Chris Festa To Drive For Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2005

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Dec. 20, 2004 -- American Chris Festa will drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2005 as the team defends its Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship.

Festa, 19, finished eighth in the Toyota Atlantic championship as a rookie in 2004. He earned a top finish of sixth at Portland driving for Rahal Letterman Racing.

"Chris did a great job in the Toyota Atlantic Series this past year, competing with Rahal Letterman Racing and impressed a lot of people, including Bobby (Rahal)," said team owner Sam Schmidt. "He has already done an excellent job in winter testing. We were able to run the oval at Phoenix, where he was very mature for his age and ran lap times that would have qualified him for the front row. We also think he will be able to provide valuable feedback as the series will involve four road course events in 2005."

Festa, a native of Atlanta, recorded more than 60 karting victories from 1998-2002. He was a factory driver for Paul Tracy Karting in 2001 and 2002. In 2003, he scored a pair of top-five finishes in the U.S. Formula Ford Zetec Championship.

"We've been watching the growth of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, as well as last year's domination by Sam Schmidt Motorsports," Festa said. "When Sam called, we knew that he had a program that could win races and a championship. The addition of four road courses was also very appealing.

"It's always difficult to continually run new cars, on new tracks, in new series every year instead of staying for consecutive years. However, we think the transition from Atlantics to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series will be somewhat closer and allow us to be a front runner from the start. I've also had the chance to get to know Sam and the team over the past 30 days, and they run a first-class operation."

Sam Schmidt Motorsports won the 2004 Menards Infiniti Pro Series title with driver Thiago Medeiros, who won six races and eight pole positions. The team will announce additional drivers for 2005 in the near future.

Formed in July 2002, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is an essential stepping stone for drivers and teams striving to reach the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in America, the IRL IndyCar® Series. Two previous champions, A.J. Foyt IV (2002) and Mark Taylor (2003), along with 2002 Futaba Freedom 100 winner Ed Carpenter, competed in the IndyCar Series on a full-time basis in 2004.

The Menards Infiniti Pro Series, which has raced exclusively on ovals in the past, will compete on three road courses and one street course in 2005.

Infiniti Q45 engines power Dallara Automobili chassis built for the series, with Firestone Firehawk tires used exclusively on all cars. The V8 engines produce approximately 450 horsepower for the single-seat winged chassis, providing an ideal training ground for the 650-horsepower, single-seat winged cars of the IndyCar Series.

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The 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series season begins on March 6, 2005 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The IndyCar Series begins its 10th season of competition with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.

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