IRL: 2004 lineup emerging

As the date gets closer for all Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams to make their way to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first official test of the 2004 season, the cast of players is coming into focus. Andretti Green Racing will have the...

As the date gets closer for all Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams to make their way to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first official test of the 2004 season, the cast of players is coming into focus.

Andretti Green Racing will have the largest caravan of 18-wheelers heading south from Indianapolis to make the January 27-29 open test dates in Homestead, Florida with four cars and drivers lined up to challenge for the championship.

All are returning to AGR in Dallara/Honda racers - a chassis change for the sophomore IndyCar Series team - after a rookie season of rotating seats. Tony Kanaan, who finished fourth in his first year of IRL competition, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta will represent Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree's squad again this year.

At 2003 championship team Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Kiwi titleholder Scott Dixon returns and has Briton Darren Manning as his new teammate in a brace of Panoz G Force/Toyota racers. The status quo on equipment should work for this group.

Marlboro Team Penske has "Spiderman" Helio Castroneves, the Brazilian who took 2001-2 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race wins for the team and American two- time IndyCar Series champion (also in 2001-2) Sam Hornish in the familiar red and white Dallara/Toyota entries.

Indy Racing League stalwart Kelley Racing is cutting back to a single Dallara/Toyota challenger for veteran American Scott Sharp this year due to budget considerations and has placed a great deal of emphasis on engineering to afford better results.

Panther Racing has enlarged their south Indianapolis team by combining forces with John Menard's outfit. Panther will run the fast South African Tomas Scheckter and Brit Mark Taylor, last year's Menards Infiniti Pro Series champ, both driving Dallara/Chevrolet packages.

At Red Bull Cheever Racing it's an all-American lineup as ace Alex Barron returns and will be joined by Menards Infiniti Pro Series standout Ed Carpenter, whose three 2003 appearances for PDM Racing showed maturity behind the wheel. This team sticks with a Dallara/Chevrolet.

Due to the recovery time needed for injured Kenny Brack, American Buddy Rice will pick up the slack for Team Rahal, which has changed to Panoz G Force chassis to carry its Honda engines this season. Brack, the veteran Swede continues to improve his physical condition near Team Rahal's headquarters in Hilliard, OH.

A.J. Foyt Jr. isn't giving up on grandson A.J. Foyt IV, 19, who showed marked improvement as the 2003 season progressed. Super Tex's choice of chassis is anyone's guess, and he is expected to continue with Toyota power for the coming season. The younger Foyt was the IRL's first Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion in 2002.

Another team cutting back this year is Mo Nunn's outfit, who are expected to field a single entry for second-year Japanese driver Tora Takagi. The squad expects to stay with the Panoz G Force/Toyota package they utilized in 2003.

American Greg Ray expects to do the full year at his Access Motorsports team, after joining the IndyCar Series campaign at Twin Ring Motegi last year. Formed late, the Access team will utilize the Panoz G Force/Honda package it ran in 2003, Ray's most consistent IRL season to date.

Expect a single-car Dallara/Chevrolet entry at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for American Robbie Buhl this season. After getting his chance to drive with the newer Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 late in 2003, Buhl believes he's got a good opportunity to snag podiums this year.

Super Aguri Fernandez Racing will campaign Japanese rookie Kosuke Matsuura in a Panoz G Force/Honda in 2004, bringing one of co-owner Aguri Suzuki's protégés to the all-oval party after the 24-year-old's stellar tests late last year.

IRL regulars Hemelgarn Racing have stated they do not expect to run the IndyCar Series in 2004, instead concentrating efforts on the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and driver Paul Dana.

The above list amounts to 19 drivers confirmed for 2004 in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series. That means there are several veterans - and one team - on the sidelines still looking.

Perennial "Most Popular Driver" Sarah Fisher is searching for work, as is two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. Roger Yasukawa, who made his IndyCar Series debut in 2003 is looking for a drive, as are Richie Hearn, Felipe Giaffone and Arie Luyendyk Jr. PDM Racing is searching for a driver to run their Dallara/Chevrolet.

The opportunity to test new regulations put into place by the Indy Racing League for its premier series against other teams and drivers comes in less than two weeks. And for many this will be the first chance to see changes at the Homestead-Miami Speedway circuit, which is no longer the flat 1.5- mile oval on which the IndyCar Series competed over the past two years.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Kim Green , Kosuke Matsuura , Paul Dana , Chip Ganassi , Aguri Suzuki , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing