IRL: Pikes Peak could continue as barometer of champions

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Wednesday, June 7, 2000 - The Indianapolis 500 remains the most prestigious victory for any Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitor, but any driver who wants to win the Northern Light Cup needs to focus on the...

FOUNTAIN, Colo., Wednesday, June 7, 2000 - The Indianapolis 500 remains the most prestigious victory for any Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitor, but any driver who wants to win the Northern Light Cup needs to focus on the Radisson Indy 200, too. After all, this event at Pikes Peak International Raceway has an uncanny ability to produce winners who become champions. Every driver who has won this event since its inception in 1997 has gone on to win the series championship the same season. Tony Stewart started the trend in 1997, Kenny Brack continued it in 1998 and Greg Ray won both this race and the title in 1999. That trend could continue at the fourth annual Radisson Indy 200 at 2 p.m. (MDT) June 18. MBNA Pole qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. June 17. There's more to the streak of champions spawned by this event than sheer fate. Only the strongest drivers and teams win at PPIR. The 1-mile oval is smooth and wide, creating ample opportunities for three-wide racing. PPIR also provides the fastest racing on a 1-mile track in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, as Ray won this race last year with an event-record average speed of 134.111 mph. A wide racing surface and high speeds provide a stern test of driving skill that only championship-caliber drivers can handle. PPIR also is a challenge for crews. The track is located 5,357 feet above sea level at the base of the imposing Rocky Mountains. No other track in the series approaches the altitude of PPIR, and teams must make tuning changes in their normally aspirated engines and aerodynamics to compensate for the thin air. The challenge on crewmembers at PPIR will be magnified by the series schedule, as the Radisson Indy 200 is the second consecutive race in as many weeks. It's the only time all season that Indy Racing events will take place on consecutive weekends. So any teams that encountered mechanical problems or accident damage during the Casino Magic 500 on June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway will face a week-long thrash to prepare for this race. But plenty of teams showed during the first four races of the season that they're more than capable of handling the challenge of PPIR. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, from Vail, Colo., led the Northern Light Series standings after the Indianapolis 500 with 138 points. Lazier showed uncanny consistency through May in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing entry, with three top-two finishes in the first four races, including a victory from the last starting spot at the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 in March at Phoenix. Lazier has never won at his home track, but he has four top-10 finishes in four career starts at PPIR. His best finish was fourth last August in the Colorado Indy 200. Robbie Buhl and Scott Goodyear were tied for second with 112 points after Indianapolis. Buhl finished second to Brack in 1998 at this event. He started this season with a victory in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in the Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry with Oldsmobile power. Buhl switched to the Infiniti Indy V8 engine at the Casino Magic 500 and will use the Infiniti at Pikes Peak. Goodyear finished 12th in this race last year in the Pennzoil Panther entry. Other top contenders for victory figure to be Eliseo Salazar, Eddie Cheever Jr., Ray, Scott Sharp, Mark Dismore and Stephan Gregoire, who chased Stewart to the line in 1997. But two drivers who have never made an Indy Racing start at PPIR also will attract plenty of attention and contend for victory. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. will race in the shadow of the mountain where his family has reigned supreme in the International Hill Climb. Unser moved to the Northern Light Series this season in the Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Sarah Fisher, 19, will race the Walker Racing Cummins Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. It will be her first start at PPIR in an Indy Racing car, but she was a contender for victory early in the USAC MCI WorldCom National Midget Series last August at the track.

RADISSON INDY 200 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Radisson Indy 200 starts at 2 p.m. (MDT) June 18. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. June 17.

Practice sessions start at 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. June 16, and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. June 17.

Sign here, please: An autograph session with Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitors will take place from 4:45-5:45 p.m. (MDT) June 17 in the garage area at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

On the air: The Radisson Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) June 18. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised 11 a.m. June 18 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) June 17.

The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) June 18, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. A qualifying show will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. June 17.

The area IRRN affiliate is KKFN-AM 950, Denver.

The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site. *** Cool tunes: Colorado favorites Big Head Todd & the Monsters will play a concert on the main straightaway at Pikes Peak International Raceway immediately after the finish of the Radisson 200.

The concert is included in the price of a Race Day ticket. Big Head Todd & the Monsters, comprised of three Colorado residents, has attracted a large following with its unique blend of rock, blues, R&B and soul music.

Tickets: Tickets for the Radisson Indy 200 are available at King Soopers outlets. Call (888) 306-7223 for ticket information.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Kenny Brack
Teams Dreyer & Reinbold Racing