IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-02-14

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 14, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Matsuura raises the bar for sophomore year 2. Rice turns first laps in IROC car 3. Sharp tests at Infineon Raceway 1. Matsuura raises the bar for sophomore year:...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Feb. 14, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. Matsuura raises the bar for sophomore year
2. Rice turns first laps in IROC car
3. Sharp tests at Infineon Raceway

1. Matsuura raises the bar for sophomore year: Kosuke Matsuura was virtually unknown in North American auto racing circles a year ago. But after a 16-race IndyCar Series season that included winning the Bombardier Rookie of the Year award, name recognition has markedly improved.

It was in November 2003 that Matsuura impressed Super Aguri Fernandez Racing principals Aguri Suzuki and Adrian Fernandez during an audition at Phoenix International Raceway. That was quite a feat in itself before the discerning eyes of a former Formula One driver (Suzuki) and a veteran driver who would go on to win three IndyCar Series events in 2004.

Matsuura continued to impress as his experience and comfort level on the ovals expanded. He had a best finish of fourth at Kentucky in August, recorded four top-10 finishes and was named Bank One Rookie of the Year for the 88th Indianapolis 500.

All in all, it was quite an accomplishment for a driver in his first season of oval racing. Matsuura had competed in the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup Championship and the German Formula 3 Championship in 2001-03, and had been a part of the driver development program (Autobacs Racing Team) founded by Suzuki.

Matsuura has raised his personal bar for 2005. He's comfortable in the car, with his crew and engineer. He's also more comfortable after a year living and traveling in the United States.

"My goal for 2005 is to be a championship contender and get my first win in the IndyCar Series," the Aichi, Japan, native said. "I've learned and the team has grown from all the experiences from last year, so I would like to show the improvements and better performances."

Suzuki and Fernandez bolstered Matsuura's confidence by announcing before the season's penultimate race at California Speedway that he would be in the No. 55 Honda-powered Panoz in 2005.

"Adrian and I are very excited about the start of the 2005 IndyCar Series season," managing director Tom Anderson said. "Road courses being added to the schedule is a challenge for all -- Honda, Panoz, the team and certainly Kosuke. Kosuke has now driven all the ovals and we are sure to be more competitive at all the events this season.

"We have been able to add to our team this season with more personnel and now Adrian will have more time to help Kosuke. This will be our best year."

Capsule look at Super Aguri Fernandez Racing
Car number: 55
Main sponsors: Panasonic, Autobacs
Chassis/engine: Panoz/Honda
Driver: Kosuke Matsuura, 25, of Aichi, Japan

Co-owner's viewpoint

Aguri Suzuki: "I am excited about the 2005 season. There will be some races on road courses, so I am looking forward to see Kosuke showing his skills he learned through the past races. I think he has learned so much from last year, and the team has grown, so I am looking forward to win the race."

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2. Rice turns first laps in IROC car: 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice recorded his first laps in an International Race of Champions stock car and quickly learned the benefits of having an experienced driver on the other end of the radio.

As part of Rice's orientation process, IROC test drivers Jim Sauter, Jay Sauter, Dave Marcis and Andy Hillenburg coach the drivers while practicing drafting and teaching the drivers about the various racing grooves.

"When you come into something new you're usually on your own out there and only in contact with your crew," Rice said. "Being able to talk with the other drivers on the track is a great advantage."

"The usual drill is to get the driver comfortable in the car just like you would do in a new street car," said IROC President Jay Signore. "For the new drivers we like to have the car full of fuel and with fresh tires. We'll send him out to get the feel of the car and experience the race track. He'll come in and sit for a moment, cool the tires and that gives him some time to digest it all and make any other minor adjustments before sending him out with the other drivers."

This isn't the first time Rice has driven a stock car. He made one start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003. He said he's looking forward to competing in racing's equivalent to the All-Star game.

"It's great getting out and trying something new with all the guys and learning from their experience," Rice said. "It's kind of similar to the 24-hour race where you have guys from all different disciplines, but it's cool to have them all in one series with the same car, it's exciting. I was just out there running with Bobby Hamilton, Kurt Busch, Max Papis, Jay and Jim Sauter -- it was pretty cool."

Rice's first session encompassed a bit more than the IndyCar Series ace had expected when he picked up debris on the right rear tire.

"I got thrown into the deep end after making a few laps and cutting down a tire. That's always exciting and I'm glad to get that part out of the way," he said. "But then we got under way with three and then four cars drafting and you can feel the way the air changes around you. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week here, running with the other guys and getting more experience. You're always learning and I'm really looking forward to it."

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3. Sharp tests at Infineon Raceway: Scott Sharp became the second IndyCar Series driver to take a few laps around the twisting Infineon Raceway road course during a visit to the facility on Friday.

Sharp was on track for approximately 30 minutes for lead-follow lapping with ESPN Russell Racing School lead instructor Mark Wolocatiuk. Sharp piloted one of the school's Formula Mitsubishi open-wheel cars. The former Danville, Calif., resident had not been to Infineon Raceway since capturing a Trans-Am event victory on the road course in 1993.

"I love the high, sweeping turns going down the hill from Turn 7. It's a little daunting, but a lot of fun," said Sharp, who drives for Delphi Fernandez Racing. "I like the modified section at Turn 9 because I think it will provide for a lot of passing and a great braking zone."

Dario Franchitti was the first IRL driver to test the Infineon Raceway circuit during a compatibility test on the 12-turn, 2.2-mile course in November. The IRL will compete at a permanent road-course facility for the first time in its 10-year history when the series visits Infineon Raceway Aug. 26-28. It will also mark the IRL's first-ever visit to Northern California.

"I'm really excited about racing out here. It's going to be big," said Sharp. "I think it's going to be tremendously exciting for both the drivers and the fans."

***

The IRL IndyCar Series opens its 10th season of competition with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on March 6, 2005 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be televised live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. The 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series season also opens on March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be televised by ESPN2 at 4 p.m. (EST) on March 17.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Jay Sauter , Kurt Busch , Scott Sharp , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Andy Hillenburg , Dave Marcis , Jim Sauter , Tom Anderson , Kosuke Matsuura , Aguri Suzuki