IRL: Nazareth: Inaugural event preview

Tricky Nazareth track to provide big challenge. NAZARETH, Pa., Tuesday, April 9, 2002 - The Indy Racing League has competed on many 1-mile ovals during its seven-year history, but never have the series' teams and drivers had to come to grips...

Tricky Nazareth track to provide big challenge.

NAZARETH, Pa., Tuesday, April 9, 2002 - The Indy Racing League has competed on many 1-mile ovals during its seven-year history, but never have the series' teams and drivers had to come to grips with a track quite like Nazareth Speedway.

Quite simply, there's no other track like Nazareth, site of the inaugural Firestone Indy 225 on April 21. The 1-mile oval features a unique layout that officially features four turns, but many drivers say the kinks and doglegs throughout the circuit actually provide more turns than four.

The turns have varying degrees of banking, with Turn 1 at 3 degrees, Turn 2 at 4 degrees and Turns 3 and 4 at 6 degrees. The front straightaway is banked at 3 degrees, while the back straight is banked at 2.7 degrees.

Adding to the complexity is a varying width ranging between 50 and 60 feet around the oval. And perhaps the most daunting aspect of this tricky track is an elevation change of 34 feet.

It's no wonder that defending Indy Racing League champion and current points leader Sam Hornish Jr. described a lap in traffic at Nazareth this way, "It's almost like a roller-coaster ride when you get behind somebody, when you get two guys in front of you."

The Firestone Indy 225 will provide two distinct challenges for Indy Racing drivers and teams: They'll need to race against both their competitors and the track, one of the toughest in the 15-race series. The race starts at 1 p.m. (EDT) April 21 and will be televised live on ABC.

While this is a new track for Indy Racing, 16 of the 24 drivers entered to compete in the race have some racing experience at Nazareth. Gil de Ferran earned Marlboro Team Penske's historic 100th open-wheel victory in 2000 at Nazareth, while Airton Dare won an Indy Lights race there in 1999. Anthony Lazzaro and Alex Barron each have victories at Nazareth in Toyota Atlantic, in 1999 and 1997, respectively.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has made 16 career starts at Nazareth in open-wheel and stock cars, more starts than any other IRL driver in the field for the Firestone Indy 225. Other prominent IRL drivers with Nazareth experience include 2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, Jaques Lazier, Eliseo Salazar, Scott Sharp, Jeff Ward, Airton Dare and Felipe Giaffone.

It will be interesting to see if past experience gives any drivers an edge at this event.

"Driving here is almost like going back in time," said Cheever, a veteran of seven starts at Nazareth. "Nazareth is a great track. In many ways it reminds me of Richmond. In a flash, you are right back to where you started."

The Indy Racing championship chase that will continue at Nazareth almost can be described in the same way. The race was tight after Hornish won the season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami on March 2, and six weeks later, the standings still are tight.

Hornish has recorded two victories in three starts this season in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone and leads the standings with 141 points. But Castroneves is second at 115 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, with de Ferran third at 112 in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

While much of the attention in the race for the IRL championship this season has focused on Hornish, Castroneves and de Ferran, a fourth name - Jaques Lazier - soon may be added to the mix.

Lazier finished second to Hornish by .0281 of a second in the Yamaha Indy 400 on March 24 at California Speedway in the second-closest finish in league history and climbed to fourth in the series standings, just 32 points behind third-place de Ferran. Lazier also was the second-fastest driver during the Indy Racing League Open Test on April 4 at Nazareth, posting a top lap of 19.5116 seconds, 172.328 mph in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Castroneves was fastest at the Open Test with a lap of 19.4556, 172.824.

FIRESTONE INDY 225 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Firestone Indy 225 starts at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, April 21. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) April 20.

Practice sessions start at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (EDT) April 19 and 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. April 20.

An autograph session with Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (EDT) in the garage area.

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On the air: The Firestone Indy 225 will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, April 21. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at noon (EDT) April 21 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) April 21, followed by the live race broadcast at 1 p.m. An MBNA Pole Qualifying highlights show will be broadcast at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) April 20.

The area affiliate is WEEX-AM 1230 in Easton, Pa.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Firestone Indy 225 are available now by calling (888) 629-7223 or at www.nazarethspeedway.com <http://www.nazarethspeedway.com> .

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Jaques Lazier  , Alex Barron , Anthony Lazzaro , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske