IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-02-21

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 21, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Green Flag Tour kicks off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2. Yasukawa hungry for success 3. Simmons, Hardley aim for championship 1. Green Flag Tour kicks off at...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 21, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. Green Flag Tour kicks off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
2. Yasukawa hungry for success
3. Simmons, Hardley aim for championship

1. Green Flag Tour kicks off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: With a helping hand from 1996 IRL IndyCar® Series co-champion Scott Sharp and the Green Flag Tour gas-powered two-seater, ABC broadcaster Jack Arute carried a green flag across the Yard of Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin the Indy Racing League's Green Flag Tour.

"Jack, I'm trusting you with this flag," IRL President Brian Barnhart said. "Are you sure I shouldn't give this to Scott?"

Arute and several other IndyCar Series personalities will bring the flag, the gas-powered two-seater and a Chevy SSR safety vehicle to 13 cities over the next two weeks. In all, the tour will cover more than 7,500 miles en route to Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 6, where the flag will be used to start the season-opening race, the Toyota Indy 300.

"It's going to be 13 markets in 13 days," Arute said. "We're going all across the country, and good Lord willing, we'll end up in Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, March 6 to deliver the flag.

"It's going to be a little less than 8,000 miles. We're going to rotate through and take the pace car and the two-seater to all the markets. There isn't going to be a lot of time in each market, we're going stop off and deliver the IRL's message."

Arute will drive most of the way in a Chevy SSR Pace Vehicle he'll share with two other co-drivers.

"We'll rotate drivers and kind of work it like the endurance racers do, three hours on and three hours off," he said. "It could be a little rowdy by the time we get to Miami."

Sharp, the only driver to compete in each of the previous nine seasons, also participated in the kickoff, appearing on several Indianapolis radio and television stations before the ceremony. The driver of the No. 8 Delphi Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry shared Arute's enthusiasm for the start of the tour.

"Jack is driving and he's carrying the green flag and I told him, 'You better not be late. We need the flag,'" Sharp said. "It's going to be great. Just to get the awareness out there and to tell the people what's happening with the IRL, I think it's great. It's a great way to showcase the year I think we're going to have on track."

Next Stop: Denver: Alex Barron and Patrick Carpentier of Red Bull Cheever Racing and Jack Arute will appear on television stations KMGH and KUSA during mid-day newscasts.

Tour Stops:
    Feb. 23 at San Francisco: Bryan Herta of Andretti Green Racing.
    Feb. 24-25 at Los Angeles: Team co-owner Michael Andretti and drivers Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon of Andretti Green Racing.
    Feb. 26 at Phoenix: Fernandez Racing owner Adrian Fernandez.
    Feb. 27 at Dallas: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford and driver A.J. Foyt IV of A.J. Foyt Racing.
    Feb. 28 at Chicago: Scott Dixon, Darren Manning and Ryan Briscoe of Chip Ganassi Racing.
    March 1 at Detroit: Team co-owner Doug Boles and driver Tomas Scheckter of Panther Racing.
    March 2-3 at New York: Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice of Rahal Letterman Racing.
    March 4 at Atlanta: Local dignitaries.
    March 5 at St. Petersburg, Fla.: Local dignitaries.
    March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway: Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske.

***

2. Yasukawa hungry for success: Note -- The following story is part of a series previewing each of the teams competing in the IRL IndyCar® Series.

Roger Yasukawa has a full-time IndyCar Series ride for the first time since his rookie season in 2003. Think he's excited?

"Obviously, I'm hungry to do well," the California native said. "I was out of the car for a long time, and certainly think that I need to prove what I'm capable of doing."

Yasukawa has been competitive in 18 IndyCar Series races for two teams over two seasons backed by Honda power. Now he'll attempt to help return Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which has switched power plants, to Victory Lane.

Yasukawa, 27, recorded eight top-10 finishes in 16 events during the 2003 season with Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. He was runner-up to Dan Wheldon in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings and 12th in IndyCar Series points. Last season, he finished 11th in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi and 10th in the 88th Indianapolis 500 while driving for Rahal Letterman Racing. Both of Yasukawa's Indianapolis 500 starts have produced top-10 finishes.

