IRL: Barnhart excited for 2003 IndyCar Series season

Talented field, three engine manufacturers will be highlight. HOMESTEAD, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003 ^Ö The offseason testing is complete, the schedule has long since been set, and now the 2003 IRL IndyCarÔ Series season is set to begin...

Talented field, three engine manufacturers will be highlight.

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003 ^Ö The offseason testing is complete, the schedule has long since been set, and now the 2003 IRL IndyCarÔ Series season is set to begin with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of racing operations for the Indy Racing League, couldn^Òt be happier.

Barnhart and the IRL staff have worked tirelessly in the offseason to prepare for what will be the most competitive season in the eight-year history of the IRL IndyCar Series.

Drivers in the Toyota Indy 300 have combined for six Indianapolis 500 victories, five IRL IndyCar Series championships, five CART championships and 142 victories in either the IRL IndyCar Series or CART. Meanwhile, the teams have combined for 25 Indy-style championships, 19 Indianapolis 500 victories and countless race victories.

^ÓAs good as our product has been in the past, we^Òve done nothing but get better over the winter with the additional manufactures coming to play with Toyota and Honda joining Chevrolet, and the quality of teams that have committed to run in the IRL IndyCar Series,^Ô Barnhart said. ^ÓThey^Òre not just guys that are going to take up a spot on the grid, they^Òre going to be people that are going to contend for race wins, and that^Òs what is real exciting.^Ô

Honda and Toyota coming to the IRL IndyCar Series will mark the first time since 1996 that the series has enjoyed three engine manufacturers. In the five days of Open Tests that have taken place this month at California Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, Toyota-powered cars topped the speed chart on three days while Honda led the other two. Chevrolet^Òs absence from the top of the speed charts led to rumors and speculation that Indy Racing League officials would help Chevrolet by possibly changing rules.

^ÓFrom a league standpoint, the first thing and most important thing I can say is that absolutely no one from Chevrolet has called Tony (George) or myself looking for any kind of special consideration,^Ô Barnhart said. ^ÓThey are very aware of what our rules and our philosophies are, and they are very willing to work within the framework of our rules to improve the competitiveness of their engine.^Ô

Barnhart stressed that the chassis and engine regulations that are in place through 2005 have only been active for two months.

^ÓPeople are starting to talk about all these issues of what could and couldn^Òt happen, and we haven^Òt even raced these things yet,^Ô Barnhart said. ^ÓI think Chevrolet has already shown progress based on the original test at California Speedway and the progress they made by the time they went to Homestead. I think they^Òve shown gains, and I think they have identified a number of issues.

^ÓThe conversations that we have had with them are that they have been keeping us abreast of what they are doing and areas that they^Òve identified that they need to improve upon. They^Òve still got a handful of things and issues that they^Òre going to continue to work on to continue to improve the performance of that engine. But, based on what we saw at Homestead, they^Òre certainly in the ballpark right now with what we saw out of Panther Racing with Sam (Hornish Jr.) being fourth quick in the afternoon session (at Homestead) and seventh quick overall. I think they^Òre going to be right in the hunt.^Ô

The Toyota Indy 300 begins at 1 p.m. (EST) and will be broadcast live on ABC and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Toyota Indy 300 and the Miami 100 are available by calling (305) 230-RACE, logging onto www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com or at any Ticketmaster location.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Brian Barnhart
Teams Panther Racing