IRL: Indy 500 Top talent aiming for victory

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 4, 2001 - The Indianapolis 500 long has been known as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," as it's the most famous and tradition-laden auto race in the world. The race arguably is the "Greatest Story in Racing," too, and...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 4, 2001 - The Indianapolis 500 long has been known as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," as it's the most famous and tradition-laden auto race in the world.

The race arguably is the "Greatest Story in Racing," too, and this year is no exception.

All of the usual drama of the Indianapolis 500 will be augmented by many intriguing story lines surrounding the drivers and teams leading up to the 85th Indianapolis 500 on May 27. From Opening Day on May 6, to MBNA Pole Day on May 12, Bump Day on May 20, Coors Carb Day on May 24 to Race Day, this figures to be one of the most competitive and interesting Memorial Day classics ever.

Perhaps the top story this month at Indianapolis is the quality of the field. There could be as many as four former champions in the starting field of 33 cars for the first time since 1994. Past winners Arie Luyendyk (1990, 97), Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Eddie Cheever Jr. (1998) all seek to have their name and likeness added to the Borg-Warner Trophy again.

Those veterans will be challenged by a talented cast of young drivers led by Indy Racing Northern Light Series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish arguably is the hottest driver in North American motorsports, as he won the first two races of the Northern Light Series season in his first year driving for Panther Racing and finished fourth at the final event before Indianapolis.

Hornish, 21, was a highly touted but relatively unknown rookie last May at the Speedway. What a difference a year makes: This year he is one of the favorites to win and would become the youngest Indianapolis 500 champion in history.

Other top young stars vying for a spot in this year's race include 20-year-old Sarah Fisher, who last year became just the third woman to drive in the race; Casey Mears, son of Indy veteran Roger Mears and nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears; Cory Witherill, a full-blooded Navajo; and Felipe Giaffone, the rookie points leader in the Northern Light Series this season.

2000 Indy pole winner Greg Ray enters the month of May with plenty of momentum after a dominant victory in the zMAX 500 on April 28 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Ray will try to deliver Team Menard its first Indianapolis victory.

This also is the year of the comeback at the Speedway.

Luyendyk is back after a two-year absence, seeking his third career Indy 500 victory with Treadway-Hubbard Racing. Penske Racing, which has won 10 Indianapolis 500 titles, is returning to Indy for the first time since 1995. CART champion Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves will drive for legendary team owner Roger Penske.

Another famous name that couldn't resist the allure of the Speedway is Michael Andretti. He also is back at Indy for the first time since 1995, seeking his first "500" victory with Team Green, with assistance from Panther Racing and its driver, Hornish.

The Hornish-Andretti match is one of many strong pairings aiming for victory. One of the most interesting teams will be Cheever Indy Racing, with team owner Cheever and Scott Goodyear as drivers.

Both Cheever and Goodyear will try to become the first drivers using an Infiniti engine to win at Indy. And two-time Indy runner-up Goodyear is making his only start of the season in quest of that elusive first victory. With their combination of experience and success at the Speedway, Cheever and Goodyear could be this year's dream team at Indy.

Other teams with a winning pedigree in open-wheel racing include A.J. Foyt Racing, with drivers Eliseo Salazar and Robby Gordon; defending Northern Light Series entrant champion Hemelgarn Racing, with Lazier and Stan Wattles; Treadway-Hubbard Racing, with Luyendyk and Giaffone; Penske Racing, with de Ferran and Castroneves; Kelley Racing, with Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore; Galles Racing, with Unser, Mears and Didier André; and defending Indianapolis 500 winners Chip Ganassi Racing.

There will be more time for every team to hone their cars this year, as the race returns to its traditional three-week format for the first time since 1997. That should make the race more competitive than ever.

-INLRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Casey Mears , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Didier André , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Rick Mears , Stan Wattles , Chip Ganassi , Roger Mears , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske