For Immediate Release GUTHRIE SETS SIGHTS ON TOP IRL ROOKIE HONOR INDIANAPOLIS, September 26, 1997 -- Rookie drivers on the 1996-97 Indy Racing League trail have chalked up some impressive numbers. Of the 22...
For Immediate Release
GUTHRIE SETS SIGHTS ON TOP IRL ROOKIE HONOR
INDIANAPOLIS, September 26, 1997 -- Rookie drivers on the 1996-97 Indy Racing League trail have chalked up some impressive numbers. Of the 22 newcomers who have started at least one race, eight have led races for a total of 238 laps. Those eight -- Jim Guthrie, Affonso Giaffone, Billy Boat, Kenny Brack, Vincenzo Sospiri, Robbie Groff, Jeff Ward and Jimmy Kite -- have taken a variety of paths to reach the ranks of Indy-style cars. Boat and Kite emerged from American short tracks. Guthrie was mostly a road racer, but had some stock-car time at Duke City Speedway in Albuquerque. Sospiri came from Formula One. Brack, Giaffone and Groff were veteran road racers. Ward was a motorcycle champion who switched to cars and the Indy Lights series. Guthrie is the only one of the group to win, taking the Phoenix 200 in a storybook ending in March. He leads Giaffone, 155-139 in rookie points with Boat close at 137. Without bonus points being involved, he needs only a 15th-place finish in the Oct. 11 Las Vegas 500k to clinch the rookie crown. "We were certainly hoping after Orlando and Phoenix," Guthrie said, reflecting back on the season's rookie race. "We thought, 'Wow, we really have a chance.' Then we watched our lead disappear. We'd like to win that. He (Giaffone) has been pretty strong, even though he had a tough test (in Las Vegas). Boat's been doing a great job." Indeed, the rookies have had some good runs. Giaffone made his debut in Indy-style cars at Las Vegas a year ago and finished 10th, the top newcomer in the race. Boat, in a substitute role for two different teams, is in the hunt even though he has competed in only five races. In his debut at Indianapolis, he finished seventh. Then he finished second at both Texas and Charlotte. Ward was on the point for 49 laps of the Indianapolis 500 and finished third after turning over the lead on the 193rd lap while making a fuel stop. Kite led the Charlotte race, only his second start in IRL cars, and was the fastest in the League's open test recently at Las Vegas. Even though he has a commanding edge, Guthrie said he's still learning. "Every time I get in the car, I learn something," he said. "I don't think you ever stop learning but it's a pretty steep curve the first 20 races. I'm still in that (mode) now. If they'd made me a veteran after three races (in 1996), I'd have said, ' Yeah, right.' "Obviously I hoped, because of the equal equipment, we could be competitive with the veterans. You always wonder if you have the experience to go wheel-to-wheel with guys like (Arie) Luyendyk and (Scott) Goodyear. Then, when you do it, you realize the IRL has made it possible. Guys like me and Billy would never have gotten a chance." At Las Vegas, he'll be cautious to start. "Financially, we have to start the race," Guthrie said. "I can't do anything stupid. In the race, hopefully, we'll be in a position to run for the win. "I've tested well there. We have a new engine for the race. We've been in the top 10 all year in qualifying except for Loudon. Once we've made the show..."