby Wilson, who ranks second in points, and Wade Cunningham, the 2005 Indy Pro Series champion, finished first and fifth, respectively, in the Zetec in 2004.
Raphael Matos, who swept the two races at St. Petersburg, Fla. in April, won last year's Star Mazda championship while Graham Rahal, who qualified on the pole and finished second in the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is a Star Mazda and Formula BMW USA graduate.
Several IndyCar Series standouts, including Indianapolis 500 and two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., 2005 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice are graduates of the Cooper Tires Series, while leading rookie Marco Andretti competed in the Star Mazda series in 2005.
"The Indy Pro Series continues to become more and more competitive," said Roger Bailey, executive director of the Indy Pro Series. "Much of that can be attributed to the high caliber of drivers coming from the formula series in the United States. Hopefully this testing opportunity will continue to give the top young drivers a chance to compete in the Indy Pro Series and develop into IndyCar Series drivers."
The Indy Pro Series is the premier ladder series for drivers, teams and sponsors striving to compete in the IndyCar® Series and the Indianapolis 500. The 12-race schedule in 2006 features six races on ovals and six races on road courses, including competing on both circuits at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teams compete for $3 million in prize money in cars that generate 420 horsepower and speeds in excess of 190 mph. The races are telecast to more than 88 million homes in the United States on ESPN2.
2. Drivers ready for off week: After three consecutive weekends of racing, IndyCar Series drivers and teams have a well-deserved weekend off.
Some drivers, such as Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice planned on laying low this weekend. Others, such as Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter, had vacations planned. Jeff Bucknum planned a relaxing weekend at home in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
"I plan on taking my pontoon boat out with my wife and kids and just relax a little bit," Bucknum said. "That's my enjoyment you know. I get away to the race weekends and things, but when I get home to Arizona, where it's pretty warm, we all just pile on the boat, and the kids play in the water, and I just get to relax and enjoy myself."
Other drivers may find themselves going to the races this weekend, especially since the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you see us in Indianapolis (watching the NASCAR race)," Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., said. "We'll just have to wait and see what we end up doing."
Added Ed Carpenter: "It's kind of hard not to go to the Brickyard. I have some friends that race out there. I'll probably go out and watch at least part of the race, but I do have a few home repairs to do on the old house."
3. Dixon joins Ganassi Grand Am team for season finale: 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon will join Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series season finale Sept. 2 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.
It will be the second appearance in the series for Dixon, who joined fellow Target Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon and Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR driver Casey Mears earlier this year to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"Anytime you have the opportunity to put a driver of Scott Dixon's caliber into the lineup, it's a done deal," Team Owner Chip Ganassi said. "Scott is a proven road racing champion, and I know he looks forward to contributing to the Grand American program whenever possible. Hopefully we can repeat what we were able to accomplish in 2004 in Fontana."
Dixon, who is fourth in IndyCar Series points, has made four starts in the Daytona Prototype division for Ganassi's sports car effort.
"I'm obviously looking forward to getting back into the Daytona Prototype, especially after what we were able to accomplish for Target and the guys back in January," said Dixon. "The 24 Hours was an example of one of the big races this team strives for every year, but I think the season finale will prove to be just as important as I expect Scott and Luis to be in contention for the championship."
4. Indy Pro Series drivers test Chicago: Six Indy Pro Series drivers tested at Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 3, including three who passed the series' rookie test for ovals.
C.R. Crews, who has made two road-course starts in the Indy Pro Series this season, passed the rookie test along with Akihira Okamoto and Ben Petter. Okamoto has competed in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in the past while Petter has competed in USAC Midgets.
Indy Pro Series regulars Bobby Wilson and Tom Wood also tested on the 1.5-mile tri-oval that will host the season's final race on Sept. 9. Ross Fonferko, who has made three career starts in the Indy Pro Series, also tested.
The next IndyCar Series event is the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 13 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC Sports and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Kentucky 100 on August 13 at Kentucky Speedway.