IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2004-02-23

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 23, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. ESPN, ABC Sports to provide continuous coverage of first two IndyCar Series races 2. Enge, Scheckter aim to return Panther to top 3. IndyCar Series drivers visit Disney...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 23, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. ESPN, ABC Sports to provide continuous coverage of first two IndyCar Series races
2. Enge, Scheckter aim to return Panther to top
3. IndyCar Series drivers visit Disney World for ESPN The Weekend
4. Hemelgarn to field first woman driver in Menards Infiniti Pro Series

1. ESPN, ABC Sports to provide continuous coverage of first two IndyCar Series races: ESPN and ABC Sports' telecasts of the first two 2005 IRL IndyCar® Series season races will feature continuous coverage of race action through all national commercial breaks with "Side-By-Side," a split screen of the race and commercials.

ESPN will debut the new way of viewing auto racing at the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 2 p.m. (EST) on March 6. ABC Sports will utilize "Side-By-Side" at the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 from Phoenix International Raceway at 3 p.m (EST) on March 19.

"It is exciting to see the creative ways ABC Sports and ESPN are looking at to present the IndyCar Series to viewers," said Ken Ungar, senior vice president of business affairs for the Indy Racing League. "With the speed and side-by-side racing offered up by our drivers and teams week-in and week-out, this initiative will give fans the opportunity to see even more of the all-out competition offered by the IndyCar Series."

With "Side-By-Side," ESPN and ABC Sports will stay with the race action during all national commercials. When the networks take a national break:

*The screen will be split into two pictures with the race action on the left and the advertiser's commercial with audio in a larger box to the right.

*A graphic above the race box will display the top three drivers of the race at the time of the break and the location of the event.

*The sponsor logo or name will be at the top of the screen and change in correspondence to the advertiser.

"We are pleased to include our sponsors in this innovative approach to televising open-wheel racing," said Ed Erhardt, president, ESPN and ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales. "Developing and effectively utilizing creative and inventive technology on telecasts is an ABC and ESPN hallmark. The enthusiastic and positive responses we received on this concept from our sponsors and IndyCar was tremendous.

"Auto racing is unique in that there are no set plays, stoppages or timeouts. Fans can now follow the race action from the green flag to the drop of the checkered flag. The race action is continuous so we felt this was the next logical step in open-wheel coverage."

The networks' five local commercial breaks during the race telecast will be full screen with no race coverage.

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2. Enge, Scheckter aim to return Panther to top: Note -- The following story is part of a series previewing each of the teams competing in the IRL IndyCar® Series.

Tomas Scheckter was weaving through potential nicknames for new teammate Tomas Enge like he does traffic on racetracks. Obviously, with a Tomas twosome in the Panther Racing paddock, it could get a little confusing.

"T2" was an early offering, as were "Little E," "Victor" and other Eastern European names. How about Boris? "No!" pleaded Enge, a native of the Czech Republic. "OK, Boris it is," Scheckter deadpanned.

The routine isn't quite Laurel and Hardy yet and the moniker hasn't stuck, but the IndyCar Series drivers certainly are fun-loving and entertaining. They also hope to be competitive during the challenging 17-race season that begins March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Scheckter welcomes the fresh air blowing through the Indianapolis-based team that has a series-high 14 victories and two championships, and the commitment from Chevrolet to provide its sole IndyCar Series team with the power to return to Victory Lane.

Last year, the South African with 44 IndyCar Series races in his seat started strong before the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing entry came down with a case of season-long hiccups. He started third and finished fifth (both season highs) in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"We had our struggles last year, but a lot of things happened that were out of our control, and this team moved ahead and is focused on winning races," said Scheckter, who signed a contract extension at the season finale at Texas. "It's really great to be back here with Panther, for sure. This team is very confident in my ability and I know Panther is one of the strongest teams in the series.

"In our preseason testing we learned that Chevy is going to be as strong as ever, and Pennzoil has a great tradition in open-wheel racing. I'm already working together well with my new teammate and we expect success this year."

Enge also expects success on the 14 ovals, two road courses and one temporary street circuit on the schedule. Two 2004 races with Patrick Racing (finishes of 16th and 13th) gave him a taste for the vagaries of oval racing and the highly competitive IndyCar Series. In testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway in the past month, Enge topped the morning speed chart twice.

"I am really looking forward to my first full IRL season," said Enge, a veteran of FIA F3000 competition. "I have had a lot of opportunities to learn that Panther Racing is one of the best teams and I am proud that I am driving for them. I have a very good teammate in Tomas Scheckter. We are working very well together."

Also helping Enge get up to speed is veteran engineer Andy Borme. The member of Helio Castroneves' 2001 and '02 Indianapolis 500-winning teams was hired in the off-season.

