IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2005-08-24

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 24, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Unser, Rutherford remember last time at Infineon 2. Pantano passes IndyCar Series rookie test 3. Sneva inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame 4. Bucknum To Drive for...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- Aug. 24, 2005

Today's IRL headlines
1. Unser, Rutherford remember last time at Infineon
2. Pantano passes IndyCar Series rookie test
3. Sneva inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame
4. Bucknum To Drive for Foyt at Infineon

1. Unser, Rutherford remember last time at Infineon: When Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford start talking racing -- especially about their competitive heyday -- the banter is quick, often comical and always educational. You'd expect as much from legendary drivers who have seven Indianapolis 500 victories between them and now serve as Indy Racing League consultants.

Broach the subject of the USAC Indy 150 (also called the Golden State 150 and the USAC Sears Point 150) -- the first and only major open-wheel racing event at Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point) on April 4, 1970 -- and memories flow through the conversation like a storm-swollen river. And the barbs are ever-present.

Both were part of a stellar field that included 1969 Indianapolis 500 champion Mario Andretti, who started alongside pole winner Mark Donohue; Dick Simon, who started 13th and finished sixth; Gordon Johncock, who qualified eighth and finished fourth; Bobby Unser (finished 18th); Bill Vukovich (20th); Gary Bettenhausen (21st); and Jerry Grant (22nd). Donohue didn't make it through the race and finished dead last (25th).

Everyone was left in the road dust of Dan Gurney, who arted third on the grid in his final open-wheel race. Andretti was runner-up. The next month, the track closed for a year and USAC did not return when it reopened.

"The car I drove was a '67 Gurney Eagle that we put a wedge-type body on," said Rutherford, who started ninth and finished fifth in the race. "Mike Devin was my crew chief and Pat Patrick was the owner of the team in 1970. Al and I ran for the pole position at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway. We were a sleeper because we had this old car and Al had this state-of-the-art car, which was the Johnny Lightning car. We came very close -- one-1,0000ths mile of an hour. They said if we started our runs together at the start-finish line and gone the four laps and ended at the start-finish line, Al would have been 2½ feet ahead of me. It was the closest run for the pole position in the history of the Speedway.

"That's the same car I drove at Sears Point, and Al was in the Johnny Lightning car. Al was the consummate road racer and I was the old sprint car hard head who charged the corners too hard. We had a good time. The area is beautiful, and I understand that with all the improvements that (Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman) Bruton Smith has done the facility is really something."

Unser, who qualified fourth and finished third in the race, visited the natural terrain track in April when IndyCar Series teams conducted an Open Test in preparation for this weekend's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix -- the first road course event in series history and the first major open-wheel race at the facility in Sonoma, Calif., since 1970. He will be the grand marshal of the event.

"It's a very competitive racetrack," said Unser, who the next month won the first of his four Indianapolis 500s and also won the 1970 USAC national championship. "It's like any; you have to get your car working. We made some changes we shouldn't have made for race day, and all it takes is just a little bit and you get off. We couldn't outrun Gurney or Mario.

"It was one of those days; I should have but I didn't and Gurney says he should have and he did. That's a course that is very demanding on you and your car. You have to make it handle well. All the ups and downs and the different types of corners; it's a demanding place."

Rutherford, who didn't attend the Open Test, concurred.

"The intensity is the same anywhere you go," he said. "You have to really concentrate and get into learning the course. There are many different ways around a racetrack like that, and you have to find the one that fits you and your car."

Gurney's victory came in a car of his own design, the Eagle-Gurney, with Ford power. Andretti also had Ford power in his McNamara and neither was turbo-charged like the power plants run by most of the other road-course winners in the 1970 season. He also won the Belgian Grand Prix that year in a car that his All American Racers produced. Gurney retired from open-wheel racing in 1970, but his All American Eagle was the most successful Indy-style car of the '70s.

"In the end, I had the respect of my peers and I think that is most important," he said.

***

2. Pantano passes IndyCar Series rookie test: Italian road racing specialist Giorgio Pantano passed his Indy Racing League Rookie Test on Aug. 24 at Infineon Raceway, clearing the way for him to compete in this weekend's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old native of Padua, Italy drove the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota-powered Panoz that he will race at both Infineon Raceway this weekend and the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix Presented by Argent Mortgage on Sept. 25. He was evaluated by IndyCar® Series technical manager Kevin Blanch.

