IRL: Richmond: Round seven preview

Expect tight-quarters thrills from IRL IndyCar Series in Richmond RICHMOND, Va., Tuesday, June 17, 2003 -- 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL IndyCarTM Series team owner Eddie Cheever Jr. has likened it to flying a fighter jet in a ...

Expect tight-quarters thrills from IRL IndyCar Series in Richmond

RICHMOND, Va., Tuesday, June 17, 2003 -- 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL IndyCarTM Series team owner Eddie Cheever Jr. has likened it to flying a fighter jet in a gymnasium.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran has called it an awesome sight.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has called it a Saturday-night fight.

"It" is the SunTrust Indy Challenge, the annual IRL IndyCar Series event on the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway. And quite simply, there's nothing like it on the IndyCar Series schedule.

IndyCar Series racing returns to Richmond for the third consecutive year with the SunTrust Indy Challenge at 8 p.m. (EDT) Saturday night, June 28. It's the seventh of 16 events this season and the second of three night races on the schedule.

The SunTrust Indy Challenge is the only race in the series that takes place on a track less than 1 mile. That creates lap times in the 16- to 17-second range, with speeds approaching 170 mph. It also creates plenty of passing as cars are almost constantly driving wheel to wheel, inches apart, in traffic.

And those quick lap times and constant traffic can cause plenty of problems, too. No race lead or series points lead ever are safe at Richmond.

Take last year, for example. Helio Castroneves entered this event on a roll in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske entry, with victories at Phoenix and Indianapolis. He had produced seven consecutive top-five finishes to build a 32-point lead in the series standings over teammate de Ferran.

But one of the few setbacks of Castroneves' superb season took place at Richmond. He finished 17th after an accident forced him out after just 103 of 225 laps. His points lead shriveled to just three points over de Ferran.

Tony Kanaan enters the SunTrust Indy Challenge in a similar position as Castroneves last year. He has produced five top-four finishes in six starts this season in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, including a victory at Phoenix.

Kanaan leads the points, 217-168, over Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone. Dixon is the only two-time winner this season in the series, taking the checkered flag in early March at Homestead-Miami and at the last event at Pikes Peak.

While the tight-quarters racing at Richmond can cause problems for some drivers, the "bullring" track also can be a stage for superb shows of skill.

Defending two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. put on an inspired drive to win the event last year in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, passing de Ferran with a daring, diving move in Turn 1 with two laps remaining.

The victory kick-started Hornish's drive toward a second straight title. He finished second to Lazier in the inaugural IndyCar Series event at RIR in 2001.

Hornish enters this event with plenty of momentum. He finished a season-best fifth in the Honda Indy 225 on June 15 at Pikes Peak International Raceway after driving through the field after running out of fuel during the race.

De Ferran also is streaking entering Richmond. He won the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, finished eighth in the Bombardier 500 on June 7 at Texas and finished third June 15 at Pikes Peak in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske entry. He finished second to Hornish last year at Richmond in a thriller.

Unser also is a contender for victory at Richmond. He won the Bombardier 500 at Texas and is part of a three-way tie for third in the series standings -- with Castroneves and de Ferran -- in the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

Another driver who is due for a victory is Tomas Scheckter. He has led 260 laps this season in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, more than any other driver, yet is winless. Scheckter finished a strong fourth last year at Richmond.

Other Indy Racing League race-winning drivers at Richmond include 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1998 series champion Kenny Brack, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 series champion Lazier, 1996 series co-champion Scott Sharp, 1999 series champion Greg Ray, 2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series champion A.J. Foyt IV, Felipe Giaffone, Jaques Lazier and Robbie Buhl. Sarah Fisher, the only woman to win a pole for a major North American open-wheel race, also will return to Richmond.

Regardless of the winner, expect a close finish at Richmond. The four events this season that have finished under green have featured a margin of victory of less than one second.

SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The SunTrust Indy Challenge starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, June 28. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 27. IndyCar Series practice sessions start at noon, 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. June 27.

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On the air: The SunTrust Indy Challenge will be broadcast live on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EDT) June 28.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) June 28 and follow with the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The local radio affiliate is WRNL-AM 910, Richmond, Va. Live coverage of MBNA Pole Qualifying (5:30 p.m. EDT, June 27) and the live race broadcast also will be available at www.indyracing.com.

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Tickets: Tickets for the SunTrust Indy Challenge are available by calling (804) 345-7223 or logging on to www.rir.com.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing