SIMMONS TOPS INDY PRO SERIES OPEN TEST AT HOMESTEAD
HOMESTEAD, Fla., Saturday, March 4, 2006 -- Fourteen drivers, the most in Indy Pro Series pre-season testing history, tested on the 2.21-mile road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 4 in the first Open Test of 2006.
Among the drivers participating in the test were defending champion Wade Cunningham and series runner-up Jeff Simmons, along with 10 rookies.
"We're starting our fifth season of competition, and this is the timeframe we expected to see the growth in the series," said Roger Bailey, executive director of the Indy Pro Series. "We had to establish a foothold, and we've done that. Now we're seeing more drivers and teams who want to compete in the series because we are managing the cost, and we've improved the prize payout. We expect even more cars on the grid when we start the season."
The cost to compete in the Indy Pro Series, including a complete car ready to run and entrant fees for events, is considerably less than competing series. In addition, the series will triple its prize payout in 2006 to $3 million.
"I've been waiting to get back into the IRL," said Jim Guthrie, a former IndyCar Series driver whose team made its Indy Pro Series debut. "It feels like home, it feels comfortable, so it made sense emotionally. It also made sense from a business standpoint. With the prize money being upped this season, it makes sense to compete in the Indy Pro Series."
Guthrie Racing's Raphael Matos, the 2005 Star Mazda champion, posted the second-quickest time, lapping the course in 1 minute, 16.5952 seconds in the No. 41 machine. The team will have three-time Indy Pro Series winner Travis Gregg in the cockpit March 6 when testing resumes on the 1.5-mile, variably banked oval.
Simmons posted the quickest time, 1:16.4130, with less than five minutes to go in the session in the No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing entry.
Andretti Green Racing teammates Jonathan Klein and Jaime Camara were third and fourth, respectively, while Cunningham posted the fifth quickest lap. In all, there were 927 total laps.
JEFF SIMMONS (No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing, quickest time): "This is the first time this car has run since Watkins Glen last year, so we had some issues in the morning where we had to shake it down, so we didn't get much time in the morning. But, that let us run harder in the afternoon, and we were able to get the new tires on at a pretty optimum time with the weather cooling down. To be on top is a good sign."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 41 Guthrie Racing, 2nd quick): "I love it. It's quite a bit different from what I used to drive. This car has serious power, and it was a lot of fun to drive. You have to slow down everything a little bit, but once you get the feeling of the car, you find a window -- it's pretty easy to find the limit of the car. The test was good. I think we have a really good baseline for the road course, and now it's just a matter of fine tuning the car and finding the limits of the car. It should be good for St. Pete."
JONATHAN KLEIN (No. 27 Andretti Green Racing, 3rd quick): "We struggled for the first half of the day finding grip and finding a car that worked nice. We kept at it and kept working on getting a good car with old tires, so that when we did put new tires on it, we could find a chunk of speed. We stayed persistent and didn't get frustrated and everything worked in the end. The car was great. I just told the team 'That was a nice car to drive.' It was a good day."
JAIME CAMARA (No. 11 Andretti Green Racing, 4th quick): "It's been a good day. We tried a lot of things today, and most of them worked. I think we have a pretty consistent car for the road-course races, and since they make up half the schedule, it is very good. I couldn't be happier with today."
WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing, 5th quick): "It was going well. We ran on the first set of tires all day, and we were second-quickest. We put the new ones on at the end and made a mistake on cold tires. It was good to be back in the car. Everything's pretty much where we left off last year, so it's nice. I don't have to re-learn everything this year."
JAY HOWARD (No. 7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports, 6th quick): "Today was good. We did a handful of decent stints instead of just going around and around and making small little changes. Come in and think about it and go again, which is how I like to do it. It's going great. I like the engine, how much torque it has all the way through. The rev range is good. It's not so critical to wring the engines neck as such like the 2.0-liter cars. I like that. I like driving the car. It's just about making changes and being consistent."
Racing Professionals merges with Playa Del Racing: Playa Del Racing and Racing Professionals owner/driver Jon Herb have agreed to merge the two operations. Herb will drive the No. 6 car under the Playa Del Racing banner in the Indy Pro Series beginning at the season-opening event at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26.
Veteran crew chief Joe Barlam will lead Herb and the team. In 2005, Herb won the series' second event at Phoenix International Raceway. With four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 14 starts, Herb finished seventh in the standings.
A Chicago native, Herb started racing in 1997 in the US F2000 series. He competed in the 2001 Indianapolis 500, and has fielded his own team in both the IndyCar Series and and Indy Pro Series. Herb also is vice president of Aercon Industries, a business based in Florida that produces, sells, and installs autoclaved aerated concrete building material.
The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 at 3:30 p.m. (EST) on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast is also carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition opens with the Miami 100 at 12:30 p.m. on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast at 1 p.m. on March 31 by ESPN2.