IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-04-14

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- April 14, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Castroneves, Rice prepare for round two of IROC 2. Drivers, Infineon Raceway officials ecstatic with results 3. Wheldon receives key to the city of St. Petersburg 4.

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- April 14, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. Castroneves, Rice prepare for round two of IROC
2. Drivers, Infineon Raceway officials ecstatic with results
3. Wheldon receives key to the city of St. Petersburg
4. Patrick gives driving lessons to NFL star
5. Andretti Green crew members involved in accident

1. Castroneves, Rice prepare for round two of IROC: Buddy Rice couldn't stop himself from teasing Helio Castroneves when he overheard the fellow IndyCar® Series competitor talking about the April 15 Crown Royal International Race of Champions event at Texas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. EDT on Speed Channel).

"He needs more seat time," joked Rice, who posted one of the fastest laps of the drivers who tested this week.

"If I need seat time, then so does Buddy," Castroneves shot back. "You had a good lap, but his yellow car was fast anyway."

Rice and Castroneves, who have three Indianapolis 500 victories between them, will represent the IndyCar Series in the event, which pits drivers from various racing series against each other in identically prepared stock cars. Castroneves, driving the No. 03 day glow car, will start fifth and Rice, driving the No. 15 burgundy car, will start eighth in the 67-lap race on the 1.5-mile high-banked oval.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Rice, who finished fifth in the opening round of the four-race series at Daytona International Speedway in February. "It will depend on the luck of the draw. You can't hurt the front tire, and you have to stay out of trouble. Hopefully, the second groove will come in, and you will see some good side-by-side racing. If not, you may see some nudging, but hopefully it won't come to that."

Unlike Daytona, the IndyCar Series drivers will have some knowledge of the track as Texas Motor Speedway plays host to an annual IndyCar Series event in June. The third leg of the series is Sept. 8 at Richmond International Raceway -- another IndyCar Series stop.

"It's so different from our cars to the IROC car because you sit so much higher and it rolls so differently," Rice said. "You can run flat around there, but you can try different lines. It's pretty impressive. It doesn't look nearly as bumpy."

"It's a great track," Castroneves said. "I'm sure we're going to have a good time. It's a place people enjoy in the IndyCar Series and in NASCAR, so I'm looking forward to it."

***

2. Drivers, Infineon Raceway officials ecstatic with results: "It's actually like Laguna Seca on drugs."

That was 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon's summation of the two-day Open Test at Infineon Raceway. It's hard to argue with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

The 2.3-mile, 12-turn course set in the scenic rolling hills of the Sonoma Valley will be a drivers' and fans' delight for the return engagement Aug. 26-28 in the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix -- the first road-course race in the 10-year history of the IndyCar Series.

High- and low-speed corners will offer overtaking opportunities of those making a miscue. Elevation changes surpassing 200 feet will tax gear boxes. Blind corners and crests of those undulations will test the drivers' nerve. That's all before a right-left kink cuts short a romp through a series of Esses and a hairpin turn concludes the exhausting trip.

"This is a very physical track," Dixon said. "It's great for a driver. There are a lot of elevation changes and a lot of different turns that you don't see at a lot of tracks. It's a lot of hard work."

Fans looking in on the proceedings from the stadium-like seating will see the high-speed drama unfold, including action on the Carousel that is not used for the NASCAR Nextel Cup race. Gauging the response in attendance and ticket purchases during the test, Californians are ready for the sleek and high-tech cars to rattle some grapes in nearby vineyards.

"It's a fun track, and I think we'll put on a great show for the fans," two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves said.

The venerable Sonoma Valley facility will host an open-wheel racing event for the first time in 35 years -- the USAC Indy 150 won by Dan Gurney -- and president and general manager Steve Page was brimming with anticipation.

"We put a lot of work, time and money over the years into turning this into a track that would be appropriate and compatible for these kinds of cars," he said. "So this has been a very validating experience to see how well they run here and to hear the comments from the drivers about how much they enjoy being on the track.

"It reinforces our belief that this will be a unique event in August. This is a terrific market for the IndyCar Series. It is our commitment to steadily build this into one of the cornerstone motorsports events in northern California."

