IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-03-14

IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2007-03-14
Mar 15, 2007, 11:54 PM

INDYCAR SERIES NEWS AND NOTES -- March 14, 2007 Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. If you missed it: Sam Hornish Jr. and A.J. Foyt on today's teleconference 1. Beck to field entry in IndyCar Series season opener 2. Cunningham ...


Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. If you missed it: Sam Hornish Jr. and A.J. Foyt on today's teleconference
1. Beck to field entry in IndyCar Series season opener
2. Cunningham to race for AFS in Indy Pro Series
3. Penske teammates know they're marked men
4. Indy Pro Series Season Preview: Apex Racing

1. Sam Hornish Jr. and A.J. Foyt on today's teleconference: Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and A.J. Foyt were guests on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Hornish, who will make his 100th IndyCar Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway, talked about reaching the significant milestone in his racing career.

Q. The season opener at Homestead will be your 100th career IndyCar Series start. Does that milestone have any significance to you?

SAM HORNISH JR.: It must mean I'm getting older, I guess. But at 27, really it's kind of hard to look at myself as a seasoned veteran. But I think with the exception of Scott Sharp I'm the only one of the drivers to reach 100 races in the IndyCar Series. It's a pretty neat milestone. Hopefully we'll be able to cap it off with a win. But to sit back and to think that it's been 100 races, it's pretty hard to believe, especially my first year when I only ran eight races. Foyt discussed his 50th anniversary season in Indy car racing and was asked about the sport compared when he started racing a half-century ago.

Q. You've seen so many changes in racing over those 50 years, and more changes probably coming down the road here, too. What do you think are some of the biggest changes in open wheel racing that you've experienced?

A.J. FOYT: Well, I think one of the biggest things I've seen in open wheel racing today, they're probably 100 percent safer than they were 20 years ago. Indianapolis was the first place to have the (SAFER) barrier walls. It's just so much things has happened, and I think the safety deal has been the biggest thing.


2. Beck to field entry in IndyCar Series season opener: Greg Beck ventured into stock car land last year, helping to manage the CURB/Agajanian Busch Series entry, and was motivated to return to the IndyCar Series. On March 14, Beck filed an entry for the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone for the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 24.

"My heart's in Indy car racing," Beck said. "That's our heritage and what we want to be doing. We're excited to be back in the IndyCar Series. We're trying to build a program and run as many races this year. We have Homestead, Kansas and Indy nailed down. After Indy, we're working on things for the remainder of the year and trying to build into a bigger program for 2008. "We're working harder than ever to make it happen."

A driver for the prime-time race on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval will be named shortly. "I'm trying to make a decision on a driver for the first race that makes sense," said Beck, who noted this program is separate from the Team Leader Motorsports program that competed in the Indianapolis 500 with Stephan Gregoire and PJ Jones last May. Beck said the stock car racing experience provided potential sponsor contacts that would allow at least a partial season of competition in the IndyCar Series.

"I've always been motivated to try to get back in the series full time," he said. "I saw how all that (Busch Series) works. It's something that if you're going to do it you have to have your heart in it, you have to get after it. Every time I turned around I was working on getting back to Indy car racing. I made a lot of contacts -- potential sponsors and marketing people that have sponsors that are looking for avenues outside of NASCAR. All those things helped the motivation that I could put together at least enough sponsorship to run a partial season."

Beck Motorsports was formed in 1991 by the second-generation driver and fielded Indianapolis 500 efforts for drivers including Buddy Lazier and Hideshi Matsuda. With the formation of the Indy Racing League in 1996, the team appeared at the IndyCar Series' inaugural event, the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World, with Robbie Buhl as the driver. Beck fielded Billy Boat in 2001, finishing fourth in the championship with four top-five finishes and eight top-10 results, including a second-place finish at Nashville and partnered with Boat for the 2002 season. Jones competed for the team in the 500-Mile Race in 2006 and '04, and Shinji Nakano drove in the '500' in 2003. The team failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with rookie driver Arie Luyendyk Jr. in 2005.


3. Cunningham to race for AFS in Indy Pro Series: Wade Cunningham, the 2005 Indy Pro Series champion who finished third in 2006 as the first champion to return to defend his title, will return to the series with AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing, contesting the 16-race schedule in the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. entry.

"I'm excited to be coming back," said Cunningham, who missed repeating as champion in 2006 by 11 points after missing two races due to appendicitis. "This is a great opportunity. We'll be pushing hard at every race just like last year. We proved last year that you can fight to lead a lot of laps, win races and challenge for the championship without taking risks. That is our goal for the year."

Cunningham won the Indy Pro Series championship as a rookie with Brian Stewart Racing on the strength of 13 top-five finishes, including one victory and seven seconds. Last year, he led the series in victories, taking the checkered flag at Indianapolis (oval), Infineon and Chicagoland, and he paced the series with four pole positions and 310 laps led.

"Wade is consistently fast, a well-proven championship driver having won the Indy Pro Series in 2005," AFS Racing team owner Gary Peterson said. "If not for his bout of appendicitis last year causing him to miss two races, I believe he would have won the 2006 championship."

Peterson's AFS Racing team is partnering with Andretti Green Racing in 2007 to field cars for Cunningham and three-time Indy Pro Series race winner Jaime Camara. AFS Racing has made 56 starts in the Indy Pro Series dating back to the series' inception in 2002 and recorded its first two victories last year with driver Alex Lloyd. Andretti Green Racing, winners of back-to-back IndyCar Series championships in 2004 and 2005, has recorded four victories in two seasons in the Indy Pro Series.

