IRL: Indy Racing League notebook 2003-09-10

IndyCar Series remains ultra-competitive; Firestone Heroes of Indy race set INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2003 -- The Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway provided a photo finish with Sam Hornish Jr. defeating Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta...

IndyCar Series remains ultra-competitive; Firestone Heroes of Indy race set

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2003 -- The Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway provided a photo finish with Sam Hornish Jr. defeating Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta by .0099 of a second and .0100 of a second, respectively.

It was the closest 1-2-3 finish in series history, and the .0099 of a second margin between Hornish and Dixon was the third-closest finishing margin in series history.

What made the finish even more interesting was that Hornish drove a Chevrolet, while Dixon drove a Toyota, and Herta drove a Honda.

Three engine manufacturers, separated by .0100 of a second and a few feet. At the Toyota Indy 400 on Sept. 21 at California Speedway, the order could just as easily be shuffled, and once again the fans could be left roaring with approval.

"I think today sums it up about the best you can," Hornish said after the victory at Chicago. "You had all three engine manufacturers going across the line right there side by side."

That's the beauty of the IndyCarTM Series.

Since the Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8 was introduced to all Chevrolet teams at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 17 at Kentucky Speedway, the drivers, teams, engine, chassis manufacturers and especially the fans have seen some of the most exciting racing in motorsports.

Starting at Kentucky, each engine manufacturer has placed at least one car in the top 10 on the starting grid, including at Chicagoland, were Toyota started four cars in the top 10 while Chevrolet and Honda each started three.

The starting fields have also been tighter since Kentucky. The 20-car field at Kentucky was separated by .5367 of a second, the closest field in IndyCar Series history. The margin at Chicago was .6218 of a second, the third-closest field in history.

Better than qualifying, however, has been the racing on the track. The fans of the IndyCar Series have seen 11 different drivers lead at least one lap in the last three races.

At Kentucky, the top 10 featured five Toyota engines, three Hondas and two Chevrolets, including winner Hornish. At Nazareth, four Hondas finished in the top 10 along with three Chevrolets and three Toyotas, including the engine powering winner Helio Castroneves.

In addition to the spectacular finish with all three engines at Chicago, there were four Hondas in the top 10, three Toyotas and three Chevrolets, including the engine powering Hornish.

"It's what the league has had in mind since day 1," said Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League senior vice president of racing operations. "Equally accessible equipment coupled with equality among the manufacturers as they're participating within the parameters of the rules. This has been validated since the Gen IV has been introduced to all competitors at Kentucky. As the numbers show, we've got the best on-track product that we've ever had in our history."

"When you look at the quality of the teams that have joined the series, the drivers and sponsors that they've brought on board, we've got more first-class teams participating. When you join that with the addition of Honda and Toyota joining our series and Chevrolet's Gen IV now participating, we're at an all-time high as far as the competition on the racetrack."

The last three IndyCar Series events have given fans fast exciting racing, while drivers and teams have seen incredible reliability and few cautions. In the three races, no car has dropped out of the race before the 100-lap mark, and an average of 16 cars have been still running at the finish, including 18 at Kentucky and 19 at Chicagoland.

At Chicagoland, 13 cars were running on the lead lap at the end of the race, and the top nine were within one second of each other.

The races also have featured record-setting speeds, with the Kentucky race averaging an incredible 197.897 mph, the fastest race in IndyCar Series history. The average speed at Chicago was 184.294 mph, the second-fastest race in league history.

Two of the three races have seen finishes of less than .1 of a second. In addition to Chicagoland last weekend, Castroneves defeated Hornish by .1697 of a second at Nazareth.

"From a League standpoint, I don't think we can be much more pleased with what we've seen late season," Barnhart said. "At Chicago, we had our first photo finish with all of our manufacturers represented."

"Not only Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota engines, but the chassis manufacturers Panoz G Force (Dixon) and Dallara (Hornish and Herta), as well as, obviously, Firestone tires."

Throwbacks:

Some of the greatest drivers in the history of the Indianapolis 500 will pull on helmets and driving suits to compete one more time in the Firestone Heroes of Indy on Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Firestone Heroes of Indy will pit 10 of the greatest drivers in the history of the Indianapolis 500 in a 25-lap showdown driving identically-prepared Thunder Roadsters on a quarter-mile paved oval prior to the IRL IndyCar Series season-ending Chevy 500.

"The Firestone Heroes of Indy race will be an opportunity to honor the sport's legendary names on the very day we crown the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series champion," said Texas Motor Speedway General Manager Eddie Gossage. "Indy-car racing enjoys a rich heritage that is unparalleled in American motorsports, and the drivers competing in this event have written page after page into our sport's history book. These men are giants in the sports world, and to get them all together again offers all of us a unique privilege.

The Texas contingent of drivers were introduced at a press conference Sept. 10 at Texas Motor Speedway and include Johnny Rutherford, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, along with four-time Indianapolis 500 victor A.J. Foyt, who will serve as the event's grand marshal.

Rutherford is in charge of special projects for the Indy Racing League and drives the pace car at nearly all events. Foyt owns A.J. Foyt Racing and fields an IndyCar Series car for 2002 Infiniti Pro Series champion A.J. Foyt IV, his grandson.

Texans Lloyd Ruby and Jim McElreath also are expected to participate in the Firestone Heroes of Indy race. Ruby scored seven Indy-style victories and led the Indianapolis 500 five times but never scored a victory. McElreath finished third in the 1966 "500" and won the inaugural California 500 in 1970 at Ontario Motor Speedway.

"We've spoken to some of the most famous Indy-car drivers from around the world, but this first set of drivers is special to us because all of them are from Texas," Gossage said. "We believe the reason our two IRL IndyCar races draw the largest crowds of the season outside of the Indy 500 is because of the rich heritage Texas has in Indy-car racing. In large part, that history and heritage is due to these three men."

The remaining Firestone Heroes of Indy participants will be announced shortly.

The Thunder Roadsters that will be used by the drivers are produced by 600 Racing and resemble the roadsters that dominated the Indianapolis 500 and Indy-style racing through the 1950s and 1960s. The cars are powered by a 1250cc Yamaha engine and will be sporting special Firestone Firehawk tires for the event.

"For nearly 100 years, Firestone has been involved in competition at the highest levels of motorsports," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing. "More Indy 500 winners have crossed the finish line on Firestone tires than all other tire companies combined. We are proud to be associated with some of the greatest drivers in history and are honored to have the opportunity to pay tribute to these men who have contributed so much to the sport."

The Firestone Heroes of Indy will include a full weekend of activities celebrating the accomplishments of drivers who established much of the history of the Indianapolis 500. In addition to practice and qualifying for the race, the participants will participate in autograph sessions open to the public and a special Heroes reception featuring "Mom" Unser's fabled chili, a longtime tradition with participants at the Indianapolis 500.

The season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is Oct. 12 and will be broadcast live at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. For tickets, log on to www.texasmotorspeedway, call (817) 215-8500 or go to any Ticketmaster location.

Breakfast with the fans:

The Michael Andretti Foundation will conduct "Breakfast with the Fans," an opportunity for fans to see the behind-the-scenes activities that take place at IndyCar Series events during the first practice day of the event.

The opportunity is being offered to fans Sept. 19 at California Speedway and Oct. 10 at Texas Motor Speedway. The cost for each event is $75 per person, and space is limited to 60 fans in each market on a first-come, first-served basis. As part of the "Breakfast with the Fans" program, the participants will start the day with a full-service breakfast served at the Team 7-Eleven hospitality area by the Andretti Green Racing chefs. A question-and-answer session will take place with AGR owner Michael Andretti, followed by an autograph session. Fans then will get an up-close look at an AGR team car and will learn about the track and the IndyCar Series.

All proceeds from the fundraisers will be donated to the Michael Andretti Foundation. Fans can secure a spot at the events by sending an e-mail to foundation@andretti.com. For additional information, call (800) 324-1321.

Points battle: How important was Scott Dixon's move at the end of the Delphi Indy 300 to take second place from Bryan Herta by just .0001 of a second? Well, had Dixon finished third, he would have been tied for third with Gil de Ferran in the point standings.

Instead, the estimated quarter-of-an-inch margin Dixon gained over Herta at the line vaulted him ahead of de Ferran and Tony Kanaan into second-place.

With two races remaining, just 41 points separate the top five in points. Castroneves leads with 439, followed by Dixon (427), Kanaan (425), de Ferran (422), and Hornish (398). The IRL IndyCar Series Champion will be honored at the Championship Celebration Oct. 25 at EPCOT at Walt Disney World Resorts.

Like the pros:

IndyCar Series fans can experience the thrill of driving their personal car at Texas Motor Speedway less than a month before the stars of the IndyCar Series take to the track at more than 220 mph.

Fans can drive the track along with other drivers behind a speedway pace car from 6-10 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 13.

The annual Laps For Charity, benefiting Speedway Children's Charities, allows fans to drive on the speedway for $25 (three laps). Pictures in Victory Lane are also available, and car clubs are welcome. All passengers must be at least six years old to ride. For information, call (817) 215-8564.

Hot laps:

IndyCar Series driver A.J. Foyt IV, driver of the No. 14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, will attended the University of Michigan vs. University of Notre Dame football game Sept. 13 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Foyt is an avid college football fan and will assist Jack Arute, who serves as a pit reporter for the IndyCar Series and sideline reporter for college football for ABC Sports.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Lloyd Ruby , Jim McElreath , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr. , Johnny Rutherford