IRL: 2002 continued strong growth for series

What a year: strong growth continues for Indy Racing. September 2001-September 2002 INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Oct. 4, 2002 -- In the last year, the Indy Racing League has experienced unparalleled growth. Several major announcements, coupled with the...

What a year: strong growth continues for Indy Racing.
September 2001-September 2002

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Oct. 4, 2002 -- In the last year, the Indy Racing League has experienced unparalleled growth. Several major announcements, coupled with the most exciting season of racing in the seven-year history of the league, made the past season and the preceding offseason a time of vital growth for the Indy Racing League.

September 2001

Sept. 2: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy Racing League, ABC and ESPN, Inc. agree to terms that would extend and expand their partnership through 2007. Under terms of the agreement, the three partners are committed to telecast and promote the Indy Racing League as their exclusive American open-wheel racing series for the term of the contract.

October 2001

Oct. 4: The 2002 schedule grows to a record 15 races with the announcement that the league will compete at California Speedway for the first time. Other new races will take place at Michigan International Speedway and Nazareth Speedway.

Oct. 5: Firestone, the only tire to have competed in every Indy Racing League event since the series began in 1996, will continue its involvement with the league through 2005. In addition to continuing as the exclusive tire for the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500, Firestone also will be the exclusive tire for the new Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, an Indy Racing League development series that will debut in 2002. A Firehawk Cup will be established as part of that commitment.

Oct. 6: Sam Hornish Jr., who had already clinched the Indy Racing League championship at the prior event, wins the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in the closest 1-2-3 finish in Indy Racing League history. He defeats Scott Sharp .0188 of a second, and Robbie Buhl was third, .0468 of a second behind Hornish. The next night, Hornish and his Pennzoil Panther team collect the $1-million championship bonus during gala ceremonies at The Speedway Club at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Oct. 24: Cheever Indy Racing secures Red Bull energy drink as a major sponsor for the 2002 Indy Racing League season. The sponsorship of Cheever Indy Racing and owner/driver Eddie Cheever Jr. is part of Red Bull's aggressive worldwide marketing campaign. The energy drink has been a big seller in Europe and now is gaining popularity in the United States.

November 2001

Nov. 1: Roger Bailey is named as executive director of the new Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series. The longtime motorsports executive will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the Infiniti Pro Series and will report to Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League. Bailey most recently was the president and CEO of American Racing Series, Inc., which managed a development series for CART.

Nov. 15: It is announced that the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series will debut Sunday, July 7, 2002, at Kansas Speedway.

December 2001

Dec. 6: Officials from Penske Racing, the winningest team in major open-wheel racing history, announce that the team will compete exclusively in the Indy Racing League in 2002 with longtime sponsor Marlboro and drivers Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves.

January 2002

Jan. 9: Blair Racing officials announce they will field a team in the Indy Racing League for American Alex Barron. Barron, from San Diego, will drive a Dallara chassis with Chevrolet engines. Entering his second year in motorsports, team owner Larry Blair announced a new partnership for his Indy Racing League venture. Hayden Harris, a dynamic and successful businessman, has joined forces with Blair to compete in the 15-event Indy Racing schedule in 2002.

Jan. 18: Indy Racing League officials announce details of its new Leaders Circle program, which will significantly increase the package of equipment, supplies and services available to its full-time teams for the 2002 season, including an allotment of Firestone tires. Details of the Indy Racing League Leaders Circle were outlined in a meeting of all Indy Racing League team owners Jan. 18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Late January: Lincoln Electric, the world leader in welding technology and products, signs a five-year deal to be the Official Welder of the Indy Racing League and a sponsor of the Indianapolis 500. Coors Light also extends its sponsorship of Indy Racing by continuing to be the official beer of the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500. Coors Light also will increase its affiliation with Indy Racing League championship team Hemelgarn Racing and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, committing to the primary sponsorship role for the 2002 season. Delphi signs with Kelley Racing through 2005 to be the primary sponsor for Scott Sharp, and the team announces that it will use Toyota engines beginning in 2003.

February 2002

Feb. 1: Conquest Racing, LLC, an Indianapolis-based open-wheel racing team, and Mi-Jack Products, Inc., a manufacturer of specialized cranes based in suburban Chicago, reaches an agreement to form Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing, LLC in late January and will compete in the full Indy Racing League season in 2002. On Feb. 1, team officials announce that Laurent Redon will drive its Indy Racing League entry in the 2002 season, and Infiniti engines will power the cars.

Feb. 5: Guidelines emphasizing improved driver safety and quality car construction highlight the specifications being distributed to chassis manufacturers who will produce the third generation of Indy Racing League car. These new chassis specifications, mated with the engine specifications announced in April 2001, will create a competition package that will be in place for a minimum of three years, through 2005. Consistent rules stability is a trademark of the Indy Racing League and enables its teams and manufacturers to establish solid marketing and business strategies.

Feb. 20: Officials from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 with Juan Montoya, announce that Jeff Ward will drive the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone during the 2002 Indy Racing League season.

Feb. 21: Kelley Racing officials announce that two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. will drive the No. 7 Kelley Racing entry in the Indy Racing League through the 2004 season with sponsorship from automotive aftermarket company Corteco. Unser will drive the No. 7 Corteco Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. He will team up with 1996 Indy Racing League co-champion Scott Sharp, the driver of Kelley Racing's No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Late February: Officials from the Indy Racing League and Reebok International Ltd. (NYSE:RBK) announce they have formed a multiyear partnership naming Reebok the Official Outfitter of the Indy Racing League. As part of the agreement, Reebok will provide custom-designed, co-branded Reebok-Indy Racing League apparel to IRL officials and selected teams. The Reebok brand also will receive exposure through logos on race cars, team uniforms, transporters and other IRL promotional programs included in the promotional rights agreement The IRL also announced that MBNA America Bank, N.A. has signed a five-year extension to sponsor the MBNA Pole Award at all Indy Racing League events through 2006, including the coveted pole position for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced Feb. 22 ESPN International, which was appointed the exclusive worldwide television representative for the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500, announces that it has secured greater international distribution for all IRL events for the upcoming season. ESPN International networks, which reach more than 110 million homes outside of the United States, will televise all IRL races to more than 140 countries.

March 2002

March 2: Sam Hornish Jr., the defending Indy Racing League champion, wins the season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Also entered in the event is George Mack, who drives for 310 Racing. Mack becomes the first full-time African-American driver in the Indy Racing League.

March 12: In a press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, officials from Bombardier, the world's third-largest manufacturer of civil aircraft, announce they will sponsor the Indy Racing League Rookie of the Year Award as part of a multifaceted sponsorship agreement with the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award includes a $50,000 bonus to the top rookie driver of the Indy Racing League season.

Bombardier also is named an Official Sponsor of the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Other facets of the five-year, multimillion-dollar agreement include naming rights to the Speedway's landmark Pagoda control tower, contributions to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race's lucrative prize fund and title sponsorship of one Indy Racing League event per year.

March 14: The Indy Racing League announced that it has retained Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the world's leading talent and literary agency, to maximize awareness of the motorsports series in mainstream culture and drive race attendance and television viewership.

April 2002

April 2: Toyota officials announce that Toyota will supply Indy Racing League engines to Penske Racing beginning in 2003, the manufacturer's inaugural season of IRL competition. Roger Penske-led companies own Toyota dealerships in the United States, Mexico and Brazil. The Penske-owned Longo Toyota in El Monte, Calif., is the largest Toyota dealership in the world.

April 18: Rayovac, one of the world's leading battery and lighting device companies, will be the primary sponsor for Alex Barron's No. 44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone entry for the remainder of the 2002 Indy Racing League season.

May 2002

May 1: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces that the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier is in place in all four of the Speedway oval's corners for the beginning of practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500. Under development by the Indy Racing League and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since 1998, the SAFER barrier has been designed for multiple impacts by Indy Racing cars and stock cars during an event. NASCAR joined in the development of the project in September 2000.

May 20: Codemasters signs as the exclusive console and PC game rights holder to the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500 in an agreement with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC. An official IRL game will debut in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles and for the PC.

May 23: American Honda Motor Co., Inc. announces plans to enter the Indy Racing League for the 2003 season, and its racing subsidiary, Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD) in Santa Clarita, Calif., has contracted with Ilmor Engineering Inc. (a sister company to Ilmor Engineering, Ltd.) to provide engines. HPD and Ilmor will work together as technical partners to design, develop and produce the engine. HPD will provide trackside support to teams using the newly developed, Honda Indy V-8 engine. Honda joins Chevrolet and Toyota in supplying engines for 2003-2005. Later that afternoon it is announced that the Indy Racing League and Twin Ring Motegi, north of Tokyo, have entered into a three-year agreement for the league to conduct its first races outside of the United States.

May 25: Indy Racing League officials announce that three chassis manufacturers will produce race cars that will meet the 2003-2005 Indy Racing League specifications. Concord, N.C.-based MK Racing will join Dallara and G Force in the production of the next era of the Indy Racing League formula. Dallara designs and builds its chassis in Italy, while G Force cars are built in Braselton, Ga.

May 26: Helio Castroneves wins the 86th Indianapolis 500, becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500s since Al Unser in 1970 and 1971. Castroneves becomes the first driver to win the "500" in each of his first two starts and scores the 12th win at Indianapolis for car owner Roger Penske.

June 2002:

June 8: Jeff Ward wins the Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway by. 0111 of a second over Al Unser Jr. in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history to date.