"After last year's transitional season with four podium finishes and two wins, we had two major goals going into the 2007 season," Peterson said. "The first goal was to keep the momentum from last season and run a very competitive team this year. We want to make a real run for the Indy Pro Series championship, and with Wade and Jaime Camara we feel we can achieve that.

"The second goal for 2007 was to align AFS with a winning IndyCar Series team. We have successfully aligned ourselves with Andretti Green Racing, a fantastic team. I'm proud of the team. We couldn't have accomplished our goals more to my satisfaction. I'm looking forward to a productive and mutually beneficial season with Wade, Jaime and the entire Andretti Green Racing team."

While the partnership should strengthen both parties, it could also create an opportunity for Cunningham to test an IndyCar Series car. "I'm hopeful this program will lead to some testing in an IndyCar Series program," said Cunningham, the 2003 CIK-FIA World Karting champion. "The testing rules only allow for AGR to earn five bonus test days, so there are no guarantees, but I'm hopeful that I'll have an opportunity."


4. Penske teammates know they're marked men: The 2006 IndyCar Series season was a year of highlights for team owner Roger Penske.

* Drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves each won four races -- more than half the races on the schedule.

* Hornish captured Penske's record 14th Indianapolis 500.

* And most importantly Hornish claimed Penske's first IndyCar Series championship.

"2006 was one of those seasons that you don't really want to end," said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Performance, Inc., who oversees all of Penske's racing operations. "We couldn't have asked for much more, but that's behind us, and we are fully expecting our competitors to close the gap in the off season as the car specifications have remained virtually the same.

"If the first two open tests were any indication, this season will be more competitive than ever."

The team maintained its high level of competition even though a flood forced the team to relocate to Charlotte, N.C. earlier than expected. The move cost the team some personnel, but much of the units that fielded the cars of Castroneves and Hornsih remain intact. Hornish, the only driver to win the series title multiple times, knows he enters this season with a target on his back. Still, he can't wait to get behind the wheel of the No. 6 Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara.

"I'm definitely looking forward to starting the IndyCar season," Hornish said. "Obviously, our 2006 results will be hard to top after winning the Indianapolis 500 and the championship, but I know the team has been working hard in the off-season to maintain our competitiveness."

Hornish achieved his goals of winning the Indianapolis 500 and the championship for Penske in 2006, but has set a different goal to reach for this season. "One goal I have for myself this year is to win a road/street course race, and I think that I've improved enough during the past two seasons that I should have a good shot of making this happen," he said. "Spring testing went really well for us at Daytona and Homestead, so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to return for another run at the championship."

Hornish's chief rival for his fourth crown may be his Team Penske teammate Castroneves, who tied Hornish for most wins, but came up three points short in his title bid.

"I start off every season with one goal -- to win the championship - and 2007 will be no different," the popular Brazilian said. "We had a strong campaign in 2006, but I think that the competition will be much tougher this year. I think a lot of teams got a wake-up call last season, and they've worked hard over the past few months to make sure they are where they need to be. I think it will be an exciting year and I think Team Penske has what it takes to get the job done."


5. Indy Pro Series Season Preview: Apex Racing: Leading up to the season-opening Miami 100 on March 24, we'll preview the teams and drivers that will compete in 2007 for the Indy Pro Series' Firestone Firehawk Cup. Today, is Apex Racing:

Owners: Ken Losch, Ryan Ruth
Drivers: Ken Losch (No. 52), Mike Potekhen (No. 53)
Team Manager: Ryan Ruth
Chief Mechanics: Mike Maresco, Cam Mulder

Overview: Apex Racing enters Indy Pro Series competition for the first time in 2007. The team was founded in 2004 by Ken Losch and Ryan Ruth, competing first in Formula Mazda and then Star Mazda. Last year, the team finished fourth and 12th in the championship standings with drivers Mike Potekhen and Ken Losch, respectively. Potekhen won two races and recorded nine top-five finishes. Both drivers will continue to drive for the team in the Indy Pro Series.

Watch For--Running up front: Although the team is new, both Losch and Potekhen could run up front. Potekhen made five Indy Pro Series starts last year, finishing in the top 10 four times. At last month's Open Test, he was ninth-quick on the road course and 11th on the oval. Losch was 10th-quick on the oval.

Watch For--Driving for charity: Apex Racing is a proud sponsor of TRACares, a foundation that actively supports a number of worthy causes globally and in the greater Phoenix area where the team is based. The foundation supports a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the Tempe (Ariz.) Center for Habilitation.


Ken Losch, co-owner and driver: "We looked at many options for the upcoming season and we feel that the Indy Pro Series provides us with the greatest opportunity to grow our team. The Indy Pro Series gives us everything that we are looking for, and we feel that it will be the best place for our team to gain the experience needed to move up to the next level."

Mike Potekhen, driver: "I think everybody's real excited that Apex Racing is moving up. I'm excited about the opportunity to run the entire schedule this year. It was tough last year stepping in and doing a couple of races at the end of the season when everyone had the momentum going. Steve Eppard at SWE did a ton for me last year putting me in the car, but we were definitely under funded. Having this year with a proper budget and the team up and running before the first race and being able to do some proper testing, I think we're going to be really competitive. It should be an awesome season for us. I've been working with Ken about three years now. He hired me as a driver coach, and it's kind of evolved from there into the two-car team that we now run. I think he'll do real well this year, too."


The 2007 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the XM Satellite Radio Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 24. The race will be telecast live by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition begins with the Miami 100 on March 24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast at 5 p.m. (EDT) on March 28 by ESPN2 ESPN2 also will preview the upcoming season of the IndyCar Series with a one-hour special that will air at 7 p.m. (EDT) March 16.

-credit: irl

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