IPS: IRL: Phoenix: Drivers set to duel in the desert

AVONDALE, Ariz., Tuesday, March 11, 2003 -- For some, it is their first time. For others, it's their fourth or fifth consecutive time. And still others, it's been a while since the last time. That pretty much sums up the very competitive group...

AVONDALE, Ariz., Tuesday, March 11, 2003 -- For some, it is their first time. For others, it's their fourth or fifth consecutive time. And still others, it's been a while since the last time.

That pretty much sums up the very competitive group of IRL IndyCarTM Series drivers that will race in the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix International Raceway.

It's a diverse group of drivers with different levels of experience at Phoenix that should make the race one of the most interesting and exciting IndyCar Series events on the 2003 schedule.

Two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 IndyCar Series champion Buddy Lazier and 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp are all former winners at Phoenix and will drive in this year's race at the famous 1-mile desert oval.

Each of these drivers will drive in at least their third consecutive Phoenix race.

Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, is looking to win his second straight race at Phoenix after leading 62 laps in last year's event en route to victory. He made his IndyCar Series debut in 2001 at Phoenix while still driving full time in CART.

Only four drivers in the 58 Indy-style races at PIR have won two consecutive events: Al Unser (fall 1969 and spring 1970), Bobby Unser (spring 1972 and fall 1972), Gordon Johncock (fall 1977 and spring 1978) and Rick Mears (spring 1989 and spring 1990).

Each of the four drivers, like Castroneves, has multiple Indianapolis 500 victories. And Al Unser, like Castroneves, has won consecutive Indianapolis 500-Mile Races.

Castroneves, Hornish, Lazier and Sharp hope to make history by becoming the first driver to win two IndyCar Series events at PIR.

Hornish, who drives the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, scored his first career IndyCar Series win in 2001 at PIR and hopes to improve on his 10th-place finish in the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami. Sharp, driver of the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, won the event in 1998 and has competed in all seven previous IndyCar Series events at Phoenix.

Lazier, who will drive the No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, will make his return to IndyCar Series competition after missing the season-opening event at Homestead-Miami. He has bittersweet memories of Phoenix, having missed the 1996 event at the track after suffering a serious back injury in practice. But he won in 2000 at PIR, becoming the only driver in IndyCar Series history to start last and win an event.

Another driver looking to repeat, albeit in a different way than Castroneves, is Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.

Dixon, who is not considered a rookie due to his CART experience, won the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his first IndyCar Series race and leads a slew of drivers who are competing for the first time at PIR.

One of those drivers is Phoenix native Buddy Rice, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. He would love to score his first IndyCar Series win at PIR, as would A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

Foyt IV, driver of the No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, knows well his family's legacy at PIR. On March 22, 1964, almost a year to the day that Foyt IV will make his first PIR start in an IndyCar Series car, the elder Foyt won the very first Indy-style event at the track. Foyt went on to win a total of four Indy-style events at the facility.

Other drivers making their first start at PIR include Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, and his Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Formula One veteran Tora Takagi, driver of the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone, also will make is first start at PIR, as will Roger Yasukawa, driver of the No. 55 Panasonic Autobacs Dallara/Honda/Firestone, and Scott Mayer, who drives the No. 18 PDM Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

As for drivers returning to PIR after an absence, Michael Andretti and Kenny Brack lead the list. Andretti, who won at PIR in CART in 1986, hasn't competed at the facility since a CART race in 1995. Brack, who drives the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, hasn't competed at PIR since the 1999 IndyCar Series season.

Andretti, driver of the No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., driver of the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, will race head to head at Phoenix one last time before Andretti retires following the 87th Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

Unser and Andretti have competed in a combined 31 Indy-style races at Phoenix yet only have one win between them, Andretti's CART win on Oct. 19, 1986. Each driver has finished second three times in Indy-style competition at the 1-mile oval.

PIR also will be the site of the Phoenix 100 on March 22, the second race of the year for the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. It's the first race at PIR for the Infiniti Pro Series, the Indy Racing League's official development series.

Several talented rookies showed promise at the season-opening Western Union 100 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Taylor, driver of the No. 4 Fulmar/Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, won at Homestead-Miami in his first Infiniti Pro Series start.

Rookie Thiago Medeiros, who drives the No. 36 Genoa Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, started on the pole and finished second, while rookie Jeff Simmons started fifth in the No. 20 Western Union Speed Team/Duesenberg Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone and led 11 laps before an accident on Lap 34 while leading caused him to finish 14th.

Among the leading Infiniti Pro Series returnees racing in the Phoenix 100 are Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Ed Carpenter.

Luyendyk, a Scottsdale, Ariz., resident and son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, will compete at his home track in the No. 5 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone fielded by Sinden Racing Service. USAC short-track standout Carpenter, who finished third in the point standings in 2002, drives the No. 14 Futaba/Delphi/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

Luyendyk and Carpenter both will try to score their first career Infiniti Pro Series victories at Phoenix after coming close in 2002. Luyendyk had four runner-up finishes in 2002 en route to placing second in the series points. Carpenter had one second-place finish last year and ended up third in points.

Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports teammates Cory Witherill and Aaron Fike each scored one victory in 2002 and finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2002 points standings. Both will race at Phoenix.


Schedule: The Purex Dial Indy 200 IndyCar Series race starts at 1:30 p.m. (MST) Sunday, March 23. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon March 22.

IndyCar Series practice sessions start at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. March 21, 9 a.m. March 22 and 10 a.m. March 23.

The Phoenix 100 Infiniti Pro Series race starts at 2:45 p.m. (MST) March 22. Pole qualifying starts at 3:40 p.m. March 21. Infiniti Pro Series practice sessions start at 9:15 a.m. and 1:55 p.m. March 21 and 8:40 a.m. March 22.


On the air: The Purex Dial Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. (EST) March 23. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 2:30 p.m. (EST) March 23 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 3 p.m. (EST) March 23 and the live race broadcast at 3:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a qualifying wrap-up show at 5:30 p.m. (EST) March 22. The area affiliate is KKNT-AM 960, Miami. Live coverage of MBNA Pole Qualifying (11:55 a.m., March 22) 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 1 p.m. (EST) March 28 on ESPN2.


Tickets: Tickets for the Purex Dial Indy 200 and the Phoenix 100 are available by calling 602-252-2227 or logging onto www.phoenixraceway.com.


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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Mark Taylor , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Scott Mayer , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Gordon Johncock , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Al Unser , Mo Nunn , Thiago Medeiros , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Team Penske