Dario Franchitti posted the best overall time -- 1 minute, 16.4222 seconds (108.345 mph) -- on the second day of testing in the No. 27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Castroneves followed his chart-topping time from day one by being second quick (1:16.4497; 108.307 mph) in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Dixon was third best overall at 1:16.4688 (108.279 mph). Twenty driver-car combinations totaled 1,671 laps.

"We all got a lot of good information," said Franchitti, who took laps on the course in November during an Indy Racing League compatibility test. "It's always good to be at the top of the timesheet, but it's more important to get to work on your individual (testing) programs and get good results for the team.

"It's a heck of a ride out there. It's a brilliant place to drive. It's pretty unforgiving."

Sounds like an interesting combination to watch in August.

***

3. Wheldon receives key to the city of St. Petersburg: Dan Wheldon, driver of Andretti Green Racing's No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone, was given a "Key to the City" of St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 14.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker presented a key to Wheldon, who led a "1-2-3-4" sweep by Andretti Green Racing at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and to Barry Green, Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who led Andretti Green Promotions' efforts at the event. The ceremony took place at City Hall in St. Petersburg. Mayor Baker also retroactively declared April 3, 2005 as "Dan Wheldon Day" in St. Petersburg.

Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident who lives less than five minutes from the site of the temporary street circuit, capped a near-perfect weekend for Andretti Green Racing by winning the Indy Racing League's first non-oval event on April 3. The win was Wheldon's second IndyCar Series victory in 2005, the fifth of his career and extended his lead in the IndyCar Series point standings to 24 over teammate Tony Kanaan.

"I'm still a little overwhelmed by this," said Wheldon. "I lived in St. Pete in 1999, and it has a special place in my heart because it was where I started my career off in America. Mayor Baker is a big fan of the IndyCar Series and mine because I am a resident. So, for me to win the race for St. Pete, in St. Pete, with him watching and being such a key player in making the race as big as it was - to receive the 'Key to the City' is a privilege and an honor. I'm kind of nervous for the Mayor. Who would ever give Dan Wheldon a key to their city?"

***

4. Patrick gives driving lessons to NFL star: A few minutes in Danica Patrick's pit stall at Infineon Raceway on April 13 heightened Amani Toomer's anticipation of the next day. It also gave him a better understanding of the technology and athleticism inherent to the IndyCar Series.

The New York Giants star wide receiver was taking in the on-track and behind-the-scenes action of the IndyCar Series Open Test on the 2.3-mile, 12-turn course. On April 14, Patrick gave him a lesson in the proper driving of a shifter kart at the ESPN Russell Racing School. The day was captured on film and in text for a mid-May article in ESPN the Magazine and a 30-minute ESPN special to air June 11.

"When I found out I had the opportunity, I was super-excited," said Toomer, listening to the team's radio transmissions on a headset. "It's just what I wanted to do for fun. I'll be able to experience what the drivers go through."

Well, sort of. It wasn't in a sleek, technologically advanced IndyCar Series machine like Patrick is driving for Rahal Letterman Racing. But he can appreciate the athleticism needed to compete on road courses such as Infineon Raceway and ovals.

"The hand-eye coordination needed is amazing," Toomer said. "They have to maneuver it in a way that they become one with the machine. I'm also really impressed by the amount of work and effort it takes to get these machines to perform at their best."

***

5. Andretti Green crew members involved in accident: Four team members from Andretti Green Racing were involved in a multi-car accident April 13 in the San Francisco area following the IndyCar Series Open Test at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

The four men were traveling in the same vehicle to San Francisco International Airport when the accident occurred just after 6 p.m. (PDT). All four were taken from the scene of the accident to San Francisco General Hospital.

Scott Graves, the team's director of engineering, and Tino Belli, Andretti Green's technical director, were admitted to the hospital. As of 9:30 a.m. (PDT) April 14, both Graves and Belli were listed in good condition. Martin Pare, who works as race engineer on Andretti Green Racing's No. 7 entry, was treated and released April 13. Brian Page, who is assistant race engineer on the No. 7 car, was examined and released April 13.

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Indy Japan 300 on April 30 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be telecast by ESPN at Noon (EDT) on April 30 and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) on April 29. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also will be available on XM Satellite Radio channel 152 "XM Extreme." The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Futaba Freedom 100 on May 27 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on May 27.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Dan Gurney , Buddy Rice , Kim Green , Barry Green , Chip Ganassi , Jim Beam , Danica Patrick
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing