IRL: Indy 500 Sunday notes

Indianapolis, IN, May 26 2002 - After a rain-plagued month, race day dawned clear and dry, with no chance of precipitation. The 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 took place under sunny skies, with temperature a pleasantly cool 60 degrees at...

Indianapolis, IN, May 26 2002 - After a rain-plagued month, race day dawned clear and dry, with no chance of precipitation. The 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 took place under sunny skies, with temperature a pleasantly cool 60 degrees at the start of the race.

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Musical tradition at the Speedway was upheld, with Florence Henderson returning to sing "America the Beautiful" and Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" just before the balloons went up. The National Anthem was beautifully rendered by Cadet Josephine Holman of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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Two traditional racing events surrounding the 500 are the USAC "Night Before the 500" Midget race held at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the USAC "Little 500" Sprint race held at Anderson Speedway. Jason Leffler won the "Night Before the 500", while Eric Gordon took the "Little 500" for the second consecutive year. Leffler, an Indy 500 veteran (17th place in 2000), also won the Hoosier Hundred USAC Silver Crown race Friday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

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The "Leader's Circle Club", with membership reserved for those who have led the Indianapolis 500, has six new members. Bruno Junqueira, Tomas Scheckter, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp, Felipe Giaffone, and Alex Barron, who led today's race at various times, had never headed the 500 before. They are the 174th through 179th drivers to lead the Memorial Day classic.

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Helio Castroneves is the first back-to-back winner of the 500 since Al Unser Sr. won two in a row in 1970-71. The first person to win two in a row was Wilbur Shaw, in 1939-40. Helio is the only driver to win the race in both of his first two attempts.

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Jamie Nanny, chief mechanic for 310 Racing, was presented with the Clint Brawner Award for mechanical excellence, creativity and perseverance. Nanny leads the crew for the No. 30 310 G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone driven by rookie George Mack, who started the race 32nd and finished 17th.

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Championship Association of Mechanics (CAM) presented the CAM/Snap-On Tools Top Wrench award to Dane Hart, chief mechanic for the No. 23 Team Allegra/Dreyer & Reinbold G Force/Infiniti/Firestone driven by Sarah Fisher. Fisher started the race 9th and finished 24th.

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Firestone brought over 4500 Firehawk tires to the Speedway this month, more than enough to supply 28 sets to each qualified car. This is Firestone's 66th appearance in 86 races, winning 53 times.

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Eleven drivers in today's race drove American-built G Force cars. While G Force was founded in the UK, it is now owned by Don Panoz and is headquartered in Braselton, Georgia. The last time an American chassis manufacturer won the 500 was 1982, when Gordon Johncock drove his Wildcat to victory.

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Next year there will be three chassis manufacturers in the Indy Racing League, including a second American organization. MK Racing, based in Concord, NC, will join Braselton, Georgia's G Force and Italy's Dallara in providing chassis meeting the 2003-2005 specifications. Principal owners of MK Racing include Michael Kranefuss and Ken Anderson. Anderson played a major role in the design of G Force's successful debut chassis in 1997.

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Next year's chassis specification will have numerous safety improvements. These include moving the driver back several inches, additional energy-absorbent material, longer sidepods, and increased structural requirements . A shorter transmission will be introduced, allowing for a more effective rear crash structure. Drivers will also have to be able to unbuckle their belts, remove the steering wheel, and exit the car in less than five seconds.

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While there will be one more American chassis manufacturer next year, the League will add a foreign race for the first time in its history. The Indy Racing League and Twin Ring Motegi, north of Tokyo, have entered into a three year agreement. The first race will be held in 2003, at a date to be announced later. The American-style oval at Motegi was built in 1997, and has hosted very competitive CART races since 1998.

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A race in Japan dovetails with Honda's announcement that they will supply engines to the IRL beginning next year. The engines will be produced by Honda Performance Development, Inc., Santa Clarita, CA, in association with Ilmor Engineering, Inc. IRL competitors will have a choice of four engines in the coming season: Chevrolet, Infiniti, Toyota and Honda.

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Pennzoil and Panther Racing announced their continued association in the IRL for at least three more seasons. Panther's current driver, Sam Hornish, is reigning League champion and until today had led the championship standings continuously since his first race with Panther at Phoenix in March 2001.

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Eddie Cheever Jr. is now the sole proprietor of Red Bull Cheever Racing. Cheever and Clyde Perlee have agreed to end their 4 1/2 year partnership In the team. Perlee was primarily involved in the business side of the partnership, and will remain as a consultant for the balance of the 2002 season.

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This year's pre-race flyover was performed by the "Spirit of Washington" B-2 bomber from the 509th Bomber Wing, Whiteman AFB. The aircraft, a veteran of combat missions over Afghanistan, flew over the Speedway at 200 knots, allowing fans a good view of the Stealth aircraft.

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Today's race was a double sellout. Reserved seating for the race was sold out shortly after completion of last year's event. ABC Sports announced yesterday that all commercial spots for the race were sold out.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jason Leffler , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , George Mack , Don Panoz , Eric Gordon , Gordon Johncock , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing