Indy Racing League News and Notes -- March 31, 2004

Today's IRL headlines
* Kanaan To Compete in Triathlon
* IndyCar Series stars ready for second IROC race
* Maia Brings Winning Formula To Menards Infiniti Pro Series

Kanaan To Compete in Triathlon: IRL IndyCar® Series points leader Tony Kanaan doesn't have an IndyCar Series event to compete in this weekend, but he will be racing.

Kanaan, who won the Copper World Indy 200 on March 21, will compete in the Ralph's California Half Ironman on April 3 in Oceanside, Calif.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I love to swim, I love to cycle and I love to run," said Kanaan, who uses triathlons as part of his fitness program. "Putting it all together this weekend will be fun, but it will be tough."

The 29-year-old Brazilian is an accomplished triathlete who has competed in several "sprint-distance" triathlon events. But Kanaan has never competed in an event as grueling as a half-ironman -- which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.

Still, he thinks he's up to the task.

"We're talking about competing for six or seven hours, so it will be a real challenge," he said. "I just want to finish. That's my goal. If I can do that, I'll feel like I really accomplished something."

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IndyCar Series stars ready for second IROC race: IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Scott Sharp will compete in the second race of the International Race of Champions on April 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Sharp and Dixon will line up on the inside and outside of the second row, respectively. Castroneves will start on the outside of the third row .

"I am ready," said Castroneves, who finished sixth in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. "Hopefully, we learned from what we did at Daytona. I don't know how it will be. I've never been (to Texas) in an IROC car and we'll see what happens"

While the track is not new to IndyCar Series competitors, the race will be a new experience. Dixon said driving the equally prepared stock cars on the high-banked oval will be different from what he's used to running at Texas.

"A lot of the circuits this year aren't flat out," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see how we'll fare. I'm looking forward to it because you can drive (the car) a little more as opposed to being flat out."

Added Castroneves: "I heard there's lifting, and that's surprised me because I thought we'd be flat out. I'm glad they told me, or I'd probably end up in the wall like I did at Daytona. I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully we'll be good and hopefully we'll have a good time."

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Maia Brings Winning Formula To Menards Infiniti Pro Series: The Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesTM has seen an influx of talented young drivers in 2004.

Phil Giebler, 24, made his debut in the series with a win in the season-opening Homestead-Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Feb. 29. Jesse Mason, 19, earned a third-place finish in the race and followed it up with a fourth-place finish in the Phoenix 100 on March 20.

Passing Mason near the end of the Phoenix 100 for third-place was his Brian Stewart Racing teammate, the newest driver on the circuit, Leonardo Maia.

Maia, 23, tested a Menards Infiniti Pro Series car for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway on March 15. After running at more than 183 mph in front of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, Maia was cleared to race in the Phoenix 100.

"I'm really excited and kind of nervous," Maia said as he prepared for the second oval race in his career.

Maia showed there was nothing to worry about as he qualified seventh before moving up to a podium finish at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

"Actually I was (surprised by the result)," Maia said. "The way the weekend had started, I was just trying to get up to speed, trying to get to grips with the car. We knew the car wasn't the limiting factor, it was me. It's just a matter of me getting comfortable, getting up to speed."

Bringing Maia up to speed is long-time team owner Brian Stewart. Stewart earned 31 wins in 361 Indy Lights starts from 1988-2001 with drivers such as Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta and Jaques Lazier.

"I called up the series and asked if there were any teams that might be interested in running me," Maia recalled. "When (Executive Director) Roger Bailey came back and told me that I could do it with Brian Stewart, at first I didn't believe it, and then I was really excited. He has a history of taking the best drivers and making them into stars. Hopefully I can learn as much as I can and follow in the footsteps of his previous drivers."

The learning curve may not be as steep for Maia as it is for others. The Florida resident is riding high after a successful run through the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Maia competed in two Barber Dodge races in 2001, earned his first win in 2002, and dominated the series last year. He ran away with the championship in 2003, winning six of the 10 races and recording podium finishes in two others.

"The goals I've set, I've pretty much accomplished up to this point," Maia said. "A race car driver sets goals and as soon as he accomplishes a goal, he looks to the next one. I don't think I'll be happy until I win like 15 Indy 500s. That's how the mentality is for drivers. They want to win every race, they want to lead every practice session, be on the pole for every race. That's the goal we set, knowing that it's hard to achieve."

Maia's passion for racing comes from his Brazilian roots. Born in Rio de Janiero, Maia moved with his family to Oakland, Calif., as a 3-year-old, but he left many relatives behind.

"During school, we'd always have a summer break and I'd always go for the summer and spend about a month in Brazil with my family," Maia said. "Everybody -- my cousins, grandparents and everyone are still down there. For everybody in Brazil, the big things are soccer and auto racing. You're always around it. As I grew up, I was always interested in doing it. I sort of studied it and found out the best way to do it."

Maia's way of "doing it" has led to a ride in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series where he hopes to translate additional success into a ride in the IndyCar Series.

"To move to Indy cars and the ultimate goal to win the championship and winning the Indy 500 has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid," Maia said. "Racing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is just one step closer to achieving that goal. Rick Mears is our driver coach, and he's just the nicest guy in the world. You're sitting there talking to a four-time Indy 500 champ, pretty much one of the best race car drivers in the world. It was really overwhelming. To know that I'm just sort of one step away from being right there with all of these guys is just amazing."

Maia will get his first crack at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 22 when the season continues with the Futaba Freedom 100.

"That's going to be one of the best moments in my career," Maia said. "As soon as you go into the tunnel and come out the other side of the Speedway, it's different than any other track in the world. It's almost tangible, the history there and the tradition. As soon as I signed with Brian Stewart, that was the race I was looking forward to the most."

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The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Indy Japan 300 at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) on April 16 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Futaba Freedom 100 will take place at 2 p.m. (EDT) on May 22 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast live by ESPN2.

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