Pantano, who stands seventh in the FIA GP2 Championship standings following a pair of points-scoring finishes during the Turkish Grand Prix weekend in Istanbul, will race in the U.S. for the first time since he competed in the 2004 U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

***

3. Sneva inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame: 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva was among the nine inductees into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America earlier this month.

Sneva, who serves as spotter and driver coach for Bombardier Rookie of the Year candidate Tomas Enge of Panther Racing, was enshrined along with NASCAR champion Benny Parsons, road racer Hurley Haywood, drag racer Tommy Ivo, motorcyclist Jay Springsteen, powerboat racer Danny Foster, car owners/builders John Holman and Ralph Moody and 1952 Indianapolis 500 winner Troy Ruttman. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IRL CEO Tony George presented the award to Sneva.

Known as the "Gas Man," Sneva won 13 Indy-style races during his racing career, including the 1983 Indianapolis 500. He earned 14 pole positions and was the first driver to crack the 200-mph barrier at Indianapolis. Sneva also was the first at the Speedway to eclipse 210 mph. Sneva won national championships in 1977 and 1978 driving for Roger Penske.

***

4. Bucknum To Drive for Foyt at Infineon: For the first time since he began competing in the IndyCar Series in 2003, someone other than A.J. Foyt IV will drive the No. 14 car.

Jeff Bucknum, who earlier this season competed in two oval races for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, will replace Foyt in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone in the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix at Infineon Raceway this weekend. Foyt will return to the seat for the race at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval on Sept. 11.

"We didn't test with Anthony at Infineon at the IRL Open Test in April, and I decided it wouldn't be fair to run him since everyone else has tested there," team owner A.J. Foyt said. "It's a tricky course, especially running the (2.26-mile, 12-turn) long course. I think it'd be even harder for him than St. Pete where we struggled.

"Jeff Bucknum called last week offering to help Anthony out there. But I decided it would make more sense to put Jeff in the car. Jeff's familiar with the course, he's run there quite a bit in smaller cars and was an instructor there for a couple years. Also, he did a half-day in a Dreyer & Reinbold car at the test there in April and impressed them. I'm looking forward to having him drive for me this weekend. I knew his daddy (Ronnie Bucknum) way back when, and I never thought his son would be driving for me. It's a small world."

Foyt would have been Bucknum's teammate in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, but Foyt was seriously burned in an Indy-style practice the week before at Milwaukee. Dick Hutcherson was called to team with Bucknum and they finished third. Bucknum was the first Honda factory driver in Formula One and competed in three Indianapolis 500s. He died on April 25, 1992, the year before his son drove in his first amateur race at the then-Sears Point International Raceway (Infineon).

"I'm pretty excited to be driving the 14 car for A.J.," Bucknum said. "It feels like things have come full circle for my family because my dad and A.J. raced together in the '60s. When I told my mom that I was driving for A.J., I think it brought back so many memories of my dad that it brought a tear to her eye and became really special for her, too.

"As far as driving at Infineon, my first-ever racing experience was the Skip Barber School there. I've driven quite a few races at Infineon so I'm real familiar with the track. With my knowledge of the track and A.J.'s experience in setting up Indy cars, I think we'll be able to get a good balance on the car and ultimately have a good weekend."

A.J. Foyt IV said he broached the idea of a replacement driver about a month ago.

"At first he said no, but then I think he thought about it," said Foyt, 21. "He didn't say anything about it until we came home from Colorado (21st-place finish in the Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway). I'm actually relieved because it would have been hard to be competitive -- I've never even seen the track. I'll learn a lot by watching and hearing the feedback between Jeff and the crew."

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 28 at Infineon Raceway. The race will be broadcast by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. The race broadcast will also be carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152 (XM Extreme). ESPN2's telecast of the Pikes Peak 100 will be shown at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 25. The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Sonoma 100 on Aug. 28 at Infineon Raceway. It will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Sept 1 by ESPN2.

-irl-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Giorgio Pantano , Tomas Enge , A.J. Foyt IV , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Dick Hutcherson , Al Unser Sr. , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Hurley Haywood , Skip Barber , Jeff Bucknum , Benny Parsons , Chip Ganassi , Tony George , Gordon Johncock , Bill Vukovich , Roger Penske , Dick Simon , A.J. Foyt , Mark Donohue , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing