IPS: Simmons' advantage in St. Pete

There are drivers in both the Indy Racing League's IndyCar and Menards Infiniti Pro Series that are champing at the bit to get back to their road racing and street racing roots. This weekend they'll have that opportunity, as the League contests...

There are drivers in both the Indy Racing League's IndyCar and Menards Infiniti Pro Series that are champing at the bit to get back to their road racing and street racing roots. This weekend they'll have that opportunity, as the League contests its first street circuit in its tenth year of competition.

The two series will be working it out on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida as the IRL runs the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on city streets and an airport that has several long straights and opportunities for passing.

Among the few drivers who have competed on the 1.8-mile, 14-corner St. Pete track is Jeff Simmons, driver of the #24 ISI Kenn Hardley Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone entry in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Simmons raced on this circuit in 2003 with the FranAm series.

The 2003 MIPS runner-up, Simmons did only a partial season in 2004 but is back to take the title in the 14-race 2005 campaign. Last Thursday he was quickest in open Pro series testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where MIPS becomes the first series to contest two races in one year (they'll also run the oval in May for the third consecutive time).

"I'm glad to be thinking about road racing again and I think St. Pete will be a good circuit for our first competition," Simmons noted. "The track is fairly smooth and quick with sizable straights. I'm thinking it's going to be a really good show," he said.

"We're pleased with the test we had at Indy - where Simmons was a full mile per hour quicker than his competitors - we worked through our program without problems. I know some of the other guys [in the Pro series] tested at Sebring on Monday but we weren't able to do that. I just hope we maintain our advantage."

It hasn't yet been a championship-caliber season for Simmons or Team ISI but "with 14 races this year, at least we still have 12 to show our hand," he laughed. "The first two races were not what we wanted but the game plan is to be more competitive. We look to do well on the road courses and short ovals; we still have to get our long oval part together."

Setting up a Pro series car for road racing is "completely different," Simmons advised. "There are many more corners and you have to think about your approach to braking zones. We've been trying out different brake pads and our downforce levels have been all over the place," he said.

"Engineering for a road or street course is very different. You have to look at acceleration, deceleration and mid-corner speeds you don't worry about as much on an oval. I wouldn't say it's more difficult but it's different. Without road racing background, the first practice for some drivers might be difficult but I'm sure they'll be okay.

"The street track might be more technically challenging and, at Indy we sacrificed speed in some places to gain speed elsewhere," Simmons recalled. "I expect the fast guys this weekend to be Chris Festa, Marco Andretti, Al Unser and me, of course."

Simmons believes there will be good opportunities for passing and many of those come in spectator areas, such as the first turn, where grandstands have been erected. "There, and at the end of the back straight should be good passing zones," he advised.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Chris Festa