IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-07-03

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines: 1. Dario Franchitti on IRL Teleconference 2. Points leader Franchitti not quite ready to claim title 3. Second half kicks off with doubleheader at Glen 4. Indy Pro Series drivers celebrate...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines:
1. Dario Franchitti on IRL Teleconference
2. Points leader Franchitti not quite ready to claim title
3. Second half kicks off with doubleheader at Glen
4. Indy Pro Series drivers celebrate Fourth of July before heading to the Glen

1. Dario Franchitti on IRL Teleconference: IndyCar Series points leader Dario Franchitti and Indy Pro Series frontrunner Bobby Wilson were the guests on today's IndyCar Series teleconference.

Franchitti discussed what a win at Watkins Glen would mean to him, especially following in the footsteps of famed Scotsmen Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.

Q. I want to talk about, you know, Jimmy Clark being kind of a hero of yours from his Indy win. I just want to touch on traditionally the Scots have always gone well (at Watkins Glen). Jimmy's won three times in F 1 and Jackie (Stewart) had a couple of wins. I'd just like to know how much, in that historical context, how much a win would mean to you at one of the hallowed grounds of American road racing?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: "Yeah, it would mean a lot. It would mean a hell of a lot, actually. Because, I really I guess I'm a part of the history of the sport. And I hold the drivers of the past in the greatest esteem. So, to follow and just to win it at Watkins Glen, because it is such an historic track, would mean, yeah, a great deal to me. More so than just a normal victory, if you know what I mean."

Wilson, who won the Indy Pro Series race at Watkins Glen in 2006, talked about his goals for the rest of 2007, which he hopes includes his first oval win.

Q. The Glen starts the second half of the season. And, really, in the second half there are five road courses, only three ovals that might play a little bit more to your strength. What type of goals do you have for the rest of the season?

BOBBY WILSON: "I think winning on an oval is definitely one of them. I know I've been kind of labeled as a road course guy, but, Geez, I'm actually hungrier for an oval win than anything right now. I just want to, you know, chalk one up under that category.

But I think we're going to come on strong toward the second half of the season here, and try to give Alex (Lloyd) a run for the money. I know he's pretty far out right now, but we're going to do what we can to chase that points lead and hopefully a championship."

***

2. Points leader Franchitti not quite ready to claim title: Don't tell Dario Franchitti that the IndyCar Series points leader after nine races has failed to win the championship only twice. That could be construed as a curse.

And don't remind him that four of the eight remaining events are on the road/street courses he favors. That would label him a favorite, though he hasn't won an IndyCar Series road/street event.

No, Franchitti doesn't wish to make an appointment for a crown fitting.

"You know, it's still too early to be thinking championship," he said. "I mean, the championship is always in the back of your mind, but I think the best way to achieve success there is just to take it one race at a time, and just do the utmost each week to win each race. And if you can't win it, try to finish second and get the maximum each weekend.

But with a 65-point lead over Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon heading into Watkins Glen International this weekend, there will be plenty of people watching how he measures up the two months. Since winning the 91st Indianapolis 500 on May 27, the Scott has been riding the crest of his professional career (two victories, a second and a fourth place).

"Momentum is something we talk about but nobody knows what it is," Franchitti said after recording his third victory over the season June 30 at Richmond International Raceway. "It's an intangible.

"I've just got to keep getting the maximum week in week out that I can. You take what you can get. And there's only so much you can do because you're going to be up front. If the car is not so good, you get the most you can out of it. Sometimes you can grab the car by the scruff of the neck and you get an extra place or two."

On the 0.75-mile Richmond oval, that wasn't the case. He led a series-record 242 (of 250 laps) and wasn't necessarily challenged, even on restarts. Six days earlier, teammate Marco Andretti was the protagonist the final 50 laps at the equally-cozy Iowa Speedway before Franchitti prevailed. In all, Franchitti has finished in the top five in eight races. He was seventh at the season opener after running over a chuck of debris that sliced a port hole in the floor board.

Getting the most from his Dallara/Honda/Firestone package has been Franchitti's hallmark through his years with AGR. But, again, Franchitti isn't secure in counting himself among those who have notched Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series titles in the same year.

"It seems the way the series is, it's become more and more difficult," he said of the competition, especially on road courses.

So who will supply the X factor?