"For the first half of the season, we just need to focus on finishing in the top 10," he said. "If I can do that, I could position myself at the end of the race perhaps to finish in the Top 5, if not even win the race. As we go on and get to know each other, then we can push more and hopefully challenge for the top five every single race.

Most importantly, we need to learn and then grow together."

Five days of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway -- sites of the first two IndyCar Series events -- aided the process. Dialogue and feedback between the driver, engineer Len Paskus and team co-owner and former IndyCar Series driver Robbie Buhl was apparent.

"We're excited about what's going on with our team," team co-owner Dennis Reinbold said. "We've got a new driver, new motor, new engineer, and quite frankly a new attitude. We have some pretty high goals about what we want to accomplish in becoming a top-tier team.

"Robbie and I have a plan for the team's growth, and so far we're very happy with the progression of that plan. We've got a lot of challenges ahead of us, but we continue to work on a daily basis."

Capsule look at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Car number: 24
Chassis/engine/tires: Dallara/Honda/Firestone
Chief engineer: Len Paskus

Co-owner Robbie Buhl's viewpoint

About Roger Yasukawa: "You can never have too many guys working together to improve your race product, as competitive as things are. The relationship of all of our guys has been great. I actually worked with Roger as one of his instructors and driving coaches back in the Barber Dodge days, so we'll just have to continue our learning curve and work on improving ourselves. You want to continue to gain confidence and momentum, day in and day out, session after session, so that the opportunities to have strong consistent finishes and be on the podium lead to the opportunity to win races."

***

3. Simmons, Hardley aim for championship: Note -- The following story is part of a series previewing each of the teams competing in the IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series. The 2005 season could be a breakthrough season for Kenn Hardley Racing.

While the team has been competitive in its first two seasons in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, recording 18 top-10 finishes in 24 starts, the team is searching for its first victory. As the team approaches a new season, the goal isn't just a trip to Victory Circle, the goal is to compete for the championship.

"We think we're going to be right there as one of the favorites," team owner Kenn Hardley said. "We signed Jeff Simmons for the year. Jeff came in for the last four races (in 2004). The first race he was with us was at Colorado Springs (Pikes Peak), and we got the pole. We got a second (finish) at Chicago and had a couple of other pretty decent finishes, so we're excited.

"It certainly makes the winter shorter knowing you've got a program in place, and you're going to run the whole year with a quality driver."

Simmons, 28, finished second in the series' championship point standings as a rookie in 2003, earning two victories and two pole positions for Keith Duesenberg Racing. Last year, the Connecticut native's season debut came at Indianapolis where he finished second, competing for A.J. Foyt Racing.

The solid effort earned Simmons an opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 16th, before finishing the season with Kenn Hardley Racing.

"This is certainly the best chance I've had so far to try to get multiple wins and try to run for the championship," Simmons said. "Even the first year (2003), I ran the whole season, but I didn't do any pre-season testing at all. We signed with the team five days before the first race, so this time we get a little bit of a chance to gel before the season starts.

"We expect to be competitive right off the bat, and obviously we're looking for a championship. We're not here to run second. We want to win races and win a championship."

Capsule look at Kenn Hardley Racing
Chassis/engine/tire: Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone
Owner: Kenn Hardley
Driver: Jeff Simmons
Team manager: Dave Conti
Chief mechanic: Butch Winkle

Owner Viewpoint

Kenn Hardley: "We're excited about the season. I think we have a super solid crew. We have (team manager) Dave Conti. It's the third year Dave and I have been together, so we're really optimistic for the season. I speak for myself, but I also speak for the crew, everybody is excited. We're looking forward to the 2005 season."

Driver Viewpoint

Jeff Simmons: "(This team is) kind of like a family. Kenn treats everybody very well. He doesn't put a whole lot of pressure on anybody. He leaves us to do our jobs. As a guy who's pretty new to owning a team, I think that's a good way to go about things. You try to hire good people and let them do their job, and I think Kenn does that very well."

***

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 , Darren Manning , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing