IRL: Notebook 2002-10-10

INDY RACING NOTEBOOK Cheever team busy in shop; Kelley prepares new package in 2003 INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002 -- While owner-driver Eddie Cheever Jr. visits Europe to wrap up plans for the 2003 Indy Racing League season, chief ...

INDY RACING NOTEBOOK

Cheever team busy in shop; Kelley prepares new package in 2003

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002 -- While owner-driver Eddie Cheever Jr. visits Europe to wrap up plans for the 2003 Indy Racing League season, chief mechanic Owen Snyder III and the Red Bull Cheever Racing crew have been busily restoring the team's cars wrecked during the past season.

"We're just building show cars," Snyder said. "We've got five right now and close to finishing a sixth. Four are run-able."

The three-year program for the car rules ended with the 2002 season, so the cars can't be raced again in the league. New chassis and engines will make their debut when the 2003 season begins March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Our new Dallaras are expected in December," Snyder said.

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Kelley planning for 2003: Kelley Racing teammates Scott Sharp and Al . Unser Jr. are set to compete in the 2003 Indy Racing League season . under the Kelley Racing banner with continued support from primary . sponsors Delphi and Corteco Dallara and Firestone along with Futaba and. Bryant will continue to be key contributors to the success of Sharp and. Unser .

With the driver tandem and strong sponsor support set for Kelley, the team is focusing its attention on a switch to Toyota engines and to working with the new Dallara chassis.

"We are excited to have Toyota on board at Kelley Racing," Sharp said. "However, the new engine package, coupled with the chassis changes, make testing more critical than ever before. It seems like the first race scheduled for March 2 gives us plenty of time, but there is much work to be done in order to be fully prepared to launch a championship campaign. Every minute is critical."

Said Unser: "I think we have a great opportunity with our Dallara/Toyota package for the 2003 season. Testing will be the key to getting the season off to a successful start at Homestead in March. With the new teams expected to enter the IRL, the bar measuring total team performance continues to be raised. It makes us all better and makes the wins more satisfying for everyone involved."

Kelley Racing is tentatively scheduled to begin testing the new Dallara chassis with the Toyota engine in January at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the season-opening race March 2.

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Just like the race: John Barnes, co-owner and team manager of the two-time Indy Racing League champion Pennzoil Panther Racing team, said the trip to Japan next month for an initial test will be the same as when all teams travel there next April for the IRL's first overseas race.

The team's car will be taken to Chicago where it will go through customs and get a complete manifest, Barnes said. A hazardous-waste inspector also will check the car, Barnes said.

The car then will be flown to Japan on a cargo plane. A group of 11, including Barnes, will fly to Japan on Nov. 4. The test is scheduled for Nov. 7-9.

The race at Twin Ring Motegi is scheduled for April 13, 2003.

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Nunn considers two cars: Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing finished a solid fourth in the final Indy Racing League standings in 2002 and now is considering running a second driver as teammate to Brazilian Felipe Giaffone.

But team manager Peter Parrott warns that there's nothing definite about that move yet.

"Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't," Parrott said about reports the team will add a second car. "It's what we're trying to do. We're getting closer, but exactly which way we go I don't know yet."

Many drivers have contacted the team, Parrott said.

"We've got our options," he said.

The team was pleased with their first-season showing in the IRL, Parrott said. Giaffone stayed in the championship hunt until the final race.

"We were disappointed we couldn't get third and split the Penskes," he said.

Giaffone finished with 432 points, 11 less than third place Gil de Ferran. Sam Hornish Jr. won the title with 531, and Helio Castroneves placed second with 511.

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Getting close: John O'Gara, team manager for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, said the team is "about a day away" from ordering cars and finalizing its engine plans for the 2003 season.

O'Gara said it seems pretty certain the team will field cars for both co-owner Robbie Buhl and Sarah Fisher again next season.

"Nothing is etched in stone for the full season," he said. "But the planning is right on target. We should get our cars around Dec. 23-24. We'll have a car for each driver.

"We want to have a good car. We want to get some reliability. We fell out of nine races last season with engine problems."

Buhl started the season qualifying seventh and sixth and placing 12th and 13th, respectively. A crash at California Speedway caused him to miss the next two races, and it wasn't until the 13th race of the season, at Gateway International Raceway, that he earned a top-10 finish by placing sixth.

Fisher joined the team as a replacement for Buhl at Nazareth and drove to fourth. She missed two races after Indy and had back-to-back eighth-place finishes at Michigan and Kentucky. At Kentucky, she became the first woman to win a pole for an Indy-style race.

At the shop, the team has done some remodeling and was preparing one of last year's cars to provide a rookie with his IRL test at Kentucky, O'Gara said.

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Johncox named to board: Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series owner/driver Ronnie Johncox has been named to the board of directors for the 2003 Jackson (Mich.) RaceWeek festival.

Johncox, a Jackson native, served on the steering committee for the 2002 event. Johncox joins Michigan International Speedway President Brett Shelton and RaceWeek organizer Jim Jansen on the nine-member board. Shelton and Jansen recently were honored as "Promoter of the Year" for their support of the inaugural IRL event at Michigan in July.

"We're working hard to make Jackson RaceWeek even more successful than last year," said Johncox, who earned four front-row starts in seven Infiniti Pro Series driving for REV 1 Racing. "The festival has become an important link between the Jackson community, Michigan International Speedway and the IRL. It's definitely a worthwhile event, and we're trying to grow it with the execution of some short-term goals and the formulation of long-term goals.

"Our model is the Indy 500 festival and parade. As always, we're seeking sponsorship for various activities and events within the RaceWeek festival. We're trying to increase corporate involvement. We had great support last year from some great companies, but we could certainly use additional help to keep growing the event."

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Hot laps: Shav Glick, long-time auto racing writer for the Los Angeles Times, and Willie Davis, veteran racing car owner/mechanic, are recovering from surgery. Glick, who has covered the Indianapolis 500 and other races for decades, is doing well after a cancer operation last week. In his early 80s, he expects to be back on the golf course in a month and at Indy next May. Davis, who worked for Hemelgarn racing in recent seasons, underwent foot surgery Oct. 9 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Ronnie Johncox , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn
Teams Panther Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing