IRL: Awards banquet report

Dixon, Taylor honored; Renna remembered at IRL banquet. ORLANDO, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 -- Scott Dixon, Mark Taylor and their respective teams earned top honors Oct. 25 during the 2003 Indy Racing League Championship Celebration at the ...

Dixon, Taylor honored; Renna remembered at IRL banquet.

ORLANDO, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 -- Scott Dixon, Mark Taylor and their respective teams earned top honors Oct. 25 during the 2003 Indy Racing League Championship Celebration at the World Showplace at Epcot in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates were presented with the IndyCarTM Series Cup and a $1-million bonus for winning the championship, while Taylor and Panther Racing were awarded the Firestone Firehawk Cup for winning the Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship.

During the championship celebration the late Tony Renna, who was going to be Dixon's teammate at Ganassi in 2004, was honored with a moment of silence. Renna suffered fatal injuries in a crash during a Firestone tire test Oct. 22 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while testing for the first time with Ganassi Racing.

Actor Jason Priestley was the host of the annual championship gala, which took place in Orlando, Fla. for the first time. "Magical Moments" was the theme.

Dixon, 23, from Auckland, New Zealand, won three races and clinched the title with a second-place finish in the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Dixon won the title 507-489 over Gil de Ferran.

Tony George, Indy Racing League president and CEO, presented Dixon and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team with the IndyCar Series Cup and a $1-million championship bonus during the gala ceremonies.

Taylor, 25, from London, dominated the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, scoring a record seven wins in 12 races. He also won five poles en route to winning the championship 482-407 over Jeff Simmons.

Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing, presented Taylor and Panther Racing team members with the Firestone Firehawk Cup.

A variety of other awards also were presented, including the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award and a $50,000 bonus to Dan Wheldon.

Presentations were made to the second- and third-place drivers in the final IRL standings, Marlboro Team Penske teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves, and the second- and third-place drivers in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Owner Keith Deusenberg accepted on behalf of Simmons, while Ed Carpenter accepted his third-place award.

A season review show with interviews from the Championship Celebration will be televised at 2 p.m. (EST) Oct. 30 on ESPN.

The 2004 Indy Racing League season starts Feb. 29, 2004, with the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

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A recap of the presentations:

Indy Racing League Achievement Award: John Lewis

*Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League senior vice president of racing operations, presented this award to John Lewis, senior director of racing operations for the IRL, for his extraordinary and tireless contributions to the success of the Indy Racing League.

Gil de Ferran Tribute Trophy: Gil de Ferran

*IRL President and CEO Tony George presented this award to de Ferran in honor of his outstanding racing career. De Ferran, who announced his retirement in August, won the season-ending Chevy 500 with Marlboro Team Penske and ended his career with two CART Championships and a victory in the 2003 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.

Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award: Dan Wheldon

*Dana Arnold of Bombardier presented the award and a $50,000 bonus to Wheldon for leading the rookie standings in the 2003 season with 312 points in his No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Wheldon finished 11th in the final IndyCar Series point standings, with a best finish of third in October at Texas Motor Speedway.

John Bearce Motorsports Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Ricky Davis

*Phil Casey, Indy Racing League technical director, presented Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chief Mechanic Davis with a $25,000 bonus for winning this award. Davis' skill and leadership helped Target Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Scott Dixon win three races and the IndyCar Series Cup in 2003.

Team Manager of the Year Award: Scott Harner and Barry Wanser

*John Lewis, Indy Racing League senior director of operations, presented Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team Manager Harner and Chief Mechanic Wanser with a $25,000 bonus for winning this award. Their skill and leadership helped Target Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Scott Dixon win three races and the IndyCar Series Cup in 2003.

Sony Disc Manufacturing Long Lasting Award: Scott Sharp

*Scott Bartlett of Sony Disc Manufacturing presented Scott Sharp with a $25,000 bonus for winning this award, presented to the driver who completed the most laps during the 2003 season. Sharp completed 3,175 of a possible 3,251 laps this season in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. He also earned a Sony big-screen television, DVD player and surround-sound system as part of the award.

Marlboro Lap Leader Award: Scott Dixon

*Ina Broeman, category director, Marlboro, Philip Morris, presented Dixon with this $20,000 award, given to the driver who led the most laps during the 2003 season. Dixon led 748 laps in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.

EMCO Gears Hard Charger Award: Scott Dixon.

*Larry Bishop of EMCO Gears presented this $10,000 bonus to champion Dixon, who won the season-opening Toyota Indy 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway after starting 12th. Dixon's starting spot at Miami was the lowest of any driver to win a race in 2003.

MBNA Pole Award: Scott Dixon

*David Dworsky of MBNA presented the specially designed MBNA Pole Award trophy and $20,000 to Dixon, who earned five MBNA Pole Awards during the 2003 season in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, more than any other driver.

Championship Sponsor Award: Target

*Bill Long, Indy Racing League vice president of marketing, presented this award to Tom Garfinkel, vice president of Chip Ganassi Racing, who accepted on behalf of Target for the company's longtime primary sponsorship of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which won the 2003 IndyCar Series championship with driver Scott Dixon.

Promoter of the Year: Ikuo Shimizu, Twin Ring Motegi

*Ken Ungar, Indy Racing League senior vice president of business affairs, presented this award to Twin Ring Motegi President Simizu for his tireless work to make the first IndyCar Series event outside the United States a success.