June 25: Fan favorite Sarah Fisher announces she will race the rest of the 2002 Indy Racing League season for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, starting with the SunTrust Indy Challenge on June 29 at Richmond International Raceway. Smart Blade premium wiper blades will become the primary sponsor for the remainder of the season, starting at the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 on July 7 at Kansas Speedway.

July 2002:

July 6: Continuing its philosophy of steady, controlled growth, the Indy Racing League announces a 16-race 2003 schedule of events that is highlighted by its first international race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. The 2003 Indy Racing League season will mark the eighth season of competition for the Indianapolis-based sanctioning body and will represent its largest schedule of events. Homestead-Miami Speedway will play host to the first event of the 2003 season with an ABC-televised event on Sunday, March 2. The season will end with an ESPN-televised race, the Chevy 500 on Sunday, Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway. All but one of the events -- Japan -- will be broadcast live on TV. ABC will televise 10 live races; while ESPN will cover five events live. All three of the night races in 2003 will be on ESPN. The 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be Sunday, May 25 and televised live on ABC.

July 7: A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, starts on the pole and wins the inaugural Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series event at Kansas Speedway. Later that afternoon, Foyt IV serves as a right-front tire changer on Airton Dare's No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, as Dare scores his first career IRL win, also driving for Foyt.

July 13: 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier leads all 67 laps, and IRL drivers sweep the top three spots and five of the top six positions in Round 3 of the True Value International Race of Champions XXVI on July 13 at Chicagoland Speedway. Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, started on the pole and never looked back in the caution-free race, winning by 5.195 seconds. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. finished second, while fellow two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves came home third. NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick was fourth, while 1996 IRL co-champion Scott Sharp came home fifth, and defending Indy Racing champion Sam Hornish Jr. was sixth. The race was the greatest performance by Indy-style drivers in the 26-year history of IROC competition.

July 28: Chevrolet announces the teams and technical partners that will play key roles in the development of the new 2003 Chevy Indy V8 engine. Chevrolet also outlined its plans to make engines available to IRL teams. Chevrolet's roster of development teams for 2003 includes Panther Racing, Hemelgarn Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, Blair Racing and Team Menard.

August 2002:

Aug. 10: Sarah Fisher becomes the first woman to win the pole position for a major-league open-wheel race in North American motorsports history, capturing the MBNA Pole for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. She turned a track-record lap of 24.0661 seconds, 221.390 mph in the No. 23 Team Smart Blade/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone.

Aug. 12: The new Toyota Indy V8 engine completes its first official test day at Kentucky Speedway in preparation for entry into the Indy Racing League in 2003. The Toyota engine ran close to 200 miles with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves behind the wheel of a Toyota Dallara prepared by Marlboro Team Penske.

September 2002:

Sept. 8: Sam Hornish Jr. holds off Al Unser Jr. by .0024 of a second in the closest finish in the history of the Indy Racing League at the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish and Unser race side by side for 21 laps at more than 217 mph, separated by an average of .0098 of a second each lap at the start/finish line.

Sept. 14: Officials from chassis manufacturer G Force announce that the company will have a new look and name and increased commitment to the Indy Racing League in 2003. For next season, the G Force will be known as a Panoz G Force, reflecting the unprecedented commitment company owner Don Panoz has placed in the IRL program. Officials also announce that a dramatically expanded technical team has been put in place in an effort to put the car in Victory Lane on a regular basis in 2003.

Sept. 15: Sam Hornish Jr. clinches his second consecutive Indy Racing League title by winning the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway by .0096 of a second over two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Hornish, who became the first driver in IRL history to win two championships, won the points race over Castroneves, 531-511.

Hornish's championship ended one of the most competitive racing seasons ever. The average margin of victory for the 15 IRL events in 2002 was .8045 of a second. There were margins of victory of less than a second in eight races, including four of the five closest finishes in league history. The top three finishes in IRL history were recorded in 2002.

Also on Sept. 15, Chevrolet officials unveiled the all-new, third-generation IRL engine at Texas Motor Speedway. Designed and developed by GM Racing, the 2003 Chevy Indy V8 is smaller, lighter and more powerful than the championship-winning 2002 version. Chevy's latest racing engine will make its competition debut March 2, 2003, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the IRL season opener.

Sept. 17: Andretti Green Racing (AGR) announces it will field three entries in the 2003 Indy Racing League for Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. Andretti is one of the most successful drivers in American open-wheel racing history. He is the all-time CART leader in several categories, including victories with 42, starts with 304 and laps led with 6,564. He won the CART title in 1991 and is a five-time series runner-up. Andretti also has recorded eight top-10 finishes in 13 Indianapolis 500 starts, including a best of second in 1991. The team announces its IRL cars will be powered by Honda engines with support from Honda Performance Development.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Sarah Fisher , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Al Unser Sr. , George Mack , Don Panoz , Chip Ganassi , Roger Bailey , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing , Conquest Racing , Team Penske