JOLIET, Ill., Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2001 - A stirring battle for the 2001 Northern Light Cup and the anticipation of an inaugural race are creating quite a buzz for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series' Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 2.
The race is the 12th of 13 events on the 2001 schedule and marks the first appearance for the Northern Light Series at the new state-of-the-art 1.5-mile superspeedway located just south of Joliet, Ill.
The Delphi Indy 300 could be pivotal in determining whether Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and current leader in the season points chase can hold off defending series champion Buddy Lazier for the 2001 season championship and the $1 million champions' bonus.
Lazier, driver of the No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone entry for Hemelgarn Racing, has had a record-setting second half of the season. He has scored four victories (the most by any Indy Racing driver in a season) in the last two months to trim Hornish's series points lead to just 25. Hornish currently has 374 points to Lazier's 349.
After joining Pennzoil Panther Racing in the off-season, Hornish jumped out to an early lead in the points by winning the first two races of the year at Phoenix and Homestead, Fla. But Lazier has enjoyed the winning success in the second-half of the season that Hornish enjoyed in March and April.
Hornish has fought back with consist finishes, earning nine top-10s this season and finishing out of the top-three in only three races to date.
After the Indy Racing open test at Chicagoland Speedway, drivers characterized the track as wide and smooth with multiple grooves available for passing.
"It's different than most of the mile and a half ovals," said Hornish. "The corners are longer and the straightaways are shorter. The track is really smooth. When I was there, I was running as high as five cars up would be. I think it's going to be a really fun track."
In other words, expect an epic battle at the Delphi Indy 300 among the series' top superspeedway aces, including Kelley Racing drivers Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore, as well as Eddie Cheever Jr., Robbie Buhl, Sarah Fisher, Hornish, Lazier and others.
Although the championship battle is coming down to a duel between Hornish and Lazier, the Delphi Indy 300 will be crucial for drivers trying to secure a higher position in the points standings by season's end. Only 37 points separate third-place Scott Sharp, driver of the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone for Kelley Racing, and sixth-place Billy Boat, who pilots the No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.
Indy Racing Northern Light Series events on tracks 1.5 miles or longer have produced six different winners in six races in 2001. Each event has seen its share of heart-stopping wheel-to-wheel action, with drivers running inches apart at speeds exceeding 200 mph.
With a championship on the line for Hornish and Lazier, and valuable championship points and prize money on the line, expect nothing less at the Delphi Indy 300.
DELPHI INDY 300 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Delphi Indy 300 starts at 3 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 2. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon (CDT) Sept. 1. Practice sessions start at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 31, and 9 a.m. Sept. 1. A final practice for the Delphi Indy 300 starting field is at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 2.
On the air: The Delphi Indy 300 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 2. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 2 on ESPN2.
MBNA Pole Qualifying will be televised at 2 a.m. (EDT) Sept. 2 on ESPN2.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 2, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. A qualifying wrap-up show will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 1. The area affiliates are WJOL-AM 1340, Joliet, Ill., and WAIT-AM 850, Chicago.
The IMS Radio Network race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
Tickets: Tickets for the Gateway Indy 250 are available by calling (815) 727-RACE and online at www.chicagolandspeedway.com .