IPS: Watkins Glen: Penultimate race preview

PRE-RACE NOTES: Five fighting for championship: Five drivers remain in contention for the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship. Point leader Wade Cunningham holds a 23-point lead over Travis Gregg. A maximum of 56 points are available...

PRE-RACE NOTES:

Five fighting for championship: Five drivers remain in contention for the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship. Point leader Wade Cunningham holds a 23-point lead over Travis Gregg. A maximum of 56 points are available in the series' final two races. Cunningham can clinch the title at Watkins Glen only if he wins the race and Gregg finishes 11th or worse. Jeff Simmons (-47), Nick Bussell (-61) and Jaime Camara (-74) also are in contention.

Point leader Cunningham looking for first win: Wade Cunningham has been the Menards Infiniti Pro Series point leader since the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June, round six of 14, when he recorded his series record fourth consecutive second-place finish. Since then, Cunningham has three more seconds, a fourth and a fifth, but he doesn't have a victory. Only two drivers in major open-wheel racing series have won titles without a race victory. IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp was winless in 1996 in a season that featured only three races, and Oriol Servia won the Indy Lights championship in 1999 on the strength of five seconds and three poles.

Simmons surging to the front: Connecticut native Jeff Simmons has improved from ninth to third in the championship point standings in a period of five races. Victories at Milwaukee, Pikes Peak and Chicagoland, as well as two top-five finishes have moved Simmons into contention for the championship. Simmons is an accomplished road-course racer, winning at Watkins Glen in 1997 in SCCA Formula 2000 competition, and in 1998 in Barber Dodge Pro Series competition.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports gunning for back-to-back championships: A year ago, Sam Schmidt Motorsports had all but clinched its first Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship. Heading into the 12th and final race, Thiago Medeiros had a 101-point lead over his nearest competitor. This year, the team is trying to come from behind with either Travis Gregg, who is in second, or Jaime Camara, who is in fifth. Gregg is 23 points behind leader Wade Cunningham, and while he is not as strong on road courses as Cunningham, Gregg has three wins on ovals. The final race will be Oct. 16 on the 2-mile oval at California Speedway.

Closest points battle in series history: This is the most competitive season in Menards Infiniti Pro Series history. Wade Cunningham leads Travis Gregg by 23 points, with four other drivers within 74 points of the lead. In 2003 and 2004, the series champion was crowned in the penultimate race of the season, round 11 of 12, with final margins of victory of 75 and 134 points, respectively. In the inaugural 2002 campaign, A.J. Foyt IV won the title by 54 points, clinching in the seventh and final race.

Andretti eyes perfect season on the road: Marco Andretti is batting 1.000 when it comes to road-course racing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. The 18-year-old, third-generation driver has won from the pole on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and on the road courses at Indianapolis and Infineon. The Corning 100 is the fourth and final non-oval event this season.

Andretti, Simmons, DeSimone hail from Northeast: Three drivers in the Corning 100 have roots in the Northeast. Marco Andretti, the 18-year-old grandson of Mario Andretti and son of Michael Andretti, has been raised in Nazareth, Pa. He graduated from high school there earlier this year. Jeff Simmons grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Boston College University. Rocco DeSimone, who will be making his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut, hails from Rhode Island.

PRE-RACE QUOTES:

JAIME CAMARA (No. 1 CELG-Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "For the team, and me and, I think, for many of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers, this will be our first experience with the Watkins Glen circuit. It will be a nice experience to learn another new track, and I hope I can get the most of it this weekend. I'm counting on my previous experience on road courses and also on my team. I think it will be great to be on a road course again just a few weeks after Sonoma."

WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Motorsport New Zealand Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm feeling 100 percent. Crashing is something you expect, especially on the ovals. It's very rare to go an entire season without crashing, even when it's not your fault. We've got a brand new car and it will be identical to what we had. I've never been to Watkins Glen, but I've got the Pi data for it, so I'm going to study that. I'm just going to go out and take whatever comes. I'd rather be leading the points than be in second. Twenty-three isn't the least lead I've had this season. I know if I do my best the points gap will be bigger after Watkins Glen, and then we'll see what happens at California."

ROCCO DeSIMONE (No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I looked at the Menards Infiniti Pro Series when it first got started, but it didn't offer any road courses at the time. When I heard about the opportunity to race at Watkins Glen this year, I jumped on it. I really made a big effort to get into it. This is my closest race to home. I should have a lot of friends and family there. If all goes well, hopefully it will lead to a ride for next year. I tested twice. The first time, it took a few laps to feel comfortable because I hadn't really been in a car in two years, but after I settled down, the car really came to me."

CHRIS FESTA (No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Watkins Glen is a very historic track in the U.S. so it will be a great thing for Indycar racing to return the track. It's a very fast track so aero balance is important as well as pushing the car as hard as possible to get the most speed out of it. High speed tracks are always a lot of fun to drive and will challenge us in making passes. I am really excited to be back on a road course and to race on a track as historic as Watkins Glen."

PHIL GIEBLER (No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm really looking forward to the race. I wanted to drive on the road courses in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series car. I'm happy for the opportunity and hope I can turn this one opportunity into a bigger opportunity for next year. I've never raced at Watkins Glen, but I'm going to ask a few of my friends who have driven there about the track, see what they know and try to get a head start on it."

TRAVIS GREGG (No. 7 Lucas Oil Products/Sam Schmidt Mspt Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "This will be my first trip to The Glen. I've watched a lot of races from the track on TV. For me, honestly, the primary focus has to be points. All season we've been in a close battle for the championship - leading, then trailing, then leading, then trailing. In July we lost some ground but we've been able to pick up some points lately. I know I need to have a clean race and use what I've learned on the other road races this year."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 24 Team ISI Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I won at Watkins Glen in 1998. The last time I drove there was 1999, so it's been quite a while, but I know the track, the way the corners look, so it should jog in my mind pretty quickly. I think we'll be on pace early, and we should have as good a chance to win the race as anybody. We also have some momentum on our side." (About being alive in the championship race): "We're going to go out and try to win another race. With all of the problems we've had this year, it's pretty amazing we're still in the championship fight. We're not going to change what we're doing. We're still overcoming problems. If we can have a weekend without any issues like we did at Pikes Peak, we should be in good shape."

***

WHAT:
Corning 100, 13th race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season.

WHERE:
Watkins Glen International, 3.37-mile, 11-turn, permanent road course

WHEN:
1:10 (EDT), Sunday, Sept. 25

DISTANCE:
20 laps/67.4 miles

CARS:
Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8 engines; Firestone tires

PREVIOUS RACE WINNERS:
Inaugural event

TV:
ESPN2, 3 p.m. (EDT), Sept. 29

SCHEDULE: (all times local; subject to change)

Friday, Sept. 23
12:15-12:45 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
3:15-4 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice

Saturday, Sept. 24
9:30-10 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
11:45 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series SWE Race Car Parts pole qualifying

Sunday, Sept. 25
9-9:15 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series warm-up
1:10 p.m. -- Corning 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race (20 laps/67.4 miles)

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Scott Sharp , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Oriol Servia , Sam Schmidt , Mario Andretti , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Nick Bussell , Travis Gregg , Wade Cunningham , Jaime Camara , Thiago Medeiros