Racing secrets need only confirmation to go from rumor to fact, and Pat Patrick, one of the founders of Championship Auto Racing Teams, father of the Indy Lights series confirmed one of the worst-kept pieces of information today. Patrick announced he will field a #20 Dallara/Chevrolet in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series for Al Unser Jr., beginning at the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Steve Newey, has been named vice president and technical director of the team.
Although contracts were just signed this morning, this deal has been in the works for quite a while. Patrick initially spoke with Unser Jr. about working together at the IRL's season finale at Texas Motor Speedway last October. They had several conversations since that time but, Patrick said, "It was very difficult to get the deal together."
Patrick sold all of his Champ Car assets over the winter and closed his shop on Georgetown Road, releasing all members of his team to find work. The new Patrick organization will be based in part of the Walker Racing shops on Guion Road and many of the personnel currently employed by Walker will be part of the new Patrick operation.
The choice of Al Unser Jr. as driver of the car came as the second- generation driver was pushing hard to take on the position. "Al was very instrumental in doing this," Patrick acknowledged. "He has a bad rap - he's a helluva fine driver."
Unser is "extremely happy to be with Patrick Racing. I've raced against the #20 car all these years and I'm happy to drive it instead. We would have been at Homestead and here in Phoenix, but we were unable to get sponsorship," Patrick noted. "We are not in position to name our sponsors at this time but we have several things working."
Newey, who has worked with Patrick on and off over the years said the team will take delivery of its first Dallara chassis a week from Monday and hopes to do a shakedown run in mid-April prior to the open test at Indianapolis April 27-28. "We're about 3/4 of the way to full staffing but we may have to supplement a bit later."
One might wonder why Pat Patrick, who has been involved in open wheel motorsports as a team owner for [now] 32 years would want to return to the fray, having accomplished a great number of feats: 787 starts, two national championships, and 45 victories. Mr. Patrick "wanted to come back to Indianapolis. I wanted to give it another couple of years" before he retires, feeling he has unfinished business at the Brickyard.
Chevy Indy V8 engines powered Patrick Racing to 10 CART victories, and helped him win the 1989 Indy 500 and Indy Car World Series title with Emerson Fittipaldi. Unser Jr. won 14 CART races, the 1990 championship and the 1992 Indianapolis 500 with turbocharged Chevy Indy V8 engines and scored his first two IRL wins with GM power.
The Patrick team will start their competition using the new 3-liter power mill that all IRL competitors must fit in their cars for this year's Indianapolis race. "GM Racing and Chevrolet are pleased to add a team owner and driver who are proven winners to our IRL lineup," noted Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL program manager. "Pat Patrick and Al Unser Jr. are proven winners." With the addition of Patrick Racing's single-car entry, the Chevrolet camp now has a total of six cars in the IndyCar Series.
Patrick was among the team owners who tried to produce conciliation between the Indy Racing League and CART back in 1997. "We were diligent trying to put a deal together then and I'm not sure cooler heads prevailed," he said.
Coincidentally, it was Mr. Patrick who helped orchestrate Firestone's return to open wheel racing, initially with the Indy Lights series Patrick founded. In 1993, with Newey as team manager, Patrick Racing and Firestone formed a tire testing partnership, which led to the manufacturer's return to IndyCar competition in 1995.