"I know that the season will be demanding because there are a lot of tracks where I have not raced before," Enge said. "I believe that I will be able to learn them quickly because you have to find the speed as soon as possible. I would like to fight for the Bombardier trophy for the rookie of the year and I am sure that there will be tough competition.

"One of the highlights of the season will definitely be the Indianapolis 500. It is a classic race with a great history and I am lucky that I will have a chance to race there."

Capsule look at Panther Racing
Car numbers: 2 (Enge), 4 (Scheckter)
Chassis/engine/tires: Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone
Race engineers: 2 (Andy Borme), 4 (David Cripps)
Chief engineer: Andy Brown

Co-owner Doug Boles' viewpoint

"We've very excited about our whole package going into 2005. Chevy is committed to winning races this year, and especially the Indianapolis 500. Tomas Scheckter has led more laps at Indianapolis than anybody else in the series, and Tomas Enge brings a wealth of talent and a winning tradition, so we're thinking those guys are going to be strong. If all the stars align, and we can add a third driver at Indianapolis, that's something we'd like to accomplish. We've won more races than anybody in the IndyCar Series, and we've won two championships, but we haven't won the Indianapolis 500, and that's what really drives everybody at Panther Racing."

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3. IndyCar Series drivers visit Disney World for ESPN The Weekend IndyCar Series drivers Ryan Briscoe, Scott Sharp and Dan Wheldon will take part in a variety of activities Feb. 25 as the IndyCar Series Fan Experience Pole Position is part of "ESPN The Weekend Presented by Speed Stick 24/7" at the Disney-MGM Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Pole Position -- the interactive IndyCar Series race simulators -- will be located next to the Tower of Terror thrill ride from Feb. 25 - 27. The three drivers will be guests of honor in the daily parade, make appearances at the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" ride/show and the Pole Position interactive display and be interviewed on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" (7-9 a.m. EST).

The IndyCar Series drivers also will be part of a motorcade down the park's Hollywood Boulevard to the stage at the base of the Sorcerer's Hat to join ESPN anchors for a conversation about their careers and a Q & A session with park guests.

***

4. Hemelgarn to field first woman driver in Menards Infiniti Pro Series: Note -- The following story is part of a series previewing each of the teams competing in the IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series^Ù

Mishael Abbott will become the first woman to compete in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series when she takes the green flag March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the No. 91 car of Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports.

Abbott, 23, tested on the 1.5-mile oval located 30 miles south of her home in Coral Gables, Fla., earlier this year.

"I've driven the Homestead-Miami road course more times than I can remember, and now to compete on the oval fulfills a lifetime dream, especially in my own backyard," Abbott said.

"Being the first woman to compete in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series means the world to me. I've always been proud of my accomplishments, being the first female to win a professional shifter kart race in the United States, being the first to test the Infiniti Pro Series car at Las Vegas two years ago, and now the first woman to actually compete in the series fulfills one of my life-long goals."

Abbott is slated to compete in five races with Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports, which finished second last season with driver Paul Dana.

"This year will mark our fourth season in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series," team owner Ron Hemelgarn said. "We're excited to have Mishael on board for part of the season and expect good things from her. Since the beginning, we've won at least one race every season, and we're hopeful Mishael will deliver another victory."

Abbott, who began karting when she was 14, also has competed in USAC Midget events, Formula Mazda competition and the SCCA National Runoffs. Her ultimate goal is to be the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500.

"My ultimate goal is to be the first female to win the Indianapolis 500. This race at Homestead-Miami is a major step along this journey."

Capsule look at Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports
Chassis/engine/tire: Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone
Owners: Ron Hemelgarn and Roger Johnson
Driver: Mishael Abbott
Team manager: Lee Kunzman
Chief mechanic: Chuck Buckman

Driver viewpoint

Mishael Abbott: (About being a rookie) "Two years ago, I met with (Menards Infiniti Pro Series executive director) Roger Bailey, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Sr. in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series trailer at the Homestead-Miami track. They all encouraged me to keep focused on my goal of competing in the Indy Racing League, and ultimately, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the '500'. Right now my rookie season may only be five races, but we'll keep working on securing more sponsorship support and hopefully compete in the entire 2005 season." (About Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports) "When we found the resources to compete in the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series season, we spoke with and met with several teams. The Hemelgarn/Johnson team welcomed us with open arms for the partial season. (Team manager) Lee Kunzman and Ron Hemelgarn were so helpful and encouraging when we approached them about the limited schedule and never once said 'No' when we asked, "Can we do this ?" These two guys and their entire team are true 'racers,' and with their support, advice, experience and encouragement, we will succeed."

***

The IRL IndyCar Series opens its 10th season of competition with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on March 6, 2005 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be televised live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. The 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series season also opens on March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be televised by ESPN2 at 4 p.m. (EST) on March 17.

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Dan Wheldon , Al Unser Sr. , Mishael Abbott , Ryan Briscoe , Paul Dana , Roger Bailey , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Panther Racing