Dixon, who is the two-time defending champion at Watkins Glen, also has shown the consistency that drivers need to be in championship contention. If not for four runner-up finishes (two to Franchitti), the positions could be reversed. Teammate Dan Wheldon, who has led 201 more laps than anyone, has a pair of victories and three other top-five finishes. The 2005 series champion also could gain ground on both the road courses and ovals (he's won at Chicagoland twice and has been the pole sitter at Nashville).

Franchitti's AGR teammate, Tony Kanaan, also is a two-time winner this season and has won in past seasons at Nashville and Infineon. Reigning series champion Sam Hornish Jr. appeared to make a move with a victory at Texas last month, but finishes outside the top 10 in the past two short track races have dropped the Team Penske driver 102 points behind.

***

3. Second half kicks off with doubleheader at Glen: The second half of the Indy Pro Series season kicks off July 7 at Watkins Glen when 25 cars are expected to compete in the first of two races on the 11-turn, 3.4-mile road course.

The first eight races of the season were dominated by Alex Lloyd, who drove the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon Systems/SSM car to Victory Lane six times, building a 119-point lead over rookie Hideki Mutoh.

With eight races remaining, here's a look at the tracks remaining on the schedule and which drivers could make a move to challenge Lloyd in the standings.

Watkins Glen International -- July 7-8

The first of two doubleheader weekends remaining on the schedule. Several drivers should have a legitimate shot at reaching Victory Lane in at least one of the 29-lap races.

Bobby Wilson (No. 1 Ocala Gran Prix/Brian Stewart Racing) is the defending race winner and recently won on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Could rookie Stephen Simpson record his first victory of the season at The Glen? The South African A1GP driver is driving the No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing car that won at Watkins Glen the past two seasons (Wilson in 2006 and Jeff Simmons in 2005). Simpson, who ranks 11th in points, recorded his best finish of the season (fourth) on the streets of St. Petersburg in March. His other top-five finish (fifth) came on the road course at Indy in June.

Don't rule out Mutoh as a possible winner at The Glen. He broke Lloyd's five-race victory streak by winning the pole and the first race at Indy in the No. 55 Super Aguri Panther Racing entry. He has seven top-five finishes in the first eight races.

Lloyd, a road-racing veteran from England, didn't fare well in the rain at The Glen last year, finishing 17th after an accident on Lap 10. Lloyd's competitors need a couple of DNFs from the leader in the second half of the season to make up ground in the standings.

Nashville Superspeedway -- July 14

The Indy Pro Series visits the only concrete oval, and the only 1.33-mile oval, in mid-July.

The drivers chasing Lloyd may have their work cut out for them -- Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers have won the past three races at the track (Jay Howard 2006, Jaime Camara '05, Thiago Medeiros '04).

Contenders to watch in Nashville include Camara and Wade Cunningham. Camara, who has made 34 consecutive starts in the Indy Pro Series, won from the pole in 2005 and finished second in the race last year. Cunningham earned the pole last year and led 48 laps before finishing fifth. In 2005, when he won the Indy Pro Series championship, Cunningham finished fourth at Nashville.

Lloyd missed the Nashville race last year due to illness.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course -- July 22

The Indy Pro Series makes its inaugural visit to Mid-Ohio, a 13-turn, 2.258-mile course located between Columbus and Cleveland. A handful of teams tested at the circuit on June 12, and those drivers could hold an advantage over the teams that didn't test. Yes, Alex Lloyd was one of the drivers who tested there.

Could Mid-Ohio be the breakthrough win for 20-year-old Jonathan Klein? Klein finished second in the championship last year, missing the title by just four points. He finished in the top five in all six road-course races last year and has run strong in the road events this year in the No. 2 Team Moore Racing car, although a penalty and some contact led to two lower finishes.

Kentucky Speedway -- Aug. 11

The Indy Pro Series returns to a 1.5-mile oval for the first time since the season opener at Homestead-Miami in March. While Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars have won the past two races, last year's race featured six lead changes over the course of 100 miles before Howard edged Klein by 0.0190 of a second in the second-closest finish in Indy Pro Series history.

That being said, any number of nearly a dozen drivers could be in contention at Kentucky. One driver to watch out for is 19-year-old Sean Guthrie. He recorded the first top-five finish of his career at Kentucky last year and has proven he can run up front on the ovals.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Chris Festa is another candidate to earn his first career victory. Festa won the pole at Homestead and finished second, and he finished second on the oval at Indianapolis.

Kentucky was another track that wasn't so kind to Lloyd last year. Returning from his illness, Lloyd crashed on the first lap and finished 16th. This year, however, if Lloyd can build on his lead Kentucky could be the site where he clinches the championship.

Infineon Raceway -- Aug. 25-26

The Indy Pro Series returns to the wine country of California for the final doubleheader weekend of the year. Cunningham won the first race from the pole last year, and he finished second in the series' inaugural visit to the 12-turn, 2.26-mile course in 2005.

Lloyd won the second race last year, driving from the fifth starting position to the lead by Lap 9.

Infineon is another track where Wilson should shine. He qualified second at the track in 2005 in his Indy Pro Series debut. Last year, he recorded fifth- and second-place finishes on the course.

Chicagoland Speedway -- Sept. 9

If past history is an indicator, the season finale on the 1.5-mile oval should be a wild affair. The five previous races have all had a margin of victory of less than 0.61 of a second, with the 2003 finish of 0.0170 of a second ranking as the closest finish ever in Indy Pro Series history.

Last year's race featured 10 lead changes among three drivers, including Cunningham and Klein, before Cunningham took the checkered flag, Klein took second place and Howard took home the championship trophy. Lloyd finished fourth.

Others to watch:

Mike Potekhen -- The Apex Racing driver ranks fifth in points heading into the second half of the season, recording five top-five finishes, including a second at Milwaukee.

Robbie Pecorari -- A 20-year-old rookie for Team KMA, Pecorari started the season with three top-10 finishes before falling out of the top 10 in the next four. He closed out the first half of the season with a fifth at Iowa.

Logan Gomez -- He ranks 10th in points as a rookie in the series for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The 19-year-old has shown consistent improvement through the first half, recording top-10 finishes in each of the last three races.

Ryan Justice -- The Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver is 12th in points primarily because he missed the two races at St. Petersburg after suffering a concussion in a crash at Homestead. After the rough start, Justice has rebounded with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including fourths in the past two.

***

4. Indy Pro Series drivers celebrate Fourth of July before heading to the Glen: Independence Day falls on a Wednesday this year, making it difficult for the average Joe to enjoy a long weekend, but allowing drivers in the Indy Pro Series a holiday at the mid-point of the season.

Here's how some Indy Pro Series drivers plan to celebrate the Fourth of July before traveling to Watkins Glen July 5 for a doubleheader weekend July 7-8.

"We have a neat little tradition in Breckenridge (Colo.), of going up on the side of the mountain, on Shock Hill, to look down on the fireworks that are shot from the valley below," Jon Brownson said. "All this is to the accompaniment of the National Repertory Orchestra that plays an outdoor concert while the fireworks are going off.

"Every Fourth of July a bunch of Breckenridge-ites go skiing on a snowfield at the top of Peak 10. This has been going on for so long, that the snow bowl on Peak 10 has been named Fourth of July Bowl for just that reason. It's about a 45-minute jeep trail ride, followed by a 45-minute climb in ski boots. Great fun, good adrenaline. Then it's into the town of Breckenridge for a big party in the streets.

"Of course, we're traveling early on the fifth to The Glen; could be a little tired."

Here's how others will spend the holiday:

Chris Festa: "I will spending the Fourth with my family and girlfriend in Lake Oconee, Georgia, playing golf and doing different watersports. It's the same tradition we do every year."

Andrew Prendeville: "I did my celebrating this past weekend by going down to Belmar, New Jersey - "The Shore." On the Fourth, I will be celebrating my brother Doug's birthday, which is about the only tradition that I have for the Fourth of July."

Logan Gomez: "I'll probably just hang out with friends. The Lake County Fairgrounds has a pretty big fireworks show that you can see from my house. We might head over there, get some elephant ears."

***

The 2007 IndyCar Series season continues with the Camping World Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on July 8 at Watkins Glen International. The race will be televised live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Indy Pro Series event is the Corning Twin 100 doubleheader on July 7-8 Watkins Glen International. The race will be televised by ESPN2 on July 12. ESPN2's coverage of the Iowa 100 will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. on July 3.

-credit: irl

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS