PHOENIX, March 18 - Even though he's a rookie in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, Jeret Schroeder of Vineland, N.J., qualified fifth for tomorrow's MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday afternoon in the...
PHOENIX, March 18 - Even though he's a rookie in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, Jeret Schroeder of Vineland, N.J., qualified fifth for tomorrow's MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday afternoon in the Armour Swift-Eckrich/tristarmall.com Dallara Aurora Firestone #6.
The 200-lap race will be broadcast live on ABC tomorrow at 4 p.m. Eastern. A pre-race show, "Indy Racing 2Day," will be televised live at 11 a.m. Eastern tomorrow on ESPN2. Qualifying was broadcast on ESPN2 Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
Schroeder took only 20.881 seconds to circle the 1-mile oval during qualifying for an average speed of 172.406 mph.
There are seven rookies entered in the race. In addition to Schroeder, they include Sam Hornish Jr., Niclas Jonsson, Sarah Fisher, Doug Didiero, Airton Dare and Bobby Regester. Schroeder was by far the fastest of the group in qualifying, as the next-fastest rookie was Hornish in 19th place.
It's the best qualifying effort by a rookie since John Hollansworth Jr. qualified second at Pikes Peak International Raceway last June.
Schroeder was third-fastest in the morning practice session Saturday with an average speed of 173.837 mph, and he was seventh overall in practice Friday with a speed of 169.380 mph.
"The Tri Star Motorsports team has worked really hard for me this weekend and they've given me a really consistent car," Schroeder said. "That's really the most important thing. The track can change drastically as the day gets hotter. There will be a lot of marbles off-line and this is pretty much a one-line track, so having a team that can respond quickly and make changes during pit stops is crucial.
"My main goal for tomorrow is to take the checkered flag. I'll just concentrate on doing the best job I can and we'll see how things develop. But overall this weekend I'm very pleased with the way things have been going.
"This morning we were third-fastest in practice. We made a slight change to the car before qualifying that didn't work out as well as we thought it would, but it didn't hurt us too much either. We spent most of our time here so far working on our race set-up, not our qualifying set-up, and that's why I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race so much. The Indy Racing Northern Light Series is so competitive that every point you can get makes a big difference at the end of the year both in the championship and in the battle for Rookie of the Year.
"We ran better at Disney than our results showed because of some problems we had, so we want to show people what we can really do. So far this weekend the Armour Swift-Eckrich team is off to a good start here, so we're really looking forward to tomorrow's race."
Schroeder is running the team's 2000 Dallara here this weekend.
When asked if qualifying in the top five despite his rookie status gives him extra confidence, Schroeder said he doesn't really look at it that way.
"I'm out here to do my job, and whether I'm first, third or last I still have the same job to do. I try not to think about being a rookie and just concentrate on what the team and I have to do with the car to get a car that I'm comfortable with. And right now, the Tri Star Motorsports team has given me a car that I'm comfortable with. We'll just try our best and see what happens!"
One fan who is especially enthusiastic about Schroeder's chances is Boyd Dunbar of East Lyme, Conn., who is attending this weekend's race as an honorary Tri Star Motorsports crew member courtesy of the team. He is here with his father and they're both big Indy Racing Northern Light fans. Dunbar said the experience is a dream come true.
Dunbar is the second fan that Tri Star has brought to an event as an honorary crew member. Jeff Reidel of Anderson, Ind., was a guest of the team at the season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in January. Both became eligible for the opportunity by registering at the team's website, www.tristarmotorsport.com.
There is still time to register for a similar opportunity for the next race; the drawing will be held on April 12 for the event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway April 22.
Schroeder's spotter for tomorrow's race will be Brendan Cunnane, who was his chief mechanic/engineer when Schroeder won the 1995 U.S. Formula 2000 national championship. Cunnane now works on a Toyota Atlantic team and lives in both California and Pennsylvania.
Schroeder was recently nominated as a candidate for the U.S. Formula 2000 Hall of Fame.