IPS: IRL: Homestead: Season opener preview

Strong teams, drivers to open IndyCar Series at Homestead-Miami. HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 -- The lineup of teams and drivers for the IRL IndyCar Series season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway reads...

Strong teams, drivers to open IndyCar Series at Homestead-Miami.

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 -- The lineup of teams and drivers for the IRL IndyCar Series season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway reads like a who's who of open-wheel racing.

Unser, Andretti, Foyt, Hornish, Penske, Rahal, Sharp, Ganassi, Kelley, Scheckter, Menard, Hemelgarn, Lazier, Castroneves and Panther are just a few of the winning teams and drivers that will begin the 16-race road to the IndyCar Series championship at Miami.

The statistics of the field indicate that the strongest field to open an IndyCar Series season will take the green flag at the 1.5-mile oval.

Drivers in the field have combined for six Indianapolis 500 victories, five IRL IndyCar Series championships, five CART championships and 142 victories in either the IRL IndyCar Series or CART. Meanwhile, the teams have combined for 25 Indy-style championships, 19 Indianapolis 500 victories and countless race victories.

While the names are known, the great unknown is who is going to come out on top, not only at the Toyota Indy 300, but also in the 16-race season championship.

Sam Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing begin their quest for an unprecedented third IRL IndyCar Series title in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone at Homestead-Miami. The track has been good to the team, as Hornish has won both IndyCar Series events there, in 2001 and 2002.

But this year, Hornish will go up against another master of Homestead: Michael Andretti. 1991 CART champion Andretti, who co-owns Andretti Green Racing, won at Homestead in the CART series in 1997 and 1998 and finished second in 1999. In the Homestead-Miami Open Test on Feb. 17-18, Andretti posted the fastest lap of the two days, turning an unofficial track record of 207.378 mph in his No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

While Hornish and Andretti are the only drivers in the field who have won at Homestead-Miami, several would like to find victory lane, including many drivers who are Florida residents.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves is a Miami resident, and his Marlboro Team Penske teammate and two-time CART champion, Gil de Ferran, lives in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Fla. de Ferran was second fastest in the Open Test with a lap of 206.756 in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, while Castroneves was fourth fastest at 206.152 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp, a resident of Jupiter, Fla., was third fastest at the Open Test for Kelley Racing at 206.230 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

Sharp and his teammate, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., enter the Toyota Indy 300 with several new faces at Kelley Racing, including Steve Newey, who joined the team as vice president of racing operations.

2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone is a resident of Orlando, Fla., and drives the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone as a teammate to Formula One veteran Tora Takagi, who drives the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone. Tony Kanaan, who has one career CART victory, lives in Miami and will drive the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone with Andretti Green Racing as a teammate to Andretti and Dario Franchitti, who finished second in CART points in 1999 and will make his full-time IndyCar Series debut in the No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

2000 IndyCar Series champion and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier will drive the No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

The Toyota Indy 300 also marks the return to the IndyCar Series of 1998 champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack. He will drive the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Team Rahal, which is co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal.

IndyCar Series veterans Jaques Lazier and Robbie Buhl are past series race winners and will look for more success at Homestead-Miami. Lazier will drive the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Team Menard, which has won two IndyCar Series championships. Buhl will drive the No. 24 Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, of which he is co-owner.

While there is plenty of experience in the field for the Toyota Indy 300, there are also some young drivers who would love to open the season with a victory at Homestead-Miami.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which won four consecutive CART titles from 1996-99, will field Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone cars for Tomas Scheckter and Scott Dixon, who are both 22. Scheckter won the IndyCar Series race at Michigan in 2002, while Dixon became the youngest driver to win in any major open-wheel series when he won a CART race in 2000 at Nazareth, Pa., at 20.

Buddy Rice, 27, finished second in his IRL IndyCar Series debut at Michigan in 2002 with Red Bull Cheever Racing and will compete with the team full-time in 2003 in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

The rookie crop includes one of racing's most famous names: Foyt. A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, will drive the No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone for his grandfather in the 2003 IndyCar Series. The younger Foyt captured the inaugural IRL Infiniti Pro Series championship in 2002 and hopes to find the same success in the IndyCar Series.

Another promising young rookie is American Roger Yasukawa, who will drive the No. 55 Panasonic Autobacs Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. Yasukawa, who won in Toyota Atlantic in 2002, was fourth fastest on the first day of the Open Test at Homestead-Miami. Rookie Scott Mayer, who has competed in the Skip Barber Pro Series, will make his IRL IndyCar Series debut with PDM Racing.

There's also focus on the chassis and engines that will compete at Homestead-Miami. Honda and Toyota will make their debut in IndyCar Series competition, while Chevrolet hopes to defend the manufacturers' title that it won in 2002.

All the engines are new, as are the Panoz G Force and Dallara chassis, as the 2003 season marks the first year of new chassis and engine regulations that will be in place through 2005.

Homestead-Miami Speedway also will be the site of the Miami 100 on March 2, the season-opening race for the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. With 2002 champion Foyt moving to the IndyCar Series, the 12-race championship chase will be wide open.

Ed Carpenter, who finished third in the point standings in 2002, has moved to Foyt's vacated No. 14 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone ride at A.J. Foyt Racing. Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, moves to Carpenter's vacated seat at Sinden Racing Service. Luyendyk, who finished second in the point standings last year, and Carpenter both will try to score their first Infiniti Pro Series wins at Homestead-Miami after coming close in 2002. Carpenter had one second-place finish while Luyendyk finished second four times.

Cory Witherill and Aaron Fike each scored one victory in 2002 and finished fourth and fifth, respectively in the 2002 points standings. Both will return with Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports for second consecutive season.

Panther Racing, which has won two consecutive IndyCar Series championships, will field its first Infiniti Pro Series car for Mark Taylor, a veteran of British Formula 3. Also, noted development series team Brian Stewart Racing will expand to a two-car effort for 2003 with Marty Roth competing for the second straight year along with rookie Jonathan Urlin.

TOYOTA INDY 300/MIAMI 100 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Toyota Indy 300 IndyCar Series race starts at 1 p.m. (EST) Sunday, March 2. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 1:15 p.m. March 1 IndyCar Series practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Feb. 28, 10:15 a.m. March 1 and 9 a.m. March 2.

The Miami 100 Infiniti Pro Series race starts at 10:10 a.m. (EST) March 2. Pole qualifying starts at noon March 1. Infiniti Pro Series practice sessions start at 9 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Feb. 28, 8:15 a.m. March 1 and 8:30 a.m. March 2.

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On the air: The Toyota Indy 300 will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. (EST) March 2. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at noon (EST) March 2 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a season preview show at noon (EST) March 2, followed by a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. and the live race broadcast at 1 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a qualifying wrap-up show at 4:30 p.m. (EST) March 1. The area affiliate is WRFX-AM 940, Miami. Live coverage of MBNA Pole Qualifying (1:15 p.m., March 1) and the live race broadcast also will be available at www.indyracing.com.

Highlights from the Miami 100 Infiniti Pro Series race will be televised at 3:30 p.m. (EST) March 7 on ESPN2.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Toyota Indy 300 and the Miami 100 are available by calling (305) 230-RACE, logging onto www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com or at any Ticketmaster location.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jaques Lazier  , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Skip Barber , Marty Roth , Aaron Fike , Scott Mayer , Jonathan Urlin , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing