LAS VEGAS, Nev., September 29, 2004 -- Richie Hearn knows ovals. The first year car-owner of Hearn Motorsports, who won the 1996 IndyCar Series' Las Vegas 500, brings that knowledge to the historic Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) oval this weekend for a two-day Star Mazda Series North American Championship event. The race marks the oval debut for Hearn's two-car team. The one-mile PIR facility in Avondale, Ariz. is the only oval on the Star Mazda schedule and the first for Raphael Matos, who sits seventh in the season-long standings driving Hearn's No. 70 Showtime/ Samsung/ Skip Barber entry. Brian Thienes, driver of the No. 77 Thienes Engineering Mazda, will be returning to the PIR oval for the second time having driven there in 2003. Thienes is currently ranked 16th in his second season of Star Mazda competition.
The team recently completed a successful test at PIR where both Matos and Thienes came away with a positive feeling entering Saturday's event. Hearn, who knows the dangers of an oval, plans to give his two drivers the benefit of the thousands of laps he has turned on the left-turn only facilities but has his eyes set more on the long-term success of the team. With the season-finale to be held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 16th, the team's primary goal for the weekend is returning the Las Vegas race shop with two rolling race cars. Hearn Motorsports has competed in eight of the nine Star Mazda races in 2004 missing the season-opening round at Sebring as the team ramped-up for its debut. Thienes joined the effort at Portland in July. Since its creation, the team has earned seven top-five qualifying spots and two podium finishes- all with Matos.
The ninth of ten races will be run on Saturday, Oct. 2. The Phoenix round can be seen on SPEED, at 2pm (EDT), October 17.
Richie Hearn: "Phoenix is about survival. I think everybody is a little bit nervous; not just us but a lot of the teams. We tested there. Unfortunately Rafa didn't get a lot of time because of a mechanical problem. But Brian did pretty well and we learned a lot with his car. That will help Rafa too. The ovals are about good car setup more than anything. So, the pressure is on us to give them that. I think that if we give them a good car and they run a clean race, they will both be right up there at the end. I think we can go for a top-three finish and, who knows, maybe even win it and move on to Laguna Seca. Rafa enjoyed the oval and Brian has raced at Phoenix before so he is confident. We made all the repairs to Raphael's car after he was rear-ended at Atlanta so we are set for Phoenix."