IPS: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-03-16

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 16, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Marco Andretti to make Menards Infiniti Pro Series Debut at St. Petersburg event 2. Abbott ready to race at Phoenix 3. AFS to run Luyendyk, Mennen at PIR 1. Marco...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- March 16, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. Marco Andretti to make Menards Infiniti Pro Series Debut at St. Petersburg event
2. Abbott ready to race at Phoenix
3. AFS to run Luyendyk, Mennen at PIR

1. Marco Andretti to make Menards Infiniti Pro Series Debut at St. Petersburg event: Marco Andretti, the 18-year-old son of Andretti Green Racing co-owner Michael Andretti and grandson of Mario Andretti, will make his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut April 3 in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Marco Andretti, who won his first professional driving championship in 2004, will be behind the wheel of the No. 26 Vonage Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, which has been entered by Andretti Green Racing. The car is being prepared by Keith Duesenberg Racing and will be engineered by open-wheel racing veteran Tony Cicale.

"I'm looking forward to it," Marco Andretti said. "I know it's going to be a big challenge, but it's a great opportunity. Hopefully, we'll have a good car and can put on a good show for everybody."

Andretti, who won 11 races on his way to the 2004 Formula TR Pro Series title, will participate in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Open Test on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on March 24 and also will test the car at Sebring International Raceway on March 29 in preparation for the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Michael Andretti, who co-owns Andretti Green Racing with Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, sees only positives in this opportunity for his oldest son.

"This is a great opportunity for Marco, and I'm really glad that Andretti Green Racing can have a hand in it," said Andretti, who competed in 14 Indianapolis 500-Mile Races in a 20-year career. "Marco will get a chance to run a competitive car on a great circuit in front of a huge crowd of new fans in St. Petersburg."

Marco Andretti will join other second- and third-generation drivers Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Al Unser as competitors in the series.

2. Abbott ready to race at Phoenix: Mishael Abbott was in tune with the amount of preparation, data dissemination and media hoopla associated with her inaugural Menards Infiniti Pro Series race March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But the first female to compete in the series was temporarily awestruck.

"The weekend was extremely exciting," said Abbott, 23, of Coral Springs, Fla. "I couldn't fathom that I'm not the one walking around with the T-shirt wanting autographs but am now the one distributing hero cards and giving my autograph to people."

Abbott, sitting in the shade of a large "Mishael Abbott" banner at Homestead, greeted young and old fans alike with a wide smile and friendly handshake during the twilight autograph session. She'll undoubtedly be a fan favorite this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

Abbott qualified fourth and finished eighth in her debut race on the 1.5-mile variably banked oval. She'll take more confidence and information into the Phoenix 100 on the 1-mile relatively flat PIR configuration.

"To qualify on the outside of the second row was unbelievable," she said. "The (Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports) team gave me a great car. Our goal was to finish every lap, and we did. I got out of the car with a head full of information that I can apply to my next race."

Competing at PIR in the No. 91 Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone was not part of her five-race schedule, but results at Homestead-Miami Speedway changed the thoughts of team co-owners Ron Hemelgarn and Roger Johnson.

"Based on my performance and the response from the fans, they wanted me to add Phoenix to our lineup," Abbott said. "I am thrilled with their vote of confidence and look forward to the challenge of the Phoenix 100."

The past 10 days have included phone conversations between Abbott and team manager Lee Kunzman and other drivers about that to expect at PIR.

"We're going with the same approach that we used at Miami," she said. "Our focus is to complete every lap and take it step-by-step, gaining speed as I get more comfortable with the car. Hopefully we will be right there at the end in the hunt for a podium finish."

3. AFS to run Luyendyk, Mennen at PIR: Arie Luyendyk Jr. and G.J. Mennen will compete for AFS Racing in the Phoenix 100 March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway as the team returns to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series for its fourth season.

Luyendyk, son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, will pilot the No. 5 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

"I'm very excited to race in Phoenix next Saturday," Luyendyk Jr. said. "With support from Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Joan Hubbard, and ScaleCars.com, along with a few returning sponsors from last year, we are ready for the challenge."

Luyendyk, 23, is a Scottsdale, Ariz. resident who finished second in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2002. Last year, he finished third in the point standings, splitting his season between Sam Schmidt Motorsports and AFS Racing. He recorded six top-10 finishes, including four of his final five starts.

Luyendyk and team owner Gary Peterson tested the race cars at the 1-mile oval on March 10.

"It was a very beneficial test," Peterson said. "The information that we learned should definitely translate into better results on race day."

Peterson, who has started 22 races in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, will not participate in the Phoenix 100 due to a concussion he sustained at the end of the test session.

"Finding a replacement was easy," Peterson said. "All I had to do was call G.J. and ask him to drive the car. He jumped at the opportunity. He loves driving for AFS, and he will give us a solid result. G.J. has a lot of experience in these cars, not to mention that he drove the No. 25 car for us in 2003."

Mennen, 32, made 14 starts in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2002 and 2003, recording 12 top-10 finishes.

"I am very excited about the opportunity to race for AFS Racing again," Mennen said. "I don't like that I won't be able to be out there racing with Gary, but I am truly honored that he called me fill in for him."

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage on Saturday, March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live by ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network at 3 p.m. (EST) The race also will be available on XM Satellite Radio channel "XM Extreme" (Channel 152). The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Phoenix 100 on March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway. ESPN2's coverage of the race will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EST) on March 24.

-irl-

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , Michael Andretti , Sam Schmidt , Mario Andretti , Mishael Abbott , Gary Peterson , Marco Andretti , Kim Green , G.J. Mennen , Al Unser , Arie Luyendyk Jr.