IRL: Pike Peak preview

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Friday, June 8, 2001 - When it comes to Indy Racing firsts, Pikes Peak International Raceway has an uncanny record of getting the last word. The scenic 1-mile oval has been the site of breakthrough victories for two drivers and...

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Friday, June 8, 2001 - When it comes to Indy Racing firsts, Pikes Peak International Raceway has an uncanny record of getting the last word.

The scenic 1-mile oval has been the site of breakthrough victories for two drivers and one engine manufacturer since Indy Racing first came to the track in 1997. That trend could continue this year at the Radisson Indy 200 on June 17. It's the sixth of 13 races this season in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series season.

Tony Stewart started the trend of firsts in Indy Racing's debut at Pikes Peak in 1997. Stewart won the race for his first Indy Racing League victory.

Greg Ray continued that pattern in 1999, earning his first career Indy Racing win at PPIR. Ray swept both PPIR races that year, the only time a driver has recorded that feat in series history.

Last year, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. earned the first victory for a driver in an Infiniti-powered car since the engine manufacturer made its Indy Racing debut in January 1997.

While there won't be a breakthrough win for an engine or chassis manufacturer this year at PPIR, there are a handful of drivers who are contenders for their first victory.

Second-year Indy Racing driver Sarah Fisher, 20, finished a career-best second behind Indy Racing Northern Light Series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. in the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami on April 8. It was the best finish ever by a woman in Indy-style racing, and Fisher is poised for victory in the No. 15 Walker Racing Kroger Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Don't be surprised if another second-year driver, 2000 Rookie of the Year Airton Dare, also contends for victory at PPIR. Dare finished a career-best second to Cheever in this event last year and has added consistency to his abundant speed this year in the No. 88 1-800-BAR-NONE G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Rookie Felipe Giaffone also is a win waiting to happen. He dominated the rookie point standings through four races this season and was third in the overall standings after four consecutive top-10 finishes in the No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Two Indy Racing veterans also could earn their first career victories at Pikes Peak.

Two-time Indy Racing runner-up Davey Hamilton is the only driver to start all 47 Indy Racing League events since the series' debut in January 1996. He has three career second-place finishes, but it would only be fitting if he took the top step on the post-race podium for the first time at PPIR after driving to victory in the No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. This race is the closest in the series to his native Idaho.

1997 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year Jeff Ward also is a fine prospect for a maiden victory at Pikes Peak. Ward has four runner-up finishes during his Indy Racing career, which started in 1997. He will drive the No. 35 Heritage Motorsports/Firestone/Menards G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone at PPIR.

Another first could come from the Colorado contingent at this event. None of the three Colorado natives who are entered in this race - defending series champion Buddy Lazier and his younger brother, Jaques Lazier, both from Vail; and 1996 Indy Racing co-champion Buzz Calkins, from Denver - have won at PPIR.

A driver recording a significant first isn't the only trend established at PPIR since 1997. If past history is any indication, the winner of the Northern Light Cup as series champion also will triumph at Pikes Peak.

Stewart won at PPIR and the championship in 1997. Kenny Brack repeated that feat in 1998, and Ray used his two victories at Pikes Peak in 1999 as a springboard to the title. Cheever ended the streak last year but still finished third in the championship.

Those results prove that only championship-caliber drivers and teams win at Pikes Peak, and there are a few reasons for that trend.

First, PPIR is located at 5,357 feet above sea level at the base of the Rocky Mountains. No other track in the series approaches the altitude of PPIR, so teams must make subtle changes to their cars' normally aspirated engines and aerodynamics to compensate for the thin air. The altitude also taxes drivers' cardiovascular systems, so only the fittest drivers can stay sharp for nearly two hours of wheel-to-wheel competition at PPIR.

This race also will be challenging for teams and drivers because it's the second consecutive event in as many weeks. It's the only time all season that races will take place on consecutive weeks.

Magnifying that challenge is the stark contrast between the two races.

The previous race, the Casino Magic 500, takes place on the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway, where horsepower is king. The Radisson Indy 200 takes place on the relatively flat, 1-mile oval at PPIR, where a car's handling is just as important as brute power.

Combine all those factors, and only the best excel at Pikes Peak. So that could give an edge to series points leader Hornish in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and early-season title contenders Eliseo Salazar in the No. 14 Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, Giaffone, Scott Sharp in the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and Calkins in the No. 12 Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

RADISSON INDY 200 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Radisson Indy 200 starts at 2 p.m. (MDT) June 17. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 3 p.m. (MDT) June 16. Practice sessions start at 9 a.m. and noon June 16, and 10 a.m. June 17.

A free autograph session with all Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5 p.m. June 16 at the track.

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On the air: The Radisson Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) June 17. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 10:30 a.m. June 17 on ESPN2.

MBNA Pole Qualifying will be televised at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) June 16 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) June 17, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. A qualifying wrap-up show will be broadcast at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) June 16. The Denver affiliate is KLMO-AM 1060; the Colorado Springs affiliate is KWYD-AM, 1580.

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.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Radisson Indy 200 are available by calling (888) 306-RACE, online at www.ppir.com <http://www.ppir.com> and at all King Soopers locations. All King Soopers cardholders will receive a $5 discount on tickets purchased at King Soopers locations.

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Free concert: The hit swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will play a concert for Indy Racing Northern Light Series fans at the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway on June 17.

The concert is free with the price of admission to the Radisson Indy 200.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Buzz Calkins , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Airton Daré , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Jaques Lazier