IPS: Sears Point: Round 11 preview

WHAT: Sonoma 100, 11th race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season. WHERE: Infineon Raceway, 2.3-mile, 12-turn road course WHEN: 1:45 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, Aug. 28 DISTANCE: 30 laps/69 miles CARS: Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8...

WHAT:
Sonoma 100, 11th race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season.

WHERE:
Infineon Raceway, 2.3-mile, 12-turn road course

WHEN:
1:45 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, Aug. 28

DISTANCE:
30 laps/69 miles

CARS:
Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8 engines; Firestone tires

PREVIOUS RACE WINNERS:
Inaugural event

TV:
ESPN2, 3 p.m. (EDT), Sept. 1

PRE-RACE NOTES:

Tightest points battle in series history: This is the most competitive season in Menards Infiniti Pro Series history, with five race winners in 10 races. Wade Cunningham leads Travis Gregg by 21 points, with four other drivers within 74 points of the lead. Gregg has recorded three victories this season while Cunningham has established a series record by finishing in the top five in 10 consecutive races. After 10 races in 2004, 95 points separated first and second place. In 2003, the top two drivers were separated by 71 points after 10 races. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series has never had more than five drivers win in a season.

Cunningham looking for first win: Series points leader Wade Cunningham, who celebrated his 21st birthday Aug. 19 with a two-seater ride at Pikes Peak International Raceway, is looking to record his first series victory at Infineon Raceway. Cunningham, a former world karting champion, holds the series points lead despite being winless in his rookie season in the series. Cunningham recorded an IRL-record four consecutive second-place finishes earlier this season and holds the series record with 10 consecutive top-five finishes.

Andretti seeks trifecta: Marco Andretti, the 18-year-old son of IndyCar Series team co-owner Michael Andretti and the grandson of Mario Andretti, will seek his third road/street course win in as many attempts in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Andretti debuted in the series in April on the temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla. He won the pole and led 22 of 40 laps en route to the victory. In June, Andretti won from the pole again -- this time on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Sonoma 100 will be the third road/street event in series history.

Simmons throws hat into the ring: Jeff Simmons, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series runner-up in 2003, is back in contention for the 2005 championship. Simmons was one of the favorites to win the title entering the season, but a series of crashes and mechanical difficulties left him in the back of the pack after the first six races. In the last four races, however, Simmons has recorded victories at Milwaukee and Pikes Peak, a second-place finish at Nashville and a fifth-place finish at Kentucky. Simmons has qualified second and third at the series' two previous road/street events.

Sam Schmidt serves as inspiration: Menards Infiniti Pro Series team owner Sam Schmidt continues to serve as an inspiration inside and outside of racing. The Pepperdine University graduate was paralyzed in an IndyCar Series practice crash in 2000. He came back one year later as a team owner. Last year, his team dominated the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, winning the championship with driver Thiago Medeiros.

PRE-RACE QUOTES:

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Vonage Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Hopefully, Infineon will be a good weekend for me. Like I've said before, I'm still pretty much a road racer right now, so I'm hoping we can run well. I've got some experience at Infineon, which will be a big help. The big thing for me will be just getting used to the Pro Series car on that track and then getting it to handle the way we need it to to be fast."

NICK BUSSELL (No. 9 Vision Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I think it should be a lot of fun. I did a Jim Russell school there at the end of 2002, so I have a little bit of an idea of what the track is like. It'll be different in these cars, but I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a fun track to drive. I think we're going to run pretty good out there. It will be my first race with my new team for the road courses. I'm looking forward to it."

JAIME CAMARA (No. 1 CELG-Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Infineon is a new track for everybody (in our series), so whoever works the fastest, and the best, in finding the best setup is going to be the one to beat. It's very important to start on the front row there because it's a track that is hard to pass. I have visited Infineon Raceway, and I learned some tricky things about the track that can help me at the race weekend. Most importantly, we've got to get the Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars all up front on the starting grid since track position will be so critical."

WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Motorsport New Zealand Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I raced there last year, so I'm already familiar with the track. We've been pretty good everywhere we've been this year, so we expect to be running at the front again. I'm sure Marco (Andretti) will be fast again, but we should have made some improvements by then, so hopefully we'll take the fight like we did at St. Pete."

CHRIS FESTA (No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "If people are watching our race at Infineon and they have only ever seen the track when NASCAR races there, they'll notice they are seeing a different racing circuit. Our cars have much better turning capabilities, so we will take a few different corners than the stock cars take. I think the race at Infineon is going to be great. The track is a very good road course with a lot of different elevation changes, different turns--there are high-speed and low-speed turns. I'm looking forward to the race. I think our Menards Infiniti Pro Series cars should work very well there, providing some great racing action for the Sonoma-area race fans."

TRAVIS GREGG (No. 7 Lucas Oil Products/Sam Schmidt Mspt Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Infineon Raceway is a very challenging track. It has elevation changes, off camber turns and blind corners. The track looks like it should be a lot of fun in our Menards Infiniti Pro Series race cars. I'm hoping it's what I need to really step up my road course performances so I can stay in the points chase. It's awesome that we'll be racing in California's wine country, but it's going to be kind of bittersweet. We'll get to enjoy the scenery but no fruits of labor from any of the vineyards since drinking and racing probably isn't the best combination -- though I have to admit, champagne in Victory Lane is incredible. I'll have to save the rest of the sampling for another trip."

ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 3 Karcher Pressure Washer Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm pretty excited about racing at Infineon. I've never raced there. It's going to be a good experience for me. I went there and did a Jim Russell school, and that was a good experience. I just hope to build off of the Indianapolis race and improve on that."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 24 Team ISI Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I've never been there. I haven't even seen a track map yet, so I don't know anything about it. I've got a computer that game that's going to show me most of the track, but it doesn't run exactly the same track that we're going to run. I've heard there are a lot of blind corners, so it's going to be difficult. I think we're going to be behind on that first session because a lot of guys that I've talked to have already been there. I know Wade (Cunningham) has been there. I know the (Sam) Schmidt (Motorsports) guys have been there. I would think that Marco (Andretti) has been there before. We're going to be a little bit behind to start just learning the track. But usually a good driver can learn a track in a handful of laps."

-irl-

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Michael Andretti , Sam Schmidt , Mario Andretti , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Travis Gregg , Wade Cunningham , Thiago Medeiros