IRL: Heritage Motorsports, Ward can win at Phoenix

(Indianapolis, IN) Combine a century of successful racing experience with two previous Indy 500 wins, add driver Jeff Ward's past success in Phoenix, and you have the ingredients for a debut win by Heritage Motorsports' this weekend. ...

(Indianapolis, IN) Combine a century of successful racing experience with two previous Indy 500 wins, add driver Jeff Ward's past success in Phoenix, and you have the ingredients for a debut win by Heritage Motorsports' this weekend.

Heritage Motorsports, formed in January and set to make its Indy Racing League debut in Phoenix, is directed by racing's legendary Mecom and Rathmann families. Each brings decades of racing experience to the Heritage Motorsports mix, and boasts a trip to Indy's winner's circle in the 1960s, Jim Rathmann, Sr. as a driver in 1960 and John Mecom, Jr. as owner of Graham Hill's car in 1965. Now, joined by their sons, John, III and Jim, Jr., Mecom and Rathmann are focused on creating a new chapter in their legendary racing careers.

"We're an innovative team, relying on our success in the past to create winning results for Heritage Motorsports and the Indy Racing League for the future," says John Mecom, III. "There's been something missing from open wheel racing, and along with winning, we want to help restore the aura once associated with the sport."

The man set to lead the charge for Heritage Motorsports is Indy Racing League Northern Light Series veteran, Jeff Ward.

Ward has his own successful past to rely on. Beginning his professional racing career in motocross, Ward was the only rider to win every AMA National Motocross title, before retiring in 1992. He has carried that success over to the realm of open wheel racing, and is hoping to add his first Indy Racing win to his list of accomplishments this weekend in Phoenix.

"I'm hungry for a win. This is the most confident I have felt. We have a great package and are in prime position for a win," says Ward. "This team has been around racing for a long time, and they know the sport inside and out. We have a winning tradition on the track, and we're taking that attitude and confidence into the first race."

Phoenix, which is the sight of Ward's first oval open wheel race in 1993, is a prime location for his first open wheel win. Since he began racing in the Indy Racing League Northern Lights Series, he won his first pole in Phoenix in 1998 and has finished in the top five, two of three races on the one-mile oval.

"We tested well here for a couple of days, and I feel we are really ready to compete this week end," says Ward. "Phoenix is a fun track. I have always liked this track because it's busy with a lot of traffic. I look forward to racing there and I always seem to run well there. I think it shows in your racing when you enjoy a track, because you step onto [the track] with a good attitude, really excited to get into the car."

The team of Heritage Motorsports is looking to feed off of Ward's success in Phoenix and the winning traditions of its directors in competition for a debut win this weekend.

New Team, Old Ties

* This is the fourth year Jeff Ward and crew chief Mitch Davis will run together.

* "Joining this team is like a homecoming, because we know each other so well. Mitch knows exactly what I mean when I say it, which gives me complete confidence in the car and the team.

* "I've altered my driving style around Mitch's settings. He's taught all of us a lot about racing, and it's great to be back together.

First Facts at Phoenix

* Jeff competed in his first open wheel oval track race in Phoenix in 1993, qualifying on the front row.

* Jeff received his f irst top five finish in his open wheel racing career at Phoenix in 1993.

* Jeff won his first pole position at Phoenix in 1998.

* "I enjoy racing at Phoenix. I always go onto the track with a good attitude, because I like it so much."

HANS-on Experience

* Jeff will be sporting the new Hans safety device for the first time in Phoenix.

* "Safety is our top priority. It gives drivers confidence, which leads to a more competitive show for the fans. I'm comfortable with the Hans device. I tested with it at Homestead and Phoenix and it fit perfect."

* "I don't have any problems with it, and I recommend it for every driver. When you're on the track you don't think about it, and if drivers are complaining about it then they're not concentrating on what they should be doing. "

Phoenix vs. Indy

* "They say if you can run well in Phoenix, you run well in Indy. And, I usually do well in both places. I think turns three and four at Phoenix are similar to one corner at Indy. The car seems to hold the same at both tracks."

* Jeff has finished in the top five in two of his three Indy Racing League races at Phoenix.

* Jeff has finished in the top five in three of his four races at Indianapolis.

<pre> Jeff Ward Phoenix International Raceway Indy Racing League Northern Light Series History

             Year             S/F         LC/TL         Status
             2000             13/11       194/200       Running
             1999             5/2         200/200       Running
             1998             1/5         199/200       Running
           Averages           6/6         198/200 99%    -

_HM

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Ward , Graham Hill