IRL: Richmond preview

Indy Racing Ready For Fast, Wild Ride At Richmond RICHMOND, Va., Tuesday, June 19, 2001 - After three consecutive races at familiar tracks since late May, now it's time for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series to head into the great ...

Indy Racing Ready For Fast, Wild Ride At Richmond

RICHMOND, Va., Tuesday, June 19, 2001 - After three consecutive races at familiar tracks since late May, now it's time for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series to head into the great unknown.

The SunTrust Indy Challenge on June 30 at Richmond International Raceway will be an exciting trip down an uncharted course for Indy Racing. It's the first race in the six-year history of the Indy Racing League on a track shorter than 1 mile, as RIR is a D-shaped, BE-mile oval.

That will cause plenty of guesswork for Indy Racing drivers and teams, who must find answers to these questions and more before the green flag drops at 8 p.m. (EDT) June 30:

*How will fuel mileage play out over the 250 laps on the BE-mile oval?

*How much downforce will be needed on a short track with an Indy Racing car?

*Where will be the best spots to pass on a track in which cars will turn laps quicker than 17 seconds?

*What's the best pit strategy for such a fast, furious race?

*How will chassis, engines and tires endure the rigors of Indy Racing on a short track for the first time?

*How will the cars be affected by starting the race during twilight hours and finishing under the lights at RIR, much like the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Charlotte, N.C.?

So many questions. In fact, the only certainty about this event is that it will contain the fastest speeds ever at Richmond.

Randy Tolsma holds the track record at RIR with a lap of 131.374 mph. He posted the fast time in 1996 driving in the USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series. Jeff Gordon posted the fastest lap ever by a Winston Cup car at RIR, 126.499 mph, in 1999.

Those speeds will be warm-up laps at Richmond for Indy Racing stars such as Northern Light Cup points leader Sam Hornish Jr., Indianapolis 500 winners Eddie Cheever Jr., Buddy Lazier and Al Unser Jr., standouts Eliseo Salazar, Scott Sharp and Sarah Fisher, and rookie sensation Felipe Giaffone.

1999 Indy Racing champion Greg Ray turned a lap of 164 mph during private testing in May at RIR. Hornish and Mark Dismore both exceeded 163 mph. It's possible that the MBNA Pole speed for this race could be 40 mph faster than the best lap ever turned by a NASCAR Winston Cup car.

And expect that speed to continue during the race. No driver wants to fall a lap behind in any race. But the risk of falling a lap down will be greater at RIR than any other track, as the leaders are expected to turn laps in the 16- to 17-second range.

Besides being the first Indy Racing event on a short track, the SunTrust Challenge also could play a pivotal role in the Northern Light Cup championship chase.

This is the fourth race in a six-week span that started with the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. The two following races were contested on familiar tracks at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9 and Pikes Peak International Raceway on June 17.

Teams' lack of experience at Richmond, combined with the intriguing uncertainty of short-track racing, could jumble the standings considerably.

Hornish never has trailed in the Northern Light Cup standings, winning the first two races of the season in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. He leads the standings with 229 points and has finished outside of the top 10 only once in the first six races of the year.

Salazar is second with 173 points in the Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Three drivers are within seven points of Salazar, led by third-place Scott Sharp at 171 in the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Lazier climbed to fourth at 167 points after winning the Radisson Indy 200 on June 17 at Pikes Peak International Raceway, and Giaffone has rode consistency to fifth with 166 points in the No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Giaffone is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in every race this season.

Two drivers to watch at this race are Billy Boat and Donnie Beechler. Both have extensive short-track experience in open-wheel USAC cars and have won numerous features.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Donnie Beechler , Randy Tolsma , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.