Championship race heats up heading to Kansas. KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 1, 2002 -- So much for the dog days of summer in the Indy Racing League. The IRL heads to Kansas Speedway for the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 on July 7 after three...
Championship race heats up heading to Kansas.
KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 1, 2002 -- So much for the dog days of summer in the Indy Racing League.
The IRL heads to Kansas Speedway for the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 on July 7 after three races in June that produced three close finishes and tightened the points race among four drivers. Those trends should continue during Indy Racing's second annual trip to the state-of-the-art, 1.5-mile oval at Kansas in front of a sellout crowd of more than 70,000.
Jeff Ward, Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish Jr. won June events at Texas Motor Speedway, Pikes Peak International Raceway and Richmond International Raceway, respectively. The combined margin of victory in those three races was 3.2819 seconds, an average margin of 1.094 seconds.
Tight racing should continue at Kansas. The wide, smooth oval, featuring 15-degree banking in the turns, is conducive to wheel-to-wheel dueling and plenty of drafting at speeds approaching 220 mph. The race will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. (EDT) July 7.
Exciting action certainly was the norm last year in the inaugural Ameristar Casino Indy 200. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. edged Hornish by .1976 of a second in a 300-mile race that featured 20 lead changes among eight drivers.
The last two IRL races have taken place on tracks of 1 mile or shorter, where handling is at a premium. Now the series returns to a power track at Kansas, where 200 mph is a warm-up speed.
Only three drivers -- points leader Helio Castroneves, 2001 IRL Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and Ward -- have recorded top-10 finishes on all four tracks of 1.5 miles or longer on which the IRL has competed so far this season, Homestead-Miami Speedway, California Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
It should come as little surprise that those drivers occupy three of the top six spots in the series point standings, with Castroneves first in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, Giaffone fourth in No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone and Ward sixth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone.
de Ferran, second in points, has three top 10's on the "big" tracks this season in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Defending series champion Hornish has finished in the top 10 just twice on large ovals, but both were victories in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami and the 2-mile oval at California.
Fifth-place Al Unser Jr. has one top-10 finish on a track of 1.5 miles or longer in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
Hornish and de Ferran are the men on the move entering Kansas Defending. IRL champion Hornish won the SunTrust Indy Challenge on June 29 on the . ¾-mile oval at Richmond International Raceway, passing de Ferran with . less than two laps to go for his third win of the season. That result, . combined with a third-place finish June 16 at Pikes Peak, has pulled . Hornish to within 24 points of leader Castroneves, who finished 17th at. Richmond after an early crash .
de Ferran has used consistency to close to within three points of Castroneves in the standings. de Ferran has recorded seven top-10 finishes in eight starts, including six top fives.
Hornish, Castroneves and de Ferran have combined to win six of the first eight races this season, as Hornish has three victories, Castroneves two and de Ferran one. Still, Giaffone has quietly and consistently entered the title fray. He is just 43 points behind Castroneves.
Giaffone has seven top-seven finishes in eight starts, including the last five straight in the top five. He is a win waiting to happen, and his first career victory could come at Kansas.
Defending event winner Cheever is 11th in the series standings in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, but those numbers are misleading. Cheever has been competitive in nearly every race but has been sidelined by accidents or mechanical gremlins.
A repeat victory isn't out of the question, especially with the powerful Infiniti engine. In fact, Red Bull Cheever Racing swept the front row at the last 1.5-mile track on which the IRL raced, at Texas. Rookie Tomas Scheckter won the MBNA Pole, and Cheever qualified second.
Scheckter is another driver who could earn his first career IRL victory at Kansas. He has led 220 laps this season in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, but like his boss has been eliminated too often by accidents or mechanical problems.
AMERISTAR CASINO INDY 200 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Ameristar Casino Indy 200 starts at noon (CDT) Sunday, . July 7. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 3:30 p.m. (CDT) July 6 Practice . sessions start at 11:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. (CDT) July 5, 9:45 a.m. July. 6 and 8:30 a.m. July 7 .
On the air: The Ameristar Casino Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, July 7. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at noon (EDT) July 7 on ESPN2.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) July 7, followed by the live race broadcast at 1 p.m. A qualifying highlights show will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) July 6. The area affiliate is WHB-AM 810, Independence, Mo.
Tickets: Tickets for the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 on July 7 and MBNA Pole Qualifying on July 6 are sold out. Tickets for practice July 5 are available now by calling the Kansas Speedway ticket office at (913) 328-7223 or online at www.kansasspeedway.com.