IPS: Festa on fast track

The Indy Racing League's Menards Infiniti Pro Series is, as it begins a fourth year of competition beginning to attract the type of talents series director Roger Bailey was hoping would come to play. Included in the newest bunch is Chris Festa,...

The Indy Racing League's Menards Infiniti Pro Series is, as it begins a fourth year of competition beginning to attract the type of talents series director Roger Bailey was hoping would come to play.

Included in the newest bunch is Chris Festa, an émigré from the Toyota Atlantic Championship, where he drove last season for Rahal Letterman Racing. Teamed this year in the Pro series with the estimable championship- winning Sam Schmidt Motorsports team, Georgian Festa has had his downs and ups, respectively in two races.

The first time out Festa crashed out of the contest after colliding with P.J. Chesson on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. He'd also impacted the wall in practice for his MIPS debut but was pretty much unfazed by it all.

Festa came back a couple of weeks later to survive the "carnage", as he aptly put it during the Phoenix 100 and emerge on the second step of the podium, unable to challenge winner Jon Herb, who nabbed his first career MIPS victory.

A latent road racer, Festa is looking forward to next weekend's race in St. Petersburg, FL, the Indy Racing League's first contest on a road or street circuit. Festa, as you might imagine is looking forward to it. "It's definitely cool. St. Pete has good long straights and it's more of a road course than street circuit.

"I think you'll see more racing going on there than you might expect," he intimated. "St. Pete is a fun track for drivers." Festa, together with his peers will discover how much fun the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is this Thursday when they embark upon an open test in advance of the series' under-card duty for Formula One this June.

The MIPS' race at Indy marks the first time any series has competed twice in one year on the famed Brickyard oval and road circuit. "I'm really looking forward to the test on Thursday," Festa acknowledged. "It's a good opportunity to get our set-up and gearing right" for that race. "It's got a lot of prestige and that's great for all of us."

Festa's race in Phoenix was "definitely a learning experience." Despite his background, Chris "really likes ovals, especially superspeedways. It was a totally new experience [to race] at Homestead and I had a lot of fun with that.

Being part of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series' "super team" of three rookie drivers on the Sam Schmidt Motorsports squad, Festa thinks is an advantage for himself, Travis Gregg and Jaime Camara. "We work well together and, since we've all got different skills that helps us progress."

Chris Festa looked to be on the fast track to running in the Champ Car World Series but thought the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and the IRL "seemed much stronger. There are better opportunities here for me and that oval experience, in any event is good to have."

When his career is complete in the Pro series, Festa might still look at the Champ Car competition but "I really hope to go to the Indy cars in 2006 if I'm successful here." His goals for the 2005 season are to "learn as much as I can, win races and have fun. I want to learn all the circuits."

Festa spends his time off-circuit preparing for a [back-up] career in marketing and is a freshman at Florida State University. Like any keen student, Chris Festa is also studying the drivers he wishes to emulate, including former Atlantic teammate Danica Patrick, who currently drives for Rahal Letterman Racing in the IndyCar Series.

Outside his MIPS Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone race car, Festa surveys the IndyCar Series drivers and watches them operating the bigger cars. This sponge is sopping up all the career advice he can garner as he watches more powerful cars go past. This 19-year-old is indeed, learning the tricks of the trade.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Jon Herb , Sam Schmidt , Roger Bailey , Chris Festa , P.J. Chesson , Travis Gregg , Jaime Camara , Danica Patrick