Engine Manufacturers Champion: Toyota

*Barnhart presented this award to Jim Aust of Toyota in recognition of Toyota winning the engine manufacturers' championship in its first season in the IRL IndyCar Series. Toyota won the championship 145-106 over Honda and Toyota engines powered the winners of 11 of 16 events this season. The top three drivers in the final season point standings used Toyota power.

Manufacturer Awards:

*These representatives accepted awards on behalf of their respective companies for achievement in the Indy Racing League:

John Biddlecomb, Panoz G Force
Sam Garrett, Dallara Automobili
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet
Robert Clarke and Yasuhiro Wada, Honda
Al Speyer, Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.
Jim Rodgers, X-Trac
Brad Stout, Delphi

***

IRL CHAMPIONSHIP CELEBRATION QUOTES:

JASON PRIESTLEY: "I think it's important for Tony Renna's family, his fiancee and his friends to know that all of our thoughts and prayers are with them during this very difficult time. There were some difficult times during this past season, and there were also some awesome moments. As a family, we're here to honor our champions."

SCOTT DIXON (2003 IRL IndyCar Series Champion): "I think, like everyone has said, it's been a rough couple of weeks, first with Kenny (Brack's) deal. It's great to know he's going to be fine. Obviously, Wednesday was very hard for the team. Myself, I worked with Tony in 2000 during my Indy Lights championship. He was a superb teammate and a superb friend. It's hard, but as Joe Renna said, Tony would definitely like this to go on." (About the championship): "These guys have made my year something I'm very, very proud of. It's something that is quite an achievement. For me, it's been an uphill climb, but without the support I've had, it wouldn't have been achievable."

TONY GEORGE (President and CEO, IRL): "This is the eighth time we have come together as a League family. And, as we gather here in the Walt Disney World Resort, a location known throughout the world for bringing families together, I can think of no better way to describe all of us than as one, very large extended family. Like a family, we come together regularly throughout the year. We work in garages together. We tell tall tales about races won and lost. We argue with each other, periodically, over rules. We even break bread together. Over the past eight seasons, our family has grown. We have experienced joy and happiness, grief and sadness. We have been so supportive of one another along the way. Life on earth is a test, and life on earth is a temporary assignment. We have lost family members who were part of us at Indy for many, many decades. And we still hurt from the stinging loss of a much younger member of our family, Tony Renna. Without question, our drivers are the heroes of our family, not simply because they engage in a profession that carries with it great risk, but because they get the opportunity to pursue their life's passion. With their intense passion, we experience a heightened joy of victory. We feel the tremendous emptiness of failure. Through it all, we know that our heroes are pursuing their life's goal: To be the very best in the pursuit of sport. And, that is why we are here tonight. To celebrate the accomplishment of all our heroes. We are particularly proud of two of our heroes: Our IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, and our Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion, Mark Taylor. Tonight is their night as champions, and our night as a family.

CHIP GANASSI (Owner, Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "Our teams' hearts are pretty heavy right now, and we're even conflicted on being here this evening. Earlier this week, Tony (George) and I, and Scott (Dixon), met with Joe Renna and he said, 'Look, the three of you, have this banquet. I want everyone to go down there and celebrate your championship and celebrate the life of Tony Renna.' Tony was imminently likeable, and he touch everybody that his life came in contact with." (About the championship): "Everyone on our team shares in this accomplishment. The Indy Racing League is obviously the more competitive racing anybody can see, anywhere. And I'm proud to be associated with it and compete against the teams we compete against. It takes a true team in every sense of the word for an accomplishment like this. We've had world-class drivers in the past. People like (Emerson) Fittipaldi, (Michael) Andretti, (Jimmy) Vasser, (Alex) Zanardi and (Juan Pablo) Montoya. You can add Dixon to that list. He's unquestionably as good a race driver as I've ever worked with. Scott's professionalism, humility, intelligence and work ethic are a perfect compliment to his talents."

GIL DE FERRAN (2003 Indianapolis 500 Champion): "It was a good season. We were fighting for the championship all the way to the end. We came up with second place. Certainly, in Texas, the car was the best and one of the most competitive cars we've ever had on a 1.5-mile oval. Overall it was a good season. There was a low point, certainly, with the accident at Phoenix and then a tremendous high with the Indy 500 and fighting for the championship all the way to the end. The good things are probably the things that are going to stick in my memory." (About retirement): "Not much has changed. I've been working pretty hard this off-season. It's turning out to be quite a busy one with a variety of commitments racing-wise and otherwise."

MARK TAYLOR (2003 Menards Infiniti Pro Series Champion): "I have to thank John Barnes and everyone at Panther Racing. They've made it a great learning year, and hopefully I'll be able to continue it in the IndyCar Series next year, but for now we're enjoying this year. Thank you everyone for making it such an enjoyable year."

DAN WHELDON (2003 IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year): "First of all I'd like to say that my thoughts and prayers are with Tony, his fiancee, his family and his friends. He was a great guy, and I just loved racing against him." (About winning the award): I'd like to thank (Andretti Green Racing co-owners) Michael (Andrett), Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree) for this opportunity. It's been a very, very good year."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Brad Stout , Dan Wheldon , Tony Renna , Jason Priestley , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Tony George , Jim Campbell , Philip Morris , John Lewis , John Barnes , Brian Barnhart , Robert Clark , Jim Beam , Ed Carpenter
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing