Infiniti Pro Series owners, drivers thrilled with chance to race at IMS. INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 12, 2003 -- The goal of the IRL Infiniti Pro Series has been constant since its inception in August 2001 -- to prepare drivers for the ...
Infiniti Pro Series owners, drivers thrilled with chance to race at IMS.
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 12, 2003 -- The goal of the IRL Infiniti Pro Series has been constant since its inception in August 2001 -- to prepare drivers for the thrilling wheel-to-wheel excitement of the IRL IndyCarÔ Series and fulfill their dream of competing in the world's greatest race, the Indianapolis 500.
Now the path to reaching both goals has shortened considerably with the announcement March 12 that an Infiniti Pro Series race, the Freedom 100, will take place for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on May 17.
It's the first time in the 94-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that another automobile race will share the historic 2.5-mile oval with the Indianapolis 500 during the month of May.
And that piece of history -- combined with the experience of racing at the world's greatest speedway in front of fans and media from around the world -- has elicited a unanimous response from Infiniti Pro Series drivers, team owners and officials.
Here's what drivers, team owners and series officials are saying about the Freedom 100 (quotes in alphabetical order):
ROGER BAILEY (Executive Director, IRL Infiniti Pro Series): (About racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway): "It's incredibly important. I always dreamed that we would race at the Speedway one day, but I never anticipated that it would be this quickly. This race is further proof of Tony George's commitment to the success and growth of open-wheel racing in this country. It clearly builds on what we're striving to achieve with the Infiniti Pro Series. The whole point of the series is to give up-and-coming drivers an opportunity to participate and perform at racetracks at a lower speed and prepare themselves for the IRL IndyCar Series. It's a great opportunity, not just for those who are already in the Pro Series but also for those who are thinking of joining the series, to go out and find sponsorship. The race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a very important part of the development of the Infiniti Pro Series."
JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Panther Racing): "I'm very pleased that Tony (George) has had the vision to bring the Infiniti Pro Series cars to Indy. This will not only give validity to this program; it will give the drivers and crews very valuable experience at Indy. Since we now race in Japan in April, it makes it very hard to get the Rookie Orientation Program scheduled in before May. Now with these drivers racing the Infiniti Pro Series cars, it will make the transition much easier."
ED CARPENTER (No. 14 Futaba/Delphi/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "The purpose of the Infiniti Pro Series is to create drivers for the IndyCar Series, and this just helps the series do an even better job of that by taking the Pro Series drivers to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's the best venue that we go to and the biggest race. It's just going to bring the Pro Series to a whole new level. It means a lot to me. Since I've been racing, my ultimate goal has been to race in the Indianapolis 500 and win it, so this is just part of that. I'm getting to race at the Speedway. I want to race there in an IndyCar Series car, but this is the first step -- to race there in the Pro Series." (About racing for four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt): "It's going to give me a lot of confidence. A.J. knows how to make cars go fast around that racetrack. He knows what it takes to win there, so that's an advantage for me."
PAUL DANA (No. 24 Ethanol/Team ISI Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "It's -- and this is no understatement -- absolutely phenomenal. I think it's pretty obvious that it's the goal of every open-wheel driver to race at the Indianapolis 500, and that's always been the pinnacle. For this series to give us the chance to get experience at that track and to participate in the month of May, it's priceless. It's absolutely unbelievable. I think we're all pretty much blown away. That's just from a driving standpoint. I'm completely stoked. Then from a business standpoint, it adds incredible value to our program that we can take to our sponsors. The series has already done a great job already of promoting us as drivers, and it makes our job a lot easier in terms of going out and trying to pull money into the sport. This is the final thing that makes it completely obvious to everybody -- that we're actually on track at the Speedway during the month of May as part of the whole show. I'm literally giddy. You dream of it, and you keep thinking 'If I win races and were to win the championship in the Infiniti Pro Series, then maybe done the road I'll get a shot in the IndyCar Series, and then maybe that can lead to the Indy 500.'"
BRANDON ERWIN (No. 99 Natural Golf/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/ Infiniti/Firestone): "It is going to be awesome to be back there in an Infiniti Pro Series car. We are going to be flying around there. I know that Sam Schmidt and my engineer, Tim Neff, are very good around that track. We actually tested (an IndyCar Series car) together in October of 2001. It went really well there, so I definitely feel confident. I'm glad we are running there. I think that it is going to be a good spot for us and the Infiniti Pro Series to shine, and definitely good for Sam Schmidt and Natural Golf."
RON HEMELGARN (Owner, Hemelgarn 91/Johnson Motorsports): "I think it is fantastic. Most drivers have a dream of running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it will be a dream come true for many of the Infiniti Pro Series drivers. This is a smart move for the Pro Series as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR has IROC at the Brickyard; Formula One runs with the Porsche series, and now the IndyCar Series has the support of the Pro Series. It is just a very natural move, and it will increase awareness of the series. It is a tremendous launching pad being associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, creating more teams, more driver opportunities, more sponsors and more fans."
ARIE LUYENDYK (Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "Obviously, that's a great feather in the cap for the series. The series obviously is young and new, but the series has put on a lot of good racing. And I think for these young drivers to go do Indy is just an awesome opportunity for them to be able to race there before they even go to the IRL (IndyCar Series) in regards to learning the racetrack. For these guys, it's not going to be that hard to drive those cars around that track because it's a pretty big track. They'll have a big drafting going on, and it'll be a good race for the spectators. Just for them to have the opportunity to race at that track is just an awesome experience."
ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 5 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm extremely excited to race at the Speedway. I think as a driver, it's a track everyone wants to race at, and from a marketing aspect, I think that we can find much more sponsorship if we have an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'm excited about both the business and the driving aspects of it. I think our cars will run great there with the new, improved engine, and I'm looking forward to it. I've been going there since I've been 2 years old, but I've never been around the track -- not even in a rental car. I'm excited to drive at a place where my dad has had so much success. Hopefully it can prepare me for a possible Indy run next year. I think it's great. I think it's perfect for all the sponsors who want to get involved in the Infiniti Pro Series and then move up to the IndyCar Series. It gives them a taste of the IndyCar Series, and it really gives the drivers a good opportunity to showcase themselves. It's a win-win situation. I think it will be a big success."
RICK MEARS (Driver Coach and Consultant, IRL Infiniti Pro Series, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "I think it's great. For the new kids who are striving to get to Indianapolis, what better way for them to be readied for when they do get there, then to be able to get there and run on the actual track? There's a lot to Indianapolis other than the race itself. There's the buildup that goes along with it, and everything that happens in Indianapolis and at the Speedway prior to the event. So, being able to experience all the things that are involved in Indianapolis, besides the racing on the track, is outstanding."
THIAGO MEDEIROS (No. 36 Genoa Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "To have the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a dream come true. And I'm sure it is for everybody in the Infiniti Pro Series. I think that everyone who thinks about competing in Indy Racing League dreams about someday racing at Indianapolis. I hope to someday race in the IndyCar Series and thought that would be when I would get to race at Indianapolis. The opportunity to drive at the Speedway is a big reason I came to America and compete in the Infiniti Pro Series. This is a very competitive country, and the Infiniti Pro Series is a very competitive series. Everyone has a chance to learn and to win."
JOHNNY RUTHERFORD (Special Projects, Indy Racing League, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "I think it's a great opportunity for these young drivers to see what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about. I think when it all shakes out, it will be a great opportunity for the drivers to see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for the fans to see them. It's going to help anybody that comes to the Speedway and gets to see the greatest speedway of all. Each driver has his own thoughts about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and this will give them a chance to look at it first-hand and compete on it, and then the step beyond to the IRL (IndyCar Series) may not be as tough for them. Going from a car that runs a little slower with less horsepower on a shorter track that isn't as fast, to jump straight to the Speedway, this will be a great opportunity for them to get a taste of what's coming."
SAM SCHMIDT (Owner, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, three-time Indianapolis 500 starter): "I think it is a great thing for the series and for our sponsors. It validates the series in its official status as training ground for the IndyCar Series. I think that is probably the most important thing about coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This will really tie the series to the Indy Racing League. I think it will be a fantastic race with the long straightaways. It will be next to impossible to keep somebody from passing if they are behind you. I think there will be a lot of lead changes. Personally, I have some history at the Speedway and some unfinished business from 1999 when I had such a good car. Then last year we finished sixth. To me, it is like an addiction, and it has been breaking my heart not to be involved with an IRL (IndyCar Series) program (this year) at the '500.' The fact that we will be able to run the Infiniti Pro Series cars there and hopefully win the race would be a good alternative for me, personally."
AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): "This may be the most exciting development for the IRL Infiniti Pro Series since the program was announced in 2001. There's no other way for a young, aspiring driver to gain open-wheel racing experience at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the track that has hosted 86 Indianapolis 500-Mile Races. This is also an important career path experience for mechanics, crew members and team owners, exposing them to this world-famous, competitive environment. We're certainly pleased Firestone Firehawks will be fitted to every Infiniti Pro Series car, and we are confident our tires will be up to the task. We couldn't be more pleased with this positive direction."
BRIAN STEWART (Owner, Brian Stewart Racing): "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most awe-inspiring place that you could ever race a car at. To go and run at the Speedway is like a dream. Years ago, Mo (Larsen, chief mechanic) were talking, and our goal was to change a tire at the Speedway as a mechanic. Now, maybe there's a chance to finally get to do it. Since all of their goals are to eventually run at Indianapolis, this is a way for them to go there, and even if they don't run the Indy 500 for two or three years, it's tucked away in the back of their minds. When they finally get to go there in an IndyCar Series car, they'll know their way around. They won't have to learn the track; they'll just have to learn how to drive that particular car on the track that they already have experience at. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the young guys to race there. When I see Tony George, I'm going to thank him very much for the opportunity that he's given us."
MARK TAYLOR (No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "It's going to be a great race for us. It's a surprise. At the beginning of the year, we never thought this would happen. We thought it would be down the road. To be able to compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a dream of mine and to be able to do it in my first year of oval-track racing makes me extremely happy. Hopefully next year we'll be able to do it in the IndyCar Series. This will be a good experience for everybody in the series, being able to race on that track and get used to the feeling of the wind, get used to the circuit. It will give everyone a chance to experience that feeling of what racing at the Indianapolis 500 will be like. So this year is going to be even more so for me an experience because you watch it on TV and you hear about it, but until you actually see it in real life, it's difficult to explain what it's like. You go into the museum, and you see all the drivers who've won the race, and you know all the drivers who haven't won it and gone on to do huge things in the sport. There are some great historic names there, and you just want to add your name to (be) one of them."
AL UNSER (Driver Coach and Consultant, Indy Racing League, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner): "I think it's great, I really do. It's going to give the Infiniti Pro Series drivers a chance to feel what it's like to be part of the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing.' The drivers, the sponsors and the crews will all get a feel for what it's like. It's great. I really mean that. It helps them. I wish I would have had something like that when I was starting. When I first came there, they put me out there with the veterans and said, 'Do it, and if you do it wrong, go home.' This will teach them so much and with (Rick) Mears (driver coach) and all of us with our knowledge and encouragement, they'll have an advantage we all wish we would have had. They'll learn the fundamentals that it takes and the adrenaline that this place produces. I think it's great."
JONATHAN URLIN (No. 33 Budget Rent A Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "First and foremost, the Pro Series is to train drivers for the IndyCar Series and the biggest race in the Indy 500. So I think it is just showing exactly what this series is about -- to give us the opportunity to race at Indy. I didn't think I would race at Indy this year. As soon as the rumors starting going around, I got a pretty good feeling inside. I think everybody else feels the same thing. It is just a great opportunity to be there. It is going to be a fun race. It will be good because there are lots of fan there and lots of journalists. We will hopefully get some recognition out of this. It will give us an opportunity to be one step closer to the Indy 500."
TOM WOOD (No. 9 Super 8 Motels/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I would be totally excited about the concept of racing the Infiniti Pro Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's a great idea. If we are going to eventually race there in the IndyCar Series cars, then it makes perfect sense to race there in the Pro Series cars."