IRL: New lease on racing life

IRL: New lease on racing life

Two of the 33 drivers starting this Sunday's 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race truly do have a new lease on life. Scott Sharp fumbled through his past few years driving for Kelley Racing, working with a team that never seemed to have the right ...

Two of the 33 drivers starting this Sunday's 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race truly do have a new lease on life.

Scott Sharp fumbled through his past few years driving for Kelley Racing, working with a team that never seemed to have the right ingredients for success.

Scott Sharp.
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
One of the initial IndyCar Series drivers from the League's 1996 debut, Sharp spent two seasons with A.J. Foyt Racing and earned co-champion honors in the IRL's first season.

From 1998-2004 with Kelley Racing Sharp scored seven of his eight victories but by the time Tom Kelley decided to close the doors, the team languished at the rear of a far more competitive field.

Sharp was forced to make a change and, when he landed at Fernandez Racing, suddenly everything was right again.

Armed with the #8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry, 37- year-old Sharp seems like a kid again. Building momentum for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Sharp qualified third and finished second at one of his favorite tracks last month, Twin Ring Motegi, the site of his most recent victory in 2003.

This Sunday marks Scott Sharp's 11th time racing in the Indianapolis 500 and he'll start outside the front row, his second best start after earning MBNA Pole in 2001.

"We've really had a great month and that gives me more confidence," Sharp admitted. "Twin Ring Motegi gave us a lot of momentum coming in and, after a great first week of practice and great qualifying effort by the Delphi Fernandez team, I've got a whole lot of confidence for this race."

Sharp recalled his introduction to the Indianapolis 500, a race "I always watched with my Dad on the couch at night, because it was tape delayed. He never raced here and thought I'd be in sports cars like him, but I wanted to race in single seaters." Sharp's father Bob Sharp was a champion in the Datsun 240Z sports cars of the early 1970s.

"Chevrolet brought me to the Speedway as a guest in 1992 and I came back to race here for the first time two years later. It's been a dream come true for me," Sharp detailed.

As a veteran of the Memorial Day Classic, Sharp expects to just "run a minimal amount" this Friday on Carburetion Day. "We'll do a final check on our setup, balance and wings and make sure the new engine is good" during the hour-long session.

Does he have a particular strategy in the biggest race of the year? "I've learned a lot over my past ten Indy 500 races," Sharp admitted. "The 500's pace has been pretty aggressive this year and there's a high number of guys (and one woman) in contention. You can't be overly aggressive but I'm really confident."

Thinking of going to NASCAR when his Indy Racing League career was in its doldrums, "Since we're running so well nobody asks me about going to NASCAR anymore. I'm really happy and it shows," he said.

Indy is the "holy grail" for any open wheel racer. "Until I win it I won't know what it means but I've grown up holding Indy in the highest esteem. It's one of the biggest races in the world and I think about it 365 days a year. I think it would mean a lot to my career if I won this race, but I can't add undue pressure" to take home the Borg Warner trophy.

Kenny Brack.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Kenny Brack is certainly glad to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he won the 1999 Indianapolis 500. Actually, Kenny Brack is certainly glad to be alive, well and racing anywhere after nearly losing his life at Texas Motor Speedway in the 2003 IRL season finale.

Brack's appearance is a first for a place that prides itself on traditions: he is racing in stead of Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 winner who came to Rahal Letterman Racing as Brack's substitute during his recuperation. It's a pretty unusual situation, an Indy winner subbing for another, but Brack has few illusions about his role.

2005 marks the Swede's fifth start in the world's single day largest sporting event but, even though he produced the fastest qualifying speed of the month at 227.598mph, Brack will begin the race in 23rd.

Called by team co-owner Bobby Rahal and managing director Scott Roembke Monday a week ago, Brack has to start the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda behind the drivers to put their cars in the show on MBNA Pole day.

"I was surprised by the call and believe I made the right decision" to race this Sunday, "but I was still a little apprehensive until I put my butt in the car. I knew how great the car was and I got up to speed quickly," Brack confirmed. "But it's very different from the last Indy car I drove."

When Brack had his accident, his 3.5-liter Honda engine produced a lot more power, Rahal Letterman Racing was using a Dallara chassis and "the dash layout is changed, there's a different power band and all. In a race situation it takes a lot more to keep the momentum up [with the 3-liter Honda mill]. If you lift, it takes about two or three laps to get back up to the same speed, so it's a little different from a year and a half ago.

"The [Panoz] chassis is different, the systems are different and the spotter information, radio communication and pit stops are all things I'll have to get used to again. I'm confident," Brack said, "that I have a fairly good grasp of the situation."

How quickly Brack moves up from 23rd grid spot throughout the race isn't something he can talk about quite yet. "You're never in the same situation two times in a row. You have to play your cards according to the game and 500 miles is a long, long way. I'll have to be patient and see how things play out because I haven't been in a race in a long time."

Teammates Vitor Meira, Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice have been "a big help along the way. I haven't driven this configuration so it's always a question mark." Brack may have been away from the open wheel cockpit for a while, but he's made every effort to be physically ready if a call ever came. "My body feels good; I had a good workout this morning. I feel physically ready and that's why I took the job."

While he might have thought he was dreaming when Rahal and Roembke asked Brack to return to the car they originally entered for him when the team came to the League, "I didn't know what to think. I felt for Buddy and I know how hard it is for him, but I look at the positive side.

"I thank God for this opportunity and the team, of course," Brack acknowledged. "If I was going to make a shot at Indy, this is the way to do it. I'm also grateful for the support from other drivers in the field. This is the biggest race in the world and, while I've won a lot of races and championships, Indy is what stands out. It's not just another race,"

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Series INDYCAR